Mike Budenholzer explained he was just managing the minutes of absent duo Jrue Holiday and Grayson Allen as the short-handed Milwaukee Bucks went down to the in-form Cleveland Cavaliers.

Milwaukee were without regular starters Giannis Antetokounmpo, Donte DiVincenzo, Wesley Matthews and Bobby Portis as they have entered the NBA's Health and Safety protocols, while Khris Middleton is still out with a hyperextended left knee.

Both Holiday and Allen were available for selection but were not included as the defending NBA champions were routed 119-90.

However, head coach Budenholzer said that decision was simply because of the amount of minutes the duo played against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday.

"I mean it's just those guys have played a lot," he said

"Those guys have given us so much including last night, they really, really laid it out – the whole group did. 

"I was just trying to be big picture, Grayson's a little under the weather. I'm really proud of the guys who played, they really competed."

Jordan Nwora impressed for the Bucks, leading the team's scoring with 28 points. Budenholzer says the task now is to improve other areas of his game.

"He's got that unique kind of scorers mentality, he can make or take tough shots, gets just enough separation, he's getting to the basket a little more, attacking a little more," he said.

"He's a very good scorer so it's just kind of trying to work on other parts of the game too. He's making progress there too so it's invaluable opportunities for him."

Defeat for the Bucks (19-13) leaves them fifth in the East, while a sixth straight win sees the Cavaliers up to third with a 19-12 record.

Two seasons ago, the Cavs only won 19 games in total while it took until April 8 to reach that point in 2020-21 – a campaign in which they finished 22-50.

Commenting on the Cavs' position, Darius Garland –  who had 22 points – said: "It's early. We don't get too far ahead of ourselves.

"It's been super fun. It's not just hero ball, everybody is contributing."

Steve Nash was proud of the effort his depleted Brooklyn Nets team put in during the loss to the Orlando Magic on Saturday.

The Eastern Conference leaders had 10 players in COVID-19 protocol, including the returning Kyrie Irving, as well as James Harden and Kevin Durant.

Such was the dire situation, the Nets signed James Ennis III and Shaquille Harrison before the game, while Cam Thomas and Kessler Edwards made their first career NBA starts and David Duke Jr just his third.

Despite the difficult circumstances, Duke hit a three to tie up the game before the Magic were able to win out 100-93.

Head coach Nash had nothing but praise for the way his side performed amid the circumstances, though.

"I thought it was an outstanding effort to get back in the game and tie it late, I'm really proud of the effort," he said.

"We probably made too many mistakes defensively but that effort to come back, find a way to level it and then we got a little unlucky, they made a tough three, we had a backcourt violation, those things happen.

"We probably had too much to make up for those offensive efforts but that's going to happen, we got a bunch of guys who are with us for the first time, got a bunch of guys who are playing extended minutes in multiple games for the first time, and overall I'm really proud of them it was a great effort."

Patty Mills put up 23 points for the Nets, while Blake Griffin had 17 and Cam Thomas 15.

One of the brightest notes of the game came from the performance of Duke, though, who had 18 points and 14 rebounds.

"I thought he was great, I talked to him at halftime because I thought he looked to score a little too much," Nash added.

"We love him because he does so many things well; he defends, he steals, deflections, offensive rebounds, hustle play.

"I said you're going to get your 20 points but you're going to get it out of the game not going out and finding it. He was great, he understood that and his approach in the second half was outstanding.

"He was disruptive offensively, got his hands on a lot of things, was a killer on the glass. He was a bright spot."

With so many players out there was an opportunity for the experienced Griffin, who has found himself out of the Nets' rotation.

"Blake's played great, I think I've said to him there's always something around the corner in this league," Nash said.

"He was out the rotation for a while but we knew something would happen and he'd get his opportunity again. He's a pro and worked his butt off, stayed in shape, found good rhythm, and he's playing good basketball. 

"Unfortunately he took a little knock on the knee tonight and we couldn't get the game but his effort was outstanding."

Coach Steve Kerr was in optimistic mood despite seeing his Golden State Warriors go down 119-100 against the Toronto Raptors on Saturday.

The shorthanded Warriors rested star guard Stephen Curry and were also missing Draymond Green (hip), Andre Iguodala (knee), Otto Porter Jr. (foot) and Andrew Wiggins (knee) in Canada.

Fred VanVleet starred with 27 points as the Raptors dominated a young Warriors side at Scotiabank Arena, but speaking to the media after the game, Kerr was keen to emphasise that it had been a valuable learning experience for his team.

"Plenty to learn," he said. "Lots of tape for our young guys to watch. Some things they did well, a lot that we could have done better, but every game is valuable, every minute played is valuable for young players.

"First half we were on our heels, didn't have a lot of juice and confidence, but Toronto played well and they had a lot to do with that."

One positive for the Warriors was the performance of Jonathan Kuminga, with the 19-year-old scoring 26 points, hitting nine of 15 field goals and four of six three-pointers.

"J.K's a dynamic athlete. He's powerful, explosive, he can get downhill, so you see the potential. It was great to see him knock down some three-point shots. That's going to be a big part of his development.

"He's got to get more than one rebound in 36 minutes, especially with that kind of athletic ability and frame, and he had six turnovers so he showed how talented he is, how young he is, how high his ceiling is and how far he has to go all in one night, but that's the whole point of getting him reps and it was fun to see him out there."

This was the Warriors' fifth away game in a row having beaten the Pacers, the Knicks and the Celtics in between defeats to the 76ers and the Raptors, and Kerr was pleased with his team's work during their time on the road, with their next outing a home clash with the Sacramento Kings (12-18) on Monday.

"[It was a] big success to go 3-2 on a tough trip, with two back-to-backs. Obviously [we were] very shorthanded tonight. Really proud of the guys and now we've got to get some rest and bounce back pretty quickly with a game on Monday night."

The Warriors' sixth defeat of the season leaves them second in the Western Conference with a 24-6 record.

Fred VanVleet starred as the Toronto Raptors won 119-100 over the Golden State Warriors who rested star guard Stephen Curry on Saturday.

VanVleet finished with 27 points, seven rebounds and 12 assists as the Raptors blew the Warriors away in the first half, leading 63-42.

Curry (rest), Draymond Green (right hip), Andre Iguodala (right knee), Otto Porter Jr. (left foot) and Andrew Wiggins (left knee) were all absent for Golden State and returned to California to avoid potential COVID-19 exposure and quarantine in Canada.

The Raptors made their absence count, shooting 45 of 90 from the field, becoming the first side the Warriors have allowed this season to shoot at 50 percent or better.

The Warriors' sixth defeat of the season leaves them second in the Western Conference with a 24-6 record.

 

Wizards end Jazz run

Bradley Beal scored a season-high 37 points and had seven assists and five rebounds as the Washington Wizards ended the Utah Jazz's eight-game winning streak 109-103. Donovan Mitchell scored 32 points for the Jazz, while Rudy Gobert had 19 rebounds with 11 points.

Cedi Osman came off the bench to top score for the Cleveland Cavaliers with 23 points as they won 119-90 over the Milwaukee Bucks, who were missing Giannis Antetokounmpo due to COVID protocols.

Luke Kennard's (27 points, seven rebounds) heroics could not lift the Los Angeles Clippers to victory, going down 104-103 to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were led by rookie Josh Giddey (eight points, 18 rebounds, 10 assists).

 

Weakened Nets lose to struggling Magic

The depleted Brooklyn Nets, missing star trio Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden due to COVID protocols, were beaten 100-93 by the lowly Orlando Magic for their sixth win of the season. The loss was the Nets' ninth.

The Los Angeles Lakers have been dealt a major blow with eight-time All-Star Anthony Davis ruled out for at least four weeks with an MCL sprain.

Davis sustained the injury in Friday's 110-92 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves and underwent scans and evaluation on Saturday.

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel had hoped the forward's injury was only minor but the franchise confirmed on Saturday he has suffered an MCL sprain and will miss four weeks minimum.

Davis had played 27 of the Lakers' 30 games this season, averaging 23.3 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.0 blocked shots per game.

The loss of Davis is a setback for the Lakers who are 14-16 and already without Avery Bradley, Talen Horton-Tucker, Dwight Howard, Malik Monk, Kendrick Nunn and Austin Reaves due to the NBA's health and safety protocols.

Kevin Durant is the latest Brooklyn Nets star to enter the NBA's coronavirus protocols.

Durant was already ruled out of Saturday's game against the Orlando Magic due to an ankle injury.

The Nets revealed the 11-time All-Star would not have been able to play in that match even without that issue, however, after he joined a lengthy list of absentees who have entered the health and safety protocols.

That list is now up to nine, one of which is point guard Kyrie Irving.

Brooklyn earlier stated that Irving will re-join the NBA championship-chasing franchise for road games outside of New York and Toronto.

Irving is yet to play for the Eastern Conference-leading Nets this season due to his refusal to be vaccinated against coronavirus, which has prevented him from practising or playing with the team – New York has a mandate in place that states players must have had a COVID-19 jab.

At the start of the season, the Nets announced they would not accept Irving playing on a part-time basis and thus overlooked him for selection until he is vaccinated.

But due to injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak, which has sidelined superstar and former MVP James Harden, Brooklyn have opted to bring Irving back.

Damian Lillard vented frustration at coverage of his struggles after scoring a season-high 43 points to help the Portland Trail Blazers get back to winning ways.

Lillard torched the Charlotte Hornets as Portland ended a seven-game losing streak by winning 125-116 on Friday night. Lillard was 12 of 19 from the field as he posted the 40th 40-point game of his career.

Yet even after his big performance on Friday night, Lillard is still shooting career-worst numbers this season – just 39.5 per cent from the field and 31.6 per cent from three-point range after 24 games.

He is averaging 22.8 points per game, his lowest since the 2014-15 season, and this was just the fourth time in this campaign that he has registered 30 points or more. Those healthier hauls have all come in his last nine games, pointing to a significant upswing in Lillard's form.

When his demeanour in a post-game news conference was called into question, Lillard said: "I'm happy we won a game. I felt happy throughout the game and in the locker room, but when I come here and I gotta answer questions, and I've done so much in my career, specifically in Portland, I've given everything, I've never made an excuse, I've never disrespected any of y'all.

"I've never not given you guys time. Just when our team is going through it, I'm in a little bit of a struggle, and I see certain people not giving me that same respect. So that's why I'm a little irritated in here, but with our team I'm happy with what we did. I still come in here and give that same time, but I don't appreciate it man. It'll be handled that way going forward."

Lillard, 31, has spent his entire NBA career with Portland and is a six-time All-Star, posting a career-high 30.0 points per game in the 2019-20 season.

He felt understandable relief at the Trail Blazers finding a way to end their slump. They are 12-18 so far for this campaign.

"I tried to come out and play with pace, be in attack mode, and that was just it," Lillard said. "It was the same situation as in the last few games; we just need to get a win and tonight was that night.

"You lose so many in a row, things start to do downhill. This was a big win for us, and we needed to feel good about something and getting a win usually does that.

"Now we need to roll with it. We've got to make it turn into two and three, pick ourselves up and dig ourselves out of the hole we've put ourselves in and tonight was a good start.

"It's easier when you're making shots as a team, but it was good for us to play with that energy and swagger for a long time and get a win against a good team."

Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis will undergo tests on Saturday to determine the extent of the injuries that forced him out of the defeat to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The 28-year-old took ankle and knee blows in the 110-92 setback on Friday, forcing him out of the game and leaving question marks over whether a lay-off could follow.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said: "He did see the team doctor here. He's just going to have to be evaluated tomorrow [Saturday] with the MRI, and we'll know more at the time.

"Hopefully, it's something minor and he can get back soon, but we'll find out more tomorrow."

On the defeat, he added: "We have enough to win the game, and we didn't play well enough.

"I think their whole team was more physical. They definitely played a more physical brand of basketball today, and we've got to be better."

Davis is averaging 23.3 points plus 9.9 rebounds this season.

"You lose a player of AD's calibre, your team gets weakened," Vogel said. 

"We don't feel sorry for ourselves. You hope for the best for AD. You want him in there, and you hate to see any guys suffering any injuries, but we always feel like we have enough to win.

"So, we're not feeling sorry our ourselves or looking for excuses."

Davis managed just nine points in 20 minutes on court, while LeBron James scored a modest 18 points in 35:30 with five-of-13 shooting, adding 10 rebounds.

James is hopeful Davis will be soon back in action.

"I asked him how he's doing, and he said: 'I'll know more tomorrow', so that's all we know," James said.

"My concern is always for his health. You wish for the best."

James reflected on injuries and the COVID-19 crisis depleting the Lakers' ranks, with players coming in and out of isolation, and said the current circumstances felt "like a revolving door of what-ifs".

"Hopefully, we can get past it soon and can really show who we are as a team, what we are capable of and not having guys in and out so much," he added.

Stephen Curry posted 30 points as the Golden State Warriors reclaimed the best record in the NBA with a 111-107 victory at the Boston Celtics.

Curry – the league's all-time three-points leader – nailed five shots from beyond the arc to fuel the Warriors (24-5) on Friday.

The Warriors snapped a five-game losing streak against the Celtics as Andrew Wiggins added 27 points.

It was a milestone victory for head coach Steve Kerr, who became the third coach in franchise history to reach 400 career wins.

"We're coming off the emotional roller coaster ... a lot going on around the league," Curry said after Jordan Poole entered the NBA's COVID-19 protocols. "You try not to get distracted by all the things that are outside the locker room."

 

Lillard's 43 inspires Blazers

Damian Lillard torched the Charlotte Hornets with a season-high 43 points to help the Portland Trail Blazers end a seven-game losing streak by winning 125-116. Lillard was 12 of 19 from the field as he posted the 40th 40-point game of his career.

The San Antonio Spurs upstaged the Utah Jazz 128-126 behind Dejounte Murray's second triple-double in three games – 16 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. San Antonio did not commit a turnover in the third quarter and registered a season-high 41 points in that period to snap Utah's eight-game winning run.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic fell just short of a triple-double after scoring 20 points, collecting 10 rebounds and tallying seven assists in the Denver Nuggets' 133-115 win against the Atlanta Hawks. Trae Young's 34 points and 10 rebounds were not enough for the Hawks.

 

LeBron's Lakers beaten

LeBron James was five-of-13 shooting for 18 points and 10 rebounds in the Los Angeles Lakers' 110-92 defeat at the Minnesota Timberwolves. Isaiah Thomas had 19 points in his second Lakers debut as Karl-Anthony Towns inspired the Timberwolves with 28 points and 10 rebounds.

Not even a career-high 40 points from Jrue Holiday could lift defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks, who went down 116-112 to the New Orleans Pelicans after overtime in the absence of stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.

Kyrie Irving will re-join the Brooklyn Nets after the NBA championship-chasing franchise announced the part-time return of the All-Star for road games outside of New York and Toronto.

Irving is yet to play for the Eastern Conference-leading Nets this season due to his refusal to be vaccinated against coronavirus, which has prevented him from practising or playing with the team – New York has a mandate in place that states players must have had a COVID-19 jab.

At the start of the season, the Nets announced they would not accept Irving playing on a part-time basis and thus overlook him for selection until he is vaccinated.

But due to injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak, which has sidelined superstar and former MVP James Harden, Brooklyn have opted to bring back Irving.

"After discussions with our coaches, players and staff, the organisation has decided to have Kyrie Irving re-join the team for games and practices in which he is eligible to participate," Nets general manager Sean Marks said in a statement on Friday, with Brooklyn's next road contest against the Portland Trail Blazers on December 23.

"We arrived at this decision with the full support of our players and after careful consideration of our current circumstances, including players missing games due to injuries and health and safety protocols.

"We believe that the addition of Kyrie will not only make us a better team but allow us to more optimally balance the physical demand on the entire roster.

"We look forward to Kyrie's return to the line-up, as well as getting our entire roster back together on the court."

In 2020-21, Irving averaged 26.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game as the Nets lost in the Eastern Conference semi-finals to eventual champions the Milwaukee Bucks.

Irving enjoyed a career-high 50.6 field-goal percentage and joint-career best 92.2 free-throw percentage last season.

With Harden missing the last three games while in health and safety protocols, Kevin Durant is averaging 39.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 9.3 assists. The Nets are 3-0 in those games.

Kevin Durant felt as if the Philadelphia 76ers underestimated the Brooklyn Nets due to their COVID-19 outbreak ahead of Thursday's 114-105 victory.

The Nets had just nine players available for selection ahead of the visit of Eastern Conference rivals the 76ers.

Nets coach Steve Nash commented beforehand about being concerned with how much game time Durant was having to play, describing it as "not safe or unsustainable" – though the depleted nature of their squad did not give him much of an option but to play him.

Before Thursday's win, Durant ranked second in minutes per game (36.9) in the NBA this season, and he racked up another 39 against the 76ers.

But it was probably just as well considering he tallied a double-double of 34 points and 11 rebounds – no one on the court bettered him in either respect.

The win improved the Nets to 21-8 and Durant reckoned they caught the 76ers in slack form.

"We played with a great brand of basketball right from the start," he said. "I think they came in too relaxed, they've seen we've only got nine players.

"We came out, hit them early and stuck with it. In the fourth quarter we just had good energy. We fed off that in the first three quarters and then in the fourth we were able to cruise."

On his own personal performance after another gruelling outing, the 33-year-old added: "I just try to do what's required, man.

"I mean, I want to be out there. I want to play. I want to win. So, it starts there. Whatever I've got to do to accomplish those three things, I'm going to do."

"It's basketball at end of the day, it's simple, I've been doing all my life. No matter who's on the floor, opponents or team-mates, I've just got to go out and be me. I'm just grateful I'm available to play."

76ers coach Doc Rivers was not drawn on the idea his team were complacent – instead, he commented on the standard of officiating, convinced Joel Embiid was not being protected enough.

"I thought Joel got fouled the last three post possessions, and-ones, and none was called," said Rivers.

"I don't know how a team can play the fourth quarter of a game where we're driving the ball and posting the ball and they have zero fouls. It's hard to play a quarter in the NBA and commit no fouls. Very surprised by that."

Embiid added: "I mean, they're the home team. I thought we got fouled a few times, especially down there. But, I mean, it's frustrating when they're calling fouls for the other teams down there and you don't get any. I can see what he [Rivers] was talking about."

Kevin Durant was the hero again for the Brooklyn Nets after lifting the shorthanded Eastern Conference leaders past the Philadelphia 76ers 114-105.

The Nets have been ravaged by COVID-19, with superstar James Harden among the absentees after entering the NBA's health and safety protocols.

But Durant carried the Nets on Thursday, scoring 34 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists to help see off the rallying 76ers in Brooklyn.

With the game tied less than two minutes from the end, Durant came up big via a four-point play, having been fouled on a three-point attempt.

Durant was coming off an NBA season-high 51 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, and 34 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in his previous two games.

Joel Embiid put up 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists but the slumping 76ers still fell to their third consecutive defeat.

 

Suns do their thing

The Phoenix Suns capped a balanced performance with a 118-98 victory at home to the Washington Wizards. All five starters, and eight players in total, had double-digit points. Thanks to the win, the Suns moved level with the Golden State Warriors for the NBA lead at 23-5.

The New York Knicks snapped a four-game losing streak via a 116-103 triumph over the Houston Rockets, behind Immanuel Quickley (24 points), Evan Fournier (23 points) and Julius Randle (21 points).

 

Sorry Pistons lose… again

The less said about the Detroit Pistons right now, the better. Detroit were condemned to a 13th successive loss, the Pistons beaten 122-113 by the Indiana Pacers. Detroit (4-23) own the NBA's worst record.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash admitted he is concerned with Kevin Durant's workload, describing it as "not safe or sustainable".

Before Thursday's 114-105 win over Eastern Conference rivals the Philadelphia 76ers, Durant ranked second in minutes per game (36.9) this NBA season.

The shorthanded Nets, who have been hit by a COVID-19 outbreak, have relied heavily on their superstar in 2021-22 – Durant played a season-high 48 minutes in Tuesday's overtime victory against the Toronto Raptors.

Not since 2013-14, during his time with the Oklahoma City Thunder (38.5), has former MVP Durant averaged more minutes per game in his illustrious career.

"It's a really important topic," Nash before the Eastern Conference-leading Nets outlasted the rallying 76ers in Brooklyn, with Durant playing a team-high 39 minutes.

"I don't know we can continue to lean on him the way we have. It doesn't feel right.

"I know he's enjoying it. I know he's enjoying playing at the rate he's playing at and trying to bring his team-mates along with him and all the responsibility that he's accepted and crushed, basically.

"It's just been incredible. But, at the same time, it's not safe or sustainable to lean on him like that. There's gonna be a lot of consideration and we'll have to figure out ways to give him breaks."

Durant was ice-cold against the 76ers, posting 34 points – including a pair of three-pointers, 11 rebounds and eight assists to lift the Nets.

The Nets are top of the Eastern Conference with a 21-8 record, two and a half games clear of defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks.

Los Angeles Lakers duo Russell Westbrook and Avery Bradley have entered the NBA's health and safety protocols.

The Lakers cancelled practice on Tuesday after guard Talen Horton-Tucker was put into the league's coronavirus protocols.

It was revealed two days later that Westbrook and Bradley have joined Horton-Tucker, Dwight Howard and Malik Monk in entering the protocols.

With Westbrook and Bradley unable to travel for Friday's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center, it has been reported the Lakers are set to sign Isaiah Thomas.

Two-time All-Star Thomas is to sign a 10-day contract to join a depleted Los Angeles roster under the hardship exemption, according to NBA insider Marc Stein and The Athletic's Shams Charania.

The 32-year-old point guard joined the New Orleans Pelicans on a 10-day contract last season, averaging 7.7 points in his three games.

Zion Williamson is no nearer to a return to NBA action after the New Orleans Pelicans confirmed he would require at least four to six weeks before his foot injury was assessed again.

Williamson has been dogged by fitness issues throughout his NBA career and is yet to feature in 2021-22 due to a foot fracture.

The former first overall pick returned to full team activities in late November, only to suffer further setbacks.

Williamson's training programme was reduced last week and now, in an update on Thursday, the Pelicans have detailed the anticipated minimum length of his lay-off.

"Following a consultation and further evaluation with Dr. Richard Ferkel of the Southern California Orthopedic Institute yesterday, Zion Williamson received a biologic injection into the fracture site to stimulate bone healing in his right foot," the team said.

"Williamson will be limited to low impact, partial weight-bearing activities for an extended period.

"Further updates will be given following further imaging which is anticipated to occur in 4-6 weeks."

The Pelicans, who are a miserable 9-21, could therefore play as many as 18 more games before Williamson is even considered again.

Although New Orleans are 40-45 with Williamson over the past three seasons – compared to 30-59 without him – they are 3.5 games back on the play-in round in the West and look a long shot to recover any sort of playoff push from this campaign.

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