LeBron James believes he needs to adjust in the absence of Anthony Davis because his Los Angeles Lakers team-mates are already doing "their part and more".

The Lakers have gone 2-1 since Davis sustained a calf injury in the defeat to the Denver Nuggets last weekend, going down 96-94 to the Miami Heat on Saturday after a loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

The reigning NBA champions sit third in the Western Conference but will be without Davis for the next four weeks.

James had 19 points, nine rebounds and nine assists against the Heat, while a steal on an inbounds pass for Jimmy Butler gave Alex Caruso a chance to tie the game at the buzzer but the Lakers guard missed.

By scoring at least 15 points with a minimum of five rebounds and five assists for a 31st straight game, James broke the previous NBA record of 30 in succession that he set in 2018.

However, he insisted it is on him to adapt and help get the Lakers back on track ahead of a tough stretch without Davis, who leads the Lakers in rebounds, steals and blocks.

"I think that's what it all boils down to and right now is another challenge for me, to be able to adjust," James said.

"Not having AD for a long period of time is something that we haven't had over the last year and a half, and now it's time for me to adjust again and see ways I can be even more effective to help this team win ballgames, because that is the sport that we're in.

"We're in the winning business and I've always been a winner. So, it's time to click into that."

On his team-mates, he added: "They are doing their part. They're doing their part and more. Every time we're on the floor we're trying to protect each other and bring each other up on the floor every single night.

"It doesn't matter if you're making shots or not, we're gonna hold each other accountable. Everybody's picking up in AD's absence and obviously it hasn't been in wins the last two games but we're gonna continue working our habits and continue to be great for one another."

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope contributed 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc and called on his fellow role players at the Lakers to provide James with greater support.

"I feel like the last couple games that's been happening, putting a lot on Bron. We already know what we're going to get out of him. So, all the rest of us, we've got to continue to just play hard and just play basketball and not worry about anything else," said Caldwell-Pope.

"We try to help him out as much as possible and we want to do it as perfect as possible, as we can.

"We try to help him out, we try not to make too much mistakes when we're on the floor with him or even running a play with him, just to give him some help. We do ask Bron for a lot, he gives us a lot each and every game.

"It's up to us as far as like role players and 'next man up' mentality, we've got to be ready and locked in."

Naomi Osaka may be a two-time Australian Open champion but the relaxed four-time major winner still feels unrecognised when she walks the streets of Melbourne, insisting she is not like Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James.

Osaka became the first woman since Monica Seles in the early 1990s to emerge victorious from the first four grand slam finals of her career after outclassing Jennifer Brady 6-4 6-3 in Saturday's Australian Open final.

Former world number one Osaka – who fended off a pair of match points against Garbine Muguruza in the last 16 at Melbourne Park – also became the seventh woman to have won the Australian Open after saving match point, following in the footsteps of Seles (1991), Jennifer Capriati (2002), Serena Williams (2003 and 2005), Li Na (2014), Angelique Kerber (2016) and Caroline Wozniacki (2018).

The 23-year-old won in 77 minutes to become the 12th woman in the Open Era to clinch multiple Australian Open titles. 

Osaka has now gone 21 matches without defeat – she is only the third woman since 2010 to enjoy an unbeaten streak of 20 or more matches, joining Serena (27 wins between 2014 WTA Finals and 2015 Madrid) and Azarenka (26 wins between 2012 Sydney and Miami).

Reflecting on her triumph during Sunday's celebratory photoshoot, the Japanese star told reporters: "I think the quarantine affected me in the way that I had to go within myself a lot.

"Your sort of in a room by yourself and your forced to face your own thoughts. For me, I think in the end that was a good thing because there were a lot of things that I meditated on and I thought about and I think coming here really helped me because it made me a bit more confident in my thoughts and my opinions.

"I don't really feel recognised unless it's moments like this. For me, I just like walking by myself outside. I think in a way that I'm kind of lucky because I'm not like a LeBron James or anything like that, that would get recognised everywhere. I'm pretty chill, like it's kind of good."

Osaka is yet to taste success at Wimbledon and the French Open, and she added: "For me, I think that's the biggest goal right now [win Wimbledon or French Open]. I think everyone knows that I can do well on hardcourt, but for me, I just want to get comfortable on the other surfaces."

The Miami Heat edged NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers 96-94 on Saturday.

In a rematch of last season's NBA Finals, which LeBron James and the Lakers won, the Heat came out on top in Los Angeles.

The Heat led by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter before the Lakers rallied, but Miami held on at Staples Center.

Kendrick Nunn (27 points) and Jimmy Butler (24 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals) fuelled the Heat on the road.

James led the slumping Lakers – who have lost back-to-back games – with a team-high 23 points.

 

CP3 surpasses Robertson as Suns set franchise record

It was a memorable day for Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns, who routed the Memphis Grizzlies 128-97. Paul passed Oscar Robertson for sixth place on the all-time assists list. Robertson had 9,887 assists. The Suns, meanwhile, nailed a franchise-record 24 three-pointers.

Zach LaVine's 38 points inspired the Chicago Bulls to a 122-114 victory over the Sacramento Kings. LaVine made 15 of 20 shots in his fourth consecutive game with 30 or more points.

Russell Westbrook (27 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds) and Bradley Beal (37 points) teamed up to guide the Washington Wizards to an 118-111 victory at the Portland Trail Blazers, who had their six-game winning streak snapped. Damian Lillard's 35 points and 12 rebounds were not enough for the Blazers.

 

Caruso scoreless

Alex Caruso dished off four assists, but it was a tough night for the Lakers shooting guard in a scoreless outing. He was 0-of-three from the field, missing both of his three-point attempts.

The less said about the Grizzlies' performance from beyond the arc, the better. Memphis were just five-of-33 from three-point range – shooting at 15.2 per cent in a crushing defeat at home to the Suns.

 

Rozier calls game!

Terry Rozier nailed a jumper as time expired to lift the Charlotte Hornets past the Golden State Warriors 102-100. Rozier finished with 36 points. Golden State lost Stephen Curry (illness) moments before tip-off.

 

Saturday's results

Charlotte Hornets 102-100 Golden State Warriors
Miami Heat 96-94 Los Angeles Lakers
Chicago Bulls 122-114 Sacramento Kings
Phoenix Suns 128-97 Memphis Grizzlies
Washington Wizards 118-111 Portland Trail Blazers
San Antonio Spurs-New York Knicks (postponed)
Houston Rockets-Indiana Pacers (postponed)

 

Nets at Clippers

It will be a blockbuster battle on Sunday when the Brooklyn Nets (19-12) visit the Los Angeles Clippers (22-9). The Nets will be without Kevin Durant (hamstring) for a fourth consecutive game. Both teams are second in their respective conferences.

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said star Stephen Curry "did not feel well" prior to the team's buzzer-beating loss to the Charlotte Hornets.

Curry was ruled out just moments before tip-off as the Warriors suffered a last-gasp 102-100 defeat against the Hornets on Saturday.

Two-time MVP Curry took part in the warm-up before he was replaced by Mychal Mulder in the starting five.

"Going through his usual warm-up routine, he just did not feel well at all," Kerr said post-game, discussing Curry's absence.

"And so he came back in, saw the Charlotte team doctor, went out tried to warm up and just wasn't feeling good.

"So we made the decision, the training staff and Steph and I, we all made the decision to not play him.

"We'll see how he's doing [Sunday] ... There were no [COVID-19] protocols in place. Just him feeling sick."

Curry is averaging 29.9 points, 6.2 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game for the Warriors (16-15) this season.

It remains to be seen whether Curry will feature against the New York Knicks on Tuesday, with Kerr adding: "Hopefully. We'll see how he's feeling the next couple of days."

"Our offense is based on Steph," Kerr said. "Obviously our pace, everything else. So it took us some time to get our feet on the ground but once we did I thought we really competed well and did everything necessary to win the game. We fought, we competed together."

Kevin Durant will sit out his fourth consecutive NBA game when the Brooklyn Nets face the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.

Nets star Durant has sat out games against the Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings due to a left hamstring strain.

The former NBA MVP also missed three games due to the league's health and safety protocols before returning for his reunion with the Golden State Warriors last week.

Speaking on Saturday, Nets head coach Steve Nash told reporters: "I don't have a timeline, but he's out for tomorrow. So still just trying to regain that strength and his rehabilitation.

"Like I keep saying, I don't think this is a long-term thing. But there are elements of maybe it being, taking a few more days than we thought or just being cautious.

"I think right now both are necessary. I don't think he's ready, I think he needs more time, but we're also definitely going to be cautious."

Durant is averaging 29.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game for the star-studded Nets this season.

The Nets (19-12) have won all three games in Durant's latest absence to be second in the Eastern Conference, behind the Philadelphia 76ers (21-10).

Tyronn Lue relished seeing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George return from injury as the Los Angeles Clippers impressively beat the Utah Jazz.

The Jazz had won nine straight games and 20 of their last 21 NBA contests coming into Friday's game.

However, their streak came to an end as the Clippers emerged triumphant 116-112 in a battle between two championship contenders.

Leonard led the way for the home Clippers with 29 points as they improved to 22-9.

Donovan Mitchell had a game-high 35 points, but the Western Conference leading Jazz fell to 24-6.

Leonard had missed the previous three games with a lower leg contusion, while George was back after seven games out with a swollen toe.

The win came two days after the Clippers had lost by 18 to the Jazz playing without Leonard, George and Nicolas Batum.

"They are the best team in the NBA right now, record-wise, we knew that they won 20 of 21 coming into it – we understood that," Lue said after the win. 

"We got our guys back and we wanted to win this game and the guys went out and did a hell of a job.

"Our defense was pretty good until the heroics of Donovan Mitchell down the stretch.

"Pat Beverley and PG, we did a decent job on that first half and second half, he [Mitchell] got going, that's what great players do. 

"Overall, defensively, I thought we were pretty good like I said until the last 40 seconds or whatever it was of the game."

George had 15 points, six rebounds and five assists in 27 minutes.

"I wasn't ready to play 30-plus," he said. "Got to get back to that basketball conditioning.

"I probably would have hurt the team if I'd been on the floor past the minutes I was."

The Jazz were outrebounded 45-38, leaving Mitchell and Rudy Gobert clear where the game was lost.

"We lost the game on the boards," said Mitchell. "It was second-chance points that really hurt us. 

"If you look at the overall game, we played solid defense throughout, but they just came out there and got the extra boards and rebounds and we just got to do a better job of that.

"This is a bump in the road and a good one."

Gobert feels the loss will ultimately benefit the Jazz.

He said: "If we get those rebounds, we win this game. [The Clippers are] a very good team.

"They came out rested, they came out ready and it felt like a playoff game – the intensity, the tough shots that they were making all night. 

"It was a good opportunity for us to just keep getting better."

Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone described the efficiency of Jamal Murray's 50-point haul as "remarkable".

Murray went 21-of-25 from the field and eight-of-10 from three-point range to post 50 points in the Nuggets' 120-103 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.

Malone lauded the guard's performance after the Nuggets improved their record to 16-13.

"I've been around a lot of great players, I've been in the league for a long time, I've seen many 50-point games," he said.

"To do it as efficiently as he did is really remarkable."

Nikola Jokic finished with a triple-double of 16 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists for the Nuggets.

Murray said the Nuggets' numerous threats made his life easier against the Cavaliers.

"I can shoot a little bit. Once I see a few go down, I just took off from there and kind of mixed it up," he told Altitude TV.

"I was able to get to the rim on them when they tried to change the coverage and we've got a lot of weapons. You can't just flat-out double me when I'm hot, you've got a 'Joker' [Jokic], who's MVP of the season, he'll pick you apart if you're playing four on three especially.

"I feel like it was just a tough task to be able to deal with both of us and the rest of the team as well."

The Los Angeles Clippers ended the Utah Jazz's winning run in the NBA on Friday, while Joel Embiid and Jamal Murray posted 50-point games.

The Clippers snapped the Jazz's nine-game winning streak with a 116-112 victory in a clash between two NBA championship contenders.

Kawhi Leonard led the way for the Clippers with 29 points as they improved to 22-9.

Donovan Mitchell had a game-high 35 points, but the Jazz's winning run came to an end, with the Western Conference leaders now 24-6 this season.

Embiid's career-high 50 points, 17 rebounds and five assists helped the Philadelphia 76ers past the Chicago Bulls 112-105.

He is the first 76ers player to score 50-plus points since Allen Iverson in 2005.

Murray, meanwhile, was spectacular in the Denver Nuggets' 120-103 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The guard was an incredible 21-of-25 from the field, and eight-of-10 from three-point range, for his 50-point haul.

Murray and Embiid were the first NBA pair with 50-plus points on 65 per cent-plus shooting on the same day since Tom Chambers and Patrick Ewing on March 24, 1990, as per Stats Perform.

Nikola Jokic had a triple-double of 16 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in the Nuggets' win.

 

Giannis leads Bucks, Curry's Warriors fall short

Giannis Antetokounmpo's double-double of 29 points and 19 rebounds saw the Milwaukee Bucks past the Oklahoma City Thunder 98-85.

Stephen Curry had 29 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds, but the Golden State Warriors were beaten by the Orlando Magic 124-120.

Magic star Nikola Vucevic finished with a triple-double of 30 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists.

Despite a double-double from Trae Young (31 points and 11 assists), the Atlanta Hawks went down to the Boston Celtics 121-109.

 

Wayward VanVleet

Fred VanVleet went four-of-20 from the field for just 12 points in 37 minutes, but the Toronto Raptors still got past the Minnesota Timberwolves 86-81.

 

Edwards' incredible dunk

Anthony Edwards was three-of-14 from the field for just seven points in 34 minutes in the Timberwolves' loss, yet the 2020 top draft pick produced a monstrous dunk.

Friday's results

Orlando Magic 124-120 Golden State Warriors
Denver Nuggets 120-103 Cleveland Cavaliers
Boston Celtics 121-109 Atlanta Hawks
Philadelphia 76ers 112-105 Chicago Bulls
Phoenix Suns 132-114 New Orleans Pelicans
Memphis Grizzlies 109-95 Detroit Pistons
Milwaukee Bucks 98-85 Oklahoma City Thunder
Toronto Raptors 86-81 Minnesota Timberwolves
Los Angeles Clippers 116-112 Utah Jazz

 

Heat at Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers (22-8) look to bounce back from their loss to the Brooklyn Nets when they host the Miami Heat (12-17) on Saturday in what is a rematch of last year's NBA Finals.

Joel Embiid credited his team-mates after his incredible performance in the Philadelphia 76ers' win over the Chicago Bulls.

Embiid posted a career-high 50 points, to go with 17 rebounds and five assists, in the 76ers' 112-105 victory in the NBA on Friday.

But the All-Star paid tribute to his team-mates after the 76ers improved to 20-10.

"We did it as a team. It wasn't a one-man effort, we all worked together," Embiid told ESPN.

"My team-mates found me, I found them, we shared the ball, we moved the ball and we actually played better defense than we've been playing the past couple of games which makes me happy. It starts on defense and I'm pretty happy about what we did on that end."

Embiid added: "That's my job, that's why they pay me, defensively just being the best defensive player of the year because you know my aspirations are to win that defensive player of the year.

"Offensively doing whatever I'm needed to, if I need to get them open that's what I'm going to do, if I need to score that's what I'm going to do, if I need to set screens that's what's I'm going to do, so we did it as a team."

After back-to-back wins, the 76ers are top of the Eastern Conference.

LeBron James was 'honoured' to share the esteemed company of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone after becoming the third player in NBA history to clock up 35,000 points.

The Los Angeles Lakers star achieved the feat in a 109-98 loss against the in-form Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center, matching Hall of Fame duo Abdul-Jabbar and Malone.

Hours before tip off, the 36-year-old was named a team captain in the 2021 All-Star game, becoming the first player to be selected 17 straight times, and he went on to put up 32 points on Thursday to reach a notable milestone.

"First of all I'm very humbled and very grateful to be part of a great league," said James after his latest landmark. 

"It's a privilege to do what I love to do, which is to play the game of basketball and inspire the youth.

"For me to be linked with some of the greatest who ever played this game is always an honour.

"I've always just wanted to go out there and play the game the right way, inspire my team-mates, inspire the people that watch me and just try to be as good as I can be every single night.

"I don't put a ceiling on my ability or what I can do as far as this game and I've had some pretty good moments."

James' exploits came in a losing effort as the NBA's number two defense fell to its leading offense.

James Harden powered up the Nets with his 19th double-double (23 points, 11 assists) of the season, while Joe Harris showed his three-point prowess, dropping six of seven attempts to clock up 21 total points.

Brooklyn rallied midway through the first half, opening up an 11-point lead. It was one they never relinquished to move to 19-12, while the Lakers fell to 22-8.

The Lakers were without the injured Anthony Davis and lost Dennis Schroder because of the NBA's health and safety protocols.

James, however, was not looking for excuses.

"Obviously missing AD and then our starting point guard in Dennis Schroder, it was a big a blow for us," he said.

"We just didn't play to our capabilities, but give them credit."

LeBron James became third player in NBA history to clock up 35,000 points but could not prevent the Los Angeles Lakers falling 109-98 against the in-form Brooklyn Nets.

James needed 15 points to join esteemed company in Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone, and it took him until just before half-time to achieve the feat at Staples Center.

Hours before tip off, the 36-year-old was named a team captain in the 2021 All-Star game, becoming first player to be selected 17 straight times, and he went on to put up 32 points on Thursday.

But it was not enough for the NBA’s number one defense, as the Nets extended their winning run to five games, with Kyrie Irving returning from back tightness to boost the NBA’s number one offense.

James Harden powered up the Nets with his 18th double-double (23 points, 11 assists) of the season, while Joe Harris showed his three-point prowess, dropping six of seven attempts, to clock up 21 total points.

Brooklyn rallied midway through the first half, sinking seven from 11 shots from downtown to open up an 11-point lead. It was one they never relinquished to move to 19-12, while the Lakers fall to 22-8.
 

Red-hot Butler does it again

Jimmy Butler recorded his third straight triple-double (13 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds) in the Miami Heat's 118-110 win against the Sacramento Kings, while Bam Adebayo also got in on the act with 16 points, 10 assist and 12 rebounds. They are the only teammates to ever record same-game triple-doubles in multiple games.

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant have been named as team captains for the 70th NBA All-Star game on March 7.

Serving as a team captain for the fourth straight year, James received the most votes to earn his 17th All-Star appearance, and is joined in the Western Conference starters pool by Golden State Warriors’ three-point specialist Stephen Curry, who is selected as an All-Star for the seventh time.

Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers is named an All-Star for the fifth time, while Denver Nuggets centre Nikola Jokic makes a third appearance, and the Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic is called up for a second time to round off the starters pool from the west.

Battling both Father Time and his opponent, LeBron James remains a nearly unstoppable force in his 18th season. 

Averaging 25.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 7.9 assists, James is once again posting impressive numbers for the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers while playing every game so far this season.

With Los Angeles off to a 22-7 start, James appears to be the early favourite for MVP, which would put James in rarified air with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell and Michael Jordan as the only players to win the award at least five times. 

James, who won his first MVP award after the 2008-09 season, would also secure the record for the most time between MVP honours if he were to win again – a fitting tribute for a player who has broken the rules of basketball longevity.

As good as James has been this season, his lead in the race is narrow, and perhaps his three most deserving rivals come from the center position, despite the league's embrace of "small ball". 

Whether it be the "seven seconds or less" Phoenix Suns teams of the mid-2000s, the perimeter-fueled Golden State Warriors teams that won three titles or the Houston Rockets' dramatic downsizing last season that left 6ft 5in P.J. Tucker defending 7-footers, the NBA has been trending small for the better part of the last two decades.  

Shaquille O'Neal is the last true center to win MVP in 1999-00, although Tim Duncan played plenty of center during his 2001-02 and 2003-03 MVP campaigns. Some pundits have even forecasted the extinction of the true center as the league leans toward perimeter play and positional versatility.  

Yet three centers – Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets, Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers and Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz – are assembling compelling cases to be voted this season's MVP.  

Jokic is the focal point of the Nuggets' offense, on pace to dish out the most assists ever by a player 7 feet or taller at 8.6 per game. He is also averaging a team-high 27.4 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.57 steals.  

With Jokic on the court, the Nuggets score 117.2 points per 100 possessions – better than any team's full-season numbers – while shooting 49.9 percent from the field. When Jokic sits, Denver's offense operates with the efficiency of league-worst Cleveland, shoots just 42.5 percent, makes fewer 3-pointers and commits more turnovers.  

The Serbia native has helped the Nuggets navigate several absences due to COVID-19 protocols, but with a 15-13 start – eighth in the West – MVP voters are typically hesitant to vote for a team outside the top four in its conference. And while Jokic has improved on defense over the last few seasons, his weaknesses on that side of the floor are a fair argument against him being named more valuable than any other player.  

Embiid, on the other hand, is a two-time All-Defensive Team selection who is also turning in his best offensive season by a wide margin. His 29.7 points per game are on pace to be the most by a 7-footer since 1999-00 (Shaquille O'Neal, 29.7), while shooting career bests of 54 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from 3-point range.  

Embiid is also a tremendous free throw shooter, regardless of position, making 85.1 percent this season. He is even better in high-stakes situations, making 88.5 percent of his free throws in the fourth quarter and overtime, including a 19-for-20 mark in the last three minutes of a game.  

With Embiid on the court, the Sixers have a net rating of +11.2 points per 100 possessions but are -5.7 per 100 possessions when he is off the court. Embiid is vital to his team, with the 76ers going 18-5 when he plays and 1-5 when he rests.  

While Embiid's time off the court shows just how valuable he is when he plays, it also may keep him from winning MVP this season. At his current workload, he is on pace to miss 15 of the Sixers' 72 games, more than 20 per cent. Embiid has played just under 748 minutes this season, while James and Jokic have played over 1,000 each.  

Gobert has played nearly 878 minutes for the Jazz, appearing in every game and leading Utah to a league-leading 24-5 record.

While his 14.2 points per game fail to measure up to his competitors' numbers, Gobert slots perfectly into the "best player on the best team" role that Giannis Antetokounmpo has occupied over the last two seasons and has added 13.4 rebounds and a career-high 2.69 blocks per game.  

Gobert is second in the league in plus-minus per 48 minutes at +15.3 (min. 500 minutes played), trailing only teammate Mike Conley at +18.9. 

The Jazz have surrounded Gobert with a roster mostly consisting of average or worse defensive players yet still rank third in the NBA, allowing 106 points per game.  

When Gobert is on the floor, Utah holds opponents to 101.6 points per 100 possession, fewer than any team's full-season numbers this year. And while Gobert ranks second in the NBA in blocked shots, his defensive impact extends beyond traditional numbers.  

Utah's opponents have attempted just 18.8 free throws per game – second fewest in the NBA – and Gobert's intimidating presence in the middle appears to be why. With Gobert on the court, Utah's opponents are attempting just 15.2 free throws per 100 possessions. When Gobert sits, that number balloons to 24.2.  

Ultimately, though, Gobert's limited offensive role makes him an outside candidate for MVP unless the Jazz finish the season on a historically great run.  

Gobert's skew toward defense, Jokic's skew toward offense and Embiid's limited availability could all open the door for LeBron – a worthy candidate in his own right – to take home his fifth MVP after this season.   

This trio of centers, however, has proven that there is still room for the big man to dominate in the modern NBA.  

Staples Center will stage a clash of heavyweights on Thursday as the Los Angeles Lakers host the Brooklyn Nets, though it might not be quite the spectacle once hoped for.

Of course, most sporting contests are not quite what they used to be, owing to the lack of spectators allowed in the arenas.  

But the absence of Lakers star Anthony Davis with a calf injury, along with Kevin Durant's hamstring problem, which may keep the Nets forward out of a third straight game, further depletes a matchup that could be repeated in the NBA Finals.  

Yet LeBron James is still performing at the peak of his powers and the Nets' guard combination of James Harden and Kyrie Irving is firing on all cylinders, with the former dropping 38 points in a comeback from a 24-point deficit against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.  

Therefore, there will still be plenty to intrigue in this marquee showdown, even if the first meeting of LeBron and KD since Christmas Day 2018 is further delayed.  

TOP PERFORMERS

LeBron James - Los Angeles Lakers

James is the MVP frontrunner and he has maintained his remarkable levels of excellence this month, in which he has a pair of triple-doubles. 

He has successive double-doubles in his last two games, tallying at least 30 points for the fifth time this season in the win over the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves last time out. 

With Davis on the sidelines, LeBron will have to carry the bulk of the burden again if the Lakers are to claim their 23rd win.

Kyrie Irving - Brooklyn Nets

Despite sitting out Brooklyn's astonishing fightback against the Suns because of a sore back, no member of the Nets has been more prolific in the month of February than Irving.  

The man who helped LeBron deliver a title to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 is averaging a team-high 29.8 points per game this month. Harden is next with an average of 24.4.  

He is shooting 55.5 per cent from the field and 48.8 per cent from three-point range, while his season-long average of 28.3 points a game is a career-high.  

Irving will, however, be hoping for a better performance than the one he produced in his sole game against the Lakers last year, when he went seven of 17 from the field in a 15-point loss.

KEY BATTLE - WHICH 'OTHERS' WILL STEP UP?

Though the Nets will still have the best backcourt in the league at their disposal, the injury issues surrounding Durant and Davis increases the spotlight on the lesser-heralded members of the two supporting casts.  

The Lakers will be looking for more of the same from Dennis Schroder, the guard rising to the challenge in Davis' absence against the Timberwolves and scoring 24 points.  

For the Nets, the onus may be more on Joe Harris, who has impressive numbers in terms of field goal percentage (57.5) and three-point shooting (51.1 per cent) for the month of February.  

This potential Finals preview could well be decided by which team's 'others' can best fill the void if Durant joins Davis in playing the role of spectator.

HEAD TO HEAD

It's the first meeting this season between the Lakers and Nets, though recent history suggests Brooklyn can afford to be confident even if they are without Durant. 

The two teams split the season series last term, but the Nets have won three of the last four games having swept the season series in 2018-19. 

All three of those victories came by a single-digit margin.

Stephen Curry trusted the rhythm he found to propel the Golden State Warriors to victory over the Miami Heat would come despite setting a personal record for missed three-point attempts.

Through three quarters against the Heat at Chase Center, Curry had 14 points on 2-of-15 shooting from beyond the arc. He had attempted at least 15 three-pointers in 47 prior regular season games, but this was the first time he had made just two.

The two-time NBA MVP found his range with two minutes and 26 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and laid on two assists for Kent Bazemore to help the Warriors force overtime.

Curry missed his first three shots in the additional period but hit a go-ahead three with 1:15 remaining and made a phenomenal step back jumper from 28 feet to put Golden State up six with 17 seconds left.

He finished the game on 5-of-20 shooting from beyond the arc – the first time in his career he has missed 15 threes in a game in the regular season and playoffs. His previous worst came in the defeat to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 2 of the 2015 NBA Finals.

"I probably took five bad ones. I'd say, the rest of them were off the dribble in rhythm or catch and shoot wide-open, I just was missing," Curry said of his display against Miami, in which he finished with 25 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.

"So, knowledge and confidence is huge, and understanding that eventually I'll find the right rhythm, the right look and make a big one, and thankfully it happened at the end of regulation and then in the two in overtime.

"I tried not to think of the percentages during the game when you know like, 'Damn, I missed about 17 of these.' That doubt can sometimes creep in, you've got to kick it out and just shoot with confidence and keep shooting."

He added: "You play enough games and go through enough experiences, you know what it's like to kind of feel a little lost when shots aren't falling, and you know how you mentally react to it and what you can do to keep your confidence and stick with it.

"It's just bread over time ... I've been shooting since I was nine. You got to be able to figure out how to get through some bad shooting games."

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was unsurprised to see Curry still play a crucial role even when he was enduring an off shooting performance.

"This is so typical of Steph. He's just the kind of player and the kind of person who can be in the midst of one of his worst shooting nights of the year and still hit three enormous shots to help us win the game. So really an amazing team win and a lot of fun," said Kerr.

"I just think he hasn't just built up his body and his skill over the years, I think he's built up his mind.

"And he's so strong-willed that he doesn't let things bother him and he knows that the law of averages are going to play out. He has so much belief in his shot that he's going to keep shooting.

"It's the same reason he shoots three-quarter court shots when there's still time on the clock. He doesn't care about the percentage. He actually believes that's a shot he can make, so he takes it.

"And same thing applies when he's in the midst of a tough night, he always believes the next one is going in. He's got an incredibly powerful belief in himself."

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