NBA

LeBron's Lakers extend record after taking down Giannis and Bucks, Curry's 30 not enough

By Sports Desk January 22, 2021

The Los Angeles Lakers stayed perfect on the road after beating the Milwaukee Bucks 113-106 in the NBA on Thursday.

LeBron James posted a season-high 34 points as defending champions the Lakers extended a franchise record after winning their eighth consecutive away game to start the season.

James also tallied eight assists and six rebounds to help the Lakers – 8-0 on the road – bounce back from a loss in the first of a seven-game road trip, upstaging reigning two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in the process.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 23 points for the Western Conference-leading Lakers (12-4) in Milwaukee, where the Bucks (9-6) dropped back-to-back games.

Antetokounmpo's double-double of 25 points and 12 rebounds were not enough for the Bucks, who also had solid contributions from Jrue Holiday (22 points) and Khris Middleton (20 points).

 

Curry stars

Stephen Curry put up 30 points, but the Golden State Warriors still went down 119-104 at home to the New York Knicks. The two-time MVP moved into fourth place on the franchise's all-time games played list after making his 714th regular-season appearance, surpassing Paul Arizin. RJ Barrett's 28 points for the Knicks were a career high.

Golden State's Eric Paschall scored his 1,000th career point in his 74th game, reaching the 1,000-point mark in the fewest amount of games played by a Warriors second round draft pick in the Modern Draft era (since 1966). Previously, Gilbert Arenas did so in 79 games.

Donovan Mitchell's season-high 36 points fuelled the Utah Jazz's 129-118 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Mitchell was 11-of-19 shooting from the field, while he made six of eight three-point attempts. The Jazz have won seven straight games.

 

Schroder struggles in Milwaukee

Dennis Schroder failed to get going for the Lakers. The offseason recruit was just two of 10 from the field, while missing all three of his attempts from beyond the arc for four points in 33 minutes.

Kelly Oubre Jr. did not perform much better for the beaten Warriors. His seven points were on two-of-11 shooting from the field at home to the Knicks. Oubre also missed all four of his three-point attempts.

 

Steph with the behind-the-back pass

While the Warriors were unable to claim the win, Curry produced a couple of highlight moments. His behind-the-back pass to set up Draymond Green for the three-pointer was the pick of the bunch.

 

Thursday's results

Los Angeles Lakers 113-106 Milwaukee Bucks
Utah Jazz 129-118 New Orleans Pelicans
New York Knicks 119-104 Golden State Warriors

 

Celtics at 76ers

The Boston Celtics (8-5) and Eastern Conference rivals the Philadelphia 76ers (10-5) will do battle again at Wells Fargo Center on Friday after Joel Embiid's 42-point double-double inspired Doc Rivers' team midweek.

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    Pep Guardiola is relishing the competition for places at Manchester City that means "unique" Kevin De Bruyne may no longer be an automatic selection. 

    De Bruyne made his return from a month-long hamstring injury lay-off as a late substitute against Everton last week and started the 1-0 win against Arsenal four days later.

    However, the reigning PFA Players' Player of the Year was an unused substitute for City's trip Borussia Monchengladbach in midweek, despite Guardiola confirming the playmaker was fully fit.

    City won that Champions League last-16 first leg 2-0 through a Bernardo Silva header and Gabriel Jesus' strike, having also won all five-top-flight games De Bruyne missed during his time on the sidelines, scoring 15 times and conceding just once.

    And with Bernardo continuing to excel in City's midfield three alongside Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri, Guardiola has reiterated De Bruyne is no longer indispensable.

    "They are quite similar but Kevin gives us something Bernardo doesn't give and vice versa," Guardiola said. "Every player has his own skills but they do it for the benefit of the team. That's why they are so stable.

    "It's good for us, this competition between themselves. It was the same for [Kyle] Walker in the last game - because he knows Joao [Cancelo] is playing so good. It's the only way to maintain consistency. 

    "Every three days there's a game and there's a competition among them. Our transitions with Kevin are much better - he is unique in the world. Without Kevin maybe we are more calm and have more time to pause, but it's not that we want one way or the other, it's the quality of the players we have."

    De Bruyne's 10 assists in the Premier League this term are bettered only by Harry Kane's 11, the Tottenham striker having played three games more, while only Mason Mount (62), Bruno Fernandes (71) and Jack Grealish (75) can better his 58 chances created.

    Bernardo may lag some way behind De Bruyne in both categories - assisting three goals and laying on 16 opportunities for team-mates - but Guardiola believes the Portuguese brings other qualities to the side.

    City dominated possession away to Gladbach with 61 per cent of the ball and the manager said: "Sometimes you need more passes and Bernardo has that quality when he receives the ball.

    "With opponents behind him, he can make two or four touches then give it. Kevin is a different player, more of a free mind, more explosion, and we need it.  He sees something that other ones cannot see and he provides passes others can't see. Sometimes I need him to be more behind, Bernardo up front. 

    "It depends on the opponent. Sometimes the striker jumps, it depends on our movement, it depends on every game."

    City are looking to make it 20 wins in a row in all competitions when they take on West Ham at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, a run that includes 13 successive victories in the top flight. Only on five previous occasions has a side won 14 or more on the spin.

    Guardiola jokingly said earlier this week that money was the most important factor behind his side's incredible winning streak, which has them on course for a clean sweep of silverware.

    But while the Catalan coach is thankful to have been financially backed by the club's wealthy owners, he insists there is more to his project at City than simply spending big sums of money, with others doing likewise during his time in England.

    "I'm proud for the fact that [after] one team wins the Premier League they struggle a lot but we won back-to-back," he said. "Last season we could not fight against Liverpool - it was incredible. We were second but today, this season, again we are there - this is what I'm proud of most. 

    "Four Carabao Cup finals, this is what I am proud of the most. And of course, we created this ourselves. But to do this you need top talents, top players and top players cost money. But honestly, I think United spent money too and Chelsea spent money, and Barcelona spent a lot and in Madrid they spend, as do all the clubs in that position."

    Guardiola has used Joao Cancelo in a hybrid full-back/midfield position during City's ongoing winning streak but the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss, who has won 29 trophies during his managerial career, does not believe he deserves more credit than his players for their success.

    "You are not convincing me," he said. "The difference is the players. "I didn't invent anything. It's just the way I do it. I can play like this but sometimes I'm going to play in a different way. It's not about that. I would tell if I believed the reason why was me. I would tell you. 

    "I would be grateful to say that the reason behind this success is because I'm so handsome and that's the reason why. It's not like that. It's the players. The big clubs have incredible success, in South America and Europe, and it's due to the quality of the players, the mentality."

    He added: "Still I have the feeling when we finished the game against Gladbach maybe it will not be enough to reach the last stages of the Champions League if we don't improve in some departments. It’s the only way to getting better. 

    "If I did not feel we could get better, I would not have extended my contract here. One hundred per cent. If I extend my contract, it's because they convinced me for different issues and still that we can do better. If not, [my time with] the team would be over."

  • Durant out through All-Star break, Nets reveal Durant out through All-Star break, Nets reveal

    Kevin Durant will be out through the All-Star break, the Brooklyn Nets have revealed following recent scans on his injured left hamstring.

    Durant has missed the Nets' last six games because of the issue, though his absence has not stopped Brooklyn from stretching their winning streak to eight games.

    And the Nets revealed on Friday that he will not return until after the All-Star game, which will be held on March 8.

    "After a routine follow-up MRI on his left hamstring, it was determined that Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant will require an additional recovery period that will result in him remaining out through the NBA All-Star break," a Nets statement read. 

    "The latest images provided a clearer picture of the hamstring and while we are confident that Durant will return at full strength, this extra recovery time will allow him to perform at the level at which he has been playing this season once he returns.

    "Durant will continue to undergo rehabilitation and will be re-assessed following the break."

    In the 19 games in which he has featured this season, Durant is averaging 29 points per game, his highest tally since his MVP season with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2013-14.

    Durant is shooting 52.4 per cent from the field and 43.4 per cent from three-point range.

    He will miss games with the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets. Brooklyn's first game back from the All-Star break is against the Boston Celtics on March 11.

    Named an All-Star for the 11th time in his decorated career, Indiana Pacers star Domantas Sabonis is expected to replace him in the game.

  • Talking Point: Why Kovacic has quickly become Tuchel's Mr Dependable Talking Point: Why Kovacic has quickly become Tuchel's Mr Dependable

    Those Chelsea fans who reacted angrily to Frank Lampard's sacking appeared to settle upon a conclusion when it came to what the problem was at Stamford Bridge.

    The youth products given the opportunity to shine in the Chelsea first team by the club's all-time leading goalscorer were not the problem. They were giving supporters a bright vision of the future and a recognisable identity.

    Players acquired at great expense from abroad who seemed to fill no role in particular and clogged up the numbers in the squad, there was the problem.

    You might say, in this analysis, the problem was players like Mateo Kovacic.

    However, the former Real Madrid midfielder has been a mainstay since Thomas Tuchel replaced Lampard at the helm.

    A coach who has gained a reputation for being standoffish with players over the course of his career has admittedly fallen head over heels.

    "I love him,” Tuchel said after the win over Newcastle United earlier this month. "It is very easy [to love Kovacic].

    "You can wake the guy up at 3am and he will be at Cobham [Chelsea's training ground] at 3.15 ready to give everything."

    Previously, Chelsea fans might have taken this to mean Kovacic was being selected because he is a light sleeper who lives locally.

    The Croatia international lacks the range of passing with which Jorginho is blessed, nor does he have N'Golo Kante's combative streak or the creative zest of Mason Mount.

    However, his quality in tight spaces and underrated dribbling ability is something Kovacic uses to fine effect. Tuchel, a tactician who places a primacy upon his team's positional play, has quickly identified his key man when it comes to shifting Chelsea up the field.

    Among players in the Premier League to have attempted 40 or more dribbles this season, Kovacic has the highest success rate of 81 per cent, having rounded out 34 of his 42.

    Across Europe's top five leagues, only Paris Saint-Germain's Marco Verratti is able to boast a better return of 41 out of 49 for 83.7 per cent.

    Of players to have featured frequently in central midfield this season, only Manchester City duo Rodri and Bernardo Silva can better Kovacic's 368 carries – defined by Opta as a player moving the ball five metres or more – and 3,821.2 metres carry distance.

    For carries ending with a completed pass, Kovacic is second on 309, behind Rodri (352) and a shade ahead of Silva (306).

    Although he is yet to score in 31 appearances this season heading into a crunch weekend clash against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, Kovacic is certainly eager to involve himself at the business end of the field when the opportunity arises – further underlining his credentials when it comes to progressing play.

    No player in the Premier League this season has taken a shot having been involved in a build-up move more frequently than Kovacic (10).

    If a few of those attempts fly in before the season is out to secure a top-four place and maybe even some silverware, Kovacic's popularity will surely reach far beyond the confines of Cobham and his not-so-secret admirer Tuchel.

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