Rafael Nadal revealed he was convinced by officials after questioning the air quality at the Australian Open.

Bushfires have ravaged Australia in recent months and led to air quality concerns in Melbourne, where qualifying was impacted as smoke blanketed the city on Tuesday.

Nadal was unconcerned heading into the tournament, saying organisers had convinced him when questioned about the air.

"I don't have concerns because I am just one more player. When the issues were there a couple of days ago in qualifying, when I heard the players having issues, asking questions, me like a player, the only thing I can do is go to the tournament director office, ask what's going on, because I have been practising those days, too," the Spaniard said on Saturday.

"I really received, for me – that doesn't mean for everyone it should be the same – but for me I received an answer that convinced me. They told me that they have the right specialists here analysing and monitoring every four minutes the air.

"There are parameters, that with some parameters we don't play … [if it] is over 200, we don't play, under 200 we normally play. What I received on the answer is on the 'Olympic rule' is until 300 you can keep competing. So when I received an answer like this, when I received an answer that the most important committee in the world of sport, like the Olympic Committee, allowed the people to compete until 300, and we are going until 200, I really cannot believe that the most important committee in the world wants bad health for the competitors. So that answer convinced me. I am here to play. Hopefully the situation doesn't come back to the negative numbers."

Nadal, who faces Hugo Dellien in the Australian Open first round, said all organisers could do was listen to experts.

"My opinion is the tournament, the only thing they can do is have the right people here, the right people who can analyse everything what's going on," he said.

"The only thing that, in my opinion, the tournament can do is listen to the specialists, listen to the doctors, and then make the decision based on what the doctor says.

"If the doctor says it's not a problem, why we don't go to play? If the doctor says a problem, of course there is an issue to not play."

Roger Federer insisted he was unworried about the air quality in Melbourne as he dismissed suggestions tournaments like the Australian Open should be moved.

Bushfires have ravaged Australia in recent months and it led to poor air quality during qualifying for the year's first grand slam.

While organisers have faced criticism over allowing play to continue, Federer was unconcerned and said there should be no suggestions of moving the tournament.

"Go in the streets, ask the people if they want it to move from Melbourne or from Australia. No, I don't worry," he told a news conference on Saturday.

"From what we were told yesterday in the player meeting, the Olympic Games and other competitions have the numbers set at 300. Ours is set at 200. From that standpoint, I think we're moving in a very safe range. We're not here for six months straight at over 200, 300, you know. That's when maybe effects really become bad.

"No, I don't worry too much, to be honest. I worry more for everybody else who is in the fire, in the smoke. Also we can stay indoors all day, quickly go out and play, go back in again. It's not like we're stuck outside at all times. Maybe that message comes a bit late after the ATP Cup is over, after qualifying is over.

"I think communication is key from the tournament to the people, to the media, to the fans, to the players, because you do hear it's not safe to be outside, keep your pets inside, close your windows. You have court calls, then you look at the haze and everything, it doesn't look good. I think we're going to get through it and it should be fine. It shouldn't move, no."

Organisers faced fierce criticism on Tuesday, when smoke blanketed Melbourne but play was allowed to continue.

Federer revealed he had urged officials to improve their communication regarding the issue.

"I was in the office that day to ask what's the situation. Like I explained to you guys, everybody is told to be inside, and we're having court calls. How far are we from that threshold of playing, not playing?" said the 20-time grand slam champion, who faces Steve Johnson in the first round.

"I think we're all confused. Is it super unsafe or is it totally safe to play? The problem on top of it, it was actually quite hot, too. You always go back into the same thing: some players are not used to playing at 35-, 33-degree heat, especially if you've practised on the indoor season. I'm not saying they're not ready or whatever it is, but it can always hit you.

"Of course, everything gets put down on it was the smoke. For sure, it can be nothing else. So what can I do? I can go to the office, speak to them. I went to them the first day when it was bad on Tuesday, the next day on Wednesday when it was still bad.

"I told them, 'Look, I just think communication is key for all of us, for everybody. We just need to do more because I feel like I hadn't gotten enough information.' Can I go on court and say, 'everybody stop play'? I can try. I don't think that's going to do much.

"So some media are happy to hammer home with that subject because it's a new one. Maybe it was all a bit late. But I don't think I can do more than what I did. I'm on the council. I've been on the Tour for so long. I came through the lower ranks, the juniors.

"At the end of the day we all care for one another. We cross paths in the locker room. We're all cool, you know. I understand some frustration always because this Tour, this calendar, this schedule, whatever it may be, is never perfect. Some guys are always going to complain.

"But at the end of the day, you know, this is also something new with the smoke. Everybody's got to figure it out, to be honest, yeah."

Elena Rybakina continued her strong start to 2020 by winning the Hobart International title on Saturday.

The Kazakh, 20, proved too good for Zhang Shuai 7-6 (9-7) 6-3 to claim her second WTA Tour crown.

Rybakina is in impressive form to begin the year, having also reached the final in Shenzhen this month.

She delivered in the decider this time, converting all three break points she created on her way to victory in one hour, 33 minutes.

Rybakina will hope to carry her good form into the Australian Open, facing Bernarda Pera in the opening round.

Petra Kvitova admitted she was worried about the air quality in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open, particularly as an asthma sufferer.

The year's first grand slam has been impacted by poor air quality in Victoria's capital after bushfires ravaged Australia in recent months.

Organisers have faced criticism during the qualifying rounds, although air quality has been rated as 'good' in Melbourne since Thursday.

Kvitova, who suffers from asthma, said the air was a concern heading into the grand slam.

"I've been a bit worried about it. Now I'm very happy that, as I mentioned, the sky, it's there again clearly," last year's runner-up told a news conference on Saturday.

"Of course everybody knows that I do have asthma problems, which I wasn't really happy about that if the air is still bad.

"It's same for everybody, so it will be really difficult to breathe for sure. I do have my medicines here, as well.

"Yeah, I'm going to use it if it's important."

However, Kvitova – who faces fellow Czech Katerina Siniakova in the first round – backed officials.

"Well, I'm very comfortable with everything they've taken," she said.

Naomi Osaka believes she is not as fearless as last year as she prepares for her Australian Open title defence.

The Japanese star claimed her second grand slam title in Melbourne in 2019, backing up her US Open success from just months prior.

But the 22-year-old, seemingly more aware of what was at stake, said she felt more fearless last year.

"I feel like last year I was young. Last year I feel like I was young. I was just this young kid that was going out. My goal was to win, and I wasn't going to let anything stop me," Osaka told a news conference on Saturday.

"I feel like now I appreciate more every single win because I know what it took to get it.

"Of course, I want to win every match and I want to go out there and do that. That's what I'm here for.

"I think maybe last year I was a little bit more fearless."

Osaka, the world number three, is again among the favourites and faces Marie Bouzkova in her first-round match.

Ashleigh Barty, the world's top-ranked player, is also expected to challenge and Osaka praised the Australian while talking down suggestions of a rivalry with a player she has met three times since the start of 2018.

"It's super weird. People keep asking me questions like we're rivals or something. She's in the finals of Adelaide right now," she said.

"I think obviously she's a great player. She's the number one ranked player in the world. I don't know, we've played really close matches."

Caroline Wozniacki insisted she was calm and just enjoying herself ahead of her final professional tournament at the Australian Open.

Wozniacki will retire after the Australian Open, which begins on Monday, ending a career that saw her win the title in Melbourne in 2018 and hold the top ranking.

The Dane, 29, said she was staying calm so far, but expects there to be emotion once her career is officially over.

"It's not a situation that I've ever been in. It's hard to tell," Wozniacki told a news conference on Saturday when asked if she would stay calm.

"So far I'm calm and just enjoying myself. I have my family here, which is great. I'm sure once the last ball is hit, it's going to be a bit emotional."

Wozniacki will face Kristie Ahn in the opening round in Melbourne, but said her approach had remained unchanged despite the circumstances.

"So far I've just approached it like any other tournament, but obviously it's different since it's my last one," she said.

"I'm just enjoying being out there. I've had some great practice sessions. I've done everything I could to prepare as well as I can for this tournament, then hope for the best."

Daniil Medvedev accepts the 'Big Three' will be hard to stop at the Australian Open, but said he was gaining confidence from facing the all-time greats.

After a superb 2019 that included a run to the US Open final, Medvedev is considered one of the contenders in Melbourne, where the year's first grand slam starts on Monday.

But 14 of the past 16 Australian Opens have been won by Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, and the trio are again the favourites.

Medvedev, the fourth seed who will face Frances Tiafoe in a tricky opener, said regularly facing the greats gave him confidence.

"I think playing against them from time to time, especially the further you go in the big tournaments, the more chances you have to play them," he told a news conference on Saturday.

"The more times you play them, the more you know where you are comparing to them. For example, match in ATP Cup, Novak was kind of all over me. I managed to get back, almost win the match. I mean, he still won it. They won the whole ATP Cup. But I felt I was really close.

"Matches like this give you confidence to see that you're able to do it, but it's really tough."

Medvedev's run to the final at Flushing Meadows was the first time he had been beyond the fourth round of a grand slam.

The Russian, 23, said he was eyeing at least the quarter-finals in Melbourne this year.

"It's always tough to answer. Good Australian Open is to win it, but if you ask me what I'm going to be happy about, it always depends of course who you play, who you lose to," Medvedev said.

"But I would say I will be happy with quarters. As I always say, for me the first goal is to win it step by step.

"If I'm in quarters, I'm not going to be there and say, 'Okay, I've done my goal, it's enough for this tournament.'

"Any tournament I play, I want to win it. But quarters will be satisfying, I would say."

Rickie Fowler moved into a share of the lead at The American Express after shooting an eight-under 64 in the second round on Friday.

The American backed up his opening-round 65 with a stellar showing, this time at the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West in California.

Fowler produced a bogey-free round that included an eagle and six birdies as he climbed into 15 under.

He is joined atop the leaderboard by Scottie Scheffler, who shot a 64 on the same course to be alongside Fowler with a one-stroke lead.

Fowler made back-to-back birdies on holes 11 and 12 before delivering a strong finish, including the eagle at the par-five fourth – where a wonderful second shot set up a short putt.

Andrew Landry carded an eight-under 64 at La Quinta Country Club to be outright third at 14 under.

The round of the day belonged to Tony Finau, who carded a stunning 10-under 62 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course.

Finau was three under through his first nine holes before birdieing seven of his last nine to be outright fourth at 13 under.

Bud Cauley (64) is at 12 under, a shot ahead of Ted Potter Jr. (63), Im Sung-jae (66), Ryan Moore (65), Cameron Davis (67), Wes Roach (65) and Chase Seiffert (67).

Adam Long, last year's winner when the tournament was called the Desert Classic, is back at five under and tied for 68th.

Phil Mickelson has struggled to get going and sits in a tie for 110th at two under after rounds of 70 and 72.

Kyrie Irving stands by his criticism of some Brooklyn Nets team-mates and defended his leadership style as he insisted he is not a "f****** a*****e".

Irving – who joined the Nets as a free agent in the offseason – made headlines this week when he claimed the team had "glaring" needs following a 117-106 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

However, the 27-year-old, a one-time NBA champion and a six-time All-Star, believes he was right to criticise his team-mates and cites his career achievements as the basis for taking a leadership role.

"It's probably a tell-tale sign of the career that I've had, some of the moves that I've made individually as well as coming to different environments and organisations," Irving told reporters in a video shared by SNYtv.

"At the end of the day, it's an entertainment league. We're drama-filled, everything revolves on these media platforms, which is part of society. I can't really do anything about it, except really be a pillar in our locker room and when I'm out there, winning, that's what it comes down to.

"It's not like I'm a f****** a*****e shouting all of the time in the locker room.

"I'm going to continue to push, demand greatness from my team-mates and we go from there. If it's harsh as a leader or it's too much for anybody, you're not in our locker room – stay the f*** out, it's as simple as that."


Irving also insisted he has earned the right to be respected and listened to by his team-mates, as he attempts to propel the Nets towards a championship win.

"At the end of the day, my name is in a lot of people's mouths all of the time," Irving added.

"I've earned that respect because of how great I am as a player and there's still more goals I want to accomplish in this league and I can't do it without improving an organisation and winning a championship, and that's what it comes down to."

The Nets are eighth in the Eastern Conference with an 18-22 record for the season, with pacesetters the Milwaukee Bucks next up on Saturday.

Conor McGregor and Donald Cerrone weighed in at the 170-pound limit ahead of their fight at UFC 246 on Saturday.

Both fighters are considered natural lightweights and questions had been asked as to whether McGregor, who is making his return to the octagon after a 15-month absence since his submission loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov, would be able to hit his mark.

However, the duo tipped the scales at 170lbs on Friday in Las Vegas.

The fight is taking place at welterweight and McGregor hopes it will be the first of three bouts for him season, with his eyes seemingly set on Jorge Masvidal and a rematch with lightweight champion Khabib.

The outspoken Irishman likely needs a positive result against Cerrone, the all-time wins leader in UFC, if he is to have a chance of making such ambitions a reality.

McGregor's time away from mixed martial arts started with a six-month ban imposed after a post-fight brawl outside the cage marred his meeting with Khabib, and there was no escape from controversy in the intervening period.

The 31-year-old was arrested and charged with strong-armed robbery and criminal mischief last March after it was alleged he took a man's phone and smashed it on the ground in Miami – the charges were later dropped over inconsistencies in the victim's testimony. In November, he was fined €1,000 after pleading guilty to an assault of a man at a pub in Dublin.

McGregor went 1-1 in his two previous fights at welterweight, losing to Nate Diaz at UFC 196 before winning the rematch at UFC 202.

Cerrone has won six of his 10 previous outings at 170lbs but lost his past two fights at lightweight.

Francesco Laporta shot a sublime nine-under 63 to take a one-shot lead at halfway in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

The 124-ranked Laporta lit up the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club on Friday, birdying six of the last eight holes to move above Matt Fitzpatrick and Rafa Cabrera Bello, .

Laporta charged 49 places on the leaderboard to head into the weekend in the mix for a first European Tour title.

He hit the turn in 33, having made three gains on the front nine of a bogey-free round.

"I just want to enjoy the weekend," said the 29-year-old surprise front-runner, who will tee off on 10 under on Saturday.

"I played solid all 18 holes, my putting was solid, my driver, my irons. 

"I gave myself a lot of opportunities for birdies and so when I had the opportunities, I took them. Every time I was putting for birdie, I made it. It was a great day."

Fitzpatrick had set the clubhouse target with a five-under 67 following four birdies in the last six holes.

The Englishman is bogey-free for the week, sitting in a share of second with Cabrera Bello, who shot a four-under 68.

Cabrera Bello's countryman Sergio Garcia, Li Haotong and Renato Paratore are two shots adrift of Laporta.

Lee Westwood and Louis Oosthuizen are among five players on seven under, while world number one Brooks Koepka slipped back to three under with a three-over 75.

Defending champion Shane Lowry will not be retaining his title after the Open champion missed the cut.

Andrey Rublev outlasted fellow young gun Felix Auger-Aliassime in a gruelling clash on Friday to reach the Adelaide International final.

The Russian won 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (7-9) 6-4 in a three-hour test, putting him one step away from a second title in 2020.

After triumphing at the Qatar Open last weekend, Rublev, 22, has brought his best form to Australia and had a marginal edge over his 19-year-old Canadian opponent.

At one point Rublev looked like getting the job done in straight sets, but teenager Auger-Aliassime dug deep to force a decider as he sensed the opportunity to grab a first ATP Tour title this weekend.

It went Rublev's way eventually as he advanced to a title match against South African Lloyd Harris, who had earlier beaten American Tommy Paul 6-4 6-7 (3-7) 6-3 in a battle between two qualifiers.

Harris and Paul, both aged 22 and ranked respectively 91st and 90th in the world, were unlikely semi-finalists, and Harris will go into the final as the obvious underdog.

The Auckland Open will crown its first French champion after Benoit Paire and Ugo Humbert won through to its final.

Dating back to the 1950s, the tournament crowned a host of the world's elite players in its early years, including Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Bjorn Borg, and its list of winners reflects the cosmopolitan nature of the tour.

Yet French success has been in short supply, until now.

Humbert was a 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 winner against American John Isner, sending the 21-year-old left-hander through to his first tour final.

Paire fended off Poland's Hubert Hurkacz 6-4 6-7 (1-7) 6-2 and will target his fourth ATP title.

"I am very happy to play against a compatriot tomorrow," said 30-year-old Paire, quoted on the ATP website. "He is a very nice guy and we will see, but I am very happy to be in the final. It was the first time for me in the [Auckland] semi-finals and now the first time for me in the final."

Ash Barty produced a superb comeback to reach the final of the Adelaide International, where she will face Dayana Yastremska in an enticing clash before she bids to win the Australian Open.

The world number one was forced to come through a testing last-four encounter with American Danielle Collins but got a victory that ensures she will remain top of the rankings after the first major of 2020.

Her power posed Barty plenty of problems and another shock appeared on the cards when Collins, who defeated Sofia Kenin and Belinda Bencic en route to the semis, claimed the first set.

Collins struggled on serve in the second set, however, and Barty was ruthless in capitalising as she raced into a 5-0 lead.

Powerless to prevent Barty forcing a decider, Collins demonstrated admirable resilience in the third set.

Barty broke for a 4-3 lead with a return winner, but Collins' vicious backhand saw her hit straight back.

The same shot proved her downfall in the decisive tie-break, though, a backhand error securing the match for Barty, who will turn her attention to one of the WTA Tour's rising stars in Yastremska.

Ranked 24th in the world, the 19-year-old overcame world number 12 Aryna Sabalenka, adding the Belarusian to a list of scalps that has this week also included Angelique Kerber.

Sabalenka saw off Simona Halep in the quarter-finals but Yastremska had too much for her as the Ukrainian completed a 6-4 7-6 (7-4) success.

"Especially in the beginning of the year, I think it brings me some confidence before the grand slam, so it's nice to be in the finals," Yastremska said after reaching her first WTA Premier final.

"Here I started really to feel, with each game, that I'm playing better and better."

Meanwhile, at the Hobart International, Zhang Shuai overcame Veronika Kudermetova to set up a final with Elena Rybakina, who beat 2015 champion Heather Watson.

Conor McGregor would be "honoured" to do battle with Manny Pacquiao in what he believes would be a blockbuster first fight at the Las Vegas Allegiant Stadium.

McGregor will make his UFC return against Donald Cerrone in Las Vegas on Saturday, 15 months after he was beaten by Khabib Nurmagomedov in his last bout.

The 31-year-old Irishman is also hungry to don the boxing gloves again and has called out Floyd Mayweather Jr, who he stopped in the 10th round of their fight in August 2017, for a rematch.

McGregor this week revealed talks with another legendary veteran, Pacquiao, are ongoing and would relish the chance to do battle with the 41-year-old in 60,000 capacity Nevada venue that is still being constructed. 

"It will be hard to leave the MMA game fully but I think a boxing world title is a great aspiration to have," said the mixed martial arts superstar.

"What a feather in the cap it would be. I always want bigger and better and to reach for the stars.

"I would love the rematch with Floyd Mayweather and I know the Manny one is there whenever I want it."

He added: "I would be honoured and love to be the first combatant to fight in that arena and what a fight that would be against a small and powerful southpaw.

"We would have to figure out the weight we do it at but it interests me, no doubt."

The build-up to Conor McGregor's UFC return against Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone on Saturday has been tame by the Irishman's usual standards, but there was still some interesting verbal sparring.

McGregor lost his last bout to lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2018 and hopes a rematch will form part of a three-fight season, though the quality of his next opponents will no doubt depend on how he fares against the UFC's all-time wins leader Cerrone.

The outspoken Irishman was largely respectful of his veteran opponent in a pre-fight news conference on Wednesday, but he still delivered some stinging barbs in the lead up to their meeting.

We take a look at some of the best quotes ahead of this weekend's highly anticipated event in Las Vegas.

 

"YOU'RE STIFF AS A BOARD"

When it was confirmed Cerrone would be the man to take on McGregor in his comeback, an exchange between the two at the UFC's "Go Big" press conference in September 2015 was quickly brought out of the archives.

After then-interim featherweight champion McGregor said Rafael dos Anjos, at the time the lightweight champion with a defence against Cerrone lined up, would have a "celebration" if a fight between the two was agreed, Cowboy was unimpressed.

Cerrone: "Conor has no right going up to 55, there's no way, he's not going to stand a chance, we're too big for him, we're too strong. You can take your little English a** and get on."

McGregor: "You're too slow and too stiff. You're stiff as a board, I'd snap you in half and that's it. I see stiffness when I look in that 155-pound division. I feel like they're stuck in the mud almost. The featherweights hit like flyweights so it's nice down there just destroying them and killing that whole division. But I had my eye on that 155 division and I see them all stuck in the mud over there. Have I been wrong yet? No."

Cerrone: "You have a monster here at 45, [Jose] Aldo about to beat you're a**. You've beat nobody and you think you're gonna come into 155 and make a statement? Come on man, sit the f*** down."

McGregor: "Yeehaw!"

 

"I'D BEAT HIM WITH THE FLU"

McGregor will fight Cerrone at welterweight rather than returning to lightweight.

Asked why he did not make Cerrone's life more difficult by meeting him at 155 pounds, McGregor told ESPN: "I know, I could have. I just don't think he looks well at 155. He's a 170 fighter. I'd beat him at any weight. I'd beat him if I had the flu."

 

"MCGREGOR TO WIN BY KO"

While McGregor has revealed stories of him training with Tyson Fury were untrue, the former heavyweight boxing champion will be in attendance in Las Vegas to support the Irishman.

"Conor McGregor is gonna win. I say by knockout. And I'm gonna be there to see it happen cageside," Fury told Fight Hype.

 

"I'LL F*** YOU UP IN THE LOBBY"

Ahead of the pair taking to the stage for their pre-fight media conference, Cerrone warned McGregor, who has a penchant for cutting remarks while playing up to the crowd, against crossing the line.

Cerrone told MMA Fighting of McGregor's trash talking: "He's the best at it. He is the best. The thing is you'd really have to go low, talk about my grandma or my kid and then it would put it on another level. You understand what I'm saying? Then I'll just come f*** you up in the lobby type s***.

"I don't think it's ever going to go that way. He understands that. We're fighting, he can talk about that all he wants but don't low blow."

 

"ONE OF THE BIGGEST SUPERSTARS IN COMBAT SPORTS HISTORY"

McGregor may no longer be a champion and his return is not a title fight, but UFC president Dana White feels he brings something the organisation's biggest names do not.

White told reporters: "McGregor is one of the biggest superstars in combat sports history. You put McGregor with [Mike] Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Evander Holyfield, he's in that list of guys. He has the biggest pay per view in history, so he's a mega star and to have him is big.

"All these other fighters have done great things, if you look at what Weili Zhang has accomplished, Israel Adesanya has accomplished, [Kamaru] Usman ... there's different levels of guys doing great things but to compare them to Conor is a tough one."

 

"I CAN READ HIM LIKE A CHILDREN'S BOOK"

The pair shook hands ahead of a media conference on Wednesday that proved largely cordial, with McGregor stating he will win by knockout but there will be no bad blood. He did still deliver one stinging line, though.

McGregor said: "I like him and all, he's a good guy, but I can read Donald like a children's book, if we're being honest. He's a good fighter, he's got some good tricks up his sleeve. I know the tricks he has, I know what he's planning and what he hopes to achieve. But we're well prepared, and we'll see on the night. It's going to be a good night."

Carlos Sainz added another Dakar Rally title to his glittering CV on Friday, winning the event for the third time at the age of 57.

The rally legend had previously triumphed in 2010 and 2018 and led from the third stage this year.

He finished six minutes and 21 seconds ahead of defending champion Nasser al-Attiyah.

Fernando Alonso, making his debut at the event, finished in 13th. 

The two-time Formula One world champion was among those to pay tribute to the two-time World Rally champion, posting a video of him congratulating Sainz on his Instagram page.

Sainz's son, Carlos Sainz Jr, wrote of his father on Twitter: "3 Dakars, 3 different brands, 57 years, same passion, same desire, same motivation. 

"The pride I feel as a son right now is very difficult to explain so I can't think of anything else to say. You're the p*** amo! [the best]."

On his own Twitter page, Sainz hailed co-driver Lucas Cruz, posting: "CHAMPIONS! This 3rd Dakar has been very hard but we have enjoyed it!

"I'm still having fun, and we've been on the attack every day. Great @LucasCruz74 and thank you all for your support these weeks."

Brandon Ingram served a timely reminder of his quality ahead of Zion Williamson's impending return by scoring a career-high 49 points against the Utah Jazz, and Lonzo Ball called him the New Orleans Pelicans' "go-to guy".

It was confirmed on Monday that Williamson, the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and one of the most hyped prospects to ever enter the NBA, is expected to make his regular-season debut next week against the San Antonio Spurs.

A knee injury has kept the teenager sidelined since preseason and Ingram, traded to the Pelicans in the offseason as part of the deal which sent Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers, has thrived in his absence.

The forward led the Pelicans to a 138-132 overtime victory over the Jazz, who had their 10-game winning streak snapped as a result on Thursday.

Ingram is averaging 25.8 points per game this season - the 10th best return in the NBA - and Ball said that he has to be considered the main man on the team that landed Williamson.

"He has come into his own. It is Brandon Ingram time now," Ball, who also came across to New Orleans from the Lakers in the Davis trade, told reporters.

"Since I have known him, he has been a confident person but this whole year, he has been on a whole other level.

"Obviously, he is our go-to guy on this team and we trust him."

The San Francisco Giants have hired Alyssa Nakken to their coaching staff, making her the first full-time coach in MLB history.

A former Sacramento State softball player, Nakken was hired along with Mark Hallberg by new Giants manager Gabe Kapler on Thursday.

"In every organisation, environment affects performance, and baseball clubhouses are no different," Kapler said in a release. 

"That's why in addition to assisting the rest of the coaching staff on the field, Mark and Alyssa will focus on fostering a clubhouse culture that promotes high performance through, among other attributes, a deep sense of collaboration and team."

Nakken will hope to help the Giants bounce back from a disappointing 2019 season in which they finished 77-85.

Kapler took over from Bruce Bochy, who led the Giants to three World Series titles in five years from 2010-2014, in November.

NBA leaders the Milwaukee Bucks topped the Boston Celtics 128-123 thanks to Giannis Antetokounmpo's double-double.

Antetokounmpo scored 32 points and collected 17 rebounds as the Bucks (37-6) extended their winning streak to five games on Thursday.

It was the 35th double-double of the season for reigning MVP Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee.

Kemba Walker posted a game-high 40 points for the Celtics (27-13) on the road.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Clippers made it back-to-back wins via a 122-95 victory over the Orlando Magic.

Orlando ended the Los Angeles Lakers' winning streak on Wednesday, but they were unable to back up that performance against the Clippers.

Kawhi Leonard led the Clippers with 32 points, five assists and five rebounds in LA, where Montrezl Harrell added 21 points and Jamychal Green put up 11 points and 13 rebounds.

 

Ingram and Mitchell explode for career highs in shoot-out

Brandon Ingram recorded a career-high 49 points to lead the New Orleans Pelicans to a stunning 138-132 overtime victory against the Utah Jazz, who had their 10-game winning streak snapped. Jazz star Donovan Mitchell tied his career high with 46 points.

Will Barton (31 points) and Nikola Jokic (23 points, 12 rebounds), Michael Porter Jr. (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Malik Beasley (27 points) helped the Denver Nuggets outlast the Golden State Warriors 134-131 in OT.

 

Hayward struggles

It was a tough night for Celtics star Gordon Hayward. Struck down by injuries during his time with Boston, Hayward was one of 10 from the floor and one of nine from three-point range for seven points in 32 minutes.

The Pelicans soared but Lonzo Ball did not. While managing 13 assists, Ball had just five points on two-of-12 shooting from the field and one-of-five from beyond the arc in 42 minutes.

 

Tatum leaves opponents in a spin

In fine form this season, Boston's Jayson Tatum sent one opponent to the floor while he turned another en route to the basket.

 

Thursday's results

Phoenix Suns 121-98 New York Knicks
Milwaukee Bucks 128-123 Boston Celtics
New Orleans Pelicans 138-132 Utah Jazz (OT)
Denver Nuggets 134-131 Golden State Warriors (OT)
Los Angeles Clippers 122-95 Orlando Magic

 

Bulls at 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers will look to generate some momentum when they host the Chicago Bulls on Friday. The 76ers (26-16) are 19-2 at home and 7-14 on the road as they welcome the Bulls (15-27) to Wells Fargo Center.

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