Joel Embiid almost pulled off a miracle on the buzzer as the Philadelphia 76ers went down 116-113 to the Phoenix Suns in the NBA on Wednesday night.

The 76ers, top of the East, hosted the Suns, second in the West, and Phoenix appeared home when up by six points with 13 seconds to play.

But Philadelphia stayed alive after Furkan Korkmaz's three-pointer, before Chris Paul missed a free-throw, with Embiid grabbing rebound and firing off a long-range shot immediately which came remarkably close only to rim out.

Earlier, Embiid had scored 38 points and collected 17 rebounds for the 76ers, while Suns guard Paul had 28 points and eight assists.

The Suns improve to 41-16 while the 76ers are 39-18 but remain top in the Eastern Conference after the Brooklyn Nets lost 114-103 to the Toronto Raptors.

Still missing their star pair Kevin Durant and James Harden, the Nets relied on Kyrie Irving with 28 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

However, the Raptors all contributed led by Pascal Siakam with 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists, as they reeled in a 36-23 quarter-time deficit to win by 11.

 

Curry streak ends, Knicks streak extends

Stephen Curry's 11-game streak of 30-plus points came to an end at the hands of the Washington Wizards who won over the Golden State Warriors 118-114.

Russell Westbrook produced another triple-double with 14 points, 10 assists and an outstanding 20 rebounds, while Bradley Beal had 29 points. Curry could only manage 18 points for GSW.

On the topic of streaks, the New York Knicks extended their winning run to seven games with a 137-127 triumph over the Atlanta Hawks after Bogdan Bogdanovic forced over-time with a clutch three.

Julius Randle was exceptional with 40 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, including six three-pointers, while the Hawks lost Trae Young to a sprained left ankle.

The Utah Jazz reinforced top spot in the Western Conference with a comfortable 112-89 win over the Houston Rockets with Rudy Gobert having 19 points and 18 rebounds.

The Los Angeles Clippers kept up the pressure with a 117-105 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, with shooting guard Luke Kennard adding 28 points and seven rebounds.

 

 

Curry covered at every turn

Curry was not afforded any time or space against the Washington Wizards and subsequently shot two-from-14 beyond the arc.

 

OMG from OG

Up by two in the third, OG Anunoby made a big statement for the Toronto Raptors with a block down one end and then a monster right-hand dunk over Joe Harris after Fred VanVleet's assist down the other in the same play.

 

Wednesday's results:

Toronto Raptors 114-103 Brooklyn Nets
Indiana Pacers 122-116 Oklahoma City Thunder
Washington Wizards 118-114 Golden State Warriors
Phoenix Suns 116-113 Philadelphia 76ers
Cleveland Cavaliers 121-105 Chicago Bulls
Utah Jazz 112-89 Houston Rockets
New York Knicks 137-127 Atlanta Hawks
Miami Heat 107-87 San Antonio Spurs
Dallas Mavericks 127-107 Detroit Pistons
Denver Nuggets 106-105 Portland Trail Blazers
Sacramento Kings 128-125 Minnesota Timberwolves
Los Angeles Clippers 117-105 Memphis Grizzlies

 

76ers at Bucks

Joel Embiid's Philadelphia 76ers (39-18) will look to bounce back from Wednesday's loss to the Phoenix Suns when they travel to Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks (35-22) in a bumper East clash.

Stephen Curry lit up the Philadelphia 76ers with 49 points as the Golden State Warriors upstaged the Eastern Conference leaders 107-96.

Curry maintained his red-hot form in a red-breaking display in Philadelphia, where the two-time NBA MVP nailed 10 three-pointers to sink the 76ers on Monday.

The Warriors superstar became the first player to make 70-plus threes in a 10-game span on a memorable outing on the road.

Curry has more games with 40-plus points and 10-plus threes over the last eight days (four) than any other NBA player has had over their entire career, per Stats Perform.

Curry became the first player in NBA history aged 33 or older with 11 consecutive 30-plus point games, surpassing Kobe Bryant (10 straight in 2012).

After scoring 47 and 49 points, Curry is also the first player aged 33 or older with back-to-back 45-plus games since Hall of Famer Michael Jordan (51 and 45 in 2001).

Joel Embiid put up 28 points and 13 rebounds in the absence of fellow All-Star Ben Simmons, but the 76ers still had their four-game winning streak snapped.

 

Nuggets prevail in double OT thanks to Jokic

MVP favourite Nikola Jokic put on a show. He had 47 points – including the go-ahead three-pointer late in the second period of overtime – 15 rebounds and eight assists as the Denver Nuggets survived to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 139-137 after double OT.

Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 33 points but the Milwaukee Bucks suffered an agonising 128-127 overtime loss to the in-form Phoenix Suns. Suns starters Devin Booker (24 points), Deandre Ayton (20 points and 13 rebounds) and Mikal Bridges (21 points) all impressed.

The NBA-leading Utah Jazz defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 111-97 behind Joe Ingles' 21 points on eight-of-11 shooting, while All-Star duo Mike Conley (14 points and 10 assists) and Rudy Gobert (14 points and 10 rebounds) contributed double-doubles.

Russell Westbrook had his 26th triple-double of the season – 13 points, 17 assists and 11 rebounds – as the Washington Wizards celebrated their fifth consecutive victory by downing the Oklahoma City Thunder 119-107.

A season-high 30 points from Kendrick Nunn fuelled the Miami Heat's 113-91 win over the Houston Rockets.

 

Bradley struggles

Avery Bradley has found it tough since arriving in Houston as part of the deal that sent Victor Oladipo to the Heat. He missed all three of his field-goal attempts – including two from beyond the arc – as he finished scoreless after 22 minutes.

George Hill made his debut for the 76ers. Acquired in a trade last month, Hill was one-for-five shooting for two points in 18 minutes. Philadelphia team-mate Shake Milton, usually a reliable scorer, finished with just five points on one-for-seven shooting off the bench.

The Thunder extended their season-worst losing streak to 11 games after going down to the Wizards in Washington.

 

CP3 – the playmaker!

Chris Paul was at his brilliant best again as the high-flying Suns edged the Bucks. Paul posted 22 points and 13 assists as the Suns star passed Magic Johnson for fifth on the all-time assists list.

 

Monday's results

Utah Jazz 111-97 Los Angeles Lakers
Detroit Pistons 109-105 Cleveland Cavaliers
Chicago Bulls 102-96 Boston Celtics
Golden State Warriors 107-96 Philadelphia 76ers
San Antonio Spurs 109-94 Indiana Pacers
Miami Heat 113-91 Houston Rockets
Washington Wizards 119-107 Oklahoma City Thunder
Phoenix Suns 129-127 Milwaukee Bucks (OT)
Denver Nuggets 139-137 Memphis Grizzlies (Double OT)

 

Nets at Pelicans

The Brooklyn Nets (38-19) will be without superstar pair Kevin Durant (thigh) and James Harden (hamstring) for Tuesday's trip to the New Orleans Pelicans (25-32).

Stephen Curry has been lighting it up in the NBA of late.

The two-time NBA MVP is seemingly trying to make up for lost time after injury wiped out the vast majority of his 2019-20 season. 

However, Curry is not the only player in prime form. As the regular season hurtles towards a conclusion, Stats Perform data highlights who is on fire and who needs to find a spark around the league.

Time to dip into the numbers with the latest edition of Heat Check...

RUNNING HOT...

Stephen Curry

To say Curry is on a hot streak is an understatement. In four games between April 12-17, the guard scored 175 points for the Golden State Warriors. That astonishing scoring run saw him hit 10 or more three-point attempts in three of those outings; no other player in NBA history has had three or more such games in an entire season, let alone a week.

Luguentz Dort

Dort was averaging 12.62 points heading into the week. The second-year guard then upped that number with 42 against the Utah Jazz and while he sat out a game against the Warriors, he followed up with a combined tally of 55 when facing the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors. Despite his scoring heroics, the Oklahoma City Thunder lost all three.

Landry Shamet

The Brooklyn Nets have been hampered by injuries this season, with James Harden sidelined in recent times. However, Shamet has stepped up to help fill the void, managing a career-high 30 points on Sunday against the Miami Heat, including tying a franchise record with seven successful three-point attempts having come off the bench. 

GOING COLD...

Lonzo Ball

Ball's decreased production should come as no surprise, considering he is easing his way back into action following a hip injury. He played just under 20 minutes against the Washington Wizards and while his involvement was greater against the New York Knicks, 2017's second overall pick managed nine points from 19 shot attempts across both games.

Tyler Herro

A low-key week for Herro, who failed to reach double digits for points in outings against the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Nets. The shooting guard - such a key figure in the Heat's run to the NBA Finals in the 2019-20 season - landed two of his 11 attempts from beyond the arc in those games. Surprisingly for someone based in Miami, Herro has gone cold.

Chris Paul

The veteran point guard has been outstanding for the Phoenix Suns, who remain in the running to finish the regular season as the top seeds in the West. However, the bigger picture means minutes must be managed, with Paul seeing a drop in his workload. While buckets have been in short supply - he averaged 8.25 points per game across last week - there were still 26 assists.

The Phoenix Suns defeated the Utah Jazz on Wednesday to close the gap at the top of the Western Conference, but coach Monty Williams insisted first place was not on his mind.

Williams has led a remarkable turnaround this season, with the Suns having a 34-39 record last year that was boosted significantly by an eight-game winning run in the seeding games in the 'bubble'.

However, Phoenix is 36-14 in the 2020-21 campaign and, following a 117-113 overtime defeat of the Jazz, they are breathing down Utah's necks.

"We just don't focus on any of that stuff," Williams said.

"I hear it, and I hope we do, but our goal has always been to win every game, improve every month - I've said that since I've been here. This team has to go through these types of experiences to win big.

"Being number one in the West would be a huge accomplishment for us, but it's just not our focus.

"We just want to win every game we can. If it means we're number one in the West, then great."

The Suns have not played in the postseason since 2009-10, but this game served as playoff preparation.

"We've always said we want to approach every game the same way - that way we don't have to change when we get where we want to go - but the intensity, the physicality, the officiating certainly felt like a playoff game," Williams said. "And going into overtime, it felt just like that."

Chris Paul added: "We needed a game like that, where guys had to play heavy minutes, the intensity of it, the crowd was great, just that energy. We haven't played too many games like that."

Veteran Paul played 43 minutes and contributed 29 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter and five in overtime.

He now ranks fifth in the league for clutch points (115), and Williams said: "Down the stretch, you might not find anybody better than Chris Paul."

The coach also praised the Suns' work in disrupting Utah's shooting from three-point range, where they were 11-for-44, down on a season average of 39.2 per cent.

And Deandre Ayton was singled out after finishing with 12 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end.

The Jazz, led by Defensive Player of the Year favourite Rudy Gobert, allowed a season-high 61 rebounds, while only three times have opponents managed more than 16 offensive boards against them.

"We put [Ayton] in a lot of tough positions. Not many guys his size have to do as much as he does," Williams said. "The only other guy, maybe, is Gobert, and he's Defensive Player of the Year.

"We put DA in coverages where he's got to rim-protect but we also switch out with him at times where he's got to guard smaller guys. When they make shots, it's usually a tough shot."

It was the first time in Ayton's career he reached double figures for rebounds against Gobert and the Jazz.

"Everybody's got a job on this team, man," Ayton said, adding: "Competing with Gobert, that's the Defensive Player of our league.

"Him being a presence on both ends of the floor, you're going to have to bring your 'A-game'. He's a strong, physical dude, he knows the game, and I learned a lot, too."

It's been some time since the Phoenix Suns finished a season above .500, and even longer since they last appeared in the playoffs. While both droughts will end this season, the question remains whether they are a legitimate title contender in a stacked Western Conference. 

Ask around as to which teams are most likely to win a championship and the Lakers, Clippers, Nets and maybe the Jazz, Bucks and 76ers would garner the most responses. That is somewhat curious since only Utah and Philadelphia currently have better records than Phoenix, who are an NBA-best 21-6 since January 28. 

The Suns showed signs of what they could become when they went 8-0 in the seeding games in the NBA 'bubble' last season, though they still missed out on the play-in in the West. The biggest reason behind that success was the otherworldly play of Devin Booker, who averaged 30.5 points on 50.3 per cent from the field with 6.0 assists and 4.9 rebounds. 

Sensing the Suns were on the verge of reversing their recent fortunes, general manager James Jones made the offseason move to acquire Chris Paul from Oklahoma City in the hopes of building on that success. Paul, an 11-time All-Star who recently became the sixth player to reach 10,000 assists, has accumulated all kinds of accolades during his 16-year career but, most importantly, is still playing at a very high level.  

Paul has twice helped guide a team to their most wins in a season in franchise history, doing so with the Hornets/Pelicans in 2007 and the Rockets in 2017-18. Though they won't reach that lofty standard in this abbreviated season, the Suns' current .674 winning percentage (29-14) would be their best since 2006-07. 

Paul's acquisition instantly made Phoenix better both on and off court and gave the franchise a measure of respect that only players of his calibre can bring. His ability to run an offense combined with Booker's continued ascent to stardom has the Suns in unfamiliar territory. 

Phoenix haven't had a winning season since going 48-34 in 2013-14 and only Sacramento (14) and New York (seven) have longer active stretches without finishing over .500. The Suns last reached the postseason in 2009-10, when current Nets coach Steve Nash was manning the point. The 10-season drought is the league's second-longest, trailing only Sacramento (14).  

Where that improvement has come from is maybe the most surprising aspect of Phoenix's success.  

Long known as a free-wheeling, offensive-minded team, the Suns are winning mainly with defense this season. Phoenix have finished 20th or worse in scoring defense in each of the last 17 seasons and ranked dead-last as recently as 2017-18.  

That’s no longer the case as Phoenix are allowing 107.4 points per game, third-best in the NBA. It's been nearly 40 years since the Suns finished a season in the top five of that category (102.0 in 1982-83, ranking third).

That's quite a turnaround from last season, when the Suns ranked 20th in the league in scoring defence, an improvement of 6.0 points.

There's no denying that strong defensive teams are geared for postseason success, and the Suns' depth should also be an advantage in the playoffs. While Booker is Phoenix's undisputed star and focus of the offense, there are plenty of other pieces capable of driving the offense.  

The Suns have seven players averaging in double figures, which is tied for the league lead (minimum 20 games played). They also have four players with at least 100 assists, a total bettered only by the Hornets, Nuggets, Kings and Bucks. 

Phoenix also have proven to be a stellar road team with a league-best 14-6 mark. That bodes well if they need to win playoff games at Utah, Los Angeles or Denver.  

After Booker and Paul, Phoenix’s third-leading scorer is DeAndre Ayton. The third-year center hasn't put up monster offensive numbers (14.7 ppg) that often are expected of a number one overall pick, but he ranks among the league leaders in rebounding (11.0) and his defensive versatility is a huge reason for the Suns' success.  

Ayton has also shown a knack for raising his play in the second half, shooting 65.1 per cent from the field after half-time - the third-best such rate among players with 150 attempts. 

Mikal Bridges (13.5), Jae Crowder (10.3), Cameron Johnson (10.3) and Dario Saric (10.0) also are scoring in double figures for the Suns. Bridges has made a huge leap this season, going from 9.1 points and 3.1 rebounds last season to 13.5 and 4.8 this season. He's also shooting 52.6 per cent from the field and ranks second on the team with 79 three-pointers.  

After Paul (10 straight playoff appearances) and Crowder (eight straight), this group does not boast extensive playoff experience and that includes coach Monty Williams. But Paul is among the game's great leaders and will be counted on heavily to guide the Suns through the postseason. 

Unlike several other top contenders, Phoenix have been extremely fortunate with injuries. The team's top six rotation players (Booker, Paul, Ayton, Bridges, Crowder and Johnson) have combined to miss only 19 games and Phoenix have used just five different starting lineups. Only Utah have used fewer (three).  

The Suns have fared well against some of the league's best teams with a 5-2 mark against the Lakers, Clippers, Jazz, Nets, Bucks and 76ers, but some of those wins have come against clubs missing top players due to injuries.  

That makes it difficult to get a read on how the Suns might perform in the postseason but considering the franchise has never won a championship in its 53-year history or even been in the playoffs for over a decade, the time for accomplishment is certainly now. 

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.

Giannis Antetokounmpo added another MVP award to his growing collection as the Milwaukee Bucks superstar guided Team LeBron to a 170-150 victory over Team Durant in Sunday's All-Star Game.

The previous three All-Star contests had pitted LeBron James against Antetokounmpo in a mouth-watering Team LeBron versus Team Giannis matchup.

But James and Antetokounmpo joined forces for this year's 70th All-Star Game as the later fuelled Team LeBron to a comprehensive win in Atlanta.

Two-time reigning NBA MVP Antetokounmpo – drafted first by Los Angeles Lakers superstar James – led Team LeBron to a fourth consecutive All-Star triumph behind his game-high 35 points on 16-for-16 shooting.

Antetokounmpo joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to go 16-for-16 or better from the field in any game (regular season, playoffs or All-Star Game), per Stats Perform. Chamberlain accomplished the feat twice in the regular season in 1966-67 (18-for-18 and 16-for-16).

Antetokounmpo's performance earned All-Star Game Kobe Bryant MVP honours for the first time in his career.

Team LeBron – without Joel Embiid as he joined Philadelphia 76ers team-mate and Team Durant's Ben Simmons in sitting out due to COVID-19 contact tracing – entered the fourth quarter requiring only 24 points to seal victory under the Elam Ending rule.

Each of the first three quarters started with the score at 0-0 and lasted the standard 12 minutes, with the game clock turned off for the final period and a final target score set.

Team LeBron's Damian Lillard sealed the victory with a three-pointer – the Portland Trail Blazers guard posting 32 points.

Stephen Curry, who won the Three-Point Contest as All-Star proceedings were condensed into one day amid the coronavirus pandemic – had 28 points for Team LeBron, including eight three-pointers in 22 minutes.

Jaylen Brown was next best for Team LeBron, while James tallied four points, four assists, two rebounds and a block in 13 minutes of action and Chris Paul posted six points and 16 assists.

Bradley Beal (26), Kyrie Irving (24 and 12 assists), James Harden (21), Jayson Tatum (21), Donovan Mitchell (15), Zach Lavine (13) and Zion Williamson (10) all had double-digit points for Team Durant.

Indiana Pacers star Domantas Sabonis upstaged Luka Doncic and Chris Paul to win the NBA Skills Challenge.

Sabonis defeated Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic in Sunday's final, ahead of the All-Star Game in Atlanta.

After losing to Miami Heat star Bam Adebayo in last year's decider, Sabonis went all the way in 2021 in a competition testing ball-handling, passing and shooting ability.

"I just wanted to come out here and have fun with," Sabonis said on TNT after the win.

Sabonis eased past New York Knicks All-Star forward Julius Randle in the opening round before stunning Mavericks star Doncic in the semi-finals in another flawless victory.

Vucevic topped veteran star Paul of the Phoenix Suns, but he was unable to stop Sabonis – who nailed a three-pointer on his fourth attempt for the title.

 

 

LeBron James selected two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo with his number one pick for the NBA All-Star Game, while Kevin Durant drafted Brooklyn Nets team-mate Kyrie Irving.

On Thursday, team captains James and Durant filled out their rosters for Sunday's All-Star contest in Atlanta.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar James and Milwaukee Bucks forward Antetokounmpo often go head-to-head in the All-Star Games as respective captains, but that is not the case this year.

Antetokounmpo will team up with James, who also selected Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and the Denver Nuggets' MVP candidate Nikola Jokic as starters.

Team LeBron's reserves are Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers), Chris Paul (Phoenix Suns), Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics), Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers), Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers) and Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz).

Durant – sidelined as he nurses a hamstring injury – turned to Brooklyn star Irving with the second overall pick in the All-Star draft.

MVP candidate and 76ers star Joel Embiid, Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, Washington Wizards sharpshooter Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum of the Celtics are the other starters for Team Durant.

The reserves drafted by Durant are James Harden (Nets), Devin Booker (Suns), Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans), Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls), Julius Randle (New York Knicks), Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic) and Donovan Mitchell (Jazz).

Team LeBron have won the past three All-Star Games after topping Team Giannis 157-155 in Chicago last year.

James Harden and Anthony Davis headline the reserves for next month's NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James and Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets will captain their respective sides – Team LeBron and Team Durant – in the 70th All-Star contest on March 7.

Nets guard and former MVP Harden has been named an All-Star for the ninth consecutive year as he headlines the Eastern Conference reserves, which also includes Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers), Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum (both Boston Celtics), Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls), Julius Randle (New York Knicks) and Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic).

Brown, LaVine and Randle have earned All-Star selection for the first time in their careers.

Lakers star Davis is the pick of the Western Conference reserves, alongside 11-time All-Star Chris Paul of the Phoenix Suns.

Joining the pair as reserves from the west are Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers), Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert (both Utah Jazz), Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers) and Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans) – who is a first-time All-Star.

The All-Star Game rosters will be determined through a March 4 draft, where James and Durant will select from the pool of players voted as starters and reserves in each conference.

The 10 All-Star Game starters were unveiled last week, with Durant, Kyrie Irving (Nets) two-time reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks), Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards) and Joel Embiid (76ers) in the Eastern Conference starter pool.

James, Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks), Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets) and Kawhi Leonard (Clippers) are in the Western Conference starter pool.

76ers head coach Doc Rivers will coach Team Durant, while Quin Snyder of the Jazz will coach Team LeBron.

The 75th NBA season will be different, that is for sure.

Having completed the previous campaign in a Florida bubble due to the coronavirus pandemic, the league starts a reduced 72-game schedule on Tuesday. That is not the only change, though, as a play-in tournament will decide the final two qualification spots in each conference for the playoffs.

So, with free agency long over, trades made and the 2020 draft done and dusted, every franchise starts with a fresh sense of hope and a clean slate.

Ahead of the opening games, here are six players to keep an eye on during the coming weeks and months, including some intriguing rookies and a familiar face now in a new home.

 

LAMELO BALL (CHARLOTTE HORNETS)

Ball will garner plenty of attention in his rookie campaign, even if the guard may have to go through some growing pains with the Charlotte Hornets. 

Selected third in the draft, the brother of Lonzo and LiAngelo has the passing skills and court vision to produce highlight plays. While only 19, it should be remembered he has already played professionally in both Lithuania and Australia. 

His three preseason outings for the Hornets produced averages of 10 points, 5.0 assists and 3.7 rebounds. Dwyane Wade was suitably impressed by what he saw, tweeting: "So breaking news: LaMelo Ball is a problem!"

SADDIQ BEY (DETROIT PISTONS)

Have the Pistons found a gem in Bey, the 19th pick in the draft? The shooting guard went to DeMatha Catholic High School – the same establishment as Victor Oladipo and Markelle Fultz, as well as Jerai, Jerian and Jerami Grant – before moving on to Villanova. 

His final year in college saw Bey shoot 45.1 per cent from three-point range, placing him fifth in the category for Division I players with a minimum of 150 attempts from deep. 

Those numbers offer promise for a Detroit team that averaged 107.2 points per game in the 2019-20 season, ranking them a lowly 25th in the league. 

CARIS LEVERT (BROOKLYN NETS)

The focus in Brooklyn will be on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, as the Nets finally get to put their two big-name free agency recruits from July 2019 in tandem together. 

Still, the dynamic duo will need help. LeVert averaged 27.4 points in five games during March, including shooting 44.1 per cent from three. He can expect to get open looks this season too, with opposing teams more concerned with his superstar team-mates.

While that is a small sample size, the shooting guard's presence has made a clear difference for the Nets in the past. In the 45 games he played last season, the team averaged 114.7 points. That number dipped to 107 when he did not feature. 

CHRIS PAUL (PHOENIX SUNS)

Paul is preparing to start a third straight season on a different team and, while far from a new name, considering he was drafted back in 2005 and is a 10-time All-Star, it will be fascinating to see what difference the veteran point guard can make to the Suns. 

His solitary year with the Oklahoma City Thunder saw him become just the third player to average at least 17 points and 6.0 assists when aged 34 or older. The others to manage that? LeBron James (also last season) and Kobe Bryant (2012-13). 

Now he joins a Phoenix roster that dazzled during their stay in the NBA bubble, despite eventually missing out on the playoffs. Devin Booker should certainly relish having Paul alongside him in the backcourt, while center and former No.1 overall pick Deandre Ayton should also benefit. 

OBI TOPPIN (NEW YORK KNICKS)

Toppin should feel right at home in the NBA; the Brooklyn-born power forward was drafted in the first round by the Knicks. 

The 22-year-old averaged 20 points, 7.5 rebounds and shot 63.3 per cent from the field for Dayton in college basketball last season, numbers good enough to see him named national player of the year. 

Denied the opportunity to have a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, Toppin will hope to make an instant impact in the Big Apple. The opportunity to play regular minutes – whether it be off the bench or as a starter – makes him a real contender to be this season's top rookie performer. 

COBY WHITE (CHICAGO BULLS)

Coby White was a much-needed positive for the Bulls in an otherwise dismal season. They will at least be well rested having not been involved in the Orlando bubble, while Billy Donovan is now in as coach to try and improve results.  

Selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2019 draft, White averaged 13.2 points in his debut season. That is the fourth most by a Bulls rookie since 2000-01, behind only Derrick Rose, Lauri Markkanen and Ben Gordon. 

However, that number rose to 20.9 points (as well as 4.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists) from February 1 onwards – and there have been positive signs from the guard during a shortened preseason, too. 

Chris Paul has been traded to the Phoenix Suns in a blockbuster deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder, according to multiple reports.

The veteran point guard, a 10-time All-Star, was dealt from the Houston Rockets to the Thunder last offseason but is now on the move again to a Suns team with an intriguing young core.

Paul and forward Abdel Nader will head to Phoenix in exchange in exchange for Kelly Oubre Jr, Ricky Rubio, Ty Jerome and Jalen Lecque as well as a 2022 first-round pick.

The acquisition of Paul gives the Suns a veteran facilitator for shooting guard Devin Booker and center DeAndre Ayton.

Phoenix went 34-39 last season, their best record since the 2014-15 season, going 8-0 in the NBA bubble after the campaign resumed following the coronavirus-enforced suspension.

They missed out on a return to the playoffs, finishing 10th in the Western Conference, but Paul's arrival will fuel hopes they can take the next step in 2020-21 as Booker and Ayton continue to develop.

Booker averaged 26.6 points per game for the second successive season, leading the team in that category. Ayton had 18.2 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.

For the Thunder, who lost in seven games in the first round of the playoffs to the Rockets, Oubre gives them another frontcourt scorer to go with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the team leader with 19 points a game in 2019-20.

Rubio can help fill the void at point guard with Dennis Schroder seemingly set to join Paul in leaving for pastures new, the German expected to link up with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Suns hold the 10th overall selection in Wednesday's draft, while the Thunder will have to wait until pick number 25 to add a rookie to their roster.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis were both named in the All-NBA First Team on Wednesday as the Los Angeles Lakers prepare to face the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.

The All-NBA selections were announced as the playoffs hot up in Orlando, although the Lakers duo were the only remaining members of the First Team.

James and Davis were joined by James Harden, whose Houston Rockets they beat in the second round, along with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic.

MVP candidates James and Antetokounmpo were both unanimous votes.

The Los Angeles Clippers' Kawhi Leonard and playoff nemesis Nikola Jokic headlined the Second Team. Jokic led the Nuggets past the Clippers on Tuesday to complete another remarkable series fightback.

Damian Lillard was also included after carrying the Portland Trail Blazers into the postseason, alongside veteran Chris Paul, who impressed following his trade from the Rockets to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Pascal Siakam - disappointing in the playoffs for defending champions the Toronto Raptors - made up the selection.

Meanwhile, in the Third Team, the Boston Celtics' Jayson Tatum and the Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler are both still alive as Eastern Conference Finals opponents.

Russell Westbrook, part of the Paul trade, got recognition, too, and was joined by Rudy Gobert and Ben Simmons, the latter ending the season injured.

Jimmy Butler put on a show as the Miami Heat topped the Milwaukee Bucks 115-104 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals in the NBA playoffs.

Butler posted a playoff career-high 40 points to lead the Heat past the top-seeded Bucks at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida on Monday.

A five-time All-Star, Butler scored 14 of his points in the final quarter as fifth seeds the Heat upstaged Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.

Butler became just the third player in Miami's postseason history to have at least 40 points, following in the footsteps of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.

Heat team-mate Goran Dragic added 27 points for Miami, whose 5-0 start to the playoffs is tied for the best ever by a team seeded fifth or lower, per STATS. The Washington Wizards also started 5-0 as the fifth seeds in 2015.

Despite outscoring the Heat 40-29 in the opening quarter, the Bucks were unable to hold on as the Heat's defence starred.

Reigning MVP Antetokounmpo had 18 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists for the Bucks, who were led by Khris Middleton's 28 points.

The Heat and Bucks will meet again in Game 2 on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City Thunder forced a Game 7 against the Houston Rockets after prevailing 104-100.

Facing elimination in the Western Conference opening round, veteran Chris Paul came up big for the Thunder with 28 points and seven rebounds.

Trailing 98-92 with just over four minutes remaining, former Rockets guard Paul was clutch for the Thunder, nailing a pair of three-pointers down the stretch to lift his team.

James Harden recorded 32 points and eight rebounds for the beaten Rockets, who face the Thunder in Wednesday's decider, while Russell Westbrook had seven turnovers against his former team.

 

Jazz face Nuggets

The Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets will go head-to-head in Game 7 of their Western Conference first-round matchup on Tuesday. The Boston Celtics and defending champions the Toronto Raptors are also in action in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semi-final series.

An emotional Chris Paul praised the "huge" work of his NBA colleagues and said he will never forget the meetings that followed the Milwaukee Bucks' strike this week.

The Bucks refused to take the court against the Orlando Magic in Game 5 of their first-round series after the shooting of Jacob Blake.

Blake, a black man, was repeatedly shot in the back by police in the team's home state of Wisconsin.

The incident prompted the latest in a series of demonstrations against police brutality and racial inequality, with all playoff games on Wednesday and Thursday subsequently postponed.

A return to action was agreed for Saturday but only after the 13 teams present in Orlando held lengthy meetings to discuss a route forward.

Resumption plans came with commitments from the league that placed a particular emphasis upon enabling voter participation in the 2020 general election this November.

Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Paul had a key role, as the NBPA president, and told the media of his pride at the meetings while again describing his pain.

"Fifteen years in this league and I've never seen a thing like it," Paul said. "Honestly.

"I wasn't the oldest one in the room - I think Udonis Haslem was - but the voices that were heard, I'll never forget it, I'll never forget it.

"For a lot of us, you get a chance to read and see pictures of the Cleveland Summit, those who came before us, the Muhammad Alis, the Jim Browns, the Kareem Abdul-Jabbars, and how powerful they were.

"We're not saying that we're that, but what we're doing in our league right now is huge.

"I think for the young guys in our league, they get a chance to see how guys are really coming together and speaking and see real change, real action.

"Because guys are tired. Like, I mean, tired. When I say 'tired,' we're not physically tired, we're just tired of seeing the same thing over and over again, right?

"I was blessed and fortunate enough to talk to Jacob Blake's father - he was in my home state of Winston-Salem for a while - and it's emotional, especially when you're a black man.

"You know that when [Bucks star] George Hill spoke, he talked about being a black man and he was hurt. He was hurt. We're all hurt.

"We're all tired of just seeing the same thing over and over again and everybody just expects us to be okay, just because we get paid great money. You know, we're human. We have real feelings.

"And I'm glad that we got the chance to get in a room together to talk with one another and not just cross paths and say, 'good luck in your game today'."

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