Joel Embiid's injury last week appeared to clear a path for LeBron James to collect his fifth NBA MVP award.

Philadelphia 76ers big man Embiid - averaging 29.9 points and 11.5 rebounds, as well as 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals - had already missed seven games this season before he went down with a knee injury against the Washington Wizards.

But Los Angeles Lakers superstar James did not see his clear run at the league's top individual honour last long.

James, who has 25.9 points, 7.9 assists and 7.9 rebounds per game, has carried the Lakers in Anthony Davis' absence but faces his own spell on the sidelines after an ankle sprain on Saturday.

That setback, in a defeat to the Atlanta Hawks, means this year's two leading MVP contenders face an uphill task to remain in contention as they sit out a key stretch of the regular season.

Nikola Jokic, the Denver Nuggets center, appears the man most likely to profit and has quickly been installed as the bookmakers' favourite.

But with several twists already in the race to succeed back-to-back winner Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jokic's standing is not yet safe.

With the help of Stats Perform data, we run through four potential winners ahead of Sunday's action - including Denver's 'Joker'.
 

NIKOLA JOKIC

The case against Jokic earlier in the season was his displays had not been able to lift the Nuggets into serious contention in the West. With 13 wins in their past 18 games to improve to 25-16, that is no longer the case.

While team-mate Jamal Murray has not been able to consistently perform at the standard he set in the 2019-20 playoffs - averaging 26.5 points in the 'bubble' but 21.1 this season - Jokic has taken his game to another level.

The Serbian's stat line for the year - 27.0 points, 8.6 assists, 11.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals - has never previously been achieved in league history, nor has any player in the past attempted at least 30 field goals across a season while shooting 56.6 per cent from the field, 41.6 per cent from three and 86.6 per cent of free throws.

This is an unprecedented campaign.

DAMIAN LILLARD

Tied with Denver at 25-16 in the West are the Portland Trail Blazers. Considering CJ McCollum has only played 16 games and Jusuf Nurkic 12, that is a quite remarkable achievement, led, of course, by Lillard.

Understandably, Lillard's usage rate is at a career-high 33 per cent, but he is making the most of those extra touches. Only Bradley Beal (32.5) has outperformed his 30.6 points per game - another career benchmark - and the Blazers star leads the league with 1,225 total points. Of those, 136 have come in 'clutch' situations, again putting Lillard at the top of the standings.

Taking a break from Portland's playoff push, Lillard even preserved enough energy to score 32 points in the All-Star Game, just ahead of Team LeBron team-mate and rival Stephen Curry (28). An MVP triumph would certainly see Portland's finest emerge from the shadow of the Golden State Warriors great.

GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO

Antetokounmpo beat James Harden to this award in 2018-19 and then LA's James last season, so a case of voter fatigue was always set to make him an unlikely winner for a third straight year, regardless of performances.

But with Embiid and James both hit by injuries, the 'Greek Freak' surely has to come into consideration. Once again, his numbers are seriously impressive.

The only man to outscore Lillard at the All-Star Game, putting up 35, Antetokounmpo is slightly down on last year's points (29.0 versus 29.5) and rebounds per game (11.7 versus 13.6) but has improved in all of the other key metrics with 6.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks.

The Milwaukee Bucks forward should be in the picture to retain both his MVP and Defensive Player of the Year titles.

JAMES HARDEN

Surely voters will not reward Harden in the year he forced his way out of the Houston Rockets? On performances alone, though, he deserves to be in the conversation.

The 2017-18 winner is not contributing the same number of points for the Brooklyn Nets as he was in Houston, but then his usage is down to 28.7 per cent for the year (28.1 in Brooklyn), by far the lowest it has been since the statistic was first tracked in 2014-15.

And Harden, still scoring an impressive 25.4 points since joining the Nets, is more than making up for this slight decline elsewhere.

So far the most prominent member of the team's 'big three', with Kevin Durant too often injured and Kyrie Irving absent for a spell, Harden leads the league in 2020-21 for assists (11.2) and is second for triple-doubles (11), making him an unpopular but worthy candidate.

Los Angeles Lakers center Montrezl Harrell questioned the incident that saw LeBron James sprain his ankle against the Atlanta Hawks, insisting the injury scenario was "not a loose-ball play".

James is sidelined indefinitely after suffering a high ankle sprain in Saturday's 99-94 NBA loss to the streaking Hawks.

Lakers superstar James exited in the second quarter after Solomon Hill collided with his right ankle at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

James – an MVP candidate as he looks to add to his four previous honours – fell to the court and screamed before rolling around in agony.

After attempting to stay in the game – hitting a three-pointer to reach 10 points in 11 minutes – James eventually left the game and did not return.

Post-game, James tweeted: "Nothing angers and saddens me more than not being available to and for my team-mates!

"I'm hurt inside and out right now. The road back from recovery begins now. Back soon like I never left. #ThekidfromAKRON."

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Harrell – who posted a team-high 23 points and 11 rebounds off the bench for the Lakers – said: "[LeBron yelling] shows you he was in an extreme amount of pain.

"It's a tough play, the guy dived for the loose ball, took a leg out from under him.

"He is human man and he'll have to undergo the protocols like everybody else will do.

"I really don't feel like it was one of those loose ball plays, I mean [Solomon Hill] had to go through his leg to get the ball.

"He was trying to turn away, the ball was behind him, he's jumping at an angle, going across this way.

"I don't know how you feel that's just a loose ball but like I say it's neither here not there. I don't think it's one of those plays where he tried to do it but at the end of the day it's still one of those things I feel like you have to look at."

James – who has missed only one game this season, a loss to the Sacramento Kings on March 3 prior to the All-Star break – has been averaging 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game in 2020-21.

His 10 points against the Hawks extending his NBA-record streak (1,036) of consecutive games with at least 10 points.

Lakers team-mate Dennis Schroder added: "That's an unnecessary play to dive in the leg like that.

"He's bounced back before and he will in a couple of days," Schroder said. "So, I'm not worried."

In response to the criticism, Atlanta's Hill tweeted: "Would never disrespect the game and take a player out purposely… he knows that.

"That's all that matters to me. Praying for a speedy recovery. #riptothementionstho #moredmsthansaweetoe."

Giannis Antetokounmpo inspired the in-form Milwaukee Bucks to a 120-113 win over the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA.

Antetokounmpo posted a double-double of 26 points and a joint career-high 15 assists to lead the Bucks to their sixth successive victory on Saturday.

Two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo also had eight rebounds as the Bucks overturned a 14-point first-half deficit – Milwaukee celebrating their 11th win in 12 games.

Khris Middleton added 23 points, while Donte DiVincenzo contributed 12 points and 13 rebounds in Milwaukee.

Lonnie Walker scored a career-high 31 points for the Spurs, who also had 22 points and 13 assists from DeMar DeRozan.

No Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Seth Curry? No problems for the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers, who eased past the Sacramento Kings 129-105.

Tobias Harris picked up the slack in the absence of the injured star trio, putting up 29 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and two steals as he fell just short of his first career triple-double.

Harris shot nine of 13 for 23 points in the first half. It was a season high for any half and the fifth time he has scored at least 23 points in a half in his career.

Shake Milton finished with 28 points for the 76ers, who improved to 19-4 at home this season – the most wins in the NBA.

 

Hawks soar

The Atlanta Hawks extended their winning streak to eight games after upstaging defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers 99-94. It is the first time the Hawks have won eight straight games since the 2014-15 season, when they celebrated 19 in a row. John Collins (27 points and 16 rebounds) and Trae Young (14 points and 11 assists) had double-doubles for the Hawks.

Paul George fuelled the Los Angeles Clippers to a crushing 125-98 victory over the Charlotte Hornets. George posted 21 points and 10 assists at home to the Hornets.

 

Lakers lose LeBron

LeBron James will be sidelined for an indefinite period after suffering a high ankle sprain in the loss to the Hawks. James exited in the second quarter after Solomon Hill collided with his right ankle at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The 36-year-old fell to the court and screamed before rolling around in agony.

It was a forgettable game for Terry Rozier and the Hornets. Rozier was two-of-10 from the field – he only made two of nine three-point attempts – for eight points against the Clippers. Charlotte only shot at 38.8 per cent throughout the game.

 

George and Kawhi combine

Star Clippers duo George and Kawhi Leonard led the way at home to the Hornets, teaming up for a dunk in the second half.

 

Saturday's results

Atlanta Hawks 99-94 Los Angeles Lakers
Philadelphia 76ers 129-105 Sacramento Kings
Memphis Grizzlies 111-103 Golden State Warriors
Milwaukee Bucks 120-113 San Antonio Spurs
Los Angeles Clippers 125-98 Charlotte Hornets

 

Lakers at Suns

With James and Anthony Davis sidelined, the Lakers (28-14) will limp into Sunday's clash against Western Conference rivals the Phoenix Suns (27-13). The Lakers are third in the conference, behind the second-placed Suns.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James is facing an indefinite spell on the sidelines after suffering a high ankle sprain in the team's loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

The Lakers went down 99-94 to the Hawks on Saturday but it was an injury to James that has caused more concern for the NBA champions.

James exited in the second quarter after Solomon Hill collided with his right ankle at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

The 36-year-old fell to the court and screamed before rolling around in agony.

After attempting to stay in the game – hitting a three-pointer to reach 10 points in 11 minutes – James eventually left the game and did not return.

"I haven't necessarily seen him scream and scowl like that probably ever," said Lakers team-mate Kyle Kuzma.

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel added: "I won't disclose what any mood of LeBron was like internally. It's in-house."

James – who has missed only one game this season, a loss to the Sacramento Kings on March 3 prior to the All-Star break – has been averaging 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game in 2020-21.

His 10 points against the Hawks extending his NBA-record streak (1,036) of consecutive games with at least 10 points.

The Lakers (28-14) – already missing injured star Anthony Davis – are third in the Western Conference, behind the NBA-leading Utah Jazz (30-11) and Phoenix Suns (27-13).

LeBron James believes he should have more than four MVP awards as the Los Angeles Lakers superstar staked his claim for another NBA honour on Thursday.

James posted 37 points to lead defending champions the Lakers past the Charlotte Hornets 116-105 in Los Angeles.

The 36-year-old has been averaging 25.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game for the Lakers, who have won four straight games since the All-Star break.

James was crowned the NBA's best player in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013 and as the four-time league champion contends for this year's honour, he feels worthy of more.

"I should have more than four... But I don't, and I don't sit around crying about it," James told reporters post-game.

Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Michael Jordan and Bill Russell (both five) have won more MVP awards than James.

Since James last claimed the honour in 2013, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry (twice), Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo (twice) have been named the league's best.

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel strongly endorsed James as the 2020-21 MVP, adding: "He's the MVP of the league so far, in my opinion.

"He's the best player to ever play the game, in my opinion.

"It's a mistake on the voters' part to go season after season without voting the best player in the league."

In the absence of injured star Anthony Davis, the Lakers have returned to form following the All-Star Game.

The second-placed Lakers (28-13) are only one and a half games behind the NBA-leading Utah Jazz (29-11) in the Western Conference.

"We haven't really talked about it," James said of the conference race. "If it gets to a point where we can capture it, why not? But we haven't talked about seeding all year.

"We've gotten better since the break, but the most important things for our ballclub is playing championship basketball every night and being healthy."

Washington Wizards star Russell Westbrook made history in a shock 131-122 win over the NBA-leading Utah Jazz.

Westbrook posted 35 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists for his 13th triple-double of the season to guide the struggling Wizards past the high-flying Jazz on Thursday.

Former MVP Westbrook became the first player in franchise history to record at least 35 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in a game as the Wizards snapped a five-game losing streak.

Wizards team-mate Bradley Beal had a game-high 43 points at home to the Jazz, who were led by Donovan Mitchell's season-high 42 points.

Joe Ingles added 34 points for the Jazz, who still have the league's best record at 29-11 despite the loss.

LeBron James flexed his muscles with 37 points as defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Charlotte Hornets 116-105.

James also had eight rebounds and six assists to help the Lakers to their fourth straight win since the All-Star break – Dennis Schroder chipped in with 22 points of his own.

Rookie of the Year contender LaMelo Ball recorded a team-high 26 points, seven assists and five rebounds for the Hornets in his first meeting against James in Los Angeles.

 

Edwards sets franchise record, Randle stays hot

It was an unforgettable outing for Anthony Edwards, who posted a career-high 42 points in the Minnesota Timberwolves' 123-119 win at the Phoenix Suns. It set the record for most points by a rookie in franchise history, eclipsing Zach LaVine's 37 in 2015. Timberwolves team-mate Karl-Anthony Towns also had 41 points and 10 rebounds in a monster performance. Devin Booker put up 35 points for the Suns, but it was not enough.

Julius Randle had 18 points, 17 assists and 10 rebounds to lead the New York Knicks past the Orlando Magic 94-93. His third triple-double of the season saw the All-Star become the first Knicks player with three-plus triple-doubles in a season since Michael Ray Richardson (seven) in 1981-82.

Damian Lillard followed up his season-high 50 points with 36 in the Portland Trail Blazers' 101-93 victory against the New Orleans Pelicans. Fellow All-Star Zion Williamson recorded a double-double of 26 points and 10 rebounds for the Pelicans.

The Atlanta Hawks soared to their seventh straight win thanks to a 116-93 success against the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder.

 

Thunder struggle from the floor

The Thunder went down to the Hawks behind a poor shooting display. Oklahoma City were at just 36.2 per cent from the field, compared to Atlanta's 54.0 per cent. Aleksej Pokusevski finished two-for-11 from the floor, while missing all three of his attempts from beyond the arc for four points. Veteran Al Horford (11 points) was three of 13.

C.J. McCollum struggled in Portland's win. He was just three-of-16 shooting for 11 points in 21 minutes. He also made three of six three-pointers at home to the Pelicans.

 

LeBron says no!

James was at his brilliant best at both ends of the floor, denying the Hornets with a block late in the fourth quarter.

 

Thursday's results

Washington Wizards 131-122 Utah Jazz
Atlanta Hawks 116-93 Oklahoma City Thunder
New York Knicks 94-93 Orlando Magic
Minnesota Timberwolves 123-119 Phoenix Suns
Portland Trail Blazers 101-93 New Orleans Pelicans
Los Angeles Lakers 116-105 Charlotte Hornets

 

Nets at Magic

The red-hot Brooklyn Nets (28-13) will put their six-game winning streak on the line when they visit the struggling Magic (13-27) on Friday.

LeBron James has not been doing anything different in recent matches but the Los Angeles Lakers' shooters have "come alive" since the All-Star break, says head coach Frank Vogel.

Superstar James registered a second consecutive triple-double in as many nights as the Lakers outclassed the NBA-worst Minnesota Timberwolves 137-121.

James, who had 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, now needs just one more to rack up a landmark 100th career triple-double, while it marked his fifth of this season.

Prior to the All-Star game, the Lakers had lost six times in eight games but are now on a three-game winning streak, with James at the heart of team's impressive fortunes.

But Vogel insists it is merely a case of the team being hotter with the ball, saying: "I honestly don't think [James] has been playing that differently than what he was doing leading into the break

"I just think our shooters have come alive. I think we hit a little bit of a wall coming into the break, and then our shooters got their legs under them a little bit, and in the last three games they've been hitting shots, so his assist totals are up."

Several players contributed for the Lakers, with Dennis Schroder putting up 16 points and seven assists, while Kyle Kuzma also had 16 points.

Youngster Talen Horton-Tucker followed up an 18-point showing versus the Golden State Warriors with 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

The last two games have seen Horton-Tucker excel against two 2020 first-round draft picks in James Wiseman and Anthony Edwards, and James said the 20-year-old – selected in the second round in 2019 – will only continue to grow in stature.

"It's something we've talked about all year, if you go back to the draft Talen Horton-Tucker would not go in the second round," James said about his team-mate. 

"We're super-duper lucky and blessed to grab him when we grabbed him. His ability to get downhill, his ability to get to the lane and finish or his ability to make the extra passes, he's a big guard, but with great handle and great balance. 

"This is Talen's rookie year too pretty much, he's learning, he'll continue to get better, he's a damn good player right now he'll continue to get better and better."

Damian Lillard scored a season-high 50 points, including 20 in the last quarter, as the Portland Trail Blazers produced a remarkable comeback to snatch a last-gasp 125-124 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday.

The Pelicans led by 17 points late in the third term and Brandon Ingram had the chance to ice the game late on, before missing two free-throws as Portland snatched victory.

Lillard was the catalyst with his 20 final-quarter points, totalling 50 for the game, along with 10 assists and six rebounds. He also finished with six three-pointers and 18 of 18 free-throws.

He coolly scored two free-throws after Nickeil Alexander-Walker's costly fumble turned over possession. Zion Williamson had one last chance to steal victory but missed from a good close look.

The result improved Portland's record to 23-16 as they stay firmly in playoff contention while the Pelicans slipped to 17-23, despite Lonzo Ball's career-high 17 assists.

Lillard is now tied with LeBron James in seventh for all-time most 50-point NBA games.

Meanwhile, James had the 99th triple-double of his career with 25 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists, while Montrezl Harrell was equal top scorer for the Los Angeles Lakers in a 137-121 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Smooth Jazz back among winners

Rudy Gobert scored 11 of his 16 points in the final period as the Utah Jazz bounced back from their loss to the Golden State Warriors with a 117-109 win over the Boston Celtics.

Gobert, who also had 12 rebounds, was well supported by Donovan Mitchell (21 points and five assists) and impressive sixth man Jordan Clarkson (20 points and three assists) as the Jazz stormed home to edge past Boston.

Without Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris stepped up for the Philadelphia 76ers with 30 points in a thrilling 99-96 triumph over the New York Knicks.

Ben Simmons had 16 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists for the 76ers, who trailed by nine at the final change before a dominant fourth quarter.

Jimmy Butler starred with 28 points, 12 rebounds and four assists as the in-form Miami Heat made it five wins in a row with a 113-98 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Miami center Bam Adebayo also returned from injury with 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists.

Nate McMillan is yet to lose as head coach at the resurgent Atlanta Hawks, who claimed their sixth consecutive win, beating the Houston Rockets 119-107, led by Danilo Gallinari with 29 points.

 

No lift-off as Rockets grounded

While Atlanta have turned their season around with a coaching change, Houston have now lost 17 in a row. Stephen Silas is left scratching his head, with his side going from 11-10 to 11-27.

 

Big blocks

There were some huge blocks on Tuesday but 76ers veteran Dwight Howard stole the show early in the fourth, putting Julius Randle on the floor with an emphatic swat.

 

Tuesday's results

Utah Jazz 117-109 Boston Celtics
Miami Heat 113-98 Cleveland Cavaliers
Chicago Bulls 123-102 Oklahoma City Thunder
Atlanta Hawks 119-107 Houston Rockets
Philadelphia 76ers 99-96 New York Knicks
Portland Trail Blazers 125-124 New Orleans Pelicans
Los Angeles Lakers 137-121 Minnesota Timberwolves

 

Bucks at 76ers

The 76ers, without the injured Embiid, take on Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks in a blockbuster clash on Wednesday.

LeBron James said he takes pride in having a "triple-threat game" after closing on a landmark 100th career triple-double in the Los Angeles Lakers' rout of the Golden State Warriors.

The four-time MVP posted 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds to help the Lakers to a 128-97 victory at the Chase Center on Monday, ending a two-game losing streak on the road.

It was the 98th time James had posted a triple-double in his legendary career and he spoke about what it meant to have so many weapons in his arsenal.

"For me, I've always wanted to have a triple-threat game," he told reporters.

"One where I can pass the ball. I love passing ball to my team-mates, giving those guys good looks.

"Being able to rebound, that's always important, rebounding wins championships as the great Pat Riley would say.

"And then being able to score a little bit too, that's probably the least out of the three for me, but being able to be out on the court and control the game in three facets of the game - it's always been important for me to do it in a win, the losses never mean much to me.

"To do it in a win and make an impact on the game, when it happens in the flow of a game that's what's more important."

James' performance was particularly important given the Lakers have been hit by injuries. Marc Gasol, Kostas Antetokounmpo (both health and safety protocols), Anthony Davis (strained right calf), Jared Dudley (torn MCL in right knee) and Alex Caruso (concussion protocol) were all unavailable for the defending champions.

Davis has been missing for a month but has been a vocal presence on the sidelines for the Lakers.

"I just think he's trying to lead any way possible, obviously he can't be on the floor and do things he does at a high level," James said of his team-mate.

"He's just giving his words to a lot of guys, being there for them, showing them things on the iPad, showing them films during course of a game, being as helpful as he can be to our ball team."

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.

Nicolo Barella said he is inspired by Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James and former NBA MVP Allen Iverson as the Inter midfielder discussed his love of basketball.

Barella has established himself as one of the best midfielders in Serie A and Europe amid Inter's Scudetto charge this season.

The 24-year-old Inter and Italy star has scored three Serie A goals and supplied five assists for the Nerazzurri, who are nine points clear atop the table.

Barella revealed he wears the number 23 jersey because of four-time NBA champion James, while also highlighting his admiration for Philadelphia 76ers great Iverson.

"I played basketball for four years. There was a lot of competition in my family, but my cousins are better than me," Barella told Sky Sport Basketball Conversation.

"I discuss basketball with Romelu Lukaku, Achraf Hakimi and Lautaro Martinez. We follow NBA. When I join the national team, I talk about it with Davide Calabria, Mattia Perin and Giorgio Chiellini.

"Allen Iverson's jersey was one of the first ones I bought. Seeing someone like him dominating among the giants was an important source of inspiration for me. In addition to his technical skills, his attitude impressed me.

"I wear the number 23 shirt, because LeBron James also inspires me. I used to have the number 24 because it's the day when my daughter was born. I had a little argument with my wife for this change, but in the end, she understood.

"What impresses me about LeBron is the fact that he manages to change a team, bringing all his team-mates to the highest level.

"Cristiano Ronaldo is the LeBron James of football. He has talent, desire to work hard, and longevity and he brings his desire to win in every team.

"Winning the NBA is like winning the Champions League, it's more important than a Scudetto, even if I hope I can win one sooner or later."

LeBron James has praised the continued development of Kyle Kuzma following his starring role in the Los Angeles Lakers' hard-fought victory over the Indiana Pacers. 

The defending NBA champions returned to action after the All-Star break on Friday, though they were made to work for the win by a Pacers team that led by 12 at one stage in the fourth quarter.

However, Kuzma led an impressive rally with his team in trouble, scoring 15 of his 24 points in the final quarter as the Lakers - again without the injured Anthony Davis - eventually triumphed by a 105-100 scoreline.

James had 18 points but was happy to defer to the hot hand, leading to 10 assists. After the game, the four-time MVP pointed to how his long-time team-mate has continued to get better, year on year.

"It's all about growth. The game has just slowed down every year for him. I've been with him for the past three years and the game has just slowed down," James told the media.

"He knows his role with this team - and he does it to a high level. Tonight was another example of that."

He added: "Tonight, he had it going. We continue to find the hot hand, so I wanted to continue to get him the ball so he could continue to make plays.  

"That's the growth of him, knowing that some games are going to be different. It's not always going to be high-scoring nights, but he is still able to make an impact – especially on the glass, with his energy and effort. 

"But we need him to make shots, especially in the absence of AD [Davis]."

Kuzma also contributed 13 rebounds as the Lakers played a 10th successive game without Davis, who is expected to be out for at least another two weeks due to a leg injury.

Center Marc Gasol is also sidelined, with James insisting it is now down to the rest of the roster to step up in the absence of the two big men.

Montrezl Harrell certainly helped out against the Pacers, contributing 17 points and six rebounds as he played 32 minutes off the bench.

"It's a collective group, a collective effort in the front court," James said. "Starting with DJ [Damian Jones], 'Trez' [Harrell] coming off the bench smooth, myself, Kyle, it's a collective group.

"We all have to put our hard hats on in the absence of Marc and AD, play bigger than our size. It's going to be a collective effort from all of us. We all have to step up."

The Los Angeles Lakers returned to winning ways in their first game since the All-Star break, LeBron James helping the NBA champions to a 105-100 victory over the Indiana Pacers.

The Lakers had dropped back-to-back games prior to Sunday's All-Star Game in Atlanta, but they snapped their skid at home to the Pacers on Friday.

James – who sat out the loss to the Sacramento Kings before the break – posted 18 points and 10 assists for his 16th double-double of the season.

But it was Kyle Kuzma who top-scored for the Lakers off the bench, putting up 24 points – including 15 in the final quarter – 13 rebounds and two steals.

Eastern Conference leaders the Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to four games after topping the lowly Washington Wizards 127-101.

However, Philadelphia's triumph was overshadowed by a knee injury to MVP candidate and All-Star Joel Embiid.

Embiid will have an MRI after appearing to hyperextend his knee in a scary fall in the third quarter – the 76ers big man hobbled to the locker room in pain.

He had 23 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks prior to the injury in Washington.

 

Westbrook reaches milestone

While Russell Westbrook saw his league-leading streak of 13 double-doubles come to an end, the Wizards star surpassed 21,000 career points. With 25 points, eight assists and five rebounds, Westbrook joined James and Oscar Robertson as the only players with at least 21,000 points, 6,000 rebounds and 7,000 assists in their careers.

The 76ers snapped a 10-game losing streak away to the Wizards. Philadelphia also swept the Wizards for the first time since 2008-09.

Goran Dragic scored 20 of his 25 points in the final period as the Miami Heat defeated the Chicago Bulls 101-90. Jimmy Butler led the Heat with 28 points against his former team.

The Denver Nuggets edged the Memphis Grizzlies 103-102 behind Nikola Jokic's double-double of 28 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists.

 

Cavs crumble, Rockets lose again

It was a forgettable outing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were humbled 116-82 by the New Orleans Pelicans. Cleveland scored just nine points in the third quarter. The Cavaliers shot 34.1 per cent from the field. Kevin Love – in his first game back since December – was one-of-four shooting, while he made only one of three attempts from beyond the arc for four points in 10 minutes. Isaac Okoro was one of eight from the field, while he missed both three-pointers for two points in 29 minutes.

The Orlando Magic were also swept aside 104-77 at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. Michael Carter-Williams finished with five points on two-of-nine shooting, making just one of his three shots from beyond the arc.

The Houston Rockets were no match for the NBA-leading Utah Jazz – 114-99 – in the absence of Victor Oladipo, Christian Wood and Danuel House Jr. Ben McLemore was three-of-14 from the field for eight points. The Rockets guard was also two-of-six from three-point range. It was Houston's 15th straight loss.

 

Rudy says no!

After featuring in the All-Star Game, Utah's Rudy Gobert was back to business with a double-double (14 points and 13 rebounds). He put up six blocks, including an emphatic effort in the third period.

 

Friday's results

Philadelphia 76ers 127-101 Washington Wizards
Denver Nuggets 103-102 Memphis Grizzlies
New Orleans Pelicans 116-82 Cleveland Cavaliers
Miami Heat 101-90 Chicago Bulls
San Antonio Spurs 104-77 Orlando Magic
Los Angeles Lakers 105-100 Indiana Pacers
Utah Jazz 114-99 Houston Rockets

 

Pistons at Nets

The lowly Detroit Pistons (10-27) – bottom of the Eastern Conference – will visit the in-form Brooklyn Nets (25-13) on Saturday. Brooklyn have won three straight, while Detroit have dropped back-to-back games.

 

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said he is rested and ready to lead the team's title defence in the second half of the NBA season.

James and defending champions the Lakers will return to action against the Indiana Pacers on Friday following the All-Star break.

Lakers veteran James was in Atlanta for the All-Star Game, playing 13 minutes as Team LeBron beat Team Durant 170-150.

But after sitting out the final game before the break – a 123-120 loss to the Sacramento Kings on March 3 – James is feeling refreshed in the Lakers' pursuit of back-to-back championships.

"It's go time," James told reporters on Thursday. "It's time to get prepared and making that turnaround, that last lap going into the postseason.

"… I'm not into looking ahead saying, 'OK, let's take this off, take that off'. Nah, it's go time for me."

The Lakers (24-13) head into the Pacers clash on the back of consecutive defeats, leaving James and his team-mates third in the Western Conference behind NBA leaders the Utah Jazz (27-9) and Phoenix Suns (24-11).

In his 18th season, James has been averaging 25.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game for the Lakers.

James added: "I kind of use the first half of the season as being in gear one, two and three, and then in the second half being in more like four, five, six, and then when the playoffs start you're in seven.

"And that's kind of the way I've always kind of adjusted over the last few years of my career, really just ramping up more, more and more as the months go on as the games go on going into the playoffs."

The Lakers will welcome the Pacers to Staples Center in Los Angeles without star Anthony Davis.

Davis remains sidelined with tendinosis and a calf strain in his right leg, having not played since February 14.

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said Davis will be re-evaluated by team doctors on Friday.

LeBron James said he is "in awe" of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Steph Curry after they put on a show for his side in the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday.

Antetokounmpo was named MVP after shooting a perfect 16 from 16 to claim a game-high 35 points in a 170-150 victory for Team LeBron over Team Durant.

Greek star Antetokounmpo recorded the most baskets without a miss in All-Star Game history, while Curry finished with 28 points in the 70th edition of the showpiece match at State Farm Arena, Atlanta.

James, who scored just four points in his 12:46 minutes on court, relished the opportunity to line up with Antetokounmpo and Curry.

Asked if he enjoyed playing in the same team as the duo, he replied: "Absolutely, that's why I drafted them, guys I obviously compete against on a nightly basis, but guys I'm just in awe of, Giannis and Steph.

"It's my first time teaming up with Steph and it was an honour to be on the floor with him, a guy I've seen come up and be the player that he is today, but it was great to be out there with them and the rest of the guys."

That is four wins out of four for James as captain in the All-Star Game and the 36-year would be happy to keep it that way.

"I hope they allow me to retire from being an All-Star captain, retire with a perfect 4-and-0 record, I'll keep that forever, but we'll see what happens," said the Los Angeles Lakers great.

"I try to pick the right team, guys who compete, and play to win, and I've been on the winning side of all four."

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