New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson will miss at least two to three more weeks as he continues to recover from a right foot injury. 

Williamson had surgery during the offseason to repair a broken foot and has missed the start of the regular season for the second time in his three NBA campaigns. 

The Pelicans are 1-6 so far without him but head coach Willie Green told reporters on Monday his star is making progress. 

"He's cutting. He's doing explosive work. He's running. He's getting closer and closer," Green said.

"It's just one of those injuries where we want to be really diligent, especially with the foot, of being careful when we put him back on the floor at full go."

Williamson has not yet been cleared for contact, so he has not been able to participate in five-on-five drills during practice. 

He will accompany the team on their four-game road trip that begins in Phoenix on Tuesday against the Suns, with his next set of scans scheduled for two to three weeks from now. 

"We’ll know more after that," Green said. "But he’s progressing. It’s a good sign for us. We want to continue to keep him going in that direction."

Williamson averaged 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game across 61 appearances last season for the Pelicans.

 

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash laughed off any concerns about Kevin Durant after being ejected in the side's 117-91 win over the Detroit Pistons only days after another undisciplined act.

Durant was ejected in the third quarter for an elbow to Kelly Olynyk, coming after he was fined $25,000 for throwing the ball into the stands during Friday's win over the Indiana Pacers.

The 33-year-old forward was fortunate to avoid being ejected for the offence against the Pacers.

"I would say they are just two random events," Nash told reporters when asked about Durant's mindset. "I wouldn't read too much into it. He's had a laugh about both of them and held his hand up."

On the incident, Durant admitted he was at fault for the elbow on Olynyk but defended the intent.

"I tried to run through the screen," Durant told reporters. "That was just the result of me trying to blow the screen up. If we're looking at the tape, it looks like I extended [raised his elbow] a little bit. I was just trying to blow the screen up, get over it, fight through, it is what it is."

The Nets went on an 11-0 run after Durant's ejection led by James Harden with five assists during the stretch.

Harden, who has started the season slow as he recovers after rehabbing his hamstring during the off-season, posted a triple-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists, earning praise from Nash and Durant.

"He's improving in all areas," Nash said. "His conditioning, his explosiveness, his confidence, his feel, his rhythm, everything is moving forward in the right direction.

"You have a nice lead but momentum can swing fast. When we lost Kevin, it was important we continued to show impetus. I thought James was great. He led us in that stretch, being aggressive, making the right decisions."

Durant, who joked that his ejection ignited the team and crowd, added: "He understands the game and how to put people in good positions. It's not a surprise that he can take us on a run so fast."

Harden's triple-double comes after scoring a season-high 29 points against the Pacers, in a sign he is getting back to his best.

"I’m just playing. The confidence and just my rhythm and all that is coming back simultaneously together. It just feels much, much better," Harden said.

"I knew I was going to have a slow start because I wasn’t playing a lot. But I knew the work was going to catch up and ultimately I was going to get back to where I need to be. Game by game, I’m just feeling better. More confident, extra pep in my step. Just overall much better."

James Harden recorded his first triple-double of the season as the Brooklyn Nets claimed back-to-back wins for the first time this NBA campaign in a 117-91 victory over the lowly Detroit Pistons on Sunday.

Harden finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists after three quarters, while Nets team-mate Kevin Durant top-scored with 23 points but was ejected in the third quarter for shoving his elbow into Kelly Olynyk's face.

Former MVP Harden has had a slow start to 2021-22, however, he backed up his season-high 29 points against the Indiana Pacers on Friday with another impressive showing which will encourage the championship-chasing Nets (4-3) that he is getting back to his best after an injury-impacted offseason.

Harden hit four three-pointers as the superstar guard – already Brooklyn's all-time triple-double leader with 13 – joined Hall of Famer Larry Bird for second on the NBA's all-time list with 59.

 

Mitchell leads Jazz past struggling champs

Donovan Mitchell starred with 28 points, including a treble of first-quarters three-pointers as the Utah Jazz hit their first five attempts from range in a 107-95 win against slumping champions the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Bucks, who have lost three in a row.

Carmelo Anthony – who is shooting a career-high 50 per cent and 52.2 per cent from three this season – scored 23 points off the bench, while LeBron James had 15 points, seven rebounds and assists in the Los Angeles Lakers' 95-85 triumph over the Houston Rockets.

Luka Doncic led the way for the Dallas Mavericks with 23 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists in a 105-99 victory against the Sacramento Kings.

 

Dame cold in Blazers loss

All-Star Damian Lillard's shooting was wayward as the Portland Trail Blazers were downed 125-113 by the Charlotte Hornets, hitting two from 14 from three-point range for a below-standard 14-point return.

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer is hopeful of getting key players Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton back soon after the NBA champions slumped to their third successive defeat.

The Bucks went down 107-95 to the Utah Jazz on Sunday, with two-time All-Star Middleton absent due to illness, which Budenholzer clarified after the game was not COVID-related.

The loss condemned Milwaukee to yet another loss, leaving the Bucks 3-4 in their title defence as they struggle without All-Star Holiday (ankle), Brook Lopez (back) and Rodney Hood (hand).

Milwaukee – who had averaged 91.5 points on Halloween since the 2000-01 season, second lowest in the NBA heading into the matchup – were again forced to come from behind against the Jazz, trailing by 17 points at the final change, with a late rally not enough.

"The group kept fighting tonight," Budenholzer said in a news conference. "The fight was good. We couldn't quite get there but the guys were working."

Giannis Antetokounmpo top-scored with 25 points, along with seven rebounds and six assists, but he lacked support with Holiday, Lopez and Middleton out.

Holiday has not played since injuring his ankle in the Bucks' opening night win against Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets.

"Jrue, I think we'll see how he feels in the morning," Budenholzer said. "He actually got some basketball work in today and I think he's trending in a good direction."

On Lopez, he added: "There's not a new update and there never really has been a timeline. But he's doing good stuff in the weight room, doing good stuff to get better and he'll continue that."

Budenholzer also clarified the status of shooting guard Hood, who previously had a foot injury before undergoing scans on his hand.

"The X-rays the other day were inconclusive," Budenholzer said. "On examination we decided he couldn't play. We'll get another X-ray and look at it tomorrow and hope for the best."

The Bucks return to action on Tuesday against the lowly Detroit Pistons who are 1-5.

Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer begrudgingly applauded the San Antonio Spurs' effectiveness as they "made it hard" on Giannis Antetokounmpo in a surprise 102-93 win.

NBA champions the Bucks have now suffered consecutive defeats, with the loss to the Spurs coming on the back of a 113-108 reverse to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Spurs (2-4) trumped the Bucks (3-3) on the road in Milwaukee partly thanks to point guard Dejounte Murray, who scored 16 of his 23 points in the final period.

Murray entered the contest having put up 44 points, 22 rebounds and 23 assists over his previous two games – the only Spurs player in the past 30 seasons to have had at least 40 points, 20 rebounds and 20 assists over a two-game span, according to Stats Perform.

Antetokounmpo top-scored for the Bucks, posting a double-double of 28 points and 13 rebounds, yet he and Khris Middleton accounted for 11 of their 19 turnovers, which converted to 21 points for the Spurs.

While Budenholzer was keen to emphasise the need for collective effectiveness, he expects better from two of his most-dependable stars.

"It's just a tough night," Budenholzer told reporters. "I think we turned it over too much. Both those guys [Antetokounmpo and Middleton] included. We probably didn't shoot it well enough.

 

"And credit to San Antonio. They found a way to get a win and they made it hard on Khris, they made it hard on Giannis, they contested our shooters. I think Giannis and Khris can both be better, but we've got to be better around them, too.

"It wasn't a pretty game. I think defensively, probably, that should be enough to hold them to 102 [points] and 41 [per cent shooting].

"The corner three that [Keldon] Johnson made, they found a way to make some timely baskets. We needed that timely stop.

"We probably needed one or two more stops in a timely moment and they made a couple of timely baskets and they were able to get the win."

But while Budenholzer seemed frustrated with his own team, Antetokounmpo preferred to simply acknowledge the great sharp-shooting on display from the Spurs, accepting that sometimes the other team is just better.

"They made some shots," he added. "They made some shots late. One from the corner, one from the wing on top of me.

"They made some big shots. You've just got to tip your hat. They played well."

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr joked the franchise should trade superstar Stephen Curry amid his fourth-quarter struggles.

Curry scored 20 points in 27 minutes as the Warriors routed the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder 103-82 in the NBA on Saturday.

The two-time MVP entered the contest having not scored in the fourth quarter of his previous three games and Curry did not register a point in the final period again, though he did not have to as he was afforded rest.

After the Warriors improved to 5-1, Kerr jokingly told reporters: "We should trade him."

Warriors star Draymond Green almost put up a triple-double, finishing with 14 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists at home to the Grizzlies.

Green was satisfied post-game thanks to the NBA's new rules, which go against offensive players initiating contact or flailing while trying to draw foul calls.

"Can I also say how satisfying it's been to watch the game of basketball without all those bulls*** calls," Green said. "I'm sorry, I'm not supposed to curse in interviews, right? Can I say how satisfying it is to watch the game without all those terrible calls. Guys cheating the game and grabbing guys and getting the foul. I've been really enjoying watching basketball this year.

"I kind of had stopped watching the NBA a bit because it was just too flailing and flopping and guys cheating the game and getting free throws. So I think that's been great. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that because I think that's been fantastic."

The new rules have particularly impacted Brooklyn Nets superstar James Harden and Green mentioned him specifically.

"James is one of the best at it," Green said. "At driving and drawing fouls, drawing fouls from the three-point line, he's one of the best at it. So I definitely remember those games of him going 24-for-24 from the free-throw line.

"And when you got a guy that shifty, and the moment you touch him they can hook and you're called for a foul, it's impossible to guard. You started to see a lot of guys master it, but they all learned from James for sure because he was the master before anybody else ever picked it up."

Curry, who improved his career three-point tally against the Thunder to 156 – his best second tally against any opponent, added: "I've been watching around the league and for the most part, I'd say about 9 out of 10 calls that used to go the other way are not, for good reason.

"There's probably some that are still in that gray area where they'll get more consistent, but it's great for the game. I know a lot of fans are loving it. The defensive-minded players are loving it, for us to put the ball in the basket, focus on that. I've tried to my entire career so I don't think it's a huge adjustment, but I like it."

NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks suffered consecutive defeats after being upstaged by the San Antonio Spurs 102-93.

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted a double-double of 28 points and 13 rebounds, but the Bucks still suffered back-to-back losses on Saturday.

The Spurs (2-4) trumped the Bucks (3-3) on the road in Milwaukee thanks to point guard Dejounte Murray, who scored 16 of his 23 points in the final period.

Murray entered the contest having put up 44 points, 22 rebounds and 23 assists over his previous two games – the only Spurs player in the last 30 seasons to have had at least 40 points, 20 rebounds and 20 assists over a two-game span, according to Stats Perform.

"Obviously, it's a good win against the NBA champions," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said after the Bucks were again without Jrue Holiday due to an ankle injury. "They were missing a pretty big piece tonight but it happens to all of us."

 

 

76ers gain some revenge as Heat sizzle

Facing the Atlanta Hawks for the first time since being surprisingly eliminated in last season's Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Philadelphia 76ers routed their rivals 122-94. Tobias Harris fuelled the 76ers with 22 points and 11 rebounds, joining Joel Embiid as the only 76ers players this season with 20-10 games.

The high-flying Miami Heat finished one short of setting a new franchise record after sinking 21 three-pointers in their 129-103 victory at the Memphis Grizzlies. Jimmy Butler led the way with 27 points.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic starred with 26 points and 19 rebounds as the Denver Nuggets outlasted the Minnesota Timberwolves 93-91.

Double-doubles from Deandre Ayton (17 points and 12 rebounds) and Chris Paul (16 points and 10 assists) helped last season's NBA Finals runners-up the Phoenix Suns beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 101-92.

 

Jazz taste defeat

The Utah Jazz were the last unbeaten team remaining having opened their season 4-0, until the new-look Chicago Bulls spoiled the party with a 107-99 win.

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant received a $25,000 fine by the NBA for "forcefully" throwing a ball into the stands during Friday's win over the Indiana Pacers.

Durant launched the ball into the spectator stands after being fouled as he drove towards the basket with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter of the 105-98 victory.

The former MVP received a technical, though officials later admitted Durant should have been ejected from the game at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

"In real time, the official that made the call did not think the ball entered the stands with force," crew chief Sean Wright said after the game.

"After seeing the video postgame, we did see that the ball did go into the stands with force and Kevin Durant should have been ejected."

Durant posted 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in a near triple-double performance as the championship-chasing Nets improved to 3-3 for the season.

 

 

LeBron James praised Evan Mobley after facing the Cleveland Cavaliers rookie for the first time but said it was "getting more weird by the day" playing his son's former opponent.

James, back from an ankle injury, marked the 18th anniversary of his NBA debut with a game-high 26 points in the Los Angeles Lakers' 113-101 win on Friday. Mobley, who led the Cavs with 23 points, is only 20 years old.

Indeed, LeBron's previous experience of this year's third overall draft pick was seeing Mobley take on Bronny James in high school.

Mobley then spent a single season at USC but has settled quickly in his rookie year in the NBA.

Friday's performance, in his sixth game, brought his most points so far, along with six rebounds, three assists, two steals and, for the second game running, zero turnovers.

With double-figure points in every game and two double-doubles already, Mobley is averaging 15.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.7 blocks, 1.3 steals and 1.3 turnovers for the 3-3 Cavs.

James, who was a first overall pick for Cleveland in 2003, winning a single title in two spells with the team, said of Mobley: "He is going to be a damn good basketball player in this league.

"It's so crazy, because he was just playing against my son a couple of years ago. It's weird, and it's getting more weird by the day. He's playing against my son in the playoffs two years ago, and obviously we saw what he did in the tournament, just electrifying.

"They've got a good one. Cleveland has a good one. They've done a great job over the years in the draft, I'll say."

James was returning after two games out due to soreness to the same ankle he injured last year as he was restricted to a career-low 42.9 per cent of possible minutes in the regular season.

"I can definitely feel it a little bit right now, but that's just the adrenaline wearing off," he said. "It feels a lot better post-game today than it did post-game Sunday when we played Memphis."

James linked up effectively with Russell Westbrook, with three of the point guard's five assists coming from passes to the four-time MVP. They have now combined seven times for the year, with James the scorer each time.

Westbrook is having to adjust in LA. His career usage rate is 33.6 per cent (since the statistic was tracked in 2014-15), peaking with 41.7 per cent in 2016-17, but has reached a new low this year with 28.4 per cent, sharing the ball with two superstars in James and Anthony Davis.

James praised his new team-mate's early work, though, saying: "It's all about progressing and understanding the playmaker that you're playing with, understanding his vision, his awareness.

"I don't think he gets enough credit for his passing ability, being able to see plays before they happen. For me, as a receiver, it's my job to be in a position where the quarterback can just make a pass and I've got to go get it.

"Running the lane with Russ, he's usually out in front of the pack, because of his pace and his intensity, but when you run with him, you're rewarded."

James Harden has reiterated patience is required for him to return to his point-scoring best despite a season-high 29 points in the Brooklyn Nets' 105-98 win over the Indiana Pacers on Friday.

Harden had only averaged 16.6 points across the first five games of the new season as he struggled in his recovery from a hamstring injury as well as adapting to the NBA's new officiating rules which have impacted his ability to draw fouls.

The 32-year-old guard had a season-high 20 points in those five games but he blew that out of the water with 21 by half-time in Friday's win over the Pacers.

Harden finished with 29 points, including three from six from beyond the arc and 16 points from the free-throw line.

"It wasn't 30, obviously," Harden said during a post-game news conference. "I keep saying it - every single game, I feel good, I feel better today, I continue to work on off days and non-game days, and on game days continue to be aggressive, get to the basket and shoot my shots.

"Nothing's gonna change. Eventually things are gonna happen where it's consistent and I'm up there playing like myself."

Harden's 19 free-throw attempts were the most he has had since moving to the Nets and usurped his season total in one game.

"It was just me being aggressive," Harden said. "The first couple of games I wasn't aggressive. I was aggressive in spurts, but just trying to be aggressive for four quarters.

"I had that burst, that speed of getting to my spots, whether I was getting to the basket or shooting my shots. I felt pretty good out there for an entire game."

Harden and Kevin Durant combined for 39 points in the first half, which is the most together since becoming team-mates after the former's trade from the Houston Rockets in January.

Durant finished with 22 points, along with 11 rebounds and seven assists, with LaMarcus Aldridge reached 20,000 career NBA points with his 21 off the bench.

Aldridge had joined the Nets in March but retired in April after citing health concerns from an irregular heartbeat before he received medical clearance to return this season.

"It feels good, man," Aldridge said. "A true blessing. Definitely didn't think it was going to happen after what happened last year.

"Stuck with it, fall back and definitely felt good to get it done and be back out there. Just feel blessed."

LeBron James returned from injury with 26 points as the Los Angeles Lakers overcame a slow first half to defeat his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, 113-101 on Friday.

James had missed the Lakers' past two games with a sore ankle but marked his return by top scoring, adding eight assists and three rebounds.

The four-time MVP only shot 10 from 22 from the field and one from 10 from three-point range, draining a three-quarter time buzzer beater from almost halfway.

Carmelo Anthony added 24 points off the bench for the Lakers while Anthony Davis had 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists.

The Cavs, who have beaten contenders the Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers this season, led by as much as 11 points at one stage, including holding a one-point lead into the fourth quarter.

James played a lead role in steadying the ship for the Lakers, who scored 25-16 in the fourth quarter to win by 12 points and improve their record to 3-3.

 

Harden finds his scoring touch

James Harden re-discovered some form with a season-high 29 points, including 21 in the first half, in the Brooklyn Nets' 105-98 win over the Indiana Pacers. LaMarcus Aldridge added 21 points off the bench to reach 20,000 career NBA points, while Kevin Durant dominated with 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

Jimmy Butler starred with 32 points, 10 rebounds and five assists while Bam Adebayo added 26 points and 19 rebounds as the Miami Heat downed the in-form Charlotte Hornets 114-99.

Damian Lillard hit five from seven three-pointers, finishing with 25 points as the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 111-92. Paul George finished with 42 points for the Clippers, who are 1-3.

 

Doncic wayward as Mavs routed

Luka Doncic had an off-night, with 16 points, shooting five from 18 from the field as the Dallas Mavericks were brushed aside 106-75 by the Denver Nuggets.

Hornets guard LaMelo Ball's bright start to the season has stalled, managing only six points in their loss to the Heat, shooting none from five from beyond the arc.

LeBron James will return after two games out with an ankle issue when the Los Angeles Lakers take on the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.

Four-time NBA MVP James started the Lakers' first three games of the season, averaging 26.0 points in 38.0 minutes as his team made a rocky 1-2 start.

The 36-year-old injured his ankle in the Lakers' first win of the season against the Memphis Grizzlies and missed their subsequent games with the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, the latter which they lost by eight points after leading by 26 in the first half.

James was listed in the Lakers' starting line-up alongside Anthony Davis, who picked up a knee worry against the Spurs before playing 37 minutes and scoring 30 points against OKC.

Russell Westbrook, who had a triple-double but also 10 turnovers before being ejected against the Thunder, as well as Kurt Bazemore and DeAndre Jordan round out the Lakers' starting five.

James played just 45 games in the 2020-21 season as the Lakers failed to build on their 2020 Finals success with a first round playoffs exit to the Phoenix Suns.

The veteran forward played just 42.9 per cent of possible minutes for the Lakers in the regular season last year, the lowest rate of his career and only the second season in which he has dipped below the halfway mark – also 48.9 per cent in 2018-19, his first season as a Laker.

The Philadelphia 76ers will not have fond memories of playing the Atlanta Hawks as the two teams head into their first matchup of 2021-22 with 3-2 records.

The 76ers' playoff run last year ended against Atlanta in a Game 7 defeat at Wells Fargo Center.

That was a hugely damaging series for Philly, not only bringing their season to a close but also increasing the attention on Ben Simmons' below-par displays.

Simmons averaged just 9.9 points against the Hawks and did not attempt a single fourth-quarter field goal from Game 4 onwards. He has since pushed for a move, but the Sixers cannot find a trade partner.

The 76ers are without Simmons so far this year but will hope Atlanta's return to Philadelphia can provide the motivation required to truly kickstart their season.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Philadelphia 76ers – Tyrese Maxey

Without Simmons, second-year point guard Maxey has come into the lineup. The 76ers have played the same starting five in each game so far this season, with Maxey for Simmons the only change from last year's most-used lineup.

Maxey is not exactly a like-for-like replacement for Simmons, though. For all his faults, the wantaway three-time All-Star is an elite defensive player – averaging 1.6 steals, 0.6 blocks and 5.6 defensive rebounds last year – and a far more comfortable facilitator than Maxey, who has 2.1 assists per game for his career.

But the Sixers' 2020 first-round pick is still just 20 and acknowledges he is learning on the job.

"It's a work in progress," he said after 16 points, six assists, six rebounds and four turnovers against the Detroit Pistons on Thursday. "It's the fifth game, stuff is slowing down, you figure out which guys want the ball, try to find switches or advantages that work for us.

"It's getting a lot better. The coaching staff and my team-mates have been great. They've been helping me."

And perhaps against Atlanta, a team who have benefited from Simmons' reluctance to shoot from deep, Maxey's superior shot could prove useful. He is 45.9 per cent from the midrange and 30.0 per cent from three for his career versus Simmons' 37.6 per cent and 14.7 per cent.

 

Atlanta Hawks – Trae Young

Two years older than Maxey, the Hawks' point guard Young is far more established both at the position and in the league. He averaged 29.0 points and 10.9 assists against the 76ers in the playoffs.

That postseason run seemingly saw Young move to another level as one of the NBA's leading young players, but this season has not so far gone entirely to plan.

His 24.2 points per game ranked 17th in the league through Thursday's games, having last year finished 14th in that regard (25.3 ppg), yet the former fifth overall pick feels those numbers should have been boosted by more generous officiating.

Young became the latest player to complain about the NBA's "interpretive change in the officiating of overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves by offensive players with the ball in an effort to draw fouls" after a loss to the Washington Wizards.

He is shooting a career-best 95.5 per cent from the foul line but has attempted only 4.4 field goals per game. Having averaged 9.9 attempts per game against Philly, Saturday's opponents know how crucial it is those marginal calls continue to go against him.

KEY BATTLE – Can Collins continue to impress against Embiid?

The battle of the big men should be worth watching on Saturday, with John Collins surely meeting his match in the form of 76ers superstar Joel Embiid, one of the league's best two-way centers.

The Hawks have relied on dominating during Collins' minutes so far this season, with his plus/minus a team-leading 8.4 and his net rating an impressive 29.3.

The six-foot-nine center also has 12 dunks, but Embiid is ticking along at 1.8 blocks per game and there could be fireworks if Collins attempts to take on his direct opponent.

HEAD TO HEAD

Atlanta might have won the game that mattered most, but they and the 76ers split the series 5-5 across the regular season and postseason last year.

The Sixers have the edge in the all-time regular season record, leading 196-191, although the Hawks closed that gap considerably during 'The Process' era, having an 18-9 advantage since the start of the 2013-14 campaign.

From 2014 to 2019, the Golden State Warriors put together one of the best stretches in basketball history, playing in the NBA Finals in five straight years and lifting the Larry O'Brien Trophy three times as league champions. 

Those Warriors teams were a combined 322-88 in the regular season, giving them the most wins in a five-year stretch in NBA history. That .785 winning percentage is also an all-time NBA record over five consecutive seasons. 

While Golden State's time for dynastic dominance is likely in the past, is the team's window for winning NBA titles closed, or does the Warriors' 4-1 start to this season foreshadow a return trip to the Finals next June?

The cornerstones of last decade's title teams, head coach Steve Kerr and point guard Stephen Curry, remain in place and appear as capable as ever. 

While the Warriors' failures in last season's play-in tournament kept them from a true playoff appearance, their 16-6 finish to the regular season showed that a team can still thrive with role players around Curry when he is right, and the two-time MVP was that and more down the stretch. 

After returning from a tailbone contusion in late March, Curry averaged 36.9 points per game and shot 43.7 per cent from three-point range in his last 24 games, seemingly single-handedly boosting Golden State from below .500 into the Western Conference playoff race. 

Despite a rotating cast of team-mates – including the arrival and subsequent departure of Kevin Durant – Curry has been the engine that powers the Warriors' high-scoring offense. Over the past eight seasons, Golden State score 116.4 points per 100 possessions with Curry on the court and just 103.5 per 100 possessions when he is on the bench. 

More surprising, however, is that the Warriors are better in almost every aspect of the game when their star guard is on the court, even in areas considered some of Curry's weaknesses. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, a sample size of over 26,500 minutes, Curry's presence has also helped Golden State improve their points allowed per 100 possessions, field goal defense, three-point defense, points in the paint and rebounding rate.

Curry is averaging 30.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.6 assists during the Warriors' 4-1 start and appears to be as potent as ever bombing three-pointers and pushing opposing defenses to their breaking point.

Klay's comeback, Green's regression

The uncertainty about Golden State's title hopes likely falls at the feet of the team's two remaining stars: Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

Thompson, a five-time All-Star and Curry's 'Splash Brothers' backcourt partner, could be the most pivotal player in the NBA this season. 

The 31-year-old guard last appeared in a game well over two years ago in the 2019 NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors, suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Game 6. In November 2020, Thompson ruptured his right Achilles tendon during a workout. 

The Warriors fully expect Thompson to return to action this season, with Christmas Day's matchup against the Phoenix Suns set as an initial goal, 13 months since having surgery to repair his Achilles. 

While every injury and recovery is as unique as the players who endure them, Thompson and the Warriors can look to Durant's story as reason for hope. 

Durant made huge contributions last season for the Brooklyn Nets after missing the entire 2019-20 campaign while recovering from a ruptured Achilles. Durant's return to the court came about 18 months after surgery, but he almost immediately looked like himself, scoring 22 points in 25 minutes in his first game back. Within a month of his return, Durant had his first 40-point game and played over 50 minutes in a double-overtime road game. 

The Nets handled Durant with care last season, giving him occasional rest days and treating a strained hamstring cautiously, but he had no restrictions in the postseason, where he carried the load for Brooklyn and was inches away from defeating the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in a Game 7. 

The Warriors will likely ease Thompson back into action as he builds endurance and re-adjusts to the speed of live games, but the team have said they expect him to make a "full recovery".

Green is a three-time All-Star and five-time All-Defensive Team selection who appears to be battling age regression while still playing a vital role. 

Never known for his scoring prowess, Green averaged 7.1 rebounds and a career-high 8.9 assists last season while providing the defensive versatility to play in almost any lineup the Warriors wanted. 

Green's problem has been the gradual decline in his offensive production, most notably his outside shooting. Through the 2017-18 season, Green shot 32.7 per cent from three-point range and averaged 11.6 points per game. Since 2018-19, his three-point shooting has dipped to 28.1 per cent and he is scoring 7.4 points per night. 

While those declines feel relatively small now, they will likely be magnified in a playoff series where opposing coaches will be hell-bent on creating defenses to get the ball out of Curry's hands at the expense of leaving Green wide open.

Green garnered a reputation as someone who steps up in the postseason and shot 34.2 per cent from deep in his first 80 career playoff games. 

Since 2018, however, Green has converted just 25.4 per cent of his postseason three-point attempts over 45 games, and he has made just 21.1 per cent over his past 35 playoff games. Teams will continue to leave Green open in crucial games, and the Warriors' title hopes may hinge on whether he hits just enough to make defenses think twice. 

Wiseman, Wiggins and depth

Golden State's trio of battle-tested stars will be the core of any potential playoff run this spring, but the Warriors have another asset this season that they have lacked in recent years: depth. 

Going 54-83 over the previous two seasons was certainly not an ideal way to follow five straight Finals appearances, but a pair of non-contending years gave the team some extra assets and helped some of the Warriors' younger players gain experience. 

The dismal 2019-20 season yielded number two overall pick James Wiseman, whose rookie year was marred by injuries, including a season-ending meniscus tear in April. The 20-year-old center has played just 42 basketball games since leaving high school and remains raw, but his talent could prove vital in a Western Conference playoff bracket that will likely include Nikola Jokic, Deandre Ayton and Rudy Gobert. 

Wiseman is still recovering from his knee injury, but the Warriors are expected to provide an update early in November with a more definitive timeline for his return. 

Rookies Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, the number seven and number 14 picks in this year's draft, will also look to compete for playing time, although Kuminga has yet to play due to a knee strain. 

The rest of Golden State's supporting cast has plenty of experience – at least in the regular season – but still has room for improvement. 

Andrew Wiggins, the maligned former number one overall pick who was acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves, has begun a second chapter of his career in a supporting role, and the move to Golden State has revived his career. Wiggins had a career-best shooting season last year, converting 47.3 per cent from the field and 38.0 per cent from three-point range. 

After sputtering a bit early last season, Wiggins excelled down the stretch and has averaged 20.0 points over his last 35 games. 

Damion Lee and Jordan Poole have gone through growing pains the past two seasons, attempting to fill in for Thompson in the backcourt, but both have emerged as interesting contributors. 

Lee has ignited the offense off the bench, averaging 14.2 points through five games this season with 12-for-26 shooting (46.2 per cent) from three-point range.  

Poole, a 2019 draft pick, showed a lot of improvement during last year's sophomore campaign. Although he is off to a slow shooting start this season, he is averaging 18.3 in 12 games as a starter, dating back to the start of last season. 

Back is 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala to provide a veteran presence on the wing, while six-foot-10 forward Nemanja Bjelica adds both size and outside shooting to a frontcourt still in flux. 

Contenders again?

The sum of all those pieces is a team with a relatively wide range of possibilities in 2021-22. 

So much weight rests on Curry's shoulders, and any serious injury to the Warriors' top man could spell disaster, as it did in 2019-20. 

There is no guarantee that Thompson can make signature contributions after returning from an absence that spans 28 months and counting. The playoff stage may prove to be too big for Golden State's collection of young prospects, and players like Green and Iguodala might be too far past their primes to provide the requisite lift. 

But the Warriors' roster holds the potential for a championship contender once again. 

Curry remains on the short list of star players who can control a playoff series, and there is enough depth in place to ease Thompson back into NBA action. After years of filling their roster with late draft choices and minimum salary veterans, the Warriors now have three lottery picks in Wiseman, Kuminga and Moody who could blossom into key pieces. 

In a competitive but wide-open Western Conference, Golden State still have questions to answer but have the potential to make a run at a fourth NBA title in the past eight seasons.

Trae Young believes James Harden is merely one of "a couple of guys" being targeted by an NBA rule change that is seeing fewer fouls awarded.

More lax officiating early in the 2021-22 season has frustrated Brooklyn Nets superstar Harden, who has said he "for sure" feels like "the poster boy" for what the league described as "an interpretive change in the officiating of overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves by offensive players with the ball in an effort to draw fouls".

Harden has averaged 8.7 free throw attempts per game for his career. This includes more than 10.0 in seven separate seasons and six straight before last year. Only Wilt Chamberlain (11) and Shaquille O'Neal (10) have averaged double-figures for free throws in more seasons.

Since arriving in the NBA in 2009, no player comes within 1,000 of Harden's 7,674 total free throw attempts.

This year, though, following the rule change, Harden has visited the foul line just 15 times through five games – an average of 3.0 even lower than his rookie year.

"Sometimes I feel like coming into a game it's already predetermined," he said. "I already have that stigma of getting foul calls."

But Harden is not alone. Atlanta Hawks point guard Young has averaged 4.4 free throws per game this year, down from 8.7 in 2020-21 when his 546 for the year trailed only Giannis Antetokounmpo (581) and Joel Embiid (548).

And Young was keen to address the issue after taking only three shots from the foul line in Thursday's defeat to the Washington Wizards, in which he scored a season-low 15 points.

"It's not necessarily about stuff not going our way," he said. "It's simple basketball. Fouls should be fouls.

"The foul they gave me at the end of the game, I thought that was BS – they just gave it to me – but there's a lot of calls they missed.

"It's basketball. It feels like they're learning, and it's... I don't know. It's frustrating."

Young said he would have to "figure it out", but he indicated others are in the same boat as he and Harden.

Damian Lillard is down to 4.5 free throw attempts and 17.8 points per game, while Devin Booker has only had 3.5 free throw attempts and a slight slump to 21.5 points.

"I don't want to get fined too much, but this is frustrating," Young said. "I saw James said it's about him, but it's not targeted at one player. There's a couple of guys where you feel like refs are holding their whistle.

"You watch basketball. Damian Lillard's never averaged 17 points probably since his rookie year. There's a couple of guys. Book's averaging 18.

"There are a lot of things where guys are driving straight, they're getting knocked off balance, it's still a foul.

"There were a lot of things they took out that were necessary – veering back and jumping into guys – that's different. There are certain things that I agree with the rule changes, but then there's things that are still fouls.

"Guys are going to get hurt, and that's why, especially a smaller guy like me, who's going up against bigger and stronger defenders, they're using their body and they're using their legs and their hands to stop me.

"I know they're looking for a guy getting knocked off balance. So, if I'm going straight and I get my balance knocked off, that's a foul. If they slow down my speed, that's a foul.

"I know the rules, so the ref can't come to me and tell me what happened and what didn't if I know exactly what they're looking for."

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