If the season ended today, the Los Angeles Lakers would not even make the play-in tournament after a painful 114-111 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

The loss moves the Lakers' record to 31-46, and 4-16 in their past 20 games.

The Lakers built this game up as a must-win, re-inserting Anthony Davis to the line-up from a lengthy absence and LeBron James from an ankle sprain, but ultimately could not get stops down the stretch.

James was terrific, scoring 38 points on 13-23 shooting, while Davis was also strong, scoring 23 points (eight-of-17 shooting) to go with 12 rebounds and six assists. During Davis' 37 minutes on the floor, the Lakers were plus four.

But the Pelicans' duo of C.J. McCollum and Brandon Ingram would not be denied, as McCollum led the way with 32 points (12-of-23 shooting), while Ingram chipped in with an efficient 29 on 10-of-17 shooting to go with eight rebounds and seven assists.

The Lakers' five remaining games are at home against the Denver Nuggets, away at the Phoenix Suns, away at the Golden State Warriors, at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and away against the Nuggets.

The San Antonio Spurs currently lead the race for the 10 seed by one game.

 

Fill-in Grizzlies fill it up

Another game without Ja Morant, and another win for the Memphis Grizzlies as they got the better of the full-strength Phoenix Suns 122-114.

As well as Morant, Memphis was without center Steven Adams, Defensive Player of the Year candidate Jaren Jackson Jr and emerging shooting guard Desmond Bane, but in front of their home fans the replacement Grizzlies were up to the task.

Dillon Brooks top-scored for the Grizzlies with 30 points (11-of-28 shooting) and seven assists, while Devin Booker had 41 points on 17-of-28 shooting for the Suns.

Memphis are now 20-2 in games Morant has missed.

 

Celtics win a shootout, Covington goes bananas 

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both surpassed 30 points in the Boston Celtics' 128-123 win against the Indiana Pacers.

Tatum finished with 31 on 10-of-24 shooting, while Brown had 32 on 12-of-18, but the Celtics had to withstand a sharpshooting display from Tyrese Haliburton, who had 30 points on 10-of-11 shooting, including six-of-six from long range.

Meanwhile, Robert Covington played the game of his life as his Los Angeles Clippers beat an undermanned Milwaukee Bucks side 153-119.

Covington finished with 43 points, going 11-of-18 from three-point range, setting a new franchise record for threes made in a game, beating J.J. Redick and Caron Butler's previous joint-record of nine.

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel felt his team's struggles in their defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans reflected a "disjointed" season after they lost 114-111 in a "playoff game".

The Lakers were beaten despite strong performances from their two biggest stars, as LeBron James racked up 38 points and eight rebounds while Anthony Davis returned from injury with 23 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in 37 minutes.

C.J. McCollum and Brandon Ingram combined for 61 points for the Pelicans, who are now almost assured of their place in the play-in tournament.

The Lakers' play-in tournament chances took a massive hit with the loss – which moved their record to 4-16 in their past 20 games – sitting one game behind the San Antonio Spurs in the race for the 10 seed, with a difficult remaining schedule.

Speaking with post-game media, Vogel said he had no choice but to play James and Davis for extended minutes and cut down the rotation.

 "I think potentially [they were affected by fatigue down the stretch], but this was a playoff-mindset type of game, so those guys want to be in there," he said.

"We're communicating constantly throughout the game. I think both of them would say [they did not play too many minutes] – it's a playoff game, you got to be in there, you've got to compete. 

"This was a playoff game for us, so you use the roster however you see fit, given that matchup.

"C.J. McCollum and Brandon Ingram as a tandem, and with [Jonas] Valanciunas, those three guys are as good as just about any three you can put together in the league. That's why they're one of the hottest teams in the league.

"It's why we liked what Avery [Bradley] could bring to the table, and using Dwight [Howard] on Jonas as much as possible, but the guys who fell out of the rotation [including Talen Horton-Tucker and Austin Reaves] was just due to matchup."

Vogel felt the Lakers' issues scoring down the stretch were a microcosm of their campaign.

"I think it's the nature of the disjointed season that we've had – these guys haven't been on the floor in six weeks together," he said.

"We played last night – it was a tough travel situation getting in late and having to play an important game today, we just fell short. Those are the little things that are the difference between winning and losing.

"I won't look at [10th seed] San Antonio at all – obviously we'll find out what their scores look like, but our focus has to be on what we can control, and that's winning the next game."

If the season ended today, the Los Angeles Lakers would not even make the play-in tournament after a painful 114-111 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

The loss moves the Lakers' record to 31-46, and 4-16 in their past 20 games.

The Lakers built this game up as a must-win, re-inserting Anthony Davis to the line-up from a lengthy absence and LeBron James from an ankle sprain, but ultimately could not get stops down the stretch.

James was terrific, scoring 38 points on 13-23 shooting, while Davis was also strong, scoring 23 points (eight-of-17 shooting) to go with 12 rebounds and six assists. During Davis' 37 minutes on the floor, the Lakers were plus four.

But the Pelicans duo of C.J. McCollum and Brandon Ingram would not be denied, as McCollum led the way with 32 points (12-of-23 shooting), while Ingram chipped in with an efficient 29 on 10-of-17 shooting to go with eight rebounds and seven assists.

The Lakers' five remaining games are at home against the Denver Nuggets, away at the Phoenix Suns, away at the Golden State Warriors, at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and away against the Nuggets.

The San Antonio Spurs currently lead the race for the 10 seed by one game.

 

Fill-in Grizzlies fill it up

Another game without Ja Morant, and another win for the Memphis Grizzlies as they got the better of the full-strength Phoenix Suns 122-114.

As well as Morant, Memphis was without center Steven Adams, Defensive Player of the Year candidate Jaren Jackson Jr and emerging shooting guard Desmond Bane, but in front of their home fans the replacement Grizzlies were up to the task.

Dillon Brooks top-scored for the Grizzlies with 30 points (11-of-28 shooting) and seven assists, while Devin Booker had 41 points on 17-of-28 shooting for the Suns.

Memphis are now 20-2 in games Morant has missed.

 

Celtics win a shoot-out, Covington goes bananas 

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both surpassed 30 points in the Boston Celtics' 128-123 win against the Indiana Pacers.

Tatum finished with 31 on 10-of-24 shooting, while Brown had 32 on 12-of-18, but the Celtics had to withstand a sharpshooting display from Tyrese Haliburton, who had 30 points on 10-of-11 shooting, including six-of-six from long range.

Meanwhile, Robert Covington played the game of his life as his Los Angeles Clippers beat an undermanned Milwaukee Bucks side 153-119.

Covington finished with 43 points, going 11-of-18 from three-point range, setting a new franchise record for threes made in a game, beating J.J. Redick and Caron Butler's previous joint-record of nine.

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel slammed his side's performance in Tuesday's 128-110 loss to the Dallas Mavericks as they slipped out of the play-in spots.

The Lakers, who were without LeBron James (ankle) and Anthony Davis (foot), slumped to 11th spot in the Western Conference with a 31-44 record.

In the race for the final play-in spot in the west, the Lakers are behind the San Antonio Spurs, who have the same record but are ahead on the tie-breaker.

The Lakers trailed by as many as 37 points in the Mavs defeat where Luka Doncic (34 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists) recorded a triple-double.

Vogel labelled the performance as "not good enough in any way" and refused to be drawn into discussing their slide outside the play-in positions.

"The standings are the results," Vogel told reporters. "We have to keep our focus on the process and the work and the things that are going to lead to our next win. That's the only place that our focus will be."

He added: "We always learn from every game. It won't be any different despite the huge deficit in this game."

James has been outstanding on an individual level this season, leading the NBA for points per game at 30.1 ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo (29.9) and Joel Embiid (29.9).

The four-time MVP's absence was felt against the Mavericks, with the Lakers slipping to 4-13 since the All-Star Break.

"With those guys [James and Davis] out, we're at a talent deficit, so the focus and execution has to make up for it," Vogel said.

"This is just the latest dose of adversity that this year's team has faced. We've been playing some really good basketball of late.

"When you lose Bron, okay, you have to adjust yet again throughout a season of setbacks. We have to find footing. We didn’t find it in the second half the other night and we certainly didn't find it."

LeBron James was ruled out of the Los Angeles Lakers' game against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday with an ankle injury. 

The news was first reported by The Athletic's Shams Charania. 

Four-time NBA MVP LeBron had been listed as doubtful after rolling his left ankle in the 116-108 defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday. 

The 37-year-old did not practice on Monday and the decision was subsequently taken for him to sit out the matchup at the American Airlines Center. 

Anthony Davis had also been listed as doubtful after he on Monday came through his first full practice session since suffering a foot injury on February 16. 

The Lakers (31-43) went into the Mavs (46-29) game 10th in the Western Conference and hold a half-game lead over the San Antonio Spurs for the final play-in spot.

Playing a role in managing LeBron James' legacy has contributed to this being the toughest season Frank Vogel has experienced as an NBA coach. 

The Los Angeles Lakers have significantly underperformed in 2021-22 and sit 10th in the Western Conference – the final play-in spot – with eight regular season games to play. 

Injuries have limited Anthony Davis to just 37 appearances, while LeBron James has missed 19 games and they have only played together 21 times. Russell Westbrook has also struggled to show why LA paid such a high price to acquire him from the Washington Wizards. 

The Lakers were considered one of the favourites to win the championship this season but are in very real danger of missing out on the playoffs entirely. 

Although Davis, who has been out with a foot injury since February 16, was a full participant in Monday's practice, James sat out due to an ankle injury sustained in Sunday's defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans – a game in which the Lakers blew a 23-point lead. 

Vogel felt the injury situation was typical of the team's season and cited having a part to play in ensuring James enjoys a strong finish to his career as a factor in making it so tough for him to navigate. 

Asked if it had been his hardest year as a coach, Vogel replied: "I would say probably, just because of the expectations we've had. 

"We've had too many really difficult nights and I think there's an element of being a part of managing LeBron's legacy in these final years of his career. 

"You wanna just give him the best opportunity to have team success throughout that, so when we haven't won at the level that we wanted to it's been challenging. And the losses have been heavier. But we've been able to continue to mend and rebuild our team psyche and keep a belief in what we can be. Obviously this last injury [to James] hurts that. 

"But we had a good day today. We came in and we got really positive feedback and work on our film session, had a live practice session which we haven't had in quite some time, and hopefully we can still get a W tomorrow [Tuesday, against the Dallas Mavericks] and finish strong." 

Anthony Davis completed his first full practice since sustaining a foot injury last month and is listed as doubtful for Tuesday's game against the Dallas Mavericks. 

Lakers star Davis went down with three minutes remaining in the second quarter of the 106-101 victory over the Utah Jazz on February 16 and has not played since. 

Los Angeles have gone 4-12 in their 16 games since then but head coach Frank Vogel revealed Davis is nearing a return to the floor – though he expects it to take him some time to get back up to speed. 

"Positive sign. He went through full practice. Did all of our drill work and some live scrimmaging," said Vogel. 

"We're at a point now where it's really about how he responds to that and the level of soreness he has coming out of his first live work. He'll also be listed as doubtful for tomorrow. 

"He's got to get his legs under him – that's the biggest thing. When you have a foot injury like this it's not as easy to do all your running and stay in shape like if you had a wrist injury or something like that, so that's definitely going to take time. 

"And because of that you have to be more cautious with the return to play. Because if you throw him out there and he doesn't have his wind, then the injury becomes compromised or you overcompensate in some way and you don't want that. 

"So there's definitely going to be a stretch here when we get him back where he's still getting his legs under him." 

LeBron James, who was absent for two of the games Davis missed, is also doubtful to face the Mavericks due to a left ankle injury sustained in the 116-108 defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday, which saw the Lakers blow a 23-point lead. 

"He definitely has some swelling from the ankle sprain and we'll list him as doubtful tomorrow. He stayed back from practice today to get some treatment on it," said Vogel. 

Davis and James have only played together 21 times this season and Vogel said it was typical of the campaign that the wait to pair them may be prolonged by the latter's injury. 

"It's been that type of year. Definitely snakebitten with trying to get those guys on the floor together. I think it's 17 or 18 games for the season [that James has missed] and it looks like it could be more than that now," said Vogel. 

"It's out of our control. It's unfortunate, but we have to lock in and again, like we've done all season, shift our identity on the floor with regard to who's in and who's out." 

The Lakers are 31-43 on the season and occupy the final play-in spot in the Western Conference with eight regular-season games remaining.

After scoring 11 points in the first quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers' 116-108 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, LeBron James suffered an ankle injury early in the second term that he called "horrible".

James ended up staying in the game, and went on to score 39 points on 14-of-27 shooting, but he admitted after the game that it was more serious than he hoped.

After scoring 69 points in the first half, the Lakers were a different side after the break, scoring just 39 points over the final two quarters while the Pelicans scored 41 in the third quarter alone.

Speaking to post-game media, James said he would have "probably not" finished the game if he did not feel it was a crucial fixture for his side.

"I have no idea how I finished the game after watching the replay, it was pretty nasty," he said.

"I lost all explosiveness… a lot of my game was on the perimeter after that. It's horrible right now.

"From the time that I turned my ankle I felt a sharp pain run up my leg and get hot, and I've been there with ankle sprains before, but I didn't want to come out of the game.

"I understood how big of a game it was for us."

James was blunt when describing how it felt to come up short in a game that was built up as a near must-win internally.

"It feels like sh** – excuse my language, but that's what it feels like," he said.

"I came in with the mindset understanding that it was a playoff-type atmosphere with playoff implications.

"We also have a lot of guys in our ball club who haven't played in playoff games as well… [New Orleans] have guys who have been in the postseason.

"It feels like a wasted opportunity."

Also speaking with post-game media, head coach Frank Vogel preached urgency as the playoffs rapidly approach.

"Time's running out on us – we came out with the proper urgency for this game, but weren't able to close it," he said.

"It's over, this game is over, and we have to turn the page to the next one.

"It's not good – it hurts, this was a big game – but we have to regroup and find a way to beat Dallas and get some wins down the stretch here."

On James' injury, Vogel said it was a brave effort to stick it out until the end.

"It's tough – it has been that kind of season, and [James] was in an incredible groove when it happened," he said.

"Credit to him for toughing it out – you could see that he was limited on it somewhat the rest of the way, but he battled through it."

After some results fell their way, the new Eastern Conference one seed Philadelphia 76ers went head-to-head with the Western Conference one seed Phoenix Suns in a potential NBA Finals preview.

Unfortunately for the 76ers, their time on top was short-lived as the Suns' 114-104 home win sent the away side toppling down to fourth in the Eastern Conference standings.

MVP favourite Joel Embiid was enormous for the 76ers, scoring 37 points on 14-of-27 shooting to go with 15 rebounds, three steals and two blocks, but it was not enough to beat a Phoenix team that has now won 61 games this season – one short of their franchise record of 62 set in 1992-93 and 2004-05.

For the Suns, Devin Booker was the star, scoring an efficient 35 points on 13-of-22 shooting (three-of-five from long range), while Chris Paul dished out 14 assists to go with his 19 points.

As a team, Phoenix shot over 51 per cent from the field, and 48 per cent from three-point range.

 

Boston takes the one seed – for now

As Philadelphia fell from the top spot, the Boston Celtics took the opportunity to assume the position atop the Eastern Conference musical chairs, beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 134-112.

Boston's two centrepieces were both at the top of their game, with Jayson Tatum scoring 34 points on 12-of-21 shooting and dishing six assists, while Jaylen Brown had 31 points on 12-of-20 shooting with his 10 rebounds.

Boston, Philadelphia, the Miami Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks are all separated by just a half-game in a four-way race for the one seed and home-court advantage throughout the Eastern playoffs.

 

Lakers lose again despite LeBron heroics

As has become a theme this season, a terrific LeBron James performance was not enough to carry the Los Angeles Lakers to victory, going down 116-108 to the New Orleans Pelicans.

James had 39 points on 14-of-27 shooting, including seven-of-13 from long range, to go with nine rebounds and five assists in the loss.

In his first game back from a 10-match absence due to injury, Brandon Ingram was the man for the Pelicans, scoring 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting with seven rebounds and five assists, while rookie sensation Herb Jones claimed six steals.

LeBron James is deserving of MVP consideration but the Los Angeles Lakers' 31-42 record will work against him according to head coach Frank Vogel.

The four-time MVP has had an outstanding season for the Lakers, averaging a career-high 30.0 points per game, which is also the best in the NBA this season ahead of Joel Embiid (29.8) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (29.7).

James has played 54 of the Lakers' 73 games, shooting at 52 per cent from the field while averaging 8.2 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks.

The 37-year-old, however, has single-handedly carried the Lakers, who are 10th in the Western Conference and scrapping to make the Play-In Tournament.

"He is as deserving for MVP consideration as anybody in the league," Vogel told reporters on Friday.

"I know how the voting goes - the team with the best record or top couple of records usually gets most of those considerations, so the win-loss record definitely would probably hurt him.

"But you can't tell me that anybody has played a better season than LeBron James has this year."

Embiid, whose Philadelphia 76ers are 45-27, and Nikola Jokic, whose Denver Nuggets are 43-31, are the current favourites for the MVP, with James believed to be behind the likes of Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Ja Morant, DeMar DeRozan and Devin Booker.

The 76ers center is averaging 29.8 points with 48 per cent shooting from the field along with 11.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists this season.

Reigning MVP Jokic is averaging 26.2 points at 57 per cent shooting with 13.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists and has had a league-high 18 triple-doubles.

LeBron James will miss Wednesday's showcase game between his Los Angeles Lakers and the visiting Philadelphia 76ers.

The team is calling it knee soreness after he also missed a string of games in February with left-knee swelling.

James, 37, has played 54 out of a possible 72 games so far this season for the Lakers, and currently leads the league in points-per-game at 30.0, leading Joel Embiid (29.8) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (29.7).

If James were to hold off Embiid and Antetokounmpo, it would be just the second scoring title of his career after he also averaged 30.0 in the 2007-08 season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Embiid will need to score 45 points to finish the night in the lead for the scoring title.

In the four games the Lakers have won since the All-Star break, James is averaging 45 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

The Lakers are ninth in the Western Conference with a 31-41 record going into the game.

The stars will be out on Wednesday at Crypto.com Arena when the Philadelphia 76ers roll into town to take on the Los Angeles Lakers.

After sitting out the second leg of Monday's back-to-back against the Miami Heat, superstar duo Joel Embiid and James Harden should be back in the line-up for the 44-27 76ers as they jostle with the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics for the Eastern Conference two seed.

Meanwhile, the Lakers are fighting to keep their head above water, with their 31-41 record leaving them five games behind the eight seed Los Angeles Clippers as they prepare for the impending play-in tournament.

The Sixers are in the midst of a stylistic metamorphosis since the arrival of Harden at the All-Star break, completely re-shaping their offensive profile.

 

As was expected, the 76ers' free-throw rate (FTR) skyrocketed when it paired arguably the two greatest shooting-foul magnets of this generation.

Their 0.259 FTR – which means Philadelphia was shooting free throws on nearly 26 per cent of their possessions prior to Harden's arrival – was good for fourth in the NBA, with the Houston Rockets leading that category at 0.291.

While league-wide FTR is significantly up since the All-Star break, primarily due to it being artificially low to start the season as referees cracked down on players milking free throws, the 76ers have taken it to the extreme, leading the league at 0.374 following Harden's arrival – with only Philly and the New York Knicks (0.363) above third-placed Denver's 0.310.

No team has posted a FTR higher than 0.374 since Harden and Dwight Howard's 2013-14 Houston Rockets (0.386)

To say the 76ers have relied on free throws to sustain their scoring production is an understatement – since the trade, their 41.4 points in the paint per 100 possessions is the worst in the league, all while the offense revolves around a seven-foot-two behemoth in Embiid.

As has been the case with Harden's teams, specifically during his tenure in Houston, his offenses will live and die with free throws and three-pointers, with the 76ers upping their long-range attempts from 31.7 per 100 possessions to 35.6, moving from 26th in the league up to 11th.

It is irrefutable that Harden has changed this offense but, while Philadelphia's offensive efficiency has increased from 111 points per 100 possessions up to 115.4, their attack remains the 14th-best as league-wide efficiency is up across the board due to shooting fouls increasing and teams finding their rhythm.

On the other side, the Lakers are learning to live without injured centrepiece Anthony Davis, and the numbers have not been pretty on both ends.

Lacking a true interior presence since the All-Star break, the Lakers' FTR has plummeted from eighth in the league (0.251) to 26th (0.239), and their once-vaunted defense has become one of the league's worst.

As well as being 27th in overall defensive efficiency since the All-Star break, the Lakers are the league's second-worst team when it comes to allowing points in the paint.

So what happens when a movable object – the Lakers' paint defence – meets a stoppable force – Philadelphia's paint scoring?
 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS 

Philadelphia 76ers – Joel Embiid

While Harden is a former MVP, Embiid is the favourite for this year's award, and his level of play is usually the deciding factor in whether the 76ers win or lose.

In wins this season, Embiid is averaging 31.7 points and 4.6 assists on 51 per cent shooting from the field, with those numbers dropping to 25.9 points and 3.7 assists on 43 per cent shooting in losses.

Los Angeles Lakers – LeBron James

Simply put, since the All-Star break, the Lakers only win when James dominates.

In that period, the Lakers have a record of 4-9 when James plays, with the four-time champion averaging 45 points, 9.3 rebounds and seven assists in the four wins.


KEY BATTLE – Who wants to run?

A glaring weakness of both teams since the All-Star break has been transition defense, with the Lakers dead last, allowing 18.7 fastbreak points per 100 possessions.

The 76ers have not been much better, coming in at 28th, allowing 16.6 per 100 possessions.

Philadelphia have been criticised for being slow, while the Lakers have been criticised for being old, but which team is going to take advantage?

The Lakers appear more equipped to play an up-tempo style, coming in at fifth in the NBA in fastbreak points per game (14.9), and it is worth noting that no player has more fastbreak dunks this season than LeBron James' 36.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The 76ers won this season's only meeting, coming away with a 105-87 home win in a January game where Anthony Davis played, and played well for the Lakers in the critical absence of James.

Philadelphia won both meetings in the 2020-21 season, with the Lakers' last triumph coming on March 3, 2020.

LeBron James hopes former teammate Kevin Love harbours no resentment after a brutal dunk in the Los Angeles Lakers' 130-121 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

James' return to Cleveland saw him put up a triple-double of 38 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds, along with the dunk on his championship-winning teammate Love.

Attacking off an Austin Reaves dish inside, the 37-year-old launched to the basket with Love underneath, and the knee in the chest only served as a punctuation mark to what was a ferocious dunk.

Afterwards, James joked he hopes the invitation to the wedding of Love - whom he played with at the Cavs from 2014 to 2018 - is not rescinded.

"It was after the offensive rebound so I was diving down the middle, and once I got the bounce pass and put my left leg down on the ground, that's when I looked up," James said at the post-game news conference.

"To be completely honest, I hate that it had to be him. He's my guy, that's my brother and I hope I'm still invited to the wedding.

"That's not even in my all-time dunks so take it out. Kevin Love, I love you. I wish I could take those two points back and we'd still win by nine."

After last Sunday's demolition at the hands of the Phoenix Suns, the Lakers have regrouped on this road trip and if not for a fourth-quarter collapse against the Washington Wizards on Saturday, would be coming back home with a three-game win streak.

James believes performances have nevertheless been encouraging, with the Western Conference play-in on the horizon.

"For about 11 quarters, we've played some good basketball," he said. "Aside from the fourth quarter in the last game, we've played some good basketball and want to continue that trend.

"Obviously we want to defend a lot better, but this team is making a lot of shots, making a lot of plays and scoring a lot of points versus everybody.

"To come into this building, where [they] have played some exceptional basketball all year, on the last game of a road trip before we head back west, it was a big game from us."

LeBron James scored 38 points and notched up another triple-double upon his return to Cleveland, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 131-120 win over the Cavaliers on Monday.

Other than this season's All-Star Game, it was Akron-born James' only home visit. Having played 11 seasons in two stints with the Cavs, he was warmly received as he added 10 rebounds and 12 assists to those 38 points.

Russell Westbrook and D.J. Augustin added 20 points each for the Lakers, who moved three games clear of the 10th-placed San Antonio Spurs for Western Conference play-in calculations.

Meanwhile, the Cavs only just remain in sixth in the Eastern Conference at 41-31, one game clear of the Toronto Raptors in the first play-in spot.

Durant gives Jazz the business in Brooklyn

Kevin Durant was at his talismanic best, as the Brooklyn Nets won 114-106 at home to the Utah Jazz.

Durant had 37 points on 15-of-23 shooting, including four-of-seven from beyond the arc, as well as coming up with nine rebounds and eight assists.

Brooklyn look set to secure an Eastern Conference play-in spot at 38-34 in eighth, and despite 30 points for the Jazz, Donovan Mitchell couldn't stop the Nets from snapping their three-game win streak.

Maxey catches fire in Heat win

Tyrese Maxey scored 13 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, propelling the short-handed Philadelphia 76ers to a 113-106 victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat.

Without Joel Embiid and James Harden, Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz added 20 and 18 points respectively, while Maxey made critical buckets down the stretch.

In a game that was tight throughout, the 21-year-old came up big in the clutch, scoring on a drive plus the foul to give the Sixers a 106-101 lead with 2:18 remaining.

Frank Vogel was keen to take the time to acknowledge LeBron James' achievement in passing Karl Malone despite the Los Angeles Lakers' 127-119 defeat to the Washington Wizards.

With 38 points against the Wizards, James moved ahead of Malone (36,928) onto 36,947 for his career, now trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) all-time.

For James, who has played 197 games fewer than Abdul-Jabbar, this was a 31st 30-point game of the season – behind only Joel Embiid (33).

Lakers team-mate Russell Westbrook described this latest accomplishment as "an amazing feat to witness", while Carmelo Anthony said he was "still in awe" of James.

James insisted he could not "separate" his own performance from the defeat – "all I care about is wins and losses," he explained – but that was not a stance Vogel agreed with.

"It's bittersweet, but I think it's important to separate it," the coach said.

"This is a moment of time that we can't get caught up in the pain of this loss and [must] recognise what an incredible feat this is for LeBron, doing it in the fashion that he did it.

"He just attacked the game tonight. He came in and was aggressive on both sides of the ball, the second night of a back-to-back, really playing with incredible energy after playing 45 minutes last night.

"It was just a signature performance in a game where he passes one of the greats and becomes the second all-time leading scorer in the history of the game.

"It's really impressive, and I'm super happy for him. It's awesome."

For a player so focused on results, this has been a tough season for James, with the loss leaving the Lakers just half a game ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans in ninth in the West at 30-41.

This is despite James' 29.8 points per game – the third-highest mark of his career and highest since 2007-08.

"It's just an incredible game, an incredible season, and I don't know where we'd be without him," Vogel said.

Happily for the Lakers, as they look set for the play-in game, Vogel believes James is still getting better.

"This year's no different. The fact that it's later in his career and he's still doing it at this level is different," he added.

"Obviously, the way he's continuing to evolve his game with the deep shooting, with the turnaround, fadeaway jump shot that Kobe [Bryant] and Michael [Jordan] had later in his career... He's growing as a receiver. That part is special."

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