The Philadelphia 76ers moved above .500 as Joel Embiid scored 36 points with 13 rebounds in a 117-96 win over the Washington Wizards on Sunday.

The 76ers center was the dominant player on court, but also involved in a spat with Montrezl Harrell, which saw the latter ejected after a second technical foul in the third quarter.

Embiid had good support from Tobias Harris (23 points, seven rebounds, three assists) and Seth Curry (11 points with three triples, five rebounds, nine assists).

The Wizards had held a six-point quarter-time lead but the 76ers responded with excellent second and third periods, totalling 67-41 to take control of the game.


Jokic double-double leads Nugs past Clippers

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic led the Denver Nuggets past the Los Angeles Clippers 103-100 in a thriller with the Serbian center finishing with 26 points, 22 rebounds and eight assists. Youngster Brandon Boston Jr, who had 18 points, missed a three-point attempt on the buzzer to force over-time. Jokic becomes the first player to record 25 or more points, 20 or more rebounds and five or more assists in back-to-back games since Charles Barkley in 1988.

Veteran Kevin Love scored 22 points making six-of-nine from beyond the arc, with nine rebounds from 18 minutes on court as the Cleveland Cavaliers thrashed the Toronto Raptors 144-99 to improve to 20-13. The 45-point win was the Cavs' largest margin since 1991, when they had a franchise-best 68-point win over the Miami Heat.

Zach LaVine scored 32 points including five three-pointers while DeMar DeRozan added 24 points as the Chicago Bulls got past the Indiana Pacers 113-105.  

 

Morant still finding his feet

Ja Morant continues to adjust after returning from injury, shooting eight-of-18 from the field including zero-of-three from three-point range while having four turnovers in the Memphis Grizzlies' 127-102 win over the Sacramento Kings. Morant did finish with 18 points and nine assists.

Lonzo Ball joined the long list of Chicago Bulls players to enter the NBA's health and safety protocols ahead of Sunday's game against the Indiana Pacers.

Ball will not face the Pacers and the guard faces at least 10 days out of action unless he records two negative COVID-19 tests.

The 24-year-old is the 13th man on the Bulls roster to enter the protocols this month.

Three of Chicago's matches have been postponed in December due to the squad being so severely depleted.

Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan have since been given the green light to return, while Ayo Dosunmu, Matt Thomas, Alize Johnson, Devon Dotson, Coby White and Javonte Green have also cleared protocols.

Tony Bradley, Alfonzo McKinnie, coach Billy Donovan and now Ball are absent.

Stephen Curry hailed the Golden State Warriors' win against the Phoenix Suns on Christmas Day as "huge" given the number of players missing.

Against a comparatively healthy Suns squad, the Warriors were without Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole, Damion Lee and Moses Moody (health and safety protocols), along with several assistant coaches, and Andre Iguodala (knee), Klay Thompson (Achilles/ACL) and James Wiseman (meniscus) still out with injury.

Curry was available but has previously struggled on Christmas, averaging just 13.1 points in his eight career games on the festive day. That ranked as his worst average points haul on any date he has played on more than twice.

However, the Warriors' star guard excelled against the Suns on Saturday, achieving a game-high 33 points in the 116-107 win.

Otto Porter Jr also impressed in a rare start for Golden State, with a late flurry helping to see his team home as 13 of his 19 points came in the fourth quarter, making several clutch shots.

Speaking after the game, Curry said: "It's nice to win on Christmas, nice to win on the road against the best record in the league, short-handed. All the other context of the situation, a huge win.

"Everybody stepped up. It was a great atmosphere. Just toughed it out at the end, and obviously, Otto took over down the stretch, so that was huge all the way around."

Steve Kerr's Warriors now move half a game ahead of the Suns, with a league-best 27-6 record.

Kerr was delighted with the showing from his depleted side, making special mention of how Curry rose to the occasion despite being one of their only star men available.

"Steph was amazing," he said. "Facing that defense with so much attention on him, missing three of our best shooters, for him to see that type of defense and find his way to 33 points - he was a plus-24 - so even when he was not making shots, he was still impacting the game just by pulling the defense over towards him.

"Steph was brilliant, so was Draymond [Green]. I thought [Kevon] Looney did a hell of a job, as well, so it was a great team win."

James Harden believes Brooklyn Nets team-mate Patty Mills is playing the best basketball of his career after the Australian’s 34-point haul in the victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Nets had seen their three previous matches called off due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the squad, with Harden, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and LaMarcus Aldridge among those affected.

But Harden, who admitted he was "just happy to be back on the court," and Mills were instrumental as they returned to action with a narrow 122-155 win on Christmas Day.

The pair combined for 42 of their side’s 66 first-half points, with Mills recording his best overall tally in the NBA this season and surpassing the 20-point mark for a 10th time.

The former San Antonio Spurs guard also registered a season-high seven assists, while landing a record number of three-pointers in an NBA game played on Christmas Day with eight.

Asked if he thought Mills was playing the best basketball of his career, Harden said: "I think so. 

"We know how many big shots Patty hit when he was in San Antonio, but he has a much bigger role in this team because of having all the injuries and dealing with guys dropping out of line-ups. 

"He's just playing consistent; his shot is always cash. He's doing a better job of just being a playmaker, putting the ball on the floor and getting it to the paint. He’s got his finishes, and he's making plays. He just looks more confident."

Mills added: "It was a massive team effort from every guy that stepped on the floor. 

We've been handling adversity throughout the whole season with different types of things, so I think this was no different. 

"With the past week that we've had, it was exciting to get some guys back and there was good energy there. 

"We're all about the big picture here and where we want to be at the end of the season, and I think that's what’s really keeping us moving forward in the right direction."

Los Angeles Lakers head coach David Fizdale lamented that LeBron James' effort is being "wasted on losses" after slipping to a 122-115 defeat against the Brooklyn Nets on Christmas Day.

The loss was the Lakers' fifth straight defeat and saw them slump to a disappointing seventh place in the Western Conference with a 16-18 record.

However, James put in another terrific individual performance – scoring a season-high 39 points, the fourth game in a row in which he has broken the 30-point barrier – and Fizdale revealed his frustration at not being able to capitalise on his star's strong showings.

"I'm kicking myself in the head because he's giving me incredible effort," Fizdale said after the game. "[I'm] trying to figure out ways to get him over the hump with that effort, and I hate that it's wasted on losses. Just spectacular.

"But to watch it, to be a part of it, even though those games are turning into L's, I've never seen anything like this guy. And we better sure as hell be thanking our lucky stars for this guy."

While James' individual display could hardly be faulted, the same could not be said of fellow Lakers star Russell Westbrook, who managed just 13 points on Saturday.

James defended the point-guard's performance, however, focusing instead on the effort his team-mate put in during the game.

"He gave us extra possessions, he gave us a lot of looks around the basket, which I know that he can't stand [failing to convert] as well," James said.

"But as far as the effort piece, if a guy plays hard, if a guy leaves it all out on the floor, I've got no problem with that. It's a make-or-miss league."

Fizdale agreed that the 33-year-old Westbrook could not be criticised for lack of effort, and suggested that taking some pressure off himself would lead to an improved scoring record.

"A big part of it is he just wants it so bad," Fizdale said. "I mean, you can just see it in him, everybody does. He wants it so bad. And I know that's just hard for him when it doesn't work out. And I know he cares like crazy.

"I just want him to take a lot of that pressure off himself, keep attacking, keep playing the way we know he can."

James Harden marked his return to action with a telling triple-double as the Brooklyn Nets snatched a dramatic 122-115 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

For the Lakers, LeBron James scored 39 points and became the NBA's highest scorer all-time in Christmas Day games, reaching 422 points on December 25 across his career to surpass Kobe Bryant's 395 haul.

However, Russell Westbrook shot only 4-of-20 from the field, meaning his own triple-double of 13 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists was tinged with disappointment.

It allowed Harden and Patty Mills to guide the Nets to a hard-earned win over a Lakers side who have lost five successive games to slide to 16-18 for the season.

Mills matched a career-best with 34 points, and his eight three-pointers established a new NBA record for Christmas Day.

 

Harden's haul of 36 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists came in his first game out of COVID-19 protocols and boosted the shorthanded Nets to 22-9, with Brooklyn rallying despite being without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and LaMarcus Aldridge, among others.

The Lakers trailed 102-82 entering the final quarter but got back to 115-115 with 45 seconds remaining, yet Nic Claxton restored Brooklyn's lead, and Harden's accuracy from the free-throw line saw them pull clear in the closing moments.

This was the first Christmas Day game with multiple triple-doubles, the NBA said.


Antetokounmpo rebounds with stellar show

Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo joined Harden in making a stellar return to action, after also serving time in isolation due to the health and safety protocols.

After missing five games, Antetokounmpo scored 36 points and had 12 rebounds in a 117-113 win for the Bucks over the Boston Celtics.

That improved the Bucks, who sit third in the Eastern Conference, to 22-13 for the season. It was the fifth time this season that Antetokounmpo has topped 35 points in a game.

Christmas Curry proves a rare treat

Heading into the Golden State Warriors' game with the Phoenix Suns, Stephen Curry was averaging a meagre 13.1 points in his eight career games on Christmas. That ranked as his worst average points haul on any date he has played on more than twice.

This time Curry came good though, bagging a game-high 33 points in a 116-107 win for the Warriors.

There was cause for Christmas cheer for the New York Knicks' Kemba Walker too. The Knicks landed a 101-87 win over the Atlanta Hawks, led by Julius Randle's 25 points and 12 rebounds, with Walker weighing in with the team's first triple-double on Christmas Day. He finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists, and on the right side of the scoreboard.

Chicago Bulls' head coach Billy Donovan has reportedly entered the NBA's COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

The Bulls saw two of their games postponed earlier in December after 10 of their players had entered the protocol.

Donovan, who has cold-like symptoms according to ESPN, told the media on Thursday that all the players had been cleared, and they are expected to be available for Sunday's game against the Indiana Pacers.

He will apparently now miss that game, with Bulls assistant Chris Fleming acting as head coach.

The 56-year-old would become the fourth NBA head coach to enter into protocols, joining Sacramento's Alvin Gentry, the Lakers' Frank Vogel, and Indiana's Rick Carlisle.

Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo has reportedly been cleared from the NBA's health and safety protocols.

Finals MVP Antetokounmpo entered the league's COVID-19 protocols on December 15 and has missed five games. 

According to ESPN, he will decide on Friday whether he is fit enough to feature in the Bucks' clash with the Boston Celtics on Christmas Day.

Antetokounmpo has been averaging 27.0 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game for the defending champions this season.

He is shooting 53.0 per cent from the field – his lowest number since the 2017-18 season, and 28.0 per cent from three-point range.

The Bucks (21-13) are third in the Eastern Conference, behind the Brooklyn Nets (21-9) and Chicago Bulls (19-10).

A magical man with a big beard bringing joy to people on Christmas Day? Yes, James Harden is back from COVID-19 protocols as the Brooklyn Nets travel to the Los Angeles Lakers for a festive fixture.

Nets coach Steve Nash confirmed the news on Thursday, while Paul Millsap and Jevon Carter are also newly available, but Brooklyn still have 10 players in protocols.

Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Day'Ron Sharpe, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre' Bembry, Bruce Brown and James Johnson have been joined by rookies Kessler Edwards, David Duke Jr. and Cameron Thomas.

The Nets have not played since a 100-93 defeat to the Orlando Magic on Saturday at Barclays Center. Their three games leading up to Christmas – at home against the Denver Nuggets and Washington Wizards, then a trip to Portland – were all postponed.

Nonetheless, Nash's team sit top of the Eastern Conference on a 21-9 record, and have not lost back-to-back games this season, though that could be put to the test with a team likely to still be extremely shorthanded in California.

Durant will be a big miss, with the 33-year-old leading the league in points per game (29.7), as will Aldridge, who sits 11th in the league for field-goal percentage (.573).

The home team have been missing players of late too, with head coach Frank Vogel and five of his men being absent as a result of being under the NBA's health and safety protocols in the chastening 138-110 defeat to the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday.

 

The Lakers sit on a surprisingly poor record under .500 (16-17) having lost four on the spin – at Minnesota and Chicago, followed by home defeats to Phoenix and the Spurs.

Despite having LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo on the roster, Vogel has been unable to get a consistent tune out of his all-star line-up.

With the Nets shorthanded to an even greater degree, the opportunity to produce what would have to go down as a slight upset should the Lakers win, given their respective form and records, will surely never be higher.

Davis remains sidelined by an MCL sprain, but the Lakers should still be able to put out a team that looks as strong as any other on paper.

Whether it is the Lakers putting an end to their losing streak or the Nets pulling out a win with barely enough players to call on, someone may just be claiming the occurrence of a festive miracle in the first encounter at the newly-named Crypto.com Arena.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Los Angeles Lakers – LeBron James

Despite his team being thoroughly outplayed, James managed to score 36 points with nine rebounds, six assists and two blocks in Thursday's defeat to the Spurs, and he will need to pull out a similar effort if the Lakers are to end their losing streak.

The four-time NBA champion has put early-season injury issues behind him to play the last 10 games in a row, scoring 30 or more points in nine of his last 13 outings.

James has also improved his rebound numbers of late, getting double figures in five of his last 10 games, having only done so once in his previous 11.

Brooklyn Nets - James Harden

With Durant, Irving and Aldridge unavailable, all eyes will be on Harden to finally show the form that won him the 2018 NBA MVP award in Houston.

The 32-year-old is averaging just 20.8 points per game this season, his lowest since the 2011-12 season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. His 40.4 per cent success rate from the field is also the lowest since his rookie year.

However, Harden has proven in the past that he can rise to the occasion when he's the main man, and sitting just 20 career assists away from 6,000, he may just roll back the years and pull the strings in the arena now formerly known as the Staples Center.

KEY BATTLE – Can the Nets be as deadly in mid-range?

Brooklyn currently sit top of the table for mid-range points this season, averaging 49.1, well ahead of the Utah Jazz in second (45.3).

Harden is third in the league for most points per game created via assists (21.8), behind only Chris Paul (23.0) and Trae Young (21.9), while Harden (24.4 per cent) and fellow Nets star Patty Mills (29.7 per cent) claim the top two spots for highest percentage of assists for mid-range field goals made.

However, the Lakers have the fourth-best record in the league for lowest field goal percentage allowed from mid-range (38.0), and so it is an area to keep an eye out for, especially with Aldridge and Durant out, both sitting in the top 10 for highest field-goal percentage from mid-range.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The Lakers prevailed 126-101 when these two last met in April, and the teams have enjoyed five wins each from their last 10 encounters.

Steve Kerr reflected on the Golden State Warriors' display against the Memphis Grizzlies as "about as good as it gets" after Stephen Curry starred in a 113-104 win.

Warriors fans chanted "MVP" to Curry as he scored 46 points – including eight three-pointers – in an inspired performance at Chase Center on Thursday.

The win for Golden State took their NBA-best record at home this season to 16-2 and left them on 26-6.

Warriors head coach Kerr was thrilled with the way his side went about seeing off the 19-14 Grizzlies and lavished praise on Curry.

"That's about as good as it gets against a very physical defense with great size," Warriors head coach Kerr said.

"Over the last 10-12 games, Memphis had the best defensive rating in the league. For Steph to go out and get 46, he showed every bit of his talent tonight. This was his most efficient game in a couple weeks, for sure."

 

Curry suffered a twisted ankle in the fourth quarter, but revealed he was fine after the game.

The two-time MVP felt it was a hugely important win in the Warriors' season.

He said: "Definitely wanted this one. Definitely felt like it was one [we] can't let slip by because of the history but also because knowing what it's going to take to win a game like this.

"You carry that chip on your shoulder and understand this is our home court."

In what had been a foregone conclusion for years, the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry officially affirmed himself as the greatest 3-point shooter in NBA history just 11 days before Christmas.

Receiving a pass from Andrew Wiggins at the right wing at Madison Square Garden on December 14, Curry quickly put up a shot from 28 feet out that swished through the net for his 2,974th career 3-pointer, surpassing Ray Allen’s mark.

Curry has revolutionised the game of basketball, and while he didn't invent the 3-point shot, he is credited with being the first one to truly exploit its value.

He broke Allen's tally in 511 fewer games – that's more than six seasons – and when the three-time NBA champion and two-time league MVP finally decides to retire, it's conceivable he could have well over 5,000 made 3s.

While Curry is the best 3-pointer shooter to ever pick up a basketball, you would never guess it by his performances on Christmas.

This will be Curry's ninth game on Christmas, and the NBA's all-time 3-point king has never made more than two 3-pointers in a game on December 25.

That's right, the man who averages 3.8 made 3-pointers a game – the best in league history – and has an NBA-best 517 games with at least three 3-pointers made, is averaging 1.3 made 3s on Christmas.

This season alone, Curry is averaging 5.4 made 3-pointers a game, which beats out the 5.3 he averaged per game last season and the 5.1 he averaged in 2015-16 and again 2018-19 for the best in a single season in NBA history. No other player has averaged more than 4.8 made 3s in a season.

He also enters this Christmas having made at least three 3-pointers in each of his last 14 games, which is tied for the eighth-longest streak in NBA history (Curry is responsible for four of the seven longer streaks). But now he takes the court on a day when all those shots that routinely go through the hoop for him clank off the rim.

In his eight prior Christmas games, Curry has made 0, 0, 2, 1, 1, 2, 2 and 2 3-pointers giving him just 10 made 3s. He's made at least 10 3-pointers in a single game 22 times in his career – 17 more than Klay Thompson, who ranks second on the list.

Just how incomprehensible is it that Curry has never hit at least three 3-pointers on Christmas? There have been 292 times in his career where he's drained at least three 3-pointers in a quarter. Since Curry's 2009-10 rookie season, the only other player with more than 150 quarters with at least three 3-pointers made is Damian Lillard with 166.

Well, perhaps he's not attempting as many 3-pointers on December 25. Nope, that's not the case, he's simply missing badly, shooting 20.4 per cent on his 49 shots from beyond the arc. Just for the sake of comparison, of the 174 players with at least 80 3-point attempts this season, Curry's 20.4 per cent would finish dead last.

His 20.4 per cent shooting from 3-point range on December 25 is his second worst for a date he's played at least three games, beating out only the 17.6 per cent he's shot in three games on December 16.

Curry is typically deadly from the wing, knocking down 43.2 per cent of his shots from there to trail only Joe Harris' 43.3 per cent shooting for the best by any player who started his career in 2003 or later with at least 500 attempts from the wing. However, on Christmas, Curry is abysmal from the wing, misfiring on 28 of his 32 attempts to connect just 12.5 per cent of the time.

Overall, on Christmas he's shooting 30.2 per cent from the floor, which is his worst for a single day with a minimum of three games played. And not only is Curry's shooting on December 25 his worst for any single day, but it's also the worst for anyone who's played on Christmas since 1983 with a minimum of 50 attempts.

Not surprising given his shooting struggles, Curry is averaging 13.1 points on Christmas – 11.2 fewer than his career average – which, again, marks his lowest scoring average for any day in which he's played in at least three games.

It's just about unfathomable for someone with a 24.3-scoring average and 540 career 20-point games, but he has never scored more than 19 points on his eight Christmas Day games. There is only one other date Curry has played more than one game and failed to score 20 points and that is February 16 – and he's had six fewer opportunities, playing just twice on that day.

Part of Curry's Christmas shooting woes could stem from the competition he's facing. The NBA constructs a doozy of a schedule on Christmas Day, pitting the best teams up against one another with one marquee matchup followed by another. So, Curry's Warriors often find themselves in a playoff rematch or a date with another formidable foe.

And while he's struggled mightily on his Christmas Day matchups, Curry has often faced those same teams at other points in the same season and not had the same problems, averaging 20.3 points, on 48.9 per cent shooting from the field and 47.4 per cent from 3-point range.

Just last Christmas, Curry finished with 19 points on 6-of-17 shooting – including 2-of-10 on 3-pointers – in Golden State's 138-99 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. He got a measure of revenge in a rematch with the eventual champion Bucks later in April, exploding for 41 points while shooting 66.7 per cent and making half of his 10 3-point attempts in a one-point victory.

This Christmas, Curry and the Warriors face another huge challenge with a visit to the Phoenix Suns in a showdown between the teams with the league's best two records.

But if his last trip to the desert was any indication, Curry could be in for another long night. Just over three weeks ago on November 30, Curry had his worst shooting performance of the season, going 4-of-21 from the floor (19.0 per cent) and 3-of-14 (21.4 per cent) from beyond the arc for 12 points in a 104-96 loss at Phoenix.

Three days later against the same Suns team, Curry was a bit better, shooting 40 per cent on 20 field goal attempts and going 6-of-11 from the perimeter with 23 points in a 22-point win.

This time, though, he certainly seems poised to exorcise the ghost of Christmas past. He arrives back in Arizona coming off a 46-point performance while draining eight 3s in Thursday's win over the Memphis Grizzlies for his third straight game scoring at least 30 points – the first time this season he's accomplished that.

For the greatest 3-point shooter of all time, it seems that Curry can't possibly have another clunker on Christmas. He's too good to have been in such a funk and it doesn't seem to make sense he would struggle so much on one particular day – unless of course, he doesn't believe in Santa Claus.

LeBron James says the Los Angeles Lakers' slump is to be expected as they have "no chemistry" due to being so severely depleted.

The Lakers suffered a fourth straight defeat for the first time this season when they went down 138-110 to the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday.

Head coach Frank Vogel and five players were absent as a result of being under the NBA's health and safety protocols, while Anthony Davis remained sidelined with a knee injury in the final game at Staples Center before the venue becomes the Crypto.com Arena.

Four-time NBA champion and MVP James, who scored 36 points and claimed nine rebounds, says it should come as no surprise that the Lakers (16-17) are struggling.

He said: "Every year has its new challenges. This is another year where you can literally have one guy one night and the next night you don't. We've literally just seen that; having TA [Trevor Ariza] last game and then TA is out, so it's the unknown.

"Every time you take a test you've got to see who is positive and who is negative and go from there."

 

Lakers added: "In the past it's not like we had multiple guys who were out, we were just trying to figure out what's the best way for us to win and how do we win?

"What's the best line-ups to be on the floor? Let's log in so we can get better and better. We literally haven't had an opportunity to log-in anything.

"We don't know. We have no chemistry with any line-up from the single fact that we literally haven't logged enough minutes.

"What is our strong line-up besides me and Russ [Westbrook] and AD [Anthony Davis]? Or AD and Russ, or me and Russ? We've both been out, so we don't know."

Keita Bates-Diop scored a career-high 30 points for 13-18 San Antonio.

Brooklyn Nets trio James Harden, Paul Millsap and Jevon Carter have cleared COVID-19 protocols ahead of their Christmas Day game against the struggling Los Angeles Lakers.

Harden entered protocols early last week, leaving the Nets depleted with Kevin Durant also among those sidelined, leading to three Brooklyn games being postponed.

Nets head coach Steve Nash revealed that Cam Thomas, Kessler Edwards and David Duke Jr had all entered protocols, totalling 13 Brooklyn players since 13 December, but added they would have enough to face the Lakers on Saturday.

"James Harden, Paul Millsap and Jevon Carter are out of protocols," Nash told reporters on Thursday. "The plan is to fly to Los Angeles tomorrow and play on Christmas.

"There were a few days we had to shut everything down out of precaution. It's started back up yesterday and today with guys back on the court in isolation.

"It's tricky, we haven't been able to do a lot. We'll continue to adapt as the rules and mandates come in."

The Nets have a 21-9 record to be top of the Eastern Conference but have not played since 18 December.

Stephen Curry scored 46 points including eight three-pointers as the Golden State Warriors defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 113-104 on Thursday.

Curry fell four points shy of his season-high 50-point haul but dominated throughout for the Warriors, shooting eight-of-14 from beyond the arc with four rebounds and four assists. The two-time MVP brought up his third return of 45 points or more this season.

Gary Payton II played a key role in the starting rotation with 22 points with four triples including a clutch three-pointer in the fourth quarter.

Curry's haul marked a return to form as Golden State improved to 26-6, remain one-half game behind the Phoenix Suns (26-5) for the best record in the NBA ahead of their Christmas Day match-up.

 

LeBron, Kemba and Jokic heroics fall short

LeBron James scored 36 points with nine rebounds, six assists and two blocks but it was not enough to prevent the Los Angeles Lakers from going down 138-110 to the San Antonio Spurs. The result leaves the Lakers with a record below .500 at 16-17 after four straight defeats.

Kemba Walker produced a vintage display with a season-high 44 points with nine rebounds and eight assists as the New York Knicks went down 124-117 to the Washington Wizards.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic's heroics were also in vain as the Denver Nuggets lost 115-107 to the Charlotte Hornets despite the Serbian's 29 points, 21 rebounds and five assists.

Devin Booker (30 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) and Deandre Ayton (19 points, 12 rebounds) led the way as the Suns stayed top and claimed their fifth straight win in a 113-101 triumph over the Oklahoma City Thunder, while Khris Middleton (26 points, five rebounds, seven assists) and Jrue Holiday (24 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) delivered again in Giannis Antetokounmpo's absence as the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Dallas Mavericks 102-95.

 

Embiid loses his radar

Joel Embiid shot six-of-17 from the field as the Philadelphia 76ers lost 98-96 to the depleted Atlanta Hawks. Embiid finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds and two assists.

Joe Johnson celebrated his return to the NBA in style on Wednesday, marking a two-minute appearance with the final two points of the game as the Boston Celtics beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 111-101.

Johnson, a seven-time All-Star, was signed up by the Celtics on Wednesday on a 10-day contract, after the league granted the team a hardship waiver due to the rising amount of COVID-19 cases across the competition.

The 40-year-old has now played in 1,277 career NBA games over what is now an 18-season career, though he had last featured for the Houston Rockets in 2018.

Having joined the Celtics in the 2001 Draft as the 10th overall pick, he was let go after his rookie season, but still enjoyed a stellar career. 

Across 17 seasons from 2001 to 2018, Johnson averaged 16.0 points per game, 4.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists.

He also recorded five successive campaigns of averaging over 20.0 points per game, during a seven-season stint with the Atlanta Hawks.

When he came on for his cameo against the Cavaliers, Johnson became the second-oldest player currently in the NBA, behind Udonis Haslem of the Miami Heat.

Johnson was dubbed "Iso Joe" due to his prowess in one-v-one situations throughout his career, and the veteran showed that skill had not gone away as he outjumped Justin Anderson to add the final two points onto Boston's score on Wednesday.

"It's amazing to be back here 20 years later," Johnson, who is the only current NBA player to have played against the legendary Michael Jordan, told reporters.

"It's still surreal to me. To come into the game and be somewhat effective, that's fun.

"At my age you try to relish every moment, enjoy the process and live in the moment. That's kind of what I'm doing right now, living in the moment and it's fun."

Johnson knows, however, that he has been given an unlikely opportunity.

"I wouldn't say give up, but I didn't have high hopes," Johnson added. 

"My son's 14, so he keeps me in the gym. We work and work and work, and I always talk to him [and say], "just work". Even when you can't see what's next, you just gotta continue to work."

Johnson was only notified of the possible deal with the Celtics on Tuesday, and shortly after was on a flight to Boston.

"It was a no-brainer for me," he said. "I'm a guy who really takes care of his body. I'm in pretty good shape. So I felt like I was ready to take on that challenge.

"So [my agent] asked me what I thought, and we just kept moving. I'm ready for whatever comes my way."

"He's still got a lot in the tank if you ask me," said Jaylen Brown, who scored a team-leading 34 points for Boston.

"I've watched him in the Big3, I've watched him before that, and I watched him growing up and he still looks like he's got something left in the tank so I'm happy to have him on board, to hear his voice, his advice. I think it's great."

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