Damian Lillard will be out for at least six weeks after the Portland Trail Blazers star underwent abdominal surgery.

The point guard had been increasingly troubled by a long-standing injury and decided to take action after playing in a 139-106 thrashing at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers on New Year’s Eve.

Portland on Thursday confirmed Lillard had been operated on by Dr William C. Meyers at The Vincera Institute in Philadelphia to "repair a core injury causing chronic abdominal pain."

The Trail Blazers are 10th in the Western Conference at 16-24 and must now do without six-time NBA All-Star Lillard for at least a month and a half.

The 31-year-old told Blazers.com: "Last year it was pretty bad.

"Going from that long season, playing a few months without Nurk [Jusuf Nurkic] and without CJ [McCollum] and having to play more minutes, then coming off a short summer after the bubble season where I was hurt in the bubble and going into last year and then not having a break after last year just training for the Olympics, going to the Olympics.

"At the Olympics it was as bad as it'’s been and I was just like 'Man, this is a real issue.' There was really no time for me to do it. I just decided to rest.

"I took like 30 days where I didn't do nothing and I felt a lot better coming into camp. I felt fresh, I had been working out and stuff, it hadn't been giving me any trouble because I was coming off such a long break.

"And then the second that we started camp I felt good the first day, day and a half. Then I started to feel it again and I was like 'Man, I thought the rest would help for a longer period of time.' But it didn't."

Lillard added: "I know [surgery] is ultimately going to be what's best for the team, too. I'd rather be selfish for the team, what I see for our organisation and where I want it to go.

"It makes no sense to keep doing it the way we was doing it. It's like, alright, take a step back to take how many steps forward. It's just what had to happen."

Key man Lillard is averaging 24 points, 4.1 rebounds and 7.3 assists from 29 games this season

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.

LeBron James hurt his ankle but played on as the Los Angeles Lakers were humbled by the in-form Phoenix Suns 108-88 led by Devin Booker with 24 points on Tuesday.

The Lakers had a major injury scare, with All-Star forward Anthony Davis already sidelined, after James rolled his left ankle driving to the basket in the third quarter, leaving him punching the floor.

The four-time MVP soldiered on, finishing with 34 points and seven rebounds, but spent the final few minutes on the bench as the Lakers were brushed aside by the Suns who improve to 25-5.

Phoenix have four straight and won six of their past seven games, having started the season 1-3. The Suns had seven different players in double figures on Tuesday.

Booker starred in his second game back after a hamstring injury with 24 points including six three-pointers, along with nine rebounds and seven assists. Suns center Deandre Ayton had 19 points and 11 rebounds.

Talen Horton-Tucker had a nightmare game for the Lakers, shooting one of 13 from the field and none of eight from beyond the arc, while Russell Westbrook had 22 points and 10 rebounds but also seven turnovers.

 

Lillard's heroics in vain as Blazers lose

Damian Lillard's 39 points, including six triples, were not enough to lift the Portland Trail Blazers past the New Orleans Pelicans, going down 111-97. Brandon Ingram finished with 28 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, while Jonas Valanciunas had 10 points with 16 rebounds.

Jalen Brunson stepped up in Luka Doncic's absence with 28 points including three triples in the Dallas Mavericks' 114-102 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Karl-Anthony Towns scored 26 points with 12 rebounds and seven assists for the Wolves.

Julius Randle had 21 points and 11 rebounds as the New York Knicks overcame the Detroit Pistons 105-91.

 

Brogdon injured as Pacers burnt by Heat

The Indiana Pacers' starting five combined for a measly 46 points in their 125-96 defeat to the Miami Heat. The Pacers were not helped by a sore right Achilles to Malcolm Brogdon which forced him off after eight minutes.

Damian Lillard vented frustration at coverage of his struggles after scoring a season-high 43 points to help the Portland Trail Blazers get back to winning ways.

Lillard torched the Charlotte Hornets as Portland ended a seven-game losing streak by winning 125-116 on Friday night. Lillard was 12 of 19 from the field as he posted the 40th 40-point game of his career.

Yet even after his big performance on Friday night, Lillard is still shooting career-worst numbers this season – just 39.5 per cent from the field and 31.6 per cent from three-point range after 24 games.

He is averaging 22.8 points per game, his lowest since the 2014-15 season, and this was just the fourth time in this campaign that he has registered 30 points or more. Those healthier hauls have all come in his last nine games, pointing to a significant upswing in Lillard's form.

When his demeanour in a post-game news conference was called into question, Lillard said: "I'm happy we won a game. I felt happy throughout the game and in the locker room, but when I come here and I gotta answer questions, and I've done so much in my career, specifically in Portland, I've given everything, I've never made an excuse, I've never disrespected any of y'all.

"I've never not given you guys time. Just when our team is going through it, I'm in a little bit of a struggle, and I see certain people not giving me that same respect. So that's why I'm a little irritated in here, but with our team I'm happy with what we did. I still come in here and give that same time, but I don't appreciate it man. It'll be handled that way going forward."

Lillard, 31, has spent his entire NBA career with Portland and is a six-time All-Star, posting a career-high 30.0 points per game in the 2019-20 season.

He felt understandable relief at the Trail Blazers finding a way to end their slump. They are 12-18 so far for this campaign.

"I tried to come out and play with pace, be in attack mode, and that was just it," Lillard said. "It was the same situation as in the last few games; we just need to get a win and tonight was that night.

"You lose so many in a row, things start to do downhill. This was a big win for us, and we needed to feel good about something and getting a win usually does that.

"Now we need to roll with it. We've got to make it turn into two and three, pick ourselves up and dig ourselves out of the hole we've put ourselves in and tonight was a good start.

"It's easier when you're making shots as a team, but it was good for us to play with that energy and swagger for a long time and get a win against a good team."

Stephen Curry posted 30 points as the Golden State Warriors reclaimed the best record in the NBA with a 111-107 victory at the Boston Celtics.

Curry – the league's all-time three-points leader – nailed five shots from beyond the arc to fuel the Warriors (24-5) on Friday.

The Warriors snapped a five-game losing streak against the Celtics as Andrew Wiggins added 27 points.

It was a milestone victory for head coach Steve Kerr, who became the third coach in franchise history to reach 400 career wins.

"We're coming off the emotional roller coaster ... a lot going on around the league," Curry said after Jordan Poole entered the NBA's COVID-19 protocols. "You try not to get distracted by all the things that are outside the locker room."

 

Lillard's 43 inspires Blazers

Damian Lillard torched the Charlotte Hornets with a season-high 43 points to help the Portland Trail Blazers end a seven-game losing streak by winning 125-116. Lillard was 12 of 19 from the field as he posted the 40th 40-point game of his career.

The San Antonio Spurs upstaged the Utah Jazz 128-126 behind Dejounte Murray's second triple-double in three games – 16 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. San Antonio did not commit a turnover in the third quarter and registered a season-high 41 points in that period to snap Utah's eight-game winning run.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic fell just short of a triple-double after scoring 20 points, collecting 10 rebounds and tallying seven assists in the Denver Nuggets' 133-115 win against the Atlanta Hawks. Trae Young's 34 points and 10 rebounds were not enough for the Hawks.

 

LeBron's Lakers beaten

LeBron James was five-of-13 shooting for 18 points and 10 rebounds in the Los Angeles Lakers' 110-92 defeat at the Minnesota Timberwolves. Isaiah Thomas had 19 points in his second Lakers debut as Karl-Anthony Towns inspired the Timberwolves with 28 points and 10 rebounds.

Not even a career-high 40 points from Jrue Holiday could lift defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks, who went down 116-112 to the New Orleans Pelicans after overtime in the absence of stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.

Damian Lillard insists he is not seeking a trade as he declared "my intentions are to be in Portland and figure it out".

Long-serving Trail Blazers guard Lillard, currently sidelined with an abdominal injury, has become accustomed to frenzied speculation over his future.

ESPN this week reported the six-time NBA All-Star wants a two-year, $107 million extension, while it has also been claimed he wants a move as struggling Portland seek a new general manager after firing Neil Olshey.

Lillard rubbished talk that he wants to leave the franchise where he has spent his entire professional career.

He told reporters: "I'm not asking for a trade. I don't know how many times I have to say it.

"It's gotten to a point in this era that people can write stories and say things and 'I heard this and I heard that' and because of who they are, people take as, like, this is credible, this is probably true.

"Me, on the other hand, I don't feel like I have to defend myself against that and come out and challenge everything that people say until I'm asked about it because I know the truth, you know what I mean? 

"I sit in the office with Chauncey [Head coach Billups] every day, and we're trying to find solutions, and dealing with these people every day when I walk in this practice facility trying to find solutions.

"Why would I be a part of trying to find solutions if I'm planning on an exit, you know what I'm saying? That's not what's going on. 

"But people want that so bad. It's a good story and it's a good thing to talk about that and they know people are going to entertain it so they continue with it, but my intentions are to be in Portland and figure it out.

"That's as far I know all of our intentions, and I also know that people are going to continue to have these same conversations because it's fun to talk about, but that s*** is not accurate."

Lillard has averaged 21.5 points per game this season – his worst record since the 2015-16 campaign – while shooting 39.7 per cent from the floor and just 30.2 per cent from three-point range. They both represent career lows for a season. 

Damian Lillard has been ruled out for at least 10 days with an abdominal injury, the Portland Trail Blazers confirmed on Wednesday. 

The All-Star point guard has been managing the injury all season and sat out Tuesday's 110-92 win over the Detroit Pistons. 

An MRI scan confirmed Lillard was suffering from lower abdominal tendinopathy. He will be evaluated again in 10 days, ruling him out of games against the San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors. 

The Blazers star is averaging 21.5 points per game this season – his worst record since the 2015-16 campaign – while shooting 39.7 per cent from the floor and just 30.2 per cent from three-point range. They would both represent career lows for a season. 

Portland also confirmed that Nasir Little would miss a week of action with a left ankle sprain. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo's monster performance helped the Milwaukee Bucks top the Orlando Magic 117-108 in the NBA on Saturday.

Antetokounmpo posted 32 points and collected 20 rebounds to fuel the NBA champions at home to the lowly Magic in Milwaukee.

The Finals MVP became the fifth player to reach 32 points, 20 rebounds, five assists, two steals and three blocks in a game over the past 40 season, following in the footsteps of DeMarcus Cousins, Tim Duncan, David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Bobby Portis added a season-high 24 points along with 15 rebounds as the streaking Bucks (9-8) celebrated their third consecutive victory.

 

 

Lillard leads Blazers

Damian Lillard had a season-high 39 points as the Portland Trail Blazers outlasted the Philadelphia 76ers 118-111. Portland improved to 8-1 at home to his season. The 76ers, who continue to be without MVP runner-up Joel Embiid (COVID protocol), were led by 28 points apiece from Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey.

All-Star pair Rudy Gobert (21 points and 14 rebounds) and Donovan Mitchell (26 points) inspired the Utah Jazz to a 123-105 victory away to the Sacramento Kings.

 

Lowry struggles from the floor

The Miami Heat's prized recruit, Kyle Lowry had an off night in the team's 103-100 loss at Eastern conference rivals the Washington Wizards. The NBA champion was just three-of-12 shooting – making one of only seven three-pointers in a seven-point display.

The Charlotte Hornets had their five-game winning streak snapped by the Atlanta Hawks, who prevailed 115-105. Charlotte tasted defeat, despite big performances from Miles Bridges (35 points and 10 rebounds) and LaMelo Ball (15 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds).

Damian Lillard claims officiating in the NBA this season has been "unacceptable", as he did not expect to be impacted by the league's foul rule change.

A new interpretation of the foul rule in 2021-22 has seen a "change in the officiating of overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves by offensive players with the ball in an effort to draw fouls", essentially meaning fewer trips to the foul line for certain players.

Portland Trail Blazers star Lillard had attempted 484 free throws last year, the fifth-most in the NBA.

But that figure has dropped from 7.2 per game all the way down to 3.2 following the officiating changes, a huge factor in Lillard's points output decreasing from an elite 28.8 to 19.3.

Only in his rookie season has the point guard scored fewer points per game, while he has never averaged fewer free throw attempts.

Given Lillard scored 23.1 per cent of the Blazers' points in 2020-21, with only Stephen Curry on the Golden State Warriors contributing a greater share (24.6 per cent), this dip has had a significant knock-on effect.

Portland are 5-6 this year and one of only three teams still winless on the road, with their latest loss coming on Tuesday at the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Blazers had snapped a seven-game losing streak against the Clippers in the teams' previous meeting but went down 117-109 at Staples Center, where Lillard was furious with the officials, restricted to only one free throw attempt.

He has visited the foul line just three times in the past three games and let rip during his post-game media duties.

"I feel like the way the game is being officiated is unacceptable," Lillard said.

"I don't want to go too deep into it so they make a big deal out of it, but the explanations, the s*** that's getting missed, I mean, come on...

"I'm not that type of player – I felt like coming in, the rule change wouldn't affect me, because I don't do the trick the referees, I don't do the trick plays. It's just unacceptable, man.

"Then the explanations and the remarks in return when you're telling them is just like... I don't really have anything else to say about it."

For all Lillard's complaints, his shooting performance has also been down this year, averaging 36.5 per cent from the field, 25.5 per cent from three-point range and 85.7 from the foul line; he was 45.1, 39.1 and 92.8 last season.

These numbers were not helped by a hopeless performance against the Indiana Pacers last week, when he was two-of-13 from the field for a mere four points in 38 minutes.

Only once previously in his career had Lillard scored so few points while playing more minutes (four in 40 versus the Orlando Magic in 2013).

But he had a year-high 27 against the Clippers and added: "I'm feeling better each game. I still feel like I'm not completely rolling, but I'm feeling better every game."

The new NBA season is two weeks in and narratives are already forming.

The Golden State Warriors are back, the Chicago Bulls' rebuild was a success, and several top teams – including defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks – are toiling.

Those themes may not hold for the entire regular season, but we have now seen enough to recognise some patterns – and the same is true on an individual level.

Which players have made flying starts to this campaign, and which are yet to find their feet? Stats Perform takes a look with the first 2021-22 edition of NBA Heat Check.

RUNNING HOT...

Miles Bridges

The Charlotte Hornets were already a fun watch last year thanks to LaMelo Ball, but the second-year point guard has help in 2021-22. Bridges has been one of the key men in lifting the Hornets to an exciting 5-3 start.

Playing alongside Ball, Gordon Hayward and surprise 2020-21 star Terry Rozier, Bridges leads Charlotte in scoring with 23.1 points per game. Now in year four, his previous best had seen 13.0 in his sophomore season.

Bridges' shooting from the field (47.2 per cent) and from three-point range (34.4 per cent) is actually down on last year, while he is only marginally more accurate from the foul line (88.2 per cent).

But the forward is thriving on having been given increased responsibility this season. He is back to being a regular starter, up to 35.5 minutes per game from 29.3, and attempting almost twice as many shots. Through Monday's games, only seven players in the NBA had attempted more shots from three (61).

With assists (3.4), rebounds (7.9), steals (1.8) and blocks (0.9) also on the rise, the Hornets could have a major asset if Bridges maintains these standards.

Ja Morant

If Bridges' development has represented a major shock, Morant's has not. The Memphis Grizzlies sensation was the Rookie of the Year two seasons ago and dumped the Warriors out in the play-in round last year.

Still, Morant's performances have been mightily impressive. His 28.3 points per game trail only Stephen Curry and Paul George. Having played more games than both, his 198 total points lead the league. Morant also tops the charts for field goals made (75).

After a 2-0 start, Morant had 40 in a losing effort against the Los Angeles Lakers and soon added 30 against the Warriors to return the Grizzlies to winning ways.

The 22-year-old is certainly not the finished article – only Russell Westbrook has had more turnovers than his 34 and a plus/minus of -6.1 suggests his scoring is not making up for shortcomings in other areas – but the rate of improvement indicates Memphis will be rewarded soon enough for sticking by their man.

Harrison Barnes

Barnes has seen what elite looks like, having been drafted by the Warriors in 2012 and started every game across the regular season and playoffs when they won the title three years later.

But Barnes was merely the fourth or fifth scoring option on that team and, through moves to the Dallas Mavericks and then the Sacramento Kings, has taken time to establish himself as a leading man.

This could well be the year, though. Barnes is the Kings' top scorer with 23.3 points per game, boosted by a career-high 36 against the Portland Trail Blazers on opening night.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the forward's scoring output has fallen with each passing performance since that stunning display, but he is bringing more to Sacramento than just scoring. Last year's 6.6 assists were a career high, only to be topped by a staggering 10.3 this time.

Although Barnes' Kings team-mates suggested after the Portland game they were always confident he could produce such displays, his progress at 29 has come as a surprise to everyone else.

GOING COLD...

Damian Lillard

Numerous players have explained away their below-par outputs by complaining about the NBA's new interpretation of the foul rule this season – a "change in the officiating of overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves by offensive players with the ball in an effort to draw fouls" essentially meaning fewer trips to the foul line for certain stars.

Trae Young, one of those prominently affected, named Lillard as another who was suffering more than usual.

Lillard is attempting only 3.9 free throws per game this year, in line with his career-low rookie year. His 18.6 points are below 19.0 he offered the Blazers in 2012-13. He had 28.8 last season.

But those foul calls are not Lillard's only issue, with his shooting from the field also hugely underwhelming through seven games.

The point guard is making only 34.9 per cent from the field and, having previously scored 4.1 three-point attempts per game, 23.1 per cent from beyond the arc. Those are also career lows and sources of major concern for Portland.

Dwight Howard

The Lakers made significant changes to their roster in the offseason and a number of the new recruits have not yet hit their stride.

It figures that Westbrook, now the third man in LA, should have seen his points (18.3), assists (8.7) and rebounds (8.7) take a hit along with his usage rate (28.5 per cent) after averaging a triple-double on the Washington Wizards, but Howard's slow early-season form was less predictable.

The three-time Defensive Player of the Year played a key bench role in the Lakers' title success in 2019-20, even starting seven playoff games, before joining the Philadelphia 76ers for a season.

Back at Staples Center, Howard is proving far less effective to this point. Both his points (4.3) and, most concerningly, rebounds (4.0) have reached career lows. His minutes are down from 17.3 last year to 15.2 this, but his averages per 48 only further display a decrease in performance – 23.3 rebounds becoming 12.7.

With Howard also involved in an altercation with Anthony Davis during a defeat to the Phoenix Suns, it is fair to say his Lakers return has not so far gone entirely to plan.

James Harden recorded his first triple-double of the season as the Brooklyn Nets claimed back-to-back wins for the first time this NBA campaign in a 117-91 victory over the lowly Detroit Pistons on Sunday.

Harden finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists after three quarters, while Nets team-mate Kevin Durant top-scored with 23 points but was ejected in the third quarter for shoving his elbow into Kelly Olynyk's face.

Former MVP Harden has had a slow start to 2021-22, however, he backed up his season-high 29 points against the Indiana Pacers on Friday with another impressive showing which will encourage the championship-chasing Nets (4-3) that he is getting back to his best after an injury-impacted offseason.

Harden hit four three-pointers as the superstar guard – already Brooklyn's all-time triple-double leader with 13 – joined Hall of Famer Larry Bird for second on the NBA's all-time list with 59.

 

Mitchell leads Jazz past struggling champs

Donovan Mitchell starred with 28 points, including a treble of first-quarters three-pointers as the Utah Jazz hit their first five attempts from range in a 107-95 win against slumping champions the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Bucks, who have lost three in a row.

Carmelo Anthony – who is shooting a career-high 50 per cent and 52.2 per cent from three this season – scored 23 points off the bench, while LeBron James had 15 points, seven rebounds and assists in the Los Angeles Lakers' 95-85 triumph over the Houston Rockets.

Luka Doncic led the way for the Dallas Mavericks with 23 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists in a 105-99 victory against the Sacramento Kings.

 

Dame cold in Blazers loss

All-Star Damian Lillard's shooting was wayward as the Portland Trail Blazers were downed 125-113 by the Charlotte Hornets, hitting two from 14 from three-point range for a below-standard 14-point return.

LeBron James returned from injury with 26 points as the Los Angeles Lakers overcame a slow first half to defeat his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, 113-101 on Friday.

James had missed the Lakers' past two games with a sore ankle but marked his return by top scoring, adding eight assists and three rebounds.

The four-time MVP only shot 10 from 22 from the field and one from 10 from three-point range, draining a three-quarter time buzzer beater from almost halfway.

Carmelo Anthony added 24 points off the bench for the Lakers while Anthony Davis had 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists.

The Cavs, who have beaten contenders the Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers this season, led by as much as 11 points at one stage, including holding a one-point lead into the fourth quarter.

James played a lead role in steadying the ship for the Lakers, who scored 25-16 in the fourth quarter to win by 12 points and improve their record to 3-3.

 

Harden finds his scoring touch

James Harden re-discovered some form with a season-high 29 points, including 21 in the first half, in the Brooklyn Nets' 105-98 win over the Indiana Pacers. LaMarcus Aldridge added 21 points off the bench to reach 20,000 career NBA points, while Kevin Durant dominated with 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

Jimmy Butler starred with 32 points, 10 rebounds and five assists while Bam Adebayo added 26 points and 19 rebounds as the Miami Heat downed the in-form Charlotte Hornets 114-99.

Damian Lillard hit five from seven three-pointers, finishing with 25 points as the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 111-92. Paul George finished with 42 points for the Clippers, who are 1-3.

 

Doncic wayward as Mavs routed

Luka Doncic had an off-night, with 16 points, shooting five from 18 from the field as the Dallas Mavericks were brushed aside 106-75 by the Denver Nuggets.

Hornets guard LaMelo Ball's bright start to the season has stalled, managing only six points in their loss to the Heat, shooting none from five from beyond the arc.

Trae Young believes James Harden is merely one of "a couple of guys" being targeted by an NBA rule change that is seeing fewer fouls awarded.

More lax officiating early in the 2021-22 season has frustrated Brooklyn Nets superstar Harden, who has said he "for sure" feels like "the poster boy" for what the league described as "an interpretive change in the officiating of overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves by offensive players with the ball in an effort to draw fouls".

Harden has averaged 8.7 free throw attempts per game for his career. This includes more than 10.0 in seven separate seasons and six straight before last year. Only Wilt Chamberlain (11) and Shaquille O'Neal (10) have averaged double-figures for free throws in more seasons.

Since arriving in the NBA in 2009, no player comes within 1,000 of Harden's 7,674 total free throw attempts.

This year, though, following the rule change, Harden has visited the foul line just 15 times through five games – an average of 3.0 even lower than his rookie year.

"Sometimes I feel like coming into a game it's already predetermined," he said. "I already have that stigma of getting foul calls."

But Harden is not alone. Atlanta Hawks point guard Young has averaged 4.4 free throws per game this year, down from 8.7 in 2020-21 when his 546 for the year trailed only Giannis Antetokounmpo (581) and Joel Embiid (548).

And Young was keen to address the issue after taking only three shots from the foul line in Thursday's defeat to the Washington Wizards, in which he scored a season-low 15 points.

"It's not necessarily about stuff not going our way," he said. "It's simple basketball. Fouls should be fouls.

"The foul they gave me at the end of the game, I thought that was BS – they just gave it to me – but there's a lot of calls they missed.

"It's basketball. It feels like they're learning, and it's... I don't know. It's frustrating."

Young said he would have to "figure it out", but he indicated others are in the same boat as he and Harden.

Damian Lillard is down to 4.5 free throw attempts and 17.8 points per game, while Devin Booker has only had 3.5 free throw attempts and a slight slump to 21.5 points.

"I don't want to get fined too much, but this is frustrating," Young said. "I saw James said it's about him, but it's not targeted at one player. There's a couple of guys where you feel like refs are holding their whistle.

"You watch basketball. Damian Lillard's never averaged 17 points probably since his rookie year. There's a couple of guys. Book's averaging 18.

"There are a lot of things where guys are driving straight, they're getting knocked off balance, it's still a foul.

"There were a lot of things they took out that were necessary – veering back and jumping into guys – that's different. There are certain things that I agree with the rule changes, but then there's things that are still fouls.

"Guys are going to get hurt, and that's why, especially a smaller guy like me, who's going up against bigger and stronger defenders, they're using their body and they're using their legs and their hands to stop me.

"I know they're looking for a guy getting knocked off balance. So, if I'm going straight and I get my balance knocked off, that's a foul. If they slow down my speed, that's a foul.

"I know the rules, so the ref can't come to me and tell me what happened and what didn't if I know exactly what they're looking for."

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 reigning NBA champions got back on track Saturday, as Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Milwaukee Bucks to a 121-111 defeat of the San Antonio Spurs. 

Two days after a 42-point blowout loss to the Miami Heat, the Bucks looked more like their usual selves in San Antonio, though the Spurs kept the game tight and pulled within four points with 4:24 to play. 

Middleton had 28 points to lead the Bucks, while Antetokounmpo added 21 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. 

Middleton, who is beginning his ninth season with the Bucks, passed Ray Allen to move into 10th on Milwaukee's all-time scoring list with 9,704 points for the team.

Doug McDermott scored 25 to lead Milwaukee, making seven of 11 from three-point range. 

 

Grizzlies hand Clippers another loss

Despite 41 points from Paul George, the Los Angeles Clippers lost their second straight game to open the season, falling 120-114 to the Memphis Grizzlies. While George poured in the points, a balanced Memphis attack led by Ja Morant's 28 points and eight assists secured another win for the visitors. 

In Portland, CJ McCollum scored 28 points and Damian Lillard had 19 as the Trail Blazers rolled past the Phoenix Suns 134-105. Devin Booker had 21 points, the only Phoenix player to score more than 14. 

Luka Doncic had a game-high 27 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds as the Dallas Mavericks rallied from a six-point half-time deficit to defeat the Raptors 103-95 in Toronto for their first victory under new head coach Jason Kidd. Tim Hardaway Jr. added 25 points and Kristaps Porzingis had 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Mavericks, while OG Anunoby led Toronto with 23. 

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