Caris LeVert was "just happy to be on court again" after finally getting the chance to make his debut for the Indiana Pacers.

LeVert joined the franchise via a trade in January, a move that dramatically changed his life before he even made an appearance for the Pacers.

A small, cancerous mass was discovered on his left kidney during a team physical and medical test prior to the deal going through, with the 26-year-old undergoing surgery to have it removed.

Having now fully recovered, he was able to return to action on Saturday, contributing 13 points and seven rebounds as Indiana defeated the Phoenix Suns 122-111, just their second win in eight outings.

While admitting to having "heavy legs", LeVert was just grateful to be back, particularly as he had no idea after his operation when exactly he would be cleared to return.

"The main thing for me was trying to contribute to a win," LeVert, who played 27 minutes, told the media.

"This was maybe my second time going five-on-five since everything happened - there was a little bit of heavy legs due to my conditioning, but that will come back. I'm just glad we got the win."

He added: "I think a month and a half ago, two months ago, I didn't even know if I was going to be out here, especially this soon with everything that happened.

"There is definitely a level of gratefulness - I'm just happy to be on the court again."

Asked if his presence made a difference for the Pacers, he replied: "I just tried to come out and give great energy, contribute in any way that I could."

LeVert was averaging 18.5 points per game for the Nets before being involved in a blockbuster four-team trade that was headlined by James Harden ending up with Brooklyn.

Indiana actually drafted the shooting guard 20th overall in 2016, though they traded his rights to the Nets before he had played a game.

Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren is glad to have LeVert on his roster now, praising his attitude as he waited to make a comeback.

"He energised our team, and his character level is so high," Bjorkgren said.

"He's such a good person. He's been a great team-mate throughout this entire time that he's been out, so our guys were very happy to have him back out there on the court."

Carmelo Anthony insisted he never lost confidence in his own abilities during his time out of the NBA after moving up into 11th place on the all-time scoring list.

Anthony landed a pull-up jumper in the fourth quarter of the Portland Trail Blazers' victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday, the bucket carrying him past Hakeem Olajuwon to sit just outside the top 10 for points.

The 36-year-old finished with a team-high 26 points in a 125-121 triumph that sees Portland improve to 22-15 in the Western Conference. He is averaging 14.1 points for the season, his second with the franchise.

The third overall pick in 2003 appeared at one stage to be out of the league, playing just 10 games in the 2018-19 season. After failing to find a role with the Houston Rockets, he was subsequently waived by the Chicago Bulls following a trade.

While some may have believed his NBA time was up when he did not feature for just over a year, Anthony always retained the belief he could still have an impact at the highest level.

"I did give the people what they wanted, I was away from the game for a year and change, they wanted me to get out of the game and retire," Anthony told the media.

"You hear all that stuff, man. I've never lost confidence in myself. I've given this game too much to lose any kind of confidence out there.

"I believe in myself, if nobody else believes in me. That's the key - believing in yourself.

"I believe in my abilities, my skill level, my talent, my knowledge for the game of basketball, but also my love for the game of basketball. When you have all of that in one, nobody can take that joy away from you."

Anthony now has 26,955 points in a career that started with the Denver Nuggets. He joined the New York Knicks via a trade in 2011 and is seventh all-time in points scored for the franchise.

As for the all-time list, Elvin Hayes (27,313) occupies 10th position ahead of Anthony, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) sits top.

Asked about passing Hall of Fame center Olajuwon, Anthony replied: "I can't put it into words, it's a great feeling to know that I'm still able to do this and continue to have opportunities to move up on that list.

"Any time you can start creeping up on a top-10 list, that's when things start getting special. I'm here, I'm happy and I'm excited."

Giannis Antetokounmpo said the Milwaukee Bucks were "beautiful to watch" as they fought back to beat the Washington Wizards, finally winning from 10-plus points behind. 

The Bucks trailed 60-48 at one point, but Antetokounmpo finished with a stunning 33 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in a 125-119 victory. It was his sixth triple-double of the season. 

He found sturdy support from guards Jrue Holiday (18 points and eight rebounds) and Donte DiVincenzo (10 points and 13 rebounds), while Russell Westbrook scored 42 points and had 12 assists and 10 rebounds in a losing cause for the Wizards. 

It was the first time this season the Bucks have come back to win from a double-digit deficit. They were 0-13 on that front before Saturday night. 

"It's good. We're getting better, figuring out ways to play, make the right play, just compete out there," said Antetokounmpo. 

"As much as it doesn't show today - they still got 119 points - I like the way we defended. And we're going to get a lot better at that. 

"Today we were able to keep our composure, stay together and execute and get back to the game, and when we came out in the third quarter we were ready to play and it was beautiful to watch, just how ready we were. 

"When we were down, we responded, that was the beautiful part. We can always get better, defensively we can get better, offensively we can execute better, and that's what we're trying to do."

Westbrook tied the game with a three-pointer with 41 seconds to go but then missed a shot in the closing stages, allowing the Bucks to pull clear. 

"Some day that guy's going to have 40, 50, 35 points, but at the end of the day there's going to be some close games," Antetokounmpo said. 

"So it doesn't matter, the stats sheet, it doesn't matter what a guy has done before that, for that last minute can you execute now, can you find the open guy, can you make the tough shots, can you get a stop? We were able to do that today and I'm very happy. 

"Hopefully we can carry this over to the next game and keep getting better than that."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LaMelo shines, Charlotte's franchise record

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

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

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

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

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

 

Triple-doubles galore

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

Hornet stung

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

 

Saturday's results

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

 

Pistons at Nets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Love was delighted to finally get back to doing what he loves after making his return for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.  

Love was back on court for the Cavs for the first time since December 27. Initially, it was hoped a right calf injury would only keep him out of action for three to four weeks, but he ended up missing 33 games.  

His comeback was brief due to a restriction on playing time; he contributed four points and a defensive rebound in a 10-minute cameo as Cleveland were beaten 116-82 by the New Orleans Pelicans.  

However, the five-time NBA All-Star was not interested in the box score so much as having the chance to experience playing in a competitive situation. 

"It just felt great to feel like I was playing meaningful basketball again," Love told the media after his return. "[I've had] a lot of time off and just happy more than anything to be out there.   

"I could have shot 0-for-50 and I’d have been fine with it, just playing basketball is what I love to do. 

"It's so much a part of me, so to have it taken away last year, then be super unlucky with the injury, just more than anything I'm really happy to be back out there.  

"It will probably take me a couple of weeks to feel like myself, but I just wanted to get out there and get up and down the floor more than anything."

The Cavaliers won in Love's previous two appearances earlier this season, though the heavy loss to the Pelicans leaves them with a 14-23 record in the Eastern Conference. 

Love - the fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft - hopes he can help improve the team's fortunes, having overcome a psychological barrier following such a lengthy spell out of action. 

"This thing has become more of a mental hurdle, than anything else," he said, having gone one-for-three from beyond the arc.

Asked about how he can make an impact on his team-mates, Love replied: "Being out there with the guys and playing significant minutes, finding a rhythm not just for myself but also being out there and finding a rhythm with them." 

Larry Nance Jr. also returned from a fractured finger for the Cavs, contributing 11 points and four rebounds in his 28 minutes of action.  

Brandon Ingram led the way for the Pelicans with 28 points, while Zion Williamson had 23.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Westbrook reaches milestone

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

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

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

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

 

Cavs crumble, Rockets lose again

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

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

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

 

Rudy says no!

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

 

Friday's results

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

 

Pistons at Nets

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

 

Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis will be re-evaluated in two weeks as he continues to recover from tendinosis and a calf strain in his right leg.

Davis has not featured for NBA champions the Lakers since exiting against the Denver Nuggets on February 14.

The 28-year-old was examined by team doctors on Friday – before the Lakers resumed their title defence following the All-Star break, with Davis cleared to enter the next phase of his return to play process.

At least another fortnight on the sidelines would mean Davis missing a minimum of nine games, including Friday's matchup against the Indiana Pacers.

It has been tough for Davis and the Lakers coming off a shortened offseason after ending their 10-year title drought in 2019-20 inside the Orlando bubble amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Davis is averaging 22.5 points per game this season – his lowest since his second year in the league with the New Orleans Pelicans (20.8).

The eight-time All-Star's average of 8.4 rebounds in 2020-21 is the lowest since his rookie season (8.2) in 2012-13.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said he is "hoping for the best" after NBA MVP candidate Joel Embiid suffered a left knee injury against the Washington Wizards.

Embiid – enjoying an MVP-calibre season – will undergo an MRI after appearing to hyperextend his knee in a scary fall following a dunk in the third quarter of Friday's 127-101 win over the lowly Wizards.

Back in the line-up after sitting out Sunday's All-Star Game and Thursday's victory against the Chicago Bulls due to coronavirus contact tracing, Embiid posted 23 points on eight-of-11 shooting to go with seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks prior to exiting in pain.

Embiid stayed down for a couple of minutes before eventually hobbling back to the locker room at Capital One Arena in Washington.

As the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers sweat on Embiid's fitness, given his importance to their championship aspirations, Rivers told reporters: "I thought there was a little contact when he went up to dunk the ball.

"Thought he fell with his balance off. I'm not going to speculate, tomorrow [Saturday] we'll know, we'll have all the information for you. Hoping for the best.

"I did talk to him, he was in the locker room. He's in pretty good spirits so let's just hope for the best."

Heading into the Washington matchup, Embiid was averaging a career-high 30.2 points per game – second only to Wizards star Bradley Beal (32.5) in the NBA.

Embiid is fourth in the league points, assists and rebounds per game (45.0), behind Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic (46.8), reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (46.0) of the Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (46.0).

Prior to Friday's trip to Washington, the 26-year-old Embiid has also been averaging career highs in field-goal percentage (52.1) and three-point percentage (41.6).

"We don't do anything right now because we don't have any information, so we're just gonna wait," Rivers said. "I thought our guys took care of the game which is great, and then tomorrow we'll get some more information and then we'll go from there.

"Listen, it's a long season, so at the end of the day, hopefully, it's not something where we lose him, obviously. But our guys will be good, we'll be ready."

The 76ers (26-12) have won four consecutive games to top the east ahead of the star-studded Brooklyn Nets (25-13).

Stan Van Gundy admitted the New Orleans Pelicans "got what they deserved" after an "embarrassing" defensive effort condemned them to a heavy defeat against the Minnesota Timberwolves. 

Playing for the first time since the All-Star break, the Pelicans went down 135-105 on Thursday to opponents who had only previously won seven games this season. 

Jaylen Nowell hit six three-pointers in a career-high tally of 28 points for Minnesota, while rookie Anthony Edwards had 27 as the Pelicans let slip an early 16-point lead to lose at home. 

Van Gundy did not hold back in the assessment of the performance when speaking to the media afterwards, though did accept he must take a share of the blame. 

"Worst offensive game we've played with having all of our guys - or most of our guys - in a long time," Van Gundy said.

"We turned it over 18 times and didn't shoot the ball and, quite honestly, were so bad defensively, that we can't have a bad offensive night, we can't even have an offensive night. 

"If we have a bad offensive night, we are going to get crushed - like we did tonight. We don't stop anybody. It affects our offense, because we don't get chances to get out and run in transition. 

"Look, I understand it's on me and what we're putting out there defensively is embarrassing, quite honestly."

The Timberwolves shot 47.5 per cent from three-point range, while the Pelicans made just six of their 32 attempts from deep.

Van Gundy called out his players for a lack of effort, declaring they "seemingly didn't care" as New Orleans slipped to 15-22 for the season, leaving them 13th in the Western Conference standings.

"We've all got to take ownership of it. A lot of it is me and a lot of it is our players, and they've got to take some ownership. We didn't compete, and that's the bottom line," he continued.

"We didn't compete. We didn't help each other. We didn't play together on either end of the floor. It's a really embarrassing evening for us tonight.

 "They seemed inspired to play – we seemingly didn't care and got what we deserved. I'm not putting it all on the players, I'm a big part of that too. It's all of us."

New Orleans are back in action on Friday, hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kyrie Irving posted 40 points to lead the Brooklyn Nets past former team the Boston Celtics 121-109.

In the team's first game back since the NBA All-Star break, Irving – who left the Celtics in 2019 – starred as the Nets recorded their 12th win in 13 outings.

Former MVP James Harden had 22 points and 10 rebounds on Thursday, in the absence of star team-mate Kevin Durant (hamstring) and recruit Blake Griffin.

The Celtics were fuelled by Jayson Tatum's 31 points, but still had their four-game winning streak snapped.

Two-time reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo guided the Milwaukee Bucks to a comprehensive 134-101 victory over the New York Knicks.

Antetokounmpo – named All-Star Game MVP after starring for Team LeBron in Atlanta on Sunday – continued where he left off for the Bucks.

He had 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in 29 minutes for his fifth triple-double of the season.

Bucks team-mate Bryn Forbes (21 points) nailed the most threes without missing in Bucks history after going seven of seven from beyond the arc.

 

Young stars as Hawks soar

Trae Young put up 37 points as the Atlanta Hawks topped the Toronto Raptors 121-120. Atlanta trailed by 15-plus points in the fourth quarter in each of their last two games but came back to win both. According to Stats Perform, they are the only team in the past 15 years to overcome a 15-plus point fourth-quarter deficit to win back-to-back games. Norman Powell's 33 points and double-doubles from Kyle Lowry (17 points and 12 assists) and Aron Baynes (11 points and 15 rebounds) were not enough for the Raptors.

The Miami Heat defeated the Orlando Magic 111-103 behind Jimmy Butler's 27 points and 11 assists. All-Star Nikola Vucevic's double-double of 24 points and 17 rebounds was not enough for the Magic.

No Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons? No worries for the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers. Tobias Harris scored 24 points to lift the 76ers to a third consecutive win – a 127-105 success against the Chicago Bulls.

Devin Booker's 35 points inspired the Phoenix Suns to a 127-121 victory against the Portland Trail Blazers, who had 30 points from All-Star Damian Lillard.

All of the Sacramento Kings' starters were in double figures for points) as they took down the Houston Rockets 125-105 – De'Aaron Fox (30), Richaun Holmes (20 and 11 rebounds), Harrison Barnes (20 and 11 rebounds), Buddy Hield (20) and Marvin Bagley III (11).

 

Ball struggles

The Charlotte Hornets beat the Detroit Pistons 105-102, but it was a rough night for rookie LaMelo Ball. In 29 minutes, Ball made just three of 11 from the field and nailed only one of five three-point attempts for seven points.

After his All-Star appearance, Knicks forward Julius Randle finished three-of-12 shooting for seven points.

Stephen Curry won the All-Star Three-Point Contest, but he was far from convincing in the Golden State Warriors' 130-104 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. He made just one of eight three-pointers, finishing with 14 points on six-of-16 shooting.

 

Snell with the buzzer-beating three

With the Hawks trailing 120-118, Tony Snell called game after sinking a three as time expired.

 

Thursday's results

Brooklyn Nets 121-109 Boston Celtics
Atlanta Hawks 121-120 Toronto Raptors
Miami Heat 111-103 Orlando Magic
Philadelphia 76ers 127-105 Chicago Bulls
Milwaukee Bucks 134-101 New York Knicks
Minnesota Timberwolves 135-105 New Orleans Pelicans
Oklahoma City Thunder 116-108 Dallas Mavericks
Charlotte Hornets 105-102 Detroit Pistons
Los Angeles Clippers 130-104 Golden State Warriors
Phoenix Suns 127-121 Portland Trail Blazers
Sacramento Kings 125-105 Houston Rockets

 

Pacers at Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers (24-13) will return to action following the All-Star break, hosting the Indiana Pacers (16-19) on Friday. LeBron James' Lakers have lost back-to-back games.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zion Williamson has been included among 15 NBA stars added to the United States national team's 2021 roster and therefore qualifying for Tokyo 2020 consideration.

New Orleans Pelicans superstar Williamson made the cut on Thursday, along with fellow 2021 All-Stars Zach LaVine and Julius Randle.

Jarrett Allen, Eric Gordon, Jerami Grant, Blake Griffin, Jrue Holiday, DeAndre Jordan, Duncan Robinson, Mitchell Robinson, Fred VanVleet, John Wall, Christian Wood and Trae Young were the others named.

The group join 42 players announced last year to complete a list of 57 finalists for Olympic Games selection. A squad of 12 players will be announced later this year.

LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are among those in contention on the long list.

USA have won the past three Olympic competitions, taking gold on 15 occasions from 18 entries in total. They also have five FIBA World Cup titles but finished seventh in 2019.

Durant led the team in scoring at Rio 2016 when Serbia were brushed aside 96-66 in the final.

There were 124 years of All-Star experience at last weekend's showcase game between Team LeBron and Team Durant in Atlanta. 

The Chicago Bulls' Zach LaVine was responsible for one of those years. 

And of all the exceptional players at last weekend's event, the first-time All-Star from the Bulls is one of the more intriguing. 

While several All-Stars are future Hall of Famers – the Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James, Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry and Phoenix Suns' Chris Paul just to name a few – and others are young and established stars – the Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic, Utah Jazz's Donovan Mitchell, Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons – LaVine is a veteran who is suddenly developing into a superstar. 

In fact, over the past five weeks, no one is scoring more than LaVine, who is averaging a league-best 32.3 points since February 6, while making exactly half of his 104 three-point attempts. 

He's been so spectacular he's played himself into max contract talk, although other discussions have had his name in various trade rumours if the rebuilding Bulls do not plan to sign him to an extension before his contract expires in 2022. 

Now in his fourth season in Chicago after spending his first three with the Minnesota Timberwolves, LaVine has the Bulls in position to participate in the Play-In Tournament and possibly earn their first postseason berth since 2016-17. 

He has the Bulls on the cusp of the playoffs behind a breakout season in which he is averaging career highs in every major category – 28.7 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game, 5.1 assists per game and 3.5 made three-pointers per game, while shooting 52.5 per cent on all field goals and 43.5 per cent on threes. 

If those numbers look impressive, that is because they have only been reached once before in a single season in NBA history. 

LaVine joins Stephen Curry from 2015-16 as the only players ever to average 25-plus points, five-plus rebounds, five-plus assists and three-plus made three-pointers per game, while shooting 50 per cent on field goals and 40 per cent on threes. Curry won his second MVP that season while leading the Warriors to a record 73 wins. 

While Curry was already an established star at that point after winning league MVP honours and an NBA title the season prior, LaVine is unexpectedly proving that he also belongs among the upper echelon of players in the league. 

He has transformed himself into one of the league's most dangerous scorers, capable of knocking down a three-pointer, pulling up and hitting a mid-range jumper or beating his man off the dribble and finishing at the rim. 

Coming out of the All-Star break, his 167 dunks and layups are seventh-most in the NBA – and the most by any guard. And while the six-foot-six LaVine was also among the league leaders in dunks and layups last season (11th with 287), he is finishing at higher rate. 

He is converting 64.2 per cent of his dunk and layup attempts this season after making 57.4 per cent of his attempts last season, and that increase in field goal percentage of 6.8 is the eighth largest by any player six-foot-six or shorter. 

While many of the leaders among dunks and layups are big men – New Orleans Pelicans power forward Zion Williamson, Milwaukee Bucks power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jazz centre Rudy Gobert – who live in the paint, the dynamic LaVine is just as much of a threat to knock down a three-pointer. 

His 120 made three-pointers rank fifth in the league and he is the league's only player with more than 120 dunks and layups and 90 threes. 

It is one thing to have made a lot of threes but another to actually be an efficient shooter – the Sacramento Kings' Buddy Hield has made 20 more three-pointers than LaVine but has hoisted up 94 more attempts – and LaVine has refined his shooting touch and is deadly from beyond the arc. 

He is hitting 43.8 per cent of his three-point attempts from the wing and his 53.8 per cent shooting from the corner ranks sixth in the league among the 103 players with at least 30 attempts.   

Overall, LaVine is shooting 43.5 per cent on three-pointers, an increase of 0.55 per cent from the perimeter from last season – the eighth-largest improvement in the NBA among players with at least 150 three-point attempts this season and last. 

The mid-range shot is somewhat of a lost art in the current game with the added weight given to a shot from a few feet further back beyond the arc, but it still has a place and if a shooter can connect from mid-range with regularity he becomes all the more threatening to score. 

LaVine has found his touch from mid-range, making 44.6 per cent of those shots this season after hitting at a 31.9 per cent clip last season. That increase of 12.7 per cent is the sixth-largest in the NBA among 73 shooters who have attempted at least 50 mid-range shots this season and last. 

Shooters shoot, and LaVine is thriving. His effective field goal percentage of 61.5 ranks second in the NBA among all guards. 

His all-round offensive game is one of the most complete in the league, and opposing defences are tasked with game planning against him, giving him similar treatment as they would give Curry or James, as he is a threat to score from anywhere on the court. 

Curry and James, however, have won multiple MVPs and titles. LaVine is certainly putting up MVP-type numbers, but the Bulls are not in the championship conversation. 

At the moment, at least. 

Chicago are only two games back of the Boston Celtics for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and are viewed as a team on the rise under first-year Bulls coach Billy Donovan. Instead of trading LaVine as was being speculated weeks ago, it is possible Chicago will be buyers at the March 25 trade deadline in their pursuit of a playoff berth. 

And if LaVine continues to excel and Chicago continue to improve over the next few seasons, MVP awards and NBA titles might not be out of the question for LaVine and the Bulls. 

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