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NBA Power Rankings: Warriors back on top, Bulls right behind; Kemba Walker leads Knicks surge; Celtics fall

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1


Warriors
The Warriors beat the Grizzlies, then picked up a huge win on Christmas Day in Phoenix, before suffering a letdown at home against the Nuggets without the services of Draymond Green. Steph Curry is quietly (or not so quietly if you’re in the Bay Area) in a horrible shooting slump by his standards, shooting 35 percent from 3-point range and 42 percent from the field over his last 10 games. He’s made more than 35 percent of his 3-pointers just once over his last nine games, when he went 8 for 14 against Memphis. 1 27-7
2


Bulls
The Bulls defeated the Pacers to start the week, then picked up consecutive wins over the depleted Hawks to bring their winning streak to five games. Zach LaVine returned from protocols this week and averaged a team-high 29 points on a blazing 62 percent shooting, while DeMar DeRozan’s brilliant season continued with 26.3 points and seven assists per game. Nikola Vucevic is slowly starting to make his way out of his slump, averaging 18.7 points and 17.3 rebounds on 43 percent 3-point shooting this week, which is scary for Chicago opponents. 1 22-10
3


Jazz
After a brief stumble, the Jazz got right back on the winning track with four more victories this week to bring their overall streak to five games. The last two came without Donovan Mitchell, who is suffering from a back issue. Jordan Clarkson has stepped up in Mitchell’s absence, putting up 21 points, six rebounds and five assists in the two games, while Bojan Bogdanovic averaged 19.3 points on 42 percent 3-point shooting in four games this week. 1 25-9
4


Suns
The Suns beat the Thunder twice this week, but lost back-to-back games to the Warriors and Grizzlies to drop out of the No. 1 spot in the Power Rankings. The Suns finally had a couple of players (and head coach Monty Williams) enter protocols this week, so hopefully they’re not on the verge of a larger outbreak. Devin Booker had a dreadful Christmas Day performance against Golden State, but scored 30 points or more in every other game this week. Cam Johnson went 13 for 25 from 3-point range in the four games. 3 27-7
5


Nets
Still without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Nets swept the L.A. teams this week thanks to two terrific performances from James Harden in his first action since coming out of health and safety protocols. Harden orchestrated the offense like his old days in Houston, putting up 37.5 points, 12.5 assists and nine rebounds while going 7 for 17 from 3-point range. Patty Mills went bonkers on Christmas to help take down the Lakers, notching career highs in both points (34) and 3-pointers (eight). Despite their roster issues throughout the season, the Nets have continued to win at a high clip. — 23-9
6


Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo announced his return with authority on Christmas Day, putting up 12 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Bucks to a 19-point comeback victory over the Celtics. Milwaukee has now won four games in a row, and once again has a healthy trio of Giannis, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday on the court, which has led to a plus-11.1 net rating in over 270 minutes this season. 3 23-13
7


Heat
The Heat went 3-0 this week despite losing even more players to health and safety protocols, which led to the postponement of Wednesday night’s game. They did get Jimmy Butler back, however, and he didn’t miss a beat, averaging 21 points, 10 assists, 9.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals in his first two games back in the lineup. Tyler Herro averaged 21 points in three games this week despite scoring just two against the Magic, which tells you how good he was in the other two games. — 22-13
8


Grizzlies
What a week for Ja Morant, who hit a seemingly impossible game-winning layup in Phoenix before dropping 41 points in a comeback win over the Lakers two nights later. Morant also averaged six rebounds and 5.3 assists for the week and made 47 percent of his 3-pointers, which makes him virtually unguardable. Desmond Bane kept up his excellent season, averaging 23 points for the week on 47 percent 3-point shooting, with Dillon Brooks and De’Anthony Melton missing time in protocols. — 22-14
9


Cavaliers
The Cavs went 1-1 this week, but received the devastating news that Ricky Rubio will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. Already without Collin Sexton, the Cavs are now scarily thin at guard, and will rely even more heavily on Darius Garland as the season progresses. Kevin Love is playing his best basketball in years, averaging 23 points and 6.5 rebounds on 13-for-21 3-point shooting in the two games this week. 3 20-14
10


Hornets
The Hornets roster is still incomplete, with Miles Bridges and PJ Washington each missing the last two games, but they managed to win games this week against the Nuggets, Rockets and Pacers. Terry Rozier has been on fire, averaging 26.3 points per game this week on 16-for-31 3-point shooting. LaMelo Ball also did his thing, putting up 17.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists over the three games. 10 19-17
11


Nuggets
Denver went 2-1 this week, including one of its biggest wins of the season on the road over the Warriors. It’s becoming hard to ignore Nikola Jokic’s case for a second consecutive MVP, as the big man averaged a ridiculous 25.7 points, 20.7 rebounds and six assists this week despite uncharacteristically poor shooting. Jokic also averaged 2.7 steals per game and came up with a game-saving block in the final seconds of the win over Golden State. 1 17-16
12


76ers
The Sixers inexplicably lost to a depleted Hawks team to start the week, but they bounced back to take down the Wizards and Raptors. Joel Embiid has been close to flawless offensively, averaging 31.7 points and 11.3 rebounds this week on 58/60/89 shooting splits, while committing fewer than two turnovers per game. Tobias Harris notched his first career triple-double against the Raptors with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. 1 18-16
13


Clippers
This week the Clippers found out that Paul George has a torn ligament in his elbow, a devastating blow to an already-struggling offense. After losing to the Nuggets and Nets, they managed to pick up a hard-fought win in Boston, though the Celtics did shoot a historically bad 4 for 42 from 3-point range. Eric Bledsoe and Luke Kennard took over much of the playmaking duties with George and Reggie Jackson out of the lineup this week. 3 18-17
14


Spurs
San Antonio exploded offensively in the first two games of the week, averaging 141 points in wins over the Lakers and Pistons, before losing to the Jazz on Monday and having Wednesday’s game against Miami postponed. With Dejounte Murray in health and safety protocols for two of the three games, Derrick White averaged 17 points and 8.3 assists on 58 percent 3-point shooting. Keldon Johnson helped pick up the slack as well, averaging 18.7 points and 7.3 rebounds while knocking down 50 percent of his 3-pointers. 2 14-19
15


Knicks
The Knicks have finally strung some wins together, beating the Hawks, Wolves and Pistons to close out the week. Not the most impressive opponents given their available roster, but New York will take any wins it can get at this point. Kemba Walker’s incredible run continued with 44 points in Thursday’s loss to the Wizards and a triple-double of 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds in the Christmas Day win over the Hawks. The Knicks were on the verge of losing to a depleted Pistons team on Wednesday, but a strong fourth quarter from the bench unit saved the day. 6 17-18
16


Mavericks
Dallas went 1-3 this week, including a heartbreaking loss to the Kings on a Chimezie Metu game-winner, as the march without Luka Doncic continues. Kristaps Porzingis averaged 28.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists, but shot just 22 percent from 3-point range. Jalen Brunson has been the main offensive creator with Doncic out, and he put up 21.3 points and 7.3 assists per game this week on 38 percent 3-point shooting. It’s just hard to get much offensive production out of the rest of the current roster, especially with Tim Hardaway Jr. in protocols. 2 16-18
17


Wizards
The Wizards went 1-2 this week without Bradley Beal, beating the Knicks before losing to the 76ers and Heat. Spencer Dinwiddie took over as the main offensive weapon, averaging 20.7 points and 9.7 assists on 41 percent 3-point shooting. Corey Kispert and Davis Bertans each shot over 42 percent on more than six 3-point attempts per game this week, giving Washington some excellent floor-spacing options. The defense simply couldn’t keep up, however, allowing at least 117 points in each game this week. 2 17-17
18


Timberwolves
Nobody would have blamed the Wolves for an 0-3 week without their three best players, but they managed to pick up a huge win against the Celtics despite the absence of Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell. Malik Beasley picked up the bulk of the scoring load, averaging 22.7 points per game this week, while Jaylen Nowell added 16.7 points and 3.7 assists per game on 47 percent 3-point shooting. 1 16-18
19


Celtics
This was probably the worst week of the Celtics season. They blew a 19-point lead to the Bucks on Christmas, then lost to a Wolves team without its top three scorers, and followed that up by posting the second-worst 3-point shooting night in NBA history, going 4 for 42 from deep in a loss to the Clippers. Yeesh. Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart both missed the final two games of the week, during which the Celtics had an offensive rating of 98.4. Not gonna get it done. 6 16-19
20


Lakers
LeBron James is testing out the hypothesis that one man can carry an entire NBA team by himself, putting up 36 points, 10.3 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game on 46 percent 3-point shooting during the week before his 37th birthday. Unfortunately for the Lakers, they only managed to win one of their four games, falling to the Spurs, Nets and Grizzlies. The common denominator is brutal defense, but they also bungled late-game situations against Brooklyn and Memphis down the stretch. L.A. has now lost six of seven games heading into the new year. 1 17-19
21


Kings
Head coach Alvin Gentry had some of the harshest words you’ll ever hear for his team following a 25-point loss to the Grizzlies on Sunday, and the Kings responded with back-to-back wins over the Thunder and Mavs, the latter coming on Chimezie Metu’s game-winning corner 3-pointer as time expired. Now that the roster is somewhat healthy, Gentry can finally begin finding the rotations and combinations he likes. 7 15-21
22


Pelicans
The Pels kept up their winning ways this week, beating the Magic and Cavs while losing to the Thunder. Josh Hart averaged 25.5 points in two games this week, including a season-high 29 in the loss to the Thunder before missing the Cleveland win due to an ankle injury. Rookie Herb Jones added some offense to his sterling defensive reputation, averaging 16.3 points on 4-for-9 3-point shooting in three games this week. That’s now five wins in six games for New Orleans. 1 13-22
23


Hawks
The short-handed Hawks gritted out an impressive win over the 76ers to start the week, but then dropped three straight games with much of the roster in protocols. Trae Young returned for the final two games of the week, averaging 27.5 points and 10 assists, but struggling with his shooting efficiency. Hopefully Cam Reddish has gained some confidence from this stint as one of the team’s main options, as he put up 18.8 points this week on 37 percent 3-point shooting. 2 15-19
24


Raptors
The Raptors returned to action after two postponements, getting blown out by the Cavs before a much better effort with some of their horses back against the 76ers. Chris Boucher had a career night against Joel Embiid and Philadelphia, putting up 28 points, 19 rebounds, two steals and two blocks, while Pascal Siakam returned from protocols with 28 points, eight assists and six rebounds. 6 14-17
25


Thunder
OKC went 1-3 this week, beating the Pelicans while losing to the Kings and twice more to the Suns. Reigning Western Conference Player of the Week Shai Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 31 points per game this week before sitting out Wednesday’s game against the Suns. Aaron Wiggins averaged 16.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in 30 minutes per game. 3 12-22
26


Pacers
Caris LeVert has been productive as the point guard with Malcolm Brogdon out of the Pacers lineup, averaging 26 points and 8.7 assists per game this week, but Indiana only managed to go 1-2, with losses to the Bulls and Hornets. LeVert and Domantas Sabonis each shot poorly from the field this week, which makes things extremely difficult for Indiana with Brogdon out of the lineup. — 14-21
27


Trail Blazers
After Thursday’s matchup with the Nets was postponed, the Blazers only had two games this week — and they weren’t pretty. They managed an astronomical defensive rating of 130.6 in consecutive 15-point losses to the Mavericks (without Luka Doncic) and Jazz (without Donovan Mitchell). Portland missed Jusuf Nurkic in the middle, but those numbers are unacceptable. Damian Lillard averaged 29 points per game on 37 percent 3-point shooting, but there’s just not much you can do if you’re defending like that. 3 13-21
28


Magic
Rough sledding this week for the Magic, who lost to the Pelicans, Heat and Bucks. Cole Anthony returned for the New Orleans game, putting up 22 points, 11 assists and five rebounds, before being sidelined once again. Franz Wagner went off for a career-high 38 points in a losing effort against Milwaukee. 1 7-28
29


Rockets
Houston lost to the Pacers, Hornets and Lakers this week, but saw the return of Kevin Porter Jr. and prized rookie Jalen Green, who came back with a confident shooting stroke. Green averaged 22 points in two games this week and mad 10 of 18 3-pointers, while Porter went for 22 points, nine assists and five rebounds in the loss to the Lakers. — 10-25
30


Pistons
As if things weren’t difficult enough for the Pistons this season, they were absolutely decimated by COVID this week, leading to three straight losses. They were admirably competitive in two of the three games, with Saddiq Bey (26 ppg) and Hamidou Diallo (23.7 ppg) leading the way for the piecemeal offense. — 5-28



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Novak Djokovic withdraws from Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati due to COVID-19 vaccination status

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World No. 6 Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from next week’s Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati because of his COVID-19 vaccination status. The unvaccinated tennis star’s participation in the US Open, which begins on Aug. 29, is still uncertain.

The hard-court tournament in Cincinnati is set to take place Aug 13- 21. At this moment, unvaccinated foreigners are not allowed to travel to Canada or the United States. Earlier this month, Djokovic had to pull out from the Canadian Open in Montreal. He also had to miss the Australian Open in January after being deported from the country due to his unvaccinated status.

Djokovic has won the US Open three times and was the runner-up last year, falling to Daniil Medvedev in the title game. The Serbian star has registered 21 major championships and is still fresh off his seventh career Wimbledon title. He only needs one more Grand Slam title to tie Rafael Nadal for the men’s record, but he has already said publicly that he does not intend on getting the vaccine.

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“I’m not vaccinated and I’m not planning to get vaccinated so the only good news I can have is them removing the mandated green vaccine card or whatever you call it to enter United States or exemption,” Djokovic said after his Wimbledon win. “I don’t know. I don’t think exemption is realistically possible. If that is possibility, I don’t know what exemption would be about.”

Djokovic doesn’t necessarily need to rule out the US Open yet, as the CDC could still change its guidelines to allow unvaccinated travelers into the country in the next few weeks.

“This updated guidance is intended to apply to community settings,” reads the CDC page. “In the coming weeks CDC will work to align stand-alone guidance documents, such as those for healthcare settings, congregate settings at higher risk of transmission, and travel, with today’s update.”

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Phillies' OF Matt Vierling prevents Mets from winning in walk-off fashion after throwing out Starling Marte at home

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The Philadelphia Phillies defeated the New York Mets in extra innings after OF Matt Vierling threw out a tagging Starling Marte who would have been the winning run.



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Blue Jays’ Berrios continues head-scratching season in drubbing vs. Guardians

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TORONTO – That Yusei Kikuchi is an unstable element in the Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation shouldn’t be a total surprise. Sure, more was expected from the left-hander when he was signed for $36 million over three years out of the lockout, but it was a high-risk, high-upside play and the type of season he’s slogging through was very much on the spectrum of possibility.

The Blue Jays, barring a surprise, will need him to make a start next week against the Baltimore Orioles and then, with Ross Stripling likely set for a return after throwing five shutout innings for triple-A Buffalo during a rehab start Friday at Syracuse, they’ll have a decision to make.

Far more jarring for the Blue Jays is the head-scratching season of Jose Berrios, who for the second time in 2022 allowed eight earned runs, this time over four innings of a dispiriting 8-0 drubbing from the Cleveland Guardians on Friday night.

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The latest drubbing for the ace right-hander signed to a $131-million, seven-year extension over the winter came exactly one week after a rough outing at Minnesota, where he allowed five runs in 3.2 innings. In six July starts preceding that one, Berrios had seemingly turned the corner, pitching to a 3.00 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 36 innings.

But while the wide divergence between his home/road splits are often raised as a talking point, a more troubling split is that in 15 outings against teams better than .500, his ERA is 6.61 while in eight starts versus sub-.500 clubs it’s 3.77.

Now, worth noting is that mixed in there are strong performances against Houston, St. Louis, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. Clearly, though, he isn’t getting away with as much against better lineups.

Take Friday, for example.

Berrios cruised through the first two innings before hitting No. 8 hitter Austin Hedges with one out in the third. Will Benson followed with a single and then Steven Kwan laid down a perfect bunt that just stayed fair down the third base line to load the bases.

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Amed Rosario then roped a curveball just under the zone up the middle for a two-run single and after a Jose Ramirez sacrifice fly to centre brought home a third run, Josh Naylor of Mississauga, Ont., sent this 94.3 m.p.h. fastball over the wall in left to make it 5-0.

Really, it wasn’t a bad pitch.


The next inning, a three-run shot by Ramirez that made it 8-0 was even more audacious, the star third baseman golfing this Berrios changeup over the wall in right-centre.


It’s obscene and while both homers count against his pitching line, it’s reason to believe that Berrios isn’t necessarily in crisis, even though he’s far from being at his best.

Regardless, the Blue Jays, at 60-51 in the rapidly clustering wild-card standings, are facing their first real period of challenge under interim manager John Schneider having lost five times in their past six outings, each against a team above .500.

They’re now 29-39 against teams with winning records, worse than Seattle, Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Minnesota, the four teams closest around them.

Complicating matters is that their offence, in the ongoing absence of George Springer, hasn’t been able to overcome some of the pitching staff’s recent blips.

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Cal Quantrill of Port Hope, Ont., primarily riding a sinker-cutter mix, matched a season-high with seven strikeouts and allowed just one hit, a one-out double to Vladimir Guerrero Jr., in the fourth that extended the all-star first baseman’s hit streak to 21 games.

Digging out of early five-run holes isn’t easy, but seizing a game early at the plate could help ease the burden on the staff at times, too.

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