James Harden says the Brooklyn Nets must be "more engaged" on defense after a second successive loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers again exposed their weakness.

According to Harden, who made the point repeatedly in a brisk post-game news conference, it is communication that the Nets need to work on to reach their potential.

With Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in their ranks, such potential is obviously something very special indeed.

But as Harden stressed, all their scoring power will be negated if they leak too many points to the opposition, as they did in sliding to Friday's 125-113 defeat.

It was a result that sent Brooklyn sliding to 9-8 this season, and recent arrival Harden hopes there can be improvement in the games ahead.

He said: "Our communication, our position, we never really had practice time so we're learning on the fly.

"It's just constant effort. We've got to be more accurate on loose basketballs, do a better job on rebounding basketballs, and then do a better job of keeping our man in front of us.

"There are some of the aspects we can get better on. If we do those things, then the schemes and all those plays we can figure those out later, the principles are those small things.

"I've got to be a little more aggressive. Honestly, our problem isn't offense. We scored 113 points tonight and even in the last game it was more than enough to win the game.

"Defensively we have to be more engaged."

That last game, to which Harden referred, was the 147-135 double-overtime loss to the Cavs.

The former Houston Rockets player and eight-time All-Star said it is "little tweaks" that are required, starting from Saturday's clash with the Miami Heat.

"Individually, our communication from the other four guys - the four guys that aren't guarding the ball - has to communicate on where the help is, where to send the dribbler, and just communicate, have each other's back," Harden said.

"Once our communication from all five guys are in sync, our defense will be that much better.

"But it seems like we're on an island out there and we have to all do a better job, including myself, of communicating and helping each other out defensively and that will happen."

With Durant absent after an Achilles problem, Harden bagged 19 points and 11 assists and Irving scored a game-high 38 points.

And while the combination of the three Nets superstars seems sure to click, Harden knows what the priority must be.

"As much as we can talk about scoring - we're very good at scoring - we've got to round up some stops and once we get that going we'll be in the lead on both sides of the ball, but right now our problem is defense," Harden said.

"[On Saturday] we've got another chance to get better."

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash was reluctant to overreact after another humbling loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he insisted his star-studded line-up must improve as Kyrie Irving embraces the challenge.

Despite boasting Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant, the Nets were swept by the Cavaliers in Cleveland following Friday's 125-113 defeat.

After losing 147-135 to the Cavaliers in double overtime on Wednesday, the Nets were again beaten by Cleveland, this time in the absence of Durant (Achilles rehab).

Despite boasting All-Stars and former MVPs in Irving, Harden and Durant, Brooklyn's defensive fragilities were exposed after being outrebounded 50-29 on Friday, while the Nets allowed 134 points in the paint across the two games.

"I don't want to overreact — but it is something we have to continue to chip away at," first-year coach Nash said afterwards. "We have to build that resolve, that hunger that desire to win some hustle battles, to win the turnover margin, to win the rebounding margin. Win in other ways.

"We've got a lot of things to work on. There's a lot to clean up. It's very early. It's relatively knew having Ky back after two weeks. James joining the team. Kevin sitting out tonight. It’s a lot thrown at us. So, you know, I don't want to overreact, but we are going to urge the guys to clean up as much as we can the hustle areas. But also, schematically, just continue to refine and get better and you know how this league is.

"A few days ago, we were on a four-game winning streak and now we under performed in two games. So, we've got to find a way to get ourselves playing a little cleaner, a little sharper, trying to clean up some of these categories that we're not competing well enough in."

Irving led the Nets with a game-high 38 points on the road, while Harden put up 19 points and 11 assists – his fourth double-double in as many appearances since joining in a blockbuster trade from the Houston Rockets as Brooklyn fell to 9-8 in the Eastern Conference.

Nash added: "You see you see the records. We've done well against better teams. But we've talked to them about having a target on our backs and that you're gonna get people's best shots. They'll be excited to play the guys that we have on our roster. So there's a certain element of that.

"We have to make them aware of that discrepancy in the effort against the team we're playing, but also just overall that we stick to what we will what our path is. And it's not a normal season, so it's not going to be two days between games sometimes where you can practice. It's going to be very rare. We're gonna have to really keep chipping away. It's gonna be small margins and small growth, but continually have that be our plan and not get sideways over a couple of losses.

"So we got to demand, we got to expect, we got to push and at the same time we got to understand that it's not going to be straightforward this season because of the parameters that were facing."

The Nets have dropped consecutive games since Irving returned from a seven-game absence due to personal reasons, and he said: "Whatever we have to do moving forward, like I said this was two humbling losses.

"… now we lost tonight's game, back-to-back. Now what are we gonna do? Nothing more but to pick ourselves up out there as competitors, go home, talk about it. And now we play in less than 24 hours. So I'm looking forward to the challenge with my team-mates."

Collin Sexton made history after helping the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Brooklyn Nets for the second time in three days, 125-113 in the NBA on Friday.

After scoring 42 points in a double-overtime upset of the Nets on Wednesday, Cavaliers star Sexton was at it again with 25 points and nine assists against Brooklyn in Cleveland.

Sexton became the first player in Cavs history to post 20-plus points in each of his first 10 games of the season.

It was another tough outing for the star-studded Nets, who crashed to a second consecutive loss since Kyrie Irving returned following a seven-game absence.

In the absence of Kevin Durant (Achilles rehab), Irving had a game-high 38 points, while James Harden put up 19 points and 11 assists – his fourth double-double in four games since joining the Nets in a blockbuster trade from the Houston Rockets.

Joel Embiid produced another MVP-calibre performance as the Philadelphia 76ers overcame Eastern Conference rivals the Boston Celtics 122-110.

Embiid dominated with 38 points and 11 rebounds, after his 42-point double-double against the Celtics midweek. The three-time All-Star was 11-of-15 from the field, while he made both of his three-point attempts.

Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with a game-high 42 points in Philadelphia.

 

Young and Capela soar for Hawks, Kawhi fuels Clippers

Trae Young posted a season-high 43 points and Clint Capela recorded 13 points, 19 rebounds and 10 blocks to guide the Atlanta Hawks past the Minnesota Timberwolves 116-98. Capela became the third player in Hawks history with 10 blocks in a game, joining Dikembe Mutombo and Josh Smith.

The Los Angeles Clippers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 120-106 for their sixth straight win behind Kawhi Leonard's 31 points in LA. Paul George added 29 points of his own for the in-form Clippers, who are tied with defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA's best record at 12-4.

Another game, another double-double for Nikola Jokic. The Denver Nuggets star tallied his 15th double-double (31 points and 10 rebounds) in 15 games this season to help secure a 130-126 OT victory at the Phoenix Suns.

Luka Doncic fell just short of a triple-double after posting 36 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds in the Dallas Mavericks' 122-117 win against the San Antonio Spurs.

Gordan Hayward finished with 34 points but the Charlotte Hornets still lost 123-110 at home to the Chicago Bulls.

 

Collin in Young's shadow

Hawks power forward John Collins has reportedly been unhappy with Young running the team's offense, but he did little to stake his own case. Collins was just two-of-eight shooting from the field for four points in 28 minutes. The rookie has been averaging 15.9 points per game this season.

The Miami Heat boast some great three-point shooters in Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn, but last season's NBA Finals participants struggled from beyond the arc in their 101-81 rout at the hands of the Toronto Raptors. Miami were just 22.6 per cent from three-point range – three of 31.

 

Brogdon calls came

Trailing 118-117, Malcolm Brogdon nailed a three-pointer with 2.8 seconds remaining as the Indiana Pacers topped the Orlando Magic 120-118 in overtime.

 

Friday's results

Chicago Bulls 123-110 Charlotte Hornets
Houston Rockets 103-102 Detroit Pistons
Indiana Pacers 120-118 Orlando Magic (OT)
Cleveland Cavaliers 123-115 Brooklyn Nets
Philadelphia 76ers 122-110 Boston Celtics
Toronto Raptors 101-81 Miami Heat
Atlanta Hawks 116-98 Minnesota Timberwolves
Dallas Mavericks 122-117 San Antonio Spurs
Denver Nuggets 130-126 Phoenix Suns (OT)
Los Angeles Clippers 120-106 Oklahoma City Thunder
Sacramento Kings 103-94 New York Knicks
Washington Wizards-Milwaukee Bucks (postponed)
Memphis Grizzlies-Portland Trail Blazers (postponed)

 

Heat at Nets

The Nets (9-8) will look to snap a run of back-to-back defeats when they host Eastern Conference rivals the Heat (6-8) on Saturday.

Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant will sit out Friday's NBA showdown with the Cleveland Cavaliers to rehabilitate his Achilles.

Durant, who has returned this season after sitting out the entire 2019-20 campaign due to an Achilles injury, played more than 50 minutes in Brooklyn's double-overtime loss to the Cavaliers on Wednesday.

With the Cleveland clash the first of back-to-back games as the Nets are also scheduled to face the Miami Heat on Saturday, Durant has been ruled out.

Durant – who injured his Achilles during his time with the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals – posted 38 points and 12 rebounds in Brooklyn's 147-135 defeat to the Cavaliers midweek.

The two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP became the second Net ever to post three straight 30-plus point games.

Durant – the 2014 league MVP – has been averaging 31.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game for Steve Nash's Nets (9-7) this season.

Steve Nash admitted the Brooklyn Nets were "a little lost at times" during Wednesday's defeat to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Nets' 'Big Three' of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving played together for the first time, but Brooklyn fell to the Cavs 147-135 after double overtime.

Durant (38 points and 12 rebounds), Irving (37 points) and Harden (21 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds) combined for 96 points, yet Collin Sexton (42 points) inspired the Cavs.

Nets head coach Nash said it was normal to see his new-look team struggle at times.

"This is the first night that we've had everyone on the floor together. We seemed a little lost at times, which is natural because we haven't played together so there's a little indecision," he told a news conference.

"We started the game turning the ball over, I think we had seven or eight in the first quarter. We cleaned it up, got ourselves back in the game. Obviously, we have to defend better, but I stay positive.

"These guys, it's the first night out together, we're just getting a feel for each other and this is going to be a process that's going to take the entire year. While we're all disappointed, we've got lots to build on, lots to grow and lots more opportunities."

The Nets gave up 20 points in the second period of overtime to lose the game.

Nash said the defense would be a key focus for Brooklyn (9-7) as the season goes on.

"We had breakdowns all over the place. We've got a lot of work to do, we know that," he said.

"We know that we have a very offensive team right now so we have to find ways to defend, to get connected, to be on the same page and that's going to take some time.

"It's definitely early doors as far as this new team, this new group, [are] learning to defend together and how we can be effective defensively, and that's got to be the part of our game that we're going to focus on the most going forward."

The Nets face the Cavs again on Friday.

Joel Embiid produced another mammoth performance to lead the Philadelphia 76ers past Eastern Conference rivals the Boston Celtics 117-109 on Wednesday.

Embiid posted 42 points and 10 rebounds – going 12 of 19 from the floor in Philadelphia, where the three-time NBA All-Star scored 22 points in the first half.

Returning to action following knee soreness, Embiid topped 40 points for the second time in three games as he joined Bradley Beal as the only NBA players with multiple such performances.

There is only one other instance where a Sixers player had a 40 and 10 game on one or fewer turnovers since the three-point era – Embiid himself in 2019.

Luka Doncic recorded another triple-double as the Dallas Mavericks beat the Indiana Pacers 124-112 to snap a three-game losing streak.

Doncic put up 13 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists for his fifth triple-double of the season – tied for the most alongside Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic – and 30th of his career.

The 22-year-old is the youngest player to reach 30 career triple-doubles, while he is the second-fastest in terms of games played (146), eclipsing Magic Johnson (190) but behind Oscar Robertson (75).

 

Irving stars on return but Sexton outshines Nets trio

After a seven-game absence due to personal reasons, Kyrie Irving had 37 points in the Brooklyn Nets' 147-135 double overtime loss against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Kevin Durant led the Nets with 38 points and 12 rebounds, and fellow superstar James Harden finished with a triple-double of 21 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. However, Collin Sexton's 42 points lifted the Cavaliers past Brooklyn's 'Big Three'.

Clint Capela had 27 points and a career-high 26 rebounds for the Atlanta Hawks, who outlasted the Detroit Pistons 123-115 in overtime. Trae Young scored 38 points and John Collins registered 31 points, while Detroit's Jerami Grant posted a career-high 32 points.

 

Lowry's shooting woes

While collecting 10 rebounds and tallying seven assists, Kyle Lowry was far from his best in the Toronto Raptors' 111-102 loss to the Miami Heat. Lowry was just two-of-12 from the field, while he made just one of 10 shots from three-point range for eight points in 36 minutes.

 

Anthony on the buzzer!

Cole Anthony did it all at the death. He grabbed the rebound and ran the length of the court before sinking the buzzer-beating shot to lift the Orlando Magic past the Minnesota Timberwolves 97-96.

Wednesday's results

Cleveland Cavaliers 147-135 Brooklyn Nets (OT)
Dallas Mavericks 124-112 Indiana Pacers
Philadelphia 76ers 117-109 Boston Celtics
Atlanta Hawks 123-115 Detroit Pistons (OT)
Miami Heat 111-102 Toronto Raptors
Orlando Magic 97-96 Minnesota Timberwolves
Phoenix Suns 109-103 Houston Rockets
Golden State Warriors 121-99 San Antonio Spurs
Los Angeles Clippers 115-96 Sacramento Kings
Washington Wizards-Charlotte Hornets (postponed)
Portland Trail Blazers-Memphis Grizzlies (postponed)

 

Lakers at Bucks

LeBron James and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers (11-4) travel to face Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks (9-5) on Thursday. Both teams are coming off losses.

Kevin Durant said his first game alongside James Harden and Kyrie Irving for the Brooklyn Nets "felt perfect" despite a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Irving returned and the Nets had their 'Big Three' together for the first time following the blockbuster arrival of former MVP Harden, but fell to the Cavs 147-135 after double overtime on Wednesday.

Durant (38 points and 12 rebounds), Irving (37 points) and Harden (21 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds) combined for 96 points, yet it was Collin Sexton (42 points) who inspired the Cavs.

Despite the loss, Durant – who became the second Net ever to post three straight 30-plus point games – was happy with how the game felt alongside his two superstar team-mates.

"It felt right, it felt perfect, it felt like we belong together," he told a news conference.

"It felt like this journey together is going to be fun. It was tough first start, especially it was an up and down game for us, but I like where we are."

The Nets' loss saw them slip to 9-7 and they sit fifth in the Eastern Conference.

But Durant is looking ahead, with the Nets facing the Cavs again on Friday.

"Obviously we'd love to win the basketball game, that's the most important thing and we're definitely disappointed about that, but we have a long season ahead of us, just keep plugging away," he said.

"I like where we are, I like the comradery that we have and we're building.

"The communication from the coaching staff to the players is at a high level so looking forward to keep building, keep grinding, we've got the same team next game."

Kyrie Irving is ready to play again and looks set to line up for the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday after a run of seven missed games.

The six-time All-Star has been absent for personal reasons and received a hefty punishment for breaching NBA health and safety protocols while away from the team.

That was imposed after Irving was filmed apparently attending a large birthday gathering while not wearing a mask.

But Irving confirmed on Tuesday he is back in training with the team, putting him in line to face the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday evening.

Explaining his absence, Irving said on Tuesday: "There's been a lot of family and personal stuff going on, so I just want to leave it at that."

Coach Steve Nash said: "I expect him to play tomorrow. It's great to have Kyrie back in the building. We've missed him and I'm excited to get him back out on the floor."

Irving was fined $50,000 by the NBA and docked over $800,000 in salary for the two games he missed while ordered into quarantine by the league.

He will have a notable new teammate on his return to action, with the Nets having landed James Harden from the Houston Rockets.

Harden, an eight-time All-Star, bolsters the scoring power already in Brooklyn's ranks, with Irving averaging 27.1 points per game in his seven outings for the team this season and Kevin Durant posting 30.6 PPG in 11 appearances.

The new arrival meets with Irving's approval.

"I'm very excited to have James here," Irving said. "We're just moving on to the next phase of developing as a team, building some camaraderie and having fun.

"It's just really exciting to be able to play with great players."

He spoke of the experience that Harden brings and said: "Adding that to our locker room is going to be great for us."

Without Irving, the Nets have won five of their past seven games to improve to 9-6 for the season.

Kevin Durant and James Harden feel experience has proven key in a "seamless" transition to their partnership with the Brooklyn Nets.

The former Oklahoma City Thunder duo combined to impressive effect as the Nets battled to a 125-123 win at home to the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.

Durant won the game courtesy of a three-pointer with 36 seconds remaining to reach 30 points, while adding nine rebounds and six assists.

Harden followed up his dream debut against the Orlando Magic with 34 points, 12 assists and six rebounds.

It is the first time two team-mates have had at least 30 points in each of their opening two games for a franchise, per ESPN.

"We have been through a lot in this league," Durant said about his link-up with Harden.

"Experienced a lot, and for us to bring it together now and combine what we've learned over this time and try to play great basketball, I think it was pretty seamless for us.

"It was an easy transition, especially with James handling the ball a lot coming in. So we're still trying to find our way, and we've still got room to improve, but it's a solid start."

Harden is yet to practice with the Nets since his blockbuster trade from the Houston Rockets.

"We were young in Oklahoma City," Harden – who impressively followed up his triple-double against the Magic – said when asked about his connection with Durant.

"We are grown men now. We know what we want. We really know the game of basketball now. 

"We are not those young guys that want to run around and just shoot and dunk all day.

"And then for me, I sit back and I know what player Kevin Durant is. He's one of the best players to ever touch a basketball. This is a huge win for us."

With four straight wins moving them to 9-6, the Nets are next in action at the 6-7 Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.

The Nets' other star, Kyrie Irving, is set to return to practice on Tuesday. He missed his seventh straight game against the Bucks, who got 34 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo.

"This is what they do – they wake up, come to the game and they score 30," Antetokounmpo said. 

"If you're not aggressive and you're not locked in against them, they're going to score 50."

James Harden and Kevin Durant guided the Brooklyn Nets past the Milwaukee Bucks, while the Los Angeles Lakers' winning run was ended.

The Nets extended their winning streak to four with a 125-123 victory over the Bucks on Monday.

It was their second win in as many games since Harden joined in a trade from the Houston Rockets last week.

The eight-time All-Star had a double-double of 34 points and 12 assists, while Durant finished with 30 points against the Bucks.

Durant hit a clutch three-pointer with 36.8 seconds remaining to lift the Nets to 9-6.

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo had 34 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.

After five straight wins, the Lakers went down to the Golden State Warriors 115-113.

Warriors star Stephen Curry had 26 points, while Dennis Schroder top-scored for the Lakers with 25.

LeBron James (19 points) missed a three-pointer on the buzzer for the Lakers, who had Anthony Davis post a double-double of 17 points and 17 rebounds.

 

Awesome Adebayo, Oladipo makes Rockets debut

Bam Adebayo posted 28 points and 11 rebounds to guide the Miami Heat past the struggling Detroit Pistons 113-107.

Victor Oladipo arrived at the Rockets following Harden's exit, and he had 32 points and nine assists on debut, but it came in a 125-120 loss to the Chicago Bulls.

DeMar DeRozan (20 points and 11 assists) led an even team effort in the San Antonio Spurs' 125-104 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. DeRozan (20), LaMarcus Aldridge (22), Patty Mills (21) and Rudy Gay (21) became the first group of four Spurs team-mates to each score 20-plus points in a game since 2010.

A double-double from Trae Young (20 points and 13 assists) helped the Atlanta Hawks past the Minnesota Timberwolves 108-97.

 

Doncic below his best

Luka Doncic described himself as "selfish" despite a triple-double in a Dallas Mavericks loss to the Bulls on Sunday, and he was below his best a day later. He went four-of-11 from the field for just 15 points in 34 minutes in a 116-93 humbling at the hands of the Toronto Raptors.

 

Clutch KD

Durant hit the crucial three-pointer to lift the Nets to their victory.

Monday's results

New York Knicks 91-84 Orlando Magic
Atlanta Hawks 108-97 Minnesota Timberwolves
San Antonio Spurs 125-104 Portland Trail Blazers
Memphis Grizzlies 108-104 Phoenix Suns
Brooklyn Nets 125-123 Milwaukee Bucks
Toronto Raptors 116-93 Dallas Mavericks
Miami Heat 113-107 Detroit Pistons
Chicago Bulls 125-120 Houston Rockets
Golden State Warriors 115-113 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Thunder at Nuggets

Nikola Jokic (averaging 25 points, 11.4 rebounds and 10.3 assists this season) and the Denver Nuggets (6-7) take on the Oklahoma City Thunder (6-6) in one of two games scheduled for Tuesday.

It was far from business as usual in the NBA again last week.

A total of 11 games were postponed due to stringent COVID-19 protocols, making it tough for some players and teams to find their rhythm early in the season.

Others have taken full advantage of opportunities presented to them by teams having to go deep into their rosters in order to fulfil fixtures.

We take a look at the players who had the biggest increases and decreases in production over the previous week.

 

RUNNING HOT…

Shake Milton

The Philadelphie 76ers have seen their roster badly affected by COVID-19 protocols and results over the past week have been a little patchy as a result – a pair of wins over the Miami Heat ended a run of three straight defeats but were followed by a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. One who man stepped up, though, was Milton, who was averaging 14.1 points per game up to January 10. Last week he averaged 29.5 – a difference of 15.4, the highest in the league. 

Duncan Robinson

Last season's beaten finalists the Heat are in somewhat of a rut having lost four of their past five to slip to 4-7 for the season. Robinson has done his best to help reverse the fortunes, though, having averaged 23.3 points last week – his improvement of 12.1 from his average at January 10 was second only to Milton. Part of the improvement can be attributed to his prowess from three-point range over with Robinson averaging five per game, compared to 3.1 for the season prior to the week. Team-mate Tyler Herro has also impressed – averaging 25.5 points per game for the week, a +9.9 difference to his average leading into it.

Bruce Brown

With the Brooklyn Nets trading away Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, Caris LeVert and Rodions Kurucs – as well as a ton of picks – to acquire James Harden, Brown received greater minutes in Steve Nash's rotation. He shot 8-of-11 from the field for 16 points in a win over the Denver Nuggets and had a double-double of 15 points and 14 rebounds against the New York Knicks the following day. However, when Kyrie Irving returns, Brown can expect to see a significant reduction in his time on the floor.

Luka Doncic

The Dallas Mavericks star started to find his range from three over the past week, going 5-of-9 from beyond the arc against the Charlotte Hornets and 6-of-11 versus the Chicago Bulls. He averaged four three-point makes per game last week, a significant improvement on his figure of 1.63 on the season he went in with. Doncic also had 16 rebounds and 15 assists against the Bulls to record his 29th triple-double, surpassing the legendary Michael Jordan on the all-time list. However, he ended up on the losing side against Chicago and blamed himself: "That's on me, that game. I was being selfish a little bit because I had 30 points in the first half. That wasn't me in the second half."

GOING COLD...

Fred VanVleet

Four years after going undrafted, VanVleet was rewarded for his role in the Raptors' recent success as he signed a four-year, $85million deal to stay with Toronto ahead of this season. His performances have not yet justified that outlay, however, and the past week was a particularly disappointing one. The struggling Raptors actually enjoyed a minor upturn in form, winning back-to-back games against the Hornets to improve to 4-8, but VanVleet scored just 14 points per game, 8.1 down on his prior season average of 22.1. There was at least some solace in a first double-double of the season as he stacked up 10 assists in the second Hornets game.

Kevin Huerter and De'Andre Hunter

It was not a good week for the Atlanta Hawks, their shock 3-0 start long since forgotten. Three Atlanta players were at least 6.0 points down on their prior scoring average for the year, yet it was the decline in three-point shooting that really stood out. Huerter and Hunter had each impressed from beyond the arc in the early weeks of the campaign, making 2.4 and 2.1 threes per game respectively. But a remarkable drop-off saw both make just two across three games - two of which were defeats - to each average 0.7. It meant the team as a whole made just five threes in the loss to the Utah Jazz and six as they went down to the Portland Trail Blazers.

George Hill

The Oklahoma City Thunder again traded assets for picks ahead of this season but have still managed to operate at .500 so far, beating the Bulls after defeats to the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers. However, Hill's outstanding early form is showing signs of tailing off. A new arrival this year, the 34-year-old point guard was outperforming his career average of 1.2 threes made per game heading into the week (1.9) but did not make a single one of his seven attempts from beyond the arc against the Spurs, Lakers or Bulls.

Terrence Ross

After a strong start to the season with the Orlando Magic, Ross went into last week averaging 17.9 points and 2.44 three-pointers made per game. However, in meetings with the Nets, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, he shot 3-of-15 from beyond the arc – an average of just one make per game. It's therefore unsurprising he also suffered one of the biggest decreases in points per game to 11, with 23 of his 33 total points coming against Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving could make his long-awaited return after being listed as questionable for Monday's game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Irving has missed the Nets' past six games due to personal reasons, while he sat out Saturday's win over the Orlando Magic due to the NBA's health and safety protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic.

It came after the NBA fined Irving $50,000 and docked the six-time All-Star over $800,000 in salary for the two games missed while in quarantine after video footage emerged of him appearing to attend a family birthday party without a mask.

The 2016 NBA champion, though, is now nearing a Nets return as he prepares to link up with superstar team-mates Kevin Durant and James Harden.

"Hopefully, we're close," Nets head coach Nash said after beating the Magic. "I can't really give you a firm update on that. We have to assess that as we go. We do want to make sure he ramps accordingly so that he's not susceptible to unnecessary injury and protect him the best we can.

"But hopefully, it will be a short period of time. That is to be determined, though."

Harden – acquired from the Houston Rockets in a blockbuster trade on Thursday – became the first player in NBA history to post a 30-point triple-double in his debut for a new team after title contenders the Nets outlasted the Magic 122-115.

Former MVP Harden finished with 32 points, a franchise-record 14 assists, 12 rebounds and four steals.

Reuniting with ex-Oklahoma City Thunder team-mate Harden, Durant led the way with a game-high 42 points as the Nets improved to 8-6 following a third consecutive win.

Durant also made franchise history for most consecutive 25-plus point games with nine.

Rafael Stone insisted James Harden's comments after two losses to the Los Angeles Lakers did not impact the Houston Rockets' trade plans.

Harden was traded to the Brooklyn Nets days after saying he had done everything he could in Houston.

After back-to-back losses to the Lakers, the eight-time All-Star also said: "This situation is crazy. It's something that I don't think can be fixed."

But Stone said Harden's comments, which drew criticism from team-mates John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, were irrelevant to the Rockets' plans.

"They did not affect me at all. In a trade there are multiple parties so I have no idea if it affected other teams," Stone told a news conference on Sunday.

"But I can guarantee you it did not affect us."

The Rockets acquired Victor Oladipo from the Pacers, sending former Nets guard Caris LeVert to Indiana.

As part of the Nets trade that involved the Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston also brought in Rodions Kurucs and Dante Exum, plus four first-round picks, to go with four first-round pick swaps.

Stone is happy with the deal the Rockets ended up with as he lauded two-time All-Star Oladipo.

"I don't think it's appropriate to talk about the other deals," Stone said.

"I would say what is super exciting about this deal is it gives us flexibility and in the NBA, picks, especially high picks, are the best currency. Everybody likes them, everybody values them, so that was great organisationally, it gave us flexibility to do different types of deals as they come up this year, next year, whatever.

"We were able to get Victor Oladipo as part of it along with Rodi and Dante, but Victor is a guy we're really excited about. I think he's excited to be here and we think he's very talented so that was not insignificant from our perspective."

The Rockets hold a 4-7 record this season and are 14th in the Western Conference.

James Harden made NBA history on his Brooklyn Nets debut after dazzling with a triple-double in the 122-115 win against the Orlando Magic.

Harden became the first player in NBA history to post a 30-point triple-double in his bow for a new team after the Nets outlasted the Magic on Saturday.

Former MVP Harden – who swapped the Houston Rockets for the Nets in a blockbuster trade on Thursday – finished with 32 points, a franchise-record 14 assists, 12 rebounds and four steals.

The eight-time All-Star also became the seventh player in NBA history with a triple-double in their team debut, joining Russell Westbrook, Elfrid Payton, Lewis Lloyd, John Shumate, Nate Thurmond and Oscar Robertson.

Reuniting with former Oklahoma City Thunder team-mate Harden, Durant led the way with a game-high 42 points as the Nets improved to 8-6 following a third consecutive win.

Durant also made franchise history for most consecutive 25-plus point games with nine.

 

Lillard inspires Blazers

Damian Lillard had a game-high 36 points as the Portland Trail Blazers topped the Atlanta Hawks 112-106. Double-doubles from Trae Young (26 points and 11 assists) and Clint Capela (25 points and 15 rebounds) were not enough for the visiting Hawks.

Shake Milton put up 28 points off the bench in the Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers' narrow 106-104 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Ben Simmons fell just short of a triple-double after recording 11 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists.

Christian Wood scored 24 points and collected 18 rebounds as the shorthanded Rockets went down 103-91 to the San Antonio Spurs.

Derrick Rose was efficient in the Detroit Pistons' 120-100 upset of the Miami Heat. He was eight-of-12 shooting from the field, while making three of his five three-point attempts for 23 points in 21 minutes.

 

Covington struggles

While the Trail Blazers won, Robert Covington failed to get going shooting-wise after collecting 10 rebounds. He was one-of-13 from the field and just one-of-seven from beyond the arc for three points in 28 minutes.

A championship winner with the Los Angeles Lakers last season, veteran Rajon Rondo was scoreless for the Hawks. Rondo missed all three of his field-goal attempts in nine minutes of action.

 

Morant returns in style

Ja Morant sprained his ankle on December 28 but the Grizzlies star made his comeback following an eight-game absence. Morant had 17 points, including this alley-oop.

 

Saturday's results

San Antonio Spurs 103-91 Houston Rockets
Brooklyn Nets 122-115 Orlando Magic
Toronto Raptors 116-113 Charlotte Hornets
Detroit Pistons 120-100 Miami Heat
Memphis Grizzlies 106-104 Philadelphia 76ers
Portland Trail Blazers 112-106 Atlanta Hawks
Indiana Pacers-Phoenix Suns (postponed)

 

Pacers at Clippers

The Indiana Pacers (8-4) will visit the in-form Los Angeles Clippers (9-4) – who have won three straight games – on Sunday.

Brooklyn Nets superstar James Harden revelled in his record-setting debut, while head coach Steve Nash heaped praise on the former NBA MVP.

Harden became the first player in NBA history to post a 30-point triple-double in his bow for a new team after the Nets outlasted the Orlando Magic 122-115 on Saturday.

Eight-time All-Star Harden swapped the Houston Rockets for the Nets in a blockbuster trade on Thursday, and his first game in a Brooklyn jersey resulted in 32 points, a franchise-record 14 assists, 12 rebounds and four steals.

Afterwards, Harden said: "It felt really good [to get the win]. The guys got after it.

"Individually, I've got to stop turning the basketball over, but that comes with chemistry, that comes with practice, that comes with watching film.

"So, first game I'm glad to get a win and we've just got to keep going."

On the record, Harden was asked what it meant, and he told YES: "Nothing, I'm just happy we came away with the win. Those stats don't mean anything."

"When you're paying with really, really good players, it's pretty easy," Harden said. "For me, I just gotta learn reads, learn where guys like the ball, just learn our personnel individually so once I get that, the turnovers will cut down, I can be more efficient."

Disgruntled in Houston as he eyed an exit from the Rockets, Harden arrived in Brooklyn out of form, but the sharpshooter showed what the Nets are getting in a super team that also consists of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Harden was eight-of-18 from the field and three-of-10 shooting from three-point range in 40 minutes, while he also had nine turnovers.

First-year coach Nash, who now leads a genuine championship contender, hailed Harden post-game.

"I can't say I'm surprised," Nash said. "We had a pretty big simple size of him doing that [for] however many years in he's been in the league. But it's still not easy. He's still not in his best condition yet, he's joined a new group.

"Basically no practice time, and figured it out on the fly. He had a bunch of turnovers just because he's new to the team and the group and you’re thrown out there in an NBA where the other team is an excellent coached-basketball team....But all the things he did on the floor were incredible for his first game."

Reuniting with former Oklahoma City Thunder team-mate Harden, Durant led the way with a game-high 42 points as the Nets improved to 8-6 following a third consecutive win.

Durant also made franchise history for most consecutive 25-plus point games with nine.

"James, he played the same way he always played, to be honest," Durant said. "He played the same way he was playing in Houston, being a pass-first guard, trying to get guys good looks. He played the same way.

"Coach put him at the point, I think that's his natural position, is point and combo guard. For him to get 14 assists, 12 rebounds for us at the point guard was key."

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