Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers hailed Joel Embiid for taking an "Alonzo Mourning approach" with his decisive block on DeMar DeRozan in a 103-98 win over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.

With less than 10 seconds left and the 76ers leading 102-98, DeRozan drove to the bucket for a dunk that would have ensured a tense finale but was blocked by Embiid. It was a play that Rivers labelled "game-saving" and likened to a move by Miami Heat great Mourning.

Embiid has not been at his best this season, averaging 21.0 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He finished this game with 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists but stood up when it counted.

"Big play at the rim. Really big play," Rivers told reporters after the game. "I love when bigs go after dunks. Half these guys in the league won't go after it because they are worried if they get dunked on.

"I love the Alonzo Mourning approach. I thought Joel took it. Going after DeRozan, that's a big play, that's a game-saving play."

Seth Curry top-scored for the Sixers with 22 points, shooting nine from 14 from the field, including a clutch two-pointer to put them 102-98 up.

The result improved Philadelphia, who are still without Ben Simmons, to 6-2 and completed a run of four home games with four wins.

The 76ers were also missing starters Tobias Harris (COVID-19) and Danny Green (hamstring), making their run of victories more impressive having been 2-2 after a 112-99 loss to the New York Knicks.

"It was huge. We talked about it after the New York game. We had a four-game home stand, we had to win them all," Rivers said.

"We obviously didn’t know we'd have all these guys out. The fact we still won them all with all these guys out was pretty cool."

Seth Curry and Joel Embiid led the way as the shorthanded Philadelphia 76ers beat the high-flying Chicago Bulls 103-98 in a battle of the Eastern Conference contenders.

The 76ers (6-2) were without starters Tobias Harris and Danny Green, in addition to disgruntled Ben Simmons' ongoing absence, but still outlasted the Bulls in Philadelphia for their fourth successive win on Wednesday.

Curry posted 22 points, including a crucial late jumper with 10.7 seconds remaining, while the returning Embiid put up 18 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and a big block during the closing stages to deny DeMar DeRozan (joint season-high 37 points).

The 76ers – boasting an eight-game winning streak over the Bulls, their best run against the Chicago franchise since March 1984 – shot 42.9 per cent from three-point range as they swept their four-game homestand for the first time since February last year.

 

Chicago (6-2), who have emerged as a contender in the east after landing DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso in the offseason to go with Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, overturned a double-digit deficit to level the game in the fourth period but could not complete the job.

 

Durant fuels streaking Nets

The Brooklyn Nets made it three wins in a row thanks to a 117-108 victory against the Atlanta Hawks and Kevin Durant's 32 points. Durant is averaging 28.3 points, a career-high 8.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists while boasting a career-best 59.2 per cent field-goal percentage.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic had 34 points and 11 rebounds, but missed a shot on the buzzer to send the game to overtime as the Denver Nuggets went down 108-106 at the Memphis Grizzlies.

Paul George leads the league in scoring and the Los Angeles Clippers star was behind the team's 126-115 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves with 32 points.

Jordan Poole's second career 30-point game (31 points) led the Golden State Warriors to their sixth win in seven games, a 114-92 success against the Charlotte Hornets.

 

Walker's woes

There is plenty of hype around the New York Knicks, especially after bringing Kemba Walker to Madison Square Garden. However, the four-time All-Star had a game to forget in the 111-98 loss to the Indiana Pacers. Walker made just two of his 11 shots, while missing all five of his three-pointers for four points.

Heading into the 2021-22 season, the Chicago Bulls were viewed as a team that could possibly contend for a play-in game, and maybe, just maybe even secure a postseason berth in the Eastern Conference.

Sure, no team compiled more losses over the previous four seasons than the Bulls' 199 defeats, but executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas had a busy offseason constructing a lineup that on paper looked like it had the pieces to compete in the East.  

The biggest questions on the onset of the season were how long it would take the new additions to build chemistry and how soon until they could become competitive.

The Bulls have quickly answered those questions.

Chicago have opened with six victories in their first seven games and are coming off two signature wins – Saturday's victory over the previously undefeated Utah Jazz and Monday's 19-point comeback on the road against the Boston Celtics.

Karnisovas began building what he hoped would be a playoff team at last season's trade deadline by adding two-time All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, but the Bulls ultimately stumbled down the stretch as Zach LaVine missed 11 games in April and May while in the league's health and safety protocols.

The roster overhaul continued in the offseason with the acquisition of four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan and point guard Lonzo Ball in separate sign-and-trade deals, and now with multiple scoring options, an offense that moves the ball and an improved defense, the Bulls are a complete team. Their net rating of 9.6 trails only the Miami Heat and the Jazz – the league's only other 6-1 teams.

For the past few seasons, the Bulls' offense revolved around the play of LaVine. A first-time All-Star in 2020-21, LaVine accounted for 19.6 per cent of Chicago's scoring over the past three seasons – the eighth-highest percentage for any player with at least 4,000 points scored for a single team over that span.

He now has a running mate in DeRozan to help shoulder the burden, and the early returns have been fantastic.

With LaVine nursing a left thumb sprain on his non-shooting hand, DeRozan has stepped up offensively, producing back-to-back 30-point games against the Jazz and the Celtics.

His game compliments with the Bulls' offense, as he is able to score from mid-range while relying on his team-mates to knock down threes. DeRozan is shooting 54.1 per cent on 37 jumpers attempted between 10 and 15 feet, and his 21 field goals made from the elbow are the most in the league.

He played a big part in Chicago's frantic fourth-quarter comeback win over the Celtics, and he has been a huge contributor down the stretch in the first few weeks of the season.

His 50 fourth-quarter points trail only Giannis Antetokounmpo's 51 for the most in the league, and he has been clutch at the foul line in the final period, making 12 of 13 free throws. LaVine has been slightly better from the line in the fourth, making all but one of his 17 attempts.

Getting to the foul line has been a major point of emphasis this season under second-year Bulls coach Billy Donovan, and they have been succeeding.

After ranking last in the NBA in free throws attempted per game last season at 17.5 – the lowest mark in franchise history – Chicago are ninth this season at 21.6. That improvement of 4.1 free throws attempted per game is the largest increase in the league.

Cutting down on turnovers is another area the Bulls were looking to clean up after ranking 27th in the league last season at 15.1 per game, and again, they have seen the biggest improvement in the NBA. Averaging 2.2 fewer turnovers per game this season, Chicago rank third in the league at 12.9 per game and have the league's seventh-lowest turnover rate at 11.9 per cent.

 

LaVine has been one of the biggest factors in the team's improvement in protecting the ball, averaging 2.3 turnovers per game after averaging 3.4 or more in each of the previous three seasons.

For the second year in a row, LaVine leads the Bulls in assists, and while 4.9 per game does not sound all that special, it is the way that the team have been distributing the ball that has been encouraging.

With Ball averaging 4.4 assists, Vucevic averaging 4.3 assists and DeRozan at 4.0 per game, the Bulls and the Indiana Pacers are the only two teams to have at least four players averaging at least 4.0 assists.

The Bulls' biggest acquisitions of this calendar year – DeRozan, Ball and Vucevic – are extremely versatile, with each averaging better than 12.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists. They are the only team to have three players each reaching those numbers this season, and the Bulls have not had a trio of players with those stats since 1994-95, when Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc did it.

While Ball and Vucevic are finding roles in a balanced offense, the two of them along with another offseason acquisition have helped shore up a defense that was not all that formidable a year.

Hours after the signing of Ball, the Bulls also added free agent Alex Caruso. While the Caruso signing did not grab as many headlines as the additions of Ball and DeRozan, the former champion with the Los Angeles Lakers is also making an immediate impact.

Caruso's 18 steals lead all bench players this season, and his average of 4.52 steals per 48 minutes is the second-highest rate in the league behind only Paul George at 4.66 among the 142 players with at least 175 minutes.

While Caruso is hounding opposing ball-handers, Ball is frustrating opposing shooters, averaging 1.14 blocks – the second-best by a point guard behind the Sacramento Kings' Tyrese Haliburton at 1.29 per game.

Led by the offseason additions, Chicago's revamped disruptive defense is averaging 8.86 steals per game (up from 6.69 per game a year ago, when they were third-worst) and ranks fourth in blocks at 6.29 per game (an improvement from 4.22 per game in 2020-21, when they ranked 27th). It is also second in points per game off turnovers at 21.6 after ranking 26th last season with 14.5 per game.

Over the weekend, the Bulls put the rest of the league on notice that their defense should be taken seriously as they stymied the Jazz, holding them to season lows of 38.0 per cent shooting and 99 points – nearly 13 points fewer than their season average. That was one of three times already Chicago have limited their opponents to 40 per cent shooting or less after having four such games in a 72-game schedule last season.

It is obviously early, and the Bulls have a brutal schedule over the next two and a half weeks (their opponents' winning percentage of .609 through November 21 is the highest in the league), but Chicago have proven they have the makeup both offensively and defensively to compete with anyone.

While the narrative a few weeks ago for the Bulls was whether the team could make the playoffs, the franchise is now targeting much loftier goals.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer compared Cristiano Ronaldo to NBA great Michael Jordan after the forward single-handedly dragged Manchester United to a 2-2 draw against Atalanta.

Ronaldo twice inspired United to come from behind, cancelling out strikes from Josep Ilicic and then Duvan Zapata as the Red Devils earned a 2-2 draw.

The Portugal international's brace prevented United from falling to a fourth successive away defeat in the European Cup/Champions League for the first time ever and keeps his side top of their group, level with Villarreal and two points better off than Tuesday's opponents.

Ronaldo also became the second-oldest player to have netted a Champions League double after Filippo Inzaghi (37 years and 86 days) in November 2010, and Solskjaer likened his forward's impact to that of former Chicago Bulls superstar Jordan.

"We all have our roles and responsibilities," Solskjaer told reporters at his post-match news conference. "Cristiano is a leader in the group, but that's what he does: he scores goals.

"We're not happy conceding two goals. Both of them are very, very fine margins. The first one I think should be off, the second one is a centimetre onside, probably. He's maybe offside last season, it's fine margins.

"But he does provide those moments. I'm sure Chicago Bulls didn't mind having Michael Jordan either.

"Sometimes the teams have the players they have, and that's why they are at Man United and why they are champions at Chicago Bulls – you come up with those moments."

United have won just three of their past nine games in all competitions, leaving pressure on the under-fire Solskjaer, but the former Red Devils star hailed the support his side continues to receive.

"It's a great feeling, that support for the team and for me personally. It makes you humble," Solskjaer continued.

"They know that all we want is for the team and the club to do well, of course we want to do our best, and I've appreciated the support recently."

Jadon Sancho, whose opportunities have been limited since joining from Borussia Dortmund in the close season, featured as a second-half substitute, and Solskjaer was satisfied with the England international's performance.

"I commit a crime every time I pick a team," he said. "There are always players that get left out. Against Tottenham, it was a different system, here again it was another different system.

"Jadon has got a fantastic attitude, the quality he has, and he was really sharp when he came on – the first header he cleared, and then he was really good on the ball.

"He's got a really big role to play for us for many years as a good player."

The NBA's hottest young scorer got the best of the reigning MVP on Monday as Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies defeated Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets 106-97. 

Morant had 26 points, eight assists and seven rebounds for the Grizzlies, who bounced back from an ugly home loss to the Miami Heat on Saturday. 

The 22-year-old Morant is averaging 28.3 points per game, second only to Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors (28.7), while shooting 52.4 per cent from the field. 

Jokic played a team-high 33 minutes and finished with 23 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and four blocked shots. 

The Nuggets superstar has shown no ill effects from the knee contusion that forced him out of a game against the Utah Jazz last week in the second quarter. 

The teams meet again in Memphis on Wednesday. 

 

Short-handed 76ers top Trail Blazers

Joel Embiid missed the game with a planned rest day and Tobias Harris sat out due to health and safety protocols, but the Philadelphia 76ers still managed to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers 113-103 behind 23 points from Seth Curry and 21 off the bench from Georges Niang. Embiid's replacement, Andre Drummond, added 14 points and 15 rebounds for the 76ers as Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined to make just 15 of 40 shots from the field, including five of 17 from three-point range, for Portland. 

After making just one of nine shots from the field in the first half, Paul George hit 10 of 15 in the second to finish with 32 points and lead the Los Angeles Clippers past the Oklahoma City Thunder 99-94. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 28 for OKC. 

The Chicago Bulls outscored the Boston Celtics 39-11 in the fourth quarter to rally for a 128-114 road victory. DeMar DeRozan had a spectacular shooting game, making 15 of 20 from the field to lead the Bulls with 37 points while Zach LaVine added 26. 

OG Anunoby had 36 points as the Toronto Raptors handed the New York Knicks their second loss of the season, 113-104 at Madison Square Garden. Gary Trent Jr. added 26 for Toronto, while RJ Barrett led New York with 27 points.

 

Beal, Wizards suffer second loss

Bradley Beal made only three of 11 shots from three-point range and the Washington starting lineup attempted just five free throws as the Wizards suffered their second defeat of the season, 118-111 to the Atlanta Hawks. 

NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks suffered consecutive defeats after being upstaged by the San Antonio Spurs 102-93.

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted a double-double of 28 points and 13 rebounds, but the Bucks still suffered back-to-back losses on Saturday.

The Spurs (2-4) trumped the Bucks (3-3) on the road in Milwaukee thanks to point guard Dejounte Murray, who scored 16 of his 23 points in the final period.

Murray entered the contest having put up 44 points, 22 rebounds and 23 assists over his previous two games – the only Spurs player in the last 30 seasons to have had at least 40 points, 20 rebounds and 20 assists over a two-game span, according to Stats Perform.

"Obviously, it's a good win against the NBA champions," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said after the Bucks were again without Jrue Holiday due to an ankle injury. "They were missing a pretty big piece tonight but it happens to all of us."

 

 

76ers gain some revenge as Heat sizzle

Facing the Atlanta Hawks for the first time since being surprisingly eliminated in last season's Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Philadelphia 76ers routed their rivals 122-94. Tobias Harris fuelled the 76ers with 22 points and 11 rebounds, joining Joel Embiid as the only 76ers players this season with 20-10 games.

The high-flying Miami Heat finished one short of setting a new franchise record after sinking 21 three-pointers in their 129-103 victory at the Memphis Grizzlies. Jimmy Butler led the way with 27 points.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic starred with 26 points and 19 rebounds as the Denver Nuggets outlasted the Minnesota Timberwolves 93-91.

Double-doubles from Deandre Ayton (17 points and 12 rebounds) and Chris Paul (16 points and 10 assists) helped last season's NBA Finals runners-up the Phoenix Suns beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 101-92.

 

Jazz taste defeat

The Utah Jazz were the last unbeaten team remaining having opened their season 4-0, until the new-look Chicago Bulls spoiled the party with a 107-99 win.

DeMar DeRozan insisted the Chicago Bulls "want to win now" after opening the season 4-0 for the first time since 1996-97.

The red-hot Bulls preserved their perfect record with a 111-108 victory against the Toronto Raptors in the NBA on Monday.

Chicago – the last remaining unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference – were busy in the offseason, having recruited four-time All-Star DeRozan, former second pick Lonzo Ball and 2020 NBA champion Alex Caruso.

It came after the Bulls traded for two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic last season.

The last time the Bulls opened with a 4-0 record, Hall of Famer and six-time champion Michael Jordan was on the team in Chicago.

"Part of the reason why I even chose to come to Chicago was everyone was eager to be successful, to want to win," DeRozan said after scoring 26 points against his former team.

"Everybody had that chip on their shoulder, from the city to the organisation to the players that I spoke to.

"That was everybody's mindset, it's all about winning now. We're not in a development stage, we want to win now."

DeRozan added: "We've got a long way to go. We've got a lot more to clean up, to learn. It's a long season, man. [The 4-0 start] is great, but we've got a lot more basketball to go.

"We can't carry this record like it's some kind of badge of honour; we've got to understand that the next game is going to be even harder."

The previous two times the Bulls started 4-0 (1995-96 and 1996-97), they went on to win the NBA championship.

"I think we have a lot of high-character guys, we all want to win and we want to win together," Ball added. "I think when you have a bunch of guys on the same team with the same common goal and the same mindset it makes it easier for the chemistry to click. That's what's going on."

Giannis Antetokounmpo came close to a triple-double as reigning NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks took down the Indiana Pacers 119-109 on Monday.

Antetokounmpo finished the game with 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, as well as two blocks and a steal to fuel the Bucks.

Bucks team-mate Khris Middleton provided good scoring support with 27 points, five rebounds and seven assists, including a remarkable three-pointer on the first-quarter buzzer.

Milwaukee pulled away throughout the game, leading by 15 points at the final change, having no issues in Jrue Holiday (ankle) and Brook Lopez's (back) absence.

While the Bucks improved to 3-1, the Pacers slipped to a 1-3 record despite Domantas Sabonis' 21 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.

 

 

Bulls maintain perfect start

The Chicago Bulls improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1996-97 thanks to a 111-108 victory against the Toronto Raptors. The Bulls led by 10 points with less than three minutes remaining before Fred VanVleet (15 points and a career-high 17 assists) missed a three-point attempt on the buzzer to send it to overtime.

Jayson Tatum posted 41 points, including six three-pointers, with seven rebounds and eight assists as the Boston Celtics outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 140-129 after overtime. The Celtics closed the extra period with a 14-0 run to storm to victory.

Paul George had a career-high eight steals along with 16 points as the Los Angeles Clippers won 116-86 against the Portland Trail Blazers. Luke Kennard added 23 points.

Jonas Valanciunas put up 22 points and a career-high 23 points as the New Orleans Pelicans snapped a season-opening three-game skid by topping the Minnesota Timberwolves 107-98.

 

Harden's radar still off

The Brooklyn Nets improved their record to 2-2 with a 104-90 win over the Washington Wizards although James Harden's shooting radar was off. The former MVP finished five of 17 from the field, including going at 12.5 per cent from beyond the arc for his 14 points.

Damian Lillard continues to struggle for the Blazers this season. The All-Star finished four-of-15 shooting against the Clippers, while he missed all eight of his three-point attempts. Lillard has made two of 24 three-pointers this season (8.3 per cent). He is shooting 34 per cent overall.

The Phoenix Suns soared to a 115-105 victory as LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers were condemned to back-to-back defeats to start the 2021-22 NBA season.

Chris Paul fuelled the Suns with 23 points and 14 rebounds in Los Angeles, where the Lakers were no match for last season's NBA Finals participants and fell to 0-2.

Paul became the first player in NBA history with 20,000 points and 10,000 assists.

Devin Booker (22 points) and Mikal Bridges (21 points) also impressed for the Suns, while double-doubles from Anthony Davis (22 points and 14 rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (15 points and 11 rebounds) were not enough for the Lakers.

James finished with 25 points in front of the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Justin Bieber at Staples Center.

The Lakers' woes were compounded by a row between team-mates Davis and Dwight Howard on the bench during the second quarter as the pair had to be separated.

 

 

Durant's Nets spoil 76ers' opener

The Philadelphia 76ers looked in control and on track for victory but they were upstaged 114-109 by Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets. Kevin Durant posted a triple-double of 29 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists as the Nets used a 16-1 run to stun the 76ers in their first home game of the season in Philadelphia. James Harden had 20 points, while LaMarcus Aldridge added 23 points off the bench on 10-of-12 shooting. Seth Curry made all four of this three-pointers to finish with 23 points, the same amount as 76ers team-mate Tobias Harris.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic showed why he was crowned the league's best player last season, scoring 32 points, collecting 16 rebounds and supplying seven assists in a 102-96 win against the San Antonio Spurs. It was his eighth 30/15/5 game, doubling the rest of the Nuggets franchise history combined.

The Chicago Bulls' new-look team improved to 2-0 thanks to a 128-112 triumph over the New Orleans Pelicans. Lonzo Ball inspired the win behind his triple-double (17 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds), while Zach LaVine (32 points) and DeMar DeRozan (26 points) also came up big.

The Utah Jazz stayed unbeaten courtesy of dominant displays from All-Star duo Donovan Mitchell (27 points) and Rudy Gobert (17 points and 20 assists) in the 110-101 road win at the Sacramento Kings.

Myles turner joined James, Harden, Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady as the only players in NBA history to score 40 points, 10 rebounds, five three-pointers and three blocks in a game. The Indiana Pacers still lost 135-134 to the Washington Wizards in overtime.

 

Celtics lose again

The Boston Celtics were booed off the court at half-time and throughout the second half in their 115-83 defeat against the Toronto Raptors. Jaylen Brown was three-for-13 shooting for nine points and five turnovers, while Marcus Smart ended the game scoreless on 0-for-six shooting in 29 minutes as the Celtics fell to 0-2.

Zach LaVine is "excited" and brimming with confidence for the NBA season ahead following the Chicago Bulls' 94-88 win over the Detroit Pistons in their opening game.

The All-Star guard dragged his team to victory with a superb individual performance, with 34 points, seven rebounds and four assists - his best tally in a season-opener.

LaVine feels a new-look Bulls side can look ahead with plenty of optimism.

"This ain't last year. We're looking forward now," LaVine said. "It's a whole new team. A whole new mindset. So, I'm excited that we ground that one out. A win's a win.

"I'm always confident. I put the work in but having this dude [DeMar DeRozan] next to me, having Vooch [Nikola Vucevic] next to me, that just makes me more confident and more ready to play.

"We have a bunch of dogs on the team now and guys that will step up for each other so I'm really excited, but a win's a win and we're going to go forward from here."

The Bulls' victory was their first on an opening day since 2016 and head coach Billy Donovan had plenty of praise for LaVine's talent as he hopes to lead the team to the playoffs after a four-year absence.

"The shots that he made and things that he does with athletically and talent-wise, I think people have seen that for years," Donovan said. "He's always kind of had that.

"I think he's looking at things through a different lens. His voice is there. There's a different message coming from him in a really, really different way. He sees things in a different way now, based off his experiences."

The Philadelphia 76ers put aside the Ben Simmons drama for 48 minutes as the championship-chasing team opened their NBA season with a 117-97 win at the New Orleans Pelicans.

Simmons was nowhere to be seen in New Orleans after the disgruntled All-Star – demanding a trade – was suspended on Tuesday for "conduct detrimental to the team" following reports he was ejected from practice by head coach Doc Rivers.

The 76ers – last season's Eastern Conference top seeds – played without Simmons on Wednesday and made light work of the Zion Williamson-less Pelicans behind Joel Embiid (22 points), Furkan Korkmaz (22 points), Tobias Harris (20 points and 12 rebounds) and new starting point guard Tyrese Maxey (20 points, seven rebounds and five) for their first season-opening road win since 2004.

Korkmaz sizzled in the fourth quarter, scoring 18 points on four-for-four shooting from three-point range – the most points in a quarter by a Sixers bench player since Lou Williams in 2011.

 

 

LaMelo leads Hornets rally, Brown has career night

LaMelo Ball put on a show as he helped the Charlotte Hornets come back to pip the Indiana Pacers 123-122. The reigning Rookie of the Year put up 31 points, including seven three-pointers – tying a career high, nine rebounds and seven assists to fuel Charlotte's rally. The Hornets used a 24-0 run – in which Ball scored 12 points – in the third period to the stun the Pacers. Chris Duarte (27 points, six three-pointers and five rebounds) became the first Pacers rookie with 25-plus points, five-plus rebounds and five-plus threes in a game since Jamaal Tinsley in 2002.

A career-high 46 points from Jaylen Brown was not enough as the Boston Celtics lost a wild showdown with the New York Knicks 138-134 after double overtime. Brown's tally was the most points ever by a Celtics player in a season opener. The Knicks withstood the Celtics thanks to Julius Randle (35 points) and debutant Evan Fournier, whose 32 points were the most by a player on debut in franchise history.

Jo Morant had 37 points – the second most on opening night in franchise history, behind only his 44-point haul last season – in the Memphis Grizzlies' 132-121 win at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Memphis posted 73 points by half-time – tying the fifth-highest first-half scoring total in their history.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic's 27 points and 13 rebounds guided the Denver Nuggets past last season's NBA Finals participants the Phoenix Suns 110-98.

CJ McCollum (34 points), Damian Lillard (20 points and 11 assists) and Jusuf Nurkic (20 points and 14 rebounds) combined for 74 points but the Portland Trail Blazers still lost 124-121 to the Sacramento Kings, who were led by Harrison Barnes' 36 points and eight three-pointers.

 

Forgettable debut for Rockets rookie

The second pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Jalen Green endured a baptism of fire midweek. The Houston Rockets rookie finished with nine points on four-of-14 shooting from the field, while he made just one of six three-pointers. His minus-37 was the worst plus-minus by a Rockets rookie in a game in the last 20 seasons – tied for the fourth worst by any Rocket in that span. The Rockets were taken down 124-106 by Minnesota Timberwolves trio Karl-Anthony Towns (30 points and 10 rebounds), Anthony Edwards (29 points) and D'Angelo Russell (22 points).

Back on home court for the first time since February 2020, the Toronto Raptors' long-awaited return to Canada ended in a disappointing 98-83 loss to the Washington Wizards. Toronto missed 19 of their first 21 three-pointers, finishing seven of 34 from beyond the card. They were just 30.9 per cent from the field overall.

Suns star Devin Booker was far from his best against the Nuggets, finishing three-of-15 shooting for 12 points in 30 minutes of action.

DeMar DeRozan is headed to Chicago on a new three-year, $85million contract after the Bulls and San Antonio Spurs orchestrated a sign-and-trade deal, multiple outlets on reported Tuesday.

The Spurs received Thaddeus Young and Al-Farouq Aminu, who are both on expiring contracts, as well as a future first-round draft pick and two future second-round picks.

DeRozan, who turns 32 later this week, is one of the most consistent scorers in the NBA, averaging at least 20 points per game over each of the last eight seasons.

The 6ft 6in swingman averaged 21.6 points and a career-high 6.9 assists last season for San Antonio while shooting 49.5 percent from the floor.

DeRozan's game, however, has come under scrutiny by some due to his unwillingness to attempt and inability to make three-pointers.

He shot just 22.7 percent from beyond the arc in his three-season tenure with the Spurs.

The move is the latest for Bulls vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley in an effort to end the franchise's four-season playoff drought.

Also joining Chicago will be point guard Lonzo Ball, who received a four-year, $85m contract Monday in a sign-and-trade deal that ended his tenure with the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Bulls also signed restricted free agent guard Alex Caruso after the Los Angeles Lakers declined to match Chicago's four-year, $37m offer.

Chicago were buyers at last season's trade deadline, acquiring former All-Star center Nikola Vucevic from the Orlando Magic, and are making an urgent push to build around Zach LaVine and win their first playoff series since 2015.

Always a dangerous scorer, LaVine achieved new levels of efficiency last season, shooting 50.7 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from three-point range, both career highs.

Chicago was thought to be in the market for a polished player or two this offseason, but many thought the team would need to part ways with a young asset.

But the Bulls' front office was able to add both DeRozan and Ball without giving up Lauri Markkanen, Patrick Williams or Coby White. 

The USA men's basketball team flew to Tokyo on Monday without Zach LaVine, but the Chicago Bulls guard has not been ruled out for the Olympics. 

USA Basketball announced LaVine had been placed under health and safety protocols and would not travel with the team, but said it hoped he would be able to join them later this week. 

Winners of the last three Olympic gold medals, the USA made two roster changes late last week, adding JaVale McGee and Keldon Johnson to replace Kevin Love and Bradley Beal. 

Love withdrew because he has not fully recovered from a calf injury, while Beal had to drop out due to health and safety protocols. 

Head coach Gregg Popovich will hold out hope that LaVine is indeed able to rejoin the team before the July 25 Group A opener against France in Saitama. 

The 26-year-old is coming off his best season, establishing career highs with 27.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game and making the All-Star team for the first time.

He figures to play a key role for Team USA, if only because fellow backcourt mates Devin Booker and Jrue Holiday are still playing in the NBA Finals and may not be at full strength from the beginning of the Olympic tournament. 

LaVine started Sunday's exhibition win against Spain in Las Vegas and scored 13 points. 

The regular season is over. All teams have made it through 72 games in a campaign played out amid the backdrop of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

For some, the focus now switches quickly to the playoffs. Those who missed out, however, get an early start to their offseason, a time for rest, reflection and perhaps a reset ahead of the NBA Draft in late July.

The contrasting situations for teams at this time in a campaign offers opportunities to those perhaps not used to being in the spotlight. It may be the final act in the show, but it allows some players to step in and take centre stage.

Powered by Stats Perform data, here is a look at some of those who have seized the moment in the latest edition of Heat Check.

RUNNING HOT...

Jordan Clarkson

Clarkson has excelled this season with the Utah Jazz and is the overwhelming favourite to be named Sixth Man of the Year in the NBA Awards. He has averaged 18.4 points across 68 games, of which he has started in just one. His final act in the regular season was a 33-point haul in a win over the Sacramento Kings, including landing half of his 12 attempts from beyond the arc.

Despite being without Mike Conley Jr and Donovan Mitchell down the stretch, the Jazz still finished strongly to end up as the top seeds in the Western Conference. Now they wait to find out who they will face first up in the playoffs, aiming to avoid an opening-round exit for a third successive campaign.

Kelan Martin

Martin is a prime case of a player capitalising on extended game time. Having gone undrafted, he had a spell in Germany before getting an NBA debut with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2019. However, he has looked right at home of late with the Indiana Pacers, including recording a career-high 25 points on May 10. During the past week, the 25-year-old has averaged 14.2 points per game and 2.6 successful three-point attempts.

Indiana have a play-in game to come against the Charlotte Hornets as they aim to keep their campaign alive – do not be surprised to see Martin remain involved in the rotation.

Malachi Flynn

Few teams have had it as tough as the Toronto Raptors. For starters, the Canadian franchise was relocated to Tampa due to travel restrictions in place during the global pandemic. Health and safety protocols have also taken a toll on player (and coach) availability and, with no hope of a top-10 finish in the Eastern Conference, several of their starters have been absent from duty.

That has offered further minutes for Malachi Flynn, though. The rookie guard rounded out his debut year with 26 and 27 points respectively in losses to the Dallas Mavericks and the Pacers. Across the past week, he averaged out at 3.25 successful attempts from three-point range, demonstrating his scoring touch from deep.

GOING COLD...

Elfrid Payton

To say Payton’s numbers are a concern is an understatement. The starting point guard for the playoff-bound New York Knicks has not reached double figures for points in his previous seven outings.

Indeed, across the past week, the former first-round pick by the Philadelphia 76ers has averaged 1.0ppg. One. Point. He made just two of 14 field goal attempts across four games. Considering the Knicks also have Frank Ntilikina and Derrick Rose on the roster, a change to the line-up would not be at all surprising.

Nikola Vucevic

Vucevic did not play on Sunday as the Chicago Bulls wrapped up their campaign with a win over the shorthanded Milwaukee Bucks. The center averaged 12.67 points in the three appearances across May 10-16, comfortably down on his mark of 23.9 entering the week. He struggled against the Brooklyn Nets in particular, landing just four of his 18 shots, including none of the eight attempts launched from three-point range.

Here is an example of how sometimes good intentions do not quite pan out as planned. Vucevic's arrival prior to the trade deadline was a show of intent by the Bulls to make the playoffs. Instead, they are left on the outside in the East, finishing up in 11th place in the standings for a second season in a row.

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