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LeBron opposes playoff changes

Saturday, 24 February 2018 00:00 Published in Sports

LOS ANGELES-- Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James thinks the National Basketball Association playoffs format is just fine, and talk of tweaking it is misguided.
"I think our league has been built the right way as far as when it comes to the post-season," James said Wednesday after the Cavaliers' first practice since the All-Star break.
Western Conference teams have won three of the last four NBA titles, the Cavaliers the only Eastern interlopers in 2016.
The Golden State Warriors won in 2015 and 2017 -- beating the Cavs both times -- and the San Antonio Spurs won in 2014.
During the All-Star break NBA commissioner Adam Silver said there had been discussions in the league office about changing the format -- perhaps by taking the top eight teams from each conference but re-seeding them 1-16 by overall record or, more dramatically, taking the top 16 regular-season teams regardless of conference.
"It just changes the landscape of the history of the game," James said.
"If you start messing with seedings and playoffs and then you start talking about, 'Well, if this team would have played this Western Conference team, what ...'
"It's cool to mess around with the All-Star Game -- we proved you can do that -- but let's not get too crazy about the playoffs."
James has been to seven straight NBA Finals, winning three titles with the Miami Heat and the Cavaliers.
He isn't concerned about the recent dominance of the West.
"In the '80s you had the Lakers who dominated the league at one point, then you had Boston. In the '90s you had Chicago.
"San Antonio also had its run. We had our run in the East with Miami, Golden State is having their run."
In discussing possible changes, Silver said the big concern, in his mind, wasn't tradition but travel -- if Eastern and Western teams are facing off in the early rounds.
"We are concerned about teams criss-crossing the country in the first round, for example," he said. "We are just concerned about the overall travel that we would have in the top 16 teams."

Muguruza sees off Garcia, reaches Dubai semis

Saturday, 24 February 2018 00:00 Published in Sports

DUBAI, UAE -- Spaniard Garbine Muguruza reached the Dubai Championships semi-finals for the second time with a 7-5, 6-2 defeat of Caroline Garcia on Thursday, while Angelique Kerber set up a last-four clash with Elina Svitolina.
Reigning Wimbledon champion Muguruza needed more than an hour to claim the opening set over the fifth-seeded Frenchwoman, who she beat from a set down last week in Doha.
But the match went quickly compared to the second seed's epic the night before which ended at 2 a.m. local time.
"I was a little bit upset because, I had to play late and went to bed at 4 a.m. There's nothing to do about that," she said.
"Today I somehow fought with a little bit of the tiredness of yesterday. That's it."
Muguruza caught fire in the second set, winning 13 points in a row en route to a 4-1 lead.
The match was twice interrupted by rain, before the 24-year-old closed out the win as she broke Garcia for a third time in the set and then served it out.
"It was a very good match, especially the first set. I felt that whoever could win it," Muguruza said. "I felt much better this match than the match we played in Doha.
"When you play a top-10 player, and you beat second time in a row, it gives you a good sign that what I'm doing is right."
The two-time Grand Slam winner is seeking her first title since Cincinnati last August and next faces either Daria Kasatkina or her fellow Russian Elena Vesnina.
- Kerber sets up Svitolina clash -
Kerber and Svitolina will face off in the other semi-final after both raced to quick straight-sets wins.
Holder and top seed Svitolina brushed aside Japan's Naomi Osaka 6-2, 6-4 while German sixth seed Kerber won a rematch of the 2016 US Open final, beating Czech Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 6-3.
Kerber, ranked ninth after a good start to the season, claimed her 15th win of the year, pulling her level for the most on the WTA circuit with world number one Caroline Wozniacki.
"I have much more confidence than when I started the year where I actually had no idea where I was, especially after last year," Kerber said.
"I have already so many matches under my belt, so that gives me much more match confidence.
"I'm going out there and just thinking about the next match, the next point -- nothing else."
Svitolina ended a run of two straight losses to Osaka, ranked 48th and the first Japanese quarter-finalist at the event since 2004.
"I had a couple of tough matches against her. I had to be ready for her to come back," Svitolina said. "I had to be ready for her to raise her level."
World number four Svitolina took control of the opening set against Osaka with a 5-0 lead.
After claiming the first set, Svitolina's level dropped, with Osaka breaking in the second game and taking a 4-1 advantage before being reeled in.
Svitolina raced to victory with five consecutive games, closing out the win on a net cord.
"Definitely I'm happy the way I've been handling the pressure and tough moments," she said.
"I had two good matches. I cannot say it was amazing tennis, but when I needed to I was stepping up and playing well."

Noren, Simpson lead; Woods 'pleased' with even par 70

Saturday, 24 February 2018 00:00 Published in Sports

MIAMI, Florida-- Alex Noren and Webb Simpson defied difficult blustery winds to lead the US PGA Tour's Honda Classic on Thursday as Tiger Woods said he was "very pleased" with an even par 70.
Noren and Simpson both carded four-under par 66 at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where only 20 players broke par.
Although he didn't manage to join that group, Woods called it the best ball-striking round of his latest comeback, which has included a tie for 23rd at Torrey Pines last month and a missed cut at Riviera in Los Angeles last week.
"I'm very pleased," said the 14-time major champion, who had three birdies, a bogey and a double-bogey.
"Today was not easy. It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best. It was tough all around today.
"The wind was playing really hard, the rough's up and it's really tough to make putts out there."
Nevertheless, Woods matched his best opening round in four appearances at PGA National.
His decision to play in Florida this week marks his first attempt at back-to-back tournaments since 2015 as he vies to become a contender again in the wake of spinal fusion surgery last April.
Woods teed off on the 10th and had two birdies and a bogey in his first nine holes.
At the par-five third he hit his approach shot into a greenside bunker en route to a double bogey.
"One bad hole today," Woods said. "That's the way it goes."
He responded immediately with a birdie, splitting the fairway at the sixth with a two-iron and draining a six-foot putt.
"I felt like I had good touch, but more importantly, I made a lot of the key short putts for par," Woods said. "It was really tough. Some of those putts were a little bit bouncy."
Noren, a nine-time winner on the European Tour, who fell to Jason Day in a marathon playoff at Torrey Pines, grabbed the last of his five birdies at his final hole, the par-four ninth to be the first in the clubhouse on 66.
"I played quite steady my front nine, which was the back nine, then I just scrambled my way around the front nine," Noren said. "This was by far my best putting and chipping round of the season."
Simpson had three of his five birdies on the front nine. His last came at the tough par-three 17th, where he rolled in a 30-footer to bounce back from his only bogey of the day.
"I'm definitely excited to get a good round under my belt," Simpson said
Former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, reigning USPGA Champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Mackenzie Hughes were a stroke off the lead on 67, with Dominic Bozzelli, Jamie Lovemark, Russell Henley and Ben Crane tied on 68.

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