Last season's NBA Finals runners-up the Phoenix Suns took down the Houston Rockets 123-111 for their third consecutive win on Thursday.

Devin Booker inspired the Suns with 27 points while Landry Shamet added 19 points off the bench in Phoenix.

Chris Paul contributed 13 assists, nine points and five steals for the Suns (4-3), who moved above .500 for the first time this season.

Paul is averaging 12.0 assists and 2.4 steals per game in 2021-22. Entering the contest, this season had marked the fifth time in the last 25 years a player has averaged at least 11.0 assists and 2.0 steals over his first six games of a season – the Suns All-Star has been responsible for four of the five, per Stats Perform.

 

Christian Wood (18 points and 15 rebounds) and Kevin Porter Jr. (20 points) starred but the lowly Rockets (1-7) dropped their fifth straight game.

 

Celtics cool red-hot Heat

The Boston Celtics (4-5) have struggled for form this season, though they made a statement with a 95-78 win over the Miami Heat (6-2). Miami – top of the Eastern Conference prior to the game – had their worst scoring performance since January 2016.

The Philadelphia 76ers (7-1) moved to the top of the east thanks to a 109-98 win at the struggling Detroit Pistons (1-7). Seth Curry produced another stellar shooting display – going nine of 14 from the field – for 23 points. MVP runner-up Joel Embiid had 19 points and nine rebounds as he collected his 3,000th career board in his 268th game – the only 76er in history to reach the mark sooner was Hall of Famer Charles Barkley (253 games).

 

Lakers streak snapped

Playing without injured superstar LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers (5-4) had their three-game winning streak ended after being stunned 107-104 by the Oklahoma City Thunder (2-6).

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James could be out of action for a week due to an abdominal strain.

James was ruled out of Thursday's NBA clash against the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder due to the injury.

The 36-year-old and four-time champion, who has already missed two of the Lakers' opening eight games of the season because of a sore right ankle, is facing more time on the sideline.

"Anytime LeBron's out and he's going to miss some time there's obviously concern," Lakers head coach Frank Vogel told reporters pre-game as his team eye a fourth consecutive victory.

"Hopefully this is something that's minimal, and hopefully he'll be back soon."

James has been averaging 24.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game this season, while shooting 46.7 per cent from the floor and 34.7 per cent from three-point range.

Against Houston on Tuesday, James (30), Anthony Davis (27) and Russell Westbrook (27) became the first trio of team-mates to score 27-plus points for the Lakers in the same game since January 20, 1995, when Cedric Ceballos (31), Elden Campbell (30) and Nick Van Exel (29) accomplished the feat, according to Stats Perform.

The Lakers (5-3) are currently averaging 113.4 points per game while giving up 112.6 a game. The last time Los Angeles both scored and gave up 112-plus points per game for a full season was 1967-68.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers hailed Joel Embiid for taking an "Alonzo Mourning approach" with his decisive block on DeMar DeRozan in a 103-98 win over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.

With less than 10 seconds left and the 76ers leading 102-98, DeRozan drove to the bucket for a dunk that would have ensured a tense finale but was blocked by Embiid. It was a play that Rivers labelled "game-saving" and likened to a move by Miami Heat great Mourning.

Embiid has not been at his best this season, averaging 21.0 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He finished this game with 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists but stood up when it counted.

"Big play at the rim. Really big play," Rivers told reporters after the game. "I love when bigs go after dunks. Half these guys in the league won't go after it because they are worried if they get dunked on.

"I love the Alonzo Mourning approach. I thought Joel took it. Going after DeRozan, that's a big play, that's a game-saving play."

Seth Curry top-scored for the Sixers with 22 points, shooting nine from 14 from the field, including a clutch two-pointer to put them 102-98 up.

The result improved Philadelphia, who are still without Ben Simmons, to 6-2 and completed a run of four home games with four wins.

The 76ers were also missing starters Tobias Harris (COVID-19) and Danny Green (hamstring), making their run of victories more impressive having been 2-2 after a 112-99 loss to the New York Knicks.

"It was huge. We talked about it after the New York game. We had a four-game home stand, we had to win them all," Rivers said.

"We obviously didn’t know we'd have all these guys out. The fact we still won them all with all these guys out was pretty cool."

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr revealed Stephen Curry had been unwell in the lead-up to Wednesday's 114-92 win over the Charlotte Hornets where the guard was below his usual standards.

Two-time NBA MVP Curry led the league for points coming into the game but managed to score only 15, with Jordan Poole top scoring for the Warriors with 31 points including seven three-pointers.

Curry, who also had eight rebounds and nine assists, shot six from 15 from the field and three from 11 from three-point range.

"Steph has been under the weather the last couple of days," Kerr told reporters after the game. "Clearly was not himself.

"He still almost came out of the game with a triple-double because he's Steph. Jordan really picked up the slack."

Gary Payton II also contributed strongly to make up for Curry's lesser output, including an left-handed emphatic dunk.

The 28-year-old point guard finished with 14 points, five rebounds and three steals, with Kerr stating he is doing enough to be considered for the starting rotation.

"He dominated the game while he was out there," Kerr said. "He changed everything with his defense and activity. He is an electric athlete.

"I couldn't be happier for Gary. I think about how hard he worked to get to this point, just clawing his way to a roster spot.

"It's taken him about five years of bouncing around the league. He deserves this."

Meanwhile, Klay Thompson was seen shooting around pre-game for approximately 15 minutes as he continues his recovery from a long-term Achilles injury where it is anticipated he will return around Christmas. Thompson is yet to be cleared for full practice but this appeared a positive step forward.

Thompson has not played since the 2018-19 season when he suffered an ACL injury, but had averaged 21.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.

Seth Curry and Joel Embiid led the way as the shorthanded Philadelphia 76ers beat the high-flying Chicago Bulls 103-98 in a battle of the Eastern Conference contenders.

The 76ers (6-2) were without starters Tobias Harris and Danny Green, in addition to disgruntled Ben Simmons' ongoing absence, but still outlasted the Bulls in Philadelphia for their fourth successive win on Wednesday.

Curry posted 22 points, including a crucial late jumper with 10.7 seconds remaining, while the returning Embiid put up 18 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and a big block during the closing stages to deny DeMar DeRozan (joint season-high 37 points).

The 76ers – boasting an eight-game winning streak over the Bulls, their best run against the Chicago franchise since March 1984 – shot 42.9 per cent from three-point range as they swept their four-game homestand for the first time since February last year.

 

Chicago (6-2), who have emerged as a contender in the east after landing DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso in the offseason to go with Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, overturned a double-digit deficit to level the game in the fourth period but could not complete the job.

 

Durant fuels streaking Nets

The Brooklyn Nets made it three wins in a row thanks to a 117-108 victory against the Atlanta Hawks and Kevin Durant's 32 points. Durant is averaging 28.3 points, a career-high 8.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists while boasting a career-best 59.2 per cent field-goal percentage.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic had 34 points and 11 rebounds, but missed a shot on the buzzer to send the game to overtime as the Denver Nuggets went down 108-106 at the Memphis Grizzlies.

Paul George leads the league in scoring and the Los Angeles Clippers star was behind the team's 126-115 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves with 32 points.

Jordan Poole's second career 30-point game (31 points) led the Golden State Warriors to their sixth win in seven games, a 114-92 success against the Charlotte Hornets.

 

Walker's woes

There is plenty of hype around the New York Knicks, especially after bringing Kemba Walker to Madison Square Garden. However, the four-time All-Star had a game to forget in the 111-98 loss to the Indiana Pacers. Walker made just two of his 11 shots, while missing all five of his three-pointers for four points.

Kevin Durant believes star Brooklyn Nets team-mate James Harden is in good shape and his slow start to the season is due to establishing some continuity.

Harden contributed 16 points, 11 assists and four rebounds in the Nets' 117-108 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, as he continues to build towards his best former after rehabbing a hamstring injury during the offseason.

The former NBA MVP is down on his usual scoring output – averaging 18.3 points this season, his lowest since ending his third year in the league averaging 16.8 in 2011-12 – prior to the midweek clash – compared to his career average of 25.1 points per game.

Harden got to the line once against the Hawks, while 11 of his 14 shots from the field were from three-point range.

Durant pointed to the fact Harden only joined the Nets from the Houston Rockets in January before battling injuries, playing together only 11 times last season, meaning they are still establishing continuity and cohesion.

"I think he's in good shape. I think he's playing well," Durant told ESPN after the championship-chasing Nets' third straight win. "It's a matter of us getting used to each other, figuring out line-ups and that stuff takes time.

"Continuity, we don't have a lot from last year. We're trying to build on that.

"Controlled the game from the point guard position, made shots when we needed to, it's a good win."

In contrast to Harden's form, Durant dominated with 32 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

Another former MVP, Durant has scored 20-or-more points in each of his last 21 games for the Nets and has been a key reason the Nets have started 5-3 with Kyrie Irving absent and Harden regaining form.

Durant is averaging 28.3 points (most since his final season with the Oklahoma City thunder in 2015-16), a career-high 8.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists while boasting a career-best 59.2 per cent field-goal percentage. If he maintains this level, the Nets superstar would join LeBron James as the only non-bigs to average 25 points per game on 55 per cent shooting in the last 35 seasons.

"I know we're all trying to get better as the season goes on," Durant said. "I'm not looking at the rest of the team like they've got to catch up.

"It feels like we're all growing and learning and figuring each other out every single day. It's good to see that development in real time. We'll keep grinding, that's all I've been saying."

Heading into the 2021-22 season, the Chicago Bulls were viewed as a team that could possibly contend for a play-in game, and maybe, just maybe even secure a postseason berth in the Eastern Conference.

Sure, no team compiled more losses over the previous four seasons than the Bulls' 199 defeats, but executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas had a busy offseason constructing a lineup that on paper looked like it had the pieces to compete in the East.  

The biggest questions on the onset of the season were how long it would take the new additions to build chemistry and how soon until they could become competitive.

The Bulls have quickly answered those questions.

Chicago have opened with six victories in their first seven games and are coming off two signature wins – Saturday's victory over the previously undefeated Utah Jazz and Monday's 19-point comeback on the road against the Boston Celtics.

Karnisovas began building what he hoped would be a playoff team at last season's trade deadline by adding two-time All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, but the Bulls ultimately stumbled down the stretch as Zach LaVine missed 11 games in April and May while in the league's health and safety protocols.

The roster overhaul continued in the offseason with the acquisition of four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan and point guard Lonzo Ball in separate sign-and-trade deals, and now with multiple scoring options, an offense that moves the ball and an improved defense, the Bulls are a complete team. Their net rating of 9.6 trails only the Miami Heat and the Jazz – the league's only other 6-1 teams.

For the past few seasons, the Bulls' offense revolved around the play of LaVine. A first-time All-Star in 2020-21, LaVine accounted for 19.6 per cent of Chicago's scoring over the past three seasons – the eighth-highest percentage for any player with at least 4,000 points scored for a single team over that span.

He now has a running mate in DeRozan to help shoulder the burden, and the early returns have been fantastic.

With LaVine nursing a left thumb sprain on his non-shooting hand, DeRozan has stepped up offensively, producing back-to-back 30-point games against the Jazz and the Celtics.

His game compliments with the Bulls' offense, as he is able to score from mid-range while relying on his team-mates to knock down threes. DeRozan is shooting 54.1 per cent on 37 jumpers attempted between 10 and 15 feet, and his 21 field goals made from the elbow are the most in the league.

He played a big part in Chicago's frantic fourth-quarter comeback win over the Celtics, and he has been a huge contributor down the stretch in the first few weeks of the season.

His 50 fourth-quarter points trail only Giannis Antetokounmpo's 51 for the most in the league, and he has been clutch at the foul line in the final period, making 12 of 13 free throws. LaVine has been slightly better from the line in the fourth, making all but one of his 17 attempts.

Getting to the foul line has been a major point of emphasis this season under second-year Bulls coach Billy Donovan, and they have been succeeding.

After ranking last in the NBA in free throws attempted per game last season at 17.5 – the lowest mark in franchise history – Chicago are ninth this season at 21.6. That improvement of 4.1 free throws attempted per game is the largest increase in the league.

Cutting down on turnovers is another area the Bulls were looking to clean up after ranking 27th in the league last season at 15.1 per game, and again, they have seen the biggest improvement in the NBA. Averaging 2.2 fewer turnovers per game this season, Chicago rank third in the league at 12.9 per game and have the league's seventh-lowest turnover rate at 11.9 per cent.

 

LaVine has been one of the biggest factors in the team's improvement in protecting the ball, averaging 2.3 turnovers per game after averaging 3.4 or more in each of the previous three seasons.

For the second year in a row, LaVine leads the Bulls in assists, and while 4.9 per game does not sound all that special, it is the way that the team have been distributing the ball that has been encouraging.

With Ball averaging 4.4 assists, Vucevic averaging 4.3 assists and DeRozan at 4.0 per game, the Bulls and the Indiana Pacers are the only two teams to have at least four players averaging at least 4.0 assists.

The Bulls' biggest acquisitions of this calendar year – DeRozan, Ball and Vucevic – are extremely versatile, with each averaging better than 12.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists. They are the only team to have three players each reaching those numbers this season, and the Bulls have not had a trio of players with those stats since 1994-95, when Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc did it.

While Ball and Vucevic are finding roles in a balanced offense, the two of them along with another offseason acquisition have helped shore up a defense that was not all that formidable a year.

Hours after the signing of Ball, the Bulls also added free agent Alex Caruso. While the Caruso signing did not grab as many headlines as the additions of Ball and DeRozan, the former champion with the Los Angeles Lakers is also making an immediate impact.

Caruso's 18 steals lead all bench players this season, and his average of 4.52 steals per 48 minutes is the second-highest rate in the league behind only Paul George at 4.66 among the 142 players with at least 175 minutes.

While Caruso is hounding opposing ball-handers, Ball is frustrating opposing shooters, averaging 1.14 blocks – the second-best by a point guard behind the Sacramento Kings' Tyrese Haliburton at 1.29 per game.

Led by the offseason additions, Chicago's revamped disruptive defense is averaging 8.86 steals per game (up from 6.69 per game a year ago, when they were third-worst) and ranks fourth in blocks at 6.29 per game (an improvement from 4.22 per game in 2020-21, when they ranked 27th). It is also second in points per game off turnovers at 21.6 after ranking 26th last season with 14.5 per game.

Over the weekend, the Bulls put the rest of the league on notice that their defense should be taken seriously as they stymied the Jazz, holding them to season lows of 38.0 per cent shooting and 99 points – nearly 13 points fewer than their season average. That was one of three times already Chicago have limited their opponents to 40 per cent shooting or less after having four such games in a 72-game schedule last season.

It is obviously early, and the Bulls have a brutal schedule over the next two and a half weeks (their opponents' winning percentage of .609 through November 21 is the highest in the league), but Chicago have proven they have the makeup both offensively and defensively to compete with anyone.

While the narrative a few weeks ago for the Bulls was whether the team could make the playoffs, the franchise is now targeting much loftier goals.

If the rest of the NBA hoped the Golden State Warriors' era as a contender was over, their first six games of the new season suggest they were sorely mistaken.

The Warriors are 5-1, their only loss an overtime defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies, with a deeper and more well-rounded roster looking likely to help them return to the playoffs for the first time since their Game 6 loss to the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals in 2019.

Thursday will provide another examination of just how good the high-flying Warriors are, with the Charlotte Hornets heading to the Bay Area hoping to improve on an encouraging 4-3 start.

It is a contest that will pit one of the greatest point guards of all time against perhaps the future of the position as Stephen Curry prepares to go head-to-head with one of the players vying to assume his mantle.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Golden State Warriors - Stephen Curry

Curry remains the engine that drives the Warriors, and games against the Hornets, for whom his father Dell spent much of his NBA career, take on a special significance for the Golden State star.

And he has typically delivered the goods against the Hornets.

Indeed, Curry has averaged 27.3 points across 17 games versus Charlotte, only three of which have seen him score fewer than 20.

Charlotte Hornets – LaMelo Ball

Ball has picked up where he left off following an outstanding rookie year that was hindered by injury, and his battle with Curry figures to be fascinating to watch.

His average of 52.1 points/assists/rebounds per 48 minutes is fourth among guards to have played at least five games this season, and he will be the man to whom the Hornets will likely turn to pull off the upset on the road.

KEY BATTLE – Who dominates in the paint?

While it is easy to put almost all the focus on Curry vs. Ball and the outside shooting of the former, the battle in the paint could well be one that has a significant influence on the outcome of this game.

The Hornets are sixth in the NBA with 49.3 points per game in the paint, but the Warriors' defense is allowing only an average of 42.3 points in the paint, the seventh-fewest in the league.

Should Golden State prevent Charlotte from enjoying their usual success in the paint, then it could prove a long evening for the underdog Hornets.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The Warriors won the last meeting back in February, ending a run of three successive defeats to the Hornets.

Curry had a game-high 29 points, though the Warriors saw six other players post double figures in a 130-121 victory.

Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel called for the league to look into the decision to remove two points from his side's score in their win over the Houston Rockets.

After Sunday's controlled 95-85 victory at Staples Center, the Lakers were made to work harder for Tuesday's 119-117 win that moved them to 5-3 for the season.

LeBron James' second double-double of the season helped Los Angeles over the line, the four-time NBA MVP tallying 30 points and 10 assists despite continuing to struggle with an ankle issue.

Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook each put up 27 points to inspire a recovery from an 11-point deficit in the third quarter.

There was controversy in the closing minutes when officials called Vogel and Rockets coach Stephen Silas for a long discussion before it was announced the Lakers were having two points removed.

The decision was made after officials said they had incorrectly given Kent Bazemore two free throws when the Rockets were called for their fifth foul of the quarter, when it was in fact their fourth.

The Lakers' frustrations stemmed from the fact they effectively gave up a possession when the decision was made given the time that was allowed to pass.

"That's definitely something the league has got to look at," said Vogel. "I understand the mindset to get it right, but... it was their fourth foul and they gave us free throws. You're only supposed to get free throws on the fifth foul, so we shoot the free throws and play resumes, and a couple possessions later they made a mistake, so they just take the points off the board.

"Once play resumes, you can't correct that. You can't correct it. The league's got to look at that, because they can't give us that possession back. Like, if it was corrected at the time of the call, we get the ball on the side and it's our ball. Once that goes away, you just take the points away and don't give us the possession back, you can't correct that at that point.

"So, I'm very frustrated by that, the league has to look at that."

Davis, who also tallied nine rebounds and three blocks, felt the call could have cost the Lakers the win.

"So, [the officials] took the two points away. But what me, Bron and coach were explaining to the refs was we lost a possession," he said.

"We didn't take the ball out or anything. We shot free throws – take the points away, and now we just lose the possession, which could have cost the game. In a sense, nothing you can do about it, stuff like that. But good thing it didn't hurt us. Again, that's a [tough] situation."

Wednesday marks 24 years to the day since the late Kobe Bryant made his NBA debut with the Los Angeles Lakers.

While that first appearance against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the age of 18 was nothing to write home about, Bryant went on to enjoy a legendary career.

He won five NBA championships with the Lakers in the space of a decade and was selected to the All-Star Game 18 times, placing him behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (19).

Bryant tragically died in a helicopter crash last year, aged 41, but his legacy will live on for generations.

Here we look back at where it all began for one of sport's most iconic figures and pick out some other statistics from his incredible career.


STEADY IMPACT IN ROOKIE SEASON

The Charlotte Hornets drafted Bryant 13th overall in 1996 and traded him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac.

It was a move that would have a lasting impact on the sport, although it took Bryant a few seasons to really start to make his mark.

He played six minutes off the bench against the Timberwolves on his debut, failing to register a point during his short cameo; he did get a rebound, a block and a steal, though.

That appearance made him the youngest player to feature in NBA, aged 18 years and 72 days old, but he was supplanted by Jermaine O'Neal (18 years, 53 days) the following month. Andrew Bynum (18 years, six days) took the record in 2005.

 

"Rest In Peace to the late, great Kobe Bryant." pic.twitter.com/jmqQMVC2UO

— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 1, 2020 BEHIND ONLY LEBRON

Bryant steadily became more involved and made the All-Rookie second team at the end of his debut campaign.

The Philadelphia-born star scored a combined 613 points in the regular season and playoffs before turning 19, which only LeBron James (625) can better.

One record James could not take from Bryant, though, is for the youngest player in NBA history with at least 20 points in a postseason game.

Aged 18 years and 250 days, Bryant registered 22 points in Game 3 against the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference first-round series.

Bryant averaged 7.6 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 15.5 minutes on the floor during his rookie season.

To put that in some context, James averaged 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists, albeit with far more minutes (39.5).

That is still some way below the levels of Michael Jordan in his breakthrough season, with the Bulls great averaging 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists in his first year in the league.


THE SCARCELY BELIEVABLE STATS

Bryant still went on to carve out a place as one of the greatest players of all time, receiving All-NBA honours in 15 seasons, being named in the first team on 11 occasions. Only James, with 13 appearances in the first team, beats Bryant's total.

He was also named nine times to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, matching the all-time high; Kevin Garnett, Gary Payton and Jordan achieved the same total.

In the 2005-06 season, Bryant recorded his highest points-per-game average for a single campaign, with 35.4. He led the NBA in scoring in that season and in 2006-07.

In January 2006, he scored 81 points in a 122-104 victory over the Toronto Raptors – the second highest individual score in an NBA game, behind Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks in 1962.

Bryant received his lone NBA MVP award in 2008, having become the youngest player to reach 20,000 career points aged 29 years and 122 days.

In his final game, on April 13, 2016, Bryant scored 60 points for the Lakers in a 101-96 win over the Utah Jazz. A fitting farewell after a phenomenal career.

Phoenix Suns star Chris Paul was humbled to have moved up to third in the all-time NBA assists rankings on Tuesday but has no expectation of ever breaking the record.

The 36-year-old has already enjoyed a busy start to the new season, having been named among the NBA's 75 greatest players and become the first player to amass 20,000 points and 10,000 assists.

He had another reason to celebrate in the Suns' 112-100 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, his 18 assists on the day – a season best – helping him surpass Hall of Famer Steve Nash (10,335) and Mark Jackson (10,334) for the third-most in NBA history.

Paul now has 10,346 across his entire career, a haul bettered by only Jason Kidd (12,091) and record-holder John Stockton (15,806).

But, given his age, Paul acknowledged Stockton's record is beyond him.

"I looked at that list when I first came into the league and seeing that John Stockton and I was like, 'I'm going to get it.' But that ship sailed. That ship sailed. It sailed a while ago when I started missing all them games," he said with a laugh.

"But to be third and still be playing, I'm grateful for it and I still got a ways to go.

"I'm grateful and I thank God for this opportunity. I say it all the time, not only to be on a team and still be in the league but to still be playing. You don't take that for granted."

Paul's achievements are not lost on his team-mates, either, even if they have subconsciously started to accept his feats as anything but unusual.

Suns guard Devin Booker said: "We keep acting like this is normal. We go in the locker room like, 'Oh you passed Steve Nash, Mark Jackson. Game ball.'

"It's bigger than that, man. It really is. Obviously, I know he was going to be close [to Nash's total] coming into today and he passed it by a lot. I'm just happy to be a part of it.

"I'm just inspired by it, honestly. Been a fan for a really long time. It's really fun to see, it's really fun to be a part of it. A long time from now, I'll be able to say I got to play with Chris Paul."

Paul has averaged 9.4 assists each game across his NBA career, a record only Magic Johnson (11.2), Stockton (10.5) and Oscar Robertson (9.5) can better.

"It's pretty cool to watch greatness," Suns coach Monty Williams added.

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer hailed Giannis Antetokounmpo for his role in ending the "cold" reigning champions' three-game skid with Tuesday's win over the Detroit Pistons.

Antetokounmpo finished with 28 points, nine assists, nine rebounds and four blocks in a commanding all-round performance which improved the Bucks to 4-4.

The Bucks were again missing Jrue holiday (ankle), Donte Divincenzo (ankle), Brook Lopez (back) and Khris Middleton (COVID-19) but got the win Budenholzer said they needed.

"We needed this. I thought he [Giannis] set the tone defensively," Budenholzer said during the post-game news conference.

"He blocked a lot of shots. It felt like he was everywhere defensively. We wanted to come out and give a good defensive mindset and I thought he did that. He obviously played well, shot well, got in a good rhythm."

Budenholzer said the side "went a little cold for a few games" with their shooting during their three-game losing run.

The Bucks improved in that area, shooting at 50 per cent from the field and 45.9 per cent from three-point range.

Pat Connaughton led the way from beyond the arc with four-from-five three-pointers among his 16 points, while Jordan Nwora added 16 points off the bench.

"We needed this tonight. We needed a good game," Budenholzer said.

"I talked about setting the tone defensively and good things happen offensively when you do that."

LeBron James recorded his second double-double of the season and first since opening night as the streaking Los Angeles Lakers withstood the Houston Rockets 119-117 on Tuesday.

James, who was a game-time decision again with his niggling ankle issue, scored 30 points – including two-of-four shooting from three-point – range along with 10 assists, four rebounds and two steals. The four-time NBA MVP added 14 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter.

The Lakers had led by eight points in the final quarter but escaped with the win, improving their record to 5-3 on the back of three straight victories, as Kevin Porter Jr.'s three-point attempt to steal the game on the buzzer rimmed out.

Star trio James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook scored a collective 84 points in their most productive game together after the latter arrived from the Washington Wizards in the offseason.

Davis added 27 points, nine rebounds and three assists, while former MVP Westbrook had 27 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

 

Paul third for all-time assists

Chris Paul had 18 assists along with 14 points and seven rebounds to help the Phoenix Suns overcome a 20-point deficit in their rallying 112-100 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. Paul moved past Mark Jackson and Steve Nash into third for all-time NBA assists. The Suns guard has 10,336 assists, behind only John Stockton (15,806) and Jason Kidd (12,091).

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 28 points, eight rebounds and nine assists as reigning champions the Milwaukee Bucks ended their three-game skid with a 117-89 win against the struggling Detroit Pistons.

Kyle Lowry drained six three-pointers among his 22 points and nine assists as the red-hot Miami Heat beat the Dallas Mavericks 125-110. Luka Doncic scored 33 points for the Mavs.

 

Clarkson's three-point woes

Utah Jazz point guard Jordan Clarkson shot poorly, going one of 11 from beyond the arc, scoring only two points in their 119-113 victory over the Sacramento Kings.

NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks confirmed two-time All-Star Khris Middleton has tested positive for coronavirus.

Middleton had missed Sunday's 107-95 loss to the Utah Jazz with "illness" and was again absent from the Bucks team to play the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday.

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer, who had said after the Jazz defeat that the illness was not COVID-related, confirmed prior to the Pistons clash Middleton had since entered the NBA's health and safety protocols.

"We thought he just had a head cold or some type of non-COVID illness," Budenholzer told reporters. "And then, [he] didn't feel good again the next day. Got tested and has come back positive."

The Bucks, who have lost three consecutive games to slip to a 3-4 record, are already missing Jrue Holiday (ankle), Donte Divincenzo (ankle) and Brook Lopez (back).

Under the NBA's health and safety protocols, Middleton must sit out for 10 days minimum, meaning he may miss more than seven games stretching until next Friday's battle against the Boston Celtics.

"It's a challenge to figure out who's available, to get the best groupings out there and how we can get through a game and not really wear down the guys that are healthy," Budenholzer said.

Middleton becomes the third NBA player to test positive to COVID-19 this week, following Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris and Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love.

The Tokyo Olympics gold medallist averaged 20.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists across the Bucks' title-winning 2020-21 season.

Milwaukee have failed to lead at any point in three different games this season, including their loss on Sunday per Stats Perform. Last season, the Bucks held a lead in all 72 of their games.

The Bucks have won 10 straight games against Detroit – tied for Milwaukee's longest active win streak against any opponent (also the Sacramento Kings). It is also the longest win streak by either team in the series history.

The new NBA season is two weeks in and narratives are already forming.

The Golden State Warriors are back, the Chicago Bulls' rebuild was a success, and several top teams – including defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks – are toiling.

Those themes may not hold for the entire regular season, but we have now seen enough to recognise some patterns – and the same is true on an individual level.

Which players have made flying starts to this campaign, and which are yet to find their feet? Stats Perform takes a look with the first 2021-22 edition of NBA Heat Check.

RUNNING HOT...

Miles Bridges

The Charlotte Hornets were already a fun watch last year thanks to LaMelo Ball, but the second-year point guard has help in 2021-22. Bridges has been one of the key men in lifting the Hornets to an exciting 5-3 start.

Playing alongside Ball, Gordon Hayward and surprise 2020-21 star Terry Rozier, Bridges leads Charlotte in scoring with 23.1 points per game. Now in year four, his previous best had seen 13.0 in his sophomore season.

Bridges' shooting from the field (47.2 per cent) and from three-point range (34.4 per cent) is actually down on last year, while he is only marginally more accurate from the foul line (88.2 per cent).

But the forward is thriving on having been given increased responsibility this season. He is back to being a regular starter, up to 35.5 minutes per game from 29.3, and attempting almost twice as many shots. Through Monday's games, only seven players in the NBA had attempted more shots from three (61).

With assists (3.4), rebounds (7.9), steals (1.8) and blocks (0.9) also on the rise, the Hornets could have a major asset if Bridges maintains these standards.

Ja Morant

If Bridges' development has represented a major shock, Morant's has not. The Memphis Grizzlies sensation was the Rookie of the Year two seasons ago and dumped the Warriors out in the play-in round last year.

Still, Morant's performances have been mightily impressive. His 28.3 points per game trail only Stephen Curry and Paul George. Having played more games than both, his 198 total points lead the league. Morant also tops the charts for field goals made (75).

After a 2-0 start, Morant had 40 in a losing effort against the Los Angeles Lakers and soon added 30 against the Warriors to return the Grizzlies to winning ways.

The 22-year-old is certainly not the finished article – only Russell Westbrook has had more turnovers than his 34 and a plus/minus of -6.1 suggests his scoring is not making up for shortcomings in other areas – but the rate of improvement indicates Memphis will be rewarded soon enough for sticking by their man.

Harrison Barnes

Barnes has seen what elite looks like, having been drafted by the Warriors in 2012 and started every game across the regular season and playoffs when they won the title three years later.

But Barnes was merely the fourth or fifth scoring option on that team and, through moves to the Dallas Mavericks and then the Sacramento Kings, has taken time to establish himself as a leading man.

This could well be the year, though. Barnes is the Kings' top scorer with 23.3 points per game, boosted by a career-high 36 against the Portland Trail Blazers on opening night.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the forward's scoring output has fallen with each passing performance since that stunning display, but he is bringing more to Sacramento than just scoring. Last year's 6.6 assists were a career high, only to be topped by a staggering 10.3 this time.

Although Barnes' Kings team-mates suggested after the Portland game they were always confident he could produce such displays, his progress at 29 has come as a surprise to everyone else.

GOING COLD...

Damian Lillard

Numerous players have explained away their below-par outputs by complaining about the NBA's new interpretation of the foul rule this season – a "change in the officiating of overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves by offensive players with the ball in an effort to draw fouls" essentially meaning fewer trips to the foul line for certain stars.

Trae Young, one of those prominently affected, named Lillard as another who was suffering more than usual.

Lillard is attempting only 3.9 free throws per game this year, in line with his career-low rookie year. His 18.6 points are below 19.0 he offered the Blazers in 2012-13. He had 28.8 last season.

But those foul calls are not Lillard's only issue, with his shooting from the field also hugely underwhelming through seven games.

The point guard is making only 34.9 per cent from the field and, having previously scored 4.1 three-point attempts per game, 23.1 per cent from beyond the arc. Those are also career lows and sources of major concern for Portland.

Dwight Howard

The Lakers made significant changes to their roster in the offseason and a number of the new recruits have not yet hit their stride.

It figures that Westbrook, now the third man in LA, should have seen his points (18.3), assists (8.7) and rebounds (8.7) take a hit along with his usage rate (28.5 per cent) after averaging a triple-double on the Washington Wizards, but Howard's slow early-season form was less predictable.

The three-time Defensive Player of the Year played a key bench role in the Lakers' title success in 2019-20, even starting seven playoff games, before joining the Philadelphia 76ers for a season.

Back at Staples Center, Howard is proving far less effective to this point. Both his points (4.3) and, most concerningly, rebounds (4.0) have reached career lows. His minutes are down from 17.3 last year to 15.2 this, but his averages per 48 only further display a decrease in performance – 23.3 rebounds becoming 12.7.

With Howard also involved in an altercation with Anthony Davis during a defeat to the Phoenix Suns, it is fair to say his Lakers return has not so far gone entirely to plan.

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