Doncic, Paul headline Skills Challenge

NBA All-Stars Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks and Chris Paul of the Phoenix Suns will display their vast array of talents in the 2021 Taco Bell® Skills Challenge on Sunday, March 7 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.  The Taco Bell® Skills Challenge will take place before the 2021 NBA All-Star Game, airing on TNT.

Joining Doncic and Paul as 2021 NBA All-Stars in the field are New York Knicks forward Julius Randle, Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis and Orlando Magic center Nikola Vučević.  The six-player competition also features Portland Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington.

The 19th Taco Bell® Skills Challenge is an obstacle-course competition that tests players’ dribbling, passing, agility and 3-point shooting skills.  The event is part of NBA All-Star 2021, which will take place on one night.  TNT’s NBA All-Star coverage on March 7 will begin at 5 p.m. ET with TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by CarMax, followed by the Taco Bell® Skills Challenge and MTN DEW® 3-Point Contest starting at 6:30 p.m. ET.  NBA All-Star Game coverage will begin at 8 p.m. ET, with AT&T Slam Dunk taking place at halftime.

Doncic, who was named an NBA All-Star Game starter for the second year in a row, joins Sabonis (the 2020 runner-up) and Vučević as second-time participants in the Taco Bell® Skills Challenge.  Paul, an NBA All-Star selection for the 11th time, will make his record fifth appearance in the Taco Bell® Skills Challenge and his first since 2011.  Randle and Covington will make their event debuts.

The Taco Bell® Skills Challenge is a three-round competition with a single-elimination tournament format.  Two players will compete simultaneously on an identical course and the winner of each head-to-head matchup will advance to the next round.  Two of the six participants, as chosen by the NBA, will receive a bye in the first round and automatically advance to the second round.  First-round matchups will be announced at a later date.

Cavs’ McGee: ‘We’re not a team that just gives up”

It appears that the Cleveland Cavaliers(14-21) may have figured out their issues and have turned things around. Cleveland got their second straight road win and their fourth straight victory overall after defeating Houston(11-22) 101-90 on Monday night.

Collin Sexton was very dynamic against the Rockets. He was 12-20 from the field, including 4-8 from three-point range for 39 points. Sexton also added eight assists.

“He was not going to let us lose,” Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said about Sexton after the game. “And again, they do make it tough on you because they have some very good individual defenders, and they can switch with length. It turns into where you have to beat your man, and Collin has the ability to beat his man. He was awesome for us tonight.”

During the Cavs’ four-game winning streak, Sexton is averaging 29.8 ppg, and according to Sexton, he felt he needed to do more for his team.

“I put many hours in the gym each and every day,” Sexton said. “I knew I had to be better for my teammates.”

Two weeks ago, during their 10-game losing streak, it appeared the Cavs had lost their way and would struggle the rest of the season, but to the credit of the players and coaching staff, Cleveland has has not quit.

“We’re not a team that just gives up,” JaVale McGee said after scoring 10 points off the bench against Houston. “We are in the East right now, so maybe we’re three or four games out of the playoffs(2.5 games), which is crazy when you think about it after losing ten in a row.”

Cleveland plays their final game before the All-Star break at home against the Pacers on Wednesday night with a chance to make it five straight.

Curry, Booker, Tatum headline three-point contest

Former 3-Point Contest champions Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns and Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors lead a field composed entirely of current NBA All-Stars who will participate in the 2021 MTN DEW® 3-Point Contest on Sunday, March 7 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.  The competition will take place before the 2021 NBA All-Star Game, airing on TNT.

The six-player field also features 2021 NBA All-Stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics, Zach LaVine of the Chicago Bulls and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz.  This marks the first 3-Point Contest in which each participant is a current NBA All-Star.

Booker, the 2018 MTN DEW 3-Point Contest champion, will make his fifth appearance in the event.  Curry, the 2015 champion, will compete for the seventh time, tying Dale Ellis for the second-most appearances behind Craig Hodges (eight).  A seven-time NBA All-Star, Curry has made a league-high 164 3-pointers this season.  He holds the NBA single-season record for 3-pointers made (402 in 2015-16) and ranks second in career 3-pointers made (2,659).

LaVine and Mitchell are both former AT&T Slam Dunk champions.  No player has ever won both the MTN DEW 3-Point Contest and AT&T Slam Dunk in a career.  LaVine will compete in the 3-Point Contest for the second year in a row.  This marks the event debut for Mitchell.  Brown and Tatum are also first-time participants in the MTN DEW 3-Point Contest.

For the second consecutive year, the MTN DEW 3-Point Contest will feature the “MTN DEW Zone” – two deep shot locations positioned equidistant between the traditional racks at the top of the 3-point arc and the adjacent “wing” rack.  Each of the two ball pedestals in the MTN DEW Zone is located 6 feet behind the 3-point line and holds one special green ball, the “3-Ball.”  Shots made with the green ball are worth three points.

Vikings’ Zimmer: ‘Kyle(Rudolph) has been a leader and mentor for us on and off the field from the first day I arrived in Minnesota’

The Minnesota Vikings have terminated the contract of TE Kyle Rudolph, the team announced on Tuesday.

The 10-year veteran, who spent his whole career in Minnesota, was scheduled to make $9.4 million in 2021. The two-time Pro Bowler signed a four-year, $36 million contract extension with Minnesota back in 2019. 

According to the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, Rudolph‘s release saves Minnesota a little over $5 million in cap space and $8M in cash in 2021.

Last season, Rudolph, 31, was not used much in the passing game for Minnesota. In 12 games, he had 28 receptions for 334 yards and a career-low one touchdown catch. Rudolph was placed on injured reserve by the Vikings on December 29th with a foot injury.

Vikings GM Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer issued the following statements on Rudolph:

Vikings General Manger Rick Spielman:

“From the moment we drafted Kyle as a young man out of Notre Dame in 2011, through his 10th season with the Vikings in 2020, he has been one of the premier tight ends in the NFL and most influential and positive leaders I’ve ever been around. Kyle and Jordan have made such an immeasurable impact on our team and community that may never be matched. The energy they have invested in the community, most notably through the End Zone at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, is truly remarkable. I admire Kyle and we will miss him and his family. We sincerely wish them the best.”

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer:

“Kyle has been a leader and mentor for us on and off the field from the first day I arrived in Minnesota. He has been such an important part of this team and community throughout his career and it has been an honor to coach him the last seven seasons. He will be missed, and we wish him and his family nothing but the best.”

Arum on Taylor-Ramirez: ‘It’s a true 50-50 fight, one that the fans and both fighters demanded’

Two undefeated junior welterweight kings, one undisputed title. The stakes don’t get any higher.

WBC/WBO champion Jose Ramirez, the pride of California’s Central Valley, will fight Scotland’s IBF/WBA champion Josh Taylor for the undisputed world championship Saturday, May 22. The winner will become only the second undisputed junior welterweight champion of the four-belt era, joining pound-for-pound great Terence “Bud” Crawford.

Promoted by Top Rank, Ramirez-Taylor will be televised live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes (and simulcast on ESPN+) starting at 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT. The location, venue, and undercard information will be announced shortly.

“This is the best boxing has to offer, two elite fighters in the prime of their careers colliding in a legacy-defining matchup for the undisputed championship of the world,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “It’s a true 50-50 fight, one that the fans and both fighters demanded.”

Ramirez (26-0, 17 KOs) has been a world champion since March 2018, when he toppled Amir Imam via unanimous decision to win the vacant WBC strap. Following the Imam victory, he hired noted trainer Robert Garcia, and the duo has combined to go 4-0 in world title fights. Ramirez knocked out Maurice Hooker in July 2019 to unify world titles and defended his belts last August with a majority decision over former world champion Viktor Postol. Ramirez, a proud son of Mexican immigrants who hails from Avenal, Calif., is an agent of social change in his community. He’s devoted his time and resources to myriad causes, including cancer research, water rights for area farmers, and COVID-19 relief for Central Valley field workers.

“I look forward to making history by becoming the first boxer of Mexican descent to hold all four major world title belts,” Ramirez said. “I dedicate this fight to the Central Valley farm workers, who are out there every day helping feed the world. This fight is big, but nothing is bigger than getting vaccinations to the farm workers right now in the Central Valley.”

Like Ramirez, Taylor (17-0, 13 KOs) fought as a lightweight at the 2012 London Olympics, where he advanced to the Round of 16. While he didn’t turn pro until 2015, “The Tartan Tornado” won the Commonwealth 140-pound title in only his seventh pro bout. Taylor toppled Postol by unanimous decision in 2018 and won the IBF world title the following year with a decision over Ivan Baranchyk. He unified the IBF and WBA titles in October 2019, edging Regis Prograis by majority decision in a brutal masterpiece. He made his first defense as a unified champion last September, blasting out mandatory challenger Apinun Khongsong in the first round. Taylor hopes to make a little history of his own as the first undisputed, four-belt Scottish champion.

Taylor said, “I’m excited it’s been finalized and over the line. I can’t wait to get in there for the biggest fight of my career. Fighting for the undisputed title is something all boxers dream about.”

Benavidez on fight with Ellis: ‘This is the strongest I have ever felt’

Two-time world champion David Benavídez faces dangerous veteran Ronald Ellis in a 12-round WBC super-middleweight title eliminator Saturday, March 13 live on SHOWTIME at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT from Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. in a Premier Boxing Champions event.

The SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING telecast also features two under-25 lightweight contenders Isaac Cruz and Matías Romero in a 12-round co-main event bout. A 10-round super welterweight affair between Terrell Gausha and Jamontay Clark will open the telecast on SHOWTIME..

David Benavídez (23-0, 20 KOs), a boxing prodigy from Phoenix, Arizona, returns to the ring following a stoppage victory over Alexis Angulo at the “Fight Sphere” at Mohegan Sun last August. Benavídez turned pro at 16 and captured his first world title at age 20, becoming the youngest 168-pound world champion in history. An undefeated two-time super middleweight champion, Benavídez looks to earn another title opportunity at super middleweight. He was stripped of his WBC crown due to missing weight against Angulo. With nine of his 20 knockouts coming in the first round, the 24-year-old possesses one of the most devastating arsenals in all of boxing. It was on full display when he captured the super middleweight title for the second time via ninth-round TKO over fellow two-time champion Anthony Dirrell.

“I’ve had an amazing camp in Big Bear and this is the strongest I have ever felt so I’m looking to get an early stoppage against Ellis,” said Benavidez. “I’m glad this is a title eliminator and it’s going to be another step to being a world champion once again.”

The 31-year-old Ellis (18-1-2, 12 KOs) has been calling for the biggest fights at 160 and 168 pounds, and he has landed the toughest challenge of his professional career against Benavidez. Ellis, a native of Lynn, Mass., is fresh off a win over three-time world title challenger Matt Korobov who was forced to retire due to an injury during their December fight on SHOWTIME. Ellis has exhibited his slick boxing ability in recent outings but also possesses ferocious power, as evidenced by eight first round knockout victories in his career.

“It’s a fight but not just any fight,” said Ellis. “This is the type of fight I have trained for and wanted since I turned pro. He’s going to bring his best on March 13 and that will bring out the best in me.”

Cruz (20-1-1, 15 KOs) returns to the ring following the most impressive performance of his career – an emphatic first-round knockout against former world title challenger Diego Magdaleno in October. Fighting out of his hometown of Mexico City, the 22-year-old is quickly climbing the ladder in the lightweight division in pursuit of a world title. Cruz turned pro in 2015 at the age of 16 and suffered his lone defeat a year later, but his aggressive ring generalship has kept him unbeaten over the past five years.

“I’m very excited to be fighting on SHOWTIME on March 13,” said Cruz. “The lightweight division is the hottest in boxing right now. This fight puts me one step closer to my dream of winning a world title for my Dad, Isaac Cruz, Sr. and my country, Mexico.”

Romero (24-0, 8 KOs) will put his perfect record on the line as he attempts to rise from prospect to contender with a win over Cruz. In his most recent fight this past November, Romero of Cordoba, Argentina defeated Javier José Clavero via unanimous decision in a fight at 130 pounds. The 24-year-old Romero’s most recent knockout came in March 2020 over Gabriel Gustavo Ovejero when he scored a fifth-round TKO in his last fight at lightweight. This fight will mark Romero’s U.S. debut and first appearance on SHOWTIME and Premier Boxing Champions.

“I’ve come so far from Argentina to bring myself one step closer to reaching my goal of being a world champion,” said Romero. “I know that Isaac Cruz is a big puncher but he’s never fought anyone with my speed and heart.”

A decorated amateur who represented the United States at the 2012 London Games, Gausha (21-2-1, 10 KOs) continues his quest to win a world title. Following a sensational first round knockout against Joey Hernández in 2018, Gausha fought former world champion Austin Trout to a split draw and lost a decision against world title challenger Erickson Lubin in back-to-back bouts. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, the 33-year-old now lives and trains out of Encino, Calif., under the tutelage of accomplished trainer Manny Robles.

“I’m just blessed to be able to do what I love to do,” said Gausha. “I’m excited to be back on PBC and SHOWTIME thanks to Al Haymon. On March 13, I’m ready to go out there and show everybody what Terrell Gausha is made of and put on a show.”

Clark (15-1-1, 7 KOs) comes into this fight off a unanimous decision victory against Anthony Lenk last February. Fighting out of his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, the 26-year-old has only lost one professional fight, which came against former unified super welterweight champion Jeison Rosario in 2018. This will mark the southpaw’s first fight during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s been a while since I was in the ring and I’m just excited to be back taking on someone like Terrell Gausha, who will bring a good challenge and let me display all of my talents,” Clark said. “This is the first step in getting back to regular action and I’m not going to waste this opportunity. I’m going on a big run after I beat Gausha. As McFadden and Whitehead said, ‘Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.’”

Gregg Popovich on Spurs: ‘They never gave in’

The San Antonio Spurs(17-13) battled hard against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night and got an amazing buzzer-beater from Dejounte Murray(19 points) to send the game into overtime. However, they were outscored by 11 points in the extra period and would fall to the Nets(23-13) in OT 124-113 at AT&T Center.

After a James Harden three,  who had a triple-double with 30 points, 15 assists, and 14 rebounds, the Spurs trailed 102–90 with just under five minutes left in the fourth quarter, but the Spurs would go on an 18-6 run to finish the fourth, including Murray’s buzzer-beater. After the game, Popovich discussed Murray’s big-time shot.

“He knew he had to get it to the rim,” Popovich said. “He made a good choice getting rid of that darn thing, but he’s been playing great all year long and just getting smarter and smarter; feeling more and more confident at the position, so it’s all good.”

Despite the loss, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was happy with his team’s fight against Brooklyn.

‘I thought they were great,” Popovich said after the game about his team. “They really worked hard. They dug down deep all year. They never gave in, and tonight was another good example.”

Spurs G Lonnie Walker IV, who scored 19 points against the Nets, agreed with Popovich’s assessment.

“We laid it all out there,” he said. “Our effort defensively really picked up our effort offensively on how we’re scoring and running on transition and everything. So, I’m really happy on how we played as a team. We did it the right way. Unfortunately, we didn’t come up with the win.”

The Spurs were shorthanded on Monday as they were without Keldon Johnson, Rudy Gay, and Derrick White due to health and safety protocols, making their performance against the high-powered Nets even more impressive. Now, they have to set their sights on New York’s other team, the Knicks, as they come into San Antonio to battle the Spurs on Tuesday night.

Notes:

Kyrie Irving added 27 points for the Nets, while DeMar DeRozan had a team-high 22 points for San Antonio.

Spurs announced before their game against Brooklyn that they would be letting fans in the AT&T Center starting on March 12 against the Magic. According to the press release, the Spurs will allow 3200 fans in the building.

Brandun Lee headlines ShoBox card in Connecticut

One of boxing’s fastest-rising prospects Brandun Lee will return to the “Fight Sphere” at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., for the third time when he takes on Samuel Teah Wednesday, March 10 live on SHOWTIME at 9 p.m. ET/PT in the super lightweight main event of a ShoBox: The New Generation telecast.

Lee vs. Teah headlines a four-fight card featuring eight promising prospects with a combined record of 102-4-2.

The 21-year-old knockout artist Lee (21-0, 19 KOs) of La Quinta, Calif., will look to extend his impressive KO streak to 13 when he faces ShoBox veteran Samuel Teah (17-3-1, 7 KOs) in a 10-round super lightweight bout. The co-main event will see undefeated super featherweight prospect Misael Lopez (11-0, 5 KOs) battle once-beaten Jordan White (10-1, 8 KOs) in an eight-round bout and two tough undefeated prospects will clash in the second fight of the night as Philadelphia’s Steven Ortiz (11-0, 3 KOs) faces Jeremy Hill (14-0, 9 KOs) in an eight-round lightweight bout. In the telecast opener, 22-year-old power-punching prospect Victor Padilla (8-0, 7 KOs) makes his ShoBox debut against another unbeaten Philadelphia native, Thomas Velasquez (10-0-1, 6 KOs), in an eight-round super featherweight contest.

The four-fight telecast is promoted by DiBella Entertainment and D&D Boxing.

“Our March 10 ShoBox event, from top to bottom, perfectly represents the philosophy that the series has set forth to accomplish during our 20 years in boxing,” said Gordon Hall, executive producer for ShoBox: The New Generation. “The full spectrum of prospects will be on display in this event from coming-of-age newcomers to a fighter at the doorstep of a world championship fight. In the opening bout we have a three-time amateur National Champion in Victor Padilla, who is in the infancy of his promising professional career at 8-0, making his ShoBox debut, while atop the bill is Brandun Lee, one of the most promising prospects in boxing, taking on his toughest challenge against a ShoBox veteran Samuel Teah. ShoBox is the ultimate proving ground for prospects and we will learn a lot about all of these fighters March 10 on SHOWTIME.”

“All eight fighters competing on March 10 at Mohegan Sun will be tested, and that is exactly what the ShoBox series is all about. I’m proud to promote such an evenly matched event from top to bottom,” said Lou DiBella, President of DiBella Entertainment. “Puerto Rican lightweight Victor Padilla is a knockout artist with blazing fast hands and he’ll be facing unbeaten Philadelphian Thomas Velasquez. Junior lightweight Misael Lopez returns to ShoBox following his series debut, an upset over touted favorite James Wilkins, now taking on heavy-hitter Jordan White. Philadelphia lightweight Steven Ortiz also returns to the series, after debuting with a win against unbeaten Wesley Ferrer, competing against undefeated New Orleans prospect Jeremy Hill. In the main event, towering power-puncher Brandun Lee squares off against crafty veteran Samuel Teah, in his biggest test to date.”

Lee vs. Teah – 10-Round Super Lightweight Main Event Bout

 The highly regarded Lee made quick work of the previous two opponents he faced at Mohegan Sun Arena in 2020, scoring a highlight-reel first-round KO of Jimmy Williams on ShoBox in October and a third-round stoppage of Dakota Linger in December. Lee has knocked out all but two of his professional opponents and owns 12 first-round knockouts. Trained by his father Bobby, Lee fought four times in 2020, including a third-round TKO over Camilo Prieto in one of the final live sporting events to take place before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the sports world for several months in March.

Lee had a decorated amateur career with an estimated record of 196-5. He was the 2015 U.S. Junior National Champion, taking home the gold medal at 145 pounds. With lightning quick hands that pack power, the exciting Lee has sparred with the likes of Mikey Garcia, Devin Haney, Mauricio Herrera, Timothy Bradley Jr., and Thomas Dulorme.

“I’ve just been training in La Quinta, staying safe and healthy and focusing on what I need to do in order to have another impressive performance,” said Lee. “I see that Teah is a good inside puncher and he has good speed. He’s a volume puncher but other than that, I don’t see much that I shouldn’t be able to handle. I’m super excited to be returning to ShoBox in the main event so that my fans can see me live on TV, because the fans want to see knockouts so that’s what I’m going to give them.”

Teah, born in Liberia and fighting out of Philadelphia, has had mixed luck on ShoBox. A three-fight veteran of the developmental series, Teah scored a unanimous decision over then-undefeated O’Shaquie Foster in 2015 but dropped a majority decision to Montana Love in 2018. Most recently on ShoBox, Teah scored a unanimous decision over Kenneth Sims Jr. in November 2018. The 33-year-old Teah, who did not start boxing until the age of 19, also owns an impressive win over Sonny Fredrickson and beat Dieumerci Nzau his last time out in March 2020.

“I don’t mind being the underdog and it won’t be the first time for me,” Teah said. “I have ShoBox wins against O’Shaquie Foster and Kenneth Sims, Jr., and I always seem to perform better when the lights and cameras are focused on me. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Lopez vs. White – Eight-Round Super Featherweight Bout

Born in Sonora, Mexico, and raised in Denver, Colo., Lopez had a successful amateur career before turning professional in 2016. He compiled an amateur record of 50-5, winning gold at the 2010 Colorado State Silver Gloves Tournament and the Colorado State Golden Gloves Tournament in 2009 and 2015. Lopez’s career-best pro win came on ShoBox in September 2018 when he outboxed the power-punching James Wilkins in a step-up fight. Trained by his father Evenezer, Lopez has added two wins since then, including a first-round TKO over Richard Flores.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to be back on ShoBox and, this time, with such a strong team behind me,” said the 24-year-old Lopez. “I respect my promoter, Lou DiBella, a lot and have no doubt that he can put me in the position to become a champion. I’m ready for the challenge and can’t wait for March 10.”

The Washington, D.C. native White was a former No. 1-ranked amateur, amassing a 145-16 record. He was teammates with future world champions Devin Haney and Shakur Stevenson on the Junior National travel squad, competing in the Junior World Championships in Kiev, Ukraine in 2013. White turned professional at 18, winning his first four bouts, three by way of knockout, before losing a decision to fellow undefeated foe Adam Lopez. White has since bounced back by winning six fights in a row, including a seventh-round TKO over previously unbeaten prospect Ronaldo Solis. White, 23, is the cousin of 2000 U.S. Olympian Clarence Vinson.

“I am honored for this opportunity to fight on SHOWTIME against the undefeated Misael Lopez,” said White. “I respect his fight game, but I am looking forward to displaying my superior skill set. On March 10, there will be lights, cameras, and plenty of action.”

Ortiz vs. Hill – Eight-Round Lightweight Bout

The 27-year-old Ortiz has developed a cult following in his hometown region, fighting seven times in the greater Philadelphia area. Ortiz rallied off five straight wins in the “City of Brotherly Love” before making his ShoBox debut in September 2018, a majority decision victory over then-unbeaten Wesley Ferrer in Shawnee, Okla. Ortiz picked up two wins in 2019, including a unanimous decision over previously undefeated Philadelphian Jeremy Cuevas, but did not fight in 2020. An accomplished amateur, Ortiz is a five-time Pennsylvania Golden Gloves Champion, a bronze medalist at the National Golden Gloves and a gold medalist at the National Silver Gloves.

“The pandemic was a major setback for me and the careers of many other fighters, of course, but it kept me focused,” said Ortiz. “I stayed in the gym getting ready for when the opportunity came, and here it is. Hill is a tall, awkward fighter, but I am up for the challenge. It doesn’t matter who is in front of me, I am here to fight. This will be my second fight on SHOWTIME and I feel that, this time, I’ll be coming back stronger, both mentally and physically. The audience will see the best of me.”

New Orleans’ Jeremy Hill blends his unique size, accuracy and power in both hands inside the ring with showmanship and charisma outside of it. A successful amateur who rose all the way to the No. 4 ranked U.S. lightweight amateur, Hill won the Male Elite Champion at the Ringside World Championships in 2017 and turned professional in April 2018 after posting a 55-10 record in the unpaid ranks. Hill, 28, is coming off a TKO over Travis Castellon in November but will be facing his first undefeated opponent in Ortiz since beating the 1-0 Lashawn Alcocks in his fourth pro fight. He also owns a unanimous decision over then-once-beaten Xavier Wilson in July, one of Hill’s four wins in 2020.

“I’m excited and thankful for the opportunity,” said Hill. “I’ve been working hard and grinding for a chance like this. I feel like I’m overdue for this type of fight and this kind of exposure, so I’m just ready to show everyone what I can do. I’m about to cut up on national TV.”

Padilla vs. Velasquez – Eight-Round Super Featherweight Bout

Padilla, 22, was born in Vieques, Puerto Rico, and currently lives and fights out of Berlin, N.J. The all-action, power-punching southpaw has stopped all but one of his professional challengers, including six opponents who failed to make it out of the first round. His last time out in January 2020, Padilla needed just 2:46 to stop Israel Suarez-Olmeda. Padilla turned professional in December 2016 after a stellar amateur career that included three National Championships and a record of 90-7. He trains alongside former world champions Tevin Farmer and Jason Sosa under trainer Raul “Chino” Rivas.

“First and foremost, I want to thank God, my family and my team for keeping me positive through these hard times,” said Padilla. “I am very excited for this opportunity to showcase my skills in front of a national audience. I have sacrificed a lot to get to this point in my career. It takes a lot of dedication to the sport and I am confident that it will pay off. It has been 13 long years of working hard to show the world who Victor Padilla is and, on March 10, a new chapter will begin. Thomas Velasquez is a good fighter and this is a good matchup, but may the best man win.”

Velasquez, another Philadelphia native, made his professional debut in 2015 and looked to be rapidly rising through the ranks, winning his first nine fights including five by way of knockout. A draw with Tyrome Jones in September 2017 stalled his career to a near standstill, as he did not fight again until 2020 when he scored a third-round KO over veteran Gustavo Molina in his return bout. The 25-year-old will look to regain the momentum he had earlier in his career with a win over the highly regarded Padilla. As an amateur, Velasquez had a 30-3 record and won the Pennsylvania State Golden Gloves. He is trained by Hamza Muhammad, who also trains the newly crowned WBO Junior Featherweight World Champion Stephen Fulton Jr.

“I could not be happier to have this opportunity to show the world what I can do,” said Velasquez. “It doesn’t matter who is standing in the opposite corner, I fight to provide a better life for my twin daughters. I look forward to putting on a spectacular performance on March 10 and leaving that ring with my unbeaten record intact.”

Blue Coats rout Ignite to move to 8-4

The Delaware Blue Coats (8-4), the NBA G League affiliate of the Philadelphia 76ers, defeated the NBA G League Ignite (7-5), 120-92, on Monday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida. The Blue Coats shot .475 (48-101) from the field, including 18-37 (.486) from three-point range. They pulled down a season-high 54 rebounds and won the battle on the boards 54-41. Delaware also recorded 13 steals, marking their league-leading fourth game with at least 13.

76ers two-way contract player Paul Reed notched his ninth double-double through the team’s first 12 games with 13 points, a game-high 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block in 31 minutes. Delaware’s Justin Robinson also posted a double-double with 13 points and a game-high 12 assists in 27 minutes. Rookie Braxton Key provided a spark off the Blue Coats bench with a season-high 19 points (8-10 FG, 3-3 3FG), five rebounds, two assists, two steals and a game-high two blocks in 21 minutes of action.

76ers two-way contract player Rayjon Tucker scored a game-high 21 points (8-15 FG, 3-6 3FG, 1-1 FT) with seven rebounds en route to a game-high plus-29 rating. Michael Frazier II added 20 points and four rebounds for the Blue Coats.

Delaware led 69-44 at halftime. Seven Blue Coats scored in double figures for the second time this season (2-0). Delaware’s 34 fast-break points are a new NBA G League season high for a single game.

NBA G League Ignite was led by a double-double from Jonathan Kuminga, who finished with 19 points (5-15 FG, 1-5 3FG, 4-9 FT), 11 rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes. Brandon Ashley and Cody Demps (5-6 FG, 4-5 3FG) each added 14 points.

UP NEXT: The Blue Coats meet the Canton Charge (4-8) on Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET.

Photo:J uan Ocampo (NBAE via Getty Images)

Hawks fire head coach Lloyd Pierce

Atlanta Hawks have fired head coach Lloyd Pierce, the team announced on Monday. Assistant coach Nate McMillan will take over the team on an interim basis. 

The Hawks, who started 10-9 but are now 14-20, have been hit hard by injuries this season, including injuries to Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and De’Andre Hunter. In over two seasons, Pierce compiled a 63-120 (.344) in 183 games.

“We would like to thank Lloyd for his work and commitment to not only the Hawks organization but the city of Atlanta. He and his wife, Melissa, are tremendous people who have made a positive impact throughout the city,” said Hawks GM Travis Schlenk in a statement about Pierce. “We have high expectations for our team on the court, and we believe by making this change now that we can have a strong second half of the season.”

The 56-year-old McMillan joined the Hawks coaching staff on Nov. 11, 2020. As head coach with Seattle (2000-05), Portland (2005-12) and Indiana (2016-20), McMillan led his teams to a 661-588 (.529) mark in 1,249 career regular season games and has 53 games of postseason coaching experience.

Last season, the Pacers finished 45-28 (.616), second in the Central Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference. In his four years with Indiana, the club recorded a 183-136 mark (.574), advancing to the playoffs each season.