The Los Angeles Lakers will need a little time to adjust to life without LeBron James, according to head coach Frank Vogel, though their sidelined star was present for Sunday's loss to the Phoenix Suns. 

James is out indefinitely due to an ankle injury but still travelled to Phoenix to support his team, along with Anthony Davis, who is also currently out. 

The duo watched on as the Lakers slipped to a 111-94 defeat on the road, despite 23 points from Montrezl Harrell on 10-of-13 shooting. Dennis Schroder, meanwhile, contributed 22 points. 

Vogel explained afterwards how point guard Schroder is set to become the "head of the snake" in the absence of the team's two leading names, with the reigning NBA champions now 0-2 when playing without LeBron this season. 

"I think our guys really fought tonight," Vogel said. "We didn't shoot the ball that well, but I thought we competed at a very high level. 

"It is going to take a little time as we adjust, figure out where the shots are coming from and what our new identity is going to look like." 

He added in his post-game news conference: "Obviously, Dennis Schroder is going to be the head of the snake with the ball in his hands the most, dictating some of the action. 

"But we've got a lot of veteran guys on this team that can lead, and we encourage our guys to lead from every chair in the room." 


Schroder felt the presence of James – wearing a boot to protect the high ankle sprain he suffered in Saturday's game with the Atlanta Hawks – on the bench demonstrated the four-time MVP's commitment to the cause. 

"In my career, I've seen people getting hurt and don't come on the road trip; and for him, being the best - one of the best who ever played this game - that you see him on the bench being there even if he's hurt, means a lot to me and all the other [players on this team] too," Schroder said. 

It still remains unclear how long James will be sidelined; the 36-year-old was having an outstanding season prior to the injury, averaging 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists, putting him firmly in the MVP conversation. 

As for Davis, he has not played since February 14 due to a calf issue.

Steve Nash is concerned by the amount of minutes James Harden is playing for the Brooklyn Nets but says it is difficult to limit his game time due to the way he lifts his team-mates. 

The Nets rebounded from a surprise defeat to the Orlando Magic with a 113-106 triumph over the Washington Wizards, Harden putting up 26 points, eight assists and five rebounds as Blake Griffin made his Brooklyn debut. 

Harden was on court for 39 minutes, the most for any Nets player. Prior to Sunday's win, the former Houston Rockets star had featured for 40-plus minutes in four of the franchise's previous eights outings either side of the All-Star break. 

This season, Harden is averaging the most minutes in the NBA with 37.9, with Julius Randle of the New York Knicks next on 37. 

Asked about Harden's time spent on court, head coach Nash said: "I'm concerned about the minutes.  

"I'm not sure what the answer is, though. He controls the game. He hasn't shot the ball well since the [All-Star] break, but he made three threes tonight.  

"He gets to the line. He makes assists, rebounds, steals. He's great around the basket. He had another great performance even if it wasn't necessarily a typical Harden game.  

"So it's hard to take him off the floor because he makes his team-mates better."

The Nets trailed by as many as 14 points during the first quarter and were down by five at the end of the period, yet Harden scored the opening nine points of the second as Brooklyn seized a lead they would never relinquish. 

There was a scary moment towards the end of the first half where Harden appeared to hurt his neck during a collision with Garrison Mathews. 

Harden insisted after the game he was fine following the incident. 

"I got hit in the jaw. My neck kind of twitched. I'll be all right. It's nothing. Get some treatment on it, get some rest and be ready to go the next game," Harden said. 

The Nets now hit the road for three successive games and Harden urged the team never to look beyond the next opponent. 

"I think every game is a test for us. We're not allowed to take anyone lightly. We don't have the luxury of that," he added.  

"We saw that last game. Every night we prepare for our opponent to the best of our ability, and the coaches do a really good job of that to prepare us, and we go out there and try to execute.  

"Our next opponent is Portland, who have been playing pretty well. We've just got to take it one game at a time, and that's the most important thing.  

"We can't look further down the line. I think if we have that mindset – one game at a time, one possession at a time – good things happen for us."

James Harden and Kyrie Irving combined to lead the star-studded Brooklyn Nets to a 113-106 victory over the Washington Wizards as Blake Griffin made his bow.

Harden posted 26 points and eight assists, while Irving had 28 points and seven rebounds to fuel the Nets in the NBA on Sunday.

The Wizards, who trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half and 12 in the second, closed to 103-102 three minutes from the end in Brooklyn, where former All-Star Griffin debuted after his arrival from the Detroit Pistons earlier this month.

But Nicolas Claxton (16 points) stepped up with two dunks and some big plays down the stretch to lift the Nets past the Wizards.

Russell Westbrook finished with 29 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists but the Wizards still lost on the road, where team-mate Rui Hachimura added 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Elsewhere, Zion Williamson joined Shaquille O'Neal (2000-01) as the only players in the shot-clock era to score 20-plus points on 50 per cent shooting or better in 20 consecutive games in a single season.

Williamson posted 30 points on nine-of-13 shooting from the field as the New Orleans Pelicans upstaged the Denver Nuggets 113-108.

Brandon Ingram also had 30 points for the Pelicans, while MVP candidate and Nuggets star Nikola Jokic (29 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists) registered his 52nd career triple-double and 11th of the season.

 

Paul reaches milestone

Chris Paul became the sixth player in NBA history to reach 10,000 career assists, joining John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Mark Jackson and Magic Johnson. Paul finished with 11 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds in the Phoenix Suns' 111-94 victory against the Los Angeles Lakers, who were without injured stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Montrezl Harrell had 23 points and 10 rebounds for defending champions the Lakers.

The Dallas Mavericks routed the Portland Trail Blazers 132-92 behind Luka Doncic's 37 points. His 117 points across a three-game span are the second most in franchise history, only behind his 118 in a three-game period last month.

Collin Sexton scored 23 of his 36 points in the second half and Jarrett Allen (17 points and 15 rebounds) contributed a double-double as the Cleveland Cavaliers topped the slumping Toronto Raptors 116-105, condemning their opponents to an eighth consecutive loss.

The Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers earned their 15th straight win over the New York Knicks – a narrow 101-100 overtime success, dating back to December 2017. It is the longest active winning streak in the NBA by one team over another and the fourth longest run over a single opponent in franchise history.

 

Rockets can't stop the rot

The Houston Rockets suffered a franchise-record 20th consecutive defeat after going down 114-112 at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Rockets' skid is tied for the ninth-worst in NBA history and the worst since the 76ers and their record-setting 28-game losing streak across the 2014-15 and 2015-16 campaigns.

The Pistons and Miami Heat both struggled from three-point range. Detroit were just 16 per cent (four of 25) in their 100-86 loss to the Chicago Bulls, while Miami were 24.3 per cent (nine of 37) in a 109-106 overtime defeat against the Indiana Pacers.

It was a forgettable night for Damian Lillard and the Blazers. All-Star Lillard (19 points) was just seven of 16 from the field, while he missed all seven of his three-point attempts. Portland team-mate C.J. McCollum (13 points) was not much better after going six-of-15 shooting and 0-of-five from beyond the arc in 24 minutes.

 

Griffin can still dunk

Much has been made about Griffin and his lack of dunks. Not since December 2019 had Griffin dunked in the NBA amid question marks over his troublesome knee and fitness. But that changed in his debut on Sunday. Griffin, who finished with two points in 15 minutes, dunked in the final quarter.

 

Sunday's results

Indiana Pacers 109-106 Miami Heat (OT)
Oklahoma City Thunder 114-112 Houston Rockets
New Orleans Pelicans 113-108 Denver Nuggets
Boston Celtics 112-96 Orlando Magic
Brooklyn Nets 113-106 Washington Wizards
Cleveland Cavaliers 116-105 Toronto Raptors
Chicago Bulls 100-86 Detroit Pistons
Philadelphia 76ers 101-1000 New York Knicks (OT)
Phoenix Suns 111-94 Los Angeles Lakers
Dallas Mavericks 132-92 Portland Trail Blazers

 

Pacers at Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks (27-14) will look to extend their winning streak to seven games when they host the Pacers (19-22) on Monday. Indiana have won back-to-back games.

Blake Griffin showed he can still dunk in the NBA after capping his Brooklyn Nets debut with his first slam since 2019.

Not since December 2019 had Griffin dunked in the league – the six-time All-Star enduring a 25-game drought amid knee problems.

But Griffin ended the wait in his bow for the Nets in Sunday's 113-106 win over the Washington Wizards, scoring his first points on a dunk at the start of the fourth quarter.

"I knew once it happened, I know it would be a thing," Griffin said of his dunk, having finished with two points and two rebounds in 15 minutes as he works his way back to full fitness.

"It felt good to get that out of the way and move on."

Griffin joined James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the star-studded Nets after agreeing a contract buyout with the Detroit Pistons earlier in March.

The 32-year-old had last played on February 12 while he was still a member of the Pistons organisation.

Griffin played in 20 games for Detroit this season and averaged 12.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists.

Charlotte Hornets star and NBA Rookie of the Year favourite LaMelo Ball will spend an indefinite spell on the sidelines after fracturing his right wrist.

Ball is reportedly set to miss the remainder of his first season in the league following an MRI scan on Sunday, which revealed a fractured bone.

The 19-year-old rookie sensation will be further evaluated after hurting his wrist in Saturday's 125-98 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Ball has taken the NBA by storm since being drafted by the Hornets with the third pick last year.

He has been averaging 15.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.59 steals (seventh in the NBA) per game this season.

Among rookie leaders, Ball ranks first in assists and steals, second in scoring and is tied for second in rebounds.

Ball is the only player over the last 60 years to lead all rookies in total points, rebounds, assists and steals at the All-Star Break.

Last month, Ball joined Stephen Curry (2010) and Jason Kidd (1995) as the only rookies with seven-plus threes and 10-plus assists in a game and is the youngest to do so.

Ball also became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double in January.

Joel Embiid's injury last week appeared to clear a path for LeBron James to collect his fifth NBA MVP award.

Philadelphia 76ers big man Embiid - averaging 29.9 points and 11.5 rebounds, as well as 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals - had already missed seven games this season before he went down with a knee injury against the Washington Wizards.

But Los Angeles Lakers superstar James did not see his clear run at the league's top individual honour last long.

James, who has 25.9 points, 7.9 assists and 7.9 rebounds per game, has carried the Lakers in Anthony Davis' absence but faces his own spell on the sidelines after an ankle sprain on Saturday.

That setback, in a defeat to the Atlanta Hawks, means this year's two leading MVP contenders face an uphill task to remain in contention as they sit out a key stretch of the regular season.

Nikola Jokic, the Denver Nuggets center, appears the man most likely to profit and has quickly been installed as the bookmakers' favourite.

But with several twists already in the race to succeed back-to-back winner Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jokic's standing is not yet safe.

With the help of Stats Perform data, we run through four potential winners ahead of Sunday's action - including Denver's 'Joker'.
 

NIKOLA JOKIC

The case against Jokic earlier in the season was his displays had not been able to lift the Nuggets into serious contention in the West. With 13 wins in their past 18 games to improve to 25-16, that is no longer the case.

While team-mate Jamal Murray has not been able to consistently perform at the standard he set in the 2019-20 playoffs - averaging 26.5 points in the 'bubble' but 21.1 this season - Jokic has taken his game to another level.

The Serbian's stat line for the year - 27.0 points, 8.6 assists, 11.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals - has never previously been achieved in league history, nor has any player in the past attempted at least 30 field goals across a season while shooting 56.6 per cent from the field, 41.6 per cent from three and 86.6 per cent of free throws.

This is an unprecedented campaign.

DAMIAN LILLARD

Tied with Denver at 25-16 in the West are the Portland Trail Blazers. Considering CJ McCollum has only played 16 games and Jusuf Nurkic 12, that is a quite remarkable achievement, led, of course, by Lillard.

Understandably, Lillard's usage rate is at a career-high 33 per cent, but he is making the most of those extra touches. Only Bradley Beal (32.5) has outperformed his 30.6 points per game - another career benchmark - and the Blazers star leads the league with 1,225 total points. Of those, 136 have come in 'clutch' situations, again putting Lillard at the top of the standings.

Taking a break from Portland's playoff push, Lillard even preserved enough energy to score 32 points in the All-Star Game, just ahead of Team LeBron team-mate and rival Stephen Curry (28). An MVP triumph would certainly see Portland's finest emerge from the shadow of the Golden State Warriors great.

GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO

Antetokounmpo beat James Harden to this award in 2018-19 and then LA's James last season, so a case of voter fatigue was always set to make him an unlikely winner for a third straight year, regardless of performances.

But with Embiid and James both hit by injuries, the 'Greek Freak' surely has to come into consideration. Once again, his numbers are seriously impressive.

The only man to outscore Lillard at the All-Star Game, putting up 35, Antetokounmpo is slightly down on last year's points (29.0 versus 29.5) and rebounds per game (11.7 versus 13.6) but has improved in all of the other key metrics with 6.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks.

The Milwaukee Bucks forward should be in the picture to retain both his MVP and Defensive Player of the Year titles.

JAMES HARDEN

Surely voters will not reward Harden in the year he forced his way out of the Houston Rockets? On performances alone, though, he deserves to be in the conversation.

The 2017-18 winner is not contributing the same number of points for the Brooklyn Nets as he was in Houston, but then his usage is down to 28.7 per cent for the year (28.1 in Brooklyn), by far the lowest it has been since the statistic was first tracked in 2014-15.

And Harden, still scoring an impressive 25.4 points since joining the Nets, is more than making up for this slight decline elsewhere.

So far the most prominent member of the team's 'big three', with Kevin Durant too often injured and Kyrie Irving absent for a spell, Harden leads the league in 2020-21 for assists (11.2) and is second for triple-doubles (11), making him an unpopular but worthy candidate.

Tobias Harris was inspired to prove the Philadelphia 76ers can compete without Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons after leading his team to a 129-105 victory over the Sacramento Kings.

Embiid missed a fourth straight game with a bruised left knee, while Simmons was a late omission after experiencing knee soreness on Saturday morning.

With fellow starter Seth Curry (ankle) also missing, the 76ers were heavily depleted but managed to chalk up the win with Harris in supreme form – falling just shy of a triple double with 29 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

Shake Milton tallied 28 points and Danny Green chipped in with 18 as the 76ers rallied in the absence of their key men.

For Harris, it was about making a point about the strength in depth of the roster.

"Are we willing to fall into the distraction of, 'hey, we don't have two of our top dogs?', or are we willing to embrace it?" Harris said.

"I take that stuff personal when people believe we can't win without those guys, because I know how much talent we have as a group and I know how well we play together as a team as a whole.

"We have a culture and a system here that works. When we trust it and do what is asked of us, we're a hell of a team."

Philadelphia's stats sheet was impressive. In the first quarter alone, they went 16-of-26 shooting and made six of their eight three-pointers to race into a 42-21 lead.

Late in the third they led by as much as 26 points and by the end of the game were 48 of 86 on shooting, making 11 of 23 from downtown.

Coach Doc Rivers said of Harris: "He really set the tone tonight with his attitude and then obviously his play. His total play was phenomenal.

"With all those guys out, what we did was execute well."

The 76ers are top of the Eastern Conference and now have a 29-13 record. They have a short road trip on Sunday to face the New York Knicks, seventh in the division, at Madison Square Garden.

Giannis Antetokounmpo said he is happy the streaking Milwaukee Bucks are flying under the radar this season following their win over the San Antonio Spurs.

The Bucks extended their winning streak to six games after topping the Spurs 120-113 behind superstar Antetokounmpo's 26 points and joint career-high 15 assists on Saturday.

Milwaukee – Eastern Conference semi-finalists last season having fallen just short of the NBA Finals in 2018-19 – have won 11 of their last 12 games to be third in the standings this term.

Unlike the two previous seasons, the Bucks (27-14) have not dominated headlines, instead taking a backseat to the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers (29-13) and star-studded Brooklyn Nets (28-14) but that is the way Antetokounmpo likes it.

"We don't play for people to talk about us," two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo said after the game.

"I kind of like it. I just want to be left alone. I never liked bright lights. I never liked people talking about us. It just adds pressure to me and my teammates to come in and do what we do.

"I kind of like to be under the radar and we just come in, enjoy one another, enjoy playing basketball and we're just getting the job done.

"There's gonna be times they're gonna talk about us, there's gonna be times they're not gonna talk about us, but personally, as I said, I just like being under the radar."

Not since 1971 have the Bucks won the championship as Antetokounmpo added: "We're just gonna keep doing what we're doing. We just keep enjoying each other and keep playing to win games and playing the right way."

Los Angeles Lakers center Montrezl Harrell questioned the incident that saw LeBron James sprain his ankle against the Atlanta Hawks, insisting the injury scenario was "not a loose-ball play".

James is sidelined indefinitely after suffering a high ankle sprain in Saturday's 99-94 NBA loss to the streaking Hawks.

Lakers superstar James exited in the second quarter after Solomon Hill collided with his right ankle at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

James – an MVP candidate as he looks to add to his four previous honours – fell to the court and screamed before rolling around in agony.

After attempting to stay in the game – hitting a three-pointer to reach 10 points in 11 minutes – James eventually left the game and did not return.

Post-game, James tweeted: "Nothing angers and saddens me more than not being available to and for my team-mates!

"I'm hurt inside and out right now. The road back from recovery begins now. Back soon like I never left. #ThekidfromAKRON."

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Harrell – who posted a team-high 23 points and 11 rebounds off the bench for the Lakers – said: "[LeBron yelling] shows you he was in an extreme amount of pain.

"It's a tough play, the guy dived for the loose ball, took a leg out from under him.

"He is human man and he'll have to undergo the protocols like everybody else will do.

"I really don't feel like it was one of those loose ball plays, I mean [Solomon Hill] had to go through his leg to get the ball.

"He was trying to turn away, the ball was behind him, he's jumping at an angle, going across this way.

"I don't know how you feel that's just a loose ball but like I say it's neither here not there. I don't think it's one of those plays where he tried to do it but at the end of the day it's still one of those things I feel like you have to look at."

James – who has missed only one game this season, a loss to the Sacramento Kings on March 3 prior to the All-Star break – has been averaging 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game in 2020-21.

His 10 points against the Hawks extending his NBA-record streak (1,036) of consecutive games with at least 10 points.

Lakers team-mate Dennis Schroder added: "That's an unnecessary play to dive in the leg like that.

"He's bounced back before and he will in a couple of days," Schroder said. "So, I'm not worried."

In response to the criticism, Atlanta's Hill tweeted: "Would never disrespect the game and take a player out purposely… he knows that.

"That's all that matters to me. Praying for a speedy recovery. #riptothementionstho #moredmsthansaweetoe."

Giannis Antetokounmpo inspired the in-form Milwaukee Bucks to a 120-113 win over the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA.

Antetokounmpo posted a double-double of 26 points and a joint career-high 15 assists to lead the Bucks to their sixth successive victory on Saturday.

Two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo also had eight rebounds as the Bucks overturned a 14-point first-half deficit – Milwaukee celebrating their 11th win in 12 games.

Khris Middleton added 23 points, while Donte DiVincenzo contributed 12 points and 13 rebounds in Milwaukee.

Lonnie Walker scored a career-high 31 points for the Spurs, who also had 22 points and 13 assists from DeMar DeRozan.

No Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Seth Curry? No problems for the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers, who eased past the Sacramento Kings 129-105.

Tobias Harris picked up the slack in the absence of the injured star trio, putting up 29 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and two steals as he fell just short of his first career triple-double.

Harris shot nine of 13 for 23 points in the first half. It was a season high for any half and the fifth time he has scored at least 23 points in a half in his career.

Shake Milton finished with 28 points for the 76ers, who improved to 19-4 at home this season – the most wins in the NBA.

 

Hawks soar

The Atlanta Hawks extended their winning streak to eight games after upstaging defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers 99-94. It is the first time the Hawks have won eight straight games since the 2014-15 season, when they celebrated 19 in a row. John Collins (27 points and 16 rebounds) and Trae Young (14 points and 11 assists) had double-doubles for the Hawks.

Paul George fuelled the Los Angeles Clippers to a crushing 125-98 victory over the Charlotte Hornets. George posted 21 points and 10 assists at home to the Hornets.

 

Lakers lose LeBron

LeBron James will be sidelined for an indefinite period after suffering a high ankle sprain in the loss to the Hawks. James exited in the second quarter after Solomon Hill collided with his right ankle at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The 36-year-old fell to the court and screamed before rolling around in agony.

It was a forgettable game for Terry Rozier and the Hornets. Rozier was two-of-10 from the field – he only made two of nine three-point attempts – for eight points against the Clippers. Charlotte only shot at 38.8 per cent throughout the game.

 

George and Kawhi combine

Star Clippers duo George and Kawhi Leonard led the way at home to the Hornets, teaming up for a dunk in the second half.

 

Saturday's results

Atlanta Hawks 99-94 Los Angeles Lakers
Philadelphia 76ers 129-105 Sacramento Kings
Memphis Grizzlies 111-103 Golden State Warriors
Milwaukee Bucks 120-113 San Antonio Spurs
Los Angeles Clippers 125-98 Charlotte Hornets

 

Lakers at Suns

With James and Anthony Davis sidelined, the Lakers (28-14) will limp into Sunday's clash against Western Conference rivals the Phoenix Suns (27-13). The Lakers are third in the conference, behind the second-placed Suns.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James is facing an indefinite spell on the sidelines after suffering a high ankle sprain in the team's loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

The Lakers went down 99-94 to the Hawks on Saturday but it was an injury to James that has caused more concern for the NBA champions.

James exited in the second quarter after Solomon Hill collided with his right ankle at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

The 36-year-old fell to the court and screamed before rolling around in agony.

After attempting to stay in the game – hitting a three-pointer to reach 10 points in 11 minutes – James eventually left the game and did not return.

"I haven't necessarily seen him scream and scowl like that probably ever," said Lakers team-mate Kyle Kuzma.

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel added: "I won't disclose what any mood of LeBron was like internally. It's in-house."

James – who has missed only one game this season, a loss to the Sacramento Kings on March 3 prior to the All-Star break – has been averaging 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game in 2020-21.

His 10 points against the Hawks extending his NBA-record streak (1,036) of consecutive games with at least 10 points.

The Lakers (28-14) – already missing injured star Anthony Davis – are third in the Western Conference, behind the NBA-leading Utah Jazz (30-11) and Phoenix Suns (27-13).

Kyrie Irving is "super excited" at the prospect of having Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin on the same team after the Brooklyn Nets saw a six-match winning streak snapped by the Orlando Magic.

The Nets had lost just once in 15 previous NBA outings before going down 121-113 at the Amway Center on Friday.

Irving scored 43 points and also posted six rebounds and four assists, while James Harden contributed 19 points in the losing effort.

Aaron Gordon had 38 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Evan Fournier drained 31 points and Nikola Vucevic 22 for a Magic side that responded to a loss to the New York Knicks last time out.

Irving said the loss can be a "great learning experience".

"They just got going early and we got down in a hole. And when you're trying to play out of a hole for the rest of the game, obviously when teams are shooting the three — or when a team is shooting the three like they were tonight — it makes it a lot more difficult and you have to be perfect down the stretch," Irving said. 

"But they came in off a back-to-back very desperate, and we didn't match their energy so it kind of happens like that, this is what it feels like to lose. 

"We don't want too many more feelings like this, so just learn from it and move forward, but great learning experience."

The Nets, second in the East, will soon be reinforced by the return of Kevin Durant, who is absent with a hamstring injury, and Griffin, who is yet to play since signing for Brooklyn on March 8.

Griffin has been contending with a left knee issue and Irving is excited by the impact both men can have on the team.

"I am super excited. You know, it's just high-level talent out there," he added.

"So, when you can just prepare for the game and go over the X's and O's, you can look to your left and right and know the guys next to you have your back and you're able to play at a high level offensively and defensively and make an impact, you've got to look forward to that. 

"I look forward to it for sure. And as a competitor wanting to be on the main stage, we want all our guys healthy. 

"Hopefully we can hit a stride at the right time and make a run, but this is great practice ground right now to just get as healthy as we can before stepping into the playoffs soon, very soon."

The Brooklyn Nets' six-game winning streak came to a grinding halt with a 121-113 loss to the lowly Orlando Magic, despite the return of Kyrie Irving after groin soreness.

The Magic were coming into the match on a nine-game losing streak, but jumped out of the blocks with Aaron Gordon scoring 21 points in the first half.

Orlando led by as many as 12 points in the second quarter before the Nets closed to trail by only two at the main break, led by Irving, who finished with a game-high 43 points, six rebounds and four assists.

James Harden's output was slightly down, finishing with 19 points, four rebounds and nine assists as Orlando raced away again in the third.

Gordon finished with a season-high 38 points, Evan Fournier scored 31, while center Nikola Vucevic had 22 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists as the Magic pulled off an upset.

The Utah Jazz returned to the winners' list with a thrilling 115-112 triumph over the Toronto Raptors, who have now lost seven in a row.

The Jazz had lost four of six coming into the match, but found some form, led by Donovan Mitchell with 31 points and five rebounds, the star pinching the lead late after the Raptors were up by five with 90 seconds to go.

Pascal Siakam put up a three-point attempt on the buzzer which cruelly rimmed out.

Blazers do it again, Wiggins' season high

CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard produced another special performance as the Portland Trail Blazers came from behind again to win their third straight game, 125-119 over the Dallas Mavericks.

McCollum finished with 32 points, including seven three-pointers, while Lillard had 31 points along with six assists as Portland scored 32 points to 21 in the last to win. The victory was also Portland's Terry Stotts' 500th as head coach.

Andrew Wiggins produced a season-high 40 points, including six three-pointers, eight rebounds and four steals as the Golden State Warriors beat the Memphis Grizzlies 116-103.

Nikola Jokic sparkled with 34 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists as the Denver Nuggets edged the Chicago Bulls in overtime 131-127. Jamal Murray also scored 34 for Denver.

Guard Malcolm Brogdon scored 27 points as the Indiana Pacers piled on the points in a 137-110 win over the Miami Heat.

Mason Plumlee had 16 rebounds while Frank Jackson scored 23 points as the struggling Detroit Pistons won back-to-back games, 113-100 over the Houston Rockets, who have lost 19 in a row.

 

Melo makes history

Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony, 36, scored 18 points in Portland's win but he also brought up the milestone of 27,000 NBA points, becoming only the 11th player to reach the figure.

Anthony Edwards' confidence is flowing after a phenomenal performance in the Minnesota Timberwolves' 123-119 win over the Phoenix Suns, adamant his form is not a surprise to him.

Rookie Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns were in devastating form on Thursday, ensuring two players scored 40 points in the same game for just the second time in Minnesota franchise history.

The 42 posted by Edwards was a career high, while Towns added 41 to the board as the Timberwolves clinched their third win in five since the All-Star break.

That personal-best haul was not the only achievement of note for Edwards, however, who at 19 years and 225 days joined illustrious company as he became the third-youngest player to have a 40-point NBA game and set a new record for a Timberwolves rookie.

Kevin Durant (19y, 200d) and LeBron James (19y, 88d) are the only players who ever reached that mark younger than Edwards, who made 15 of 31 shots on Thursday.

Nevertheless, it was Juancho Hernangomez's late dunk that secured the win with 2.5 seconds remaining, and as such Edwards dismissed the idea that the Timberwolves are relying on just himself and Towns.

"I wouldn't say that, we're just playing together," Edwards said. "If I've got it going some nights, of course they're going to lean on me, but if I haven't got it going then we go another route and I'll find what I find.

"So, it doesn't really matter who's getting more minutes, who's scoring, it's about winning. Me and KAT [Towns] scoring 40 and losing, it would be a different vibe, but scoring 40 and won so it's nothing but excitement and enjoyable."

While Edwards spoke well of his team-mates, particularly Towns and Hernangomez, his self-assuredness was obvious – the 19-year-old simply is not shocked by his trajectory.

"I put in the work for it, it always shows. I work in the dark, it should come to the light," he continued. "I'm not surprised at all, I put in work for it.

"People who know, like really know me, who's close to me, they know all I do is go to the gym and workout, all season that's all I do.

"Early morning, late at night, whatever time we're going to workout, we're going to workout. People who know me know this is what's supposed to be happening."

Understandably Edwards is in the conversation for Rookie of the Year, though he stresses this is not something he is spending much time thinking about.

"Whoever's picking the rookie of the year, the votes or whatever, that's not my focus," Edwards claimed. "I'm trying to win, get better, trying to grow. I'm still a rookie. There's still a lot of stuff that I don't know and that Ricky [Rubio] is going to teach me, so if I win it, I win it, and if I don't – on to the next season.

"As long as I know how good I am and the work that's going in… I don't really care about that one."

LeBron James believes he should have more than four MVP awards as the Los Angeles Lakers superstar staked his claim for another NBA honour on Thursday.

James posted 37 points to lead defending champions the Lakers past the Charlotte Hornets 116-105 in Los Angeles.

The 36-year-old has been averaging 25.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game for the Lakers, who have won four straight games since the All-Star break.

James was crowned the NBA's best player in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013 and as the four-time league champion contends for this year's honour, he feels worthy of more.

"I should have more than four... But I don't, and I don't sit around crying about it," James told reporters post-game.

Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Michael Jordan and Bill Russell (both five) have won more MVP awards than James.

Since James last claimed the honour in 2013, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry (twice), Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo (twice) have been named the league's best.

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel strongly endorsed James as the 2020-21 MVP, adding: "He's the MVP of the league so far, in my opinion.

"He's the best player to ever play the game, in my opinion.

"It's a mistake on the voters' part to go season after season without voting the best player in the league."

In the absence of injured star Anthony Davis, the Lakers have returned to form following the All-Star Game.

The second-placed Lakers (28-13) are only one and a half games behind the NBA-leading Utah Jazz (29-11) in the Western Conference.

"We haven't really talked about it," James said of the conference race. "If it gets to a point where we can capture it, why not? But we haven't talked about seeding all year.

"We've gotten better since the break, but the most important things for our ballclub is playing championship basketball every night and being healthy."

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