Steve Nash was "optimistic" NBA MVP candidate James Harden did not suffer a long-term setback as the Brooklyn Nets went top of the Eastern Conference with a win that gave Kyrie Irving cause for concern.

Playing the Houston Rockets, his former team, Harden played only 27 minutes - registering 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists - before succumbing to hamstring tightness.

Irving led the way in his stead, as 31 points and a season-high 12 assists secured a 120-108 victory that moved the Nets ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers at 33-15 in the East.

But with Kevin Durant still out, having played just 19 games this season, Harden's injury prompted some concern.

The nine-time All-Star has averaged 26.1 points, 11.2 assists, 8.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals since moving to Brooklyn in January.

Harden's 11.1 assists on the year, including an initial stretch with the Rockets, lead the league, while an assist rate of 46.2 per cent trails only Russell Westbrook.

The superstar guard has taken an unselfish approach as the Nets aim for a championship, attempting 17.6 field goals per game in 2020-21 - his lowest rate since 2013-14 - and seeing his usage drop to 29.3 per cent, its lowest since the statistic was first tracked.

But Harden has still carried Brooklyn for long stretches while Irving and Durant have sat out, meaning head coach Nash was relieved to relay a major issue was not anticipated.

"We're going to monitor it. We'll see how he feels in the morning," Nash said. "I don't have a lot to tell you.

"We feel optimistic it's not a long-term thing and we'll just monitor it. I haven't spoken to him yet. I came in, addressed the team and then came to speak to you guys.

"I think he told the trainer when he was on the sideline and they went back to look at it and decided that it wasn't worth risking it. We'll just see how he feels in the morning and go from there.

"They just decided it wasn't worth risking him going back out there, but we haven't done any scans. We'll see how he feels in the morning and decide what the next step is."

Harden's problem could mean another reshuffle for a Nets team who, through injuries and trade, have had nine different starting fives this season.

That makes their achievement in reaching the top of the conference even more impressive, according to Nash.

"We're first and foremost really proud of our guys," he said. "They've had a lot thrown at them this year, we've had a lot of different lineups, a tough schedule and a new group - three new groups, in a sense.

"For them to stick together, to continue to pursue what we're asking them to pursue, big picture and in the short term with the details, it's impressive."

But Irving saw cause for concern in the Rockets win as Houston ran out to a 42-29 first-quarter lead before the point guard helped reel them back in.

Slow starts are a theme for Brooklyn, who led only one game through three minutes in the whole of March.

"We're going to get every team's best shot, so that's something that we've come to accept," Irving said.

"We know the game plan that we need to execute and it's up to us to go out and do it at a very high level.

"Sometimes we don't make that choice in the first four minutes or the first five minutes where we get down 18-6 or 18-4 and we're just digging ourselves out of holes on the scoreboard.

"I'm listening to the chatter from other teams on the court and they just continue to say, attack us, attack us, attack us, and I'm here on the court as well with all my team-mates just saying, it'll turn over for us.

"We've just got to be resilient, persevere through this, and we'll start making shots, but more or less it just comes with our effort.

"We've got to bring it from the first five minutes. In the last few games, we've failed to do so, so we played catch-up and we got away with this one, but against the great teams we know we've got to bring it from minute one."

Kyrie Irving was the hero for the Brooklyn Nets after James Harden exited due to hamstring tightness as he inspired a 120-108 win over the lowly Houston Rockets.

The Nets trailed by as many as 18 points, while NBA MVP hopeful Harden sat out the fourth quarter against his former team the Rockets with right hamstring tightness.

Harden finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists in 27 minutes on Wednesday.

But star team-mate Irving picked up the slack, posting 31 points and a season-high 12 assists to guide the Nets to the top of the Eastern Conference.

The Nets, who have won 19 of their past 22 games, are a half-game clear of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Meanwhile, the NBA-leading Utah Jazz feared 'the end" before their 111-107 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Utah's charter flight was forced into an emergency landing after the plane collided with a flock of birds, causing an engine fire and failure.

After scoring 26 points to lift the Jazz, All-Star Mike Conley told reporters: "For a good 10 or 15 minutes, I think all of us on that flight were questioning if we were going to be here today.

"That's how serious it was for us. I can't speak for everybody, but I know that guys were trying to text family just in case, you know? It was that kind of situation."

"It got to that point where we were all on the plane like, 'This might be really the end'," Utah's Jordan Clarkson added in the absence of Donovan Mitchell. "I mean, it was a crazy situation. I understand fully why Don didn't come."

 

Giannis and Bucks take down Lakers, Booker has Suns sizzling

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 25 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three blocks as the Milwaukee Bucks beat the injury-hit Los Angeles Lakers 112-97. Jrue Holiday top-scored with 28 points for the Bucks, who snapped a three-game losing run.

Devin Booker put up a season-high 45 points in the Phoenix Sun's 121-116 victory against the Chicago Bulls. Chris Paul added 19 points and 14 assists.

Luka Doncic had a game-high 36 points as the Dallas Mavericks held on to defeat the Boston Celtics 113-108. Doncic is now tied with Nikola Jokic for the most NBA games with 30-plus points, five-plus rebounds and five-plus assists this season – 15.

The Portland Trail Blazers were 124-101 winners over the Detroit Pistons thanks to a double-double of 33 points and 10 assists from Damian Lillard.

 

Painful debut for Drummond

Andre Drummond's Lakers debut did not go according to plan. Acquired by the defending champions after clearing waivers on Sunday, the two-time All-Star hobbled off the court with a toe injury. Drummond was two-for-six shooting, while he missed both of his free throws prior to exiting after 14 minutes.

 

Family time

It was a special moment as the three Antetokounmpo brothers took to the court in Los Angeles. Two-time reigning MVP Giannis was joined by brother and team-mate Thanasis and Lakers forward Kostas post-game.

 

Wednesday's results:

Portland Trail Blazers 124-101 Detroit Pistons
Miami Heat 92-87 Indiana Pacers
Dallas Mavericks 113-108 Boston Celtics
Brooklyn Nets 120-108 Houston Rockets
Utah Jazz 111-107 Memphis Grizzlies
Minnesota Timberwolves 102-101 New York Knicks
Oklahoma City Thunder 113-103 Toronto Raptors
San Antonio Spurs 120-106 Sacramento Kings
Phoenix Suns 121-111 Chicago Bulls
Milwaukee Bucks 112-97 Los Angeles Lakers

 

76ers at Cavaliers

The 76ers (32-15) will look to snap a two-game losing streak and keep up with the Nets when they visit the Cleveland Cavaliers (17-30) on Thursday.

Victor Oladipo is expected to make his Miami Heat debut against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday, according to head coach Erik Spoelstra.

The Heat – who reached the 2020 Finals – acquired two-time All-Star Oladipo from the Houston Rockets at last week's NBA trade deadline in exchange for Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley.

Oladipo started the year with the Indiana Pacers before he was moved to the Rockets as they dealt James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets.

Now, Oladipo – who is averaging 21.2 points per game in 2020-21 – is preparing to make his second bow of the season.

"He's ready to go," Spoelstra said ahead of Wednesday's clash with the Pacers.

"We’ve had several Zoom sessions just to review and try to fast track our system. But he's a savvy, high-IQ veteran player. He's going to pick up things very quickly.

"He's been able to work out the last couple of days with Caron at the Arena, so they've been able to review some things, as well. I've talked him and we’ll see him when we get to Miami.

"All these circumstances are different than in a normal season, and these are just another example of how you have to adapt."

Spoelstra added: "I feel like I know Vic. I did reach out to Dwyane [Wade]. They've been working out together for years. And Dwyane, Vic and Coach Crean would always do like a weeklong training camp during the summer and get together. And I was always aware about what was going on during that week.

"So we're very familiar with him. We feel comfortable with guys that have been coached by Coach Crean, because you're going to get developed the right way and held accountable to the details. And I think you see that in his play. He's an IQ player that sees the game."

Before facing the Pacers midweek, the Heat (23-24) were eighth in the Eastern Conference.

Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) have announced a "significant investment" into the company by the firm co-owned by LeBron James, RedBird Capital Partners.

The investment, which sees James become part of FSG's ownership group along with his business partners Maverick Carter and Paul Wachter, will help Liverpool address an estimated £120million loss in revenues during the coronavirus pandemic.

FSG said in a statement that the deal, which is part of an ongoing alliance between FSG and RedBird, would help the group pursue growth opportunities, while underlining a focus on "winning".

"Over the years, Fenway Sports Group has been able to attract a dedicated group of executives and partnerships seeking to compete for titles in the most challenging and rewarding landscapes," read the statement.

"Our strategic partnership with Gerry and the entire team at RedBird will enhance our ability to pursue future growth opportunities in a more accelerated way but with the same selectiveness that has served us so well.

"We are also pleased to welcome to our ownership group LeBron, Maverick and Paul, with whom we have enjoyed a successful collaboration for well over a decade. Their addition is an important milestone for FSG and expands and deepens a longtime friendship and relationship that began in 2010.

"To our fans and supporters: winning continues to be the driving force for all of us. The growth of FSG as an organisation allows us to further strengthen our resources and commitment to the communities we serve, and we look forward to having these talented new partners join us in the next chapter of FSG’s evolution."

FSG, which is valued and $7.4bn and whose leadership is comprised of principal owner John W. Henry, chairman Tom Werner and president Mike Gordon, took control of Liverpool in 2010.

The investment from RedBird, which is reported to be a 10 per cent minority holding, will help the club achieve its ambition of redeveloping the Anfield Road Stand.

Gerry Cardinale, founder and managing partner of RedBird, said, "Fenway Sports Group is unique not only for the quality of its sports properties and assets, but for the highly disciplined, results-oriented organisation that John, Tom, Mike and the FSG team have built over the past 20 years.

"RedBird shares the same passion for performance-driven investing, business operations, fan experience and service to the community. We look forward to contributing our experience growing premier sports properties and working alongside this tremendous leadership team, including our fellow new owners LeBron, Maverick and Paul."

Maverick Carter added: "Working with Fenway Sports Group for the past decade has taught LeBron and me so much about the business on a global scale, and we’ve always believed it would lead to something bigger.

"We are proud to be part of this iconic ownership group and are excited about the opportunities that come with that to continue creating change and empowering people of every race, gender and background to be part of the process."

Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers says Joel Embiid is "close" to a playing return after more than a fortnight on the sidelines with bone bruising in his knee.

Embiid, 27, has not played for the 76ers since their March 13 win over the Washington Wizards, when he went down injured.

The 76ers have remained top of the Eastern Conference in his absence but lost their second straight game on Tuesday, going down 104-95 to the Denver Nuggets.

"Whenever Joel comes back, we’re going to go back to our normal rotation, but I have no idea," Rivers said.

"He’s close. I can tell you that. He’s working every day, I get reports back daily, and he looks good. He’s doing well."

Given Philadelphia's position on the standings, the franchise is focusing on ensuring the Cameroonian forward is fully fit for the play-offs.

"He has to clear certain medical steps," Rivers said. "I don’t even know what those are, but he has to.

"Then the other thought with us, and the way I’ve always tried to do it, if you can come back and just keep playing, then you’re healthy, but if you can come back and play one game or two games and then have to sit, then you’re not ready yet. If you know what I’m saying.

"We want to make sure when Joel comes back, he’s back. Not in and out and I think that’s very important."

Russell Westbrook produced his third consecutive triple-double but it was not enough to inspire the Washington Wizards to victory as they went down 114-104 to the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday.

Westbrook, who made NBA history with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 21 assists on Monday, was outstanding again with Bradley Beal out for the Wizards with 22 points, 15 rebounds and 14 assists.

However, despite LaMelo Ball's absence, the Hornets got the edge after a strong first half which left the Wizards playing catch-up.

Gordon Hayward stepped up for Charlotte with 15 first-quarter points, to finish with 26 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, while Terry Rozier (27 points) was clutch at the business end.

76ers and Clippers downed

Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia 76ers lost their second straight game as they were humbled 104-95 by the Denver Nuggets.

The 76ers are starting to feel the effects of missing Joel Embiid with a knee injury, as MVP candidate Nikola Jokic scored 21 points and had 10 rebounds for Denver.

Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr had 27 points, 12 rebounds and four assists while Jamal Murray scored 30 points.

The Phoenix Suns moved into second in the Western Conference with a 32-14 record after a 117-110 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

Dario Saric scored 20 points off the bench for the Suns, while Deandre Ayton had 14 rebounds along with his 13 points.

The Los Angeles Clippers let slip a three-quarter-time lead to lose 103-96 to the lowly Orlando Magic.

Clippers collapse

The Clippers actually led 51-37 at half-time and by as many as 16 points against the Magic before an awful second-half showing as they were outscored 66-45.

 

Air Russ

There is lots of love for Westbrook right now and he produced a nice play, driving past two into the key and slamming over Hornets center Bismack Biyombo.

 

 

 

Wednesday's meeting between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks should be one of the most mouth-watering contests of the NBA season.

But the allure of the matchup has been lost somewhat – the Lakers still without LeBron James because of an ankle injury and Anthony Davis due to a calf/Achilles issue that has kept him on the sideline since February.

As such, the Bucks, three games back of the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers, will be the favourites against a Lakers team that stands as the fourth seed in the West.

However, the Lakers have shown fight in ending a four-game losing skid with back-to-back victories and recently added a two-time All-Star center to their roster.

Here, with the help of Stats Perform data, we look at the performers and the battles that will decide this marquee game.

TOP PERFORMERS

Milwaukee Bucks - Giannis Antetokounmpo

The back-to-back MVP returned to something approaching his best in the Bucks' defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers last time out.

Coming off a nagging knee injury, Antetokounmpo dropped 32 points for Milwaukee, going 10 for 21 from the field and two of five from the three-point line.

It was his first 30-point game since the win over the Philadelphia 76ers on March 17 and served as an ominous warning to the under-strength Lakers.

Los Angeles Lakers - Montrezl Harrell

Averaging 15.2 points for the season, Harrell has stepped it up in the absence of Davis and James.

He has put up 19.5 points per game across March. James (25) is the only Laker with a better average in that regard.

The former Clippers big man has produced seven 20-point games this month and may need an eighth to propel the Lakers to another victory without their two stars.

KEY BATTLE - CAN DRUMMOND BOOST LAKERS ON BOARDS

After reaching a buyout agreement with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Drummond signed with the Lakers with an eye on helping them retain the title by any means necessary.

"For me, I'm just here to help in any capacity," Drummond said on Monday. "I'm not here to do anything besides win."

"I'm just here to help in whatever capacity it may be. I'm not here to steal nobody's shine."

The center will primarily be asked to help the Lakers on the boards. Without LeBron and Davis, their rebounding has declined this month.

For the season, they are ninth in the NBA in rebounds per game with 45.2, but that number has tailed off to 43.5 in March, tied for 17th.

Frank Vogel has confirmed Drummond will start against Milwaukee, with the Lakers surely looking for the four-time rebounding leader to help them compete on the glass against a Bucks team second in the league with 48.2 rebounds per game.

HEAD TO HEAD

Having previously won six straight against the Lakers, the Bucks head into this potential Finals preview out to avoid a third consecutive defeat to Los Angeles, having come undone at the hands of James in their 113-106 loss back in January.

Russell Westbrook took an NBA record in his stride after landing a dazzling triple-double in the Washington Wizards' 132-124 win over the Indiana Pacers.

Former MVP Westbrook had 35 points, 14 rebounds and 21 assists, becoming the first player in NBA history with at least 35 points, 10 rebounds and 20 assists in the same game.

The 32-year-old said: "One thing I always cherish and enjoy about this game is that you get to go out and compete. One thing I always pride myself on is making sure I leave it out on the floor every single night.

"I've been blessed with an opportunity to be able to do that and I don't take it for granted. Along those lines, different records and different things may happen.

"But one thing I always do is stay humble, stay true to myself, and always continue to give everything I have and pride myself on being (able to) create some consistency for my team-mates."

Speaking about his rebounding ability, Westbrook said: "Being athletic helps me being able to get it, but I don't know if anybody's better at my size at rebounding the basketball consistently."

Scoring 20 or more points, grabbing 10-plus rebounds and at least 20 assists has been achieved only six times since 1963-64 in the NBA, and Westbrook has had four such games, with Magic Johnson and Rod Strickland the other two players on that list.

Earlier in March, Westbrook also became the first player in franchise history to record at least 35 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in a game.

New team-mate Chandler Hutchison, formerly of the Chicago Bulls, was impressed with his first experience of having Westbrook on his side.

Hutchison scored 18 points, his second-highest haul in a game behind the 21 points he scored for the Bulls in January 2020 - which also came in a clash against the Pacers.

Hutchison said of Westbrook: "He just commands an energy that's extremely contagious. You see and you hear and you read all sorts of things about how he is as a player and as a person.

"I knew I was going to figure out who he really was, and just with being here a couple of days I already know the type of team-mate he is. He cares a bunch about his team-mates.

"It just shows with his ability to be unselfish and make the right plays. And obviously he's a heck of a talent to be able to go out there and put up a statline like he did tonight and carry us to a win."

Brooklyn Nets superstar James Harden produced a dominant performance to fuel a 112-107 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Harden posted 38 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds for a franchise record-tying 12th triple-double of the NBA season on Monday.

Kyrie Irving returned from a three-game absence to score 27 points for the Nets, who won for the 18th time in 21 games.

The Nets are only a half-game behind the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers.

Karl-Anthony Towns (31 points and 12 rebounds) and Anthony Edwards (23 points and 10 rebounds) both had double-doubles for the Timberwolves.

As for Russell Westbrook, the Washington Wizards star tallied his own triple-double to lead the team past the Indiana Pacers 132-124 in the absence of star team-mate Bradley Beal (hip).

Westbrook had 35 points, 14 rebounds and 21 assists, becoming the first player in NBA history with at least 35 points, 10 rebounds and 20 assists in the same game.

Domantas Sabonis' 35 points, 11 rebounds and six assists were not enough for the Pacers.

 

Clippers and Jazz roll on

The Los Angeles Clippers extended their winning streak to six games after defeating the slumping Milwaukee Bucks 129-105. Starters Kawhi Leonard (23 points), Marcus Morris Sr. (25 points), Luke Kennard (21 points) and Reggie Jackson (20 points) all had double-digit points for the Clippers as the Bucks lost their third straight game, despite 32 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The NBA-leading Utah Jazz are also in the midst of a six-game winning run after crushing the Cleveland Cavaliers 114-75. Utah have won 20 successive games at home.

Stephen Curry returned from a bruised tailbone to guide the Golden State Warriors to a 116-102 victory against the Chicago Bulls. Curry finished with 32 points as the Warriors snapped a four-game skid.

Jonas Valanciunas posted a season-high 30 points to go with 15 rebounds as the Memphis Grizzlies topped the lowly Houston Rockets 120-110.

 

Forgettable Fournier debut

A deadline-day acquisition from the Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics recruit Evan Fournier struggled badly in a 115-109 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Fournier was scoreless on 0-for-10 shooting in 33 minutes, while he also missed all five three-point attempts. It was the most scoreless minutes by a Celtics player with 10-plus attempts since the three-point era (1980).

 

Draymond goes bang!

Curry is usually the Warriors player draining long-range threes, but team-mate Draymond Green nailed a half-court attempt against the Bulls.

 

Monday's results

Washington Wizards 132-124 Indiana Pacers
New Orleans Pelicans 115-109 Boston Celtics
Brooklyn Nets 112-107 Minnesota Timberwolves
Miami Heat 98-88 New York Knicks
Detroit Pistons 118-104 Toronto Raptors
Memphis Grizzlies 120-110 Houston Rockets
Dallas Mavericks 127-106 Oklahoma City Thunder
Sacramento Kings 132-115 San Antonio Spurs
Utah Jazz 114-75 Cleveland Cavaliers
Los Angeles Clippers 129-105 Milwaukee Bucks
Golden State Warriors 116-102 Chicago Bulls

 

76ers at Nuggets

The 76ers (32-14) will look to preserve their lead atop the east when they visit the Denver Nuggets (28-18) on Tuesday.

Kyrie Irving said the Brooklyn Nets are supporting superstar James Harden in his bid to win a second NBA MVP award.

Harden was crowned the league's Most Valuable Player in 2018 and he has thrust himself into this season's mix following his exploits for the Nets.

The nine-time All-Star has been a dominant force since joining the Nets in a blockbuster trade with the Houston Rockets in January, Harden continuing his red-hot run with a triple-double in Monday's 112-107 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Harden posted 38 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds for a franchise record-tying 12th triple-double of the season.

Asked about Harden's MVP case, fellow star Irving – who returned from a three-game absence to score 27 points – said: "He's self-motivated which makes him great. You've got to have some type of self-motivation to get yourself up for these games and consistently show up.

"He's done a great job all season for us [of] being consistent and just kind of leading our team, whether I am out of the line-up or [Kevin Durant] is out of the line-up, you know different guys are playing with him and he's been able to adjust and adapt quickly. And when you throw some great pieces around a great player that is able to play point guard out there and just kind of be who he is – it is our job out there to be responsible for our roles, play at a high level and complement him and visa versa.

"We support him and it's a team effort. It's team basketball out there. You know, our record is a reflection of how great we are as a team, but in this league individuals are very special and you have got to give credit when credit is due. And so, us as a team, we just want to continue to support him."

Harden has been averaging 26.1 points, a league-best 11.2 assists and 8.2 rebounds per game for the Nets, who are second and only a half-game adrift of the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference.

Brooklyn's Harden – who is averaging the most minutes per game (38.1) in the NBA this season – has led the way for the Nets, with Kevin Durant (hamstring) sidelined since February and Irving missing time throughout 2020-21.

"I think we have a target on our back, teams are coming in and playing well and I think that's pretty much it," said Harden, whose Nets have acquired former All-Stars Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge.

"Every team goes through ups and down throughout the course of a year. I'm just happy that it's not even a tough time for us because we've been having to deal with injuries and things like that throughout the course of the season.

"I think we're in a fog right now because we have to find some energy. And I know once KD and LaMarcus and Landry get back, they're going to bring that, so we just gotta continue to find ways to win however they come which we've seen these last few games and keep pushing. That's the NBA season for you."

Los Angeles Lakers CEO and president Jeanie Buss has told the Brooklyn Nets to "bring it on", insisting the star-studded franchise are bringing out the best in the NBA champions.

The Nets have emerged as the NBA's newest superteam after former All-Stars Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge joined Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn.

While the Nets have made moves in the Eastern Conference, Buss and the Lakers are unfazed in the west.

"It brings out the best in us," Buss, whose Lakers are fourth in the Western Conference in the absence of injured superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, told ESPN+ on Monday.

"When teams identify us as the team to beat and they gear up to go at us head-to-head, that makes us work harder.

"So, bring it on."

The Lakers added two-time All-Star Andre Drummond to the roster on Sunday after he cleared waivers.

Drummond – who has not played since February 12 – agreed to a contract buyout with the Cleveland Cavaliers last week.

"The addition of Andre Drummond, who we picked up in the buyout market, will certainly fortify a season where we've had to deal with injuries and COVID," Buss said.

"Having Marc Gasol, who is our starting center, was out for several weeks with COVID and a really tough case where he was on a minutes restriction even though he's back in the line-up."

James (ankle) and Davis (calf) remain sidelined, and Buss added: "That's what's important, is they get back healthy -- 100 percent healthy -- before they come back so that they stay healthy for the playoffs."

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash dismissed criticism of the team's roster moves, insisting "it's not like we did anything illegal".

The star-studded Nets have built an NBA super team, with Brooklyn now boasting former All-Stars Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge alongside James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Griffin and Aldridge were both acquired after the pair reached contract buyouts with the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs respectively.

Amid criticism as the Nets eye their maiden championship, first-year coach Nash told reporters on Monday: "I don't hear it. I live in my Nets bubble.

"I don't know what anyone says about us, to be honest with you. … It's not like we did anything illegal. I don't know what we're supposed to do, not try to add to our roster and just sit pat?"

The Nets – who reached back-to-back NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003 – are second in the Eastern Conference, behind the Philadelphia 76ers this season.

Nash added: "That's the idea of this league is to try and put together the best team you can put together, and that doesn't guarantee you anything. … Nothing is set in stone.

"You got to try to put together the best team you can, and then you gotta build that team. ... We're hoping that we have all the pieces and that it's just a matter of how hard we work and how hard we care and the investment we put into this."

 

Los Angeles Lakers recruit Andre Drummond said he is ready to help the NBA champions in pursuit of back-to-back titles, while he highlighted the prospect of a "crazy" defensive trio alongside superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Drummond joined the Lakers on Sunday after clearing waivers, having agreed to a contract buyout with the Cleveland Cavaliers last week.

The two-time All-Star, however, has not played since February 12 after he and the Cavaliers agreed he would be shut down until a trade or buyout was completed, following the arrival of younger center Jarrett Allen.

Drummond, though, insisted he is ready to play for the Lakers.

"I'm not here to steal nobody's shine," Drummond told reporters on Monday.

"I'm here to help this team win as many games as possible."

Drummond is one of 20 players in league history to record more than 9,000 career points, 8,500 rebounds, 850 steals and 950 blocks.

He is also the NBA's all-time leader in seasons with at least 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 100 steals and 100 blocks, having accomplished the feat four times.

"It's been almost a month [and] 10-plus days since I last played. You can imagine the hunger and excitement I have to play and step on the court," he said.

"I had an incredible month of work where I'm ready to play today."

Drummond's arrival is a boost for the Lakers (30-17), who are fourth in the Western Conference as superstar duo James (ankle) and Davis (calf) are sidelined.

The Lakers have only once scored above their seasonal average of 110.7 points since James went down, missing their leading two scorers (James 25.4 points per game, Davis 22.5).

But Drummond had 17.5 points up until February 12, when Cleveland agreed he would be shut down, which would put him third on that list.

"I think our defense is going to be really crazy when those guys come back. And I'm looking forward to it," Drummond added.

"My defensive game is going to help this team out a lot with my quick feet, quick hands," he continued. "Going to be able to recover and play one through five.

"I think for me coming here, AD could slide to the four and play his true position and be very good at it without taking all the bumps and bruises I do at the five."

The deadline is closed. Trade season is over in the NBA, with the buyout market now the focus for contending teams as they look to add to their rosters.

Meanwhile, amid the constant rumours and rumblings off the court, the 2020-21 season has continued at a pace, with the playoff battle heating up.

The Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings have all been helped over the past week by the form of key players, as they aim to make sure they squeeze into a postseason spot in the ever-competitive Western Conference.

But whose production has dipped during the games staged between March 22 and 28? Time to take a look at the numbers, provided by Stats Perform, to find out...


RUNNING HOT…

Kristaps Porzingis

Porzingis set season highs for minutes played (37) and shots attempted (28) against the Indiana Pacers, scoring 31 points, though the Dallas Mavericks still slipped to defeat at home. The Latvian had also recorded 29 points in his team's previous outing, while he averaged 13.50 rebounds (up from 8.58 entering the week) across the two games.

While he did not feature on Saturday - the Mavs opted to rest him against the New Orleans Pelicans, rather than put him out on the court in the second game of a back-to-back run – Porzingis has undoubtedly become a bigger factor at both ends of the court for Dallas since the resumption of the regular season after the All-Star break.

Zion Williamson

Like Shaquille O'Neal, but with skills comparable to a point guard. That was Mavs coach Rick Carlisle's assessment after he had watched Williamson dominate down the stretch against his Dallas team. The first overall pick in the 2019 draft either scored or assisted on the final 14 points for the Pelicans, who sensibly turned the offense over to their All-Star with the result on the line.

Williamson had posted a career-high 39 points while going 16-for-19 from the field in a defeat to the Denver Nuggets beforehand, too. It was his fifth game this season with at least 15 field goals attempted and an 80 per cent success rate, the most by any NBA player since Charles Barkley also had five in the 1988-89 campaign.

De'Aaron Fox

Fox is on an impressive scoring run, managing 147 points in his past four outings for the Sacramento Kings, an average of 36.75 per game. The guard had 44 – a new career best, no less – in a big win over the Golden State Warriors, helping streaking Sacramento close the gap to their opponents in the West standings.

There was also a demonstration of his passing skills – albeit perhaps more usually seen on a football field than the basketball court – when Fox aired the ball out to set up Harrison Barnes' dramatic game-winning shot against the Cleveland Cavaliers. "QB1," Fox tweeted about the assist... is it too late for him to enter the NFL Draft?


GOING COLD…

Lauri Markkanen

The Bulls did trade a big man before the deadline – but it was not Markkanen who they moved. Despite the rumours the Finn could be involved in a deal, instead it was Wendell Carter who was part of the package that led to center Nikola Vucevic arriving in Chicago.

So what next for Markkanen? He had averaged 18.19 points per game heading into the previous week, but his production dipped to 11.67. His issues with outside shooting did not help, making just two of his 13 three-point attempts as the Bulls suffered three straight defeats. Even with those recent struggles, though, he is making a career-high 38.2 per cent from deep in 2020-21.

Damian Lillard

Lillard scored 22 points in each of his three outings over the past week, while the six-time All-Star sat out Portland's road win over the Orlando Magic due to a knee issue. His dip in points is, in part, down to some struggles from long range. Lillard has averaged just 2.33 three-pointers made during the recent stretch, down from his 4.29 successful attempts from beyond the arc beforehand.

Still, there has been a slight rise in terms of his assists, including 11 against the Toronto Raptors upon his return to action on Sunday. The Trail Blazers won, too, improving to 7-3 through their past 10 outings.

Bradley Beal

Make no mistake, Beal is having an outstanding season for the Washington Wizards, averaging 31.3 points despite a downturn in his long-range production (33.8 per cent, compared to 37.7 per cent for his career).

Yet the 27-year-old has cooled off a touch. He managed a combined total of 48 points in successive games against the New York Knicks this past week, while his outing against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday was cut short at 17 points and six assists due to a hip injury. It meant his average for the week still sat at a respectable 21.67, though comfortably below his usual lofty standards.

New signing Aaron Gordon says "there's no stopping" the Denver Nuggets as "we have all the pieces that we need" following his arrival.

Gordon, linked with a host of rival teams, was signed a via a trade with the Orlando Magic ahead of the deadline on Thursday.

The forward headed to Denver with Gary Clark in exchange for Gary Harris, R.J. Hampton and the Nuggets' protected 2025 first-round pick.

Gordon went straight into the starting five on Sunday, forming an exciting lineup alongside Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Will Barton in a dominant 126-102 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

Gordon scored 13 points, making six of nine field goal attempts, and had a positive plus/minus of 17 in an effective debut.

Victory moved Denver to 28-18 in fifth in the West, still 6.5 games back but, according to Gordon, seeing "no limits".

"I see no limits for this team," he said. "It looks like we have all the pieces that we need.

"We have the depth. It's like we are covered in a lot of different spots offensively, defensively.

"As long as we are all working together, there's no stopping us."

MVP candidate Jokic, who had 16 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, was impressed with the way Gordon adapted to his new team on both sides ends of the floor.

The 25-year-old's usage rate with Orlando this season had been 23.6 per cent but dipped to 18.9, while he showed his versatility as he switched on defense.

"The main thing and the best thing that he did is that he accepted the role," Jokic said.

"He knows why he came here, he knows what he can do and he knows how he can help and he is doing that. Defense or offense, it doesn't matter, he accepts it and is embracing it.

"I think he kind of saw how we played, and he didn't try to do too much. He saw that if he's open, the ball is going to find him. Really good debut for him."

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