Charlotte Hornets star and NBA Rookie of the Year favourite LaMelo Ball will spend an indefinite spell on the sidelines after fracturing his right wrist.

Ball is reportedly set to miss the remainder of his first season in the league following an MRI scan on Sunday, which revealed a fractured bone.

The 19-year-old rookie sensation will be further evaluated after hurting his wrist in Saturday's 125-98 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Ball has taken the NBA by storm since being drafted by the Hornets with the third pick last year.

He has been averaging 15.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.59 steals (seventh in the NBA) per game this season.

Among rookie leaders, Ball ranks first in assists and steals, second in scoring and is tied for second in rebounds.

Ball is the only player over the last 60 years to lead all rookies in total points, rebounds, assists and steals at the All-Star Break.

Last month, Ball joined Stephen Curry (2010) and Jason Kidd (1995) as the only rookies with seven-plus threes and 10-plus assists in a game and is the youngest to do so.

Ball also became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double in January.

Joel Embiid's injury last week appeared to clear a path for LeBron James to collect his fifth NBA MVP award.

Philadelphia 76ers big man Embiid - averaging 29.9 points and 11.5 rebounds, as well as 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals - had already missed seven games this season before he went down with a knee injury against the Washington Wizards.

But Los Angeles Lakers superstar James did not see his clear run at the league's top individual honour last long.

James, who has 25.9 points, 7.9 assists and 7.9 rebounds per game, has carried the Lakers in Anthony Davis' absence but faces his own spell on the sidelines after an ankle sprain on Saturday.

That setback, in a defeat to the Atlanta Hawks, means this year's two leading MVP contenders face an uphill task to remain in contention as they sit out a key stretch of the regular season.

Nikola Jokic, the Denver Nuggets center, appears the man most likely to profit and has quickly been installed as the bookmakers' favourite.

But with several twists already in the race to succeed back-to-back winner Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jokic's standing is not yet safe.

With the help of Stats Perform data, we run through four potential winners ahead of Sunday's action - including Denver's 'Joker'.
 

NIKOLA JOKIC

The case against Jokic earlier in the season was his displays had not been able to lift the Nuggets into serious contention in the West. With 13 wins in their past 18 games to improve to 25-16, that is no longer the case.

While team-mate Jamal Murray has not been able to consistently perform at the standard he set in the 2019-20 playoffs - averaging 26.5 points in the 'bubble' but 21.1 this season - Jokic has taken his game to another level.

The Serbian's stat line for the year - 27.0 points, 8.6 assists, 11.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals - has never previously been achieved in league history, nor has any player in the past attempted at least 30 field goals across a season while shooting 56.6 per cent from the field, 41.6 per cent from three and 86.6 per cent of free throws.

This is an unprecedented campaign.

DAMIAN LILLARD

Tied with Denver at 25-16 in the West are the Portland Trail Blazers. Considering CJ McCollum has only played 16 games and Jusuf Nurkic 12, that is a quite remarkable achievement, led, of course, by Lillard.

Understandably, Lillard's usage rate is at a career-high 33 per cent, but he is making the most of those extra touches. Only Bradley Beal (32.5) has outperformed his 30.6 points per game - another career benchmark - and the Blazers star leads the league with 1,225 total points. Of those, 136 have come in 'clutch' situations, again putting Lillard at the top of the standings.

Taking a break from Portland's playoff push, Lillard even preserved enough energy to score 32 points in the All-Star Game, just ahead of Team LeBron team-mate and rival Stephen Curry (28). An MVP triumph would certainly see Portland's finest emerge from the shadow of the Golden State Warriors great.

GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO

Antetokounmpo beat James Harden to this award in 2018-19 and then LA's James last season, so a case of voter fatigue was always set to make him an unlikely winner for a third straight year, regardless of performances.

But with Embiid and James both hit by injuries, the 'Greek Freak' surely has to come into consideration. Once again, his numbers are seriously impressive.

The only man to outscore Lillard at the All-Star Game, putting up 35, Antetokounmpo is slightly down on last year's points (29.0 versus 29.5) and rebounds per game (11.7 versus 13.6) but has improved in all of the other key metrics with 6.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks.

The Milwaukee Bucks forward should be in the picture to retain both his MVP and Defensive Player of the Year titles.

JAMES HARDEN

Surely voters will not reward Harden in the year he forced his way out of the Houston Rockets? On performances alone, though, he deserves to be in the conversation.

The 2017-18 winner is not contributing the same number of points for the Brooklyn Nets as he was in Houston, but then his usage is down to 28.7 per cent for the year (28.1 in Brooklyn), by far the lowest it has been since the statistic was first tracked in 2014-15.

And Harden, still scoring an impressive 25.4 points since joining the Nets, is more than making up for this slight decline elsewhere.

So far the most prominent member of the team's 'big three', with Kevin Durant too often injured and Kyrie Irving absent for a spell, Harden leads the league in 2020-21 for assists (11.2) and is second for triple-doubles (11), making him an unpopular but worthy candidate.

Tobias Harris was inspired to prove the Philadelphia 76ers can compete without Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons after leading his team to a 129-105 victory over the Sacramento Kings.

Embiid missed a fourth straight game with a bruised left knee, while Simmons was a late omission after experiencing knee soreness on Saturday morning.

With fellow starter Seth Curry (ankle) also missing, the 76ers were heavily depleted but managed to chalk up the win with Harris in supreme form – falling just shy of a triple double with 29 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

Shake Milton tallied 28 points and Danny Green chipped in with 18 as the 76ers rallied in the absence of their key men.

For Harris, it was about making a point about the strength in depth of the roster.

"Are we willing to fall into the distraction of, 'hey, we don't have two of our top dogs?', or are we willing to embrace it?" Harris said.

"I take that stuff personal when people believe we can't win without those guys, because I know how much talent we have as a group and I know how well we play together as a team as a whole.

"We have a culture and a system here that works. When we trust it and do what is asked of us, we're a hell of a team."

Philadelphia's stats sheet was impressive. In the first quarter alone, they went 16-of-26 shooting and made six of their eight three-pointers to race into a 42-21 lead.

Late in the third they led by as much as 26 points and by the end of the game were 48 of 86 on shooting, making 11 of 23 from downtown.

Coach Doc Rivers said of Harris: "He really set the tone tonight with his attitude and then obviously his play. His total play was phenomenal.

"With all those guys out, what we did was execute well."

The 76ers are top of the Eastern Conference and now have a 29-13 record. They have a short road trip on Sunday to face the New York Knicks, seventh in the division, at Madison Square Garden.

Giannis Antetokounmpo said he is happy the streaking Milwaukee Bucks are flying under the radar this season following their win over the San Antonio Spurs.

The Bucks extended their winning streak to six games after topping the Spurs 120-113 behind superstar Antetokounmpo's 26 points and joint career-high 15 assists on Saturday.

Milwaukee – Eastern Conference semi-finalists last season having fallen just short of the NBA Finals in 2018-19 – have won 11 of their last 12 games to be third in the standings this term.

Unlike the two previous seasons, the Bucks (27-14) have not dominated headlines, instead taking a backseat to the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers (29-13) and star-studded Brooklyn Nets (28-14) but that is the way Antetokounmpo likes it.

"We don't play for people to talk about us," two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo said after the game.

"I kind of like it. I just want to be left alone. I never liked bright lights. I never liked people talking about us. It just adds pressure to me and my teammates to come in and do what we do.

"I kind of like to be under the radar and we just come in, enjoy one another, enjoy playing basketball and we're just getting the job done.

"There's gonna be times they're gonna talk about us, there's gonna be times they're not gonna talk about us, but personally, as I said, I just like being under the radar."

Not since 1971 have the Bucks won the championship as Antetokounmpo added: "We're just gonna keep doing what we're doing. We just keep enjoying each other and keep playing to win games and playing the right way."

Los Angeles Lakers center Montrezl Harrell questioned the incident that saw LeBron James sprain his ankle against the Atlanta Hawks, insisting the injury scenario was "not a loose-ball play".

James is sidelined indefinitely after suffering a high ankle sprain in Saturday's 99-94 NBA loss to the streaking Hawks.

Lakers superstar James exited in the second quarter after Solomon Hill collided with his right ankle at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

James – an MVP candidate as he looks to add to his four previous honours – fell to the court and screamed before rolling around in agony.

After attempting to stay in the game – hitting a three-pointer to reach 10 points in 11 minutes – James eventually left the game and did not return.

Post-game, James tweeted: "Nothing angers and saddens me more than not being available to and for my team-mates!

"I'm hurt inside and out right now. The road back from recovery begins now. Back soon like I never left. #ThekidfromAKRON."

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Harrell – who posted a team-high 23 points and 11 rebounds off the bench for the Lakers – said: "[LeBron yelling] shows you he was in an extreme amount of pain.

"It's a tough play, the guy dived for the loose ball, took a leg out from under him.

"He is human man and he'll have to undergo the protocols like everybody else will do.

"I really don't feel like it was one of those loose ball plays, I mean [Solomon Hill] had to go through his leg to get the ball.

"He was trying to turn away, the ball was behind him, he's jumping at an angle, going across this way.

"I don't know how you feel that's just a loose ball but like I say it's neither here not there. I don't think it's one of those plays where he tried to do it but at the end of the day it's still one of those things I feel like you have to look at."

James – who has missed only one game this season, a loss to the Sacramento Kings on March 3 prior to the All-Star break – has been averaging 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game in 2020-21.

His 10 points against the Hawks extending his NBA-record streak (1,036) of consecutive games with at least 10 points.

Lakers team-mate Dennis Schroder added: "That's an unnecessary play to dive in the leg like that.

"He's bounced back before and he will in a couple of days," Schroder said. "So, I'm not worried."

In response to the criticism, Atlanta's Hill tweeted: "Would never disrespect the game and take a player out purposely… he knows that.

"That's all that matters to me. Praying for a speedy recovery. #riptothementionstho #moredmsthansaweetoe."

Giannis Antetokounmpo inspired the in-form Milwaukee Bucks to a 120-113 win over the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA.

Antetokounmpo posted a double-double of 26 points and a joint career-high 15 assists to lead the Bucks to their sixth successive victory on Saturday.

Two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo also had eight rebounds as the Bucks overturned a 14-point first-half deficit – Milwaukee celebrating their 11th win in 12 games.

Khris Middleton added 23 points, while Donte DiVincenzo contributed 12 points and 13 rebounds in Milwaukee.

Lonnie Walker scored a career-high 31 points for the Spurs, who also had 22 points and 13 assists from DeMar DeRozan.

No Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Seth Curry? No problems for the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers, who eased past the Sacramento Kings 129-105.

Tobias Harris picked up the slack in the absence of the injured star trio, putting up 29 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and two steals as he fell just short of his first career triple-double.

Harris shot nine of 13 for 23 points in the first half. It was a season high for any half and the fifth time he has scored at least 23 points in a half in his career.

Shake Milton finished with 28 points for the 76ers, who improved to 19-4 at home this season – the most wins in the NBA.

 

Hawks soar

The Atlanta Hawks extended their winning streak to eight games after upstaging defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers 99-94. It is the first time the Hawks have won eight straight games since the 2014-15 season, when they celebrated 19 in a row. John Collins (27 points and 16 rebounds) and Trae Young (14 points and 11 assists) had double-doubles for the Hawks.

Paul George fuelled the Los Angeles Clippers to a crushing 125-98 victory over the Charlotte Hornets. George posted 21 points and 10 assists at home to the Hornets.

 

Lakers lose LeBron

LeBron James will be sidelined for an indefinite period after suffering a high ankle sprain in the loss to the Hawks. James exited in the second quarter after Solomon Hill collided with his right ankle at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The 36-year-old fell to the court and screamed before rolling around in agony.

It was a forgettable game for Terry Rozier and the Hornets. Rozier was two-of-10 from the field – he only made two of nine three-point attempts – for eight points against the Clippers. Charlotte only shot at 38.8 per cent throughout the game.

 

George and Kawhi combine

Star Clippers duo George and Kawhi Leonard led the way at home to the Hornets, teaming up for a dunk in the second half.

 

Saturday's results

Atlanta Hawks 99-94 Los Angeles Lakers
Philadelphia 76ers 129-105 Sacramento Kings
Memphis Grizzlies 111-103 Golden State Warriors
Milwaukee Bucks 120-113 San Antonio Spurs
Los Angeles Clippers 125-98 Charlotte Hornets

 

Lakers at Suns

With James and Anthony Davis sidelined, the Lakers (28-14) will limp into Sunday's clash against Western Conference rivals the Phoenix Suns (27-13). The Lakers are third in the conference, behind the second-placed Suns.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James is facing an indefinite spell on the sidelines after suffering a high ankle sprain in the team's loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

The Lakers went down 99-94 to the Hawks on Saturday but it was an injury to James that has caused more concern for the NBA champions.

James exited in the second quarter after Solomon Hill collided with his right ankle at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

The 36-year-old fell to the court and screamed before rolling around in agony.

After attempting to stay in the game – hitting a three-pointer to reach 10 points in 11 minutes – James eventually left the game and did not return.

"I haven't necessarily seen him scream and scowl like that probably ever," said Lakers team-mate Kyle Kuzma.

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel added: "I won't disclose what any mood of LeBron was like internally. It's in-house."

James – who has missed only one game this season, a loss to the Sacramento Kings on March 3 prior to the All-Star break – has been averaging 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game in 2020-21.

His 10 points against the Hawks extending his NBA-record streak (1,036) of consecutive games with at least 10 points.

The Lakers (28-14) – already missing injured star Anthony Davis – are third in the Western Conference, behind the NBA-leading Utah Jazz (30-11) and Phoenix Suns (27-13).

Kyrie Irving is "super excited" at the prospect of having Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin on the same team after the Brooklyn Nets saw a six-match winning streak snapped by the Orlando Magic.

The Nets had lost just once in 15 previous NBA outings before going down 121-113 at the Amway Center on Friday.

Irving scored 43 points and also posted six rebounds and four assists, while James Harden contributed 19 points in the losing effort.

Aaron Gordon had 38 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Evan Fournier drained 31 points and Nikola Vucevic 22 for a Magic side that responded to a loss to the New York Knicks last time out.

Irving said the loss can be a "great learning experience".

"They just got going early and we got down in a hole. And when you're trying to play out of a hole for the rest of the game, obviously when teams are shooting the three — or when a team is shooting the three like they were tonight — it makes it a lot more difficult and you have to be perfect down the stretch," Irving said. 

"But they came in off a back-to-back very desperate, and we didn't match their energy so it kind of happens like that, this is what it feels like to lose. 

"We don't want too many more feelings like this, so just learn from it and move forward, but great learning experience."

The Nets, second in the East, will soon be reinforced by the return of Kevin Durant, who is absent with a hamstring injury, and Griffin, who is yet to play since signing for Brooklyn on March 8.

Griffin has been contending with a left knee issue and Irving is excited by the impact both men can have on the team.

"I am super excited. You know, it's just high-level talent out there," he added.

"So, when you can just prepare for the game and go over the X's and O's, you can look to your left and right and know the guys next to you have your back and you're able to play at a high level offensively and defensively and make an impact, you've got to look forward to that. 

"I look forward to it for sure. And as a competitor wanting to be on the main stage, we want all our guys healthy. 

"Hopefully we can hit a stride at the right time and make a run, but this is great practice ground right now to just get as healthy as we can before stepping into the playoffs soon, very soon."

The Brooklyn Nets' six-game winning streak came to a grinding halt with a 121-113 loss to the lowly Orlando Magic, despite the return of Kyrie Irving after groin soreness.

The Magic were coming into the match on a nine-game losing streak, but jumped out of the blocks with Aaron Gordon scoring 21 points in the first half.

Orlando led by as many as 12 points in the second quarter before the Nets closed to trail by only two at the main break, led by Irving, who finished with a game-high 43 points, six rebounds and four assists.

James Harden's output was slightly down, finishing with 19 points, four rebounds and nine assists as Orlando raced away again in the third.

Gordon finished with a season-high 38 points, Evan Fournier scored 31, while center Nikola Vucevic had 22 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists as the Magic pulled off an upset.

The Utah Jazz returned to the winners' list with a thrilling 115-112 triumph over the Toronto Raptors, who have now lost seven in a row.

The Jazz had lost four of six coming into the match, but found some form, led by Donovan Mitchell with 31 points and five rebounds, the star pinching the lead late after the Raptors were up by five with 90 seconds to go.

Pascal Siakam put up a three-point attempt on the buzzer which cruelly rimmed out.

Blazers do it again, Wiggins' season high

CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard produced another special performance as the Portland Trail Blazers came from behind again to win their third straight game, 125-119 over the Dallas Mavericks.

McCollum finished with 32 points, including seven three-pointers, while Lillard had 31 points along with six assists as Portland scored 32 points to 21 in the last to win. The victory was also Portland's Terry Stotts' 500th as head coach.

Andrew Wiggins produced a season-high 40 points, including six three-pointers, eight rebounds and four steals as the Golden State Warriors beat the Memphis Grizzlies 116-103.

Nikola Jokic sparkled with 34 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists as the Denver Nuggets edged the Chicago Bulls in overtime 131-127. Jamal Murray also scored 34 for Denver.

Guard Malcolm Brogdon scored 27 points as the Indiana Pacers piled on the points in a 137-110 win over the Miami Heat.

Mason Plumlee had 16 rebounds while Frank Jackson scored 23 points as the struggling Detroit Pistons won back-to-back games, 113-100 over the Houston Rockets, who have lost 19 in a row.

 

Melo makes history

Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony, 36, scored 18 points in Portland's win but he also brought up the milestone of 27,000 NBA points, becoming only the 11th player to reach the figure.

Anthony Edwards' confidence is flowing after a phenomenal performance in the Minnesota Timberwolves' 123-119 win over the Phoenix Suns, adamant his form is not a surprise to him.

Rookie Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns were in devastating form on Thursday, ensuring two players scored 40 points in the same game for just the second time in Minnesota franchise history.

The 42 posted by Edwards was a career high, while Towns added 41 to the board as the Timberwolves clinched their third win in five since the All-Star break.

That personal-best haul was not the only achievement of note for Edwards, however, who at 19 years and 225 days joined illustrious company as he became the third-youngest player to have a 40-point NBA game and set a new record for a Timberwolves rookie.

Kevin Durant (19y, 200d) and LeBron James (19y, 88d) are the only players who ever reached that mark younger than Edwards, who made 15 of 31 shots on Thursday.

Nevertheless, it was Juancho Hernangomez's late dunk that secured the win with 2.5 seconds remaining, and as such Edwards dismissed the idea that the Timberwolves are relying on just himself and Towns.

"I wouldn't say that, we're just playing together," Edwards said. "If I've got it going some nights, of course they're going to lean on me, but if I haven't got it going then we go another route and I'll find what I find.

"So, it doesn't really matter who's getting more minutes, who's scoring, it's about winning. Me and KAT [Towns] scoring 40 and losing, it would be a different vibe, but scoring 40 and won so it's nothing but excitement and enjoyable."

While Edwards spoke well of his team-mates, particularly Towns and Hernangomez, his self-assuredness was obvious – the 19-year-old simply is not shocked by his trajectory.

"I put in the work for it, it always shows. I work in the dark, it should come to the light," he continued. "I'm not surprised at all, I put in work for it.

"People who know, like really know me, who's close to me, they know all I do is go to the gym and workout, all season that's all I do.

"Early morning, late at night, whatever time we're going to workout, we're going to workout. People who know me know this is what's supposed to be happening."

Understandably Edwards is in the conversation for Rookie of the Year, though he stresses this is not something he is spending much time thinking about.

"Whoever's picking the rookie of the year, the votes or whatever, that's not my focus," Edwards claimed. "I'm trying to win, get better, trying to grow. I'm still a rookie. There's still a lot of stuff that I don't know and that Ricky [Rubio] is going to teach me, so if I win it, I win it, and if I don't – on to the next season.

"As long as I know how good I am and the work that's going in… I don't really care about that one."

LeBron James believes he should have more than four MVP awards as the Los Angeles Lakers superstar staked his claim for another NBA honour on Thursday.

James posted 37 points to lead defending champions the Lakers past the Charlotte Hornets 116-105 in Los Angeles.

The 36-year-old has been averaging 25.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game for the Lakers, who have won four straight games since the All-Star break.

James was crowned the NBA's best player in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013 and as the four-time league champion contends for this year's honour, he feels worthy of more.

"I should have more than four... But I don't, and I don't sit around crying about it," James told reporters post-game.

Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Michael Jordan and Bill Russell (both five) have won more MVP awards than James.

Since James last claimed the honour in 2013, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry (twice), Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo (twice) have been named the league's best.

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel strongly endorsed James as the 2020-21 MVP, adding: "He's the MVP of the league so far, in my opinion.

"He's the best player to ever play the game, in my opinion.

"It's a mistake on the voters' part to go season after season without voting the best player in the league."

In the absence of injured star Anthony Davis, the Lakers have returned to form following the All-Star Game.

The second-placed Lakers (28-13) are only one and a half games behind the NBA-leading Utah Jazz (29-11) in the Western Conference.

"We haven't really talked about it," James said of the conference race. "If it gets to a point where we can capture it, why not? But we haven't talked about seeding all year.

"We've gotten better since the break, but the most important things for our ballclub is playing championship basketball every night and being healthy."

Washington Wizards star Russell Westbrook made history in a shock 131-122 win over the NBA-leading Utah Jazz.

Westbrook posted 35 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists for his 13th triple-double of the season to guide the struggling Wizards past the high-flying Jazz on Thursday.

Former MVP Westbrook became the first player in franchise history to record at least 35 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in a game as the Wizards snapped a five-game losing streak.

Wizards team-mate Bradley Beal had a game-high 43 points at home to the Jazz, who were led by Donovan Mitchell's season-high 42 points.

Joe Ingles added 34 points for the Jazz, who still have the league's best record at 29-11 despite the loss.

LeBron James flexed his muscles with 37 points as defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Charlotte Hornets 116-105.

James also had eight rebounds and six assists to help the Lakers to their fourth straight win since the All-Star break – Dennis Schroder chipped in with 22 points of his own.

Rookie of the Year contender LaMelo Ball recorded a team-high 26 points, seven assists and five rebounds for the Hornets in his first meeting against James in Los Angeles.

 

Edwards sets franchise record, Randle stays hot

It was an unforgettable outing for Anthony Edwards, who posted a career-high 42 points in the Minnesota Timberwolves' 123-119 win at the Phoenix Suns. It set the record for most points by a rookie in franchise history, eclipsing Zach LaVine's 37 in 2015. Timberwolves team-mate Karl-Anthony Towns also had 41 points and 10 rebounds in a monster performance. Devin Booker put up 35 points for the Suns, but it was not enough.

Julius Randle had 18 points, 17 assists and 10 rebounds to lead the New York Knicks past the Orlando Magic 94-93. His third triple-double of the season saw the All-Star become the first Knicks player with three-plus triple-doubles in a season since Michael Ray Richardson (seven) in 1981-82.

Damian Lillard followed up his season-high 50 points with 36 in the Portland Trail Blazers' 101-93 victory against the New Orleans Pelicans. Fellow All-Star Zion Williamson recorded a double-double of 26 points and 10 rebounds for the Pelicans.

The Atlanta Hawks soared to their seventh straight win thanks to a 116-93 success against the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder.

 

Thunder struggle from the floor

The Thunder went down to the Hawks behind a poor shooting display. Oklahoma City were at just 36.2 per cent from the field, compared to Atlanta's 54.0 per cent. Aleksej Pokusevski finished two-for-11 from the floor, while missing all three of his attempts from beyond the arc for four points. Veteran Al Horford (11 points) was three of 13.

C.J. McCollum struggled in Portland's win. He was just three-of-16 shooting for 11 points in 21 minutes. He also made three of six three-pointers at home to the Pelicans.

 

LeBron says no!

James was at his brilliant best at both ends of the floor, denying the Hornets with a block late in the fourth quarter.

 

Thursday's results

Washington Wizards 131-122 Utah Jazz
Atlanta Hawks 116-93 Oklahoma City Thunder
New York Knicks 94-93 Orlando Magic
Minnesota Timberwolves 123-119 Phoenix Suns
Portland Trail Blazers 101-93 New Orleans Pelicans
Los Angeles Lakers 116-105 Charlotte Hornets

 

Nets at Magic

The red-hot Brooklyn Nets (28-13) will put their six-game winning streak on the line when they visit the struggling Magic (13-27) on Friday.

When the Brooklyn Nets signed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the 2019 offseason, it was apparent that the team were destined to eventually become a juggernaut.

With two stars and the talent behind them to either keep a deep bench or trade for a third star, the Nets were always in position to become a contender, even with Durant sitting out last season to rehabilitate his ruptured Achilles.

Because of Brooklyn's pedigree, Steve Nash – the former two-time MVP turned first-year head coach – will not be considered for Coach of the Year.

But Brooklyn's road to title contention has been a bumpy one, and Nash has helped guide the Nets to the top of the Eastern Conference – alongside the Philadelphia 76ers – despite challenging circumstances.

The Nets have won six games in a row to climb to 28-13, tied with the 76ers for the best record in the East, but it can be easy to forget the obstacles Brooklyn have faced in the first half of the season. 

One look at the Nets' first game of the season, a 125-99 win over the Golden State Warriors, serves as a reminder of this team's dramatic metamorphosis.

Spencer Dinwiddie started in the backcourt alongside Irving to open the season but played just three games before suffering a ligament tear in his right knee, ending his season.

Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Landry Shamet and Taurean Prince combined to play over 80 minutes in the season opener and only now remains in Brooklyn after the James Harden trade – Shamet.

Since the Nets traded away much of their depth, Nash has tinkered with line-ups and found gems further down the bench to supplement the team's star-power.

Bruce Brown, who was acquired in November for virtually nothing, has morphed into a versatile role-player who is very efficient from the floor.

Brown played a total of 13 minutes in the Nets' first seven games this season but has become a key member of the team's rotation, starting in 23 games and guarding much taller players in Brooklyn's smaller line-ups. Brown is shooting 55.5 per cent from the floor this campaign and averaged 18.0 points during a six-game stretch before the All-Star break. Brooklyn are 11-2 when Brown scores in double figures this season and 7-0 when he scores at least 15.

Tyler Johnson was also an afterthought to start the season, appearing in just seven of Brooklyn's first 24 games. Since then, Johnson has played just under 20 minutes per game while developing into a reliable floor-spacer, shooting 42.4 percent from beyond the three-point arc this term and going five for eight from deep in his only start.

Journeyman Jeff Green is scoring 11.9 points per game since the Harden trade – compared to 6.1 before the deal – and has even started at center when DeAndre Jordan has been forced to miss games.

While Nash has been blessed with three star players on his roster, even the trio of Durant, Irving and Harden has faced hardships.

Irving took an indefinite leave of absence for personal reasons in early January without communicating with the team first. While he only missed seven games, the mystery of Irving's absence left the Nets in a state of uncertainty and left Nash to answer for his star guard amid a barrage of media questions.

Nash showed the savvy of a veteran head coach and the sensitivity required in the new-age NBA by not vilifying Irving. A more authoritarian coach could have used the media to force Irving back, a move that may have jeopardised a relationship with a star player and eroded the trust of the entire team.

Irving returned with back-to-back 30-point games and is averaging career highs with 27.6 points per game, 52.0-percent shooting from the field and 41.5-percent shooting from beyond the arc.

Then there is Durant, who has reminded the world that he may have been the best player in the NBA before rupturing his Achilles in the 2019 NBA Finals, but the former MVP has missed more games than he has played this season.

After two stints in league COVID-19 protocols, Durant has been sidelined for over a month with a hamstring strain and is expected to be out another week or two after having a routine MRI to track progress.

In all, the Nets have had 21 different starting line-ups this season, second only to the Houston Rockets' 26. That number is likely to increase soon, once Blake Griffin is ready to make his Brooklyn debut.

Only sharpshooter Joe Harris has played in every game for the Nets in 2020-21.

While Harden has been reliably excellent since moving to Brooklyn, Irving has missed 12 games and Durant has been absent for 22. The trio have been on the floor for just 186 minutes so far, less than 10 percent of Brooklyn's season.

Those minutes, however, have been transcendent, bucking a recent trend of power trios going through growing pains before hitting their stride.

With Durant, Irving and Harden on the floor at the same time, the Nets are averaging 120.6 points per 100 possessions. And while some pundits envisioned this offensive-minded trio taking turns in isolation plays, 64.8 percent of the Nets' field goals have been assisted when they all play together, more than when one or more of the stars is relegated to the sideline.

It is hard to deny Nash credit for the quick chemistry between Durant, Irving and Harden, and his ability to fill gaps with role players has kept Brooklyn playing well even when the stars are sitting.

The Nets' star-power makes Nash virtually ineligible to win Coach of the Year, an award that typically goes to an over-performing team that are good but not great. While Durant, Irving and Harden will receive accolades for the Nets' season, a lesser coach certainly could have derailed this runaway train given the numerous challenges.

Yes, the Nets have elite talent. But Nash has done plenty to maximise that talent while largely flying under the radar.

Stephen Curry is not expected to miss an extended period of time as a result of the "scary" back injury sustained in the Golden State Warriors' win over the Houston Rockets, Steve Kerr has said.

The Warriors ran out 108-94 victors at Toyota Center on Wednesday despite losing their talisman to a freak injury on the final play of the third quarter.

After missing with an off-balance three-point attempt, Curry could not stem his momentum, collided with the risers at courtside and was unable to break his fall.

Curry, who suffered a tailbone contusion as a result of the incident, initially tried to get back up but went to the locker room for treatment and was ruled out for the rest of the game.

Head coach Kerr said he was unable to give an immediate timeframe for Curry's return, though he is confident it will not be a long absence.

"He says he's going to be fine long term," Kerr said. "It's going to bother him, though, for definitely the next few days. 

"I've no idea if he'll play in Memphis [on Friday], but he seems to be feeling like he'll be okay over the next week or so, but we'll see.

"And please don't take that to mean that I'm saying he's going to be out for a week. He could be practicing [Thursday] for all I know, but we'll give you an update as soon as we have one."

Kerr, who said Curry does not need an X-ray or additional tests, added: "I didn't see it at first, and then after the buzzer sounded, I saw everybody getting up to look at what was happening. 

"So, it was scary. He told me after that he started backpedalling and normally he would have basically fallen back into the fans sitting courtside, but there's nobody there, obviously. 

"So, he said he sort of took that step expecting to stop and he just kept going and fell right on his tailbone, on that piece of metal on the sidelines that holds the stands in place."

The Warriors are 21-20 as a result of the victory, which provided a riposte to the 128-97 blowout they suffered against the Los Angeles Lakers last time out.

Draymond Green says he and the rest of the roster have to step up if they are to be without Curry.

"Hopefully it's not too long but at the end of the day, the most important thing is his health," Green said. 

"When you're dealing with a tailbone injury, if that's not right, other things tend to shut down and you start to use other muscles that you shouldn't be using. 

"Next man up, but other guys got to continue to step up, including myself."

"Is there something wrong with having fun?". That was Giannis Antetokounmpo's response after Dwight Howard and the Philadelphia 76ers took exception to his celebration in the Milwaukee Bucks' overtime win.

Antetokounmpo fuelled the Bucks to a hard-fought 109-05 victory against the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers behind a game-high 32 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in NBA action on Wednesday.

The Bucks had trailed by 19 points in the second half before two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo led the rally, capped by his 10 points in overtime.

After starring in OT, Antetokounmpo celebrated a turnaround jumper by sitting down on the court at Wells Fargo Center and smiling into the camera – drawing boos from the 76ers fans in attendance.

76ers big man Howard, whose team's six-game winning streak was snapped, said post-game: "I wanted to go and Stone Cold Stunner [a popular wrestling move in the WWE] him, but I had already got one tech.

"It's basketball. He wanted to have fun, but we'll see these guys again. Today we allowed them to get back into the game. We did it. We can't control that.

"But he had a hell of a game. Hit some tough shots late at the end of the game, reigning MVP, and he had a great game. I'm not one to talk trash or say anything negative, but we'll see them again and it'll be a different result."

In response to Howard's comments, Antetokounmpo told reporters: "I don't think there's anything wrong with having fun. I just like to have fun. In the first half, I was not having fun.

"I kind of talked to myself at the half and said, 'No matter how bad the game is, you can't forget what you have to do, which is have fun'.

"Obviously, there's a couple times where I exaggerate, but I don't want to take anything back. I wasn't thinking, 'Oh, I'm going to sit down.' I was having fun. I was talking to my team-mates -- I was talking to them. I was just trying to be in the moment. But I was just having fun."

The Bucks were held to their lowest-scoring first half of the season by the 76ers, before fighting back to take down the hosts on the road.

Milwaukee are within one and a half games of the 76ers in the Eastern Conference amid a five-game winning streak.

"When the game starts, you try to get into your rhythm, but you're not stepping the right way. ... It's just hard to get into a rhythm," said Antetokounmpo, who scored 28 points in the second half and overtime. "And the way I try to get into a rhythm is to get everybody involved.

"I try to move the ball a little bit, move my legs, move my body a little bit. But going into the second half, I wanted to be a little more aggressive, but I knew I could not come right out of the gate and be aggressive. I had to slowly build up to it.

"But going down the stretch, I was just trying to be aggressive. ... My teammates need me to keep making the right play, and they need me to stay aggressive, so that's what I tried to do."

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