Anthony Davis left the Los Angeles Lakers' defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers with back spasms but expects to return to the lineup Friday. 

Davis played only nine minutes before departing in the 118-94 loss to the Clippers in the first quarter on Thursday. 

While he appeared to have twisted his ankle before heading to the locker room, Davis told reporters afterward the ankle was fine and his back improved quickly after getting treatment. 

"It feels better now that I got some work done and I should be able to go tomorrow," he said. 

The Lakers will need him in Friday's showdown with the Portland Trail Blazers as the two teams share identical 37-29 records with the sixth seed in the Western Conference in the balance. 

"Tomorrow's probably the biggest game left of these games," Davis told reporters.

Head coach Frank Vogel already has ruled LeBron James out for the Blazers match-up as he continues to recover from a high ankle sprain. 

Davis missed more than two months with a calf strain and Achilles tendinosis in his right leg and has made eight appearances since returning. 

He scored four points on two-for-nine shooting in his limited action Thursday. 

Jose Altuve celebrated his birthday with a home run as the Houston Astros silenced the boo boys in a 7-4 win at the New York Yankees.

The Astros have been booed relentlessly in their first visit to New York since the sign-stealing scandal.

Houston were found to have stolen signs of opposition teams on the way to winning the championship in 2017, as well as for part of 2018 following an investigation last year.

Yankees fans have made their feelings known throughout the MLB series, but Altuve answered the boos by hitting a go-ahead, three-run homer in the eighth inning on his 31st birthday.

The Astros avoided a series sweep against the Yankees, who had their five-game winning streak snapped on Thursday.

 

Braves end seven-year wait

For the first time since 2014, the Atlanta Braves swept the Washington Nationals thanks to a 3-2 victory. It was a bittersweet outing for Dave Martinez, who oversaw his 411th career game as Nationals manager – a franchise record. Washington's Jon Lester also became the 17th left-handed pitcher in MLB history to record 2,400 career strikeouts.

Taijuan Walker allowed just one hit in seven innings to fuel the New York Mets' 4-1 win away to the St Louis Cardinals.

Randal Grichuk had a memorable game after homering, doubling and driving in five runs as the Toronto Blue Jays rallied past the Oakland Athletics 10-4. Marcus Semien homered among his four hits for the Blue Jays, who split the series in Oakland.

The Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox combined to score 21 runs without hitting a homer – the latter were 12-9 victors. It is the first time that many runs were scored without a homer at Fenway Park in a nine-inning game since 1961.

 

Twins and their extra-inning woes continue

The Minnesota Twins were outlasted 4-3 by the Texas Rangers after 10 innings. This season, the Twins are 0-7 in extra innings.

The Miami Marlins edged the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-1 but Pablo Lopez is still searching for a win. Lopez improved his ERA to 0.38 over his last four starts following his five-inning, 0 earned-run no decision. Per Stats Perform, he is the first pitcher since ERA became official in 1913 to have a four-start span with 20-plus innings pitched, an ERA under 0.50 and no wins.

 

Ohtani homers… again

Two-way Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani hit his 10th home run of the season in an 8-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. With his homer, it is the second time this year Ohtani has been the starting pitcher one day and then homered the next. According to Stats Perform, the Japanese sensation is the first player in the modern era to do so in the same season.

 

Thursday's results

Houston Astros 7-4 New York Yankees
Philadelphia Phillies 2-0 Milwaukee Brewers
Boston Red Sox 12-9 Detroit Tigers
Texas Rangers 4-3 Minnesota Twins
New York Mets 4-1 St Louis Cardinals
Cleveland Indians 4-0 Kansas City Royals
Toronto Blue Jays 10-4 Oakland Athletics
Atlanta Braves 3-2 Washington Nationals
Miami Marlins 3-1 Arizona Diamondbacks
Tampa Bay Rays 8-3 Los Angeles Angels

 

Dodgers at Angels

It will be an all-Los Angeles affair as city rivals the Dodgers (17-15) and Angels (13-17) meet on Friday. Slumping World Series champions the Dodgers have lost three straight games and eight of their last 10. The Dodgers will send Julio Urias to the mound, while Griffin Canning starts for the Angels.

Russell Westbrook took another giant step towards an NBA record after teaming up with Bradley Beal to help the Washington Wizards push the Toronto Raptors to the verge of elimination from a spot the NBA play-in tournament with a 131-129 win in overtime. 

Westbrook posted 13 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists for his 180th career triple-double, leaving him one shy of equalling Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson's all-time record on Thursday.

Former MVP Westbrook because the first player with three consecutive 17-plus assist games since Steve Nash in 2007.

Wizards star Beal scored half of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and overtime as Washington outlasted Toronto.

Raul Neto added a career-high 25 points and Robin Lopez had a season-best 24 for the Wizards (31-36), who hold a four-game lead over the Raptors (27-40) for the final play-in spot with five games remaining for both teams. 

Pascal Siakam matched his career best with 44 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists but missed a three-point attempt at the buzzer in overtime that would have won it for Toronto. 

Siakam joined Kawhi Leonard and Vince Carter as the only players with a 40-point, 10-rebound and five-assist game in franchise history.

Fred VanVleet sent the game to OT by hitting a shot from beyond the arc with 1.3 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. He finished with 22 and Gary Trent Jr. contributed 25 for Toronto.

 

Mavs withstand big night from Kyrie

Luka Doncic finished with 24 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. had 23 of his own as the Dallas Mavericks downed the slumping Brooklyn Nets 113-109, despite 45 points from Kyrie Irving. 

The Indiana Pacers inched closer to securing a spot in the play-in tournament with a 133-126 win over the Atlanta Hawks as Caris LeVert led the way with 31 points and Domantas Sabonis added 30 on 12-for-14 shooting from the field. Trae Young's double-double of 30 points and 10 assists was not enough for the Hawks. 

Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors rolled to a 118-87 victory at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder (21-46). Curry scored 34 points. The two-time MVP has now scored at least 30 points 18 times in his last 20 games (35th time this season).

Paul George had 24 points as the Los Angeles Clippers (45-22) beat cross-town rivals and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers 118-94. 

 

LaMelo off target against Bulls

A day after his primary competitor for NBA Rookie of the Year, Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves, dropped 42 points, LaMelo Ball made only one of 10 shots from the field and scored just four points in the Charlotte Hornets' 120-99 loss to the Chicago Bulls. Ball had reached double digits in his previous three games after returning from a wrist injury. 

 

Caldwell-Pope strong to the hoop

Lakers fans did not have much to celebrate in Thursday's blowout loss to the Clippers, but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope did provide one highlight with this slam in Ivica Zubac's face.

 

Thursday's results

Chicago Bulls 120-99 Charlotte Hornets
Dallas Mavericks 113-109 Brooklyn Nets
Washington Wizards 131-129 Toronto Raptors (OT)
Detroit Pistons 111-97 Memphis Grizzlies 
Indiana Pacers 133-126 Atlanta Hawks
Golden State Warriors 118-97 Oklahoma City Thunder
Los Angeles Clippers 118-94 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Pelicans at 76ers

Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans (30-36) are just outside the cut for the play-in tournament and will face imposing opposition on Friday as they attempt to gain ground in the form of the Philadelphia 76ers (45-21), winners of six in a row. 

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said the return of superstar James Harden will "change everything" after the NBA championship hopefuls slumped to a fourth consecutive defeat.

The star-studded Nets – playing without former MVP Harden again due to a hamstring injury – fell to the Dallas Mavericks 113-109 on Thursday.

A game-high 45 points from Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant's 20 points were not enough for the Nets, who are two and a half games behind the Philadelphia 76ers in the race of the Eastern Conference top seed ahead of the playoffs.

Harden has not played since April 5 but is "very confident" he will return to action before the postseason gets underway.

Reflecting on the result, Nash – whose Nets are eyeing their maiden title – told reporters: "We're just trying to get better every day. We can't really control the injuries. We're getting healthy bodies back, we've got the most guys I think we've had all year right now that are available; so that's positive. Trying to figure out some rotations and combinations.

"Obviously, James comes back at some point and changes everything again. But we're trying to just get better. We're trying to get more familiar with what we're trying to do, trying to get better at our principles and get a better understanding between one another.

"As I said, a lot of these teams have been in the last two, three, four years in a row. We're just getting to know each other; a lot of our guys have missed a lot of season. So trying to gain that understanding, that continuity is what we're after right now. We're going through a tough stretch, we're not playing really well, we're not playing really sharp. We were right in it today, we had our chances for sure; we've had our chances in the last three games.

"So what is it that can get us over the hump? I think the first thing is for us to continue to stay strong mentally, to pick each other up, to realise we got a lot of work to do. We keep working, we don't let this take the wind out of our sails and we'll improve and get better."

While Irving starred, Durant was below his best against the Mavericks as he finished seven-for-21 shooting, having missed all four of his three-point attempts on the road.

"Kevin didn't have a great rhythm tonight, especially in the second half. He normally can get to his spots and convert. He just wasn't in a great rhythm. Some nights it's just going to happen," said Nash.

"We're all going to have poor shooting performances or nights where we don't quite have a rhythm. And then the defense, we made some mistakes. I thought the third-quarter defense was really good. In the fourth quarter, we made a few mistakes and they made a few plays, but I think there's a lot to build on. We can look at the tape, continue to build, continue to grow."

Durant added: "It's trust my work and most of the times a mentality switch on what I need to do to be more effective and more efficient. Tonight I tried shots that I shouldn't have tried. I shot over a double-team in the fourth quarter. I shot a runner going to the left, just trying to get into the game scoring-wise, and sometimes that pushes me out of the game when I try those tough ones, but it's all a learning experience.

"I'm glad it's happening now for us instead of in a couple weeks, and hopefully we build off of this and keep growing, and I hope we feel this pain, I guess, from losing, feeling like we're not where we want to be. I like this position for us, and I think it's gonna make us better as we continue to keep watching film, going through practice, going through shootarounds and then playing in games."

Los Angeles Angels general manager Perry Minasian insisted there is "never a right time for something like this" after the MLB franchise designated future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols for assignment.

Pujols' future is in limbo following Thursday's announcement – a procedural move that will lead to his release by the end of the week, less than two months into the last season of the slugger's 10-year, $240million contract.

The oldest active player in the majors, the 41-year-old Pujols popped out to first in his final at-bat with the Angels in Tuesday's ninth inning before sitting out Wednesday in the team's fourth straight loss. 

One of the greatest sluggers in baseball history, Pujols' 667 home runs rank fifth while his 669 doubles are also fifth-most of all time, but he has been batting mere .198 this season, though has homered five times and is fourth on the Angels with 12 RBIs.

"There's never a right time for something like this," Minasian said. "Obviously, I have all the respect in the world for what type of player he is; this is more about playing time and who we have."

"Albert is not a bench player," Minasian continued. "We felt like for him, with respect to him, keeping him on the bench, him not getting any playing time, would not do him any good or the team any good.

"Never a good time for this, but with that being said, we felt like it was the best thing for the organisation."

Only Hank Aaron has more RBIs than Pujols' 2,112 since it became an official statistic in 1920, and Pujols is 13th on the all-time hits list with 3,253.

Pujols enjoyed great success with the St Louis Cardinals, where he led the franchise to two World Series championships, one other National League (NL) pennant and six division crowns.

A unanimous NL Rookie of the Year Award winner in 2001 when he hit .329 with 37 home runs and 130 RBIs, Pujols made his first of nine All-Star selections with the Cardinals.

In his 11 seasons in St Louis, Pujols won three NL MVP Awards and finished in the top five in voting seven other times. 

He left St Louis after helping the Cardinals win the 2011 World Series to sign a mega deal with the Angels.

After slugging 445 home runs with 455 doubles while slashing .328/.420/.617 for a 1.037 OPS in 1,705 games over 11 seasons with the Cardinals, Pujols never lived up to expectations over 10 seasons with the Angels, hitting 222 homers with 214 doubles with a .256/.311/.447 slash line for a .758 OPS in 1,181 games.

His production dropped off significantly in the past four seasons, with 53 homers and a .239/.290/.414 slash line for a .704 OPS in 311 games.

He only earned one trip to the All-Star game since joining the Angels and the franchise made just one postseason appearance, getting swept by the Kansas City Royals in the 2014 American League Division Series (ALDS).

"He's as professional as any player I've ever dealt with," Minasian said. "There was no fight, there was no argument; this was a conversation that went back and forth.

"He expressed his feelings, we expressed ours; he understood where we stood on the whole situation. Things did not end bad. I gave him a big hug."

"He's as motivated as he's ever been," Minasian added. "If the situation was different and there were at-bats for him to play here, it'd be different. But let me put it this way -- if he does go somewhere else, and pursue playing somewhere else, I would not bet against him."

Angels manager Joe Maddon said: "Everybody will tell you the same thing; if you watch Albert work, it's pretty impressive. He's been around for a bit, he's been playing for a while, but he came to the ballpark with the same zeal on a daily basis. That's what I saw.

"The guy wanted to play, he wants to be on the field; he does not want to be a bench player of any kind. This guy has got a lot of pride, and that's a big reason why he's going to be a first-ballot unanimous Hall of Famer."

Australia will host France in a three-Test series in July, Rugby Australia (RA) announced on Friday.

The Wallabies will welcome fifth-ranked nation France to Australia, with games staged in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Midweek Test rugby will return for the first time since 2012 when the Wallabies face France at the SCG on July 7 before games at AAMI Park in Melbourne (July 13) and Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium (July 17).

Dave Rennie's Australia – who last met France in 2016 – will play a match at the SCG for the first time since 1986.

"France are one of the most exciting teams in World Rugby; they play with passion, flair and unpredictability and have proven time and time again they are one of the global forces of our game," said RA chief executive Andy Marinos.

"They have been quietly building their team as evidenced in their Junior World Cup performances over the past three seasons, and we are now starting to see this translate into their senior side as they look ahead to the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France."

"We have also seen the emergence of our own new next generation of Wallaby players throughout the 2020 International season, where I have no doubt, they will continue to build positive momentum into this exciting eToro France Test Series to be held in in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane," he added. 

"The return of midweek Test matches presents a unique opportunity for fans at home and at the venue, with each stadium in a central location for those attending after work.

"As we navigate our way through the ever-changing sporting landscape that we now operate within, we do so with the continued safety of all those involved in these Test matches, along with the communities in which we play, remaining our number one priority.

"We have enjoyed constructive and engaged discussions with [Rugby Union Players Association] RUPA on the international calendar, ensuring that player welfare and high-performance outcomes can be optimised. We will continue to work with our players to ensure our collective goal of being successful in all we do is realised."

France suffered a 3-0 whitewash during their last tour of Australia in 2014, and French Rugby Federation (FFR) president Bernard Laporte said: "It is a great opportunity for our French team to confront an emblematic nation of the southern hemisphere that has marked the history of world rugby such as Australia.

"We are convinced that our bleus, who feel a growing popular wave of the French at each match, will be keen to continue to perform on the international stage and demonstrate that France is among the great nations of world rugby!"

The Toronto Blue Jays are expecting to wait a while before they get top offseason recruit George Springer back from the injured list. 

Toronto placed Springer on the 10-day injured list with a right quad strain on Wednesday, with the move retroactive to May 3. 

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins believes star Springer will need more than the minimum length of time to return to the MLB line-up. 

"I would expect it would take more than just the IL stint," Atkins told reporters on Thursday.

"There's a chance I'm wrong, but based on the information that I have right now, I would expect that it would take longer than that IL stint."

Springer had been serving as a designated hitter following his long-awaited Blue Jays debut on April 28.

The 31-year-old has appeared in four games, hitting two home runs against the Atlanta Braves last week but going one for 10 with four strikeouts in his other appearances.

Springer left Sunday's game after three at-bats, complaining of what manager Charlie Montoyo called only "fatigue".  

The World Series champion and MVP joined Toronto on a six-year, $150million contract from the Houston Astros via free agency ahead of the 2021 season, the largest deal in Blue Jays history.

His setback is just one of a number of injury issues for the Blue Jays, who put pitcher David Phelps on the IL on Thursday with a right lat strain as infielder Joe Panik had an MRI after feeling calf pain while running on Wednesday. 

Earlier this week, Toronto put pitchers Tommy Milone (shoulder) and Anthony Castro (forearm) on the IL along with catcher Alejandro Kirk (hip). 

Phil Mickelson knows Quail Hollow as well as any course on the PGA Tour, and his comfort there was clear on Thursday as he earned a two-stroke lead in the opening round of the Wells Fargo Championship. 

Mickelson carded a seven-under-par 64 to set the early pace in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the five-time major champion is looking for his first win in 17 consecutive appearances at the event. 

The 50-year-old has always played well there, though, finishing in the top five in half of his 16 previous starts at the tournament. 

Lee Kyoung-hoon and Keegan Bradley were two shots back after shooting 66s.

Mickelson recorded just one bogey on day one while carding eight birdies, including four of the last five holes. 

He won two Champions Tour events last year in his debut season on that circuit, but has not captured a PGA Tour title since winning at Pebble Beach in February 2019. 

Mickelson's last opening-round lead or co-lead came three weeks prior to that in Palm Springs, but he did not want to put any additional pressure on himself after Thursday's strong start.

"I don't want to jump ahead, I want to play a good round tomorrow," said Mickelson, who recorded his lowest score on Tour since a 63 in the second round of the 2020 Travelers Championship. "I have an opportunity to play a course I love with a great pairing.

"I'm playing well and I just want to kind of not get ahead of myself and go play another fun round."

Mickelson, who entered the week ranked number 115 in the world, has 30 career opening-round leads/co-lads – the second most on Tour since 1992.

American star Justin Thomas closed out the first round five shots off the pace, while U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau and 2012 tournament winner Rickie Fowler are a stroke further back.

Former Masters champion Patrick Reed shot a 71 as Xander Schauffele and former world number one Rory McIlroy ended the day one over the card.

McIlroy – winner of the Wells Fargo Championship in 2015 – mixed three bogeys and two birdies on a challenging day for the four-time major champion.

Jon Rahm struggled following his opening-round 76, while defending champion Max Homa's bid for back-to-back titles started with a six-over-par 77.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. is set to fight YouTube sensation Logan Paul next month, but he ended up face to face with both Paul brothers on Thursday. 

As the two intended combatants held a media event in Miami ahead of their June 6 pay-per-view clash at Hard Rock Stadium, Mayweather said he could beat Logan and Jake Paul on the same night. 

After Mayweather stepped off the stage, Jake Paul egged the boxing great on, challenging him to make good on the two fights in one night boast. 

"What's up? You want to run it two in one night?" Paul taunted. 

Mayweather, 44, responded: "Absolutely, let's do it. Let's make it happen. Get the paperwork for this bum." 

Paul then snatched Mayweather's hat and darted away, leading to a rolling scuffle as dozens of bystanders crowded around with cameras and phones recording the scene. 

The scheduled bout will be the second professional fight for 26-year-old Logan Paul, who has 22.9million subscribers to his YouTube channel.

His younger brother Jake has three fights to his credit, most recently winning by TKO over Ben Askew in April. 

Mayweather, who retired from boxing with a 50-0 record after beating UFC star Conor McGregor in 2017, said this match-up would be a real fight for Paul, but "just having fun" for him.

 

Brooklyn Nets superstar James Harden is "very, very confident" he will return from injury before the NBA playoffs.

Harden has not played since leaving the matchup against the New York Knicks on April 5, with the star-studded Nets slipping two games behind the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference.

Former MVP Harden – who arrived from the Houston Rockets in a blockbuster trade in January – is averaging 25.2 points, 10.9 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game this season.

Harden's assists per game – second only to Washington Wizards star Russell Westbrook (11.3) in 2020-21 – is his best mark since averaging 11.2 in 2015-16, while he only averaged more rebounds in 2016-17 (8.1).

"Very, very confident," Harden told reporters when asked about being ready for the playoffs. "I guess I have to hit the marks in the work I did today. Have a couple of those without any feeling. That's pretty much the mark. I'm very confident I'll be back before the postseason.

"The plan is to hopefully get an opportunity to play a couple games before the postseason. We're just taking one day at a time.

"So far, so good. Today was really good, and we've just got to keep building on that."

"We wanted to be patient," Harden said. "As much as I love to hoop, I want to be out there, but you've got to be smart. And for me, it was just, 'Let's knock this thing out, let's get this thing healthy so we can make a push.'"

Harden added: "At this point in my career, going to postseasons basically since I've been in Houston, I've been playing heavy minutes, just carrying the load.

"And this was an opportunity for me to keep my body right going into the postseason with a clear mind and a clear body. You've got 16 games to win. That's the ultimate goal. That's the reason why I came to Brooklyn."

The Nets boast Harden, former MVP Kevin Durant and fellow superstar Kyrie Irving but Brooklyn's big three have only played together seven times this season due to injuries and absences.

Brooklyn (43-23) have lost three consecutive games, while they own a 5-5 record in their last 10 games as Steve Nash's Nets eye their maiden championship.

Harden does not believe injuries have damaged the Nets' title charge, saying: "No, no. No. I just... no. We're sitting right now at this point [in the] second spot and we've had so many different line-ups; that right there tells you how great, good, or whatever-you-wanna-call-it this team is.

"The most important thing for us going into the postseason is health. This season has been so condensed — you see a lot of guys are going down because of the amount of games. So I think for us our mindset is, alright, if we can come to the postseason healthy, we are right there and we got a chance.

"Finish these last six games out strong, focus on the things that we need to focus on, the things we can control, and go out there and have fun and we live with the results."

Albert Pujols' 10-year stint with Los Angeles Angles is over after the franchise surprisingly designated the future Hall of Fame slugger for assignment on Thursday.

The oldest active player in the majors at 41 years old, Pujols popped out to first in his final at-bat with the Angels in Tuesday's ninth inning before sitting out Wednesday in the club's fourth straight loss. 

He is batting a mere .198 this season, though has homered five times and is fourth on the Angels with 12 RBIs.

'"The Angels organization proudly signed Albert Pujols in 2011, and are honoured that he has worn an Angels jersey for nearly half of his Hall of Fame career,'" Angels owner Arte Moreno said in a statement.

"Albert's historical accomplishments, both on and off the field, serve as an inspiration to athletes everywhere, and his actions define what it means to be a true superstar. 

"Since his Rookie of the Year season in 2001, Albert and his wife Deidre have generously given their time and resources to countless charities throughout the world. We are thankful to the entire Pujols family."

One of the greatest sluggers in baseball history, Pujols' 667 home runs rank fifth while his 669 doubles are also fifth-most of all time. 

Only Hank Aaron has more RBIs than Pujols' 2,112 since it became an official statistic in 1920, and Pujols is 13th on the all-time hits list with 3,253.

While he is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, much of his production came in the first half of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals.

A unanimous NL Rookie of the Year Award winner in 2001 when he hit .329 with 37 home runs and 130 RBIs, Pujols made his first of nine All-Star selections with the Cardinals.

In his 11 seasons in St. Louis, Pujols won three NL MVP Awards and finished in the top five in voting seven other times. 

He led the Cardinals to two World Series championships, one other NL pennant and six division crowns.

He left St. Louis after helping the Cardinals win the 2011 World Series to sign a 10-year, $240 million contract with Los Angeles in a move that has served as a cautionary tale for franchises considering giving long-term deals to players on the wrong side of 30 years old.

After slugging 445 home runs with 455 doubles while slashing .328/.420/.617 for a 1.037 OPS in 1,705 games over 11 seasons with the Cardinals, Pujols never lived up to expectations over 10 seasons with the Angels, hitting 222 homers with 214 doubles with a .256/.311/.447 slash line for a .758 OPS in 1,181 games.

His production dropped off significantly in the past four seasons, with 53 homers and a .239/.290/.414 slash line for a .704 OPS in 311 games.

He only earned one trip to the All-Star game since joining Los Angeles and the franchise made just one postseason appearance, getting swept by the Kansas City Royals in the 2014 American League Division Series.

Pujols is making $30 million in salary this season, and should another team pick him up after he clears waivers, the Angels still would owe him the rest of his $30 million.

Aryna Sabalenka will have a shot at redemption when she faces top seed Ash Barty in the Madrid Open final after beating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straight sets on Thursday.

World number seven Sabalenka squandered a one-set lead to lose to Barty in the Stuttgart Open final two weeks ago.

But she will have another crack at winning silverware in the Spanish capital in Saturday's final against Barty, who saw off Paula Badosa in straight sets in the other last-four match.

"I'm looking forward to the final," she said in her on-court interview. "First of all I will have a good rest and do everything I can to prepare myself as good as I can. 

"It'll be really interesting to play another final against Ash. I think it'll be a great battle. I think everyone coming here can see themselves winning the tournament. I'll do my best."

Sabalenka had not dropped a single set in Madrid in the lead-up to the semi-final and that remains the case after cruising past Pavlyuchenkova in a little over an hour.

The fifth seed converted four of her five break points and won 73 per cent of her second-service points.

Pavlyuchenkova, ranked 41st in the world, lost serve in the fourth and eighth games of the opening set and failed to hold on her first two service games in the second set.

Despite breaking Sabalenka in the seventh game, the Belarussian proved far too strong for her opponent and got over the line with a fourth ace of the match to reach her third final of the season.

Rafael Nadal saw off Alexei Popyrin to reach the Madrid Open quarter-finals on a day that saw Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas suffer surprise defeats.

World number two Nadal, chasing a record-extending sixth title on home soil, advanced 6-3 6-3 in a time of one hour and two minutes on Thursday.

Popyrin, playing in his first last-16 match at a Masters 1000 event, broke Nadal in the sixth game of the opening set but the Spaniard otherwise looked comfortable.

Nadal converted four of his six break points to advance through to the last eight for a 15th time, where Alexander Zverev awaits.

"It was difficult," Nadal said in his on-court interview. "The court today was slippery, it was very fast, very dry conditions. The ball was flying a lot. The beginning was super tough. 

"He was hitting every ball and hitting the spots. I'm happy with the victory. It was an important victory, he came here playing well. Every match is tough."

Zverev, who won the competition in 2018, beat British number one Dan Evans 6-3 7-6 (7-3) to set up a meeting with Nadal

However, second and fourth seeds Medvedev and Tsitsipas saw their participation come to an end at the hands of Cristian Garin and Casper Ruud respectively.

Medvedev, who is still yet to reach the quarters in Madrid, lost the only break of serve in the third game of the opening set but recovered by taking the second set in a tie-break.

Garin dominated the deciding set, the world number 25 breaking Medvedev twice and, after a short delay to fix a broken net, advanced 6-4 6-7 (7-2) 6-1.

Tsitsipas, who held championship point against Nadal in the Barcelona Open final, failed to break Ruud on a single occasion as he fell 7-6 (7-4) 6-4.

Alexander Bublik is next up for Ruud after beating Aslan Karatsev 6-4 6-3, while Matteo Berrettini - 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 winner against Federico Delbonis - will meet Garin.

Also vying for a place in the semi-finals are John Isner and Dominic Thiem, who are set to face off after beating sixth seed Andrey Rublev and Alex de Minaur respectively.

Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez was the epitome of composure in the media presentation ahead of Saturday's huge bout with Billy Joe Saunders, who insisted: "I have come here to win."

In a long-awaited fight that has seen a feisty build-up – including a dispute over the size of the ring and a fiery photoshoot on Wednesday in which tempers threatened to boil over – Canelo and Saunders will meet in Arlington.

Approximately 70,000 spectators, the largest crowd in the United States since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and the largest ever for an indoor boxing event in the country, will flock to the AT&T Stadium to witness the unification clash.

Mexican Canelo holds the WBA and WBC super-middleweight titles after victories over Callum Smith and Avni Yildirim – the latter fight clearing the way for a meeting with undefeated WBO champion Saunders.

Canelo has won 55 professional fights, 37 by knock-out. There were little signs of any complacency from the 30-year-old, but he coolly declared: "I've been involved in a lot of big fights; this is just another day at the office.

"I come to win; boxing is my life. I come here to win.

"I'm excited for this fight. He's a great fighter, he has a lot of ability and he's also a southpaw, but I'm not the same fighter of six or seven years ago and on Saturday I'll show that."

Saunders, on the other hand, is convinced Canelo is about to meet his match.

"I've been boxing since I was five years old, I've been dragged up. We can all have the rough, tough talks from growing up as kids but I'm here for a reason and there's no other reason for me to be here apart from win. Not about fame, anything else, publicity – win," he said.

"I don't think we've had somebody come to win for a very long time. We've had lots of people fly in, turn up, collect checks and fly out, but we haven't had the heart and soul and the IQ that I will bring to the table and to the ring, to win.

"I can't talk what he’s done down, he's done brilliant things for boxing. He's a good champion, but there's a time in life where you get tested.

"Sometimes when you forget where you come from, forget all those hard things that have brought you to where you're at, sometimes that can make it difficult on yourself, and I think he's bumping into the wrong man on Saturday to be walking away with those titles."

A 103-101 loss to the Toronto Raptors on a buzzer-beating three-pointer just over a month ago on April 5 seemed to encompass the Washington Wizards' season perfectly.

Washington blew a 19-point, third-quarter lead en route to dropping to 0-11 when failing to score more than 102 points. It was a fourth straight loss for a team playing their fifth game in a row without 2020 scoring leader Bradley Beal, and the defeat dropped the Wizards to 17-32 – the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference and 3.5 games out of 10th place for the final spot in the play-in tournament.

The Russell Westbrook experiment was looking like a disaster and very little suggested a playoff push was possible over the season's final five and a half weeks given the team's struggles over the season's first three months when Beal was healthy.

Surprisingly, however, the Wizards didn't fold.

They showed some reserve two nights later with Beal back in the lineup, finishing strong in a 131-116 victory over the Orlando Magic after nearly blowing all of a 21-point, third-quarter lead, then escaped with a 110-107 road win over the Golden State Warriors on April 9 with Beal scoring six points in the final 6.1 seconds.

The win streak ended the next night but that was no big surprise as they were on the road against a Phoenix Suns team that is currently battling for the best record in the league, not to mention Beal sat out the second half of a back-to-back.

Since then, though, Washington has compiled the league's second-best record at 11-3, racking up 115 points or more in all 14 of those games. The only other team in the past 30 years to have a streak like this was a 20-game run by the 2018-19 Oklahoma City Thunder – a team also quarterbacked by Westbrook.

Since April 12, the Wizards are averaging an eye-popping 126.0 points per game to lead the NBA, and while Westbrook and Beal have played a big role in the scoring explosion, the offense is getting a boost from some unlikely sources thanks to a somewhat unconventional approach.

In this age of players regularly hoisting up three-point shots, the Wizards are instead focusing on pushing the ball inside.

Washington are attempting 7.1 fewer three-point attempts in their most recent 14 games compared to their first 52 contests, with their 23.4 three-point attempts since April 12 ranking fewest in the league – 3.7 attempts fewer than the next-closest team (San Antonio Spurs) and 20.1(!) fewer than the club with the most tries (Utah Jazz).

The results? An offense that ranks fourth in efficiency since April 12 at 115.4 points per 100 possessions after ranking 23rd at 106.7 through games played on April 11.

The backcourt tandem of Westbrook and Beal, the league's No. 2 scoring duo with 3,068 points – 29 behind the New Orleans Pelicans' Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram – have been the driving force of Washington's recent surge, which should obviously come as no surprise.

Prior to April 12, the Wizards averaged 99.8 points per 100 possessions when neither Westbrook nor Beal were on the court, and 109.9 points when they were playing together. Since April 12, Washington's efficiency without Westbrook and Beal dipped a smidge – 98.9 points per 100 possessions – while its production with both of them on the court has jumped significantly – 117.9 points per 100 possessions.

The offense is running smoother in part because Westbrook is taking smarter shots.

For all the great things the nine-time All-Star and 2016-17 MVP does on the court, shooting three-pointers isn't one of them. Of the 125 players with at least 225 3-point attempts, Westbrook's 31.2 per cent shooting ranks 121st.

Attempting fewer shots from beyond the perimeter would seem to behove Westbrook and the Wizards, and he's complying. After averaging 4.3 three-point attempts in his first 45 games, he's attempting an average of 2.8 three-pointers in the previous 14.

He's done some of his most damage recently from the elbow, where he's shooting 47.9 per cent and has made 35 field goals – second only to Ingram's 41 since April 12.

He made six shots from the elbow in Wednesday's 135-134 road loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, when he finished with 29 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds for his 19th triple-double in his past 23 games. With 179 triple-doubles in his career, he is now within two of Oscar Robertson's all-time record.

Beal has also cut down a bit on his three-point tries in the past 14 games – 6.4 to 5.5 – but the biggest change to his game in the last three and a half weeks has been he's driving even more to the basket.

Since April 12, his 10.0 field goal attempts on dunks and layups trails only Williamson's 15.1 per game for the league lead. The six-foot-three Beal is making 6.0 of these attempts after making 4.3 and attempting an average of 7.0 dunk and layups through April 11.

While Westbrook and Beal are considered two of the league's top guards, Robin Lopez's name usually isn't mentioned when discussing the NBA's top big men. Heck, he isn't even considered to be the best seven-footer in his own family, but he's been automatic from close range recently.

Among the 173 players with at least 30 shots from within five feet of the basket since April 12, Lopez's 78.4 per cent shooting (29 of 37) ranks sixth in the league. Prior to this stretch, Lopez was shooting 66.5 per cent on all shots within five feet of the hoop – just a tick behind brother Brook at 67.5 per cent.

Lopez isn't the only big man that has stepped up off the bench recently for Washington.

The three-team trade that sent Daniel Gafford from the Chicago Bulls to the Wizards didn't really move the needle on the day of the trade deadline, but it's one that has helped Washington turn their season around.

Of the 199 players with at least 75 field goal attempts since April 12, Gafford ranks fourth in the NBA in eFG per cent at 69.2, just behind Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant, whose third on the list at 69.7 per cent.

Gafford has also become one of Westbrook's favourite targets, as Westbrook has fed him on 31 made baskets since April 12. That's the most by any guard to a centre and third by any player to a team-mate behind Westbrook to Beal at 39 and the Warriors' Draymond Green to Stephen Curry at 46.

The recent surge in the standings has Washington on the verge of making the playoffs for the first time since 2018, as they sit in 10th place in the East, one-half game back of the ninth-place Indiana Pacers and a comfortable three games ahead of the Toronto Raptors.

Not only are the playoffs within their grasp, with the way Westbrook, Beal and company are playing, the high-octane Wizards have a look of a team nobody would like to face in the postseason.

Rafael Nadal and Naomi Osaka have earned the top 2021 prizes at the Laureus World Sports Awards, while Patrick Mahomes, Lewis Hamilton and Mohamed Salah were all also recognised.

Tennis dominated the individual honours as Nadal collected a fourth award, named Laureus World Sportsman of the Year for the second time.

The Spaniard, who has also previously taken the 2006 Breakthrough Award and the 2014 Comeback Award, was selected after winning the French Open to tie Roger Federer's record of 20 grand slam titles.

Nadal, who said he "can't be happier", added: "Winning the French Open and equalling the 20th grand slam of Roger Federer has been an unforgettable moment.

"It means a lot to equal my great rival, but at the same time, my great friend. It's something very special after all the history we have had together on and off court."

Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Osaka, the 2019 Breakthrough winner, claimed a second US Open triumph while supporting the 'Black Lives Matter' movement.

"I think it is important to use my voice, because, for me, I feel like I often hold back a lot and worry about what people think of me, but you know if you have a platform it is very important you use it," the Japanese superstar said.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Mahomes won the Super Bowl last year and played in the big game again earlier in 2021, making him the latest Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year Award winner.

He and Formula One great Hamilton both joined Osaka in demonstrations against racial inequality.

Two-time Laureus winner Hamilton got his hands on the Athlete Advocate of the Year Award and said: "This past year has been incredibly difficult for so many, but it has also been heartening to see the power of our collective voices spark new conversations and change.

"The impact of each and every one of you who have stood up, is so inspiring, so I want to thank you. Please keep fighting, keep shining your light."

Liverpool's Salah supported a number of causes and led the Reds to Premier League glory, receiving the Laureus Sporting Inspiration Award, but Bayern Munich of the Bundesliga were the World Team of the Year for the second time.

Nadal and Osaka were not the only tennis stars to have their name called, as Billie Jean King took the Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award.

Johnny Sexton's omission from the British and Irish Lions squad was one of Warren Gatland's "toughest decisions", the coach has admitted.

Ireland legend Sexton, the 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year, was one of the surprise exclusions from Gatland's 37-man selection for the upcoming tour of South Africa.

Sexton misses out despite the fly-half playing a key role on the 2017 trip to New Zealand, with Gatland expressing some concerns over the 35-year-old's "durability" and instead calling up Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell and Finn Russell.

"There's no doubt that that was one of the toughest decisions that we had to make," said Gatland at a news conference on Thursday.

"I've got a huge amount of respect for Johnny and his quality, but it's such a pivotal position for us and it's about sending a message to the 10s that we have selected that we have the confidence and belief in them to do a job.

"When we looked at where we were going in South Africa probably the thing that kept coming back to us was Johnny's durability, being able to put a string of matches together consecutively, and big matches.

"He has been rested on a number of occasions and unfortunately that's possibly what swayed it for us in terms of us not having the confidence that he can get through what's going to be a tough, physical tour."

Billy Vunipola was also a notable absentee from the list, while other big calls saw Wales centre Jonathan Davies, England prop Kyle Sinckler and Ireland second row James Ryan left out.

However, Gatland did find room for Exeter Chiefs number eight Sam Simmonds, who has not played a Test for England since March 2018.

The Lions will face the Springboks in Tests on July 24, July 31 and August 7.

Ash Barty saw off Paula Badosa in straight sets to reach the final of the Madrid Open, extending her unbeaten streak on clay to 16 matches.

The world number one triumphed 6-4 6-3 on Thursday, taking her record for 2021 to an impressive 25-3.

Badosa is the only player to have beaten Barty since February, but the Spaniard was unable to pull off a repeat of her upset in their quarter-final clash in Charleston last month.

The world number 62 had become the first Spanish player to reach the semi-finals in Madrid and there was little to split the pair through the opening nine games.

However, when serving at 5-4 down to stay in the set, Badosa suddenly came under pressure.

The wildcard saved two set points but gifted her opponent a 1-0 lead with a double fault. A similar situation early in the second put Barty 3-1 up, though she had to save three break points in her next service game.

After escaping trouble on that occasion, the Australian had no further issues on her way to completing the win after one hour and 15 minutes on court.

Standing in her way of a fourth title this season will be either Aryna Sabalenka or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova; they will meet in the second semi-final in the evening session in the Spanish capital.

The in-form Barty has already been crowned champion at the Yarra Valley Classic this year, as well as events in Miami and Stuttgart.

Billy Joe Saunders knows he must "turn the boxing world upside down" to beat Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez in their super-middleweight unification bout.

Undefeated WBO champion Saunders takes on WBC and WBA title-holder Canelo at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Saturday.

The Mexican is the clear favourite, but Saunders is ready to upset the odds.

"I'm certainly, most definitely going in there as the underdog in many, many people's eyes," he told Stats Perform.

"It's about self-belief; I wouldn't be here if I was thinking that I wasn't going to go home with the win, anything but.

"I'm very excited to get in the ring now and showcase my skills off to the world.

"I don't really watch opponents, watch glimpses of them. I've seen him for many, many years. He's a complete fighter. I know what's got to be done.

"He's a brilliant fighter, got to rate him. He's down as pound-for-pound king, so it's my turn to turn the boxing world upside down."

Saunders insists a partisan Cinco de Mayo weekend crowd will not negatively impact his performance – "it will spur me on," he says – but he has repeatedly referred to potential issues with the judges.

The 30-0 Briton has stated he will start the fight "three rounds down" on the scorecards, while his father suggested there was a dispute over the size of the ring.

"That all got sorted out," Saunders said, adding: "He's a brilliant boxer, I'm a brilliant boxer. It’s all on a level playing field."

But Saunders, when asked how he could beat Canelo, said: "I don't want to say that. You'll find out on Saturday night.

"I don't want to give too much away. I know what I've got to do to get the edge.

"I just want to be treated fairly and hopefully the judges score it for how they see it and not how they hear it."

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