Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 44 points as the Milwaukee Bucks beat a lacklustre Los Angeles Lakers 131-116 to close in on Eastern Conference leaders the Miami Heat.

The defending NBA champions were 24 points ahead in the first half at the Crypto.com Arena and extended that lead to 30 points midway through the third quarter.

A strong rally from the Lakers, who had LeBron James and Anthony Davis in their line-up, made things interesting but the Bucks stood firm to win for a fourth straight game.

Antetokounmpo's game-high tally came from 17-for-20 shooting, while adding 14 rebounds and eight assists to inflict a fifth defeat in seven on LA, who fall back to three games below .500.

With his latest standout display, Antetokounmpo joins Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as only the third person with 40+ points, 10+ rebounds and five-or-more assists on 85-per-cent-plus shooting in a game.


Suns continue to shine

The NBA-leading Phoenix Suns rallied from 14 points down to overcome the Philadelphia 76ers 114-109 and record their 14th win in 15 games.

Devin Booker scored 35 points and Chris Paul added 16 points and 12 assists as the Suns improved to 44-10 for the season.

Joel Embiid led the way for the Sixers with 34 points and 12 rebounds – his fifth straight 25-point, 10-rebound game, which is the longest streak in the competition over the past two seasons.

Nets claim unwanted record

Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart helped themselves to 22 points each as the Boston Celtics made light work of the Brooklyn Nets in a 126-91 victory.

The Nets become the only side in the last 30 years to have every starter score six points or fewer with none of them getting to the line.

Elsewhere in Tuesday's action, the Los Angeles Clippers had forward Marcus Morris Sr. ejected in their 135-109 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers for a flagrant foul 2 on Ja Morant.

Morant was able to continue and ended the game with 30 points on 12 of 19 shooting from the field, making it the ninth time in 10 games the All-Star guard has reached 30 points.

The Ben Simmons saga has stretched on for more than a year but might finally be reaching its conclusion.

Simmons was the subject of trade rumours last January when the Philadelphia 76ers pursued James Harden from the Houston Rockets.

Harden instead headed for the Brooklyn Nets, and Simmons saw out the season in Philly, only for speculation to ramp up again after a deeply dissatisfying playoff exit.

Joel Embiid and Doc Rivers appeared to blame the former first overall pick for a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in which his reluctance to take shots in big moments came to the fore. That was in June. Simmons has not played since.

Both the player and the team have pushed for a move this season without success, but Thursday's looming trade should focus minds. The 76ers, led by MVP frontrunner Embiid, remain in title contention despite having a three-time All-Star on the sideline, yet a deal this week could significantly improve their chances.

Stats Perform looks at four potential landing spots for Simmons that might also suit his current employers...

Brooklyn Nets

Contrasting reports this week have considered the possibility of a belated Simmons-Harden trade, with the Australian sent to Brooklyn rather than Houston. The Nets move has not quite worked for Harden, who has struggled for form and fitness on a team too often missing one or more of their 'Big Three'.

The Sixers' former Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey would appear to remain interested in reuniting with Harden in Philly, although whether the Nets are quite so keen on Simmons remains up for debate. Publicly, they say otherwise.

The possibility of Seth Curry also moving to Brooklyn has been raised in some reports, presumably to replace the shooting Harden offers but Simmons does not. Curry is a regular for the Sixers, but Harden would represent a clear upgrade – although he has a player option at the end of this season – while Simmons' elite defensive play would not be missed given he is not playing at all right now.

Washington Wizards

Harden appeals given Morey's desire to get an elite player back in return for Simmons. For the same reason, Bradley Beal – beaten to the scoring title by Stephen Curry last year – is an attractive option.

Beal has been less impressive this year, particularly of late, and is now out with a sprained wrist. However, a move to a contender may well motivate a player who has spent his entire career to date with the Wizards, featuring in a grand total of 11 playoff games in the past five years.

The Wizards, like the Nets, might want a second player or at least a second asset to join Simmons in the trade – moving on from Beal would surely mean a complete rebuild – so the 76ers' response as time starts to run out will be intriguing. Again, Beal has a player option for next year.

Portland Trail Blazers

For a long time, it seemed Damian Lillard was the superstar the 76ers really wanted if they were to deal Simmons. At various stages, that possibility has appeared more or less likely.

When the speculation was at its most intense back at the start of the season, Simmons was unwanted in Philly while Lillard was one of the best players in the NBA. Now, Portland are struggling horribly, Lillard has not played since December and Simmons might seem quite an attractive option for the Blazers, who look to be using the final days before the deadline to drastically alter their roster.

It would still seem unlikely Lillard would depart, rather than remaining as the centrepiece of the team for next season and beyond, and the Blazers do not quite have another asset capable of turning the 76ers into title favourites. CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic may both leave, but Morey would surely want more for Simmons.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings would have to perform a significant U-turn for Simmons to end up in Sacramento, having decided late last month they were not interested in paying the sort of price Morey was looking for. The 76ers presumably would have wanted multiple players back, with the Kings lacking a Harden, Beal or Lillard.

Of course, Simmons has not played since those talks broke down, so there is little reason to believe the Kings would suddenly consider him worth the asking price, but as one of the NBA's most forgettable teams – out of the playoffs since 2006 – they surely have to take a risk at some stage.

Whether that risk is giving up multiple useful players for an out-of-favour superstar who does not score is another matter, yet the Kings really need to be active before Thursday, so it is not beyond the realms of possibility they could re-enter the Simmons conversation.

The Brooklyn Nets will not trade James Harden says head coach Steve Nash.

The 2018 MVP has been the subject of trade speculation as Thursday's deadline approaches but the Nets head coach quashed the talk.

Harden, who joined the Nets from the Houston Rockets in January last year, had turned down a three-year extension in the off-season fueling the rumours.

"Yes, that's correct," Nash told reporters before Sunday's 124-104 loss to the Denver Nuggets, when asked if the Nets do not plan to trade Harden.

He added: "I've talked to James; he wants to be here. He wants to be here long term as well, so I don't think anything's changed other than noise from the outside.

"James wants to be here, we're building with James and we think we have the best chance to win with James.

"I don't think anything's changed on the inside, in our locker room, in our communication, it's just all the noise from the [outside]."

Harden's Nets teammate Kyrie Irving, who scored 27 points with 11 assists against the Nuggets, reiterated Nash's sentiment that the 32-year-old guard was committed to Brooklyn.

"The few conversations that we've had, he's been really committed, and we just hold him to his word, but obviously when we're going out to play games we can't even really think about it," Irving said.

"We would love to have him in the lineup, at his optimum healthy version of himself, and then we'll let the rest take care of it, but who knows? Who knows what's going to happen?"

Harden was absent for the Nuggets defeat with hamstring tightness, which has forced him out of the Nets' past two games, not helping end their eight-game losing skid.

"It's day-to-day," Nash said. "It's a matter of does that strength get back to where we feel confident and he feels confident that we're not risking anything. That's what we're dealing with right now."

The Brooklyn Nets' losing skid extended to eight games as reigning MVP Nikola Jokic recorded a league-high 14th triple-double in the Denver Nuggets' 124-104 win on Sunday.

Jokic finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, including scoring 23 points in the second and third quarters when the Nuggets reversed a deficit into a 21-point lead.

Brooklyn were without James Harden for the second straight game due to hamstring tightness, with Kyrie Irving scoring 27 points with 11 assists.

The Nets, who are also playing without the injured Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge, have surpassed their longest losing streak since losing seven in a row in late 2019 and early 2020.

Brooklyn are 29-24 and have dropped down to seventh in the Eastern Conference.

 

Double-doubles for Bucks trio

The Milwaukee Bucks won their third straight to improve to third in the east with a 34-21 record after a 137-113 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 points, 10 rebounds and five assists while Jrue Holiday added 27 points and 13 assists. Bobby Portis also had a double-double with 24 points and 11 rebounds.

Joel Embiid and DeMar Rozan put on scoring masterclasses but the Philadelphia 76ers got up after a fast start 119-108 over the Chicago Bulls. Embiid finished with 40 points with 10 rebounds, while DeRozan had a season-high 45 points along with nine rebounds and seven assists.

Luka Doncic had a triple-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists despite foul trouble as the Dallas Mavericks won 103-94 over the Atlanta Hawks.

 

No shooting magic for Orlando

The struggling Orlando Magic managed five-of-25 from three-point range and 35.8 per cent shooting from the floor in their 116-83 loss to the Boston Celtics. The Magic are last in the east with a 12-43 record.

Kyrie Irving says it is time for the struggling Brooklyn Nets to face the reality of their situation in the NBA but urged the team not to panic.

As the returning Donovan Mitchell dominated, Brooklyn went down to a heavy 125-102 loss to the Utah Jazz on Friday.

James Harden (hamstring), Kevin Durant (knee), LaMarcus Aldridge (ankle) and Joe Harris (ankle) were all again absent for a Nets team who have lost seven straight games.

The team were tipped for a championship run this season but have plummeted to sixth in the Eastern Conference ahead of Sunday's trip to Denver to face the Nuggets.

Amid the Nets' worst run of the season, Irving told ESPN: "It's really just where we are, facing reality that we are not winning ballgames right now.

"We have got to kind of get out of that hole with just one win and then start a new streak from that point. 

"[There is] no time to feel like our season is in doomsday or that we need to push the panic button at all points.

"But we have to face reality that a lot of guys, a lot of my teammates, we're still getting to know one another, how we play, what's our spots, offensive and defensive tendencies.

"And then communication - knowing that we can get on guys and guys love to be coached. 

"It's not just from the head coach or the assistants but really just from us as teammates and then trusting that we have the experience to win basketball games."

Irving, who cannot play in home games due to COVID-19 vaccination rules in New York City, insists building a winning culture takes time.

He had a poor game against the Jazz, finishing with 15 points in 31 minutes on court after going just six for 20 from the field.

"Myself alone, I can't do it," Irving said. "It's always going to be about the collective unit and how we feel good about being close as a team and then going out there and playing basketball, which is supposed to be fun. 

"But when you're losing and it's a win-first league and a win-only league - you get judged by wins and statistics and how well you put a streak together and how consistent you are. So the spot we're in is going to look like it's far worse than what it is.

"Being in this league for as long as I have been for 11 years, I've seen ups and downs, experiences.

"We have just got to trust that we have the group regardless of who's in or out of the lineup to be able to put a 48-minute game together.

"I don't feel like I'm close to where I want to be personally.

"I have mountain-high expectations for myself, but right now I feel like with our personnel, if I'm not shooting well or I'm not playing well or we don't have the same production from guys that we're used to getting it from, it's going to be a tough night. 

"Building championship habits takes time and time is not necessarily always on our side. 

"It is about staying resilient and knowing that there's another level to push to when you're tired and you have all the excuses in the world and you just continue on. You don't hold your head or anything like that."

Rookie Cam Thomas was one bright spot for the Nets, posting a career-high 30 points.

Donovan Mitchell's performance "looked like a video game" as he made a spectacular return to the court after missing eight straight games due to a concussion.

That was the view of his Utah Jazz teammate Udoka Azubuike after Mitchell made up for lost time as the Jazz, fourth in the Western Conference, outclassed the out-of-form Brooklyn Nets 125-102 on Friday.

Mitchell ended the game with 27 points in just under 22 minutes, draining six of his seven three-point attempts and adding six assists.

He set a franchise record for most points scored in under 22 minutes, while Bojan Bogdanovic was a valuable ally with 19 points and 11 rebounds, ensuring the Nets were consigned to a seventh consecutive defeat.

Azubuike found himself in disbelief at Mitchell's heroics.

"He was unbelievable," Azubuike said about Mitchell. "It looked like a video game. There was one time I had to catch myself in the moment because I was just watching him. 

"Every shot was going in. Don is a star."

For Mitchell, who has reached three straight All-Star Games, getting back to action was the most important factor after the Jazz went 2-6 in his absence.

"I was just happy to be playing basketball," he said, per ESPN. "I was joking before the game that I didn't care if the ball went in. 

"I was just happy to be out there running around, guarding, thinking the game and playing with my teammates.

"I'd rather be out there playing, but I just told someone my legs haven't felt that fresh in a long time."

With Quin Snyder in the COVID-19 health and safety protocols, it was Alex Jensen who acted as interim coach for the Jazz, with Mitchell's return making his task more straightforward.

"There's so much focus other teams have on him that it frees up other guys offensively," said Jensen.

"He's Donovan Mitchell and makes life a lot easier for everybody."

James Harden (hamstring), Kevin Durant (knee), LaMarcus Aldridge (ankle) and Joe Harris (ankle) were all again absent for a Nets team who have plummeted to sixth in the East.

The Nets' Kyrie Irving acknowledged they had come up against one of the NBA's biggest stars in Mitchell.

"We have a lot of special guys in our league," said Irving, who ended the game with 15 points after going just six for 20 from the field.

"But there are a few special guys that even separate from that group of just being special and he's one of those people." 

The Jazz host the New York Knicks on Monday in the third contest of a six-game run at home that has so far produced two victories from two.

Brooklyn, meanwhile, will be in Denver to face the Nuggets on Sunday.

Nikola Vucevic was tasked with dominating the middle against the depleted Indiana Pacers and the Chicago Bulls center was up to the task.

Vucevic earned a 29th double-double of the season, scoring a season-high 36 points and adding 17 rebounds as the Bulls earned a 122-115 triumph on Friday.

DeMar DeRozan contributed 31 points to the cause against a Pacers side devoid of Goga Bitadze, Malcolm Brogdon, Isaiah Jackson, T.J. McConnell, Myles Turner and T.J. Warren due to injuries, while Domantas Sabonis is unavailable due to health and safety protocols.

The Bulls consequently remain top of the Eastern Conference after winning for the fourth time in six outings, with Vucevic going 16 of 21 from the field.

In credit to the Pacers, they were only trailing 65-62 at halftime and briefly led when Lance Stephenson landed a three-pointer with a little under three minutes of the third quarter remaining, but a 10-0 stretch in the fourth ensured the Bulls were in control.


Mitchell return inspires Jazz against out-of-sorts Nets

Donovan Mitchell missed eight straight games as a result of a concussion but made up for lost time as the Utah Jazz, fourth in the West, outclassed the out-of-form Brooklyn Nets 125-102.

Mitchell ended the game with 27 points on the back of eight-for-10 shooting, while he drained six three-pointers and added six assists in 22 minutes of action. His tally was a franchise record for most points scored under 22 minutes.

Bojan Bogdanovic was a valuable ally with 19 points and 11 rebounds, as the Nets were consigned to a seventh consecutive defeat.

James Harden (hamstring), Kevin Durant (knee), LaMarcus Aldridge (ankle) and Joe Harris (ankle) were all again absent for a Nets team who have plummeted to sixth in the East.


Doncic triple-double sparks Mavs comeback

Not for the first time in his career, Luka Doncic was the hero for the Dallas Mavericks as they overturned a 16-point second-quarter deficit to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers 107-98.

Doncic earned a 44th career triple-double, finishing with 33 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists in a game that was paused for 44 minutes during the opening period after it was ruled one of the rims was crooked.

Reggie Bullock made a pair of big three-pointers down the stretch in a 20-point showing, while Jalen Brunson put up 19.

The Mavs snapped a two-game losing streak, while the 76ers - for who Joel Embiid had 27 points and 13 rebounds - have lost two on the spin for the first time since the middle of December.

Kyrie Irving is growing tired of the Brooklyn Nets using "get-better jargon" after the team suffered a sixth straight NBA defeat in a 112-101 loss to the Sacramento Kings.

The Nets have slumped to sixth in the Eastern Conference standings and are now on their worst streak since a seven-game losing run between December 2019 and January 2020.

Nic Claxton had a career-high 23 points to go alongside 11 rebounds, while James Johnson put up 18 points. Irving had 14, but it was a tough night for the usually prolific James Harden, who had just four on the back of two-of-11 shooting.

Irving feels there have been "morale victories" during the Nets' barren run but he has little interest in anything other than actual wins.

"When you're going through a losing streak, not many people want to hear the same thing over and over again," he said.

"The get-better jargon that we consistently use, it can get mundane. 

"Game to game we're feeling like we're coming out with some morale victories if we lose, but I'm tired of that."

Harden has been contending with an issue to his right hand and a hamstring complaint, with his return his lowest since playing the Chicago Bulls on May 15 last year.

Despite the Nets' woes, Harden is confident the team can soon turn the corner, especially if they can get some key personnel back after the All-Star break.

"There's no concern," Harden said. 

"We don't have our entire team and this is happening to us. We're just trying to figure out what works best, what guys fit, what guys don't. 

"Hopefully after the break we can get our whole roster and start making strides in the right direction."

The Nets have had issues with their roster. Kevin Durant (knee) remains absent, while Joe Harris and Marcus Aldridge (both ankle) are still out, and Irving's involvement is restricted to road games as he is ineligible to play fixtures in New York as he is unvaccinated against COVID-19.

Head coach Steve Nash says the main objective right now is merely to show improvement on the court.

"This trip our objective is to get better. The first two games and the first half tonight we were getting better," Nash said. 

"We didn't contain the ball enough in the second half and we didn't make plays."

The Nets will aim to return to winning ways in Friday's trip to the Utah Jazz.

Anthony Davis stepped up with a double-double in LeBron James' absence as the Los Angeles Lakers ended their three-game skid with a 99-94 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

James was absent for the fourth straight game with a knee issue but Davis took charge with 30 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks.

Russell Westbrook contributed with a double-double with nine points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists, while Carmelo Anthony added 24 points for the Lakers. Norman Powell landed five three-pointers in his 30-point haul for Portland.

The Lakers had raced to a 12-point quarter-time lead but the Blazers narrowed that to one point by half-time before seesawing second half which went down to the final moments.

The win means the Lakers improve to 25-27 but remain ninth in the Western Conference.

Embiid, LaMelo and Doncic star in defeats

Joel Embiid had 27 points and 14 rebounds but could not lift the Philadelphia 76ers as they went down 106-103 to the Washington Wizards. Spencer Dinwiddie (14 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) had a triple-double for the Wizards, while Kyle Kuzma added 24 points.

LaMelo Ball was excellent in a losing side as well, providing a career-high 38 points including four triples with six rebounds and nine assists as the Charlotte Hornets went down 113-107 to the Boston Celtics. Luka Doncic also had 40 points as the Dallas Mavericks lost 120-114 in overtime to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Ja Morant had 23 points, four rebounds and nine assists as the Memphis Grizzlies won 120-108 over the New York Knicks, while the Utah Jazz snapped their five-game skid with a 108-104 win over the Denver Nuggets.

 

Nets skid extends to six games

The Brooklyn Nets slumped to their sixth straight defeat, their worst skid since January 2020, after a 112-101 loss to the Sacramento Kings. James Harden, nursing a sore hand, only managed four points shooting two-of-11 from the field, which was his lowest return since May 15 last year.

Anthony Davis stepped up with a double-double in LeBron James' absence as the Los Angeles Lakers ended their three-game skid with a 99-94 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

James was absent for the fourth straight game with a knee issue but Davis took charge with 30 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks.

Russell Westbrook contributed with a double-double with nine points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists, while Carmelo Anthony added 24 points for the Lakers. Norman Powell landed five three-pointers in his 30-point haul for Portland.

The Lakers had raced to a 12-point quarter-time lead but the Blazers narrowed that to one point by half-time before seesawing second half which went down to the final moments.

The win means the Lakers improve to 25-27 but remain ninth in the Western Conference.

Embiid, LaMelo and Doncic star in defeats

Joel Embiid had 27 points and 14 rebounds but could not lift the Philadelphia 76ers as they went down 106-103 to the Washington Wizards. Spencer Dinwiddie (14 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) had a triple-double for the Wizards, while Kyle Kuzma added 24 points.

LaMelo Ball was excellent in a losing side as well, providing a career-high 38 points including four triples with six rebounds and nine assists as the Charlotte Hornets went down 113-107 to the Boston Celtics. Luka Doncic also had 40 points as the Dallas Mavericks lost 120-114 in overtime to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Ja Morant had 23 points, four rebounds and nine assists as the Memphis Grizzlies won 120-108 over the New York Knicks, while the Utah Jazz snapped their five-game skid with a 108-104 win over the Denver Nuggets.

 

Nets skid extends to six games

The Brooklyn Nets slumped to their sixth straight defeat, their worst skid since January 2020, after a 112-101 loss to the Sacramento Kings. James Harden, nursing a sore hand, only managed four points shooting two-of-11 from the field, which was his lowest return since May 15 last year.

Giannis Antetokounmpo drove the Milwaukee Bucks home with a triple-double as they bounced back with a 112-98 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday.

Antetokounmpo finished the game with 33 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists, including 13 points in the fourth quarter as the Bucks closed it out on a 17-4 run. The Greek forward was scoreless in the first quarter.

The Wizards, missing Bradley Beal to a wrist injury, had rallied from a 17-point deficit to be within contention in the final period but the reigning champions pulled away.

The Bucks had lost 136-100 to the Denver Nuggets in their last game and Antetokounmpo was delighted to put that behind them as they improved to 32-21.

Jrue Holiday provided good support with 22 points, five rebounds and two assists and Khris Middleton caught fire late to add 13 points and five rebounds.

 

Warriors win without All-Stars

The Golden State Warriors put aside the absence of All-Stars Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson as they beat the San Antonio Spurs 124-120. Jordan Poole starred with 31 points, six rebounds and five assists as Golden State won after a 35-16 fourth quarter rally.

The Chicago Bulls reinforced top spot in the east with a 126-115 victory over the Orlando Magic led by DeMar DeRozan with 29 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, while Zach LaVine chipped in with 26 points.

Karl-Anthony Towns (24 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists) got the better of Nikola Jokic (21 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists)) as the Minnesota Timberwolves won 130-115 over the Denver Nuggets.

 

Harden shooting cools down

James Harden returned from a hand injury but went six-of-19 from the field and four turnovers as the Brooklyn Nets went down 121-111 to the streaking Phoenix Suns. Harden had 22 points and 10 assists while Kyrie Irving hit 26 points. Devin Booker scored 35 points while Chris Paul added 20 points with 14 assists.

On paper, a contest between the Phoenix Suns and the Brooklyn Nets is a mouthwatering prospect.

However, the Nets are still missing star player Kevin Durant and while their form is on the floor as a result of that and other recent injury issues, the Suns are on fire, pardon the pun, and the assumption heading into Tuesday's clash is that Monty Williams' team should ease to yet another win.

Phoenix beat the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday to record their 10th win in a row. They have only been beaten once in 14 games in 2022, and sit on a record of 40-9 to comfortably lead the Western Conference.

The Nets, meanwhile, are down in sixth place in the Eastern Conference on 29-20 having lost four in a row following their 110-106 defeat to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday.

Durant remains out with a knee injury, while James Harden has also missed recent games as a result of a hamstring problem and a hand strain, though he could be back for this encounter.

LaMarcus Aldridge will also be absent after leaving the arena on crutches after Saturday's game with an apparent ankle sprain.

Kyrie Irving will be able to play with the game being on the road, and looks to be rediscovering some form after missing so much basketball in the first few months of the season, hitting 32 points against the Warriors, with seven rebounds and seven assists.

For the Suns, Jae Crowder could be in line for a return after a wrist injury that has kept him out of their last four games, while Deandre Ayton, who has missed seven games, will likely be a late call following an ankle issue.

With stronger form and a deeper roster heading into Tuesday's game, Phoenix will certainly be the favourites at Footprint Center, but the visitors will be determined to arrest their recent slide.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Phoenix Suns - Devin Booker

The Suns main point-getter, Booker is the only man to have broken 1,000 points for Phoenix this season (1,056) at an average of 25.1 points per game, the 13th best record in the league.

Booker enjoyed himself when the Suns beat the Nets in November, hitting 30 points and making four out of six three-point attempts.

Brooklyn Nets - Patty Mills

While a lot of the attention will undoubtedly be on Irving, Mills must continue to step up in the absence of Durant and with Harden struggling to find form and fitness.

Steve Nash's Mr. Consistent has played the most games of anyone for Brooklyn this season (48) and is the only Net to have hit three figures for three-pointers made (158). His 24 points against the Warriors on Saturday was his highest score since he managed 34 on Christmas Day against the Los Angeles Lakers, so it appears he could be returning to form. 

KEY BATTLE - Can Brooklyn keep pace?

This encounter sees two of the top five teams for average points per game go head-to-head, so in theory, it should be an exciting high-scoring affair.

You might assume that the Nets' average of 111.9 points per game - the fifth-best in the league - is heavily influenced by the absent Durant, but they have actually bettered that average in four of the last six games he has missed.

Phoenix will be confident of living up to their third-best average in the league of 112.9 having also been outperforming that average in recent games, having scored 113 or more in six of their last eight outings.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Overall, the record between the Suns and the Nets could barely be closer, with the Suns edging their 93 regular-season meetings 47-46. However, the Nets have enjoyed more success in recent years, prevailing in 10 of the last 13 meetings, although Phoenix did win 113-107 in Brooklyn earlier this season.

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr is not worried about Stephen Curry's recent shooting slump after another "tough night" in Saturday's 110-106 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

Curry made 14 of his 19 points in the final quarter, shooting five-of-18 for the game including three-of-10 from beyond the arc, as the Warriors edged past the Nets minus James Harden (hand) and Kevin Durant (knee).

The two-time MVP's struggles continued a below-par recent run, shooting at 35 percent from the field and 29 percent from beyond the arc in his past five games. Curry has shot at 42 percent from the field and 38 percent from three-point range across this season.

"It's a question I'll keep getting if he's not shooting the ball well, but I'm not worried about him," Kerr said at the post-game news conference.

"I'm not. He's Steph Curry, one of the great players of all time. He's had a tough night tonight but he helps us win routinely and does so much beyond just making shots. It'll come round for him."

Curry has previously been impacted by a hand injury and appeared to favour that at times on Saturday but Kerr insisted it was not currently an issue or reason for his slump.

"He's told me he feels great physically," Kerr said. "We've talked a lot about the schedule and the minutes.

"I'm really aware of what needs to happen in terms of monitoring his minute and when we can push him harder and when we can't. I think he's in a good place physically. He's going to be fine."

Curry became the Warriors' all-time career leader in games after surpassing Chris Mullin's mark of 808 appearances on Saturday.

The 33-year-old point guard broke the NBA's all-time record for most three-pointers made earlier this season while he also holds several single-season team milestones too, but Kerr praised Curry's loyalty, having been with the Warriors since being pick seven in the 2009 NBA Draft.

“I love that particular record just because it signifies his loyalty to the franchise and vice-versa,” Kerr said pre-game.

“The love affair that exists between Steph and The Bay is pretty unique.”

First-time All-Star Andrew Wiggins kept the Warriors going in the first half with 17 points, finishing with a team-high 24 points along with eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

"Andrew was phenomenal tonight. [Two] blocks and three steals," Kerr said. "[He was] All over the place defensively and on offense he was our most consistent player.

"He carried us in the first half. He’s playing with a lot of confidence and showing why he's an All-Star."

Meanwhile, Nets head coach Steve Nash offered an update on Harden who missed the game with a hand strain.

"We'll have to see how it settles but we're hopeful [for next game]," Nash said.

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson came to life in the final quarter as the Golden State Warriors edged the short-handed Brooklyn Nets 110-106 on Saturday.

Curry struggled with his shooting throughout, going five-of-18 from the field, but found his range late, scoring 14 of his 19 points in the final quarter to lead Golden State to victory despite Kyrie Irving's game-high 32 points for the Nets, who were without James Harden with a hand strain.

Thompson also had his issues shooting five-of-14 for the game, but scored nine fourth-quarter points including a clutch three-pointer to make it 107-103 with 12.1 seconds left.

Five-time All Star Thompson finished with 16 points, while Curry had 19 points, with seven rebounds and eight assists. First-time All-Star Andrew Wiggins led the Warriors' scoring with 24 points, including 17 in the first half.

Irving had seven rebounds and seven assists to go with his 32 points which included three triples, while Patty Mills hit six three-pointers in his 24 points.

The Warriors, who are 24-4 at home this season, improve to 37-13, while the Nets move to 29-20.

 

Embiid and Morant continue hot streaks

Joel Embiid led the Philadelphia 76ers' rally from a 17-point deficit as they won 103-101 over the Sacramento Kings. Embiid scored 25 or more points for the 17th consecutive game, finishing with 33 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, while Tyrese Haliburton had 38 points for the Kings.

First-time All-Star Ja Morant scored 34 points including four three-pointers as the Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Washington Wizards 115-95, while Jayson Tatum starred with 38 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in the Boston Celtics' 107-97 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Jimmy Butler had a triple-double with 37 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists but the Miami Heat went down in triple overtime 124-120 to the Toronto Raptors. Gary Trent Jr had 33 points for Toronto who had blown a 10-point three-quarter time lead.

Pacers battle as Doncic stars for Mavs

The Indiana Pacers' road struggles continued with their 20th loss in 26 games away from home, with Luka Doncic dominant as the Dallas Mavericks blew them out 132-105 with 30 points, six rebounds and 12 assists. 

James Harden was absent from the Brooklyn Nets starting line-up on Saturday for the second straight game but this time it was due to a separate issue.

Harden missed Saturday's game against the Golden State Warriors with a right hand issue which required an MRI that showed a strain.

The 2018 MVP had missed Wednesday's 124-118 loss to the Denver Nuggets with left hamstring tightness.

"James' hand has been bothering him for a few days," Nets head coach Steve Nash told reporters before the Warriors game.

"He thought it was nothing and then it really flared up this morning when he woke up. Obviously he irritated what he was feeling [Friday] and then this morning he woke up with some irritation so we had a scan.

"I think what we're calling it is a hand strain from the doctor. Just unfortunate."

Harden had got through Friday practice with the Nets, already without Kevin Durant due to a left knee sprain, who had expected him to play on Saturday.

Nash did not provide a timeline on 32-year-old Harden's return to play but indicated it was minor.

"Clean of the bad stuff, but a strain for sure," Nash said of the MRI. "There's stuff on the MRI, so he's feeling something, feeling the strain.

"It's been bothering him, but he was like, 'Yeah, it's nothing'. Now it's a little more than nothing. He woke up with a marked difference in the hand."

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