As the NBA All-Star break approaches, three players look to have established themselves as this season's MVP frontrunners – and they all happen to be big men born outside the United States.

That is surprising with the league trending towards teams hoisting up insane amounts of three-pointers and the idea of the big man in the middle becoming almost obsolete.

While this race will undoubtedly come down to the 11th hour, these three players have clearly separated themselves from the pack by playing some otherworldly basketball this season. 

JOEL EMBIID, Philadelphia 76ers

Embiid is the only one of the top three who has never won an MVP and that could end up working in his favour. The Philadelphia center was the runner-up to winner Nikola Jokic last season, and some wondered whether that was his best chance to win the award, but he has been better in nearly every area of the game while single-handedly carrying the 76ers to the upper reaches of the Eastern Conference.

Embiid's points (29.1), rebounds (10.8) and assists (4.4) have all ticked up slightly this season, though his field goal percentage has dropped. Maybe the most important stat that puts a fine point on just how valuable Embiid has been is Philadelphia's 27-12 record when he plays and 4-8 mark when he doesn't.

Embiid has had issues with durability throughout his career, never playing more than 64 games in any season. He has mostly put those issues to rest this season and played in 21 straight games before he had a scheduled maintenance day and missed Monday's win over Memphis. 

Because he hasn't had Ben Simmons playing alongside him this season, Embiid has taken on an even bigger role in the team's offense. He's maintained his scoring rate and his assists have jumped from 2.8 to 4.4 as he has assumed greater playmaking responsibility in both the half-court and transition, all while lowering his turnovers. 

Embiid's defence hasn't suffered even with his increased burden on the opposite end. His blocks have increased (1.35 to 1.44) and he is the biggest reason the 76ers have improved their scoring defence from last season (108.1 to 105.5).

Since Christmas, Embiid leads the league in scoring (33.8) while pulling down 10.9 rebounds per game. His stretch of eight consecutive games with at least 30 points from December 26 to January 12 is the longest in the NBA this season and is tied for the longest by any 76ers player (Allen Iverson, Wilt Chamberlain) since at least 1963-64. 

Philadelphia have won 15 of 19 during that span for a .789 winning percentage that ranks behind only the Grizzlies, moving the Sixers up to third in the Eastern Conference.

With 50.8 points, 16.1 rebounds and 7.6 assists per 48 minutes in January, Embiid became the first player in league history to average 50-15-5 per 48 in a calendar month. 

Embiid also isn't shrinking in the big moments, topping the league in points (127), field goals (40) and blocks (nine) in clutch situations.

All the ingredients necessary for an MVP are in place for Embiid, who has the production, the team success and even the narrative that he has put the team on his back in the absence of a fellow star player. Winning the top seed in the conference would certainly help Embiid's cause, and his play has that well within reach for the 76ers.

GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, Milwaukee Bucks

In the same that way that Embiid could be helped by having never won an MVP, Antetokounmpo could be hindered by having won back-to-back awards before Jokic took home the hardware last season. Only eight players have won three or more MVPs, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leading the way with six and LeBron James the only active player with more than two (four). 

The Greek Freak has overcome a slow start following a short offseason and is putting up remarkably similar numbers to his last few campaigns, so there is no denying that he is having another MVP-worthy season. As impressive as Antetokounmpo's numbers are, he may not be getting the attention he deserves because this level of production has become the norm for a player who is arguably an all-time great at just 27 years old. 

Antetokounmpo is the only player who had almost as good a January as Embiid, averaging 31.7 points, 10.9 points and 6.3 assists. His nine 30-point games in the month trailed only Embiid (12).

Milwaukee are jockeying with Cleveland and Chicago for the Central Division lead despite dealing with a revolving door of availability from their roster all season. Just like Embiid's chances at the MVP are boosted with a top seed, team success can only help Antetokounmpo's case. The Bucks were the number one seed in the East in both of his MVP seasons. 

Antetokounmpo's ability to affect a game in a myriad of ways was on display in a win over Golden State on January 13, when he had 30 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists and three blocks. All that production came in under 30 minutes of play and made him the first player with multiple 30-point triple-doubles in 30 minutes or less in the last 40 seasons. His other such outing came October 24, 2019, at Houston.

The Bucks superstar is one of only two players (also Jokic) currently averaging at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. 

If Milwaukee finish with the best record in the East and Antetokounmpo averages near 30 points per game, 11 rebounds and six assists, it might be difficult to deny him a third MVP award. 

NIKOLA JOKIC, Denver Nuggets

After winning the MVP last season, Jokic has replicated his numbers in 2021-22, if not exceeded many of them. He's done all that while leading the Nuggets to a 28-23 record despite the long-term absences of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., Denver's second and third-leading scorers last season. 

His performance this season has only reinforced his place among the league's elite and proven for the last time that he is not dependent on any player for his success, instead driving it for himself and his team-mates.

Jokic's scoring is basically equal to last season (25.9 to 26.4 in 2020-21), but his rebounds have jumped from 10.8 to 13.8 to put him second in the league behind Utah's Rudy Gobert as he has picked up the slack with Porter sidelined since early November. 

Jokic's assists (7.8), blocks (0.73), steals (1.42) and shooting percentage (57.2) are similar to last season, and he's again racking up the triple-doubles with a league-best 13 in 45 games after he had 16 in 72 last season. In only his seventh season, he is already fourth all-time in triple-doubles (70).

While Jokic's scoring in January (26.6) wasn't as robust as Embiid and Antetokounmpo, he did lead the league in total rebounds (212), ranked second in assists (144) and third in field goals made (158). He had a stretch of four consecutive triple-doubles from January 15 to 21 where he averaged 29.3 points, 13.0 rebounds and 12.3 assists, astonishing totals from any player, let alone a seven-footer. 

With 49 points in a win over the Clippers on January 19, Jokic became just the third center (also Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975 and Alvan Adams in 1977) since 1970-71 to record a triple-double with 45 points or more. 

While each player faces a separate set of circumstances from year to year, Jokic has been as good or better than his MVP season and has done so with much less around him. That itself won't guarantee him another MVP, but he's right there with the other candidates and has the rest of the season to prove himself worthy of becoming a back-to-back winner. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Suns fight back for 10 straight

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

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

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

 

Jazz starter suffers worrying injury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suns in red-hot form

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

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

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

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

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

All-Star Morant sets franchise record

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

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

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

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

LeBron James and Kevin Durant will be the captains in this year's All-Star Game while Ja Morant and Andrew Wiggins got their first selections as the starters were confirmed on Thursday.

The NBA announced the starters for the annual midseason exhibition to be held on February 20 in Cleveland.

In the west, James was named for his 18th straight All-Star appearance in his 19th season alongside reigning MVP Nikola Jokic (fourth All-Star selection) and MVP contender Stephen Curry (eighth All-Star selection).

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant and Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins were the two first-time All-Star starters, with the latter coming as the major surprise.

Four-time MVP James has made 18 All-Star teams, equaling Kobe Bryant for second place all-time behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (19).

Durant, who is under an injury cloud for the game, will lead the east side after finishing with more fan votes than anyone else in the conference.

The Nets superstar will be joined by Chicago Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan and Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young in the backcourt, with Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The All-Star reserves will be selected by the coaches in both conferences and confirmed on Thursday.

Joel Embiid has no plans to let up after putting on another dominating performance as the Philadelphia 76ers defeated a depleted New Orleans Pelicans side on Tuesday.

Embiid had 42 points alongside 14 rebounds and four assists for the 76ers, who ran out 117-107 victors at the Wells Fargo Center.

Having been criticised in the past for missing games, Embiid recently revealed he has altered his diet in order to compete more regularly.

It certainly seems to have done the trick. Tuesday's game was his 19th in a row, helping Philly to a 13-6 run in that time, during which he is averaging 33.3 points to enhance his MVP credentials having finished runner-up last season.

"That was one of my goals, just to be available. I don't plan on stopping," said Embiid, whose 76ers side are now 28-19 and sixth in the East.

The Pelicans actually led 58-50 at the break despite missing starters Devonte Graham, Josh Hart, and Brandon Ingram with ankle injuries, while Jonas Valanciunas was rested. Zion Williamson is also still out with the foot injury that has kept him out all season.

Asked what the thought process was for the second half, Embiid said: "Just win.

"Just being aggressive because in the first half everything was easy for them."

Embiid was not the only player to go off on Tuesday, with Nikola Jokic leading the Denver Nuggets in their 110-105 defeat of the Detroit Pistons, which leaves them sixth in the West with a 25-21 record.

Jokic had 28 points, 21 rebounds and nine assists but was uninterested in re-watching the film to try and find an extra assist that would have given him a triple-double.

"I'm not worried about that," he said. 

"It was a good game for me and a huge win for our team. I knew I was having a big night, but I wasn't thinking about the stats."

During the game, Jokic chalked up a 3,000th career NBA assist. He is now the only Denver player to record 3,000 assists and 5,000 rebounds in the NBA.

"It's hard to keep track of all the milestones he's passing," head coach Michael Malone said. 

"He just won Western Conference Player of the Week, and then he has 28, 21 and nine tonight."

Team-mate Jeff Green, who had 20 points himself, added of Jokic: "It's incredible to play with Jokic – he's one of the best players I've ever been on the floor with. 

"When you are out there with him, you know that if you do your job, you're going to get open shots. The defense has to focus on him."

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

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

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

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

 

LeBron leads Lakers past Magic

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

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

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

 

Sixers fluff 24-point lead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pacers stun LeBron's Lakers

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

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

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

 

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

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

Bucks down depleted Grizzlies, Embiid hits 50

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

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

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

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

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic recorded another triple-double as the Los Angeles Lakers slumped below .500 again following a 133-96 humiliation at the hands of the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Nuggets center Jokic finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists and brought up his triple-double in the third quarter, as Denver piled on 73 first-half points before restricting the Lakers to only 36 points in the second half.

LeBron James scored 25 points with nine rebounds and two blocks for the Lakers, while Russell Westbrook had 19 points, five rebounds and three assists.

The defeat means the Lakers, who are still without Anthony Davis due to injury, move to a 21-22 record after losing three games in a row.

Bones Hyland was brilliant off the bench for Denver, who improve to 22-19, with a career-high 27 points including six triples and 10 rebounds.

 

Durant injured as Nets win

Kevin Durant limped out with a knee sprain as James Harden had 27 points, eight rebounds and 15 assists while Patty Mills scored 21 points as the Brooklyn Nets won 120-105 over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Pascal Siakam over-shadowed Giannis Antetokounmpo with a triple-double with 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists as the Toronto Raptors won 103-96 over the Milwaukee Bucks. Antetokounmpo scored 30 points with six rebounds and four assists.

Jayson Tatum had 23 points with 12 rebounds as the Boston Celtics won 114-112 to condemn the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls to three straight losses, while Darius Garland had 27 points and a career-high 18 assists in the Cleveland Cavaliers' comeback 107-102 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

 

Butler struggles as Heat go cold

Jimmy Butler struggled from the field, making one of 11 for his eight points as the Miami Heat's four-game winning streak was ended by the in-form Philadelphia 76ers 109-98. Joel Embiid had 32 points with 12 rebounds for the 76ers.

Stephen Curry recorded his first triple-double since the opening game of the season but the Golden State Warriors went down to the streaking Memphis Grizzlies 116-108.

Ja Morant starred for the Grizzlies with 29 points including five in the final minutes as Memphis extended its winning run to 10 games and improved to 29-14.

Morant, who also had five rebounds and eight assists, spearheaded the Grizzlies' final-quarter 29-18 rally where Tyus Jones hit back-to-back triples to give them a lead they would not surrender.

Curry had 27 points with 10 rebounds and 10 assists for the Warriors although he only shot at 38 percent from the field.

Klay Thompson contributed 14 points with three rebounds and three assists in his second game back from long-term injury as the Warriors moved to 30-10.

 

Bulls pile on the points

The Chicago Bulls had eight players reach double-digit scoring as they hammered the struggling Detroit Pistons 133-87 with DeMar DeRozan starring with 20 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.

The Los Angeles Clippers overcame a 25-point third-quarter deficit to defeat the Denver Nuggets 87-85. MVP Nikola Jokic (21 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists) had a double-double but missed a game-winning three-point attempt on the buzzer.

Chris Paul provided 12 assists to go with his 15 points and five steals as the table-topping Phoenix Suns defeated the Toronto Raptors 99-95.

 

OKC slump in five-game skid

The Oklahoma City Thunder slumped to their fifth straight loss, going down 122-118 to the Washington Wizards. The result leaves OKC with a 13-27 record in second last in the west.

Giannis Antetokounmpo registered a seventh successive 30-point game against the Brooklyn Nets as he propelled the Milwaukee Bucks to victory.

In the first meeting between these teams at the Barclays Center since last season's overtime win for the Bucks in the playoffs, Antetokounmpo stole the show on his return from a one-game illness absence.

Milwaukee lost to the Toronto Raptors without their talisman, a second straight defeat after a shock reverse to the Detroit Pistons, but the reigning NBA champions snapped that mini losing streak in style with a 121-109 triumph on Friday.

Antetokounmpo had 31 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. He went into the game having recorded 30 or more points and at least 10 rebounds in each of his previous six appearances against Brooklyn, including postseason meetings.

The Bucks were without several key players, including Jrue Holiday, and coach Mike Budenholzer due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, but they just had too much in the form of Antetokounmpo, who was ably supported by Bobby Portis, who had a double-double of 25 points and 12 rebounds.

The Nets has snapped a three-game losing streak on Wednesday by beating the Indiana Pacers, with Kyrie Irving returning.

However, Irving was not available for this home game, as he cannot play in New York state due to not being vaccinated against COVID-19.

Kevin Durant scored 29 points and James Harden added 16, but the Bucks had too much as they moved onto 26-15 for the season, though the Nets remain ahead of Milwaukee in second place in the Eastern Conference.

LaVine leads the way as Bulls roll on

The Chicago Bulls top the East and their winning run was extended to nine games thanks to a 130-122 defeat of the Washington Wizards.

Zach LaVine had a game-leading 27 points, as the Bulls ended a run of three games in which they had won by five points or fewer.

The Bulls have now matched their longest winning streak since 2010-11, when Chicago won nine in a row to finish the regular season.

James and Jokic rampant

LeBron James led the Los Angeles Lakers to their first four-game winning run of the season as he scored 32 points against the Atlanta Hawks, adding eight rebounds and nine assists in a convincing 132-118 victory.

The Lakers are now 21-19 and sixth in the Western Conference, a place ahead of the Denver Nuggets, who had reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic reach 20 points for a seventh straight game in a 121-111 win over the Sacramento Kings.

Kyrie Irving scored 22 points upon his return to the Brooklyn Nets side for the first time this season as they came from behind to beat the Indiana Pacers 129-121 and snap a three-game skid on Wednesday.

Irving had been ruled out of the entire regular season by the Nets due to his vaccination status but the franchise changed their stance a fortnight ago, permitting him to play road games.

The 29-year-old point guard played 32 minutes, making nine-of-17 from the field along with three rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Irving's return reunited the 'big three' alongside Kevin Durant (39 points, eight rebounds and seven assists) and James Harden (18 points, five rebounds and six assists).

The Pacers had led 73-60 at half-time with a biggest lead of 19 points before Brooklyn rallied with an 8-0 run to end the third quarter, before Patty Mills put them ahead with a fourth-quarter three-pointer.

Domantas Sabonis recorded a triple-double for the Pacers with 32 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

 

Popovich brings up 2,000th in style

Gregg Popovich coached the San Antonio Spurs for the 2,000th time, recording his 1,325th win in charge as they beat the Boston Celtics 97-95 with Jaylen Brown's lay-up buzzer beater rimming out. Brown scored 30 points with six rebounds, while Dejounte Murray had 22 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists for the Spurs.

Bojan Bogdanovic (36 points, 13 rebounds and four assists) won the battle of the Balkan stars against Nikola Jokic as the Utah Jazz edged the Denver Nuggets 115-109. The reigning MVP was exceptional for the Nugs with 26 points, 21 rebounds and 11 assists.

Joel Embiid scored 31 points as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Orlando Magic 116-106, while Giannis Antetokounmpo was absent with a non-COVID-related illness as the Milwaukee Bucks lost 117-111 to the Toronto Raptors with Pascal Siakam netting 33 points.

 

Curry goes cold for Warriors

Stephen Curry had an ordinary shooting night, going five-of-24 from the field and one-of-nine from beyond the arc as the Golden State Warriors lost 99-82 to the Dallas Mavericks. Curry finished with 14 points with nine rebounds while Mavs All-Star Luka Doncic had 26 points with seven rebounds and eight assists.

The Golden State Warriors stormed home with a strong final quarter led by Stephen Curry to halt the Utah Jazz's winning run with a 123-116 victory on Saturday.

The Warriors fought back from a 16-point deficit in the third quarter with a 37-25 final period, going 13 of 18 from the field.

Curry finished the game with 28 points including six three-pointers with six rebounds and nine assists, while Andrew Wiggins contributed with 25 points.

Donovan Mitchell scored 20 points with nine assists, Rudy Gobert had 20 points and 19 rebounds while Bojan Bogdanovic netted 20 points including four triples for the Jazz who had won six in a row.

The result improves the Warriors to 28-7 while the Jazz are 26-10 in the Western Conference.

 

DeRozan does it again

DeMar DeRozan became the first player to hit a game-winning buzzer beater in successive games since 1997-98 as the Chicago Bulls won 120-119 over the Washington Wizards. DeRozan finished with 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists, while Zach LaVine had 35 points for the Bulls. Bradley Beal had 27 points and 17 assists for the Wizards.

Giannis Antetokounmpo started the year with a triple-double as the Milwaukee Bucks claimed their sixth straight win, beating the New Orleans Pelicans 136-113. Antetokounmpo scored 35 points with 16 rebounds and 10 assists.

Nikola Jokic scored 34 points with 11 rebounds and Facundo Campazzo delivered 22 points and 12 assists as the Denver Nuggets won 124-111 over the Houston Rockets.

 

Nets beaten as stars shooting off

The Brooklyn Nets stars were back together but they were humbled by the depleted Los Angeles Clippers 120-116. Kevin Durant shot 11 of 24 from the field for his 28 points while James Harden went nine of 22 from the field. Harden did have 34 points with 12 rebounds and 13 assists.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic led the Denver Nuggets with a double-double as they withstood the Golden State Warriors' second-half charge to win 89-86 on Tuesday.

MVP contender Stephen Curry only managed two first-half points as the Warriors produced arguably their worst half of the season before storming back in the second half to tie the game in the fourth quarter.

Jokic, who had 22 points, 18 rebounds and five assists, made a key defensive stop on rookie Jonathan Kuminga after his own turnover at 88-86 before Andre Igoudala missed a three-point attempt on the buzzer to force over-time.

Curry's output increased dramatically in the second half to finish with 23 points including five triples, as the Warriors reeled in the Nuggets after trailing by 24 points. The Warriors' two-time MVP had six turnovers for the game.

However, Curry also reached another milestone with his 3,000 career three-point attempt made, marking 157 straight games with a triple.

Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points with eight rebounds with the Warriors without Draymond Green who entered COVID-19 protocols this week. The result means the ladder-leading Warriors fall to 27-7 while the Nuggets improve above .500 to 17-16.

 

LeBron and Russ end Lakers' skid

LeBron James and Russell Westbrook both recorded triple-doubles as the Los Angeles Lakers ended their five-game skid with a 132-123 victory over the Houston Rockets. James had 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists while Westbrook added 24 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 28 points with six rebounds and six assists in his second game since returning from COVID-19 protocols while Bobby Portis nailed five three-pointers in his 19-point haul as the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Orlando Magic 127-110.

Joel Embiid had 36 points with 11 rebounds while Tobias Harris (19 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) recorded a rare triple-double as the Philadelphia 76ers knocked off the Toronto Raptors 114-109.

 

Randle loses handle in offense

Last season's Most Improved Player Julius Randle continues to struggle to re-discover his offensive games, shooting five of 20 from the field and having only two assists in the New York Knicks' 96-88 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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.

In what had been a foregone conclusion for years, the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry officially affirmed himself as the greatest 3-point shooter in NBA history just 11 days before Christmas.

Receiving a pass from Andrew Wiggins at the right wing at Madison Square Garden on December 14, Curry quickly put up a shot from 28 feet out that swished through the net for his 2,974th career 3-pointer, surpassing Ray Allen’s mark.

Curry has revolutionised the game of basketball, and while he didn't invent the 3-point shot, he is credited with being the first one to truly exploit its value.

He broke Allen's tally in 511 fewer games – that's more than six seasons – and when the three-time NBA champion and two-time league MVP finally decides to retire, it's conceivable he could have well over 5,000 made 3s.

While Curry is the best 3-pointer shooter to ever pick up a basketball, you would never guess it by his performances on Christmas.

This will be Curry's ninth game on Christmas, and the NBA's all-time 3-point king has never made more than two 3-pointers in a game on December 25.

That's right, the man who averages 3.8 made 3-pointers a game – the best in league history – and has an NBA-best 517 games with at least three 3-pointers made, is averaging 1.3 made 3s on Christmas.

This season alone, Curry is averaging 5.4 made 3-pointers a game, which beats out the 5.3 he averaged per game last season and the 5.1 he averaged in 2015-16 and again 2018-19 for the best in a single season in NBA history. No other player has averaged more than 4.8 made 3s in a season.

He also enters this Christmas having made at least three 3-pointers in each of his last 14 games, which is tied for the eighth-longest streak in NBA history (Curry is responsible for four of the seven longer streaks). But now he takes the court on a day when all those shots that routinely go through the hoop for him clank off the rim.

In his eight prior Christmas games, Curry has made 0, 0, 2, 1, 1, 2, 2 and 2 3-pointers giving him just 10 made 3s. He's made at least 10 3-pointers in a single game 22 times in his career – 17 more than Klay Thompson, who ranks second on the list.

Just how incomprehensible is it that Curry has never hit at least three 3-pointers on Christmas? There have been 292 times in his career where he's drained at least three 3-pointers in a quarter. Since Curry's 2009-10 rookie season, the only other player with more than 150 quarters with at least three 3-pointers made is Damian Lillard with 166.

Well, perhaps he's not attempting as many 3-pointers on December 25. Nope, that's not the case, he's simply missing badly, shooting 20.4 per cent on his 49 shots from beyond the arc. Just for the sake of comparison, of the 174 players with at least 80 3-point attempts this season, Curry's 20.4 per cent would finish dead last.

His 20.4 per cent shooting from 3-point range on December 25 is his second worst for a date he's played at least three games, beating out only the 17.6 per cent he's shot in three games on December 16.

Curry is typically deadly from the wing, knocking down 43.2 per cent of his shots from there to trail only Joe Harris' 43.3 per cent shooting for the best by any player who started his career in 2003 or later with at least 500 attempts from the wing. However, on Christmas, Curry is abysmal from the wing, misfiring on 28 of his 32 attempts to connect just 12.5 per cent of the time.

Overall, on Christmas he's shooting 30.2 per cent from the floor, which is his worst for a single day with a minimum of three games played. And not only is Curry's shooting on December 25 his worst for any single day, but it's also the worst for anyone who's played on Christmas since 1983 with a minimum of 50 attempts.

Not surprising given his shooting struggles, Curry is averaging 13.1 points on Christmas – 11.2 fewer than his career average – which, again, marks his lowest scoring average for any day in which he's played in at least three games.

It's just about unfathomable for someone with a 24.3-scoring average and 540 career 20-point games, but he has never scored more than 19 points on his eight Christmas Day games. There is only one other date Curry has played more than one game and failed to score 20 points and that is February 16 – and he's had six fewer opportunities, playing just twice on that day.

Part of Curry's Christmas shooting woes could stem from the competition he's facing. The NBA constructs a doozy of a schedule on Christmas Day, pitting the best teams up against one another with one marquee matchup followed by another. So, Curry's Warriors often find themselves in a playoff rematch or a date with another formidable foe.

And while he's struggled mightily on his Christmas Day matchups, Curry has often faced those same teams at other points in the same season and not had the same problems, averaging 20.3 points, on 48.9 per cent shooting from the field and 47.4 per cent from 3-point range.

Just last Christmas, Curry finished with 19 points on 6-of-17 shooting – including 2-of-10 on 3-pointers – in Golden State's 138-99 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. He got a measure of revenge in a rematch with the eventual champion Bucks later in April, exploding for 41 points while shooting 66.7 per cent and making half of his 10 3-point attempts in a one-point victory.

This Christmas, Curry and the Warriors face another huge challenge with a visit to the Phoenix Suns in a showdown between the teams with the league's best two records.

But if his last trip to the desert was any indication, Curry could be in for another long night. Just over three weeks ago on November 30, Curry had his worst shooting performance of the season, going 4-of-21 from the floor (19.0 per cent) and 3-of-14 (21.4 per cent) from beyond the arc for 12 points in a 104-96 loss at Phoenix.

Three days later against the same Suns team, Curry was a bit better, shooting 40 per cent on 20 field goal attempts and going 6-of-11 from the perimeter with 23 points in a 22-point win.

This time, though, he certainly seems poised to exorcise the ghost of Christmas past. He arrives back in Arizona coming off a 46-point performance while draining eight 3s in Thursday's win over the Memphis Grizzlies for his third straight game scoring at least 30 points – the first time this season he's accomplished that.

For the greatest 3-point shooter of all time, it seems that Curry can't possibly have another clunker on Christmas. He's too good to have been in such a funk and it doesn't seem to make sense he would struggle so much on one particular day – unless of course, he doesn't believe in Santa Claus.

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