James Harden revelled in his history-making triple-double as the star-studded Brooklyn Nets stayed hot in the NBA.

Harden posted a triple-double of 21 points, 15 assists and 15 rebounds to fuel the in-form Nets to their fifth consecutive victory – a 117-112 win over rivals the New York Knicks on Monday.

Former MVP Harden became the first Nets player in franchise history to have a 15-plus point, 15-plus assist and 15-plus assist game.

Nets superstar Harden is averaging 25.0 points, 11.1 assists and 8.1 rebounds per game this season.

After the Nets (27-13) recorded their 13th win in 14 games, Harden was asked about triple-doubles and he told reporters "Whatever it takes. Like rebounding, I try to go help it, especially when we're small.

"I know I have to go rebound the basketball a little bit more. I know I have to put my body on bigs a little bit more because I'm not athletic enough or big enough to be able to jump with them. I've got to use my body just being crafty around that rim as far as rebounding.

"And then playmaking, it's just getting my team-mates shots and getting our bigs easy opportunities at the rim. Offensively, I'm not being as efficient as I want to be, but that's come and that's the least of my worries, the least of my concerns.

"I'm just excited and happy to continue this journey with these guys. We're playing some pretty good basketball right now."

Nets team-mate Kyrie Irving had a game-high 34 points as Brooklyn won the Battle of the Boroughs against the Knicks.

"As a kid, obviously New Jersey versus New York, that was a big thing," Irving added. "Whether the Knicks were at Continental Airlines Arena, or New Jersey was at MSG, now that Brooklyn versus New York, kind of the whole entire area, a lot of people I see on Instagram and Twitter, media outlets, just New York, New York versus this whole big thing.

"But I think as players we feel it naturally. But obviously, being from here, it's a little bit of have a different sentiment, because I got to go home and actually be around Knicks and Nets fans. It's my family. So it's basketball, it's competition. It's a world sport. So it's just nothing but respect. But obviously you want to come out here and just have fun going against New York Knicks. They've been playing well season so well, Coach, team, and just appreciate the opportunity."

James Harden made history as the Brooklyn Nets earned bragging rights against rivals the New York Knicks following their 117-112 win in the NBA on Monday.

Harden posted a triple-double of 21 points, 15 assists and 15 rebounds to fuel the in-form Nets to their fifth consecutive victory.

The former MVP became the first Nets player in franchise history to have a 15-plus point, 15-plus assist and 15-plus assist game.

Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 34 points for the star-studded Nets, who won for the 13th time in 14 games.

A 33-point and 12-rebound double-double from All-Star Julius Randle was not enough for the Knicks in the Battle of the Boroughs.

Giannis Antetokounmpo recorded his third straight triple-double to lead the Milwaukee Bucks past the lowly Washington Wizards 133-122.

Two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo had 31 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists as the Bucks extended their winning streak to four games.

Antetokounmpo became the first reigning NBA MVP with three consecutive 20-point triple-doubles since Hall of Famer Michael Jordan in 1988-89, while he is the first Bucks player with three successive triple-doubles.

Big games from Bradley Beal (37 points) and Russell Westbrook (23 points and 17 assists) were not enough to inspire the Wizards.

 

LeBron lifts Lakers, Curry makes history

LeBron James produced another dominant display as defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers routed the Golden State Warriors 128-97. James put up his fourth triple-double of the season – 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.

Warriors star Stephen Curry finished with 27 points, three rebounds, two assists and three steals. With his second assist of the night, Curry (4,856) surpassed Guy Rodgers (4,855) as the franchise's all-time assists leader. He also nailed a three-pointer in his 100th consecutive game, the third three-point streak of at least 100 games in NBA history. Curry holds the record with a 157-game three-point run between 2014 and 2016.

MVP candidate Nikola Jokic put up 32 points and 14 rebounds in the Denver Nuggets' 121-106 win at home to the Indiana Pacers – his 35th double-double of the season.

Luka Doncic recorded a triple-double of 25 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds, but the Dallas Mavericks lost 109-99 to the Los Angeles Clippers. With his 34th career triple-double, Doncic moved ahead of Bob Cousy for 11th on the all-time list.

 

Morant and George lack efficiency

Both Ja Morant and Paul George tallied double-digit points for their respective teams, however, it was far from convincing. Morant was four-of-12 shooting for 15 points in 29 minutes as the Memphis Grizzlies went down 122-99 to the Phoenix Suns, while Clippers star George had 15 points on five-of-18 shooting.

 

Poetry in motion

James was at his brilliant best against the Warriors, highlighted by a driving run to the basket in the second quarter.

 

Monday's results

Charlotte Hornets 122-116 Sacramento Kings
Milwaukee Bucks 133-122 Washington Wizards
Brooklyn Nets 117-112 New York Knicks
San Antonio Spurs 109-99 Detroit Pistons
Los Angeles Clippers 109-99 Dallas Mavericks
Denver Nuggets 121-106 Indiana Pacers
Phoenix Suns 122-99 Memphis Grizzlies
Los Angeles Lakers 128-97 Golden State Warriors

 

Knicks at 76ers

The Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers (27-12) will put their five-game winning streak on the line when they host the Knicks (20-20) on Tuesday.

The NBA's top-ranked defense will be aiming to slow down the leading offense when the New York Knicks make the short trip to play the Brooklyn Nets. 

The in-form Nets have won 12 of their previous 13 games to rise up the Eastern Conference, the impressive run of form leaving them just a game back of the Philadelphia 76ers, who lead the way in the standings. 

But while they were always expected to be near the summit, particularly following the arrival of James Harden from the Houston Rockets, the Knicks have been one of the surprise packages so far. 

A first playoff appearance since 2013 is a distinct possibility, with coach Tom Thibodeau building solid foundations for a franchise that has chopped and changed in the hope of finding success.

TOP PERFORMERS

New York Knicks - Julius Randle

Randle has excelled since moving to the Big Apple, leading to a first All-Star appearance this year. The seventh overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2014 averages 22.9 points and 11 rebounds through 39 games, as well as 5.7 assists.  

His 375 defensive rebounds puts him inside the top three in the league, while he has also contributed 31 steals as the Knicks have tightened up under Thibodeau.  

Having registered a season-low seven points as the Knicks returned from the All-Star break with a lopsided loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Randle bounced back with 26 in a resounding triumph over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday.

Brooklyn Nets - James Harden

Since joining the Nets, Harden has recorded nine triple-doubles, the latest of them coming in a 100-95 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Saturday that saw him score his team's final 10 points of the contest.  

While he was the focal point for Houston, the two-time MVP no longer has to carry the offensive burden in the same way for star-studded Brooklyn. He is shooting at a career-high 48.9 per cent from the field though, while his improved success from deep (39.7 per cent) has been noticeable.  

Harden has also demonstrated his ability as a passer too, his tally of 363 assists comfortably the most by any player, averaging out at a whopping 11 a game.

KEY BATTLE - A CASE FOR THE DEFENSE

The continued absence of Kevin Durant has not prevented the Nets from putting up points. They average 120.6 a game, while their combined field goal percentage of 49.9 is also the best by any team in the NBA.  

However, the Knicks have given up a league-low 105 points per outing. Randle and his fellow big men will look to dominate when it comes to rebounding, while the visitors will hope to get better at capitalising on turnovers – their average of 14 points when gaining possession in such circumstances ranks them 29th out of 30 teams.  

"It starts with our effort, our defense, those are the most important things," Immanuel Quickley, who has impressed in his rookie season, averaging 12.5 points, said ahead of the game. 

"We try to have that defensive mindset coming into games, then let everything take care of itself. The little things – defense, rebounding, energy, effort – give you a chance to win every night." 

HEAD TO HEAD 

These neighbours have met in 200 regular-season games, the Knicks narrowly leading 101-99 overall. 

Last season's four-game series was split 2-2, while the Nets prevailed 116-10 in January of this year, Durant – who has missed Brooklyn's last 11 games due to a heal issue – leading the way with 26 points in the absence of Kyrie Irving and with the Harden trade yet to be completed.  

James Harden produced another triple-double as the in-form Brooklyn Nets won 100-95 over the Detroit Pistons on Saturday.

The Nets moved to 12-1 from their past 13 games, improving their overall record to 26-13 with their fourth consecutive victory.

Harden led the way with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, although he was 0-for-six from three-point range, inviting Detroit into the game.

Kyrie Irving (18 points) also struggled to find his radar, but Landry Shamet lifted from range, with 15 points including a trio of three-pointers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Russell Westbrook starred but the Greek forward's Milwaukee Bucks came out on top in a 125-119 win over the Washington Wizards.

Antetokounmpo finished with a sensational 33 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in a thrilling win, receiving good support from guard Jrue Holiday (18 points and eight rebounds) and center Donte DiVincenzo (10 points and 13 rebounds).

Westbrook scored 42 points for the Wizards along with 12 assists and 10 rebounds, while Rui Hachimura had 29 points and 11 boards.

In a tight match where only one point split the sides at half-time, Westbrook tied the game with a three-pointer with 41 seconds to go.

But Westbrook missed a chance to draw level again with 25 seconds to go at 121-119, allowing the Bucks to run away with it.

LaMelo shines, Charlotte's franchise record

LaMelo Ball impressed again with 23 points, six assists and nine rebounds in the Charlotte Hornets' 114-104 win over the Toronto Raptors.

The 2020 third pick helped Charlotte find their range as they shot a franchise record 11 three-pointers in the opening quarter, with Ball finishing the game with six of his own.

Kristaps Porzingis (25 points and six rebounds) and Luka Doncic (21 points and 12 assists) guided the Dallas Mavericks to a 116-103 victory over the Denver Nuggets.

Malcolm Brogdon scored 25 points and Domantas Sabonis had a triple-double as the Indiana Pacers enjoyed a 122-111 win against the Phoenix Suns.

Trae Young had 28 points as the Atlanta Hawks collected their fourth straight win, beating the Sacramento Kings 121-106.

 

Triple-doubles galore

There were five triple-double in one day, which is a new NBA record, produced by Harden, Antetokounmpo, Westbrook, Sabonis and New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (26 points, 12 assists and 12 rebounds against the Oklahoma City Thunder).

Hornet stung

Hornets guard Terry Rozier was forced out of his side's win over Toronto with a "left leg contusion" which will be a worry moving forward. He initially tried to play through it but eventually limped out of the game with 17 points to his name.

 

Saturday's results

New York Knicks 119-97 Oklahoma City Thunder
Charlotte Hornets 114-104 Toronto Raptors
Brooklyn Nets 100-95 Detroit Pistons
Milwaukee Bucks 125-119 Washington Wizards
Atlanta Hawks 121-106 Sacramento Kings
Portland Trail Blazers 125-121 Minnesota Timberwolves
Dallas Mavericks 116-103 Denver Nuggets
Indiana Pacers 122-111 Phoenix Suns

 

Pistons at Nets

Another bumper Sunday with nine games to come, including the Philadelphia 76ers taking on the San Antonio Spurs with Joel Embiid out, while the Utah Jazz face the out-of-sorts Golden State Warriors.

Kyrie Irving has his eyes on the prize after starring for the Brooklyn Nets in a Thursday's 121-109 victory over his former team the Boston Celtics.

Irving put up 40 points in the Nets' first game back since the NBA All-Star break, reminding the Celtics what they have been missing out on since he left in 2019.

His efforts laid the foundations for a 12th win in 13 games for the Nets, who were without Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin as former MVP James Harden posted 22 points and 10 rebounds.

While Irving clearly enjoyed his night's work, he is looking ahead to the playoffs after snapping the Celtics' four-game winning run.

"I'm just waiting for the main stage," he said. "Playing in front of millions of people and it actually mattering in terms of win or lose or go home.

"I'm looking forward to that, but games like this in the middle of the season against guys that you know well, that's always a blessing."

Irving hugged his old team-mates at the end of the contest, apparently making a mockery of the notion he has a frosty relationship with his erstwhile colleagues.

"Big surprise to a lot of people," he joked. "All that s*** talking about me and all the relationships I have with every former team-mate of mine."

Harden was full of praise for Irving, suggesting it was the 28-year-old's mental toughness that elevated him above the crowd.

"He's a different breed," Harden said. "He has that killer mentality in a sense of, no matter who we play or where we're playing, he is going to go out there and try to destroy the opponent, and that's something that you'd want on your team at all times.

"That mentality is what sets him apart from a lot of guys in this league."

Giannis Antetokounmpo added another MVP award to his growing collection as the Milwaukee Bucks superstar guided Team LeBron to a 170-150 victory over Team Durant in Sunday's All-Star Game.

The previous three All-Star contests had pitted LeBron James against Antetokounmpo in a mouth-watering Team LeBron versus Team Giannis matchup.

But James and Antetokounmpo joined forces for this year's 70th All-Star Game as the later fuelled Team LeBron to a comprehensive win in Atlanta.

Two-time reigning NBA MVP Antetokounmpo – drafted first by Los Angeles Lakers superstar James – led Team LeBron to a fourth consecutive All-Star triumph behind his game-high 35 points on 16-for-16 shooting.

Antetokounmpo joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to go 16-for-16 or better from the field in any game (regular season, playoffs or All-Star Game), per Stats Perform. Chamberlain accomplished the feat twice in the regular season in 1966-67 (18-for-18 and 16-for-16).

Antetokounmpo's performance earned All-Star Game Kobe Bryant MVP honours for the first time in his career.

Team LeBron – without Joel Embiid as he joined Philadelphia 76ers team-mate and Team Durant's Ben Simmons in sitting out due to COVID-19 contact tracing – entered the fourth quarter requiring only 24 points to seal victory under the Elam Ending rule.

Each of the first three quarters started with the score at 0-0 and lasted the standard 12 minutes, with the game clock turned off for the final period and a final target score set.

Team LeBron's Damian Lillard sealed the victory with a three-pointer – the Portland Trail Blazers guard posting 32 points.

Stephen Curry, who won the Three-Point Contest as All-Star proceedings were condensed into one day amid the coronavirus pandemic – had 28 points for Team LeBron, including eight three-pointers in 22 minutes.

Jaylen Brown was next best for Team LeBron, while James tallied four points, four assists, two rebounds and a block in 13 minutes of action and Chris Paul posted six points and 16 assists.

Bradley Beal (26), Kyrie Irving (24 and 12 assists), James Harden (21), Jayson Tatum (21), Donovan Mitchell (15), Zach Lavine (13) and Zion Williamson (10) all had double-digit points for Team Durant.

Blake Griffin has cleared free agency waivers and is set to join Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving on the Brooklyn Nets, according to reports.

The Athletic reported six-time All-Star Griffin was expected to link up with the NBA's latest 'big three' after leaving the lowly Detroit Pistons.

The 31-year-old, whose deal in Detroit was set to run until 2022, agreed a contract buyout with the Pistons earlier this week.

Griffin was tipped to join a contender, with the Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers mentioned alongside the Nets in initial reports.

But the star-studded Nets will seemingly get their man as they boost a roster that already includes three 2021 All-Stars.

The 24-13 Nets – second behind the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference – had been expected to add size after Jarrett Allen left in January as part of the blockbuster three-team trade that saw former MVP Harden arrive from the Houston Rockets.

Allen is now playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, where Andre Drummond – one mooted option – has sat out of action ahead of a potential move.

But Brooklyn are instead making Griffin their newest recruit, hoping he can stay fit for an extended period having played just 38 games since the start of last season.

Griffin has averaged 12.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 20 games this season for the Pistons (10-26), bottom in the east and only behind the Minnesota Timberwolves (7-29) for the worst record in the league.

Those numbers are down on his career average, including 8.7 boards per game, the same mark that Harden has reached for the Nets this season – a team-high among those still on the roster.

Brooklyn rank 14th in the league with 44.3 rebounds per game in 2020-21.

LeBron James selected two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo with his number one pick for the NBA All-Star Game, while Kevin Durant drafted Brooklyn Nets team-mate Kyrie Irving.

On Thursday, team captains James and Durant filled out their rosters for Sunday's All-Star contest in Atlanta.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar James and Milwaukee Bucks forward Antetokounmpo often go head-to-head in the All-Star Games as respective captains, but that is not the case this year.

Antetokounmpo will team up with James, who also selected Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and the Denver Nuggets' MVP candidate Nikola Jokic as starters.

Team LeBron's reserves are Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers), Chris Paul (Phoenix Suns), Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics), Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers), Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers) and Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz).

Durant – sidelined as he nurses a hamstring injury – turned to Brooklyn star Irving with the second overall pick in the All-Star draft.

MVP candidate and 76ers star Joel Embiid, Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, Washington Wizards sharpshooter Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum of the Celtics are the other starters for Team Durant.

The reserves drafted by Durant are James Harden (Nets), Devin Booker (Suns), Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans), Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls), Julius Randle (New York Knicks), Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic) and Donovan Mitchell (Jazz).

Team LeBron have won the past three All-Star Games after topping Team Giannis 157-155 in Chicago last year.

Joel Embiid enhanced his MVP credentials with a monster double-double as the Philadelphia 76ers trumped the NBA-leading Utah Jazz in a thrilling battle, 131-123 after overtime.

Embiid hit a game-tying three-pointer with 5.3 seconds remaining to force OT – Eastern Conference leaders the 76ers outscoring the Jazz 13-5 in the additional period to reign supreme in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

MVP candidate Embiid finished with 40 points and 19 rebounds to fuel the 76ers to back-to-back wins heading into the break, with the All-Star Game scheduled for Sunday.

Sixers team-mate Tobias Harris scored 11 of his 22 points in overtime as the 76ers improved to 24-12.

Jazz star Donovan Mitchell, who was ejected with 30.8 seconds remaining in OT, recorded 33 points in the road loss – Utah (27-9) suffering back-to-back losses.

James Harden showed no mercy in his first game against the Houston Rockets since January's blockbuster trade to the Brooklyn Nets.

Former MVP Harden had 29 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for his eighth triple-double since joining the Nets, who downed the injury-hit Rockets 132-114.

 

McConnell makes history

T.J. McConnell put up 16 points on eight of eight shooting, 13 assists and 10 steals off the bench in the Indiana Pacers' 114-111 win at the Cleveland Cavaliers. McConnell became the first player in NBA history to record 10-plus steals and make 100 per cent of his field-goal attempts in a game, per Stats Perform. He also became only the 10th player with a 10-plus steal triple-double since steals began being tracked in 1973-74.

Trae Young ended the game with 32 points as the Atlanta Hawks edged the Orlando Magic 115-112.

The Chicago Bulls trumped the New Orleans Pelicans 128-124 behind Zach LaVine's 36 points.

Triple-doubles from Mason Plumlee (14 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists) and Dennis Smith Jr. (10 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists) inspired the Detroit Pistons to a 129-105 win over the Toronto Raptors. Norman Powell had a game-high 36 points for the Raptors.

 

Lakers' poor form continues

Playing without LeBron James for the first time this season and with Anthony Davis already sidelined, defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers went down 123-120 to the Sacramento Kings. The Lakers have lost six of their last eight games, falling into a tie for third place in the Western Conference heading into the All-Star weekend.

The Rockets have lost 13 games in a row – the franchise's longest skid since dropping 15 straight in 2001.

 

Lillard sinks Warriors

Damian Lillard (22 points) scored the final eight points for the Portland Trail Blazers, including the game-winning three with 13.7 seconds remaining, in a 108-106 win against the Golden State Warriors. Stephen Curry's 35 points were not enough for the Warriors.

 

Wednesday's results

Indiana Pacers 114-111 Cleveland Cavaliers
Philadelphia 76ers 131-123 Utah Jazz (OT)
Detroit Pistons 129-105 Toronto Raptors
Brooklyn Nets 132-114 Houston Rockets
Atlanta Hawks 115-112 Orlando Magic
Charlotte Hornets 135-102 Minnesota Timberwolves
Chicago Bulls 128-124 New Orleans Pelicans
Dallas Mavericks 87-78 Oklahoma City Thunder
Portland Trail Blazers 108-106 Golden State Warriors
Sacramento Kings 123-120 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Clippers at Wizards

The Los Angeles Clippers (24-13) will look to snap a run of back-to-back defeats before the All-Star break when they visit the lowly Washington Wizards (13-20) on Thursday.

James Harden said he was not trying to show off after his triple-double fuelled the high-flying Brooklyn Nets in the former NBA MVP's first game against the Houston Rockets since his blockbuster trade.

Harden showed no mercy on Wednesday, his 29 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds guiding the Nets to a 132-114 victory over the Rockets in Houston.

The former Rockets star received a mixed response from fans at Toyota Center midweek following the "drama" surrounding his January exit, having demanded a trade after more than eight seasons.

After condemning the struggling and injury-hit Rockets to a 13th consecutive defeat, Harden reflected on his return to Houston.

"I'm excited," Harden said. "We got a win. We've been playing very, very good basketball, and to finish out strong like this to in the All-Star break means a lot to us. Hopefully we can get guys healthy; KD [Kevin Durant], Jeff [Green], TLC [Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot], and after the break just keep rolling.

"As far as playing in Houston, a lot of mixed emotions from the fans, but knew that was gonna happen. I just wanted to come out here and give them a show."

Led by Harden, the Rockets reached two Western Conference Finals, while Houston earned three semi-final appearances after the nine-time All-Star was acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012.

The Rockets are planning to retire Harden's number 13 jersey in Houston.

"Hopefully I did something right," Harden said. "Obviously I came up short of a championship, but the work on and off the court that I put in over the past eight years was elite you know.

"I think that's the only thing I didn't do, or didn't accomplish is a championship, which is difficult to attain, but as far as bringing excitement to this city, taking care of the fans on and off the court is something that I try to contribute, so hopefully that outweighs that."

Harden has starred since joining Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn, where he has already tallied eight triple-doubles in a Nets uniform – second in franchise history behind Jason Kidd.

On Wednesday, Harden ensured the Nets closed out the first half of the NBA season with their 10th win in 11 games heading into the All-Star break.

The Nets, who have recorded seven straight road wins, are 24-13 ahead of Sunday's All-Star Game in Atlanta – only half a game behind the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference.

"So far, so good. Everything that I signed up for," added Harden. "Top to bottom, it's been great. Adversity has hit us as far as not missing any games, so we've been playing every other day schedule wise and then we're affected by injuries, guys in and out of the line-ups, crazy, weird things happening, but I think we've fought through adversity and we're in a really good position.

"Now we know each other a little bit better. Now it's time to get some rest, take care of your body and be ready to go. Second half is gonna be huge for us in the sense of how fast we can get off to a great start. Everybody goes through the same thing. There’' no excuses, and we're not here to make any."

All eyes in the NBA will be trained on Houston on Wednesday as the Rockets host James Harden and the Brooklyn Nets.

Harden was an outstanding player with the Rockets, winning the 2018 MVP award and twice reaching the Western Conference Finals, but he is unlikely to receive a warm welcome.

The nine-time All-Star decided in the offseason he wanted to leave Houston and worked to force a trade.

Although the Rockets initially resisted, a blockbuster deal was eventually agreed with the Nets, who pipped the Philadelphia 76ers to the signing.

Harden, slow by his lofty standards in the first eight games of the season in Houston, has rediscovered his best form in the NBA's newest 'big three' with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

Both the player and his former team, struggling badly at 11-22, will be determined to come out on top in this first meeting since they parted ways.


TOP PERFORMERS

Houston Rockets - John Wall

Even with Harden's numbers declining at the start of 2020-21, no Houston player has been able to match the 24.8 points he scored on average across those eight games.

Christian Wood (22.0) has come closest, yet an ankle injury has limited him to just 17 games. The Rockets have lost 12 in a row since he went down a month ago.

So, Wall, who missed the entirety of the Washington Wizards' 2019-20 campaign with a torn ACL, has had to step into the breach.

Although Houston's form is awful, Wall at least comes into this clash on somewhat of a roll, playing 10 straight games and scoring 32 points last time out against the Cleveland Cavaliers, his best return since December 2018.

Brooklyn Nets - James Harden

Wall is not alone in being asked to do some heavy lifting, as Harden, the third man signed to the 'big three', has operated without either Irving or Durant due to injuries at times in the early stages of his Brooklyn career.

He has done so admirably, however, averaging 25.3 points, 11.3 assists and 8.7 rebounds since leaving the Rockets.

With Irving returning following a back issue against the San Antonio Spurs on Monday, Harden scaled new heights, becoming the first player to post 30 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds in a game without a single turnover since individual turnovers were first tracked in 1977-78.

It was his seventh triple-double of the season already, a mark he only once passed in Houston colours (22 in 2016-17).
 

KEY BATTLE - CAN HOUSTON GET TO HARDEN?

Irving claimed after the Spurs game there would be "no animosity" and "no tension" in Houston "on the court or about James in my presence or anybody else's presence". That seemed optimistic.

Harden's parting shot at the Rockets, where he claimed to "have done everything that I can", prompted angry responses from Wall and the since-waived DeMarcus Cousins.

Given Wall and Cousins had each been team-mates of Harden for only eight games, it stands to reason that some of his long-standing colleagues might have been even more frustrated.

With the Nets a far superior outfit to the Rockets, the conversation around Harden on the court might prove as interesting as any matchup. The Brooklyn man will have to handle the heat.
 

HEAD TO HEAD

The Rockets have had the better of this series, boasting a 64-32 regular-season record, most recently winning in December 2019 when lifted by 44 points from Harden.

The 31-year-old has a 14-15 record against the Oklahoma City Thunder, his only other former team, averaging 28.2 points.

In Harden's three years with OKC, he was 6-6 against Houston.

James Harden is hopeful he will feel the love on his return to face the Houston Rockets for the first time with the Brooklyn Nets.

The Rockets (11-22) host Harden and the Nets at Toyota Center on Wednesday as they attempt to halt a miserable 12-game losing streak.

Last month Harden apologised for the "drama" surrounding his exit from the Rockets and wished his trade to the Nets could have been a smoother process.

Former NBA MVP Harden moved to the Nets after playing more than eight seasons with Houston and still feels part of the community, which he has been helping in the aftermath of the recent devastating storm in Texas.

"The love and the appreciation that I've given to that city and that I still give to that city, I'm hoping that the favour can be returned," Harden, who rejected a new contract with the Rockets last year, told ESPN.

"[I hope I will be] received with love.

"I thought I would never leave that franchise. I thought I was going to be in Houston, obviously, for the rest of my career. 

"Things happened. I've got different goals, and I've seen a different vision for myself and my career and my family.

"It doesn't change the fact of how I feel about the city. But it just didn't go as well - as smooth - as I planned." 

Perhaps reflecting on J.J. Watt's recent exit from the Houston Texans in the NFL, Harden added: "The communication between myself and the front office got a little shaky. 

"And now I look back at it and I see these other scenarios, other situations that are happening, specifically around other players that are in Houston, in different sports. 

"Their transition is going very smooth and I would've hoped for mine to go that smooth, but it didn't. I am where I am now.

"I feel like I'm a part of the community. Me now being in Brooklyn, it hasn't changed the way I feel about that city and everything it's done for me. 

"So whether it's trying to feed as many people as I can, get water, as much water as I can to the people that need it."

As Houston struggle, the Nets are at 23-13 after winning nine of their last 10, with Harden recording 30 points, 15 assists and 14 rebounds in a dramatic overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs on Monday.

Star trio Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have only played seven games together so far.

"I'm just excited for us, as a whole, to be able to play as many games as we can together because the potential that we have is very, very scary," Harden added.

"We're still just doing whatever it takes to come away with wins. The potential is going to be scarier when [Durant] gets back. But for right now, we're holding it down, and we're coming together as a team."

The past week in the NBA saw the Brooklyn Nets do something they hadn't previously done since February 9... lose a game.

Brooklyn's defeat to the Dallas Mavericks gave a boost to their rivals for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, headed by the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Milwaukee Bucks, another of those competitors, enjoyed a superb week with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo unsurprisingly coming to the fore.

Meanwhile, out west, Devin Booker strung together a series of performances that justified his place in the All-Star game.

By contrast, two players significantly more familiar with that contest suffered dips in form.

Here we take a look at some of the best and worst performers across the past week, aided by Stats Perform data.

 

RUNNING HOT...

Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Bucks are firmly back in contention for the top seed in the East after stretching their winning run to five games, with three of those victories coming in the past week.

Antetokounmpo was predictably pivotal to their success, tallying over 30 points in each matchup to extend his streak to four games in that regard.

He finished the week with back-to-back double-doubles against the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Clippers, scoring 36 points in the latter game.

His points per game average jumped from 28.37 to 37, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks sending a message that they are still very much a contender for the title.

Devin Booker

The All-Star snub who was later added as a replacement showed why he deserves his place in the showcase this past week.

Booker averaged 33 points across the Phoenix Suns' three games, an impressive improvement on his previous season-long average of 24.28.

He capped it in stunning fashion, dropping 43 in the win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, which saw him go 15 for 26 from the field.

At 22-11, the Suns will loom as a dangerous playoff team should he continue that kind of form.

James Harden

Brooklyn may have finally seen their eight-game winning streak come to an end, but it was a positive week for Harden individually.

Absent the other two members of the Nets' big three, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, Harden could not prevent them from falling to defeat to the Mavericks.

However, he was more prolific from beyond the arc this past week, averaging 4.67 made threes having entered the week putting up 3.08 per game.

Harden is converting threes at the highest rate of his career. He is shooting 39.7 per cent from beyond the arc and 41.8 per cent since his trade to Brooklyn from the Houston Rockets.

But he is attempting only 8.2 a game, the fewest since the 2015-16 season (8.0). If he continues to shoot more from deep and maintains his consistency in converting those attempts, a loaded Nets team will have yet another dimension.

GOING COLD...

Paul George

An up-and-down week for the Clippers started brilliantly for George, who racked up 30 points in a win over the Washington Wizards, going six of seven from three-point range.

But he tailed off thereafter, following up two 13-point efforts against the Memphis Grizzlies with a mediocre 16-point display in the loss to the Bucks.

His points per game average fell from 24.36 entering the week to 18 over the past seven days, and the Clippers will need a lot more from him if they are to earn a top-two seed in the West.

Terry Rozier

The man known as 'Scary Terry' did little to terrify opponents over the past week.

Rozier entered the week averaging a career-high 21.15 points per game but that dipped to 13.5 over the four games the Charlotte Hornets contested in the last seven days.

He put up 24 points in a loss to the Golden State Warriors but could not manage more than 12 in his other three outings.

Still averaging 20.2 a game for the season, the Hornets will want Rozier to deliver the kind of performance he did against Golden State consistently as they seek a first playoff berth since 2015-16.

Stephen Curry

Among the players to suffer the biggest decline in three-point shooting this past week was the man most consider the greatest shooter of all time.

Curry had been converting 5.03 three-pointers a game for the season but hit on an average of 3.25 a game as the Warriors won three of four last week.

He still enjoyed a 37-point outing against the New York Knicks, scoring seven triples in that triumph, but was one for 11 from deep versus the Indiana Pacers and two for seven in Sunday's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

However, with Curry experiencing a season in which he is averaging his highest points per game tally (29.5) since his unanimous MVP season of 2015-16 (30.1), the smart money says he will soon return to form from beyond the arc.

The Brooklyn Nets' eight-game winning streak ground to a halt at the hands of Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, who triumphed 115-98 in the NBA.

Nets star Kyrie Irving (right shoulder recovery) joined former MVP Kevin Durant (hamstring) on the sidelines for Saturday's clash.

Their absence proved too much for James Harden to carry, with the MVP candidate finishing the game on the bench in his casuals as the Mavericks won comfortably.

Harden scored 29 points, with seven rebounds and six assists for Brooklyn, who were jumped by the Mavs in a 38-26 opening quarter.

Despite the Nets closing to within four points at half-time, the Mavericks were never headed, led by Doncic – the All-Star posting 27 points, six rebounds and seven assists.

Doncic won special praise from Harden post-game, who said: "He never lets anyone speed him up, and he gets what he wants. We all know he has a very, very bright future. The Mavs got a special one."

The result leaves the Nets 22-13 in the Eastern Conference, while the Mavericks remain in playoffs contention with a 16-16 record in the west.

 

Sixers suffer rare home defeat, no stopping Jazz

Joel Embiid erupted for 42 points and 13 rebounds, but the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers were upstaged by the Cleveland Cavaliers 112-109 in overtime. It was just Philadelphia's third home defeat of the season in 17 games.

NBA leaders the Utah Jazz returned to winning ways with a 124-109 victory against the Orlando Magic. Donovan Mitchell fuelled the Jazz (27-7) with 31 points, including 25 in the second half, while Rudy Gobert contributed a double-double of 12 points and 16 rebounds. Nikola Vucevic had a game-high 34 points for the Magic in Orlando.

It was a memorable outing for Bradley Beal and head coach Scott Brooks in the Washington Wizards' 128-112 success at home to the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves. Beal put up 34 points – his 20th performance of 30-plus points in 29 games played this season. Per NBA history, only Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony and Harden have managed that many 30-plus performances in the first 30 games of a season. Scott, meanwhile, celebrated his 500th win as a head coach. Wizards star Russell Westbrook (19 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists) finished with a triple-double.

Nikola Jokic (19 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists) had his eighth triple-double of the season as the Denver Nuggets crushed the Oklahoma City Thunder 126-96.

 

Curry crumbles

It was a forgettable game for Philadelphia's Seth Curry, who finished with four points in 39 minutes. Curry was just one-of-13 from the field, making one of seven from beyond the arc.

 

Ben… from beyond the arc

It is not often Ben Simmons attempts a three-pointer, let alone make one. But the 76ers All-Star hit his fourth career three on Saturday. Simmons finished with 24 points on 11-of-17 shooting from the field, while he was 100 per cent from three-point range.

 

Saturday's results

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