Kyrie Irving does not feel compelled to change his stance regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, despite the Brooklyn Nets potentially being without Kevin Durant for six weeks.

The seven-time NBA All-Star has refused to be vaccinated against coronavirus and is therefore banned from playing in home games due to New York's vaccine mandate.

Irving was left off the Nets' initial roster for the 2021-22 season, but that decision was reversed last month when the 29-year-old was included as a part-time player.

He has been restricted to four road games so far and has averaged 20 points, which is down on his career average of 22.8.

The Nets could do with Irving more than ever after losing Durant to a knee injury that will keep him out for at least a month, but the point guard is staying rooted to his decision.

"That's what I think comes into a lot of this culture and basketball and sport and entertainment," he said. "You bring in teams and you bring in situations. 

"Kev's going to heal, Kev's going to be okay, and we're going to have to deal with that as his team-mates. 

"But in terms of where I am with my life outside of this, I stay rooted in my decision. And that's just what it is.

"It's not going to be swayed just because of one thing in this NBA life. That somehow it's brought to my attention as being more important than what's going on in the real world. 

"It's just not happening for me. I respect everyone else's decision. I'm not going to try to convince anyone of anything or any of that, I'm just standing rooted in what I believe in. 

"Though we're dealing with this right now with Kev, I know I'm protected by the organisation, by my team-mates, by all the doctors I've talked to. And I just stand rooted."

 

Irving was speaking after leading Brooklyn with 27 points in their 114-107 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday – his best tally since returning to action this month.

The Nets are once again denied the chance to partner star trio James Harden, Durant and Irving, but head coach Steve Nash is hopeful others can step up.

"It's a great opportunity for guys and our team to grow," he said. "We can't rely on Kevin in ways we could, and we have to find ways and solutions to be competitive without him."

The Nets' 'Big Three' have played only 16 games together, going 13-3 across that period.

"It's a great challenge for us," Nash added. "I don't spend time dwelling on it. It wouldn't do us any good. It wouldn't do me any good. 

"It wouldn't do the team any good if the leader of the team is sitting at home contemplating how many games they haven't played.

"That would take me away from being excited and positive to come in every day and try to affect the group positively for these guys to feel empowered and to grow."

Kevin Durant faces a spell out of action after the Brooklyn Nets confirmed the extent of the knee injury he suffered in Saturday's win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Coach Steve Nash was hopeful that Durant would avoid a layoff, but the news from his MRI scan was not what the Nets wanted to hear.

In a statement, the Nets said on Sunday: "Following an MRI this morning, Kevin Durant was diagnosed with a sprained medial collateral of the left knee.

"Durant is expected to return to full strength following a period of rehabilitation. Updates regarding his return will be provided as appropriate."

ESPN reported that Durant may be absent for the team for around four to six weeks.

The Nets' 120-105 win over the Pelicans improved their record this season to 27-15, but it came at the cost of losing Durant in the second quarter.

He had racked up 12 points in 12 minutes of action, before the injury occurred when Nets guard Bruce Brown fell backwards into the two-time NBA champion.

Durant is averaging 29.3 points per game this season, along with 7.4 total rebounds and 5.8 assists.

His absence will shift workload onto James Harden, with Kyrie Irving unable to play home games for the Nets due to his unvaccinated status conflicting with a New York City mandate affecting indoor arenas. Harden is averaging 22.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists.

The Nets, who sit 0.5 games behind the Chicago Bulls at the top of the Eastern Conference, are next in action on Monday when they face the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Kevin Durant missing time to injury would be "tough" for the Brooklyn Nets to take and James Harden would be set for an increased workload as a result, admits coach Steve Nash.

The Nets earned a comfortable 120-105 win at home to the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday, improving their record to 27-15.

Harden starred with 27 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds but the win was marred by a second-quarter injury to Durant.

Durant suffered what the team described as a sprain to his left knee and will undergo an MRI scan on Sunday.

He had racked up 12 points in 12 minutes of action before the injury, which occurred when Nets guard Bruce Brown fell backwards into the two-time NBA champion.

Durant leads the NBA in scoring this season and had come into the game fresh after being rested against his former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, on Thursday.

"Of course it would be tough to lose him," Nash said, per ESPN, about Durant after the win. 

"No one wants to see that and we'll obviously hope for the best outcome.

"But regardless of the outcome we have to continue to work, build and grow and get better and compete."

Harden played for 40 minutes against the Pelicans and Nash acknowledged the former Houston Rockets guard can expect more of the same over the short-term.

Nash added: "It's tough – no Kyrie [Irving], no Kevin, no Joe [Harris]; he [Harden] is going to have to play a lot.

"So we obviously will have to be careful as to how many games he plays and what number of minutes, but we definitely are going to need him out there."

Irving is not allowed to play in home games due to COVID-19 vaccination rules in New York City while there are other key absentees for the Eastern Conference contenders.

Harden agreed the Nets had been snake bitten for much of this season, saying: "Yes, with what happened with K and then [Irving] being able to play road games only and Joe, Nic [Claxton], LaMarcus [Aldridge].

"But we have been a resilient group all year since I've been here. We just got to keep going. Keep pushing, keep pushing. Guys got to step up. It's simple.

"Obviously, we know how great of a player KD is and what he brings to the table each and every night consistently. So guys got to step up and fill that role and just continue to compete our butts off."

Durant leads the league with 29.3 points per game, while Harden is in a tie with Chris Paul atop the assists charts with 10.0.

The Nets are now just 0.5 games behind the Chicago Bulls in the East despite winning just four of their last 10.

They are back in action on Monday with a trip to play the Cleveland Cavaliers (26-18), a contest which starts a run of four straight road games.

All-Star Kevin Durant has been forced out of Saturday's Brooklyn Nets game against the New Orleans Pelicans due to a left knee sprain.

Durant is expected to undergo an MRI on the injury which he sustained with just under six minutes remaining in the second quarter.

The 33-year-old two-time NBA champion was ruled out by the Nets for the remainder of the game, after teammate Bruce Brown fell on his left knee upon a drive from Pels guard Herb Jones.

Durant was making his return after he sat out Thursday's 130-109 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The 2014 MVP had been averaging 29.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists prior to Saturday's game.

In a season when players are prone to missing time due to COVID-19 protocols, injury maintenance and routine rest, any single regular-season game rarely feels meaningful.

The Brooklyn Nets’ 138-112 thumping of the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, however, seemed to make a statement about the pecking order at the top of the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls maintain the best record in the East at 27-12, two games ahead of the Nets, but Brooklyn used a dominant second-half surge to display how astronomically high the team’s ceiling is.

Playing in front of a frenzied crowd, the Bulls matched the Nets shot-for-shot for a while, and the game was tied at 71 early in the third quarter. Brooklyn responded by tightening its grip on the defensive end of the floor and playing the last 8:29 of the quarter on a 30-8 run.

Chicago opened the fourth quarter by turning the ball over four times in five possessions, and the Brooklyn lead grew to as much as 38 before both teams removed their marquee players – a scary reminder to rest of the NBA that a juggernaut is looming in the East.

Irving makes the difference

With Kyrie Irving declining to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the Nets opened the season without him and played well with either Kevin Durant or James Harden running the show. Part of the luxury of having three of the league’s top 15 players is that one injury – or one bizarre soap opera centered around medical choices and municipal rules – doesn’t derail the season.

The Nets’ trio of All-Stars has still played only 16 games together, including the playoffs, but the early returns show that having Durant, Harden and Irving all on the court at the same time makes for a historically great offense.

The Nets’ change of heart to allow Irving to be a road-only, part-time player may have vaulted them to the top of the NBA title conversation.

With Durant, Harden and Irving on the court together, the Nets are scoring 125.4 points per 100 possessions. For comparison, the Utah Jazz have the NBA’s most efficient offense over the course of this entire season at 114.2 points per 100 possessions.

In all other scenarios over the past two seasons, including those when Durant and Harden play together, the Nets have operated with an offensive efficiency of 113.1 – an impressive number but one that is noticeably less than 125.4.

Nets, With/Without Kevin Durant, James Harden & Kyrie Irving On Court - Since 2020-21 (reg & post)

  With All  All Other Lineups Points/100 125.4 113.1 Opp Points/100 110.2 108.3 Point Diff/100 +15.2 +4.8 FG Pct .535 .481 Opp FG Pct .450 .449 3-Pt Pct .418 .449 Opp 3-Pt Pct .350 .347

Due to New York regulations, Irving can’t play home games for the Nets, but he is permitted to participate in most road games. After scoring 22 points in each of his first two games of the season, Irving needed just nine points in Wednesday’s blowout of the Bulls. His impact, however, is not lost on head coach Steve Nash.

“Kyrie definitely is another huge threat on the floor, whether he scores nine points or 29,” Nash told reporters. “Clearly you lose a generational talent when he’s not in the lineup.

“But there’s a level we reached (on Wednesday night) – with the purpose, the pace, the spirit, the resolve – that I thought was really important for our group to see how successful they can be when they do that.

“Even without Kyrie, can we bring that same level more often than not? If we do, we’ll get back to a top-10 defense like we were for most of the year and get back to pushing for the top spot in the East. But it’s hard work. It’s not easy, and you’ve got to do it day-in and day-out.”

Nash’s point rang true just a day later, when the Nets were beat 130-109 at home on Thursday by the Oklahoma City Thunder, albeit without Irving and Durant.

Brooklyn’s title hopes very well could come down to finding a way around the local regulations that prevent unvaccinated players like Irving from playing in New York, since the trio has already proven to be lethal.

Harden back in form

One powerful force allowing the Nets to climb toward the top of the East has been the re-emergence of Harden.

The league’s officials opened the season determined to stop rewarding offensive players for flailing and flopping in ways that aren’t natural to basketball, and some of the league’s brightest stars saw a sharp decline in free throw attempts, Harden included.

It is fair to say he has since adjusted.

Through the first 12 games of the season, Harden was averaging just 18.2 points per game and was attempting an average of just 4.7 free throws per game.

Since Nov. 12, Harden is scoring 24.8 points per game and attempting 9.8 free throws per contest.

The nine-time All-Star still isn’t shooting as efficiently as he typically does but has continued to thrive as one of the league’s best distributors. Harden’s 9.9 assists per game trail only Chris Paul’s 10.1 in the league this season. Harden is averaging 3.0 assists in both the first and third quarters, when he mostly plays with Durant and the rest of the starting unit.

His numbers will never again be as impressive as they were in Houston, where Harden was essentially a one-man offense, but he has adapted very well to playing alongside other stars and focusing a bit more on distribution – something that many critics doubted after he spent so long as the lone focal point with the Rockets.

Durant No. 1?

Durant remains the most reliable and lethal scorer in the league today, and his overall game puts him in the discussion for the best player in the world. He has played so well that it is easy to forget that he was rehabilitating from a ruptured Achilles tendon just 13 months ago.

Durant carried an incredible load in the last year’s playoffs, playing over 40 minutes per game, averaging 34.3 points and getting within a toe’s length of knocking out the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo may be the only other player with a claim to be the best in the world right now after winning two MVPs and a championship over the past three seasons.

But Durant’s ball-handling and outside shooting make him feel like a more traditional creator of offense, and his playoff resume credentials speak for themselves after he won back-to-back titles and Finals MVPs with the Golden State Warriors.

The bench brings the right blend

Lost in the excitement over Durant, Harden and Irving playing together Wednesday in Chicago was how well the supporting cast played, even with Joe Harris, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Claxton missing the game.

Rookies Day’Ron Sharpe and Kessler Edwards were forced into starting roles and heavy minutes against the Bulls and met the challenge head-on. Sharpe was especially productive, totaling 20 points and seven rebounds in by far the best game of his young career.

The shooting of 13th-year guard Patty Mills has proven to be a crucial part of Brooklyn’s offense, and his 6-for-8 performance from behind the 3-point line against the Bulls indicates he will remain vital in the postseason.

This blend of youth and experience bodes very well for the Nets down the stretch. Sharpe, Edwards, Cameron Thomas and David Duke Jr. have all had impressive moments this season and have plenty of room to grow.

Mills, Aldridge, Harris, Blake Griffin and even Paul Millsap bring plenty of experience that will be appreciated this spring. And while at least a few of Brooklyn’s depth players will be cut from the playoff rotation, the roster appears to have the flexibility to account for unique playoff matchups.

The bottom line

While depth will play a role, the Nets will only go as far as their three stars take them this season.

The regular season will likely continue to be a roller coaster ride, full of ups and downs. Brooklyn has used 20 different starting lineups in 41 games this season, second most in the league, and that is a recipe for inconsistent results.

But this team made a statement in Wednesday’s road rout of the Bulls, showing what the whole league has feared since last season: Durant, Harden and Irving have the talent and chemistry to be one of the most potent NBA trios ever, and the Nets should be considered title favorites as long as all three can take the floor.

Giannis Antetokounmpo dropped his third triple-double of the season to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a commanding 118-99 win over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.

The two-time NBA MVP had 30 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in front of coach Mike Budenholzer, who was back after returning from the league's health and safety protocol.

Antetokounmpo's 28th career triple-double came in under 30 minutes played, making him the first player in NBA history to achieve that feat multiple times.

Kris Middleton added 23 points for the Bucks, who move to 27-17 for the season, while Bobby Portis and Grayson Allen registered 20 and 15 respectively.

The Warriors trailed 77-38 at half-time and have now lost four times in five matches, yet they still boast the second-best record in the Western Conference.

Grizzlies' run goes on

The Memphis Grizzlies finished strongly to overcome the Minnesota Timberwolves 116-108 and extend their franchise-record run to 11 wins in a row.

Desmond Bane scored 21 points and Jaren Jackson Jr. added 20 for the in-form Grizzlies, who were also inspired by John Konchar's 15 and career-best 17 rebounds.

The Grizzlies suffered their heaviest loss of the season when the sides met in November, but they pulled away late on in this back-and-forth encounter to go 30-14 in the West.

As for the Timberwolves, they have now let successive games slip away after also going down 128-125 against the New Orleans Pelicans with 1.3 seconds to go on Tuesday.

Nets beaten in Durant and Irving's absence

The travel-weary Brooklyn Nets were made to pay for resting NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant as they suffered a 130-109 defeat to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving combined to great effect in the previous night's win at Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls, but that trident was split up.

With Irving still unable to play home games due to vaccine laws in New York and Durant and Patty Mills watching on from the side, the Thunder ran out deserved winners.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the way with 33 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists as the Thunder snapped a five-game losing run.

Elsewhere, Nikola Jokic powered the Denver Nuggets to a 140-108 win over the Portland Trail Blazers and the Pelicans were too strong for Los Angeles Clippers in a 113-89 win.

James Harden is excited by what could be as he along with team-mates Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving combined to score 61 points in the Brooklyn Nets' 138-112 victory against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.

Harden managed a double-double of 25 points and a season-high 16 assists, while Durant scored a game-high 27 points to lead the Nets to a comfortable victory at United Center.

Kyrie Irving, who can only play on the road due to COVID-19 vaccine laws in New York, added nine points in his third game back for the Nets.

Speaking after the victory, which took the Nets to a 26-14 record for the season, Harden was asked about his on-court relationship with Durant and Irving.

"We're that good," Harden emphasised. "We have a chance to be that good. We just haven't had enough of it. Last year I think we had 15 games maybe together, and this year only two.

"It felt good tonight on both ends of the ball, to be locked in on the same page and, offensively, sharing the basketball and making each other better."

Durant also faced the media after another stellar showing, having now scored at least 25 points in 12 straight games, and the 11-time NBA All-Star made clear that he is not concerned with what people on the outside think of his team.

"We're trying to make no statements to the league," Durant said. "I mean, who cares what they think? We know what we bring to the table, and it's all about us. But I'm sure people were watching the game tonight."

Meanwhile, the Bulls became the first team in NBA history to win by 45+ points one day and then lose by 25+ the next, having beaten the Detroit Pistons 133-87 on Tuesday.

Coach Billy Donovan praised his team for a run that has seen them reach a 27-12 record so far, acknowledging that they were second best on the day, particularly in the third quarter when the Nets scored more than twice the number of points managed by the Bulls (39-19).

"I think you own it," Donovan said. "I think our guys have worked hard up to this point to be where we are in the standings, and with that there's a greater responsibility."

James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving combined to score 61 points as the Brooklyn Nets beat the Chicago Bulls 138-112 in a table-topping Eastern Conference clash.

Durant's game-high 27 and Harden's double-double of 25 points and a season-high 16 assists inspired the Nets to a routine victory at United Center.

Kyrie Irving, who is barred from playing home games, added nine points in his third game back for the Nets, but it was Durant who stole the show with 17 points in the third.

The 11-time NBA All-Star has now scored at least 25 points in 12 straight games and in the process denied the Bulls a first regular-season sweep of the Nets since 1997-98.

After seeing off the Detroit Pistons 133-87 on Tuesday, the Bulls become the first team in NBA history to win by 45+ points one day and then lost by 25+ the next.

Kings snap losing streak against Lakers

LeBron James' 34 points were not enough as the Los Angeles Lakers fell 125-116 to the Sacramento Kings, who snapped a five-game losing streak in the process.

On their worst run of the season, the Kings regularly found themselves trailing and were six down at half-time before taking control in the third quarter.

Russell Westbrook's missed 3-pointer paved the way for Chimezie Metu to make a clutch 3-pointer with 46.7 seconds remaining and Tyrese Haliburton rounded off the scoring.

The Lakers, who saw James score 31 or more for the 11th time in 12 games in the injury absence of Carmelo Anthony, have now lost two in a row and are 21-21 for the season.

Heat's run goes on

The Miami Heat may have six players on their inactive list, but they won for a third game running with a 115-91 victory against the Atlanta Hawks.

Tyler Herro had a game-high 21 points and added 11 assists as the Heat, now 26-15 for the season, kept within touching distance of the Eastern Conference leaders.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, the Dallas Mavericks' six-game winning streak was brought to an end with a 108-85 loss to the New York Knicks.

RJ Barrett's 32 made him the youngest player in franchise history with consecutive 30-point games as the Knicks won for a fourth time in five games.

Kyrie Irving impressed in only his second game of the season but insisted he still has to get up to speed after the Brooklyn Nets were surprisingly beaten at the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday.

A dominant third quarter from Portland, in which they bettered the visitors by 13 points, ended up being crucial as they ran out 114-108 winners, despite being short-handed going into the game.

Anfernee Simons starred with 23 points, six rebounds and 11 assists for the Blazers, who were missing Damian Lillard (abdomen) as well as Norman Powell (COVID-19 protocol), Larry Nance Jr (knee) and CJ McCollum, who is expected to return soon after recovering from a collapsed lung.

The Nets were themselves without James Harden (knee) but did have Kevin Durant (28 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) on court. The 33-year-old's points return marked 19 straight games with 20 or more points, the second-longest streak of 20-point games in Nets history.

Irving has refused to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and is therefore barred from playing in New York due to the city's vaccine mandate, but was playing just his second game on the road for the Nets this season and managed 22 points, eight rebounds and four assists.

"It felt like I made a few good moves, but now it's just getting back in that NBA action of that athleticism and catching up to that speed. That's really what it is at this point, I feel," Irving said after the loss.

Portland first-year coach Chauncey Billups had been effusive in his praise of Irving before the game, stating his belief that 29-year-old was the "most skilled point guard in history".

After the victory for his team, Billups praised his own players, saying that nobody thought this result was possible.

"Certainly nobody in the world thought that we would win this game with the guys that we have missing, even though they're missing some important players too," Billups said. "I'm more happy than anything for our team, to be honest. We've suffered a lot of losses in this building, a lot of bad losses."

The result means the Nets are 25-14 and second in the east while the Blazers improve to 16-24.

Kyrie Irving finished with 22 points in his second game back but could not inspire the Brooklyn Nets to victory as they went down to a depleted Portland Trail Blazers 114-108 on Monday.

Anfernee Simons starred with 23 points, six rebounds and 11 assists for the Blazers who were missing Damian Lillard (abdomen).

The Nets were also without James Harden (knee), but had Kevin Durant (28 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) and Irving (22 points, eight rebounds, four assists) on court.

Durant's points return marks 19 straight games with 20 or more points, which is the second-longest streak of 20-point games in franchise history.

The defeat means the Nets are 25-14 and second in the east while the Blazers improve to 16-24.

 

Giannis cannot lift Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 26 points with 13 rebounds and eight assists but it was not enough as the Milwaukee Bucks lost their second straight game, going down 103-99 to the Charlotte Hornets. Khris Middleton had 27 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists for the Bucks.

First draft pick Cade Cunningham scored a career-high 29 points to lead the Detroit Pistons to an upset 126-116 win over the Utah Jazz, who were without Rudy Gobert again.

Joel Embiid scored 31 points with eight rebounds and six assists for the Philadelphia 76ers who beat the Houston Rockets 111-91.

 

Tatum cool as Celtics win in OT

Jayson Tatum went zero-of-seven from beyond the arc and shot at 33 percent from the field for his 24 points as the Boston Celtics edged the Indiana Pacers 101-98 in over-time. Domantas Sabonis had a triple-double for the Pacers.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash allayed fears of a serious knee injury for 2018 MVP James Harden who was left out of the side to play the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday.

Harden, who is averaging 22.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 9.7 assists this season, missed the game due to a left knee hyperextension.

Nash revealed Harden did not require an MRI on the knee and that the Nets were taking precaution.

"I think we're being overly cautious," Nash told reporters prior to Monday's game.

"A heavy stretch of games. Expect him to play Wednesday [against the Chicago Bulls]."

Kyrie Irving, who is only eligible for road games due to his vaccination status, will play in the game away to the Trail Blazers.

"It would be great if we didn't have to get him up to 40 [minutes] tonight," Nash said. "But at the same time, I think he's got the bulk of his preparation and his legs and is ready to play as much as needed ... you don't want to play him 44 minutes tonight, then he's got to turn around and play a big game on Wednesday.

"So we'll play him more minutes, but we would love for it to be gradual and a strategic allocation of minutes, not just like, 'All right great, we got a new Ferrari and we're going to rack up the miles.'"

Kevin Durant hopes to use the Brooklyn Nets' upcoming road games with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Chicago Bulls as a chance to "build chemistry" with Kyrie Irving.

Irving was left off the Nets' initial roster for the 2021-22 season due to electing against receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Seven-time NBA All-Star Irving is not eligible to play in home games due to New York City's vaccine mandate, but he would have been available for most road games.

The Nets reversed course last month by including the 29-year-old as a part-time player and named him in their line-up for Wednesday's win over the Indiana Pacers.

Still unable to play in home games, Irving will have a chance to get minutes under his belt when the Nets head to Portland and Chicago on Monday and Wednesday respectively.

And Durant, who scored 28 points in Sunday's 121-119 win against the San Antonio Spurs, is glad to have the chance to reignite his partnership with Irving.

"We're definitely a better team, a way better team with Irving," Durant said. "He's definitely going to give us a lift. 

"I'm looking forward to it – a couple games on the road, an opportunity for us to build our chemistry. I'm looking forward to it."

Nets coach Steve Nash has previously said he is reluctant to overuse Irving on his return to the side, but the point guard is set to feature against Portland.

"We'll see," Nash said when asked about Irving's availability. "Typically, with a game under his belt he could play a little more [Monday], so that's definitely possible."

Irving played 32 minutes against the Pacers and scored 22 points – he averaged 26.9 from across 54 games in 2020-21.

The Nets' overtime win against San Antonio, having blown the lead late in regulation, was their first at Barclays Center in six games since December 16 and moved them to 25-13 for the season.

The Eastern Conference's second-placed side are playing catch-up owing to a run of rescheduled games, meaning a long flight from Portland to Chicago and back to New York again before Thursday.

Asked about the uniqueness of the situation, Nash said: "I can't remember all the back-to-backs I ever played in but I don't remember any six-hour flights in between.

"So it's different, but we've got to take it as an opportunity, an opportunity to succeed under adversity and this moment where we're trying to find ourselves again.

"We have a tough back-to-back, so let's embrace it. Let's see if we can win both, and if we can win both, or at least play well in both, maybe that gives us a spark."

Klay Thompson marked his return from a two and a half year absence with 17 points as the Golden State Warriors saw off the Cleveland Cavaliers 96-82 on Sunday.

The 31-year-old, who had missed 941 days rehabbing from a torn ACL and ruptured Achilles tendon, was 7 of 18 from the field and 3 of 8 from three-point range.

Thompson also added three rebounds, an assist and a steal in 20 minutes, earning a rousing reception as he left the court

"I was just happy to be out there doing what I love again and getting my rhythm back," Thompson said. "It feels really good... It was surreal. 

"The ovation to start the game, I just was so grateful for these fans. It was special. I'm never going to forget this night."

With his impressive comeback display, Thompson reached 12,000 career points and 1,800 made three-pointers.

Red-hot Grizzlies set franchise record 

The Memphis Grizzlies soared to new heights by beating the Los Angeles Lakers 127-119 as they won nine successive games for the first time in franchise history. 

The Lakers had won four in a row ahead of the contest but could not live with their opponents, who had previously won eight in a row in 2004, 2012, 2013 and 2015.

Desmond Bane had 23 points and Jaren Jackson Jr. added 21, though it was a breathtaking block from Ja Morant to deny Avery Bradley that stole the show.

While it was a disappointing occasion for the Lakers, LeBron James scored 35 points – 23 of those arriving in the first half – and added seven assists.

That saw James move to 9,888 career assists in NBA and pass Oscar Robertson (9,887) for the seventh-most in history.

Mavericks halt Bulls' winning run

The Chicago Bulls' own nine-game winning run came to an end with a 113-99 defeat to the Dallas Mavericks, with Luka Doncic starring for the home side.

Doncic had 22 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists for his third triple-double of the campaign, while Josh Green and Maxi Kleber had season highs of 18 points each.

Elsewhere on Sunday, Kevin Durant scored 28 points for Brooklyn Nets in their 121-119 win against the San Antonio Spurs.

Cam Thomas made a runner in the lane with a little over a second to go in overtime as the Nets, who led by 10 with four minutes to play, snapped a five game losing run at home.

Kevin Durant has reiterated that he will not try and force or persuade Kyrie Irving to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Irving had been left off the Brooklyn Nets' initial roster for the 2021-22 season, as he had elected against receiving a vaccine.

New York City's vaccine mandate means the seven-time All-Star cannot play home games unless he gets vaccinated.

Irving would have been available to play most road games, though the Nets elected not to include him at all.

That changed when, due to a depleted roster caused by a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, Irving was recalled, and the point guard returned with a 22-point display in Wednesday's win over the Indiana Pacers.

Yet Irving could not feature on Friday as the Nets went down 121-109 at home to the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Durant insisted the Nets must accept Irving's decision.

"I told him how important he is, how much I want him to play, play every game," Durant told reporters.

"But I'm not about to force somebody to get a vaccine, like that's not my thing. So he can play basketball? Nah, I'm not about to do that.

"We've had conversations about wanting him to be a part of the team and conversations about him being here full-time, but that's on his time. Whatever decision he want to make, he's going to make.

"It's on us to be professionals no matter what and do our jobs. All of us, from the owner down to the equipment manager, so whenever he ready, he'll be ready."

In Irving's absence, Durant and fellow star man James Harden delivered 29 and 16 points respectively for the Nets, but Milwaukee, inspired by Giannis Antetokounmpo's 31 points, had too much.

"I haven't even asked for an explanation," Durant continued. "It ain't my place I don't think. So I'm ready for whatever, that's been my whole mentality. 

"It's a weird situation, who knows? I don't understand most of this s***. COVID, all of this stuff has been crazy."

Harden added: "It felt good honestly to have him back [on Wednesday]. It felt good. It felt like an extra life that we had. 

"But we got to live with what we're dealt with, and that's home games we've got to figure ways and even road games.

"Just because Ky's on the road with us doesn't mean it's going to be easy for us as well. So we've got to mesh, we've got to find ways to win games."

Bucks talisman Antetokounmpo was asked whether his approach would be different.

"When it comes to basketball, I feel like I can talk to them," he replied. "I've got to let them make their decision. They're grown men and every situation is different.

"I cannot pressure somebody to do something that he doesn't feel comfortable doing. I can tell you why I did it. Why I felt comfortable doing it. To protect my family, to protect my mom and stuff, stay safe, and you just hope he understands that. But if he doesn't want to do it, I can't keep pressuring him."

Giannis Antetokounmpo registered a seventh successive 30-point game against the Brooklyn Nets as he propelled the Milwaukee Bucks to victory.

In the first meeting between these teams at the Barclays Center since last season's overtime win for the Bucks in the playoffs, Antetokounmpo stole the show on his return from a one-game illness absence.

Milwaukee lost to the Toronto Raptors without their talisman, a second straight defeat after a shock reverse to the Detroit Pistons, but the reigning NBA champions snapped that mini losing streak in style with a 121-109 triumph on Friday.

Antetokounmpo had 31 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. He went into the game having recorded 30 or more points and at least 10 rebounds in each of his previous six appearances against Brooklyn, including postseason meetings.

The Bucks were without several key players, including Jrue Holiday, and coach Mike Budenholzer due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, but they just had too much in the form of Antetokounmpo, who was ably supported by Bobby Portis, who had a double-double of 25 points and 12 rebounds.

The Nets has snapped a three-game losing streak on Wednesday by beating the Indiana Pacers, with Kyrie Irving returning.

However, Irving was not available for this home game, as he cannot play in New York state due to not being vaccinated against COVID-19.

Kevin Durant scored 29 points and James Harden added 16, but the Bucks had too much as they moved onto 26-15 for the season, though the Nets remain ahead of Milwaukee in second place in the Eastern Conference.

LaVine leads the way as Bulls roll on

The Chicago Bulls top the East and their winning run was extended to nine games thanks to a 130-122 defeat of the Washington Wizards.

Zach LaVine had a game-leading 27 points, as the Bulls ended a run of three games in which they had won by five points or fewer.

The Bulls have now matched their longest winning streak since 2010-11, when Chicago won nine in a row to finish the regular season.

James and Jokic rampant

LeBron James led the Los Angeles Lakers to their first four-game winning run of the season as he scored 32 points against the Atlanta Hawks, adding eight rebounds and nine assists in a convincing 132-118 victory.

The Lakers are now 21-19 and sixth in the Western Conference, a place ahead of the Denver Nuggets, who had reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic reach 20 points for a seventh straight game in a 121-111 win over the Sacramento Kings.

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