The Milwaukee Bucks have to realise that they are now the team to beat in the NBA, so says Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Milwaukee hit back from their 136-100 home loss to the Denver Nuggets with a 112-98 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday.

Antetokounmpo was their inspiration, as he so often is, with the reigning NBA Finals MVP finishing with a triple-double of 33 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists, including 13 points in the fourth quarter as the Bucks closed it out on a 17-4 run.

The Bucks are fifth in the Eastern Conference with a 32-21 record, but Antetokounmpo believes the team have not yet fully adjusted to the added weight of expectation that comes with being reigning champions.

"That wasn't us as a team," Antetokounmpo told reporters after the win over the Wizards when asked what went wrong against Denver.

"I don't remember the last time I lost by 36 in Milwaukee. Obviously that was kind of embarrassing, but at the end of the night, those nights are going to happen. But we were able to come out tonight, play hard and play together, try to set the tone.

"We have to realize that in order for us to be great, we've got to play hard. We cannot expect that people are just going to hand us the game when we go out there.

"People are coming for us. People are hunting us right now. They get excited when they see, 'Milwaukee Bucks, world champs.' We've got to play every single night hard and build that habit."

Only Trae Young (1,248) and Jayson Tatum (1,250) have accumulated more points than Antetokounmpo (1,242) this season, while the Greek forward's points per game average of 28.9 ranks him fourth in the NBA.

Tuesday's haul was his fourth triple-double of the season and a 29th of his career, but no other Bucks player has yet managed one in 2021-22.

In each of his last three triple-doubles, Antetokounmpo has scored at least 30 points.

Jrue Holiday provided good support with 22 points, five rebounds and two assists and Khris Middleton impressed late, though George Hill missed out due to a neck problem.

"I think he's going to miss a few games here," Bucks coach Budenholzer said of Hill.

"We're going to have to give him a little bit of time and see how he responds to some treatment, to some time off."

Giannis Antetokounmpo drove the Milwaukee Bucks home with a triple-double as they bounced back with a 112-98 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday.

Antetokounmpo finished the game with 33 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists, including 13 points in the fourth quarter as the Bucks closed it out on a 17-4 run. The Greek forward was scoreless in the first quarter.

The Wizards, missing Bradley Beal to a wrist injury, had rallied from a 17-point deficit to be within contention in the final period but the reigning champions pulled away.

The Bucks had lost 136-100 to the Denver Nuggets in their last game and Antetokounmpo was delighted to put that behind them as they improved to 32-21.

Jrue Holiday provided good support with 22 points, five rebounds and two assists and Khris Middleton caught fire late to add 13 points and five rebounds.

 

Warriors win without All-Stars

The Golden State Warriors put aside the absence of All-Stars Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson as they beat the San Antonio Spurs 124-120. Jordan Poole starred with 31 points, six rebounds and five assists as Golden State won after a 35-16 fourth quarter rally.

The Chicago Bulls reinforced top spot in the east with a 126-115 victory over the Orlando Magic led by DeMar DeRozan with 29 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, while Zach LaVine chipped in with 26 points.

Karl-Anthony Towns (24 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists) got the better of Nikola Jokic (21 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists)) as the Minnesota Timberwolves won 130-115 over the Denver Nuggets.

 

Harden shooting cools down

James Harden returned from a hand injury but went six-of-19 from the field and four turnovers as the Brooklyn Nets went down 121-111 to the streaking Phoenix Suns. Harden had 22 points and 10 assists while Kyrie Irving hit 26 points. Devin Booker scored 35 points while Chris Paul added 20 points with 14 assists.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic triumphed against Giannis Antetokounmpo as the Denver Nuggets routed the reigning champions Milwaukee Bucks 136-100 on Sunday.

Jokic almost recorded his 13th triple-double of the season, while he matched his season-high for assists with 13.

The Serbian had 18 points, nine rebounds and 15 assists for the Nuggets, while Aaron Gordon contributed a team-high 24 points including four triples as Denver dominated the second half 71-43 after leading by eight points at the long break.

Antetokounmpo, who won the 2019 and 2020 MVP awards, finished with 29 points but only managed seven in the second half. The Greek forward also had nine rebounds and two assists.

Khris Middleton was kept quiet offensively with nine points, five rebounds and seven assists while Jrue Holiday added 14 points, five rebounds and eight assists.

The Nuggets improve to 28-21 overall aided by a five-game win streak, including four on the road, while the Bucks slip to 31-21.

 

Suns fight back for 10 straight

The table topping-Phoenix Suns overturned a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to clinch their 10th straight win, beating the San Antonio Spurs 115-110. Devin Booker top scored with 28 points including four three-pointers, while Chris Paul was exceptional with 20 points, eight rebounds and a season-high 19 assists.

Trae Young starred with 36 points and 12 assists as the Atlanta Hawks extended their winning streak to seven games with a 129-121 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, who were without LeBron James for the third straight game with a knee soreness. Malik Monk scored 33 points for the Lakers.

Luka Doncic recorded a triple-double with 34 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists but the Dallas Mavericks lost 110-108 to the Orlando Magic, while 2021 top draft pick Cade Cunningham claimed a second career triple-double in the Detroit Pistons' 115-105 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

 

Jazz starter suffers worrying injury

Utah Jazz swingman Joe Ingles went down with an apparent knee injury in the second quarter of their 126-106 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Jazz confirmed Ingles will undergo an MRI in Salt Lake City on Monday.

The NBA's Western Conference has dominated the East in recent memory, possessing most of the league's superstars for over two decades.

West teams have had a winning record head-to-head against East teams in each of the previous 12 full seasons, and the East has only had a winning record against the West once in the last 22 full seasons (2008-09).

Since 1999-00, the NBA champion has come from the Western Conference in 14 of 22 seasons.

The imbalance of power had grown significant enough by the 2013-14 season, when the West sported a .631 head-to-head win percentage, that some pundits called for a restructuring of the playoff system to stop giving postseason opportunities to below .500 East teams.

But the league appears to be finding its equilibrium again.

East teams have a .491 record in interconference games this season, the highest since 2008-09, and the playoff race at the top of the conference is as competitive as it has been in recent memory. Six teams sit within two games of the East’s top record, laying the groundwork for a captivating battle for postseason positioning in the second half of the season.

1. Miami Heat (32-17)

The 2020 Eastern Conference champions appear to have recaptured the form of a contender after a middling 2020-21 campaign that ended in a first-round sweep.

Battling through lengthy absences from both Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, the Heat have climbed their way to the top of the Eastern Conference standings, thanks largely to the growth of Tyler Herro.

Herro was a promising rookie two years ago when Miami made their run to the NBA Finals but has carried the Heat offensively at times this season. He is scoring 20.4 points per game this season, up from 15.1 last season, without a drop in efficiency. The result is an 11-2 record when Herro scores 25 or more points in a game.

Defensive issues, however, have led coach Erik Spoelstra to mostly leave Herro out of the starting lineup and use him to torch opposing benches. Miami ranks third in the NBA in bench scoring at 39.1 points per game while ranking tied for 19th in bench minutes per game.

Miami's starting units aren't nearly as imposing on the offensive end but are suffocating opponents on defense. With Butler, Adebayo and Kyle Lowry all on the court together, the Heat are allowing just 98.0 points per 100 possessions, and opponents are shooting 32.4 percent from three-point range.

Spoelstra may face challenges in the postseason in trying to decide between offense or defense-first lineups, but few coaches in the NBA are as qualified to find the correct balance.

As long as Butler is healthy and fresh, no team wants to face this rugged and experienced group in a playoff series, and a deep run is certainly possible.

2. Chicago Bulls (30-18), 1.5 games back

Chicago’s hot start was one of the league’s signature stories early in the season, but a recent swoon has some pundits wondering if a few of the roster’s flaws can be exploited.

From December 19 to January 7, the Bulls went on a season-high nine-game winning streak. They scored 120.2 points per game over that stretch and climbed to 16 games over .500.

The Bulls have gone just 4-8 since and have failed to reach 100 points in four of those 12 games.

Chicago went 1-5 during this lull playing without Zach LaVine, including a January 14 loss to the Golden State Warriors in which he played fewer than four minutes before leaving with a left knee injury.

The Bulls have won both their games since LaVine returned, soothing any burning concerns, but that stretch revealed Chicago's roster is too thin to absorb any major injuries.

Perhaps even more concerning is the Bulls' record against top teams, going just 3-7 so far this season against the other teams in the East's top six.

Billy Donovan will rightfully get plenty of buzz to win Coach of the Year, but the Bulls ultimately look like an excellent regular-season team that may not be properly equipped for playoff battles.

Power forward Patrick Williams played just five games before he underwent surgery on his left wrist, and he was initially considered lost for the season. While there has been some recent momentum towards him returning for a playoff run, the 20-year-old may still be too green to push the Bulls over the top.

Williams could fetch another playoff-ready piece if the Bulls decided to place all their bets on the current core of LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic – all in the prime of their careers between the ages of 26 and 32 – but such a move could jeopardise the team's future.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (30-19), 2 games back

Just a year after going 22-50, the Cavaliers have far surpassed last season's win total before the All-Star break, and the success has gone on too long to be considered a fluke.

Even after losing veteran point guard Ricky Rubio to a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, the young Cavaliers have continued to be one of the East's top teams, thanks largely to a stifling defense.

Cleveland is 6-7 this season in games when scoring less than 100 points, the best record in the league. The other top teams in the East are a combined 7-44 when held under the century mark.

The Cavaliers are allowing 105.8 points per 100 possessions, best in the Eastern Conference, and that number drops to 102.2 when rookie big man Evan Mobley is on the court.

Mobley is third among rookies in scoring at 15.0 points per game, but it is his ability to play next to center Jarrett Allen that has made Cleveland's defense so imposing.

A seven-footer, Mobley could be slated as a center for almost any team in the league, but his quickness and ability to guard multiple positions allows him to be on the floor at the same time as Allen.

Mobley, Allen, Darius Garland and Isaac Okoro are all 23 years old or younger, so a deep playoff run seems unlikely, especially with high-scoring guard Collin Sexton out for the year.

But Cleveland has the fourth-easiest remaining schedule in the NBA, with a combined opponents’ winning percentage of .463.

4. Milwaukee Bucks (31-20), 2.0 games back

The reigning NBA champions have yet to live up to the sterling regular seasons of their recent past but remain in position for a run.

The Bucks are 6-7 over their last 12 games, including a 115-99 loss to the Cavaliers on Wednesday.

Milwaukee’s fortunes will be determined by its three biggest stars: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. With all three on the court together, the Bucks are outscoring their opponents by 10 points per 100 possessions. All configurations that have two or fewer stars on the court have a net rating of +2.6.

This heavy reliance on the Bucks' top trio is evident in Milwaukee’s 29th-ranked bench, which is scoring just 27 points per game.

This accomplished core will be competitive in any series they play, especially now that it has championship experience, but the road through the Eastern Conference playoffs could be a very challenging one.

5. Brooklyn Nets (29-19), 2.5 games back

With so many unknowns and moving pieces, the Nets are probably the most difficult team in the league to analyse. The trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving makes them an automatic title contender, but the availability of Brooklyn's stars will ultimately decide their fate.

Irving is infamously banned from playing home games but can play in most road games, essentially giving Steve Nash two separate teams to coach. Any day, either Irving could change his mind and get a COVID-19 vaccine, or New York could change its rules about workers being vaccinated, but the possibility looms of the Nets entering a playoff series with a part-time player.

Durant remains a marvel, averaging 29.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists in his second season back from a ruptured Achilles tendon. He suffered a sprained knee on January 15, however, and could be out until the end of February.

The Nets are just 5-7 this season without Durant, and his extended absence could cause them to lose ground in the race for a top seed in the East. Then again, Brooklyn might not care about playing extra postseason road games, allowing Irving to join in the fun and saving Durant for when the games count most.

The Athletic's Shams Charania surprised many fans this week by reporting that Harden's name remains involved in trade talks. While these rumors would likely be more relevant to a deal in the coming offseason, the reports added another layer of uncertainty to a bumpy season.

6. Philadelphia 76ers (29-19), 2.5 games back

The Sixers have the NBA's second-best record since Christmas Day at 13-3, and Joel Embiid has built a strong case as an MVP candidate.

The overpowering center has scored at least 25 points in 16 straight games, a run that includes single-game scoring performances of 50, 42 and 40 points.

Perhaps almost as significant as his gaudy production is the fact that Embiid has played in 20 consecutive games for Philadelphia, the second-longest run of his career after a 26-game stretch during the 2018-19 season.

Embiid has always been a monster when he's on the court, and if his current run of health continues, the 76ers will be a difficult playoff matchup for anyone.

Hanging over the whole season, of course, is the standoff with Ben Simmons, who has yet to report this season and is losing game paychecks every time his team-mates take the court. Simmons' camp maintains the position that he wants to be traded after being publicly blamed for last season's playoff failures, but the Philly front office insists on getting a star in return.

A possible Simmons trade might be the most pivotal move out there for any possible championship contender, but the deal has been difficult to find for a unique 25-year-old guard who refuses to shoot and has yet to play this season.

With the conference loaded six-deep with imposing teams, only the top two seeds will be heavy favourites in the first round. Gone, it appears, are the days when one or two teams could cruise to a conference championship in the East without sweating.

The absences of LeBron James and Anthony Davis were felt as the Los Angeles Lakers suffered a second successive defeat.

Davis registered 31 points, 12 rebounds in Thursday's loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, but like James missed out through injury on Friday against the Charlotte Hornets.

That meant the onus was on Russell Westbrook to step up, and though he had 35 points, he ultimately missed a crucial, game-clinching three-pointer, having decided to go for the win rather than try for overtime.

P.J. Washington secured the rebound after Westbrook's attempt hit the rim, and added further insult with a free throw with 0.2 seconds left on the clock to seal a 117-114 win for Charlotte.

Since a four-game winning streak was snapped by the Memphis Grizzlies on January 9, Los Angeles has won just three of their nine games.

The Hornets, meanwhile, gained revenge for their overtime loss to the Lakers back in November in the only previous meeting this season, ending a six-game losing streak against Los Angeles in the process.

Suns in red-hot form

It is now nine wins in a row for the Phoenix Suns, who lead the NBA with 39 victories in 2021-22 after overcoming the Minnesota Timberwolves 134-124.

Devin Booker led the game with 29 points, while Chris Paul had a triple-double of 21 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists and Cam Johnson's tally of 23 points included crucial back-to-back three-pointers in the fourth quarter.

The Suns' record of 39-9 is the best in franchise history at this stage of a season, and have now won the 30 games in which they have led after three quarters.

While the Suns top the Western Conference, the Miami Heat continued their run at the top of the East by holding off a late push from the Los Angeles Clippers in a 121-114 success.

Miami has now won 10 of their last 12 games and snapped a six-game losing streak against the Clippers, who fought back to within four points but fell short of another comeback after their record-setting efforts against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday.

All-Star Morant sets franchise record

Ja Morant proved why he has been named an All-Star starter as he delivered a triple-double of 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a 119-109 win for the Grizzlies over the Utah Jazz.

It was the highest-scoring triple-double in franchise history and the fourth overall for Morant, who has scored at least 30 points for five straight games as Memphis moved to 34-17.

DeMar DeRozan's return to San Antonio ended in defeat for the Chicago Bulls, who went down 131-122 to the Spurs.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic recorded a triple-double in the Denver Nuggets' victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, while Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 38 points in an emphatic win for the Milwaukee Bucks over the New York Knicks.

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo thinks the Cleveland Cavaliers deserve more respect after their impressive defeat of the reigning champions.

The Cavs moved to 30-19 for the season, with eight wins from their past nine games, thanks to a dominant 115-99 home victory over the Bucks.

Cleveland have already comfortably surpassed their win total from last season, when they claimed just 22 victories and were in the draft lottery for the third year running, and only one side in the Eastern Conference has won more than their 30 games in 2021-22.

After falling behind in the first quarter, they dominated the middle phase of Thursday's game, beginning the second half with a three-pointer triple in 48 seconds before marching into a 93-72 lead.

Giannis tallied 26 points, nine rebounds and three assists on his return from a knee problem but his efforts were not enough.

Last year's Finals MVP said there is little doubt the Cavs are now contenders not just for the playoffs, but for the title.

"This is not the Cleveland we knew over the past few years," said Giannis, who brought chicken wings to his post-game media conference.

"They have a good team, and we have to respect them more. They're a playoff team and are fighting for the title themselves."

Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of arguably their best win of the season: "It's who we are. We take on all challenges.

"We don't run from anybody. We don't back down. We give everybody our best shot."

Counterpart Mike Budenholzer had few complaints about the result, adding of the Cavs: "They played lights out tonight.

"I don't know what the right analogy is, but they played really well. They beat us pretty good.

"Live ball turnovers is when transition defense is the toughest, and we made a lot of them."

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo thinks the Cleveland Cavaliers deserve more respect after their impressive defeat of the reigning champions.

The Cavs moved to 30-19 for the season, with eight wins from their past nine games, thanks to a dominant 115-99 home victory over the Bucks.

Cleveland have already comfortably surpassed their win total from last season, when they claimed just 22 victories and were in the draft lottery for the third year running, and only one side in the Eastern Conference has won more than their 30 games in 2021-22.

After falling behind in the first quarter, they dominated the middle phase of Thursday's game, beginning the second half with a three-pointer triple in 48 seconds before marching into a 93-72 lead.

Giannis tallied 26 points, nine rebounds and three assists on his return from a knee problem but his efforts were not enough.

Last year's Finals MVP said there is little doubt the Cavs are now contenders not just for the playoffs, but for the title.

"This is not the Cleveland we knew over the past few years," said Giannis, who brought chicken wings to his post-game media conference.

"They have a good team, and we have to respect them more. They're a playoff team and are fighting for the title themselves."

Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of arguably their best win of the season: "It's who we are. We take on all challenges.

"We don't run from anybody. We don't back down. We give everybody our best shot."

Counterpart Mike Budenholzer had few complaints about the result, adding of the Cavs: "They played lights out tonight.

"I don't know what the right analogy is, but they played really well. They beat us pretty good.

"Live ball turnovers is when transition defense is the toughest, and we made a lot of them."

The Phoenix Suns recorded their eighth consecutive victory as they defeated the Utah Jazz 105-97 with Devin Booker producing another 40-point game on Wednesday.

Booker had 43 points, 12 rebounds and four assists after a first-quarter scoring blitz as the Suns opened up an early 39-18 lead.

Chris Paul (21 points) added some key points down the stretch as the Jazz rallied in the last quarter.

The 25-year-old shooting guard recorded his 16th career 40-point game, moving past Amar'e Stoudemire for most in Suns franchise history, sitting ahead of Tom Chambers and Walter Davis too.

The victory means the table-topping Suns improve to 38-9 overall and 8-0 on the road this calendar year.

 

Hornets break records in Pacers rout

The Charlotte Hornets set a franchise record for single game scoring and produced the highest points total this season as they downed the Indiana Pacers 158-126. The Hornets hit 24 three-pointers, with LaMelo Ball (29 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assists) and Kelly Oubre Jr (39 points) starring.

The Cleveland Cavaliers underlined their credentials as contenders with a 115-99 win over the champions Milwaukee Bucks. The Cavs moved above the Bucks with their eighth win in their past nine games, with Kevin Love scoring 25 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 26 points and nine rebounds for the Bucks.

Ja Morant was exceptional with 41 points, five rebounds and eight assists as the Memphis Grizzlies won 118-110 over the San Antonio Spurs, while Nikola Jokic (26 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) led the Denver Nuggets past the depleted Brooklyn Nets 124-118. James Harden was out with hamstring tightness.

 

Bulls wayward but winners

The Chicago Bulls only managed seven three-pointers, shooting at 26.9 percent from beyond the arc yet they won 111-105 over the Toronto Raptors. The Bulls had lost six of seven but have steadied to win their past two, with DeMar DeRozan having 29 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

Grayson Allen has been handed a one-game suspension for a foul on Alex Caruso that resulted in the Chicago Bulls guard fracturing his wrist. 

Caruso was ruled out for six to eight weeks after landing awkwardly following "unnecessary and excessive contact" from Allen during the Milwaukee Bucks' 94-90 win over the Bulls. 

Allen was adjudged to have committed a Flagrant 2 foul and he was ejected from the game following the hard foul on the Chicago star as he drove to the rim in the third quarter. 

An NBA statement read: "Milwaukee Bucks guard Grayson Allen has been suspended one game without pay for having made unnecessary and excessive contact against Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso, resulting in substantial injury to Caruso. 

"Allen will serve his suspension on Wednesday, January 26 when the Bucks face the [Cleveland] Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, OH." 

The Bulls were already without starting guard Lonzo Ball, who is out for up to two months with a knee injury. 

Caruso has averaged 8.4 points, 3.9 assists and 3.9 rebounds in 27.7 minutes for the Bulls this season.

Khris Middleton said the Milwaukee Bucks are having to learn how to win in different ways after impressing in the absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo against the Sacramento Kings.

Having needed to rely on an impressive defensive showing against the Chicago Bulls, it was the turn of the offense to turn it on in a 133-127 triumph against the Kings.

Middleton had 34 points, while Jrue Holiday put up 26 as the Bucks chalked up another tick in the win column despite Antetokounmpo missing out with soreness in his right knee.

"We just need to be able to win different type of ballgames," Middleton said after the defending champions moved to 29-19 on the season. 

''Every game is not going to be perfect, every game is not going to be pretty. To get defensive stops, to get 50-50 balls like we did [against the Bulls], it helps. 

"When you hit shots like we did tonight, it also helps."

Middleton made a key three-pointer with one minute and nine seconds remaining on the clock, with the Kings having fought back to within three points.

Holiday felt Middleton's effort was key in helping the Bucks get over the line.

"I feel like this is what he has been doing," Holiday said. ''He makes timely threes. He makes big shots, especially in that moment when they had momentum. He just came down and laced them, took advantage."

Donte DiVincenzo (20 points), George Hill (17) and Pat Connaughton (15) all made valuable contributions for Milwaukee to earn praise from Middleton.

"I think they were great," he added. 

"Pat got hot for us. George did a great job at the point guard position, just controlling the team. Defensively he was all over the place, coming down for rebounds and helping box out. 

"Pat has played so many different positions. It's weird to see him playing the center. He's a selfless guy doing anything that can help."

The Chicago Bulls have announced that guard Alex Caruso will miss six to eight weeks due to a wrist injury sustained in a controversial moment in Friday's 94-90 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Caruso will undergo surgery early next week for a fractured right wrist, having been fouled by Milwaukee's Grayson Allen, who was subsequently ejected.

The former Lakers guard joins Lonzo Ball on the sidelines for the 28-16 Bulls, who have lost five of their past six games.

Caruso's agent Greg Lawrence called Allen's foul, deemed flagrant 2 by the officials, a "cheap shot" given the significant injury it had caused. Bulls head coach Billy Donovan had labelled Allen's act as "dangerous" after the game.

The 27-year-old guard played out the game but admitted his wrist continued to bother him, impacting his shooting.

Khris Middleton stepped up in Giannis Antetokounmpo's absence with 34 points as the Milwaukee Bucks brushed aside the Sacramento Kings 133-127 on Saturday.

Antetokounmpo missed the game for the reigning champions with a knee injury but Middleton picked up the slack with 34 points including five triples along with six rebounds and five assists.

Jrue Holiday also contributed strongly with 26 points, five rebounds and four assists as the Bucks responded after a slow start with a 71-point second half.

Tyrese Haliburton was the Kings' best with 24 points including five three-pointers and 12 assists.

Milwaukee's 17th road win improves their record to 30-19, sitting fourth in the congested Eastern Conference standings.

 

OKC downed by Cavs

The Oklahoma City Thunder suffered their fifth straight loss, going down 94-87 to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavs, who are fifth in the east, were led by Darius Garland with 23 points and 11 assists along with Evan Mobley who had 15 points and 17 rebounds. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 29 points for OKC.

 

Booker off as Suns rise

Chris Paul produced a masterclass with 18 points and 16 assists as the Phoenix Suns flexed their muscle with a 113-103 win over the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers had beaten the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors on their road trip but the Suns were too hot to handle, even with Devin Booker only managing 11 points, shooting five-of-23 from the field.

James Harden and Dejounte Murray both had triple-doubles as the Brooklyn Nets got past the San Antonio Spurs 117-102 on Friday.

Harden scored 37 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists with Kevin Durant out with a sprained left MCL as the Nets rallied from a 51-50 half-time deficit to improve to 29-16.

Kyrie Irving contributed 24 points with three rebounds and four assists for the Nets, who are top of the Eastern Conference.

Harden's triple-double was the 66th of his career, moving him to eighth on the all-time list, while Murray – who had 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists – recorded his ninth triple-double of the season and 13th of his career.

 

LeBron leads Lakers past Magic

LeBron James led the Los Angeles Lakers' second-half response as they fought back from an eight-point half-time deficit to win 116-105 over the Orlando Magic. James finished with 29 points, seven rebounds and five assists, playing the second half at center, while Russell Westbrook contributed 18 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

The Milwaukee Bucks edged the Chicago Bulls 94-90 in an important game in the Eastern Conference standings. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 30 points with 12 rebounds and three assists as the Bucks overcame Grayson Allen's ejection.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic recorded another triple-double with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists but Ja Morant overshadowed him with 38 points as the Memphis Grizzlies won 122-118 over the Denver Nuggets, while Stephen Curry had 22 points including a game-winning buzzer beater in the Golden State Warriors' 105-103 win over the Houston Rockets.

 

Sixers fluff 24-point lead

The Philadelphia 76ers blew a 24-point lead to lose 102-101 to the Los Angeles Clippers despite Joel Embiid scoring 40 points with 13 rebounds. Reggie Jackson finishing with 19 points and nine assists for the Clippers.

The Brooklyn Nets clinched a contentious one-point win over the Washington Wizards, with Kyrie Irving the star man for the visiting team.

Irving had 30 points, three rebounds and seven assists as the Nets triumphed 119-118 on Wednesday, with Kyle Kuzma and Spencer Dinwiddie missing late three-pointers in the closing seconds for the Wizards.

Kuzma was left infuriated, however, as he reflected on a moment earlier in the fourth quarter when it appeared a member of the Brooklyn bench purposefully deflected a pass that had been headed his way.

Nevertheless, Kuzma and his Washington team-mates must reflect on an opportunity missed as they were unable to build on their 117-98 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Wizards are now 23-22 for the season and sit eighth in the Eastern Conference, five places behind the 28-16 Nets.

Brooklyn were without talisman Kevin Durant, but Irving – who can only play in road games due to his refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19 – stepped up.

Irving scored 22 of his 30 points in the first half and has averaged 20.0 points per game since his return to the team.

Pacers stun LeBron's Lakers

LeBron James brought up his 10,000th career regular-season rebound but his 30-point haul was not enough as the Los Angeles Lakers slumped to a 111-104 home defeat to the struggling Indiana Pacers.

James' double-double could not stem the Pacers' tide in a fourth-quarter blitz as Indiana, 13th in the East, inflicted a fourth defeat on the Lakers in the space of five games and increased the pressure on Los Angeles coach Frank Vogel.

It is just the second win in 12 games for Indiana, who snapped a four-game losing streak. Caris LeVert had 30 points, while Domantas Sabonis hit a triple-double of 20 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

 

It was a miserable night all-round for Los Angeles teams, with the Clippers slipping to a 130-128 overtime defeat in Denver.

Nikola Jokic had a triple-double of 49 points – the second-best tally of his career in a single game, after a 50-point showing against the Sacramento Kings last season – 14 rebounds and 10 assists, the last of which teed up Aaron Gordon for the winning three-pointer with 1.9 seconds remaining in OT.

Bucks down depleted Grizzlies, Embiid hits 50

Reigning NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks capitalised on the Memphis Grizzlies' lack of star power as they claimed a 126-114 win.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 33 points and 15 rebounds for the Bucks, who took advantage of Memphis being without two of their leading scorers in Dillon Brooks and Desmond Bane, though Ja Morant (33 points, 14 assists) gave his all for the Grizzlies.

Elsewhere, Joel Embiid scored 50 points in only 27 minutes in a 123-110 victory for Philadelphia over the Orlando Magic.

Embiid is now the third player in Sixers history to have multiple games with 50 points or more, while he reached 50 points and 10 rebounds quicker than any NBA player since 1955.

Khris Middleton wants the Milwaukee Bucks to "own it and learn from it" after another painful defeat again highlighted their struggles without Jrue Holiday.

Going down 121-114 to the Atlanta Hawks on Monday meant the Bucks have lost four of their last five games.

Middleton's 34 points, and 27 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo, could not propel Milwaukee to victory as they conceded 38 points in the fourth quarter.

The team's ball handling in Holiday's six-game absence has often not been clever, and the sooner the starting point guard returns, the better for the Bucks.

The Bucks have a 4-9 record when Holiday has been absent from the team this season, and his latest absence has been them slide to 27-19 for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

Sidelined by ankle soreness and COVID-19 protocols, Holiday also missed the win over the Brooklyn Nets that preceded the slide. Before that, he was showing exemplary form, averaging 23.9 points and 7.9 assists in his most recent 10 games, way above his season averages which now stand at 18.4 points and 6.7 assists.

"I've been playing with Giannis for years, so I know his spots where he wants the ball, how to get it to him, but Jrue adds another layer of that, where he's able to attack and get other guys going, including Giannis," Middleton said.

"I don't think it's on me to get Giannis going. I feel like Giannis gets himself going for the most part. Every now and then, I feel like I'm able to get him an easy one, but same thing with Jrue.

"We're just missing an extra playmaker, extra scorer, extra defender, an extra player out there."

Antetokounmpo had eight-of-20 shooting from the field in Monday's setback, and managed just six rebounds. Only once this season has he had fewer rebounds.

The Greek superstar leads the team with averages of 28.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and a field-goal percentage of 53.5 per cent, but there are nights when he cannot make a match-winning difference.

Middleton said the Hawks game "was a tough one to drop", and now the Bucks must regroup for a tussle with the 31-15 Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.

"We need to find a way to be smarter, be better," Middleton said. "Just gotta own it, learn from it, try to be better."

Coach Mike Budenholzer struck a similar tone, saying the reigning NBA champions have "a lot of areas where we need to be significantly better", adding: "We need more from everybody."

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