Wizards’ Bryant very confident of team’s chances in Orlando

At 24-40, the Washington Wizards have struggled this season, but without an injured John Wall, many did not expect Washington to have a lot of success. However, with the invitation to Orlando for the NBA restart, Washington probably has a better chance of making the playoffs than they did back in March. 

The 9th-seeded Wizards are currently 5.5 games behind the 8th-seeded Orlando Magic(30-35) for the final spot in the playoffs. If the season weren’t suspended due to COVID-19, Washington would have had to make up 5.5 games with 18 games remaining, which would have been relatively impossible. Fortunately for Washington, all they need to do now is get within four games of the Magic to be eligible to compete in a play-in tournament.

While the Wizards have a shot at the playoffs, some believe that this team should not be in Orlando, but according to Washington C Thomas Bryant, the team will prove a lot of people wrong. 

“People are going say what they want to say,” Bryant said via a video call with the media on Wednesday. “They’ll see when we get down to Orlando that we have all been improving, and you’ll see a spark from us. So, people are going to say what they want to say. It’s the freedom of speech. People have the right to say what they want, but for me, personally, they will be eating those words.”

No one knows what to expect when the NBA returns. Who knows what players will be in shape, and who knows how teams will mesh after being away for so long, so if Washington has Bradley Beal on the court, who is undecided about whether he will play in Orlando, anything could happen. 

Also, what could favor the Wizards is what’s happening with the 7th-seeded Brooklyn Nets(30-34). This team will head to Orlando without Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan(team’s leading rebounder), and Wilson Chandler. Furthermore, there is some uncertainty about Spencer Dinwiddie’s availability(team’s leading scorer), who tested positive for COVID-19 and is reportedly symptomatic. Washington is currently six games behind Brooklyn. 

What will happen in Orlando is anybody’s guess, but to be one of the 22 teams invited is a win for Washington. 

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Pedraza dominates LesPierre; Ramirez gets revenge

Former two-weight world champion Jose Pedraza’s quest for a title in a third weight class is alive and well. Pedraza, from Cidra, Puerto Rico, toppled Mikkel LesPierre via unanimous decision (100-88 and 99-89 2x) Thursday night in a junior welterweight bout.

Pedraza and LesPierre were scheduled to fight June 18, but the bout was postponed after LesPierre’s manager tested positive for COVID-19. Pedraza returned to the MGM Grand “Bubble” in fine form, blunting his southpaw opponent’s offense.

Pedraza (27-3, 13 KOs) knocked down LesPierre (22-2-1, 10 KOs) in the fifth round and showed his class down the home stretch. Another knockdown the 10th was the exclamation point on a nearly flawless performance. For Pedraza, it was a much-needed win, as he was coming off a decision loss to Jose Zepeda last September on the Tyson Fury-Otto Wallin undercard.

“Mikkel was a tough opponent, but I stuck to my game plan. I wanted the knockout, but he stayed strong in there. I give him a lot of credit,” Pedraza said. “I would like to fight any of the world champions, but we have to see what happens next. I proved I belong with the top guys in the 140-pound division.”

— Revenge was officially served. Two-time Olympic gold medalist Robeisy Ramirez (4-1, 3 KOs) dominated Adan Gonzales (5-3-2, 2 KOs) over six rounds in a featherweight rematch of their August 2019 bout, won by Gonzales via split decision. All three judges scored the bout 60-54, as Ramirez officially closed the chapter on his nightmarish professional debut.

“I wanted to put our first fight behind me, and I did that. Ever since our first fight, I wanted the rematch. I am glad this chapter of my career is behind me now,” Ramirez said. “A couple more rounds and I could’ve scored the knockout. But I’ll take the win and continue to work hard on my craft. I have the best trainer in Ismael Salas.”

— Toledo native and junior lightweight contender “Prince” Albert Bell (17-0, 5 KOs) outboxed Mark “Machete” Bernaldez over 10 rounds, claiming a unanimous decision by scores of 100-90 3x.

— A straight right hand was all she wrote, as Dominican sensation Elvis Rodriguez (7-0-1, 7 KOs) knocked out Danny Murray (5-4) at 2:17 of the opening round of a junior welterweight bout.

— In a six-round heavyweight rumble featuring a pair of 280-plus-pound heavyweights, Kingsley Ibeh (5-1, 4 KOs) won his second “Bubble” bout in a week, edging Patrick Mailata (4-1, 2 KOs) by majority decision (57-57 and 58-56 2x).

— In a 10-round featherweight slugfest, Jose Enrique Vivas (19-1, 10 KOs) defeated Carlos Jackson (16-1, 11 KOs) by unanimous decision. All three judges scored the bout 97-93, as Vivas swept the last three rounds on two of the judges’ cards to clinch the win.

Photo: Top Rank Boxing/Mikey Williams

Beal on Bertans’ decision to opt out of NBA restart: ‘I 100 percent understand it’

When the NBA returns in late July, the Washington Wizards will be without one of their best shooters and could be without their best player. Davis Bertans, who can become a free agent at the end of the season, has decided not to play when the NBA restarts in Orlando, and at this point, Bradley Beal is unsure if he is going to play. 

“I am still working my tail off every single day as if I am playing,” Beal said via a video call with the media on Wednesday. “It is more or less a decision that will come down to the medical staff and coming back from zero to 100, and then I have some nagging stuff from the end of the year that we are trying to clean up, too. We are looking at it from all angles. I am definitely working out every single day here. It is good to be back in the facility.

“I am not swayed one way or another.”

Beal also revealed that he talked to Bertans before the third-year player made the decision to opt out public.

“I didn’t feel any type of way about Bertans’ decision,” Beal said. “He actually contacted me before he officially announced it… He explained it and just seeing where he comes from, seeing his situation, and understanding what’s at stake for him and his future.  I 100 percent understand it.”

The 27-year-old Bertans, who in 54 games averaged 15.4 ppg this season, has an opportunity to make a lot of money in free agency. He has the size(6-10) and is a knockdown three-point shooter(42% from three-point land), so his decision to skip Orlando is understandable.

Currently, the Wizards(9th seed) are 5 1/2 games behind the Orlando Magic for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. If the team with the eighth-best combined winning percentage in a conference (Currently, the Orlando Magic) is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth-best combined winning percentage in the same conference, then those two teams would compete in a play-in tournament to determine the eighth playoff seed in the conference. The play-in tournament will be double elimination for Team 8 and single elimination for Team 9.

Therefore, Washington must make up some ground if they want to compete in the play-in tournament. 

It was a tall order for the Wizards to make the playoffs with Beal and Bertans. However, it’s probably impossible for Washington to qualify for the playoffs without them. 

With Beal(30.5 ppg), who is having a big-time year, they have a fighters’ chance. It should be interesting to see what Beal decides, but if Washington wants to make a run at the playoffs, they need Beal out there in Orlando. 

Saucedo: ‘I am ready to take over the 140-pound division’

The fighting pride of Oklahoma City put forth a clinic in Las Vegas. Junior welterweight contender Alex Saucedo, fighting for the second time since falling short in a world title bid, bested Sonny Fredrickson by unanimous decision Tuesday evening at the MGM Grand Conference Center — Grand Ballroom.

The scores (100-90, 99-91 and 98-92) were lopsided in favor of Saucedo (30-1, 19 KOs), who used sustained pressure to pile up the points.

According to CompuBox, Saucedo outlanded Fredrickson, 318-172.

Fredrickson (21-3, 14 KOs), from Toledo, Ohio, dropped his second fight in a row.

“We worked on a lot of things in the gym. It was important for me to get the rounds in, and Sonny was a tough opponent,” Saucedo said. “I am ready to take over the 140-pound division. Whatever opportunity comes my way, I will take advantage of it. Most importantly, I got rid of the ring rust and went 10 hard rounds.”

— Josue “The Prodigy” Vargas hit Salvador Briceno with everything, including the kitchen sink. After 10 rounds, Briceno was still standing, and Vargas earned a unanimous decision by scores of 100-90 2x and 99-91. Vargas (17-1, 9 KOs), a rising junior welterweight contender, extended his winning streak to 11. Briceno (17-6, 11 KOs) fell to 2-3 in his last five outings.

— Junior welterweight prospect John “El Terrible” Bauza (14-0, 5 KOs) returned from a nearly yearlong layoff, besting “Lethal” Larry Fryers (11-3, 4 KOs) by eight-round unanimous decision (80-72 2x and 79-73).

— Two weeks after a decision loss inside “The Bubble,” Detroit native Isiah Jones (9-2, 3 KOs) rebounded to defeat the previously undefeated Donte Stubbs (6-1, 2 KOs) via majority decision in a six-round middleweight bout. Jones, the first Bubble returnee, prevailed by scores of 57-57, 58-56 and 59-55.

Photo: Top Rank Boxing/Mikey Williams

Suns sign Cameron Payne

The Phoenix Suns today signed free agent guard Cameron Payne, the team announced today.

According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, it’s a two-year deal.

Payne, 25, has played four NBA seasons with Oklahoma City, Chicago, and Cleveland since being selected 14th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. The 6-3, 190-pound guard has spent the 2019-20 season with the Texas Legends of the NBA G League, averaging 23.2 points on 48.3% shooting, 8.1 assists, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.3 steals in 15 games since making his season debut on January 26. Payne was named NBA G League Player of the Week on March 2 after guiding the Legends to a 3-0 week, including career highs of 19 assists and 10 rebounds plus 18 points to record a triple-double in a win over the NAZ Suns. Payne scored a career-high 43 points in a win over Iowa on February 8. 

Originally the 14th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft out of Murray State, Payne was selected directly between his now teammates Devin Booker and Kelly Oubre Jr. He holds career averages of 6.0 points and 2.5 assists over 16.0 minutes in 153 career regular-season games, making 11 post-season appearances with the Thunder and Bulls.

Vergil Ortiz-Samuel Vargas set for July 24 in California

Golden Boy, DAZN and Fantasy Springs Resort Casino are proud to announce the return of world-class professional boxing in Southern California! In the main event of this long-awaited comeback, Vergil Ortiz Jr. (15-0, 15 KOs) will defend his WBA Gold Welterweight Title against Samuel Vargas (31-5-2, 14 KOs) in a 12-round bout.

The action takes place on Friday, July 24 at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, Calif. and will be streamed live on DAZN. The event will be closed to the public and media as we enter the first phase of our responsible return to regular boxing action.

“Preparing our comeback hasn’t been easy, but we know that we have a responsibility to our fighters and our fans to stage high-level boxing events as soon as we possibly can,” said Oscar De La Hoya, Chairman and CEO of Golden Boy. “This card demonstrates our commitment to presenting competitive fights despite current circumstances as the future of boxing, Vergil Ortiz Jr., will step into the ring with Samuel Vargas as was initially planned back in March.”

“And to add to that, lightweight contender Hector Tanajara Jr. is taking a big step up in competition against a veteran southpaw in Mercito Gesta,” De La Hoya continued. “Times may be tough, but our fighters are tougher, so I want to thank them for accepting these challenges during this time. I also want to thank the CSAC, Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, DAZN and everyone involved as we work together to make this a success.”

Since debuting as a professional in 2016, Ortiz Jr. has knocked out every opponent in sight. The native of Grand Prairie, Texas, who has roots in Michoacan, Mexico, will participate in his first fight of the year after a spectacular 2019 in which he stopped the likes of Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera, Antonio “Relentless” Orozco and Brad “King” Solomon. The 22-year-old contender is a bit surprised because his 2020 debut will take place as late in the year as July, but he is nevertheless prepared for the challenge.

“I’m very thankful and excited to be headlining the first Golden Boy event after the quarantine,” said Vergil Ortiz. “I’m happy that it’s still with the same opponent, so basically we’re picking up where we left off. It’s going to be a tough fight, and it’ll be a great way to kick off the year for me.”

Vargas is recognized as one of the toughest challenges in any division. The 31-year-old native of Bogota, Colombia has faced a who’s who of welterweight boxers, including Amir “King” Khan, Luis Collazo, Danny “Swift” Garcia and Errol “The Truth” Spence Jr. Despite the uncertainty facing the world today, Vargas is totally confident that he will beat Ortiz Jr.

“I’m happy to be back to work training in Las Vegas,” said Samuel Vargas. “I think that everything happens for a reason. I think this time off benefited me. I’m ready to upset the world. I believe I can come out with a win. The world is in a weird place right now. The show will be different. There will be no fans. But I have no doubt that I am going to win.”

In the co-main event, Hector “El Finito” Tanajara Jr. (19-0, 5 KOs) will take a step up in opposition as he takes on two-time world title challenger Mercito “No Mercy” Gesta (32-3-3, 17 KOs) of Cebu, Philippines in a 10-round defense of the USNBC Lightweight Title.

“I’m ready for the best of the division,” said Hector Tanajara Jr. “I want to be a world champion, and the only way to do that is to beat tough fighters like Mercito Gesta, who has challenged for a world title and is a southpaw with a lot of experience. Also, I’m very thankful to be fighting during this time. Boxing is slowly coming back, and I’m proud to be featured on the first Golden Boy card after the big hiatus.”

“I am so excited to fight on July 24 against a talented, young, and very technical boxer in Hector Tanajara Jr,” said Mercito Gesta. “During the pandemic, I was doing conditioning training virtually with my team in San Diego, but now I am in Los Angeles training with Coach Marvin Somodio and my dad at the Wild Card Boxing gym. Even though the fight will be different this time because there will be no audience, friends or family, I’m well prepared and will put on a great show against Tanajara Jr.  I hope everyone watches this card around the world, especially in my hometown of Mandaue City, Cebu, Philippines as Golden Boy boxing is back! Salamat, Mabuhay!”

Shane Mosley Jr. (15-3, 9 KOs) of Pomona, Calif. will make his debut under the Golden Boy banner in an eight-round middleweight bout against veteran Jeremy Ramos (11-8, 2 KOs) of Colorado Springs, Colorado.

World champion Seniesa “Superbad” Estrada (18-0, 7 KOs) of East Los Angeles, Calif. will return to the 108-pound division against a soon-to-be-announced opponent.

Hector Valdez (12-0, 8 KOs), the newly signed super bantamweight prospect of Dallas, Texas, will participate in a six-round fight.

Hard-hitting welterweight prospect Evan Sanchez (7-0, 6 KOs) of Parlier, Calif will open the night of action in a six-round fight.

Ortiz vs. Vargas is a 12-round fight for the WBA Gold Welterweight Title presented by Golden Boy. The event is sponsored by Hennessy “Never Stop. Never Settle.” The event will take place Friday, July 24 at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino and will be streamed live exclusively on DAZN.

Clippers sign C Joakim Noah

The L.A. Clippers have signed free agent Joakim Noah to a new contract, the team announced today.

According to Ohm Youngmisuk, the deal is for rest of the season plus next season (non-guaranteed).

Noah, 35, who signed a 10-Day contract with the Clippers on March 9, is a two-time NBA All-Star (2013, 2014) and former NBA Defensive Player of the Year (2014). He appeared in 42 games last season for the Memphis Grizzlies, averaging 7.1 points, 2.1 assists and 5.7 rebounds. The 6’11”, 230-pound center holds career averages of 8.8 points, 2.8 assists and 9.1 rebounds in 667 appearances across 12 NBA seasons with the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and Grizzlies.

Before being selected by Chicago with the ninth overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, Noah played three collegiate seasons at the University of Florida, leading the Gators to back-to-back NCAA Championships in 2006 and 2007.

Berchelt stops Valenzuela in Mexico

WBC super featherweight world Miguel Berchelt shook off the ring rust Saturday evening, stopping the rugged Eleazar Valenzuela in the sixth round of a lightweight non-title bout at TV Azteca Studios.

Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) knocked down Valenzuela (21-14-4, 16 KOs) in the opening round, then continued with a body-head assault until the referee stopped the contest.

It was a furious, sustained offensive output for Berchelt, who landed 201 of 321 power blows (62.6 percent connect rate). Valenzuela landed only 37 of 305 total punches. For Berchelt, he can look ahead to the potential all-Mexican title showdown against Oscar Valdez, the former featherweight world champion who is the WBC’s No. 1 contender at super featherweight.

“Now what follows is the expected fight against Oscar Valdez,” Berchelt said. “Every fan wants to see that fight, and we are ready for that war.

“I felt great, but the altitude Mexico City hit me a little bit. It is not easy to fight in Mexico City, but thank God we got the victory. Eleazar is a tough fighter. He endured everything I threw at him. He gained my respect. My experience as world champion pushed me forward.”

In other action:

Junior Featherweights: Alan David Picasso (14-1, 5 KOs) UD 8 Florentino Perez Hernandez (14-6-2, 9 KOs). Scores: 80-72 3x 79-73, 79-74, 78-74.

Junior Welterweights: Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) TKO 1 Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs).

Photo: Zanfer Promotions

Mavericks announce eight-game restart schedule

The Dallas Mavericks announced today their eight-game schedule for the restart of the 2019-20 season, which will tip-off against the Houston Rockets on Friday, July 31 at 8 p.m. CT on ESPN at The Arena at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

The 22 teams traveling to Orlando will play eight “seeding games,” as selected from their remaining regular-season contests. Following their matchup with the Rockets, the Mavericks will face Phoenix (Aug. 2), Sacramento (Aug. 4), the L.A. Clippers (Aug. 6), Milwaukee (Aug. 8), Utah (Aug. 10), Portland (Aug. 11) and Phoenix again (Aug. 13).

Fox Sports Southwest will carry all eight of the Mavericks’ seeding games with Mark Followill, Derek Harper and Jeff “Skin” Wade calling the action remotely from their studio in Las Colinas, Texas. In addition to the matchup with Houston, ESPN will also televise the Mavericks’ game against Milwaukee. TNT will air the club’s showdown with the Clippers and NBA TV will show the team’s game against Utah. The league and its broadcast and technology partners are collaborating to enhance game telecasts and bring fans an immersive, interactive viewing experience.

Dallas went into the NBA hiatus with a record of 40-27 (.597) and currently sits in seventh place in the Western Conference entering the restart.

The restart will include strict health and safety protocols and the goal of taking collective action to combat systemic racism and promote social justice. Games will resume with 22 teams playing at The Arena, HP Field House and VISA Athletic Center at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex with no fans in attendance.

Following the seeding games, the seven teams in each conference with the highest combined winning percentages across regular-season matchups and seeding contests will be the first through seventh seeds for the playoffs. If the team with the eighth-best combined winning percentage (regular season and seeding games) in a conference is more than four games ahead of the team with the ninth-best combined winning percentage in the same conference, then the team with the eighth-best winning percentage would be the eighth playoff seed in that conference.

If the team with the eighth-best combined winning percentage in a conference (Team 8) is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth-best combined winning percentage in the same conference (Team 9), then those two teams would compete in a play-in tournament to determine the eighth playoff seed in the conference. The play-in tournament will be double elimination for Team 8 and single elimination for Team 9.

The NBA’s standard playoff tiebreaker procedures will be used to break any ties on the basis of winning percentage. Once the 16-team playoff field is set, the NBA Playoffs will proceed in a traditional conference-based format with four rounds and best-of-seven series in each round. The 2020 NBA Finals will end no later than Oct. 13.

 2019-20 DALLAS MAVERICKS RESTART SCHEDULE

GAME

DATE

OPPONENT

TIME (Central)

VENUE

TV

1

Friday, July 31

vs. Houston

8:00 p.m.

The Arena

FSSW/ESPN

2

Sunday, Aug. 2

@ Phoenix

8:00 p.m.

VISA Athletic Center

FSSW

3

Tuesday, Aug. 4

@ Sacramento

1:30 p.m.

HP Field House

FSSW

4

Thursday, Aug. 6

vs. L.A. Clippers

5:30 p.m.

HP Field House

FSSW/TNT

5

Saturday, Aug. 8

vs. Milwaukee

7:30 p.m.

The Arena

FSSW/ESPN

6

Monday, Aug. 10

@ Utah

2:00 p.m.

The Arena

FSSW/NBA TV

7

Tuesday, Aug. 11

vs. Portland

4:00 p.m.

The Arena

FSSW

8

Thursday, Aug. 13

@ Phoenix

TBD

TBD

Jason Moloney stops Baez

Two days after bantamweight contender Jason Moloney watched his identical twin brother, Andrew, lose his super flyweight world title, he evened the Las Vegas score. Jason Moloney defeated Leonardo Baez by TKO Thursday evening after Baez’s corner stopped the bout following the conclusion of the seventh round.

Moloney (21-1, 18 KOs) has won four in a row since an October 2018 split decision loss to Emmanuel Rodriguez for the IBF bantamweight world title. Currently ranked in the top five by all of the major sanctioning organizations, title shot number two may be around the corner.

Baez (18-3, 9 KOs), from Mexicali, Mexico, had won six in a row and was stopped for the first time since 2016.

At the time of the stoppage, all three judges had Moloney ahead (69-64 2x and 68-65)

“That was the greatest moment of my career. It was tough watching my brother the other night, but I knew I had a job to do,” Moloney said. “Thank you to my team. I sacrificed so much for six weeks, leaving my fiancée and my baby. I’m just over the moon.

“My brother told me he loved me and that he was proud of me. He’ll be back better than ever. Trust me.”

Nova Slips Past Sparrow

Abraham Nova (19-0, 14 KOs) was faced with the toughest test of his career in Avery Sparrow (10-2, 3 KOs), a savvy veteran schooled in the gyms of Philadelphia.

In a mostly tactical 10-round junior lightweight bout, Nova kept his unbeaten record in tact with a unanimous decision by scores of 99-91, 97-93 and 96-94. Nova is ranked in the top 10 by two of the major sanctioning organizations and hopes a world title shot is in his near future.

Sparrow was slippery in there and tough to hit. I had to be patient and search for my openings. In the last few rounds, I began to time him, and that won me the fight,” Nova said. “Listen, this was a learning experience. I’ll be ready for the top guys in the 130-pound division very, very soon.”

— Rising featherweight prospect Orlando Gonzalez (15-0, 10 KOs) scored a pair of knockdowns, but Luis Porozo (15-3, 8 KOs) made him work for all eight rounds. Gonzalez ultimately prevailed via unanimous decisions by scores 76-74 and 77-73 2x, as the knockdowns in the second and seventh rounds sealed Porozo’s fate.

— Welterweights Vlad Panin (8-1, 4 KOs) and Benjamin Whitaker (13-4, 3 KOs) fought a close one for six rounds, but Panin received the majority decision nod by scores of 57-57 and 58-56 2x.

—In a six-round welterweight battle, Reymond Yanong (11-5-1, 9 KOs) outpointed Clay “3rd Degree” Burns (9-8-2 4 KOs) via split decision. Yanong closed the fight strong and is back in the win column after being knocked out in his last fight.

— Kingsley Ibeh (4-1, 4 KOs) knocked out Waldo Cortes (5-3, 2 KOs) in the fourth round of a heavyweight rumble. It was a rematch of a 2019 bout that Cortes won via split decision.

Photo: Top Rank/Mikey Williams