All-Star pair Devin Booker and Chris Paul led the way as the Phoenix Suns beat the Los Angeles Clippers 103-96 to make it six wins in a row.

Booker scored 26 points and Paul added 17 and 14 assists for the NBA-leading Suns, who have now won 17 of their past 18 games and are 47-10 for the season.

The Clippers had defeated the Golden State Warriors in their previous game and led the Suns 90-88 with six minutes to play at Footprint Center.

But Booker and Paul took control to give the hosts a slender lead and restricted their opponents to just one point in the final 2:53 to put another victory on the board.

Reflecting on a hard-fought win, Suns head coach Monty Williams said: "Our past experiences are helping us now, even the hurt that we felt last year is helping us now."

 


Giannis guides Bucks past Pacers

The Milwaukee Bucks snapped a two-game losing run with a 128-119 victory over the Indiana Pacers thanks to Giannis Antetokounmpo's latest impressive showing.

Two-time NBA MVP Antetokounmpo scored 50 points on 17-of-21 shooting, with those 21 attempts the fourth-fewest in a 50-point game in NBA history.

It is the first time the 27-year-old, returning from an ankle injury that kept him out of the loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, has hit 50 in the regular season since November 2019.

The Bucks improve to 36-23 for the season, with a winning percentage of .610, while the Pacers have now lost seven successive games.

Celtics continue strong form

The Boston Celtics eased to a 135-87 win over the Philadelphia 76ers for their ninth win in a row, with Jaylen Brown scoring 26 of his 29 points in the first half.

They are now 11-1 across their last 12 games and have outscored opponents by 253 points – only the 1970-71 Bucks (+260) have a larger point differential over a 12-game span in NBA history.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Luka Doncic scored 21 points in the Dallas Mavericks' 107-99 win against the Miami Heat, while the Atlanta Hawks held off the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-116.

The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Memphis Grizzlies recorded 126-120 and 121-109 victories over the Charlotte Hornets and the New Orleans Pelicans respectively.

Seth Curry's 23-point arrival helped the Brooklyn Nets snap their 11-game skid in a 109-85 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Monday.

Curry landed four three-pointers with seven rebounds and five assists while fellow debutant Andre Drummond added 11 points, with Ben Simmons still out despite being present for the pre-game shootaround.

The Nets led from start to finish but were propelled by a 54-37 second half with LaMarcus Aldridge scoring 19 points with eight rebounds off the bench.

Bruce Brown had season-high returns with 19 points, six assists and five steals for the new-look Nets who improved to 30-27.

De'Andre Fox had a game-high 26 points for the Kings who were limited to 34.4 per cent shooting (31-of-90) overall.

 

Steph stars but Warriors lose

Stephen Curry made eight three-pointers in a 33-point haul but it was not enough to get the Golden State Warriors past the Los Angeles Clippers who won 119-104. Terance Mann scored 25 points with seven rebounds and six assists for the triumphant Clippers.

Julius Randle had a triple-double with 30 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists but he was overshadowed by Rookie of the Year contender Josh Giddey as the Oklahoma City Thunder won 127-123 in overtime. Giddey also had a triple-double with 28 points including three triples along with 11 rebounds and 12 assists.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic starred with 26 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists as the Denver Nuggets brushed aside the Orlando Magic 121-111, while Donovan Mitchell had 30 points with six rebounds and seven assists in the Utah Jazz's 135-101 victory over the Houston Rockets.

 

Middleton loses radar as Bucks go down

Khris Middleton almost had a triple-double but shot poorly, going three-of-15 from the field and one-of-eight from beyond the arc as the Milwaukee Bucks went down 122-107 to the Portland Trail Blazers. Anfernee Simons scored 31 points for the Blazers, while Middleton had 16 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists as the Bucks lost in Giannis Antetokounmpo's absence due to a sore ankle.

Reigning NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and new Brooklyn Nets acquisition Ben Simmons will both not play on Monday.

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer confirmed that Antetokounmpo will miss Monday's game against the Portland Trail Blazers with a sore ankle.

The Greek forward had been listed as probable before being downgraded to doubtful, ahead of back-to-back games with a Tuesday date with the Indiana Pacers too.

"He's not ready to go tonight," Budenholzer told reporters pre-game. "It's not anything more than that. We'll see how he feels tomorrow. I think it's very short term."

Simmons, who joined the Nets from the Philadelphia 76ers in a blockbuster trade late last week, attended shootaround prior to their game with the Sacramento Kings.

However, the three-time All-Star was ruled out as he "returns to competition reconditioning".

The Milwaukee Bucks are expected to pursue a deal for Goran Dragic after it was announced Pat Connaughton will miss around four weeks. 

Connaughton on Monday underwent surgery on a fractured metacarpal sustained in the 131-107 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Thursday but should return before the end of the regular season. 

The seventh-year shooting guard's injury leaves the Bucks short of backcourt depth, however, after they traded Donte DiVincenzo to the Sacramento Kings in a four-team deal that landed them Serge Ibaka. 

Milwaukee, who are two games back of Eastern Conference leaders the Miami Heat, have consequently been heavily linked with a move for Dragic. 

Dragic was traded to the Spurs by the Toronto Raptors last week but is set to be bought out of his contract by San Antonio.

ESPN has reported the Bucks will now be "aggressive in [their] pursuit" of the Slovenian guard as they look to secure a decent seeding ahead of the playoffs and their defence of the NBA championship. 

The Phoenix Suns outclassed defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday to win 131-107 and stretch their NBA-best record to 45-10.

In a rematch of last season's Finals, won by the Bucks, Phoenix pulled clear in the second half after a competitive opening two quarters in Arizona.

Deandre Ayton top-scored for the Suns with 27 points, finishing on 12-of-14 shooting from the field, while Chris Paul enjoyed a special game: his 17 points and 19 assists brought about his 500th career double-double, a tally only previously reached by three guards in the league's history.

"I'm grateful that I still get a chance to play," he said. "Not just play, but I feel like I play at a high level every night. It's cool."

It was a 15th win from 16 games for the Suns and reinforced their championship credentials against the team who came from 2-0 down to win last year's Finals series 4-2.

"They're the defending champs. We still hurt," said coach Monty Williams. "But from a confidence standpoint, for sure, it was a big game for us. I can admit it now."

The Golden State Warriors, second to the Suns in the West, fell to a second straight defeat for only the third time this season despite a double-double from Stephen Curry.

Julius Randle's 28 points and 16 rebounds, the latter an equal-high for the season, saw the New York Knicks win for the first time in four games in their West Coast trip, Klay Thompson's missed buzzer-beater meaning it finished 116-114.

The Miami Heat remain top of the Eastern Conference, their dominant second-half display seeing them to a 112-97 defeat of the New Orleans Pelicans. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo each scored 29 points for Miami, while Kyle Lowry got his first triple-double of the season.

Doncic hits 50 for first time

The latest star turn in the incredible early career of Luka Doncic helped the Dallas Mavericks beat the Los Angeles Clippers 112-105 in Texas.

The 22-year-old scored a career-best 51 points, 28 of which came in an astonishing first quarter in which he hit seven of his attempted nine three-pointers.

Marcus Morris Sr. top-scored for the Clippers with 21, while Reggie Jackson posted 18, but there was simply no way back from the damage dealt by Doncic.

"Tonight was just Luka," said Clippers coach Tyronn Lue. "That little step-back three, I'll live with that. That's his shot, but if he misses a couple or few of those, then the game is different. But he made them, and that's why he's a great player."

Kuzma triple-double settles clash of busy traders

In a battle of teams at the heart of the trade deadline drama, the Washington Wizards beat the Brooklyn Nets 113-112.

A first career triple-double of 15 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists for Kyle Kuzma proved pivotal for the Wizards, who added Kristaps Porzingis on a busy Thursday in the week they lost Bradley Beal for the rest of the season to a wrist injury.

The Nets, who sent James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers in a blockbuster trade involving Ben Simmons, Seth Curry and Andre Drummond, slipped to a 10th loss on the spin despite Kyrie Irving's 31 points.

Elsewhere, Kevin Porter Jr. put up 30 points as the Toronto Raptors beat the Houston Rockets 139-120, while the Memphis Grizzlies took their winning streak to four, Ja Morant scoring 23 points in a 132-107 rout of the struggling Detroit Pistons.

 

The Philadelphia 76ers solved their Ben Simmons conundrum with a blockbuster trade for James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets before the NBA trade deadline passed on Thursday. 

Simmons has refused to play for the Sixers this season after coach Doc Rivers and center Joel Embiid were critical of his performances in the Eastern Conference semifinals loss to the Atlanta Hawks last season. 

Philadelphia had been trying to trade the fifth-year guard/forward ever since, but the former Rookie of the Year's value plummeted after he came up short against the Hawks. 

However, according to multiple reports a deal was finally struck to send Simmons to Brooklyn in exchange for the 2018 NBA MVP Harden. Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, an unprotected 2022 first-round pick and a protected 2027 first-round pick were also sent to the Nets, with Paul Millsap going in the opposite direction. 

Harden can become a free agent in the offseason, while Simmons is under contract until 2025 after signing a five-year, $177.2million deal in 2019.

While the 76ers seemingly boosted their chances of contending by adding Harden, the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors remained idle. However, there were still plenty of other deals reported on Thursday.

 

Mavericks move on from Porzingis

The Luka Doncic-Kristaps Porzingis era is over in Dallas.

The Mavs sent Porzingis and a second-round pick to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans.

Injuries have continued to trouble the 7ft 3in center, who averaged 20 points and 8.8 rebounds per game in two and a half seasons in Dallas.

Kings trade Bagley, Bucks get Ibaka 

The Sacramento Kings made Marvin Bagley III the second overall pick in the 2018 draft but brought an end to his time in California as part of a seven-player, four-team trade. 

Bagley was sent to the Detroit Pistons, with Josh Jackson and Trey Lyles going to Sacramento. The Kings also received Donte DiVincenzo from the Milwaukee Bucks, who swapped Serge Ibaka for Semi Ojeleye and Rodney Hood. The reigning NBA champions also received two future second-round picks and cash considerations. 

Bagley has started just 17 games for Sacramento this season, averaging 9.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in 21.9 minutes per game.

Celtics bring Theis back, send Schroder to Houston

Daniel Theis is back for a second spell with the Boston Celtics.

Less than a year after he was traded to the Chicago Bulls by the Celtics, Theis was brought back from the Houston Rockets in exchange for Dennis Schroder, Enes Freedom and Bruno Fernando. Freedom is expected to be waived by the Rockets, though.

Boston also sent Bol Bol and PJ Dozier, who are both out for the season, to the Orlando Magic and offloaded Josh Richardson and Romeo Langford to the San Antonio Spurs. The Celtics' brought in Derrick White.

Elsewhere...

Goran Dragic's time with the Toronto Raptors is up after he was traded to the Spurs for Thaddeus Young, Drew Eubanks – whom they were set to waive – and a 2022 lottery-protected first-round pick. Dragic is expected to be bought out, with the Chicago Bulls, Mavs, Bucks, Warriors, Nets and Clippers all credited with an interest.

The Charlotte Hornets added Montrezl Harrel from the Wizards. Ish Smith and Vernon Carey Jr went the other way. 

Torrey Craig is back with the Phoenix Suns following a deal that saw Jalen Smith land with the Indiana Pacers. Aaron Holiday was also acquired from the Wizards.

A four-team trade deal between the Detroit Pistons, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Sacramento Kings will include Marvin Bagley III heading to the Pistons and Serge Ibaka being picked up by the Bucks, according to reports.

Donte DiVincenzo is among the players heading to the Kings, while the Clippers receive Rodney Hood and Semi Ojeleye from Milwaukee.

Bagley, who was the second overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, averaged 13.5 points and 7.4 rebounds with the Kings having faced numerous injuries and struggled to fully establish himself in Sacramento.

Ibaka will join the Bucks as the NBA champions add someone with Finals experience from his time at the Toronto Raptors and Oklahoma City Thunder. The 32-year-old averages 6.6 points and 4.3 rebounds in 35 games this season.

The Bucks also receive two future second-round draft picks as well as cash considerations.

Sacramento, who only added Domantas Sabonis in a trade with Indiana on Tuesday, procured DiVincenzo from Milwaukee, as well as Josh Jackson and Trey Lyles from Detroit.

DiVincenzo has an average of 7.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists in his 17 games so far this season, while Lyles is currently enjoying a career-best average of 10.4 points this year.

Hood and Ojeleye bolster the Clippers' depth having only featured from the bench this season for Milwaukee.

Russell Westbrook does not feel he has anything to prove as he made light of being booed by his own Los Angeles Lakers fans during Tuesday's loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The nine-time NBA All-Star was benched in the fourth quarter for the second game running as the Lakers fell to a fifth defeat in seven outings, going down 131-116.

With nine minutes remaining at the Crypto.com Arena and his side down by 24 points, Westbrook was jeered after making two turnovers in the space of 12 seconds.

But Westbrook, who was traded to the Lakers from the Washington Wizards last August, is not letting the negative reaction get to him.

"It's a sign of respect," he said while smiling. "My mindset and how I think about this game and what I've been able to do for this game is not predicated on boos.

"I've a platform that I'm able to use to be able to do other things that God has blessed me to be able to do and I will continue to do those things.

"That's regardless of whether people boo for me, cheer for me, cuss me out, call me names, it doesn't really matter.

"The most important part is that I continue to use my gift to be able to play basketball and use that platform to be able to help other people around the world. That's all I can do."

 

Westbrook had 10 points off 3-of-11 shooting, 10 assists and four turnovers on another disappointing day for the Lakers' former MVP.

He has 1,006 points for the season, a tally bettered only by LeBron James (1,103) among Lakers players.

But Westbrook's 18.3 average through 55 games is his lowest since 2009-10, and down from the 31.6 managed with Oklahoma City Thunder in 2016-17 when crowned MVP.

However, responding to criticism regarding his loss of form, Westbrook said: "I shouldn't have to prove anything to anyone, to be honest. 

"I've put so much work into my game and I've earned so much respect in the league. I don't have to prove anything to anyone. 

"I've earned the right to be in the closing line-up standing.

"The numbers confirm it. I don't have to go into it any further. But I don't have to decide, that's the decision of the coach. Unfortunately, I just have to see how I deal with it."

Westbrook was on the court for just 26 minutes against the Bucks and suggested after the game he is not happy with Frank Vogel's constantly changing line-ups.

"You never know when you're coming in, you never know when you're coming out," he said. "You never know when you're playing, you never know... a bunch of things. 

"I'm speaking personally, so it's a difficult process to be able to figure out and create some rhythm and some consistency where we can see what we're able to do as a team.

"But those decisions are made by him and his coaching staff, and you've got to live with it and move on."

Giannis Antetokounmpo produced another eye-catching display to help the Milwaukee Bucks to victory over the Los Angeles Lakers and was hailed by team-mate Khris Middleton for "making it look easy".

The two-time NBA MVP scored 44 points on 17-for-20 shooting, while registering eight assists and 14 rebounds as the Bucks earned a 131-116 victory in Tuesday's contest at the Crypto.com Arena.

In doing so, Antetokounmpo joined legendary figures Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as only the third person with 40+ points, 10+ rebounds and five-or-more assists on 85-per-cent-plus shooting in a game.

Indeed, the 27-year-old has now had three games with 40+ points, 10+ rebounds, five-plus assists and no turnovers. Over the past 30 years, only David Robinson and Dirk Nowitzki have achieved that feat, doing so once each.

Middleton, who scored all 21 of his points in the first half, was blown away by the ease in which Antetokounmpo took apart the lacklustre Lakers, who had LeBron James and Anthony Davis in their line-up.

"He made it look easy, honestly," Middleton said. "That just shows the level of how he's playing. 

"He was knocking down his jump shot. He's got guys going for his pump fake. Just the way he let the game come to him and stay patient, it was pretty fun to watch."

 

The 44 points registered by Antetokounmpo was his second-highest tally of the season, behind only the 47 he managed against the same opponents on November 17.

He is third in terms of points scorers in NBA this season with 1,343, behind DeMar DeRozan (1,360) and Trae Young (1,364), while only Joel Embiid (29.4) averages more points per game than his 29.2.

Reflecting on another good day both personally and for the Bucks, who have now won four in a row to move to 35-21 for the campaign, Antetokounmpo said: "Obviously when you make shots, the game is a lot easier, looks a lot better.

"I know I'm going to try to get my team-mates involved and look for the best way to help the team, but sometimes when you start making shots, you feel better about yourself, you defend better. Today was one of those games."

The victory was perhaps not as straightforward in the end as it might have been for the Bucks, who led by 30 points midway through the third quarter, only to let the Lakers back into the game.

But the hosts could only claw back to within 10 points of their opponents and have now lost five of their last seven games, seeing them fall back to three games below .500.

"We played a terrible defensive half," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. "Disposition, competition, the level of competitive spirit we showed for a big game was very disappointing. 

"Two straight games we started with a terrible defensive half. We've got to get that right."

The Lakers will get that opportunity to put it right when they take on the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, while the Bucks are next in action on Thursday with a showdown against the NBA-leading Phoenix Suns.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 44 points as the Milwaukee Bucks beat a lacklustre Los Angeles Lakers 131-116 to close in on Eastern Conference leaders the Miami Heat.

The defending NBA champions were 24 points ahead in the first half at the Crypto.com Arena and extended that lead to 30 points midway through the third quarter.

A strong rally from the Lakers, who had LeBron James and Anthony Davis in their line-up, made things interesting but the Bucks stood firm to win for a fourth straight game.

Antetokounmpo's game-high tally came from 17-for-20 shooting, while adding 14 rebounds and eight assists to inflict a fifth defeat in seven on LA, who fall back to three games below .500.

With his latest standout display, Antetokounmpo joins Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as only the third person with 40+ points, 10+ rebounds and five-or-more assists on 85-per-cent-plus shooting in a game.


Suns continue to shine

The NBA-leading Phoenix Suns rallied from 14 points down to overcome the Philadelphia 76ers 114-109 and record their 14th win in 15 games.

Devin Booker scored 35 points and Chris Paul added 16 points and 12 assists as the Suns improved to 44-10 for the season.

Joel Embiid led the way for the Sixers with 34 points and 12 rebounds – his fifth straight 25-point, 10-rebound game, which is the longest streak in the competition over the past two seasons.

Nets claim unwanted record

Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart helped themselves to 22 points each as the Boston Celtics made light work of the Brooklyn Nets in a 126-91 victory.

The Nets become the only side in the last 30 years to have every starter score six points or fewer with none of them getting to the line.

Elsewhere in Tuesday's action, the Los Angeles Clippers had forward Marcus Morris Sr. ejected in their 135-109 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers for a flagrant foul 2 on Ja Morant.

Morant was able to continue and ended the game with 30 points on 12 of 19 shooting from the field, making it the ninth time in 10 games the All-Star guard has reached 30 points.

The past two NBA champions meet on Tuesday, but they head into the game amid contrasting seasons to this point.

Defending champs the Milwaukee Bucks took a little time to get going but are now just half a game back in third in the highly competitive Eastern Conference.

The Los Angeles Lakers, whose title Milwaukee took, also took a little time to get going, yet they remain firmly in that rut.

A team led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis are always likely to be a threat if they can make it to the playoffs – ninth place is still good enough for a play-in – but the Lakers' remote title credentials should be given a firm examination at Crypto.com Arena.

For while the Bucks have kept together their championship-winning team, albeit Brook Lopez is out with injury, the Lakers are unrecognisable from their 2020 run.

In a bid to extend James' title window, LA's promising young players have been traded away for veterans in a series of moves that simply have not worked – Russell Westbrook's expensive arrival from the Washington Wizards chief among their missteps.

With little room for further movement ahead of Thursday's trade deadline and with the Bucks visiting having so far made light work of a tough west coast road trip, the Lakers really have their work cut out.

Los Angeles Lakers – LeBron James

James is likely to be the main man on every team he plays for until he retires, but that is particularly true of this Lakers team in this season.

The Lakers are 26-28 but 20-17 with James involved. Injuries have limited the four-time MVP's involvement, yet he is dazzling when on the floor, with 29.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.

After missing five straight games with knee swelling, James returned last time out against the New York Knicks and put up a triple-double in an overtime win.

That included 29 points in a 19th straight game of scoring at least 25. Only Joel Embiid (20 games, also active) has had a better such run this season, while just once in James' whole career – 21 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2008 – has he enjoyed a longer sequence. Reminder: LeBron is 37 years old.

The Bucks may be able to beat the Lakers, but the notion of any team stopping James right now feels a little far-fetched.

Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo

Tied on a live 19-game streak of 25 or more points, Antetokounmpo is performing on a par with James but without the repeated injury lay-offs. For that reason, he is among the MVP favourites once again, looking for his third award in four seasons.

For all the hype around Luka Doncic, Zion Williamson or Ja Morant, Antetokounmpo – still only 27 – remains the man most likely to take the mantle from James as the face of the NBA.

The 'Greek Freak' is averaging 28.9 points, 11.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.4 blocks and will surely relish the opportunity to come up against LeBron.

When James was missing back in November, Antetokounmpo scored 47 points (a season high) to lead the Bucks to victory. Do not rule out a repeat, even with his veteran opponent also in top form.

KEY BATTLE – AD and Portis to fight at the five?

Davis continues to switch positions on an almost nightly basis, but he is likely to line up as a center against the Bucks, who have Bobby Portis – another power forward standing at six feet, 10 inches – playing the five.

But the Lakers superstar is set to have his work cut out in what has been a tricky season so far. While he has recovered some form over the past week, so has Portis.

The Bucks man had a season-high 30 points at the Portland Trail Blazers to start this road trip and added 24 against the Los Angeles Clippers, shooting 19 for 25 across those games.

"Bobby's found a good rhythm," Mike Budenholzer said after the Clippers game. "The past two nights he's shooting it so good. He's getting some baskets around the paint, too, and doing lots of different things, the rebounding."

Whether Portis can continue to be effective on the glass, where he averages 9.1 rebounds per game to Davis' 10.2, could be vital.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Lakers have an 83-53 lead in the all-time regular season series, but Milwaukee have made a significant dent in that deficit in recent seasons.

Since the Lakers won six straight between January 2008 and November 2010, the Bucks are 15-6, most recently winning the only meeting of this season so far 109-102 in November.

Norman Powell ended up on the losing side in his Los Angeles Clippers debut but showed exactly what his new team can expect from him moving forward.

Powell joined the Clippers last week in a five-player trade with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Fellow two-way wing Robert Covington headed to LA with Powell, while the Blazers received Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson and a 2025 second-round draft pick.

Portland look to be building for the future, and the Clippers are too – to an extent.

With Paul George and Kawhi Leonard out injured and uncertain to return this year, a 2021-22 title challenge appears to be off the cards. The Clippers are eighth in the West.

Moving forward into next season, however, with two superstars returning, both Powell and Covington should improve the team.

Powell's Clippers bow suggested as much, as he scored 28 points from the bench in Sunday's 137-113 defeat to defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks.

"Literally for all my career, I have been in every single role on the team," Powell said afterwards.

"[I have been] the guy fighting and scratching trying to get into the rotation, being in a rotation, being taken out of a rotation, playing alongside Kyle [Lowry] and DeMar [DeRozan], playing alongside Kyle and Kawhi, playing off of them [in Toronto].

"So, I think I can fit perfectly in here, with PG and Kawhi."

The 28-year-old, who signed a five-year, $90million deal last August, is scoring a career-high 18.9 points per game this year.

Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said: "We never thought it was realistic for us to get a player like Norm Powell for a team that won't have salary cap space for a long, long, long time.

"It's really, really hard to get players like Norm, who are under a long-term deal, who are in their prime.

"Norm's ability as a three-level scorer – the fact that when he's playing off the ball, he's such a prolific catch-and-shoot player – really, really, complements Kawhi and PG."

Covington, who had 13 points in his debut, added: "[I am] beyond excited.

"[The trade] is going to make us dynamic – more dynamic than what we already are – and it's going to be scary defensively."

The Brooklyn Nets' losing skid extended to eight games as reigning MVP Nikola Jokic recorded a league-high 14th triple-double in the Denver Nuggets' 124-104 win on Sunday.

Jokic finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, including scoring 23 points in the second and third quarters when the Nuggets reversed a deficit into a 21-point lead.

Brooklyn were without James Harden for the second straight game due to hamstring tightness, with Kyrie Irving scoring 27 points with 11 assists.

The Nets, who are also playing without the injured Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge, have surpassed their longest losing streak since losing seven in a row in late 2019 and early 2020.

Brooklyn are 29-24 and have dropped down to seventh in the Eastern Conference.

 

Double-doubles for Bucks trio

The Milwaukee Bucks won their third straight to improve to third in the east with a 34-21 record after a 137-113 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 points, 10 rebounds and five assists while Jrue Holiday added 27 points and 13 assists. Bobby Portis also had a double-double with 24 points and 11 rebounds.

Joel Embiid and DeMar Rozan put on scoring masterclasses but the Philadelphia 76ers got up after a fast start 119-108 over the Chicago Bulls. Embiid finished with 40 points with 10 rebounds, while DeRozan had a season-high 45 points along with nine rebounds and seven assists.

Luka Doncic had a triple-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists despite foul trouble as the Dallas Mavericks won 103-94 over the Atlanta Hawks.

 

No shooting magic for Orlando

The struggling Orlando Magic managed five-of-25 from three-point range and 35.8 per cent shooting from the floor in their 116-83 loss to the Boston Celtics. The Magic are last in the east with a 12-43 record.

LeBron James returned from a five-game injury-enforced absence with a triple-double as the Los Angeles Lakers won 122-115 over the New York Knicks in overtime.

James had missed five games with swelling in his left knee but returned in style, contributing 29 points with 13 rebounds and 10 assists as they rallied from a 21-point second-quarter deficit.

The Lakers had gone 1-4 in James' absence but the four-time MVP was pivotal with his fourth triple-double of the season.

Anthony Davis was excellent for the Lakers with 28 points and 17 rebounds, while Malik Monk added 29 points too.

RJ Barrett netted a career-high 36 points and Julius Randle added 32 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists for the Knicks.

 

Suns bounce back, Morant stars

The table-topping Phoenix Suns bounced back from their loss to the Atlanta Hawks with a 95-80 win over the Washington Wizards led by Deandre Ayton's 20 points and 16 rebounds. Chris Paul added 14 points and nine assists, while Devin Booker was quiet with only 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

Jimmy Butler dropped 27 points shooting 10-of-13 while Bam Adebayo added 20 points and 12 rebounds as the Miami Heat won 104-86 over the Charlotte Hornets.

Ja Morant scored 33 points in three quarters as the Memphis Grizzlies claimed their fifth win in six games, routing the Orlando Magic 135-115.

 

Blazers skid extended by Bucks

The Portland Trail Blazers slumped to their fifth straight defeat, leaving them with a 21-33 record as Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 29 points with nine rebounds and six assists in the Milwaukee Bucks' 137-108 win. Bobby Portis also scored 30 points for the Bucks.

As the NBA All-Star break approaches, three players look to have established themselves as this season's MVP frontrunners – and they all happen to be big men born outside the United States.

That is surprising with the league trending towards teams hoisting up insane amounts of three-pointers and the idea of the big man in the middle becoming almost obsolete.

While this race will undoubtedly come down to the 11th hour, these three players have clearly separated themselves from the pack by playing some otherworldly basketball this season. 

JOEL EMBIID, Philadelphia 76ers

Embiid is the only one of the top three who has never won an MVP and that could end up working in his favour. The Philadelphia center was the runner-up to winner Nikola Jokic last season, and some wondered whether that was his best chance to win the award, but he has been better in nearly every area of the game while single-handedly carrying the 76ers to the upper reaches of the Eastern Conference.

Embiid's points (29.1), rebounds (10.8) and assists (4.4) have all ticked up slightly this season, though his field goal percentage has dropped. Maybe the most important stat that puts a fine point on just how valuable Embiid has been is Philadelphia's 27-12 record when he plays and 4-8 mark when he doesn't.

Embiid has had issues with durability throughout his career, never playing more than 64 games in any season. He has mostly put those issues to rest this season and played in 21 straight games before he had a scheduled maintenance day and missed Monday's win over Memphis. 

Because he hasn't had Ben Simmons playing alongside him this season, Embiid has taken on an even bigger role in the team's offense. He's maintained his scoring rate and his assists have jumped from 2.8 to 4.4 as he has assumed greater playmaking responsibility in both the half-court and transition, all while lowering his turnovers. 

Embiid's defence hasn't suffered even with his increased burden on the opposite end. His blocks have increased (1.35 to 1.44) and he is the biggest reason the 76ers have improved their scoring defence from last season (108.1 to 105.5).

Since Christmas, Embiid leads the league in scoring (33.8) while pulling down 10.9 rebounds per game. His stretch of eight consecutive games with at least 30 points from December 26 to January 12 is the longest in the NBA this season and is tied for the longest by any 76ers player (Allen Iverson, Wilt Chamberlain) since at least 1963-64. 

Philadelphia have won 15 of 19 during that span for a .789 winning percentage that ranks behind only the Grizzlies, moving the Sixers up to third in the Eastern Conference.

With 50.8 points, 16.1 rebounds and 7.6 assists per 48 minutes in January, Embiid became the first player in league history to average 50-15-5 per 48 in a calendar month. 

Embiid also isn't shrinking in the big moments, topping the league in points (127), field goals (40) and blocks (nine) in clutch situations.

All the ingredients necessary for an MVP are in place for Embiid, who has the production, the team success and even the narrative that he has put the team on his back in the absence of a fellow star player. Winning the top seed in the conference would certainly help Embiid's cause, and his play has that well within reach for the 76ers.

GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, Milwaukee Bucks

In the same that way that Embiid could be helped by having never won an MVP, Antetokounmpo could be hindered by having won back-to-back awards before Jokic took home the hardware last season. Only eight players have won three or more MVPs, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leading the way with six and LeBron James the only active player with more than two (four). 

The Greek Freak has overcome a slow start following a short offseason and is putting up remarkably similar numbers to his last few campaigns, so there is no denying that he is having another MVP-worthy season. As impressive as Antetokounmpo's numbers are, he may not be getting the attention he deserves because this level of production has become the norm for a player who is arguably an all-time great at just 27 years old. 

Antetokounmpo is the only player who had almost as good a January as Embiid, averaging 31.7 points, 10.9 points and 6.3 assists. His nine 30-point games in the month trailed only Embiid (12).

Milwaukee are jockeying with Cleveland and Chicago for the Central Division lead despite dealing with a revolving door of availability from their roster all season. Just like Embiid's chances at the MVP are boosted with a top seed, team success can only help Antetokounmpo's case. The Bucks were the number one seed in the East in both of his MVP seasons. 

Antetokounmpo's ability to affect a game in a myriad of ways was on display in a win over Golden State on January 13, when he had 30 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists and three blocks. All that production came in under 30 minutes of play and made him the first player with multiple 30-point triple-doubles in 30 minutes or less in the last 40 seasons. His other such outing came October 24, 2019, at Houston.

The Bucks superstar is one of only two players (also Jokic) currently averaging at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. 

If Milwaukee finish with the best record in the East and Antetokounmpo averages near 30 points per game, 11 rebounds and six assists, it might be difficult to deny him a third MVP award. 

NIKOLA JOKIC, Denver Nuggets

After winning the MVP last season, Jokic has replicated his numbers in 2021-22, if not exceeded many of them. He's done all that while leading the Nuggets to a 28-23 record despite the long-term absences of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., Denver's second and third-leading scorers last season. 

His performance this season has only reinforced his place among the league's elite and proven for the last time that he is not dependent on any player for his success, instead driving it for himself and his team-mates.

Jokic's scoring is basically equal to last season (25.9 to 26.4 in 2020-21), but his rebounds have jumped from 10.8 to 13.8 to put him second in the league behind Utah's Rudy Gobert as he has picked up the slack with Porter sidelined since early November. 

Jokic's assists (7.8), blocks (0.73), steals (1.42) and shooting percentage (57.2) are similar to last season, and he's again racking up the triple-doubles with a league-best 13 in 45 games after he had 16 in 72 last season. In only his seventh season, he is already fourth all-time in triple-doubles (70).

While Jokic's scoring in January (26.6) wasn't as robust as Embiid and Antetokounmpo, he did lead the league in total rebounds (212), ranked second in assists (144) and third in field goals made (158). He had a stretch of four consecutive triple-doubles from January 15 to 21 where he averaged 29.3 points, 13.0 rebounds and 12.3 assists, astonishing totals from any player, let alone a seven-footer. 

With 49 points in a win over the Clippers on January 19, Jokic became just the third center (also Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975 and Alvan Adams in 1977) since 1970-71 to record a triple-double with 45 points or more. 

While each player faces a separate set of circumstances from year to year, Jokic has been as good or better than his MVP season and has done so with much less around him. That itself won't guarantee him another MVP, but he's right there with the other candidates and has the rest of the season to prove himself worthy of becoming a back-to-back winner. 

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