Kevin Durant will be absent for the first time this season when the Brooklyn Nets welcome the Orlando Magic on Friday.

The superstar forward leads the NBA with 457 points this year, albeit now just behind Stephen Curry (29.5 points per game) in the early stages of the race for the scoring title (28.6 points per game).

Durant's MVP-calibre form has helped the Nets make an 11-5 start. Only in 2020-21 has the two-time champion previously scored more points through his first 16 games of a season (495).

But Durant will be out of the lineup for Brooklyn's next game after appearing on Friday's injury report due to a shoulder sprain.

The Magic game will bring to an end a run of 36 consecutive starts for Durant across the regular season and playoffs, having put behind him the Achilles injury he had upon arriving as a free agent in 2019.

Since his signing, the Nets are 41-22 with Durant playing some part and 60-53 when he is absent.

Stephen Curry is the "greatest three-point shooter of all time" according to his Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr following his latest domination in a 104-89 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Curry scored 40 points, including 20 in the fourth quarter, as the Warriors went on a 17-0 run to reverse a 13-point deficit and claim the road win on Thursday. 

The point guard made four three-pointers in the final quarter to finish the game with nine triples, which is the 10th time he has netted nine or more from the beyond the arc since April.

Curry has achieved that feat in a bit over six months, while James Harden is next best in the history of the league, with nine games with nine or more three-pointers across his career.

The two-time NBA MVP also brought up his 53rd career game where he has dropped 40 points or more, which he has done 15 times since turning 32 years old. Only Kobe Bryant (18) and Michael Jordan (38) have had more 40-point games at age 32 or older than Curry, who went past Alex English (14).

"He's one of the greatest players in the history of the game," Kerr said at the post-game news conference. "He's the greatest three-point shooter of all time.

"The way he moves off the ball, he's so strong and fluid. He understands the game on and off the ball. He's fearless.

"You throw all of that together, he's always capable of catching fire like that. As amazing as it was, it didn’t shock me because this is what he does."

Curry had gone into the game under an injury cloud with a left hip contusion but overcame that to play 35 minutes.

The 33-year-old admitted he was not sure if he would be able to play in Friday's game against the Detroit Pistons who are 4-10.

"I'll get an assessment," Curry said at the post-game news conference. "That [fourth quarter] charge really messed with me a little bit.

"I'm just trying to deal with that. We'll see how that feels when I wake up."

Stephen Curry led the Golden State Warriors' fourth-quarter charge and registered his fourth 40-point game of the season in a 104-89 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.

Curry had been listed as "questionable" for the game due to a hip complaint but overcame that to post 40 points including nine three-pointers for the Warriors who improve to 13-2.

Golden State had trailed by 13 points early in the final quarter, before going on a 17-0 initiated by three consecutive Curry triples.

Curry had 13 points during the 17-0 run and 20 for the final quarter, as the Warriors flicked the switch with a 36-8 last period.

Draymond Green played a strong deputy hand with 14 assists for the Warriors, while Darius Garland had 25 points for the Cavs.

Curry also broke his own record for the most triples made by a player in the first 15 games of season, overtaking his 2018-19 haul of 80 and moving his 2021-22 tally to 85.

 

Sixers snap five-game skid

Guards Seth Curry (20 points, six rebounds and five assists) and Tyrese Maxey (22 points, five rebounds and four assists) helped the Philadelphia 76ers end their five-game skid with a 103-89 win over the Denver Nuggets. Nikola Jokic had 22 points in the first half but finished with 30 for the game, along with 10 rebounds and seven assists.

Jimmy Butler had 32 points, five assists and four steals while Kyle Lowry dished off 12 assists as the Miami Heat downed the Washington Wizards 112-97, despite Bradley Beal's 30 points.

Ja Morant starred with 28 points, five rebounds and five assists for the Memphis Grizzlies in a 120-108 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, with Paul George managing 23 points, including five from beyond the arc.

 

Murray loses his radar

Dejounte Murray only managed seven points, shooting at 17 percent from the field, missing all four three-point attempts in the San Antonio Spurs' 115-90 defeat to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Music echoes through State Farm Arena and the crowd cheers as Trae Young dribbles the ball up the court for the Atlanta Hawks.

Like so many possessions in the NBA, the action begins with a team-mate – in this case, John Collins or Clint Capela – screening the on-ball defender, the man guarding Young.

Young is a good three-point shooter, so his defender must go over the screen. Young has seen this kind of defence countless times before and immediately dashes towards the hoop on the opposite side of the screener of his defender.

This leaves Young’s man mostly behind him, sprinting to get back into a better guarding position. Feeling his advantage, Young stops suddenly – or even pounces backward a bit – creating contact with his defender and launching a shot while flailing his limbs to exaggerate the contact.

Only, this season, NBA officials aren’t blowing the whistle.

The league placed an emphasis this offseason on reducing “overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves” that are employed specifically used to draw fouls, commonly known as foul-baiting.

While drawing fouls has always been a skill in basketball, the NBA felt that certain players were warping their movements in unnatural ways to get to the free-throw line and making the game less enjoyable to watch for most fans.

The changes have been dramatic league-wide, with teams averaging 19.6 free throw attempts per game, on pace to be the lowest in league history. Each team is committing just 18.8 fouls per game, on pace to be an all-time low.

And while free throw attempts have been down in the last decade due to the three-point shooting boom, an NBA game this season averages 4.4 fewer free throw attempts than one last season.

Young, fairly or not, has become the poster child for foul-baiting and has struggled to adjust early in the 2021-22 season. In an October 30 press conference, Young said he thinks the rule changes have gone too far.

“I don’t want to get fined too much, but this is frustrating,” Young said after a loss.

“When guys are driving straight and getting knocked off balance, it’s still a foul. There are a lot of things that they took out that were necessary – veering back and jumping into guys – that’s different. There’s certain things I agree with in the rule changes and there are things that are still fouls.

“Guys are going to get hurt, especially a little guy like me who is going up against bigger and stronger defenders.”

This season, Young is getting to the line 3.1 fewer times per game, on average, compared to last season. The fourth-year guard has kept his scoring average steady, though, by shooting career highs from the field and from three-point range.

Other stars have fared not quite as well.

Among qualified players, Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazer has seen his opportunities at the line drop the most in the NBA, a reduction of 3.8 attempts per game. Lillard has struggled in general this season, with his scoring average down more than eight points and with career-low shooting efficiency.

The Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal has lost 3.7 free throw attempts from last season, the second most in the league, and has also seen his scoring drop eight points per game.

Only five of the league’s 30 teams have increased the number of free throw attempts per game over last season, led by the Chicago Bulls, who appear to be thriving under current rules with a new roster.

The Bulls are shooting an average of 2.5 more free throws per game than last season, thanks largely to the red-hot start of DeMar DeRozan, whose 7.9 free throw attempts per game are his highest since 2016-17 (8.7).

The Bulls as a whole rank eighth in the league in scoring defence this season, allowing 103.3 points per game after giving up 111.6 per game last season.

Largest improvement in points per game allowed Rank Team 2020-21 2021-22 Diff 1 Washington Wizards 118.5 103.0 -15.5 2 Denver Nuggets 110.1 98.9 -11.2 3 Golden State Warriors 112.7 101.6 -11.1 4 Cleveland Cavaliers 112.3 101.6 -10.7 5 Minnesota Timberwolves 117.7 107.4 -10.3 6 Brooklyn Nets 114.1 104.1 -10.0 7 Oklahoma City Thunder 115.6 105.9 -9.7 8 Indiana Pacers 115.3 106.8 -8.5 9 Chicago Bulls 111.6 103.3 -8.3 10 Sacramento Kings 117.4 110.5 -6.9

Teams are scoring 5.3 fewer points per game compared to 2020-21, and some of the league’s more defensive-minded players are finally feeling like they have a fair chance.

When asked about the officiating changes, Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green couldn’t help but express his elation.

"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," said the six-time All-Defensive Team honoree and 2016-17 Defensive Player of the Year.

"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."

Former center and current ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins, who built a 14-season NBA career as a defensive enforcer, has been among the media personalities who are most supportive of a more physical league.

“I love the rule change. I think it’s great for basketball. Now the older generation doesn’t have a reason to call us soft – the league is getting back to that point,” Perkins said on ESPN’s NBA Today.

“I’m a huge fan of Trae Young, but some of the calls are just not fouls, and he’s just going to have to fight through.”

Some players may already be adjusting to a different style of basketball, including infamous flailer James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets. Through his first 12 games of the season, Harden was averaging just 18.2 points and attempting 4.7 free throws per game.

Over his last four games, however, Harden is scoring a more typical 26.5 points per game and getting to the line an average of 10.8 times.

As the league starts to adjust, some in NBA circles are sceptical that scoring numbers will remain suppressed.

Memphis Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins has commented that the league’s dip in scoring could be attributed to players “trying to find rhythm and chemistry” and added that over the course of 82 games, the scoring totals “will definitely change league-wide.”

While players may adjust, the NBA appears adamant about keeping the emphasis in place as-is. In fact, teams are averaging even fewer free throw attempts in November than they did in October.

One unintended consequence of the change could be less willingness to drive into traffic, leading to more three-point attempts. While teams are launching an all-time high 35.7 attempts from deep per game, that trend has long been established, with the league breaking the record for three-point attempts per game in 10 straight seasons.

Whether it’s with deep shooting or another tactic, offences are sure to counter with new ways to find good shots.

"The league is an efficient market and is going to make adjustments," said Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. "As offences boom, you figure out new ways to defend. It's a constant ping-pong game between both ends of the floor."

LeBron James hopes to return for the Los Angeles Lakers' clash with the Boston Celtics on Friday but is still rated as "day to day" by head coach Frank Vogel.

The Lakers were toppled 109-102 by defending NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday to fall to 8-8 for the season.

It also means they are 4-6 for games this season in which they have been without superstar James, who has missed eight in a row and 10 of 16 overall with an abdominal strain.

When leaving the Fiserv Forum after the loss to the Bucks, James was asked by ESPN if he would be back against the Celtics, to which he replied: "I hope, I hope."

Having James back would be a timely boost to a star-studded Lakers side that has yet to gel this season. In 54 regular-season games played in Boston, James averages 28.9 points. Only in Cleveland, where he has averaged 29.1 points in 17 games as an opposing player, does he have a better average.

James was put through his paces by Lakers assistant Phil Handy prior to Wednesday's game and was seen stretching out his abdomen on several occasions.

With James in the team, the Lakers are 4-2 even though his 24.8 points per game is his lowest return since averaging 20.9 as a rookie, while his 5.5 rebounds are the least since that same season and 7.0 assists his worst return since 2015-16.

 

When asked about James' potential return, Vogel said: "I was hoping he was going to play each of the last seven games or whatever it's been since he's been out. 

"I always hope he's going to play. I'm always optimistic. He's still day to day. No decisions are made."

Vogel said any conditions that need to be met for James to come back will be left to the Lakers' medical team.

"I'll leave that to the medical team," he added. "I know he did some work today. I haven't gotten the reports on how that went yet. 

"But I'll leave that between him and the medical team to make the decision of when he's ready to go."

James' team-mate Anthony Davis believes injuries have been a disrupting factor for the Lakers through the first part of the season.

"We put a team together and we haven't seen it yet," he said. 

"Once we get everybody back, we can kind of see, to be honest. Until then, just got to fight with what we got."

Giannis Antetokounmpo insisted he is at his best when he is aggressive after the Milwaukee Bucks superstar posted 47 points in Wednesday's win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Antetokounmpo was unstoppable in Milwaukee midweek, erupting for a season high as NBA champions the Bucks took down the LeBron James-less Lakers 109-102.

The reigning NBA Finals MVP became the fifth player in the last 20 seasons to score 45-plus points on 75 per cent shooting from the field and 75 per cent shooting from three-point range.

Antetokounmpo is the first player to post at least 45 points on 75-plus per cent field-goal percentage against the Lakers since Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal in 1995.

"I feel like the past games I wasn't as aggressive as I want to be, wasn't initiating the contact, wasn't getting into the pain as much," Antetokounmpo told reporters post-game.

"At the end of the day, you try to develop your weaknesses and forget your strengths. Had two days in between, talk to the coaches, watch a lot of tape. I want to be aggressive, initiate the contact and get into the pain. Play with an edge.

"At the end of the day, I just let my instincts take over…"

 

Antetokounmpo added: "There's been so much I've been asked to do – lead, be vocal, pass the ball, rebound the ball, score the ball. I just try to compete. Moving forward, I just want to be aggressive. I'm my best when I'm aggressive."

All-Star team-mate Khris Middleton returned after an eight-game absence due to COVID-19 and tied Milwaukee's franchise record for career three-pointers.

Middleton – who finished with 16 points, six assists and five rebounds – matched Ray Allen for first place with his 1,051st career three.

"Feels good to have him back. We've missed him. Just having him out there, he draws a lot of attention. People have to guard him," said Antetokounmpo of Middleton.

"As much as I was complaining in the past, just an inside joke with him about seeing him too much, we have to get some space... I kind of missed him. Having him out there helped the team. He made great plays down the stretch."

It has been a topsy-turvy start to the season for the Bucks (7-8) in their title defence due to injuries and COVID-related absences – Milwaukee are 11th in the Eastern Conference.

"We have to start winning games. It's not the most important thing," Antetokounmpo continued. "The most important thing to get better and build good habits. Play good basketball down the stretch in May and June but at the end of the day, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth when you keep losing.

"We have to start putting teams away. When we're up 15, we can't step back, we have to attack and keep playing with that edge. Don't be satisfied. With Khris back, it's a good opportunity to get back on track. We're in a good place right now."

Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo erupted for a season-high 47 points as the NBA champions took down the Los Angeles Lakers 109-102.

Antetokounmpo dominated the Lakers, making 18 of his 23 field goals, while collecting nine rebounds and three assists for the Bucks (7-8) on Wednesday.

The reigning NBA Finals MVP became the fifth player in the last 20 seasons to score 45-plus points on 75 per cent shooting from the field and 75 per cent shooting from three-point range.

Antetokounmpo is the first player to post at least 45 points on 75-plus per cent field-goal percentage against the Lakers since Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal in 1995.

 

All-Star Bucks team-mate Khris Middleton made his return after eight games out due to COVID-19 and tied Milwaukee's franchise record for career three-pointers.

Middleton – who finished with 16 points, six assists and five rebounds – matched Ray Allen for first place with his 1,051st career three.

The Lakers (8-8), again without superstar LeBron James, were led by double-doubles from Talen Horton-Tucker (25 points and 12 rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (19 points and 15 assists).

 

Suns stay hot

The Phoenix Suns celebrated their 10th straight victory after outlasting the Dallas Mavericks 105-98. Devin Booker (24 points) and Deandre Ayton (19 points and 13 rebounds) fuelled the Suns, who are in the midst of their longest winning streak since 2010. Chris Paul had 14 assists without a turnover – his 46th career game with 10-plus assists and 0 turnovers, tying Muggsy Bogues for most by any player since 1985.

Damian Lillard's 22 points and 10 assists helped the Portland Trail Blazers upstage the Chicago Bulls 112-107. Zach LaVine (30 points), DeMar DeRozan (22 points) and Alex Caruso (12 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists) starred but the Bulls still lost on the road.

The Miami Heat defeated the New Orleans Pelicans behind Jimmy Butler's triple-double of 31 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds.

Kevin Durant nailed two three-pointers to move 26th on the all-time NBA list for threes made with 1,687, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer and Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash. The Nets beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 109-99.

 

Knicks continue to struggle for form

After returning to the playoffs last season, the New York Knicks have made a rocky start to the 2021-22 campaign amid plenty of hype. They were sensationally upstaged by the lowly Orlando Magic 104-98 – their fourth defeat in six games.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash labelled Kevin Durant as "one of the best who has ever played the game" after the superstar's latest achievement.

Durant posted 23 points in the NBA championship-chasing Nets' 109-99 win at home to Eastern Conference rivals the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.

Two-time champion Durant nailed two three-pointers to move 26th on the all-time NBA list with 1,687 threes, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer Nash.

"He's one of the best who has ever played the game so it's no surprise. It was coming I'm sure," Nash said after the Nets bounced back from Tuesday's blow-out loss to the league-leading Golden State Warriors.

James Harden fuelled the Nets with 27 points, while Patty Mills added 21 points to give Brooklyn four 20-point scorers for the first time this season.

The Nets have won eight of their past 10 games to be 11-5 to open the 2021-22 campaign.

"A lot of ups and downs. In the second half, we just had a meltdown and they capitalised. They made shots," Harden said post-game.

"We are fortunate they missed a lot of open shots. In the second half, they made a lot of them, so the good thing is we came away with the win and we just got to keep improving. No excuses.

"It wasn't a good showing for four quarters, but we came away with the win and we just got to keep pushing forward."

Mills added: "Nothing's gonna be handed to us on a silver platter. It's a grind, it's a marathon.

"And nights like tonight, you just got to dig deep and find a way to be infectious in a good way and be able to spread those good vibes on the court, on the bench, no matter what it is."

 

 

Doc Rivers is optimistic his injury-hit Philadelphia 76ers will improve despite seeing them lose a fifth game in a row as they fell 120-85 to the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.

Last season's Eastern Conference top seeds were missing MVP runner-up Joel Embiid, fellow All-Star Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle as they slipped to 8-7 after being overwhelmed by the Jazz.

Having won eight of their first 10 games this season, Philadelphia have now lost five straight - the first time they have done so since December 2017 - but Rivers is confident his team will get back to winning ways soon.

"We're in a little rut with guys out but you work through it. We'll get through it," Rivers told reporters after the defeat.

"There's no cavalry coming right now. We've got to play with what we have, we understand that. We've just got to do better.

"We don't have a margin of error in games. We almost have to play perfect to have a chance to win a game, and for a while we were doing that. Right now, we're not."

When asked about the absence of Embiid, Rivers added: “I don't talk about guys that aren't here. It's obvious you miss Joel Embiid and Matisse, but I'm not going to waste time talking about that.

"I've got to get our guys that are here to just keep hoping and keep getting better and see where we can get a win."

The Sixers head coach did have one positive to reflect on from the night, with rookie Charles Bassey posting five points, four rebounds and one block in 10 minutes off the bench.

"I thought he was fantastic," Rivers said. "He knows the coverages and stuff already. That's really impressive for a young guy. He actually got on a guy late in the game because the guy didn't do the right coverage. Just watching him, he knows how to play. He's raw, but I like how he plays."

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash says his side are not in the category of this season's NBA elite after a blowout 117-99 loss to the 12-2 Golden State Warriors on Tuesday.

The star-studded Nets, who were billed as title favourites this season, were humbled on their home court, with their record moving to 10-5.

The Nets added James Harden in January alongside Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant last season, but crashed out in the conference semi-finals to eventual champions the Milwaukee Bucks.

Brooklyn are 0-4 against this season's early contenders, the Warriors, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and Bucks.

"Well, I just don't think we're in that [elite] category yet," Nash said at the post-game news conference. "We've got a lot of work to do.

"We're trying to improve as a group, get better and hopefully we can find a way to overcome some of our deficiencies by the end of the year.

"The guys have been great buying into the things we want to do defensively. I think offensively we have all these different line-ups, different backgrounds, styles of play, 10 new players in our team, it takes time.

"We started the year with a continuity plan from last year that got thrown out when Ky [Kyrie Irving] didn't come back. Tonight was a great lesson for us that we've got to double down on some of our principles when the going gets tough."

Durant had his lowest points return for the season with 19, as the Warriors piled on a 35-18 third quarter, before benching star guard Stephen Curry, who was in foul trouble, for the majority of the final period.

Harden has had a slow start to the season by his standards after rehabbing a hamstring injury over the offseason, averaging 19.8 points per game.

The 32-year-old scored 24 points in Tuesday's defeat but remained bullish about the Nets, reiterating it is still early in the season.

"The goal is to be the best team at the end of the season, in the postseason," Harden said at the post-game news conference.

"That's the goal. But probably not [there yet]. We're probably nowhere near. But it's a long season for us to get better, and we will continue to get better."

Stephen Curry and the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors sent a message after crushing the championship-chasing Brooklyn Nets 117-99 on Tuesday.

Boasting Kevin Durant and James Harden, the Nets are dreaming big in their pursuit of a maiden title, but the star-studded franchise were reminded how far they must go after Curry torched Brooklyn with 37 points on the road.

Curry tallied his fifth career game with 35-plus points in less than 30 minutes – the most by any player since the three-point era (1980).

The two-time MVP reached 2,900 career three-pointers after making nine shots from beyond the arc at Barclays Center.

 

It marked Curry's 37th career game with nine three-pointers or more – no other player is in the 10-36 range as the high-flying Warriors improved to 12-2.

In his reunion with former team the Warriors, where he won two titles, Durant put up a season-low 19 points.

It was the first time this season Durant did not score at least 20 points in a game, shooting six-of-19 from the field as Harden led the Nets (10-5) with 24 points.

 

George dazzles in LA

Paul George maintained his red-hot form in the absence of injured star team-mate Kawhi Leonard, scoring 34 points and collecting nine rebounds to go with four assists and two steals as the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the San Antonio Spurs 106-92. San Antonio's Dejounte Murray (26 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists) narrowly missed out on a triple-double.

 

Philadelphia's slide continues

The Philadelphia 76ers were left to pick up the pieces following a fifth consecutive defeat, a 120-85 rout at the Utah Jazz (9-5). Missing MVP runner-up Joel Embiid and fellow All-Star Ben Simmons, the 76ers were simply no match for the Jazz in Utah as last season's Eastern Conference top seeds slipped to 8-7. Philadelphia have lost five straight games for the first time since December 2017.

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said there has never been any basketball player like Stephen Curry after his stellar performance in the rout of the Brooklyn Nets.

Curry reached 2,900 career three-pointers after making nine shots from beyond the arc in a 37-point display in Tuesday's 117-99 demolition of the championship-chasing Nets.

The haul marked Curry's 37th career game with nine three-pointers or more, but also helped the NBA-leading Warriors improve to 12-2 against the star-studded Nets, considered among the title favourites.

Two-time MVP Curry, who also had seven rebounds and five assists, tallied his fifth career game with 35-plus points in less than 30 minutes – the most by any player since the three-point era (1980).

When asked what makes Golden State's offence so great, Kerr responded: "Steph Curry… I'm not kidding. There's never been anyone like him. He's an offense by himself.

"He's going to pull defenders with him 35 feet from the hoop and it's a matter of putting smart people around him, like Draymond [Green] and Andre [Iguodala].

"The fact that Steph can be dominant on and off the ball is what makes him unique. There's nobody in the league now or, as far as I'm concerned, ever who had that combination of on-ball skill and pick-and-roll dominance, with the off-ball game of Reggie Miller or Rip Hamilton. That combination has never been seen."

The Warriors' exceptional start to the new season has fuelled hype about their own championship credentials, having won NBA titles in 2015, 2017 and 2018 before missing the playoffs in the past two campaigns.

Curry played down their title hopes but said Golden Stave have "championship DNA" and revealed he is motivated by their past two seasons of disappointment.

"It's always motivation coming off the last two years that we've had," Curry told ESPN after the game. "My injury two years ago, Klay [Thompson] being out for two years, us scrapping and clawing trying to get a playoffs spot last year.

"Coming in healthy this year, we wanted to set our own narrative and our own agenda. That's just playing Warrior basketball. We have so many talented guys, we can go through 11-12 with Klay and Wise [James Wiseman] who haven’t even been available yet.

"It's going to be a great year for us to keep building, have that chip on our shoulder. We have championship DNA but it's been two years since we've been able to prove it. We've got to take every opportunity to get there."

Thompson has resumed five-on-five practice in further good news for the Warriors, as he seeks to return after Achilles and ACL injuries, which meant he has not played in the NBA since June 2019.

Khris Middleton is poised to return when NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks face the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday after missing eight games following a positive COVID-19 test.

Middleton has not played for the Bucks since the October 31 defeat to the San Antonio Spurs due to coronavirus.

The Bucks have a 3-5 record in Middleton's absence, but the two-time All-Star has returned to practice and expects to play midweek.

"I've been working out the last couple of days here while guys were on the road," Middleton – a champion with Milwaukee last season – told reporters after Tuesday's practice.

"In practice, I felt good. But everybody knows game shape is a totally different ballgame. I can't wait to see how I feel tomorrow."

Milwaukee have opened their championship defence 6-8 and will hope Middleton's return can help lift them ahead of five straight home games.

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said: "I think it's underrated what he does for us defensively, underrated what he does for us on the boards, his communication, his leadership.

"Everybody's going to talk about the scoring and the shooting and all those things. I don't want to undervalue or underestimate those, but I think he really is a complete player and he's a great leader."

Middleton averaged 20.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists across the Bucks' title-winning 2020-21 season.

He has started the new season averaging 20.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo hinted that his next challenge may not be with NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks.

Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to their first NBA title in 50 years last season, earning the Finals MVP award after a dominant series averaging 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists against the Phoenix Suns.

The two-time NBA MVP had reiterated his commitment to the Bucks in December when he signed a super-max five-year, $228million contract extension, the largest in league history.

However, the 26-year-old suggested his future may be away from Milwaukee.

"One challenge was to bring a championship here and we did," Antetokounmpo told GQ. "It was very hard, but we did. Very, very hard. I just love challenges. What's the next challenge? The next challenge might not be here.

"Me and my family chose to stay in this city that we all love and has taken care of us – for now. In two years, that might change.

"I'm being totally honest with you. I'm always honest. I love this city. I love this community. I want to help as much as possible."

Antetokounmpo's agent Alex Saratsis tried to water down the comments, clarifying that they were about his ambition not switching teams.

"I don't think it's, 'I'm thinking about leaving the Bucks'," Saratsis said. "But I think he's genuinely like: 'Okay, I have reached the pinnacle. The next challenge is, let's repeat'.

"But what happens if you do repeat? What's the next challenge? What is that next barrier? When you think about it from a basketball perspective, by the age of 26, this kid has accomplished everything. So sometimes you're going to have to manufacture what those challenges are."

Antetokounmpo is averaging 26.5 points, 11.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game across 13 games this season, with the Bucks sitting 6-8.

Athens-born Greek star Antetokounmpo joined the Bucks as the 15th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.

Zion Williamson moved a step closer to returning to NBA action on Tuesday as he was cleared for contact by the New Orleans Pelicans.

Williamson is entering his third year as a professional but has so far seen his hugely promising career hindered by injury.

The former first overall draft pick did not make his NBA debut until January in the 2019-20 campaign after tearing his meniscus in his rookie preseason.

Relatively minor issues limited Williamson to 61 games last season, but he has not yet featured in 2021-22 due to a right foot fracture, for which he had surgery in the offseason.

Despite understandable concerns about the forward's durability, Williamson has excelled against NBA opposition.

After 22.5 points per game in his rookie year, he improved to 27.0 last season and will return on a streak of scoring 20 in 15 straight games. Before Tuesday's games, that was tied with Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant for the longest such active streak in the league.

When that return will be remains uncertain, but the Pelicans brought positive news in their latest release.

"The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that forward Zion Williamson has been cleared to participate in contact drills, beginning with one-on-one workouts and progressively working towards full team workouts," the team said.

"Williamson, who underwent imaging on his fractured right foot on Thursday [Nov. 11], was medically cleared by Dr. Richard Ferkel of Southern California Orthopedic Institute and Dr. Scott Montgomery of Ochsner Health.

"Williamson will undergo further medical imaging on November 24, which will determine his availability for full team workouts.

"Additional updates will be provided on his anticipated return to play timetable accordingly."

New Orleans are a miserable 2-13 in Williamson's absence this year. Only once (1-14 in 2004-05) in franchise history have they had a worse record through 15 games.

Since the 2019 NBA Draft, the Pelicans are now 40-45 (47.1) with Williamson and 23-51 (31.1) without him.

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