Battling both Father Time and his opponent, LeBron James remains a nearly unstoppable force in his 18th season. 

Averaging 25.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 7.9 assists, James is once again posting impressive numbers for the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers while playing every game so far this season.

With Los Angeles off to a 22-7 start, James appears to be the early favourite for MVP, which would put James in rarified air with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell and Michael Jordan as the only players to win the award at least five times. 

James, who won his first MVP award after the 2008-09 season, would also secure the record for the most time between MVP honours if he were to win again – a fitting tribute for a player who has broken the rules of basketball longevity.

As good as James has been this season, his lead in the race is narrow, and perhaps his three most deserving rivals come from the center position, despite the league's embrace of "small ball". 

Whether it be the "seven seconds or less" Phoenix Suns teams of the mid-2000s, the perimeter-fueled Golden State Warriors teams that won three titles or the Houston Rockets' dramatic downsizing last season that left 6ft 5in P.J. Tucker defending 7-footers, the NBA has been trending small for the better part of the last two decades.  

Shaquille O'Neal is the last true center to win MVP in 1999-00, although Tim Duncan played plenty of center during his 2001-02 and 2003-03 MVP campaigns. Some pundits have even forecasted the extinction of the true center as the league leans toward perimeter play and positional versatility.  

Yet three centers – Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets, Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers and Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz – are assembling compelling cases to be voted this season's MVP.  

Jokic is the focal point of the Nuggets' offense, on pace to dish out the most assists ever by a player 7 feet or taller at 8.6 per game. He is also averaging a team-high 27.4 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.57 steals.  

With Jokic on the court, the Nuggets score 117.2 points per 100 possessions – better than any team's full-season numbers – while shooting 49.9 percent from the field. When Jokic sits, Denver's offense operates with the efficiency of league-worst Cleveland, shoots just 42.5 percent, makes fewer 3-pointers and commits more turnovers.  

The Serbia native has helped the Nuggets navigate several absences due to COVID-19 protocols, but with a 15-13 start – eighth in the West – MVP voters are typically hesitant to vote for a team outside the top four in its conference. And while Jokic has improved on defense over the last few seasons, his weaknesses on that side of the floor are a fair argument against him being named more valuable than any other player.  

Embiid, on the other hand, is a two-time All-Defensive Team selection who is also turning in his best offensive season by a wide margin. His 29.7 points per game are on pace to be the most by a 7-footer since 1999-00 (Shaquille O'Neal, 29.7), while shooting career bests of 54 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from 3-point range.  

Embiid is also a tremendous free throw shooter, regardless of position, making 85.1 percent this season. He is even better in high-stakes situations, making 88.5 percent of his free throws in the fourth quarter and overtime, including a 19-for-20 mark in the last three minutes of a game.  

With Embiid on the court, the Sixers have a net rating of +11.2 points per 100 possessions but are -5.7 per 100 possessions when he is off the court. Embiid is vital to his team, with the 76ers going 18-5 when he plays and 1-5 when he rests.  

While Embiid's time off the court shows just how valuable he is when he plays, it also may keep him from winning MVP this season. At his current workload, he is on pace to miss 15 of the Sixers' 72 games, more than 20 per cent. Embiid has played just under 748 minutes this season, while James and Jokic have played over 1,000 each.  

Gobert has played nearly 878 minutes for the Jazz, appearing in every game and leading Utah to a league-leading 24-5 record.

While his 14.2 points per game fail to measure up to his competitors' numbers, Gobert slots perfectly into the "best player on the best team" role that Giannis Antetokounmpo has occupied over the last two seasons and has added 13.4 rebounds and a career-high 2.69 blocks per game.  

Gobert is second in the league in plus-minus per 48 minutes at +15.3 (min. 500 minutes played), trailing only teammate Mike Conley at +18.9. 

The Jazz have surrounded Gobert with a roster mostly consisting of average or worse defensive players yet still rank third in the NBA, allowing 106 points per game.  

When Gobert is on the floor, Utah holds opponents to 101.6 points per 100 possession, fewer than any team's full-season numbers this year. And while Gobert ranks second in the NBA in blocked shots, his defensive impact extends beyond traditional numbers.  

Utah's opponents have attempted just 18.8 free throws per game – second fewest in the NBA – and Gobert's intimidating presence in the middle appears to be why. With Gobert on the court, Utah's opponents are attempting just 15.2 free throws per 100 possessions. When Gobert sits, that number balloons to 24.2.  

Ultimately, though, Gobert's limited offensive role makes him an outside candidate for MVP unless the Jazz finish the season on a historically great run.  

Gobert's skew toward defense, Jokic's skew toward offense and Embiid's limited availability could all open the door for LeBron – a worthy candidate in his own right – to take home his fifth MVP after this season.   

This trio of centers, however, has proven that there is still room for the big man to dominate in the modern NBA.  

Joel Embiid led the Philadelphia 76ers to victory over the Houston Rockets despite a back issue but is not alarmed by the ongoing injury.

All-Star center Embiid has been dealing with back tightness since a fall in the win against the Los Angeles Lakers in January, though he has only missed two games.

With Ben Simmons sitting out against the Rockets due to illness, Embiid was keen to take part against the Rockets on Wednesday and he put up 31 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.

It was the 26-year-old's 12th straight game with at least 25 points, joining Allen Iverson and Wilt Chamberlain as the only 76ers players to achieve that feat.

Philadelphia led by 26 points at halftime but Houston cut the deficit to four during the final quarter, meaning Embiid was on the floor a lot longer than he had initially planned.

"It was pretty tight, but I just wanted to make sure we got the win and that's all that matters," said Embiid.

"I wanted to give it a shot for five more minutes [in the second half], obviously things changed and I had to adjust to it but the whole game it was pretty tight. But I'll be fine.

"It's not alarming. As NBA players we're playing every single night and the body is sore, you've just got to take care of yourself. It's normal.

"It's tightness. Some days its tighter than usual, some days it's not. After the [Phoenix] Suns game it got tighter than usual and today when we started it was tighter than usual, so it's just some days and I've just got to go home and continue to do what I've been doing and I'll be fine."

The 76ers had 13 turnovers in the second half and Embiid accounted for five of those. It took the team's total for the game to 20.

"They started making some shots, we had a couple turnovers – especially me," Embiid said when asked to explain the Rockets' resurgence.

"We had a stretch where at least six possessions in a row we had nothing going on and they just came back down the other end and just started making shots.

"We've just got to learn how to close games when needed. There's a lot to learn but we got the win."

Head coach Doc Rivers added: "It just got sloppy. It happens. We had a big lead, probably didn't have a lot left in the tank.

"We really had some unforced turnovers, which you don't like. Teams like Houston are going to keep throwing the ball at the rim and if you turn the ball over you're going to allow them back in the game.

"I don't think it was the pressure it was more us and we had a lot of self-inflicted wounds."

Embiid also praised Matisse Thybulle, who thrived in the zone defense despite the absence of Simmons and had a game-high four steals.

"When you've got Matisse in the game, I feel like that's our best defense. He gets his hands on everything," said Embiid.

"I think he has the potential to be the best defender in the league, just the way he moves, the way he wins on defense. He's got great hands, so that's one of the reasons why we do it.

"We did it in Indiana in that fourth quarter and he completely changed the game and tonight we basically did it the whole game, he was all over the place.

"I think he has a chance, especially when it comes to All-NBA Defensive Teams."

Joel Embiid's return fuelled the Philadelphia 76ers' to a drought-ending 118-113 win over the Houston Rockets in the NBA on Wednesday.

Embiid had scored 35 points in back-to-back games before back tightness caused him to miss Monday's defeat to the high-flying Utah Jazz – a third straight loss – but the three-time All Star came back in style.

The star center claimed a 31-point, 11-rebound double-double, adding nine assists, as the 76ers dug deep against the Rockets to condemn Houston to a seventh defeat in a row midweek.

Philadelphia's win improved the 76ers to 19-10 atop of the Eastern Conference, while Western Conference leaders the Jazz extended their winning run to nine games with a 114-96 triumph against the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Jazz have won 20 of their past 21 games to set the pace in the NBA this season.

Elsewhere, the Portland Trail Blazers made it a 3-0 road trip with a 126-124 win against the New Orleans Pelicans as Damian Lillard scorched to 43 points and 16 assists after dropping the winning three-pointer in the final seconds.

Pelicans star Zion Williamson hit back with a career-high 36 points for the hosts, but Portland snatched a sixth consecutive win.

Stephen Curry delivered another dazzling display of three-point shooting as the Golden State Warriors overpowered the Orlando Magic 111-105 in the NBA.

Curry went into the contest on a career-best streak of 12 consecutive games scoring at least four three-pointers, and the two-time MVP wasted no time extending that run to 13 inside the first quarter at Chase Center on Thursday.

James Harden is the only other player in NBA history to nail four threes in 13 straight games, after putting up 40 points, draining 10 of 19 from beyond the arc.

Curry has posted at least 25 points while shooting at least 50.0 per cent from the field in each of his last eight games. According to Stats Perform, it is the longest streak by any guard since Michael Jordan did so in 11 successive games in 1995-96.

Warriors team-mate Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points in support, while Magic star Nikola Vucevic hit a 25-point, 13-rebound double-double in reply.

Stephen Curry joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only Golden State Warriors players to post multiple 55-point games in a season, but his team lost to Luka Doncic's Dallas Mavericks 134-32 in the NBA.

Curry nailed a season-high 11 three-pointers en route to 57 points in a thrilling duel with Mavericks star Doncic on Saturday.  

Former MVP Curry put up his eighth 50-plus point game in his career, however, it was not enough.

Doncic tied his career high with 42 points in Dallas, where he also had 11 assists to snap the Mavericks' six-game home losing streak.

Meanwhile, Nikola Jokic joined Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson as the only Denver Nuggets players with 50-plus point games in the past 20 seasons.

Jokic finished with a career-high 50 points – including 23 points in the final quarter – but the Nuggets still went down 119-114 to the Sacramento Kings.

The MVP candidate also had 12 assists and eight rebounds as the Nuggets dropped their third straight game.

 

Embiid leads 76ers

Joel Embiid became the first Philadelphia 76ers player with eight consecutive 25-plus point games since Iverson in 2006. The three-time All-Star registered 33 points in a 124-108 win over the Brooklyn Nets, who were without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. James Harden led the Nets with 26 points and 10 assists.

Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo had 24 points and 11 rebounds for the Milwaukee Bucks, who eased past the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-99.

The Oklahoma City Thunder scored a team-record 83 points in the first half as they edged the Minnesota Timberwolves 120-118. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander posted 31 points to the Thunder.

The Chicago Bulls defeated the Orlando Magic 118-92 behind Zach LaVine's 39 points on the road.

LeBron James had 33 points and 11 assists and Anthony Davis added 30 points as NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers prevailed 135-129 against the Detroit Pistons in double overtime.

 

Oladipo struggles

Victor Oladipo ended the Houston Rockets' 111-106 loss to the San Antonio Spurs with nine points on four-of-14 shooting from the field. He also missed all three of his attempts from beyond the arc.

In 34 minutes of action, Rodney Hood was three-of-10 from the field and made just one of six three-point shots for seven points as the Portland Trail Blazers were beaten 110-99 by the New York Knicks.

 

Zion with the slam!

Zion Williamson had the final say against the Memphis Grizzlies. His game-sealing dunk saw the New Orleans Pelicans to a 118-109 win. Williamson had 29 points, while team-mate Brandon Ingram scored 27 points, collected 12 rebounds and tallied a career-high four blocks.

 

Saturday's results

New York Knicks 110-99 Portland Trail Blazers
Sacramento Kings 119-114 Denver Nuggets
Chicago Bulls 118-92 Orlando Magic
Philadelphia 76ers 124-108 Brooklyn Nets
Atlanta Hawks 132-121 Toronto Raptors
Milwaukee Bucks 124-99 Cleveland Cavaliers
San Antonio Spurs 111-106 Houston Rockets
Oklahoma City Thunder 120-118 Minnesota Timberwolves
Dallas Mavericks 134-132 Golden State Warriors
New Orleans Pelicans 118-109 Memphis Grizzlies
Los Angeles Lakers 135-129 Detroit Pistons (double OT)

 

Kings at Clippers

Before Super Bowl LV gets underway, the Los Angeles Clippers (17-7)-Kings (11-11) matchup headlines a slate of five early NBA games on Sunday.

The Brooklyn Nets shared the load in a high-scoring 147-125 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA.

Playing without star Kevin Durant (Achilles), the Nets extended their winning streak to four games on Friday after nine players had double-digit points.

According to Stats Perform, it was just the second time in team history the Nets had nine such players (against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1984) as James Harden led the way with a triple-double of 25 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.

Harden became the second Net in the last 25 years with three triple-doubles in a season, while Irving put up 25 points, seven assists and five rebounds on the road.

It was also the second time this season the Nets have scored 145-plus points in a non-overtime game. No other NBA team have achieved it even once this season, and Brooklyn had just one such game in team history entering this season – 147 in 1982.

Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles surpassed John Stockton for the most three-pointers made (846) in franchise history in a 120-101 win over the Dallas Mavericks.

Ingles was two-of-four from three-point range for 10 points as the Jazz made it 11 consecutive victories to own the NBA's best record at 15-4.

Utah have made 319 three-pointers through 19 games this season – the most ever by any team after 19 fixtures.

Bojan Bogdanovic led the Jazz with a game-high 22 points, while Rudy Gobert added 17 points and 12 rebounds.

 

Young puts on a show as Embiid stars

Trae Young dazzled with 41 points as the Atlanta Hawks took down the struggling Washington Wizards 116-100.

The Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers accounted for the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves 118-94 behind Joel Embiid's 37 points and 11 rebounds from just 27 minutes of action.

Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 38 points and 11 rebounds but the Milwaukee Bucks were beaten 131-126 by the New Orleans Pelicans. Lonzo Ball recorded a season-high 27 points.

Nikola Jokic has registered 19 consecutive double-doubles to start the season. Since 1976, Jokic and Antetokounmpo (19 in a row in 2019-20) are tied with the second-most double-doubles to open a campaign, trailing only Bill Walton (34 straight). Jokic had 35 points and 10 rebounds in the Denver Nuggets' 119-109 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

Kawhi Leonard (24) and Paul George (26) combined for 50 points in their return for the Los Angeles Clippers, who defeated the Orlando Magic 116-90.

 

Nance struggles as Cavs crumble

It was not a good day for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were swept aside 102-81 by the New York Knicks. Larry Nance Jr. finished with just two points in 29 minutes after going one-of-nine from the field, while missing all five of his three-point attempts. Taurean Prince – part of the deal that helped the Nets acquire former MVP Harden from the Houston Rockets – was one-of-seven from the field for three points.

 

DeRozan with the Euro step

DeMar DeRozan posted 30 points and 10 assists on 11-of-14 shooting from the field. The Spurs star also Euro-stepped to the rim for a fine basket against the Nuggets.

 

Friday's results

Charlotte Hornets 108-105 Indiana Pacers
Atlanta Hawks 116-100 Washington Wizards
New York Knicks 102-81 Cleveland Cavaliers
Sacramento Kings 126-124 Toronto Raptors
New Orleans Pelicans 131-126 Milwaukee Bucks
Los Angeles Clippers 116-90 Orlando Magic
Philadelphia 76ers 118-94 Minnesota Timberwolves
Brooklyn Nets 147-125 Oklahoma City Thunder
San Antonio Spurs 119-109 Denver Nuggets
Utah Jazz 120-101 Dallas Mavericks

 

Lakers at Celtics

Following back-to-back defeats on the road, defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers (14-6) will look to return to winning ways when they visit the Boston Celtics (10-7) on Saturday.

Joel Embiid felt LeBron James should have been ejected for a foul during the Philadelphia 76ers eventful victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. 

Embiid contributed 28 points as well as six rebounds and four assists as he played 38 minutes in Philadelphia's 107-106 triumph - a result that handed the Lakers just their second loss in 10 outings. 

The center also picked up a flagrant foul for an elbow on Anthony Davis not long after James had been assessed one himself, having made contact with Embiid during an attempted dunk in the third quarter. 

In obvious pain after landing flat on his back, the three-time NBA All-Star was not as effective down the stretch during a dramatic finish that saw the Lakers roar back to take a late lead, only for the 76ers to snatch the win thanks to a Tobias Harris shot with three seconds left. 

Speaking to the media after the game, Embiid made clear LeBron should have been given a flagrant 2, which would have ended his involvement in proceedings. 

"That's a very dangerous play," Embiid said. "I guarantee if that was me, I would have probably been ejected from the game. 

"When you compare that to the one that I got, which I thought I didn't really hit him, I didn't elbow him. I might have touched him. But I don't think it deserved the flagrant, if you're going compare those two. 

"Those are tough plays, and I just thought, you know, it should've been a flagrant 2."

Embiid revealed how his sore back - an injury that has troubled him during this season - did not allow him to contribute as he would have liked down the stretch, the Lakers producing a 13-0 run to edge in front before Harris' game-winning shot.

"I missed a couple shots. I just didn't have the legs. Not because I was tired, which I wasn't, but my back just didn't allow me to dominate the way I've been doing in fourth quarters," Embiid said. 

Having seen his team improve to 13-6 for the season, 76ers head coach Doc Rivers revealed his immediate concern when seeing Embiid go down on the court, though insisted James was only making a "physical play", rather than anything more malicious.

"First of all, LeBron's not a dirty player," Rivers said. "It was just a physical play, and they had to call the flagrant, I guess.

"You know, all of the flagrants tonight... you can get a flagrant easy these days. But that fall was hard, and there was some concern there, for sure. 

"The fact that Joel kept going, clearly he wasn't the same after that, as far as his movement. And we kinda knew that, and we used him a lot in pick-and-rolls because of that."

James finished with 34 points and six assists during his 39 minutes, while Davis had 23 points. The Lakers will aim to bounce back when they travel to the Detroit Pistons next.

An intriguing NBA season continued to take shape last week with more shock results in the East.

The Philadelphia 76ers are at the summit as the teams below them trade wins in a far more balanced conference than the Los Angeles-led West.

Therefore, the big increases and decreases in production across the NBA were centred on the East, including big displays from one Sixers star while another tailed off.

We take a look at the best and worst performers of the week with the help of Stats Perform data.

 

RUNNING HOT...

Joel Embiid

Knee and back issues, along with the Philadelphia 76ers' coronavirus crisis, have impacted Embiid's time on the floor already this season, but he is now moving through the gears. The center had scored 45 points against the Miami Heat on January 12, only to then contribute just nine against the same team two days later. But there since looks to be consistency to Embiid's play as he tallied 42, 38 and 33 points in three Sixers wins last week, recording a double-double on each occasion. This weekly average of 37.7 improved the 26-year-old's season scoring from 25.0 points per game to 27.7 and appeared to lift the big man into the early MVP conversation.

Gordon Hayward

Staying fit is always likely to be the key for Hayward, given his awful injury record. He has played in 15 of the Charlotte Hornets' 16 games so far, though, and is averaging a career-high 24.1 points for the season. That mark was boosted from 22.2 points per game over the past week as Hayward turned in a pair of big performances against the Chicago Bulls and the Orlando Magic. His 34 points in the first game were not enough for a win, but 39 points at Orlando, along with nine rebounds, helped lift the Hornets to a competitive 7-9. Hayward's big contract has been justified to this point.

Clint Capela

The Atlanta Hawks recovered to a .500 record last week and Capela had a huge impact on both ends of the floor. The former Houston Rockets center averaged 21.0 points across three Hawks wins before sitting out the defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, but scoring is just one facet of his game; Capela also contributed 20.0 rebounds per game - the biggest increase on a seasonal average across the whole league. Perhaps most notable of all, though, was the 10-block triple-double that saw Atlanta past the Minnesota Timberwolves. His 2.3 blocks per game rank third in the NBA.

Kendrick Nunn

COVID-19 protocol kept Nunn on the sidelines for a stretch earlier this month, but the second-year point guard is back in the groove - even if the Miami Heat are still struggling to rediscover their playoff form from last season. Nunn started all 67 of his regular season appearances in 2019-20, only to lose his place in the starting five for the run to the NBA Finals. He is being utilised from the bench again this year but provided a huge scoring boost last week. The 25-year-old averaged 21.5 points across the Heat's four games, his increase of 16.0 from his prior mark of 5.5 per game the biggest such improvement in the league.

GOING COLD...

Terry Rozier

While Hayward stepped up in Charlotte, it was not a vintage week for team-mate Rozier. With 42-point and 35-point games to his name this season, the former Boston Celtics point guard was way off the pace in averaging 8.5 points across two games in which he played 38 minutes on both occasions. That knocked Rozier's season average down from 19.9 to 18.5, with a clear decline in his three-point shooting the obvious cause for concern. He shot 2-of-12 from beyond the arc, making 1.0 threes per game, down from 3.4.

Andre Drummond

The Cleveland Cavaliers stole the show last week with a sweep of the Brooklyn Nets in their double-header, but Drummond did not match the standard he had set previously in a monster game against the New York Knicks. Drummond had season-highs of 33 points and 23 rebounds as the Knicks visited Cleveland, yet he then fell short of a double-double for the first time all year in the first Nets game. Sunday's trip to the Celtics then saw Drummond play just 18 minutes, scoring a meagre 11 points, and he finished the week with 9.3 rebounds per game - solid enough but well down on his prior average of 15.8.

Tyrese Maxey

The Sixers' COVID-19 issues might have slowed the team's early momentum, but rookie Maxey was flying heading into last week. Outstanding with 39 points in a seven-man rotation against the Denver Nuggets on January 9, the 20-year-old kept his place and was averaging 11.4 points per game prior to Wednesday's meeting with Boston. But Maxey did not score a single point in that win and duly lost his place for the second Celtics matchup. He finished the week with just four points from three games, shooting 2-of-9 from the field.

LaMelo Ball

Rookie seasons tend to be rollercoaster affairs and Ball is certainly finding that. He is yet to start for the Hornets this season but was steadily contributing double-figures at the turn of the year, including an outstanding triple-double against Atlanta on January 9. Last week, Ball averaged just 9.0 points and 3.0 rebounds across Charlotte's two games, although he did contribute eight assists in the win over the Magic.

Doc Rivers saluted the impact and influence of Joel Embiid after his stellar showing drove the Philadelphia 76ers to a 122-110 win over the Boston Celtics.

Two days on from scoring 42 points in seeing off the Celtics, Embiid was on it once more against the same opposition, plundering 38 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.

With Tobias Harris weighing in with 23 points from 10-of-12 shooting, and Ben Simmons coming on strong with 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, Philadelphia had an irresistible combination.

"We're just growing, you can see it," coach Rivers told a post-game news conference.

"When you look at Joel's numbers - 11 from 15 - he didn't force it a lot, made some great plays out. 

"He let it comes to him. Down the stretch when they were starting to trap him, instead of winning the ball he actually was trying to get the ball to move the ball.

"It says so many things to your teammates. Then when Ben got it going it was Joel who was wanting to call the pick and rolls to get him going more.

"I like how the chemistry of this team grows each night. During COVID it's hard to try to get chemistry and you can see it growing."

Rivers applauded the "quick decisions" that Harris made in the game, declaring that on his best form he is an "unbelievable" talent.

"He's a train going downhill," Rivers said. "He's got a beautiful shot. I love how he's playing. I love what confidence he's playing with."

Even when Harris takes to showboating, Rivers is prepared to stomach it.

"It's going to happen and that's fine. He is talented enough to do it, I just don't think he's efficient when he does it."

Rivers said Simmons' impact in the closing quarter was "awesome". As well as his priceless points, Simmons also had 11 assists.

"He's doing so many things for this team. His winning formula is amazing," Rivers said. "Ben does a lot. He can't focus on one thing like focusing on just scoring, he's too good for that for me.

"It would be a waste if that's all we focused on with him.

"What I did like is he went downhill more tonight and finished at the basket. That's what he has to do and that's what we're working on."

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.

There is no doubt Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid is performing at an MVP level following his monstrous double-double midweek, according to Tobias Harris.

The 76ers took down Eastern Conference rivals the Boston Celtics 117-109 thanks to Embiid's 42 points and 10 rebounds in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Embiid – returning to action following knee soreness – had 22 points in the first half as the three-time All-Star topped 40 points for the second time in three games, joining Washington Wizards guard 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.

76ers team-mate Harris hailed Embiid, who is averaging 26.4 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game this season.

"It's not sort of, it's for sure MVP-calibre," Harris told reporters of Embiid after the 76ers improved to 10-5, and 8-1 on home court.

76ers head coach Doc Rivers was also full of praise following Embiid's mammoth display, which consisted of 12-of-19 shooting in 34 minutes.

"I'm not surprised at the level," Rivers said. "He's just more talented than even I knew. I knew he was extremely talented, but he has so many more gifts."

Harris, who signed a maximum contract at the start of 2019-20, contributed 22 points to help the 76ers past the Celtics.

His performance was not lost on Embiid, who added: "Tobias had a great night. He's playing at an All-Star level as he should be and he should be an All-Star."

"I just pride myself on doing whatever I can for our team," Harris said. "Making winning plays and the right play out there so that's just been my MO and I know my role as a player and I know what's asked of me night after night to be a leader and also to be a top player on this team and I’m embracing that."

While Ben Simmons did not have the best offensive outing, the two-time All-Star excelled defensively.

Simmons almost recorded a triple-double with 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, while he tallied two steals as he defended the likes of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.

"I thought Ben was unbelievable defensively," Rivers said. "First of all, we put him on Kemba tonight, we put him on Jaylen Brown tonight, put him on Marcus Smart tonight. It's amazing what he can do for us and tonight was a great example of that."

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.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said he "expects" All-Star Joel Embiid to return for Wednesday's showdown with rivals the Boston Celtics.

Embiid sat out Saturday's 106-104 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies due to right knee soreness, and the three-time NBA All-Star would have been absent again if Sunday's clash against the Oklahoma City Thunder was not postponed.

But Embiid took part in practice on Tuesday and Rivers is bracing for the 76ers center to make a comeback as two of the Eastern Conference's best teams meet midweek.

"I do expect him to go," Rivers said. "He was in and out of practice today, we didn't let him do a lot of stuff, but he looked pretty good."

Embiid – an early MVP candidate – is averaging 25.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game for the 76ers (9-5) this season.

The 26-year-old has relied on his jump shot even more this season but has instead taken most of them inside the arc.

Embiid – whose 76ers are 9-2 when he plays and 0-3 without him this term – has seen his jump shot field-goal percentage rise 8.2 per cent to 45.6 per cent in 2020-21.

The 76ers have been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, with Philadelphia left shorthanded since Seth Curry's positive COVID-19 test on January 7.

Philadelphia and Oklahoma City were scheduled to meet at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday, but the 76ers did not have the required eight players available because of contact tracing with the team.

But the 76ers – minus Curry – were back to full strength for Tuesday's practice, much to the delight of Rivers.

"It was nice," said Rivers. "We're not one of those teams that have the luxury of being together for several years. We have so many new bodies, a new system, new coach, everything.

"To have all those games and no practice and then to have all those guys out, and even your shoot arounds are not what you expect them to be, it absolutely has affected us."

Rivers added: "Even on a couple of days we have a somewhat of a practice, we didn't have enough guys to practice. Today was a day we had enough guys, we can change, we can sub in practice and put different units on the floor."

Joel Embiid was the headline act as the Philadelphia 76ers held on to beat the Miami Heat 137-134 in overtime, while NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers won again.

Embiid went berserk with a 45-point, 16-rebound double-double, and a career-high five steals and four assists, in a dominant performance to help the 76ers past the shorthanded Heat in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

The three-time All-Star had 10 points in the first half before carrying the 76ers with a stellar third quarter and clutch buckets in OT against the Heat, who were missing the likes of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic.

Embiid sent the game into overtime with a pull-up jumper 4.3 seconds from the end in the fourth period, while Dakota Mathias' only basket of the game – a go-ahead three-pointer with 26.1 seconds remaining – ensured the 76ers prevailed.

Philadelphia's Embiid became the first 76ers player with 45 points, 16 rebounds, five steals and four assists in a game in franchise history since 1973-74, while he became the first NBA player with those stats since 1983-84.

In Houston, LeBron James starred as the in-form Lakers took down the Rockets for the second time in three days, winning 117-100.

James posted a game-high 26 points, eight rebounds and five assists to help the Lakers improve to 9-3 atop the Western Conference.

Anthony Davis contributed 19 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks for the Lakers.

 

Green sets career high

Danny Green had a game to remember for the 76ers. He set a new career high with nine three-pointers against the Heat. It also tied a franchise record for the most three-pointers in a game, joining Dana Barros in 1995. The two-time NBA champion finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds.

Kevin Durant flexed his muscles again, scoring 34 points, tallying 13 assists and grabbing nine rebounds as the Brooklyn Nets trumped the Denver Nuggets 122-116. Nikola Jokic had 23 points and 11 assists for the Nuggets.

 

Harden – out of shape and out of sorts

James Harden's uninspiring start to the season continued amid ongoing trade rumours. The former MVP – looking out of shape – made just five of 16 shots from the field, while he only nailed one of his six three-point attempts for 16 points in 31 minutes.

Rudy Gobert got paid in the offseason, signing a stunning contract in excess of $200million. He was far from convincing in the Utah Jazz's 117-87 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. While the 2020 All-Star collected 10 rebounds, he finished with just four points on two-of-seven shooting from the field in 25 minutes. Gobert also had two turnovers.

 

LeBron trolls Rockets

As a four-time champion and NBA MVP, James has faith in his ability. The Lakers superstar took it to another level when he nailed a no-look three-pointer against the Rockets.

Tuesday's results

Philadelphia 76ers 137-134 Miami Heat (OT)
Brooklyn Nets 122-116 Denver Nuggets
Utah Jazz 117-87 Cleveland Cavaliers
Los Angeles Lakers 117-100 Houston Rockets
San Antonio Spurs 112-102 Oklahoma City Thunder
Indiana Pacers 104-95 Golden State Warriors
Boston Celtics-Chicago Bulls (postponed)

 

Nets at Knicks

Bragging rights will be on the line when the New York Knicks (5-6) host city rivals the Brooklyn Nets (6-6) on Wednesday.

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