All-Star Ja Morant scored a career-high 52 points including a massive dunk and a buzzer-beater as the Memphis Grizzlies won 118-105 over the San Antonio Spurs on Monday.

Morant's 52-point haul was the second highest of the NBA season, behind only Trae Young who scored 56 points for the Atlanta Hawks against the Portland Trail Blazers on January 3.

The 22-year-old guard went 22-of-30 from the field including four-of-four from beyond the arc. Morant also hit a ridiculous half-time buzzer-bester after Steve Adams' full-court pass, catching and shooting in one motion.

Earlier in the second quarter, Morant produced a monster one-handed dunk over Spurs center Jakob Poeltl.

Morant's half-century follows up his career-best 46 points against the Chicago Bulls on Saturday. It was also the first 50-point game in Grizzlies franchise history.

 

Bucks bounce back with Giannis starring

Reigning champions, the Milwaukee Bucks, had dropped four of their past five games but Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way as they bounced back with a 130-106 win over the Charlotte Hornets. Antetokounmpo scored 26 points with 16 rebounds, four blocks, two steals and six assists, with Bobby Portis adding 20 points and 10 rebounds.

The Miami Heat took some ground in the race for top seed in the Eastern Conference with a 112-99 victory over the Chicago Bulls, with Tyler Herro contributing 20 points, six rebounds and five assists off the bench. DeMar DeRozan's 10-game run of 30-point games was halted, managing only 18 for the Bulls.

D'Angelo Russell's good run of scoring continued with 25 points as the Minnesota Timberwolves boosted their playoffs hopes by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-22, with Karl-Anthony Towns () draining a key late three-pointer.

 

Short-handed Nets blown away

The Brooklyn Nets slumped to their 14th loss from their past 17 games, going down miserably 133-97 to the Toronto Raptors at home. Scottie Barnes dominated with 28 points, 16 rebounds and five steals for Toronto while the Nets, missing Kyrie Irving who is ineligible to play home games and head coach Steve Nash in protocols, had few winners

Ben Simmons will not make his debut for the Brooklyn Nets this week, though Kevin Durant is getting closer to a return from injury.

Simmons has yet to play for the Nets since this month's blockbuster trade that ended his stand-off with the Philadelphia 76ers, with James Harden going in the other direction.

During his introductory media conference, Simmons had said he hoped to be ready to make his season debut against the Sixers in Philadelphia or March 10.

That prospect appears less and less likely after Nets head coach Steve Nash revealed Simmons, who has struggled with a back issue since the Nets upped his workload in practice, is not close to being ready to play.

Speaking ahead of the Nets' clash with the Toronto Raptors on Monday, Nash said: "Ben is still working through a number of things and reconditioning so he's not gonna play this week but we'll keep working on his timeline and hopefully he can progress.

There is better news on Durant as he looks to make his return from a left knee sprain. He will not play in either of the Nets' successive games with the Raptors but could feature against the Miami Heat on Thursday or the Boston Celtics on Sunday.

"Kevin's getting close, we're hopeful that he can play this week," added Nash. "He won't play tonight or tomorrow but hopeful I guess that [his return] would be Thursday or Sunday."

The Nets are 32-29, eight games back of the Eastern Conference-leading Heat having lost seven of their last 10 games.

New York Mayor Eric Adams has ruled out the prospect of making an exception to coronavirus rules that would allow Kyrie Irving to play at home for the Brooklyn Nets.

Irving is unvaccinated which means he is unable to play for the Nets when they have games at Barclays Center under current guidelines, even though he can play in the NBA on the road.

A quirk in the rules means away players from other teams can play in New York City even if they have not had the vaccine, a situation Adams accepts "makes no sense" and is "ridiculous".

Adams hopes Irving can play for the Nets at home soon but will not change the rules early for one person because of the example it would set to the city's employees.

"These are the rules and I have to follow the rules," Adams said to CNBC. 

"If I don't, I'm going to open the door that is sending the wrong message to everyday employees.

"Listen, I want Kyrie on the court. I would do anything to get that ring. So badly, I want it. 

"But there's so much at stake here. And I spoke with the owner of the team. We want to find a way to get Kyrie on the court, but this is a bigger issue."

 

Adams added: "I can't have my city closed down again.

"It would send the wrong message just to have an exception for one player when we're telling a countless number of New York City employees, 'If you don't follow the rules, you won't be able to be employed'.

"Businesses have their vaccine mandates. City employees have their vaccine mandates. I have to follow the rules. And trust me, I want Kyrie on the court.

"We are here right now opening our city because of vaccine mandates. We can't close down again. I can't have my city close down again."

Irving said at the weekend he could see "light at the end of the tunnel" in his bid to play home games for the Nets and appreciated comments from NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who questioned the rules that allow unvaccinated road players to take to the court in New York.

The Nets (32-29) are at home against the Toronto Raptors (32-27) on Monday, having earned a key road win at NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks last time out, Irving starring with a game-high 38 points.

Kyrie Irving can see "light at the end of the tunnel" after the best performance of his difficult season in the Brooklyn Nets' defeat of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Irving put up 38 points, as the Nets beat the reigning champions 126-123 on the road on Saturday.

With Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons sidelined, Irving stepped up with a strong performance, finishing 14-of-26 shooting to overshadow Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It was a glimpse of a possibly exciting end to the season for the Nets and Irving, whose appearances have been limited by the vaccine mandate in New York City.

The 29-year-old, who is unvaccinated, has only been able to play in road games until now, but New York City mayor Eric Adams said this week that the mandate is likely to be phased out as cities across the United States begin to remove their COVID-19 restrictions.

"I'm glad that things are kind of settling down and there's light at the end of the tunnel here," Irving said. "Hopefully, I can get back on that home floor playing in the Barclays, and now we can finally have that conversation that you've been dying to have just about turning the page and moving forward beyond this.

"But like I said, I'm not the only one. I feel for everybody that's either in my boat or a similar boat or has dealt with some type of trauma from this. And just wishing everybody well-wishes, always."

 

On the prospect of New York's mandate being lifted, Irving said: "I'm following it as much as you guys are, so just remaining patient and just seeing where things end up in this next week or so, next two weeks, I'm not too sure, but I know as much as you do.

"And I want to say this: I'm very appreciative of all those that are pushing behind the scenes to make our world a better place.

"And with everything calming down with the COVID cases, the most important thing for me was just making sure everyone's okay. I've been on record saying this that it's not about me, that I don't want to feel like it's all on me, but the circumstances this year have not been ideal."

Irving has only played in 15 games this season but has maintained a points average of 25.1, above his career figure of 22.9. That is despite his field-goal percentage (45.9 per cent) dropping to its lowest since his penultimate season with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2015-16.

He said he was grateful to NBA commissioner Adam Silver for suggesting the New York mandate "doesn't quite make sense" as unvaccinated opposition players were still allowed to play.

"I know his job is not easy, standing in the fire, sometimes, on behalf of our league," he added. "So my respect level went to a whole new one for him, and I'm just grateful that he did that, and he really took one for the team. And I'm grateful for that.

"But like I said, we want to set a great example for the world in what we're doing, and we try to stand for what's right and respect everyone else's decisions and their personal beliefs."

Kyrie Irving was cool under pressure as he scored a season-high 38 points in the Brooklyn Nets' impressive 126-123 road win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finished with 29 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, missed a three-point attempt to send the game to over-time.

The Nets were missing key players Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons but produced a win that showcased their potential having lost 13 of their past 15 games.

New additions Seth Curry (19 points with four three-pointers) and Andre Drummond (17 points, 12 rebounds and five assists) supported Irving well, with the point guard crucial down the stretch from the stripe.

Bobby Portis scored a career-high eight three-pointers in his 30-point haul along with 12 rebounds, while Khris Middleton added 25 points for the Bucks who have lost four of their past five.

 

Ja records career-high haul

All-Star Ja Morant scored a career-high 46 points, while Steven Adams had 12 points with a season-high 21 rebounds as the Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Chicago Bulls 116-110. DeMar DeRozan extended his 30-point streak to 10 games with a 31-point haul as the Bulls' six-game win streak was halted.

Nikola Jokic closed to within five of Wilt Chamberlain's all-time triple-doubles record as the Denver Nuggets won 115-110 over the Sacramento Kings. Jokic had 18 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists for his 73rd career triple-double.

The Boston Celtics claimed their 11th win from their past 12 games with a 113-104 victory over the Detroit Pistons, while Trae Young dropped 41 points as the Atlanta Hawks won 127-100 against the Toronto Raptors.

 

Pop's record on hold

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich will have to wait a few more days before he can tie the NBA record for regular-season victories after a 133-129 loss to the Miami Heat, with Bam Adebayo scoring a season-high 36 points. Popovich has 1,334 regular-season wins as Spurs coach, putting him one behind Don Nelson.

Brooklyn Nets' All-Star Kevin Durant will return in the next week according to head coach Steve Nash.

Durant has been sidelined since January 15 when he suffered an MCL sprain, with the Nets struggling in his absence, sliding to a 31-29 record including a run of 11 straight defeats.

The Nets have been reluctant to put a timeframe on the 33-year-old's return, having been expected to be out until the All-Star break but Nash offered some clarity ahead of Saturday's road game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

"Every day closer," Nash said after shootaround. "We'll see. I expect in the next week he'll be back for sure. It could be quick; it could be the whole week barring any setbacks."

"I think with Kevin he's been a great healer throughout his career so the number one thing is to get him back healthy and feeling secure in his health and his body so he can move and be free.

"When he's back, obviously he adds a ton to our team on both ends of the floor... one of the greatest scorers of all time. And we also know he helps us defensively; he gives us more size and length. So he's a big miss for us, and whenever he gets back, he'll impact our team."

Nash was less committal on Ben Simmons, whom joined the Nets earlier this month in a trade from the Philadelphia 76ers. Simmons has not played all season due to his standoff with the 76ers and is building up his conditioning, as well as managing a "little soreness in his back".

"He's not gone to high intensity yet," Nash said. "Just ramping him up still."

On the back issue, Nash added: "It's not like an injury. It's just kind of like as he's returning to play his back's flared up a little bit. It's not a long-term thing."

The short-handed Brooklyn Nets slumped to their 13th defeat from their past 15 games as Jayson Tatum led the Boston Celtics to a 129-106 victory on Thursday.

Tatum scored 30 points including four three-pointers along with seven rebounds and four assists for the Celtics who have won 10 of their past 11 games.

The Celtics' hot form is in contrast to the Nets, who have slumped to a 31-29 record in the absence of the injured Kevin Durant, unavailable Kyrie Irving and unfit Ben Simmons.

Boston led from start to finish, opening up a 35-22 quarter-time lead, with good support from big men Robert Williams III (12 points and 11 rebounds) and Al Horford (11 points and 13 rebounds).

Seth Curry top scored for the Nets with 22 points but only made two-of-seven from beyond the arc, while Patty Mills struggled with one point from 28 minutes, shooting none-of-nine from the field.

 

Morant hurt in tight loss

Ja Morant airballed a game-tying three-point attempt in the dying seconds and had a third-quarter injury scare as the Memphis Grizzlies lost 119-114 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Morant finished with 20 points and eight rebounds but seemed to pick up a leg injury on a drive which impacted his final quarter. D'Angelo Russell scored 23 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter for the Timberwolves.

The ladder-leading Phoenix Suns had no issues without Chris Paul as they extended their winning streak to eight games with a 124-104 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Devin Booker scored 25 points with five rebounds, 12 assists and a career-high six steals.

Stephen Curry was benched late after 18 points and 14 assists as the Golden State Warriors won 132-95 over the Portland Trail Blazers, while Nikola Jokic had 25 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in the Denver Nuggets' 128-110 triumph over the Sacramento Kings.

 

Trae wayward in Hawks loss

Trae Young struggled as the Atlanta Hawks went down 112-108 to the Chicago Bulls. The Hawks guard made three-of-17 from the field in his 14 points for the game. For the Bulls, who have won six in a row, in-form DeMar DeRozan scored 37 points while Zach LaVine returned from injury with 20 points.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash concedes his side must have urgency to arrest their slide after Thursday's 129-106 loss to the Boston Celtics left them with a 31-29 record.

The Nets were billed as title contenders earlier this season but have endured a tough midseason period, winning only two of their past 15 games with Kevin Durant out injured, Kyrie Irving unavailable for home games and James Harden traded out.

Harden swapped places with Ben Simmons from the Philadelphia 76ers, with the new acquisition still yet to debut as he re-conditions having not played this season.

Nash admitted having a healthy roster would go a long way to fixing his side's issues but conceded they needed urgency as their season slips away.

"We understand the situation we're in. We know there's urgency," Nash said at the post-game news conference.

"We're not going to have half a season to figure this thing out. We're up against the clock.

"Our guys have been great. There's a lot of pressure and circumstances that make it difficult as you're dropping in the standings but their spirit has been outstanding.

"That's the spirit of taking it day-by-day game-by-game trying to improve. At the same time, we recognise the situation we're in."

Jayson Tatum starred for the in-form Celtics with 30 points and seven rebounds, while the Nets' best were Seth Curry (22 points and seven rebounds), Bruce Brown Jr (15 points, seven rebounds and five assists) and Kessler Edwards (13 points and five rebounds) off the bench.

Nash was pressed on ways to fix their struggles without their key players, with no timeframes on Durant and Simmons' availability but he reverted to a healthy roster.

"That's number one, two, three and four really," Nash said. "We could've played better tonight, but we can play better on nights when we have everybody too.

"In this league, you flip it, take four of the Celtics starters out, it's a different look."

Seth Curry does not want an apology from Ben Simmons as the pair start a new chapter with the Brooklyn Nets.

Curry and Simmons were team-mates on the Philadelphia 76ers, although the former first overall pick had not played this season.

Simmons has now cited a difficult period with his mental health as his reason for staying away from the 76ers until a trade was agreed with the Nets.

The Australian was the subject of intense criticism following the team's playoff defeat to the Atlanta Hawks last season, in which he was deemed to have shirked responsibility and passed up shooting opportunities.

With James Harden leaving the Nets for the 76ers, Curry and Andre Drummond joined Simmons in the deal going the other way.

It means Simmons must now play with team-mates he abandoned earlier in the season, but Curry does not see that as a problem.

"Business is business," Curry told ESPN on Thursday ahead of the NBA's resumption after the All-Star break.

"I said from day [one], even when he was out early in the season, people were asking me if I feel like, if Ben comes back, should he apologise to us or whatever?

"I understand the business; he doesn't need to apologise to anybody. When he's on the court, I know he's going to do his job and he's going to do what he does. So I understand the business.

"He was doing what he felt was best for himself business-wise and personal-wise. And the team's going to do the same thing as far as making trades or whatever, so I understand it, I've been around it; I don't take anything personal.

"When we're on the court, we're team-mates. Everything's fine, and we depend on each other to do good things. There's been nothing negative he's done to me personally, so I'm fine."

With another NBA All-Star weekend in the books, Thursday sees the league back in regular season action, with one of the more intriguing games taking place at Barclays Center when the Brooklyn Nets entertain the Boston Celtics.

They played in the same venue earlier this month, with Boston easing to a 126-91 victory, which the Nets will be eager to avenge this time.

Somewhat surprisingly given the strength of their respective rosters, Celtics star Jayson Tatum was the only player representing either team to play in the All-Star game, scoring eight points during his 20 minutes on court for Team Durant.

Kevin Durant missed the game in Cleveland with a knee injury and is likely to be out of this clash as well. 

Nets general manager Sean Marks recently said Durant and new arrival Ben Simmons could be ready to play in the coming weeks, but the visit of the Celtics is likely to come too soon for both.

Steve Nash's team currently sit eighth in the Eastern Conference on 31-28, having fallen away dramatically in the last month, losing 11 games in a row until beating the Sacramento Kings on Valentine's Day.

Injuries have played a big part in the dip in form, but back-to-back wins against the Kings and the New York Knicks suggested they could be about to turn things around, even with a defeat to the Washington Wizards in their last game before the All-Star break.

The Celtics, meanwhile, have been going in the other direction, winning nine games in a row before a loss to the Detroit Pistons ahead of the break, and they find themselves sixth in the East on 34-26.

Coach Ime Udoka has led his team to a five-game winning streak on the road and will be looking to make it six in Brooklyn.

He will be reliant on Tatum and Jaylen Brown to pick up where they left off. The Celtics' star duo combined for 57 points and 20 rebounds in the recent 135-87 thrashing of the Philadelphia 76ers.

The impact of guard Derrick White could also be crucial after his recent arrival from the San Antonio Spurs. He has made a respectable start to life with Boston, averaging 12.3 points per game in his four outings.

The restart of the league signals the beginning of what will no doubt be a tense run in a tightly contested Eastern Conference, and both these teams will be looking to get off to a perfect start on Thursday.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Brooklyn Nets – Patty Mills

It's a home game, so Kyrie Irving (vaccination status) cannot play, and with James Harden gone and no Durant or Simmons yet, the pressure will once again fall on Mills to be his team's main man.

The Australian narrowly missed out on the three-point finals at All-Star weekend but is enjoying a career-best season for points (13.4 average per game) in Brooklyn after moving from San Antonio last year.

His three-point shooting is what has been letting him down in recent times, going five games in a row scoring single figures for points, before hitting 22 in the loss to Washington before the All-Star break, including five of seven from beyond the arc.

Boston Celtics – Jayson Tatum

Tatum has been his team's standout player this season, and the momentum from featuring in the All-Star game could see him raise that level even higher.

Only three players in the league have scored more than his 1,439 points this season (DeMar DeRozan - 1,547, Trae Young - 1,475, Giannis Antetokounmpo - 1,443), while only DeRozan (566) and Nikola Jokic (516) have hit more than his 500 field goals.

Interestingly, Tatum took more of a back seat when Boston beat Brooklyn earlier this month, with Brown and Marcus Smart (both 22) scoring more than his 19 points.

KEY BATTLES – Make a better start, Brooklyn

The recent game between these two saw the Celtics race out to a 35-16 lead after the first quarter. It was always a big ask for the Nets to do anything from there.

Where Brooklyn will likely look for success is in mid-range, where no team in the league has a higher percentage of field goals from (48.7). However, only four teams have a lower percentage of mid-range field goals allowed than Boston (39.9 per cent).

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Although the Celtics won at Barclays Center earlier this month, the Nets had won the previous four meetings between the two, including at TD Garden in November, and all three encounters last season.

The Brooklyn Nets are set to be bolstered for the final stretch of the NBA regular season with the signing of experienced free agent guard Goran Dragic.

The 35-year-old Slovenian, who has an outstanding postseason record, had interest from several sides including the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls.

Dragic's agent Billy Duffy told ESPN that the Nets have won the race for his signature, joining for the rest of the season.

The 2018 All-Star offers the Nets capable backcourt size and backup to Kyrie Irving, who is currently only permitted to play road games due to New York City's vaccination mandate.

Dragic played five games for the Toronto Raptors this season before being traded to the San Antonio Spurs upon the deadline, before they went on to buy out the former Miami Heat star's contract.

Brooklyn will waive guard Jevon Carter to open up a spot for Dragic their roster.

Kevin Durant was absent from the NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland on Sunday night after the death of his grandmother.

Although injured, the 33-year-old Durant had been due to be present as the non-playing captain of Team Durant against LeBron James' Team LeBron.

The Brooklyn Nets superstar was also set to be feted in a ceremony along with fellow members of the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team, the players voted the greatest in the league's history.

Durant's mother, Wanda, announced the family's loss earlier on Sunday.

Wanda Durant wrote on Instagram: "It is with great sadness that we share with family and friends that our Dear Sweet Mama, BARBARA A. Davis, transitioned early this morning."

The NBA sent its condolences to Durant's family, stating on Instagram: "The NBA family mourns the loss of Barbara A. Davis."

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell also pulled out of the game, having fallen ill.

Mitchell had been on the Team LeBron roster, and said: "It is a great honour and has always been a dream of mine to be selected as an NBA All-Star. Remorsefully, I will not be able to play in tonight’s All-Star Game due to an upper respiratory illness [non-COVID-related].

"The entire All-Star weekend is a celebration of the basketball community, the fans and the sport I am blessed to play. I'm focused on getting well and back out on the court. Thank you for all the get-well wishes. I can't wait to see the game later today."

Joel Embiid had 42 points as he inspired the Philadelphia 76ers to a 123-120 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.

With James Harden having arrived to bolster the 76ers' championship bid, but still missing due to a hamstring injury, Embiid served up a reminder of just how crucial he is with another supreme display on Thursday.

This time, it was reigning NBA champions the Bucks who were on the receiving end of a masterful showing from the 27-year-old, who also tallied up 14 rebounds and five assists.

The Bucks came close, though, and had their own MVP to thank for that – Giannis Antetokounmpo helping himself to a double-double of 32 points and 11 rebounds, while also contributing nine assists.

Embiid, fittingly, put Philadelphia ahead for good with a 10-foot shot in the final quarter. 

It marked a valuable return to form for the 76ers, who can enter the All-Star break on a high despite Tuesday's dismal 135-87 defeat to the Boston Celtics. They are third in the Eastern Conference with a 35-23 record, while the Bucks sit fifth (36-24).

Doncic downs Pelicans

Anything Embiid or Antetokounmpo can do, Luka Doncic is out to do it better.

The Dallas Mavericks star had 49 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists in a 125-118 defeat of the New Orleans Pelicans.

Doncic has now had 45 points or more in three of his last four games for Dallas, who enter the break in fifth place in the West.

Nets back to losing ways

After snapping an 11-game losing streak with victories over the Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks, the Brooklyn Nets fell to a 117-103 reverse in Washington.

Rui Hachimura led the way for the Wizards with 20 points, as they moved to 2-2 for their series against the Nets this season.

The Los Angeles Clippers beat the Houston Rockets to win for a third time in their last four games, while the Miami Heat were overtime winners over the Charlotte Hornets.

The Los Angeles Lakers are awaiting news on the injury sustained by Anthony Davis in Wednesday's 106-101 victory over the Utah Jazz.

Davis had 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting when being forced to exit the game after turning his ankle and clutching his right leg in pain.

The 28-year-old was helped to the locker room by his team-mates and initial X-rays revealed no fracture, but he will be re-evaluated after the All-Star break.

In the absence of Davis, who had only recently returned after missing 17 games with a sprained knee, the Lakers stepped up to snap a three-game losing run.

Frank Vogel's side trailed the Jazz by 12 points midway through the fourth quarter, but they went on a 19-4 run – LeBron James scoring the last 10 of those points – to hit back.

James finished with a team-high 33 points, 15 of those coming in the final quarter, meaning he has now scored 25 points or more in a career-best 23 straight games.

The Lakers are now 27-31 for the season but are still down in ninth in the Western Conference, while the 36-22 Jazz are in fourth after suffering a first loss in seven outings.

 


Knicks blow 28-point lead against Nets

Rookie Cam Thomas impressed in the absence of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to help the Brooklyn Nets match their biggest comeback in franchise history.

The Nets trailed the New York Knicks by 28 points before going on to win 111-106, with 16 of Thomas' 21 points arriving in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer to clinch the win with 7.7 seconds to go.

Julius Randle had seemingly put the Knicks in control with 31 points and 10 rebounds, but they were unable to hold on and suffered a third successive loss to stumble to 25-34 for the season.


DeRozan eclipses Chamberlain's streak

DeMar DeRozan scored 38 points in the Chicago Bulls' 125-118 victory over the Sacramento Kings to create some NBA history.

The five-time NBA All-Star became the first player to score 35 or more points and shoot 50 per cent or better in seven straight games, usurping Wilt Chamberlain's previous record of six.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, the Golden State Warriors lost 117-116 to the Denver Nuggets through Monte Morris' 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded.

Nikola Jokic had 35 points and 17 rebounds for the Nuggets, who have now won three in a row and five of their last six.

The NBA-leading Phoenix Suns beat the Houston Rockets 124-121 for a seventh successive win thanks to 24 points for Devin Booker and 23 for Deandre Ayton.

James Harden is confident it "made sense" for him to leave the Brooklyn Nets for the Philadelphia 76ers in his pursuit of a first NBA championship.

Harden headed to Philly ahead of last week's trade deadline in a move that saw wantaway 76ers outcast Ben Simmons head in the opposite direction.

Ten-time All-Star Harden had been expected to contend for titles in Brooklyn, having formed a 'Big Three' with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving when he arrived from the Houston Rockets last year.

But injuries and coronavirus controversy – Irving remains unvaccinated – meant the trio played just 365 minutes together across 16 games in the regular season and playoffs.

Now, Harden is instead targeting glory alongside Joel Embiid, the MVP frontrunner who endured a frosty relationship with Simmons on the 76ers.

Embiid has scored 25 or more points in 23 consecutive games – a sequence only three players have topped this century – including a 40-point triple-double last time out.

Harden is excited by the prospect of teaming up with the center, as he said: "For me, [the trade] made sense, man.

"It's a time where I needed to be around guys that I know want to win, and know that they are willing to do whatever it takes to win, and the structure here is unbelievable.

"[Winning is] the goal, man. That's the goal. Like Daryl [Morey, president of basketball operations] said: the opportunity to win is now. Joel is playing the best he's ever played.

"So, my job is to come out there and help him and help the entire team win a championship this year and in years going forward."

Harden left the Rockets for the Nets with the same idea but is now focused on a positive future.

"I mean, it wasn't planned like this – 14 months ago, I didn't see myself with three different teams," he said. "But we are here today and I'm happy.

"The last year has been a lot of ups and downs, a lot of stress, but whatever. That's in the past. I'm excited, I'm healthy and it's the opportunity of a lifetime."

The former MVP added his injured hamstring, which will keep him out until after the All-Star break, "feels really good".

Harden was speaking alongside Morey – formerly his general manager in Houston – who expressed his delight the 76ers had managed to land their man without dealing promising point guard Tyrese Maxey.

"Tyrese absolutely has the chance to be an All-Star in this league," said Morey, adding "the sky's the limit" for both Maxey and Matisse Thybulle. "And that's a big reason why we made sure that they weren't in this trade."

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