The NBA has changed its health and safety protocols with players who test positive for COVID-19 now able to return to play in six days.

The change shifts the customary isolation period from 10 days to six, provided those players are asymptomatic and meet other testing standards.

Clubs were sent a memo by the league on Monday, coinciding with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cutting isolation restrictions for Americans who catch the coronavirus from 10 to five days.

Coronavirus numbers within the NBA has soared in recent weeks despite 97 percent of players being vaccinated.

Approximately 120 current NBA players were in protocols on Monday, with the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum recently forced out.

There is a "good chance" Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant will leave the NBA's coronavirus protocols this week, according to head coach Steve Nash.

The 11-time All-Star entered the health and safety protocols on December 18, but he could be out and ready to face the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.

Kyrie Irving, who went into protocols on the same day as Durant, is further away from a return to action.

"I think there's a good chance Kevin will be [fit for Thursday]," Nash told reporters.

"With Kyrie, I'm not so sure but it's coming. He's already been in protocols since December 18; he's got to be getting close."

Brooklyn earlier stated that Irving will re-join the NBA championship-chasing franchise for road games outside of New York and Toronto.

Irving is yet to play for the Eastern Conference-leading Nets this season due to his refusal to be vaccinated against coronavirus, which has prevented him from practising or playing with the team – New York has a mandate in place that states players must have had a COVID-19 jab.

At the start of the season, the Nets announced they would not accept Irving playing on a part-time basis and thus overlooked him for selection until he is vaccinated.

But due to injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak, Brooklyn have opted to bring Irving back.

Jayson Tatum has entered NBA health and safety protocols and will miss the Boston Celtics' game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday.

Tatum joins eight fellow Celtics players on the list after 13 were sidelined due to COVID-19 protocols recently.

Players must wait 10 days or return two negative COVID-19 tests within 24 hours of each other before they are allowed to return to action.

Tatum contracted COVID-19 in January and was out of action for a short period before returning, when he explained he was suffering long-term effects of having the virus, requiring an inhaler for some time.

The forward leads the Celtics in scoring (25.6) and rebounds (8.6 – level with Robert Williams) per game and is also averaging 3.8 assists and 1.0 steals in a strong season for the 23-year-old.

His absence for the Timberwolves game was announced by the Celtics on their official Twitter page.

The Celtics are ninth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 16-17 and have lost six of their last nine games ahead of their clash with the Timberwolves, who are ninth themselves in the Western Conference.

The Los Angeles Clippers have confirmed All-Star Paul George will be out of action for three to four weeks with an elbow injury.

George suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and will need to rest the injury prior to a re-evaluation in the next three to four weeks.

The Clippers, who made last season's Conference semi-finals, are 17-16 this season having been without two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard all campaign.

George hurt his elbow earlier this month before missing five games, but returned on December 20 against the San Antonio Spurs.

The Clippers lost 103-100 to the Denver Nuggets without George on Sunday.

The Los Angeles Clippers have confirmed All-Star Paul George will be out of action for three to four weeks with an elbow the injury.

George suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and will need to rest the injury prior to a re-evaluation in the next three to four weeks.

The Clippers, who made last season's Conference semi-finals, are 17-16 this season having been without Kawhi Leonard all campaign.

George hurt his elbow earlier this month before missing five games, but returned on December 20 against the San Antonio Spurs.

The Clippers lost 103-100 to the Denver Nuggets without George on Sunday.

The Philadelphia 76ers moved above .500 as Joel Embiid scored 36 points with 13 rebounds in a 117-96 win over the Washington Wizards on Sunday.

The 76ers center was the dominant player on court, but also involved in a spat with Montrezl Harrell, which saw the latter ejected after a second technical foul in the third quarter.

Embiid had good support from Tobias Harris (23 points, seven rebounds, three assists) and Seth Curry (11 points with three triples, five rebounds, nine assists).

The Wizards had held a six-point quarter-time lead but the 76ers responded with excellent second and third periods, totalling 67-41 to take control of the game.


Jokic double-double leads Nugs past Clippers

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic led the Denver Nuggets past the Los Angeles Clippers 103-100 in a thriller with the Serbian center finishing with 26 points, 22 rebounds and eight assists. Youngster Brandon Boston Jr, who had 18 points, missed a three-point attempt on the buzzer to force over-time. Jokic becomes the first player to record 25 or more points, 20 or more rebounds and five or more assists in back-to-back games since Charles Barkley in 1988.

Veteran Kevin Love scored 22 points making six-of-nine from beyond the arc, with nine rebounds from 18 minutes on court as the Cleveland Cavaliers thrashed the Toronto Raptors 144-99 to improve to 20-13. The 45-point win was the Cavs' largest margin since 1991, when they had a franchise-best 68-point win over the Miami Heat.

Zach LaVine scored 32 points including five three-pointers while DeMar DeRozan added 24 points as the Chicago Bulls got past the Indiana Pacers 113-105.  

 

Morant still finding his feet

Ja Morant continues to adjust after returning from injury, shooting eight-of-18 from the field including zero-of-three from three-point range while having four turnovers in the Memphis Grizzlies' 127-102 win over the Sacramento Kings. Morant did finish with 18 points and nine assists.

Lonzo Ball joined the long list of Chicago Bulls players to enter the NBA's health and safety protocols ahead of Sunday's game against the Indiana Pacers.

Ball will not face the Pacers and the guard faces at least 10 days out of action unless he records two negative COVID-19 tests.

The 24-year-old is the 13th man on the Bulls roster to enter the protocols this month.

Three of Chicago's matches have been postponed in December due to the squad being so severely depleted.

Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan have since been given the green light to return, while Ayo Dosunmu, Matt Thomas, Alize Johnson, Devon Dotson, Coby White and Javonte Green have also cleared protocols.

Tony Bradley, Alfonzo McKinnie, coach Billy Donovan and now Ball are absent.

Stephen Curry hailed the Golden State Warriors' win against the Phoenix Suns on Christmas Day as "huge" given the number of players missing.

Against a comparatively healthy Suns squad, the Warriors were without Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole, Damion Lee and Moses Moody (health and safety protocols), along with several assistant coaches, and Andre Iguodala (knee), Klay Thompson (Achilles/ACL) and James Wiseman (meniscus) still out with injury.

Curry was available but has previously struggled on Christmas, averaging just 13.1 points in his eight career games on the festive day. That ranked as his worst average points haul on any date he has played on more than twice.

However, the Warriors' star guard excelled against the Suns on Saturday, achieving a game-high 33 points in the 116-107 win.

Otto Porter Jr also impressed in a rare start for Golden State, with a late flurry helping to see his team home as 13 of his 19 points came in the fourth quarter, making several clutch shots.

Speaking after the game, Curry said: "It's nice to win on Christmas, nice to win on the road against the best record in the league, short-handed. All the other context of the situation, a huge win.

"Everybody stepped up. It was a great atmosphere. Just toughed it out at the end, and obviously, Otto took over down the stretch, so that was huge all the way around."

Steve Kerr's Warriors now move half a game ahead of the Suns, with a league-best 27-6 record.

Kerr was delighted with the showing from his depleted side, making special mention of how Curry rose to the occasion despite being one of their only star men available.

"Steph was amazing," he said. "Facing that defense with so much attention on him, missing three of our best shooters, for him to see that type of defense and find his way to 33 points - he was a plus-24 - so even when he was not making shots, he was still impacting the game just by pulling the defense over towards him.

"Steph was brilliant, so was Draymond [Green]. I thought [Kevon] Looney did a hell of a job, as well, so it was a great team win."

James Harden believes Brooklyn Nets team-mate Patty Mills is playing the best basketball of his career after the Australian’s 34-point haul in the victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Nets had seen their three previous matches called off due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the squad, with Harden, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and LaMarcus Aldridge among those affected.

But Harden, who admitted he was "just happy to be back on the court," and Mills were instrumental as they returned to action with a narrow 122-155 win on Christmas Day.

The pair combined for 42 of their side’s 66 first-half points, with Mills recording his best overall tally in the NBA this season and surpassing the 20-point mark for a 10th time.

The former San Antonio Spurs guard also registered a season-high seven assists, while landing a record number of three-pointers in an NBA game played on Christmas Day with eight.

Asked if he thought Mills was playing the best basketball of his career, Harden said: "I think so. 

"We know how many big shots Patty hit when he was in San Antonio, but he has a much bigger role in this team because of having all the injuries and dealing with guys dropping out of line-ups. 

"He's just playing consistent; his shot is always cash. He's doing a better job of just being a playmaker, putting the ball on the floor and getting it to the paint. He’s got his finishes, and he's making plays. He just looks more confident."

Mills added: "It was a massive team effort from every guy that stepped on the floor. 

We've been handling adversity throughout the whole season with different types of things, so I think this was no different. 

"With the past week that we've had, it was exciting to get some guys back and there was good energy there. 

"We're all about the big picture here and where we want to be at the end of the season, and I think that's what’s really keeping us moving forward in the right direction."

Los Angeles Lakers head coach David Fizdale lamented that LeBron James' effort is being "wasted on losses" after slipping to a 122-115 defeat against the Brooklyn Nets on Christmas Day.

The loss was the Lakers' fifth straight defeat and saw them slump to a disappointing seventh place in the Western Conference with a 16-18 record.

However, James put in another terrific individual performance – scoring a season-high 39 points, the fourth game in a row in which he has broken the 30-point barrier – and Fizdale revealed his frustration at not being able to capitalise on his star's strong showings.

"I'm kicking myself in the head because he's giving me incredible effort," Fizdale said after the game. "[I'm] trying to figure out ways to get him over the hump with that effort, and I hate that it's wasted on losses. Just spectacular.

"But to watch it, to be a part of it, even though those games are turning into L's, I've never seen anything like this guy. And we better sure as hell be thanking our lucky stars for this guy."

While James' individual display could hardly be faulted, the same could not be said of fellow Lakers star Russell Westbrook, who managed just 13 points on Saturday.

James defended the point-guard's performance, however, focusing instead on the effort his team-mate put in during the game.

"He gave us extra possessions, he gave us a lot of looks around the basket, which I know that he can't stand [failing to convert] as well," James said.

"But as far as the effort piece, if a guy plays hard, if a guy leaves it all out on the floor, I've got no problem with that. It's a make-or-miss league."

Fizdale agreed that the 33-year-old Westbrook could not be criticised for lack of effort, and suggested that taking some pressure off himself would lead to an improved scoring record.

"A big part of it is he just wants it so bad," Fizdale said. "I mean, you can just see it in him, everybody does. He wants it so bad. And I know that's just hard for him when it doesn't work out. And I know he cares like crazy.

"I just want him to take a lot of that pressure off himself, keep attacking, keep playing the way we know he can."

James Harden marked his return to action with a telling triple-double as the Brooklyn Nets snatched a dramatic 122-115 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

For the Lakers, LeBron James scored 39 points and became the NBA's highest scorer all-time in Christmas Day games, reaching 422 points on December 25 across his career to surpass Kobe Bryant's 395 haul.

However, Russell Westbrook shot only 4-of-20 from the field, meaning his own triple-double of 13 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists was tinged with disappointment.

It allowed Harden and Patty Mills to guide the Nets to a hard-earned win over a Lakers side who have lost five successive games to slide to 16-18 for the season.

Mills matched a career-best with 34 points, and his eight three-pointers established a new NBA record for Christmas Day.

 

Harden's haul of 36 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists came in his first game out of COVID-19 protocols and boosted the shorthanded Nets to 22-9, with Brooklyn rallying despite being without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and LaMarcus Aldridge, among others.

The Lakers trailed 102-82 entering the final quarter but got back to 115-115 with 45 seconds remaining, yet Nic Claxton restored Brooklyn's lead, and Harden's accuracy from the free-throw line saw them pull clear in the closing moments.

This was the first Christmas Day game with multiple triple-doubles, the NBA said.


Antetokounmpo rebounds with stellar show

Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo joined Harden in making a stellar return to action, after also serving time in isolation due to the health and safety protocols.

After missing five games, Antetokounmpo scored 36 points and had 12 rebounds in a 117-113 win for the Bucks over the Boston Celtics.

That improved the Bucks, who sit third in the Eastern Conference, to 22-13 for the season. It was the fifth time this season that Antetokounmpo has topped 35 points in a game.

Christmas Curry proves a rare treat

Heading into the Golden State Warriors' game with the Phoenix Suns, Stephen Curry was averaging a meagre 13.1 points in his eight career games on Christmas. That ranked as his worst average points haul on any date he has played on more than twice.

This time Curry came good though, bagging a game-high 33 points in a 116-107 win for the Warriors.

There was cause for Christmas cheer for the New York Knicks' Kemba Walker too. The Knicks landed a 101-87 win over the Atlanta Hawks, led by Julius Randle's 25 points and 12 rebounds, with Walker weighing in with the team's first triple-double on Christmas Day. He finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists, and on the right side of the scoreboard.

Chicago Bulls' head coach Billy Donovan has reportedly entered the NBA's COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

The Bulls saw two of their games postponed earlier in December after 10 of their players had entered the protocol.

Donovan, who has cold-like symptoms according to ESPN, told the media on Thursday that all the players had been cleared, and they are expected to be available for Sunday's game against the Indiana Pacers.

He will apparently now miss that game, with Bulls assistant Chris Fleming acting as head coach.

The 56-year-old would become the fourth NBA head coach to enter into protocols, joining Sacramento's Alvin Gentry, the Lakers' Frank Vogel, and Indiana's Rick Carlisle.

Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo has reportedly been cleared from the NBA's health and safety protocols.

Finals MVP Antetokounmpo entered the league's COVID-19 protocols on December 15 and has missed five games. 

According to ESPN, he will decide on Friday whether he is fit enough to feature in the Bucks' clash with the Boston Celtics on Christmas Day.

Antetokounmpo has been averaging 27.0 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game for the defending champions this season.

He is shooting 53.0 per cent from the field – his lowest number since the 2017-18 season, and 28.0 per cent from three-point range.

The Bucks (21-13) are third in the Eastern Conference, behind the Brooklyn Nets (21-9) and Chicago Bulls (19-10).

A magical man with a big beard bringing joy to people on Christmas Day? Yes, James Harden is back from COVID-19 protocols as the Brooklyn Nets travel to the Los Angeles Lakers for a festive fixture.

Nets coach Steve Nash confirmed the news on Thursday, while Paul Millsap and Jevon Carter are also newly available, but Brooklyn still have 10 players in protocols.

Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Day'Ron Sharpe, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre' Bembry, Bruce Brown and James Johnson have been joined by rookies Kessler Edwards, David Duke Jr. and Cameron Thomas.

The Nets have not played since a 100-93 defeat to the Orlando Magic on Saturday at Barclays Center. Their three games leading up to Christmas – at home against the Denver Nuggets and Washington Wizards, then a trip to Portland – were all postponed.

Nonetheless, Nash's team sit top of the Eastern Conference on a 21-9 record, and have not lost back-to-back games this season, though that could be put to the test with a team likely to still be extremely shorthanded in California.

Durant will be a big miss, with the 33-year-old leading the league in points per game (29.7), as will Aldridge, who sits 11th in the league for field-goal percentage (.573).

The home team have been missing players of late too, with head coach Frank Vogel and five of his men being absent as a result of being under the NBA's health and safety protocols in the chastening 138-110 defeat to the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday.

 

The Lakers sit on a surprisingly poor record under .500 (16-17) having lost four on the spin – at Minnesota and Chicago, followed by home defeats to Phoenix and the Spurs.

Despite having LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo on the roster, Vogel has been unable to get a consistent tune out of his all-star line-up.

With the Nets shorthanded to an even greater degree, the opportunity to produce what would have to go down as a slight upset should the Lakers win, given their respective form and records, will surely never be higher.

Davis remains sidelined by an MCL sprain, but the Lakers should still be able to put out a team that looks as strong as any other on paper.

Whether it is the Lakers putting an end to their losing streak or the Nets pulling out a win with barely enough players to call on, someone may just be claiming the occurrence of a festive miracle in the first encounter at the newly-named Crypto.com Arena.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Los Angeles Lakers – LeBron James

Despite his team being thoroughly outplayed, James managed to score 36 points with nine rebounds, six assists and two blocks in Thursday's defeat to the Spurs, and he will need to pull out a similar effort if the Lakers are to end their losing streak.

The four-time NBA champion has put early-season injury issues behind him to play the last 10 games in a row, scoring 30 or more points in nine of his last 13 outings.

James has also improved his rebound numbers of late, getting double figures in five of his last 10 games, having only done so once in his previous 11.

Brooklyn Nets - James Harden

With Durant, Irving and Aldridge unavailable, all eyes will be on Harden to finally show the form that won him the 2018 NBA MVP award in Houston.

The 32-year-old is averaging just 20.8 points per game this season, his lowest since the 2011-12 season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. His 40.4 per cent success rate from the field is also the lowest since his rookie year.

However, Harden has proven in the past that he can rise to the occasion when he's the main man, and sitting just 20 career assists away from 6,000, he may just roll back the years and pull the strings in the arena now formerly known as the Staples Center.

KEY BATTLE – Can the Nets be as deadly in mid-range?

Brooklyn currently sit top of the table for mid-range points this season, averaging 49.1, well ahead of the Utah Jazz in second (45.3).

Harden is third in the league for most points per game created via assists (21.8), behind only Chris Paul (23.0) and Trae Young (21.9), while Harden (24.4 per cent) and fellow Nets star Patty Mills (29.7 per cent) claim the top two spots for highest percentage of assists for mid-range field goals made.

However, the Lakers have the fourth-best record in the league for lowest field goal percentage allowed from mid-range (38.0), and so it is an area to keep an eye out for, especially with Aldridge and Durant out, both sitting in the top 10 for highest field-goal percentage from mid-range.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The Lakers prevailed 126-101 when these two last met in April, and the teams have enjoyed five wins each from their last 10 encounters.

Steve Kerr reflected on the Golden State Warriors' display against the Memphis Grizzlies as "about as good as it gets" after Stephen Curry starred in a 113-104 win.

Warriors fans chanted "MVP" to Curry as he scored 46 points – including eight three-pointers – in an inspired performance at Chase Center on Thursday.

The win for Golden State took their NBA-best record at home this season to 16-2 and left them on 26-6.

Warriors head coach Kerr was thrilled with the way his side went about seeing off the 19-14 Grizzlies and lavished praise on Curry.

"That's about as good as it gets against a very physical defense with great size," Warriors head coach Kerr said.

"Over the last 10-12 games, Memphis had the best defensive rating in the league. For Steph to go out and get 46, he showed every bit of his talent tonight. This was his most efficient game in a couple weeks, for sure."

 

Curry suffered a twisted ankle in the fourth quarter, but revealed he was fine after the game.

The two-time MVP felt it was a hugely important win in the Warriors' season.

He said: "Definitely wanted this one. Definitely felt like it was one [we] can't let slip by because of the history but also because knowing what it's going to take to win a game like this.

"You carry that chip on your shoulder and understand this is our home court."

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