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The NBA Playoffs Are Finally Here. And As LeBron James Says, ‘It’s A Sprint Now’

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Boston has a 64-win club that leads the league in wins. Denver’s defending champions have won 57 games. A bold young team in Oklahoma City, whose No. 1 seed was no fluke. A trio of Villanova alumni in New York transformed the Knicks into a legitimate contender.

Once again, there’s LeBron James.

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The NBA Playoffs Are Finally Here. And As LeBron James Says, ‘It’s A Sprint Now’

The NBA playoffs are ready to begin, with the Celtics and Nuggets the big favorites — at least according to BetMGM Sportsbook — to meet in the Finals, and there are plenty of teams who believe they can win the whole thing. After a seven-month buildup that included training camp, a preseason, the regular season, the first NBA Cup, and a play-in tournament, the league finally wakes up on Saturday with 16 clubs left in contention for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

“Come Saturday, there are 15 other teams that want what we have,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We have the world championship trophy and everybody’s trying to take it from us.”

Let the games begin. The Nuggets are attempting to become the sixth franchise to win back-to-back championships, with the majority of last season’s core returning this year, including likely NBA MVP Nikola Jokic. They’ll begin their quest against the Lakers and James, who is chasing his fifth championship and has never concealed that this is, by far, the most important time of year for him.

“There ain’t no more pace,” said the 39-year-old James, the league’s oldest active player and all-time scoring leader who is looking for his fifth NBA championship. “What are you pacing yourself for? Now it’s time to sprint. It’s a sprint now. We already completed the marathon.”

Round 1 begins on Saturday, with four games: Orlando at Cleveland, Phoenix at Minnesota, Philadelphia at New York, and the Los Angeles Lakers at Denver. On Sunday, four more Game 1s are scheduled: Miami at Boston in a rematch of the previous two East finals, Dallas at the Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana at Milwaukee, and New Orleans at Oklahoma City.

The Thunder won 22 games three seasons ago, and 24 games the following year. Those days are long gone: 40 victories last season demonstrated potential, and 57 wins this season — with no full-time starter above the age of 25 — indicate that OKC’s time may have come.

“It means a little more, how we got here, for sure,” said Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder guard who has averaged 30.1 points this season and is a legitimate MVP candidate. “But at the end of the day, I suppose it’s home-court advantage until the Finals. That’s always a plus when you have a home court like ours.”

They are young, brash, and undeniably entertaining. When asked why he wasn’t wearing his division title T-shirt when the Thunder clinched the No. 1 seed, Thunder guard Jalen Williams responded, “This leather jacket cost a lot,” eliciting laughter.

The Thunder were not expected to be in this situation; they were assigned 100-1 odds to win the NBA championship when the season began. Boston is an entirely different tale; the Celtics met and beyond expectations.

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The NBA Playoffs Are Finally Here. And As LeBron James Says, ‘It’s A Sprint Now’

All Boston did this season was post the fifth-best record in franchise history, which is a significant accomplishment for any team, but especially for one as legendary as the Celtics. Three of the four Boston teams with the best regular season records went on to win NBA championships.

“You can’t even expect to be a 64-win team,” Celtics President Brad Stevens explained. “That’s a really difficult level to meet, no matter how good you are, how well organized you are as a coach, or how many alternatives you have as a player. That’s just difficult to do.”

The Celtics have no visible weaknesses, finishing the season ranked first in offensive rating, second in points per game, third in defensive rating, and fifth in points allowed per game. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kristaps Porzingis all finished with at least 20 points per game; only two earlier Celtics teams had three 20-point scorers in a single season. They also added Jrue Holiday – a U.S. Olympian this summer, like Tatum — in the offseason to help lead a defense designed for this time of year.

“Everybody has that right mindset,” Celtics guard Derrick White said. “We’re looking forward to this.”

The Knicks lost Julius Randle but have continued to ascend, powered by the Villanova trio of MVP candidate Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, and Donte DiVincenzo. They face a blockbuster first-round series against Joel Embiid and the 76ers, who were competing for a top-2 seed before Embiid was injured and missed much of the season.

“We just focus on getting better every day,” Brunson explained.

The Thunder, Indiana (the league’s best scoring club this season), and Orlando are all making their playoff debuts for the first time since 2020. Indiana faces a Milwaukee team that will be without star Giannis Antetokounmpo, while the Magic face a Cleveland team that has not won a playoff series without James since 1993.

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AP – VOR News Image

The NBA Playoffs Are Finally Here. And As LeBron James Says, ‘It’s A Sprint Now’

“We’re going to enjoy this,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said, “because they deserve to.”

The title will most likely go to one of Boston, Oklahoma City, Denver, New York, Milwaukee, or Minnesota. Since 1984, 39 of the 40 NBA champions have begun the playoffs as the first, second, or third seed in their conference.

Having saying that, this year has been somewhat unpredictable. And, as always, the playoffs are full of surprises.

“The reality is we’re going to have to play well on Sunday,” Stevens told reporters. “And beyond.”

SOURCE – (AP)

Kiara Grace is a staff writer at VORNews, a reputable online publication. Her writing focuses on technology trends, particularly in the realm of consumer electronics and software. With a keen eye for detail and a knack for breaking down complex topics, Kiara delivers insightful analyses that resonate with tech enthusiasts and casual readers alike. Her articles strike a balance between in-depth coverage and accessibility, making them a go-to resource for anyone seeking to stay informed about the latest innovations shaping our digital world.

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Rick Tocchet Voted NHL’s Coach Of The Year For Guiding Vancouver Canucks To Pacific Division Title

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Rick Tocchet | Last Word Image

NEW YORK — Rick Tocchet was named NHL coach of the year Wednesday after leading the Pacific Division champion Vancouver Canucks to their second playoff appearance in nine years.

Tocchet appeared on 109 of 114 Jack Adams award ballots submitted by NHL Broadcasters’ Association members, receiving 82 first-place votes, according to the NHL. He became the Canucks’ third coach to win the award, following Pat Quinn in 1992 and Alain Vigneault in 2007.

Nashville’s Andrew Brunette finished second. He appeared on 57 ballots and received eight first-place votes. Winnipeg’s Rick Bowness finished third. He announced his retirement this month.

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Rick Tocchet | AP News Image

Rick Tocchet Voted NHL’s Coach Of The Year For Guiding Vancouver Canucks To Pacific Division Title

“This really is a team award, and I couldn’t have done any of this without the support of our staff and complete buy-in from the players,” Tocchet stated. “I am truly honored and humbled by this achievement and look forward to getting back to work this summer as we continue to work on improving our hockey team.”

In his first full season in Vancouver, Tocchet won the regular-season award two days after the Edmonton Oilers eliminated the Canucks in Game 7 of their second-round playoff series.

Tocchet, 60, led a stunning turnaround in a Canucks club that finished with a 50-23-9 record, the third-most victories in franchise history, and improved from 22nd to sixth in the overall standings last year. Vancouver led the NHL with a plus-38 first-period goal difference and went 42-1-4 while leading after two periods this season, up from 21-1-4 the previous year.

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Rick Tocchet | AP News Image

Rick Tocchet Voted NHL’s Coach Of The Year For Guiding Vancouver Canucks To Pacific Division Title

Tocchet had the advantage of gaining a head start in implementing his system and acquiring a feel for the Canucks after being hired in January 2023, when Bruce Boudreau was sacked with Vancouver at 18-25-3. The Canucks finished the season 20-12-4 under Tocchet, who was an NHL announcer before joining the team.

“Honestly, I don’t know if we would be in this situation. Who knows, but the 30 games were big for me,” Tocchet told The Associated Press last month, reflecting on the impact his departure as head coach last year had on Vancouver’s success this season.

Vancouver marks Tocchet’s third stop as a head coach. He previously spent four seasons with Arizona from 2017-21, during which time he went 125-131-34. He also went 53-69-26 with Tampa Bay from 2008 to 2010.

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Rick Tocchet | Pittsburg Sports Image

Rick Tocchet Voted NHL’s Coach Of The Year For Guiding Vancouver Canucks To Pacific Division Title

Tocchet won two more Stanley Cups as an assistant coach in 2016 and 2017 after winning one as a player for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992.

SOURCE – (AP)

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2-Time French Open Runner-Up Dominic Thiem Loses In Qualifying In Final Roland Garros Appearance

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Thiem | NDTV Image

PARIS — Dominic Thiem, a two-time runner-up, was knocked out in the second round of qualifying at the French Open.

Otto Virtanen defeated Dominic 6-2, 7-5 on Court Suzanne Lenglen, and Dominic will miss his 11th and final appearance in the clay-court Grand Slam main draw.

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Thiem | AP News Image

2-Time French Open Runner-Up Dominic Thiem Loses In Qualifying In Final Roland Garros Appearance

Dominic, who reached the Roland Garros finals in 2018 and 2019, revealed earlier this month that he will retire at the end of the year after struggling to regain peak form following a wrist injury.

Following his defeat, Dominic received a standing ovation during a goodbye ceremony, with chants of “Thank you Domi, Thank you Domi.”

Dominic, a former US Open champion, has plummeted to 131st in the rankings and failed to obtain a wildcard into the French Open. He didn’t keep a grudge.

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Thiem | The Times Image

2-Time French Open Runner-Up Dominic Thiem Loses In Qualifying In Final Roland Garros Appearance

“I slowly built up a great, great relationship with the tournament, relationship with all of you guys, with all fans,” stated Dominic. “I’ve really enjoyed every single year of it.”

The 30-year-old Austrian won his only Grand Slam at Flushing Meadows in 2020. Dominic defeated Alexander Zverev in five sets, becoming the first man in 71 years to recover a two-set deficit in a U.S. Open final.

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Thiem | Reuters Image

2-Time French Open Runner-Up Dominic Thiem Loses In Qualifying In Final Roland Garros Appearance

Dominic also finished second at the 2020 Australian Open, reaching a career-high No. 3 ranking that year. He remained in the top five until June 2021, when he hurt his right wrist, which kept him out for nine months and has hindered his playing ever since.

Dominic has a total of 17 titles.

SOURCE – (AP)

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Stenhouse Fined $75,000 By NASCAR, Busch Avoids Penalty For Post All-Star Race Fight

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Concord, North Carolina – NASCAR penalized Ricky Stenhouse Jr. $75,000 on Wednesday for clashing with Kyle Busch following the All-Star race at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Stenhouse’s father, who participated in the fray, was suspended indefinitely.

Busch was not penalized for his actions during the Sunday night race

The two collided on the first lap, and Busch appeared to intentionally destroy Stenhouse on the second lap. Stenhouse put his damaged Chevrolet in Busch’s pit stall, forcefully mounted the spotter’s ladder, and spoke with Busch’s crew members.

Stenhouse then stormed to his carrier, allowing his car to be taken to the pits.

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NASCAR | AP News Image

Stenhouse Fined $75,000 By NASCAR, Busch Avoids Penalty For Post All-Star Race Fight

He also hinted that he’d return after the race to confront Busch. The two exchanged brief words before Stenhouse, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, delivered a right hook to Busch, sparking a melee involving members of both teams. Stenhouse’s father, who has no association with the team, then confronted Busch, throwing fists.

On Wednesday, NASCAR banned Stenhouse mechanic Clint Myrick for eight races and engine tuner Keith Matthews for four races.

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NASCAR | AP News Image

Stenhouse Fined $75,000 By NASCAR, Busch Avoids Penalty For Post All-Star Race Fight

Stenhouse has pledged to wreck Busch this Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“Bring it,” Busch responded. “I suck as bad as you,” meaning that neither driver is having a fantastic season.

Neither driver has won any races this season. Busch is 13th in the points standings, while Stenhouse, a single-car team, is 26th.

Busch’s vehicle owner isn’t taking Stenhouse’s warning lightly, though. Richard Childress has threatened to fight Stenhouse if he gets near Busch’s car at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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NASCAR | AP News Image

Stenhouse Fined $75,000 By NASCAR, Busch Avoids Penalty For Post All-Star Race Fight

The Coca-Cola 600 is the longest Cup Series race of the season, so Busch and Stenhouse will have plenty of time to catch up on the 1.5-mile track. They will undoubtedly keep a close eye on the feuding drivers.

SOURCE – (AP)

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