Joel Embiid and James Harden scored a combined 56 points as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Dallas Mavericks 111-101 on Friday.

Going 11-for-20 from the floor, Embiid scored 21 of his 32 points in the first half, including a fadeaway three on the buzzer to give the Sixers a 58-53 lead at the interval.

Luka Doncic put up a double-double of 17 points and 10 assists but was held to 25 per cent from the floor and 20 per cent from the perimeter, in a poor shooting night.

At 43-26, the Sixers are now three games behind the Miami Heat, the Eastern Conference leaders, while the Mavericks are fifth in the Western Conference at 43-27.

Westbrook lifts Lakers to overtime win in Toronto

Russell Westbrook's three-pointer at the end of regulation propelled the Los Angeles Lakers to a 128-123 road win over the Toronto Raptors in overtime.

With 10.3 seconds remaining, the much-maligned Westbrook forced a turnover off a Raptors inbound before draining a contested triple from the wing, to tie the game at 116-116.

Both sides remain firmly placed in play-in calculations, though, with the Lakers ninth in the Western Conference at 30-40, while the Raptors are seventh in the East on 39-31.

Short-handed Hawks snap Memphis win streak

Without their two scoring leaders, the Atlanta Hawks secured an important win at home to the Memphis Grizzlies, emerging 120-105 victors.

In John Collins and Trae Young's absence, Bogdan Bogdanovic came up big with a season-high 30 points, while Delon Wright and Clint Capela also added 18 each.

Despite 29 points from Ja Morant on 11-for-23 shooting, the Grizzlies had a four-game win streak snapped, but still hold the NBA's second best record at 48-23.

Kevin Durant returned from injury with 31 points but the Brooklyn Nets' struggles continued with a 113-107 defeat to the Miami Heat.

Durant had missed the past 21 games due to an MCL sprain sustained on January 16, with the Nets going 5-16 in his absence, and they led by 16 points in the first half upon his return, but could not sustain it.

The 2014 NBA MVP had a three-point attempt with 57 seconds left which would have put the Nets in the lead but he missed and the Heat scored from the ensuing possession via Bam Adebayo.

Adebayo finished the game with 30 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, while Tyler Herro came off the bench to contribute 27 points, four rebounds and eight assists.

Durant shot 10-of-21 from the field for his 31 points, including two three-pointers, with four rebounds and four assists.

The result leaves the Nets at 32-32 with a .500 record, while the Heat are top of the Eastern Conference with a 42-22 record.

 

Tatum leads Celtics final-quarter charge

The Boston Celtics continued their strong form as Jayson Tatum scored 21 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter in a 120-107 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. Ja Morant maintained his own hot streak, with 38 points, four rebounds and seven assists.

Luka Doncic produced a dominant display with 41 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists as the Dallas Mavericks beat the Golden State Warriors for the second time in five days, 122-113. Stephen Curry managed 21 points with nine assists for the Warriors who have lost seven of their past 10 games.

The Chicago Bulls suffered their third straight defeat with Trae Young scored 39 points with 13 assists as the Atlanta Hawks won 130-124.

 

Struggling Lakers beaten by Clippers

The Los Angeles Lakers slumped to their fourth consecutive loss going down to the Los Angeles Clippers 132-111 after being blown apart in a 40-18 third quarter. LeBron James shot eight-of-18 from the field for his 26 points with four turnovers, while Reggie Jackson scored 36 points for the Clippers.

The short-handed Brooklyn Nets slumped to their 13th defeat from their past 15 games as Jayson Tatum led the Boston Celtics to a 129-106 victory on Thursday.

Tatum scored 30 points including four three-pointers along with seven rebounds and four assists for the Celtics who have won 10 of their past 11 games.

The Celtics' hot form is in contrast to the Nets, who have slumped to a 31-29 record in the absence of the injured Kevin Durant, unavailable Kyrie Irving and unfit Ben Simmons.

Boston led from start to finish, opening up a 35-22 quarter-time lead, with good support from big men Robert Williams III (12 points and 11 rebounds) and Al Horford (11 points and 13 rebounds).

Seth Curry top scored for the Nets with 22 points but only made two-of-seven from beyond the arc, while Patty Mills struggled with one point from 28 minutes, shooting none-of-nine from the field.

 

Morant hurt in tight loss

Ja Morant airballed a game-tying three-point attempt in the dying seconds and had a third-quarter injury scare as the Memphis Grizzlies lost 119-114 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Morant finished with 20 points and eight rebounds but seemed to pick up a leg injury on a drive which impacted his final quarter. D'Angelo Russell scored 23 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter for the Timberwolves.

The ladder-leading Phoenix Suns had no issues without Chris Paul as they extended their winning streak to eight games with a 124-104 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Devin Booker scored 25 points with five rebounds, 12 assists and a career-high six steals.

Stephen Curry was benched late after 18 points and 14 assists as the Golden State Warriors won 132-95 over the Portland Trail Blazers, while Nikola Jokic had 25 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in the Denver Nuggets' 128-110 triumph over the Sacramento Kings.

 

Trae wayward in Hawks loss

Trae Young struggled as the Atlanta Hawks went down 112-108 to the Chicago Bulls. The Hawks guard made three-of-17 from the field in his 14 points for the game. For the Bulls, who have won six in a row, in-form DeMar DeRozan scored 37 points while Zach LaVine returned from injury with 20 points.

Jayson Tatum scored 38 points including four triples as the Boston Celtics clinched their eighth consecutive victory beating the Atlanta Hawks 105-95 on Sunday.

Tatum led the Celtics' third-quarter charge as they piled on 42-23 to open up the game after trailing by 12 points early in the period.

The Celtics small forward had 10 rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocks to go with his 38 points, while Jaylen Brown added 17 points and nine rebounds.

Trae Young starred for the Hawks, who never gave in, scoring 30 points with four rebounds and 10 assists.

Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 26 points off the bench for the Hawks who reached last year's Conference Finals but are 26-30 this season.

 

Edwards shines as Timberwolves win

Former NBA Draft first pick Anthony Edwards dominated with 37 points to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves to a 129-120 win over the Indiana Pacers.

Edwards' haul included seven three-pointers along with five rebounds and four assists, overshadowing Karl-Anthony Towns (15 points, 13 rebounds, three assists).

The Timberwolves shot at 52.9 per cent from beyond the arc, making 18 triples for the game.

The Pacers, who were busy late in the trade period, were soundly beaten but new acquisition Tyrese Haliburton was impressive with 22 points, five rebounds and 16 assists. Oshae Brissett also had 22 points with 13 rebounds.

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.

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.

James Harden scored 39 points in his second game since coming out of the NBA's COVID-19 protocols to inspire the Brooklyn Nets past the Los Angeles Clippers 124-108.

Harden returned with 36 points and a triple-double in the Nets' 122-155 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas Day and backed that up against the depleted Clippers, who were without star duo Paul George (elbow) and Kawhi Leonard (ACL).

The 2018 NBA MVP was in a dominant mood, with Kevin Durant absent in protocols, shooting 15 of 25 from the field and providing 15 assists, as well as having eight rebounds and two steals.

Patty Mills and Nicolas Claxton both contributed 18 points for the Nets, while the latter had three blocks. Marcus Morris Sr was the Clippers' best with 24 points, five rebounds and six assists.

 

Bulls duo combine for Hawks defeat

Trae Young returned from COVID protocols with 29 points and nine assists but it was not enough as the Atlanta Hawks lost 130-118 to the Chicago Bulls who had Zach LaVine (30 points, four rebounds, nine assists) and DeMar DeRozan (35 points, five rebounds, 10 assists) impress. LaVine and DeRozan became the first team-mates each with 20 points and five assists in a half over the last 25 seasons.

Ja Morant drained a last-gasp clutch shot to earn the Memphis Grizzlies a thrilling 114-113 win over the Phoenix Suns, who were missing center Deandre Ayton and head coach Monty Williams after entering protocols. Desmond Bane had a career-high 32 points and Morant finished with 33, grabbing the win after Devin Booker (30 points) had put the Suns ahead with five seconds left with a three-pointer.

The Utah Jazz extended their win streak to four games, even without injured Donovan Mitchell, as they defeated the San Antonio Spurs 110-104 with Jordan Clarkson (23 points, eight rebounds, five assists) starring off the bench.

 

In-form Celtic misses the mark

Jaylen Brown has been in hot point-scoring form lately but his shooting was down at 33.3 percent as the Boston Celtics – without Jayson Tatum who has entered COVID protocols - lost 108-103 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Brown scored 26 points but made only two of eight from beyond the arc.

Stephen Curry moved within two three-pointers of breaking Ray Allen's all-time NBA record as the Golden State Warriors edged the Indiana Pacers 102-100 on Monday.

Curry finished the game with 26 points including five triples to close in on Allen's record of 2,973 three-point attempts made. The two-time MVP will look to break the mark on Tuesday against the New York Knicks.

Domantas Sabonis scored 30 points with 11 rebounds for the Pacers, who led late before Curry, who shot at 33 percent from beyond the arc, hit his fifth three-point attempt to narrow the margin.

Curry had another attempt from beyond the arc rim out, with Kevin Looney's putback giving Golden State the lead with 13.4 seconds left.

Gary Payton II's defense on Caris LeVert forced a late turnover to seal the win for the Warriors who improve to 22-5, ahead of Curry's next attempt at breaking the record in New York.

 

Tatum downs depleted Bucks

Jayson Tatum hit seven three-pointers as he finished with 42 points in the Boston Celtics' 117-103 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. The reigning champions lost Khris Middleton to a left knee hyper-extension in the third quarter, while Giannis Antetokounmpo was kept relatively quiet with 20 points, eight rebounds and three assists.

The Philadelphia 76ers missed Joel Embiid who was out with rib soreness, going down 126-91 to the Memphis Grizzlies, while reigning MVP Nikola Jokic led the Denver Nuggets past the Washington Wizards 113-107 with 28 points, 19 rebounds and nine assists.

Trae Young scored 41 points with nine assists but it could not prevent the Atlanta Hawks from losing 132-126 to the resurgent Houston Rockets. Eric Gordon netted 32 points for Houston who came from 19 points down with a 38-21 fourth quarter.

 

CP3 struggles as Suns stumble

Chris Paul could not find his stride against his former franchise, struggling for nine points shooting at under 30 percent with eight assists in the Phoenix Suns' 111-95 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Suns, who are 21-5, were without Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker.

Darius Garland missed a buzzer-beating winner as the Utah Jazz extended their winning streak to four games with a thrilling 109-108 NBA victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday.

Garland's potential game-winner from three-point range hit the rim, with both Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley unable to tip in the rebound with 2.9 seconds remaining.

Donovan Mitchell starred for the in-form Jazz, who improved to 16-7 for the season, posting 35 points – including four three-pointers – and six assists.

It was All-Star Mitchell's third consecutive game with 30 or more points for the Jazz, who are hot on the heels of the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference.

Utah had led by 15 points at one stage but needed a Mike Conley three-pointer followed by a Rudy Gobert dunk (six points and 20 rebounds) to re-claim the advantage late in the game before Garland had the chance to snatch victory on the buzzer.

The result saw Cleveland's winning streak stopped at four games, despite Garland's 31-point display.

 

Bridges' Hornets edge Hawks, Rockets soar

The Charlotte Hornets overcame the absence of LaMelo Ball (COVID protocols) to win 130-127 against the Atlanta Hawks, despite Trae Young's exceptional 25 points and 15 assists. Miles Bridges scored 32 points with four assists and three steals for the Hornets. He has six 30-point games this season having only managed three in his first three campaigns combined. Bridges is averaging 20.4 points and 7.3 rebounds – one of only 14 players to be averaging 20/7 this term.

Brandon Ingram put up 40 points, but it was not enough for the New Orleans Pelicans, who went down 118-108 to the streaking Houston Rockets. Houston have won six consecutive games to improve to 6-16.

 

Beal silenced by Raptors

Bradley Beal was shut down, managing just 14 points as the Washington Wizards lost to the Toronto Raptors 102-90. Beal went four of 12 from the field. It was the third game in a row that Beal has scored less than 20 points.

Music echoes through State Farm Arena and the crowd cheers as Trae Young dribbles the ball up the court for the Atlanta Hawks.

Like so many possessions in the NBA, the action begins with a team-mate – in this case, John Collins or Clint Capela – screening the on-ball defender, the man guarding Young.

Young is a good three-point shooter, so his defender must go over the screen. Young has seen this kind of defence countless times before and immediately dashes towards the hoop on the opposite side of the screener of his defender.

This leaves Young’s man mostly behind him, sprinting to get back into a better guarding position. Feeling his advantage, Young stops suddenly – or even pounces backward a bit – creating contact with his defender and launching a shot while flailing his limbs to exaggerate the contact.

Only, this season, NBA officials aren’t blowing the whistle.

The league placed an emphasis this offseason on reducing “overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves” that are employed specifically used to draw fouls, commonly known as foul-baiting.

While drawing fouls has always been a skill in basketball, the NBA felt that certain players were warping their movements in unnatural ways to get to the free-throw line and making the game less enjoyable to watch for most fans.

The changes have been dramatic league-wide, with teams averaging 19.6 free throw attempts per game, on pace to be the lowest in league history. Each team is committing just 18.8 fouls per game, on pace to be an all-time low.

And while free throw attempts have been down in the last decade due to the three-point shooting boom, an NBA game this season averages 4.4 fewer free throw attempts than one last season.

Young, fairly or not, has become the poster child for foul-baiting and has struggled to adjust early in the 2021-22 season. In an October 30 press conference, Young said he thinks the rule changes have gone too far.

“I don’t want to get fined too much, but this is frustrating,” Young said after a loss.

“When guys are driving straight and getting knocked off balance, it’s still a foul. There are a lot of things that they took out that were necessary – veering back and jumping into guys – that’s different. There’s certain things I agree with in the rule changes and there are things that are still fouls.

“Guys are going to get hurt, especially a little guy like me who is going up against bigger and stronger defenders.”

This season, Young is getting to the line 3.1 fewer times per game, on average, compared to last season. The fourth-year guard has kept his scoring average steady, though, by shooting career highs from the field and from three-point range.

Other stars have fared not quite as well.

Among qualified players, Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazer has seen his opportunities at the line drop the most in the NBA, a reduction of 3.8 attempts per game. Lillard has struggled in general this season, with his scoring average down more than eight points and with career-low shooting efficiency.

The Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal has lost 3.7 free throw attempts from last season, the second most in the league, and has also seen his scoring drop eight points per game.

Only five of the league’s 30 teams have increased the number of free throw attempts per game over last season, led by the Chicago Bulls, who appear to be thriving under current rules with a new roster.

The Bulls are shooting an average of 2.5 more free throws per game than last season, thanks largely to the red-hot start of DeMar DeRozan, whose 7.9 free throw attempts per game are his highest since 2016-17 (8.7).

The Bulls as a whole rank eighth in the league in scoring defence this season, allowing 103.3 points per game after giving up 111.6 per game last season.

Largest improvement in points per game allowed Rank Team 2020-21 2021-22 Diff 1 Washington Wizards 118.5 103.0 -15.5 2 Denver Nuggets 110.1 98.9 -11.2 3 Golden State Warriors 112.7 101.6 -11.1 4 Cleveland Cavaliers 112.3 101.6 -10.7 5 Minnesota Timberwolves 117.7 107.4 -10.3 6 Brooklyn Nets 114.1 104.1 -10.0 7 Oklahoma City Thunder 115.6 105.9 -9.7 8 Indiana Pacers 115.3 106.8 -8.5 9 Chicago Bulls 111.6 103.3 -8.3 10 Sacramento Kings 117.4 110.5 -6.9

Teams are scoring 5.3 fewer points per game compared to 2020-21, and some of the league’s more defensive-minded players are finally feeling like they have a fair chance.

When asked about the officiating changes, Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green couldn’t help but express his elation.

"Can I say how satisfying it is to watch the game without all those terrible calls? Guys cheating the game and grabbing guys and getting the foul," said the six-time All-Defensive Team honoree and 2016-17 Defensive Player of the Year.

"I've been really enjoying watching basketball this year. I kind of had stopped watching the NBA a bit because it was just too flailing and flopping and guys cheating the game and getting free throws. So I think that's been great."

Former center and current ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins, who built a 14-season NBA career as a defensive enforcer, has been among the media personalities who are most supportive of a more physical league.

“I love the rule change. I think it’s great for basketball. Now the older generation doesn’t have a reason to call us soft – the league is getting back to that point,” Perkins said on ESPN’s NBA Today.

“I’m a huge fan of Trae Young, but some of the calls are just not fouls, and he’s just going to have to fight through.”

Some players may already be adjusting to a different style of basketball, including infamous flailer James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets. Through his first 12 games of the season, Harden was averaging just 18.2 points and attempting 4.7 free throws per game.

Over his last four games, however, Harden is scoring a more typical 26.5 points per game and getting to the line an average of 10.8 times.

As the league starts to adjust, some in NBA circles are sceptical that scoring numbers will remain suppressed.

Memphis Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins has commented that the league’s dip in scoring could be attributed to players “trying to find rhythm and chemistry” and added that over the course of 82 games, the scoring totals “will definitely change league-wide.”

While players may adjust, the NBA appears adamant about keeping the emphasis in place as-is. In fact, teams are averaging even fewer free throw attempts in November than they did in October.

One unintended consequence of the change could be less willingness to drive into traffic, leading to more three-point attempts. While teams are launching an all-time high 35.7 attempts from deep per game, that trend has long been established, with the league breaking the record for three-point attempts per game in 10 straight seasons.

Whether it’s with deep shooting or another tactic, offences are sure to counter with new ways to find good shots.

"The league is an efficient market and is going to make adjustments," said Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. "As offences boom, you figure out new ways to defend. It's a constant ping-pong game between both ends of the floor."

The Golden State Warriors had their seven-game winning streak ended by the Charlotte Hornets, who prevailed 106-102 in the NBA on Sunday.

Boasting the league's best record, Golden State (11-2) were upstaged in Charlotte, where Miles Bridges and Terry Rozier helped take down the high-flying Warriors.

Rozier made two key free throws down the stretch while outleaping Draymond Green on a late jump ball as he finished with 20 points – all in the second half – and Bridges had 22 of his own for the Hornets (8-7).

In his annual homecoming to Charlotte, Warriors superstar Stephen Curry put up 24 points and 10 assists, while team-mate Andrew Wiggins scored 28.

 

The Los Angeles Clippers also had their seven-game streak snapped after falling 100-90 the rampaging Chicago Bulls.

DeMar DeRozan maintained his MVP-calibre play with 35 points and Zach LaVine added 29 to top the Clippers on the road, where Paul George's double-double (27 points and 11 rebounds) was not enough.

 

Hawks soar thanks to Trae

Trae Young's season-best 42 points fuelled the Atlanta Hawks to a 120-100 win over reigning champions the Milwaukee Bucks. Young also had 10 assists, eight three-pointers and eight rebounds as Atlanta ended their six-game skid. In NBA history, only James Harden (three times), George, Russell Westbrook and Young have managed a performance of 40-plus points, 10-plus assists, eight-plus rebounds and eight-plus threes. Giannis Antetokounmpo returned for the stuttering Bucks, registering 26 points, six assists and five rebounds.

Patty Mills was red hot as the Brooklyn Nets routed the Oklahoma City Thunder 120-96. Mills made nine of his 12 three-pointers for 29 points. He broke the record for the most threes off the bench in franchise history. Kevin Durant top-scored with 33 points as Harden had 16 points and 13 assists.

The Los Angeles Lakers outlasted the San Antonio Spurs 114-106 behind double-doubles from Anthony Davis (34 points and 15 rebounds) and Westbrook (14 points and 11 rebounds).

 

Blazers routed in Denver

Playing without star Damian Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers were put to the sword by Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets 124-95. Portland had no answer for Jokic, who narrowly fell short of a triple-double after posting 28 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

Less than five months have passed since the Milwaukee Bucks faced the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Bucks advanced in six games and went on to win the NBA title, but the Hawks' surprise run meant the 2020-21 season was one both teams could reflect fondly on.

However, the early indications are 2021-22 will not be counted in the same category.

While there is a long way left to go in this campaign, the two teams enter Sunday's first regular-season meeting both below the playoff line. The Bucks are 6-7, while the Hawks have regressed significantly to 4-9.

Milwaukee can at least point to personnel issues. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday – their three main men – have so far shared just 21 minutes on the court.

Antetokounmpo is on course for an unprecedented fourth straight season averaging 25.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game but sat out of Friday's defeat to the Boston Celtics after spraining his ankle.

"He's kind of tested it a little bit twice today and he's just not able to go," coach Mike Budenholzer said before that game. "I know he'll get treatment, he'll probably get a lift, he'll do everything he can to get back as soon as possible."

Those words do not indicate an immediate return, even if he was originally listed as "probable" to play. Middleton has been out due to coronavirus but may return against the Hawks.

These mitigating factors are not available to Atlanta. They have named the five-man lineup that started their playoff run – prior to De'Andre Hunter's knee injury – on 11 occasions.

The Hawks should look to make the most of playing the short-handed champions and get their season back on track.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Atlanta Hawks – Trae Young

Young will not be short of motivation for this one. He scored 48 points in Game 1 against the Bucks, almost single-handedly winning the series opener as he attempted 34 field goals – the third-most by any player in a single game in the 2020-21 postseason – as well as contributing 11 assists.

But a combination of form and fitness then deserted the breakout star of the playoffs. He had just 15 points in Game 2, before rebounding with 35 in Game 3, only to suffer a foot injury that kept him out of the next two. Young returned with 23.5 per cent field goal shooting in Game 6 as Milwaukee sealed the series.

Atlanta's reliance on Young to both score and create became a real issue when he was faced with elite defense, forcing nine turnovers in Game 2 alone. He has a point to prove now.

Milwaukee Bucks – Jrue Holiday

The source of that elite defense was Holiday, who had scored 33 points in Game 1 but allowed Young too much space on the other side of the ball. The Bucks point guard quickly addressed that issue.

Holiday teamed up with Brook Lopez to effectively shut down Young, striking the right balance between aggressive defense and keeping a dangerous opponent away from the foul line; he attempted 12 free throws in Game 1 alone but only returned to the line 16 more times in the whole series.

An excellent display in Game 6 saw Holiday contribute 27 points, nine assists, nine rebounds, four steals and two blocks, offset only slightly by six turnovers. It is this sort of performance that will be required on Sunday. With Antetokounmpo and Middleton doubts, Holiday will have to drive Milwaukee on offense while being careful not to give Young free rein at the other end.

KEY BATTLE – Could Capela dominate?

It is not only the big names that have been missing for the Bucks, but also the big men. Lopez has not featured since the opening night of the season due to a back issue, while the absence of Antetokounmpo, who can play the five, deals a further blow to Milwaukee's depth.

Bobby Portis is set to line up against Clint Capela, who will expect to dominate his opponent on the boards, with 11.2 rebounds per game this year – a mark only Antetokounmpo on the Bucks' roster can top.

Capela has already been key for Atlanta in limiting the damage during their poor run. The Hawks's 110.1 defensive rating is the third-worst in the league, but that improves to 108.7 with Capela on the floor, by far the best rating of the team's regular starters.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Hawks might have taken the Bucks to six games in the playoffs, but this has been a series Milwaukee have dominated. Including that 4-2 Eastern Conference Finals victory, they are 16-4 in the teams' past 20 meetings. Atlanta won the opening playoff game by three but then lost four of the following five by double digits.

The Bucks have a 114-112 edge all-time in the regular season.

Trae Young believes James Harden is merely one of "a couple of guys" being targeted by an NBA rule change that is seeing fewer fouls awarded.

More lax officiating early in the 2021-22 season has frustrated Brooklyn Nets superstar Harden, who has said he "for sure" feels like "the poster boy" for what the league described as "an interpretive change in the officiating of overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves by offensive players with the ball in an effort to draw fouls".

Harden has averaged 8.7 free throw attempts per game for his career. This includes more than 10.0 in seven separate seasons and six straight before last year. Only Wilt Chamberlain (11) and Shaquille O'Neal (10) have averaged double-figures for free throws in more seasons.

Since arriving in the NBA in 2009, no player comes within 1,000 of Harden's 7,674 total free throw attempts.

This year, though, following the rule change, Harden has visited the foul line just 15 times through five games – an average of 3.0 even lower than his rookie year.

"Sometimes I feel like coming into a game it's already predetermined," he said. "I already have that stigma of getting foul calls."

But Harden is not alone. Atlanta Hawks point guard Young has averaged 4.4 free throws per game this year, down from 8.7 in 2020-21 when his 546 for the year trailed only Giannis Antetokounmpo (581) and Joel Embiid (548).

And Young was keen to address the issue after taking only three shots from the foul line in Thursday's defeat to the Washington Wizards, in which he scored a season-low 15 points.

"It's not necessarily about stuff not going our way," he said. "It's simple basketball. Fouls should be fouls.

"The foul they gave me at the end of the game, I thought that was BS – they just gave it to me – but there's a lot of calls they missed.

"It's basketball. It feels like they're learning, and it's... I don't know. It's frustrating."

Young said he would have to "figure it out", but he indicated others are in the same boat as he and Harden.

Damian Lillard is down to 4.5 free throw attempts and 17.8 points per game, while Devin Booker has only had 3.5 free throw attempts and a slight slump to 21.5 points.

"I don't want to get fined too much, but this is frustrating," Young said. "I saw James said it's about him, but it's not targeted at one player. There's a couple of guys where you feel like refs are holding their whistle.

"You watch basketball. Damian Lillard's never averaged 17 points probably since his rookie year. There's a couple of guys. Book's averaging 18.

"There are a lot of things where guys are driving straight, they're getting knocked off balance, it's still a foul.

"There were a lot of things they took out that were necessary – veering back and jumping into guys – that's different. There are certain things that I agree with the rule changes, but then there's things that are still fouls.

"Guys are going to get hurt, and that's why, especially a smaller guy like me, who's going up against bigger and stronger defenders, they're using their body and they're using their legs and their hands to stop me.

"I know they're looking for a guy getting knocked off balance. So, if I'm going straight and I get my balance knocked off, that's a foul. If they slow down my speed, that's a foul.

"I know the rules, so the ref can't come to me and tell me what happened and what didn't if I know exactly what they're looking for."

Stephen Curry scored 45 points including two clutch three-pointers down the stretch as the Golden State Warriors won 115-113 over the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday.

Curry, who hit an equal career-high 25 points in the first quarter, was central to the Warriors win, which follows their opening night victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

After a wayward shooting display against Lakers that Curry described as "trash", the point guard nailed his first 10 field goal attempts for the game, finishing 16-from-25 including eight-from-13 from beyond the arc.

Curry also had 10 rebounds for the game, supported well by Andrew Wiggins with 17 points and six rebounds. Draymond Green battled throughout but had 10 points, six rebounds and seven assists.

The Warriors led by as much as 19 points but the Clippers clawed it back to a one-point game by half-time with Paul George excelling with 29 points along with 11 rebounds and six assists.

The game came down to the final minutes, with the Clippers leading by two points with less than two-and-a-half minutes to go after Marcus Morris Sr's three-pointer before Curry responded with two of his own.

 

Heat blow away Bucks

Reigning champions the Milwaukee Bucks were humbled 137-95 by the Miami Heat in Kyle Lowry's debut for his new team, although he only managed five points and six assists as he laboured with an ankle issue.

The Heat blew the Bucks apart early, opening up a 22-3 lead, with Tyler Herro top scoring with 27 points including a first-quarter buzzer beater from range after Max Strus' block.

Giannis Antetokounmpo top scored for the Bucks, who were without Jrue Holiday, with 15 points and 10 rebounds, shooting at 36.4 per cent from the field. Bucks forward Khris Middleton shot only four-from-14 from the field.

 

Young leads Hawks over Doncic's Mavs

Trae Young got the better of Luka Doncic as the Atlanta Hawks won 113-87 over the Dallas Mavericks.

Young finished the game with 19 points and 14 assists, which was the most by a Hawks player in a season opener since Mookie Blaylock in 1993. Clint Capela was excellent in the paint with 12 points and 13 rebounds, while Cam Reddish top scored off the bench with 20 points.

Doncic had his radar off, shooting six-from-17 for 18 points, along with 11 rebounds and seven assists. The Slovenian also gave up five turnovers.

Trae Young knew he had to at least try and play in the game that could - and would - end the Atlanta Hawks' season. 

After missing the previous two games with a bone bruise on his right heel, the Hawks' star returned for Game 6 but was not his usual self in a 118-107 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Though the 22-year-old star obviously was not at full strength, he knew there was no way he could stomach sitting out again. 

"I didn't want to have any regrets after tonight," Young told reporters. "I didn't want to go not play and think to myself all offseason if I could have been out there and played if I could have helped my team at all in any way, it would have hurt me.

"So just go out and just play and at least leave it all out there on the floor. That's all I could do."

Young managed to play 35 minutes but made just four of 17 shots from the field and finished with 14 points - less than half his 29.8 playoff average entering the game. 

Despite his physical limitations, he had to at least try to play, but he acknowledged after the game that the injury affected his form. 

"You know me, I don't use injury as an excuse," Young said. "For me, my bruise is on my heel, so like all my pushing off my right foot, there's not anything that could really damage it worse, but it was more pain tolerance and just fighting through the pain.

"When I was running, I knew it wasn't going to get worse, but I could feel -- you know what I'm saying? You could feel pain in it. That's all it was."

To Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan, the fact that Young insisted on playing in Game 6 despite having no practice time since his injury said it all about his young star's mind-set. 

"The message was no regrets," McMillan said. "We don't want no regrets after this game tonight, and we leave everything we have out on the floor, and that's what I saw from Trae.

"The fact that he hasn't done anything on the floor since the injury, this was the first time that he has done anything live on the floor, so he was gassed."

That was evident as the game wore on, but Young has no doubt the unexpected run the Hawks made through the playoffs will serve them well in the future. 

"We've got the talent, and we've got guys that you see we can do it, and you see the flashes that we can do it," Young said. "It's just, it's hard. This s*** is hard. It's not easy.

"They've been here multiple times before and haven't been able to take that next step, and I think for us being able to go through this for a first time early, I mean, it's really good for us. I think it will only help us."

Page 2 of 5
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.