Tyronn Lue hailed Kawhi Leonard's performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder, acknowledging the Los Angeles Clippers had to "ride him pretty hard" to get the win.

Leonard stepped up with 34 points, nine rebounds and eight assists to drag the Clippers to a 108-100 triumph in Sunday's contest.

He became the fifth player in the franchise's history to register those numbers and the first since Ron Harper against the Golden State Warriors in March 1994.

The Clippers have now won seven straight games and hold the joint-best record in the NBA at 13-4.

With Paul George sitting out the closing minutes due to hamstring tightness, head coach Lue praised Leonard for stepping up.

"He's been phenomenal for us, tonight we had to ride him," he said.

"Kawhi had it going so we played through him a lot, especially in the second half. He created points for himself and for the team as well.

"We had to ride him pretty hard just so we could continue to keep the lead and play through him a lot, I think he did a good job with that."

George had 11 points from 33 minutes and Lue explained why he was not involved in the final stages.

"I benched him…I benched him!" Lue joked, before adding: "No, I'm just joking. He had some tightness going into the game tonight.

"He got loose when he played but had tightness, that last four and a half minutes he tightened up again so it was just a precaution. Just his hamstring."

The Clippers are flying in the NBA and Leonard offered his thoughts on why the team are firing.

"I think our three-point percentage, not allowing threes, making sure the other team isn't getting good looks from three-point line is helping us," he said.

"We're playing team basketball, sharing the ball, staying level-headed, staying positive, making shots right now. We're trying to get better."

Paul George believes the Los Angeles Clippers have found the right formula for success after stretching their winning run to four games with victory over the Indiana Pacers. 

Despite being without Lou Williams and Serge Ibaka on Sunday, the Clippers eased to a 129-96 triumph that improves their record to 10-4 this season. 

George was one of seven players to reach double figures for points, Marcus Morris Sr and Luke Kennard also matching the six-time NBA All-Star's tally of 20. 

The Clippers sit behind Los Angeles rivals the Lakers in the Western Conference standings and, after a difficult 2019-20 season that ended with a playoff collapse to the Denver Nuggets, they are "locked in" for this campaign, according to George.  

"The chemistry is amazing," he said after the win over the Pacers, according to quotes on ESPN. 

"It's a real bond. It's fun, with this team, it's locked in, we are together; it is one of the best locker rooms I have been around and been in. 

"Hopefully, you guys see it, just how well we are meshing. 

"We are going to continue to build off of that. We like where we are at and like where we are heading, we want to see this thing play all the way through."

Following the signings of George and fellow superstar Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers were considered among the title favourites last year. 

An all-Los Angeles Western Conference Finals appeared on the cards when the Clippers led the Nuggets 3-1 in their series in the Orlando bubble, only to then lose three games on the spin and crash out of the postseason.

Morris was part of that roster but sees differences now, insisting all those on the team are working in the same direction. 

"I feel like our energy is way better this season," Morris said. "Guys are buying in and enjoying playing the game." 

The Clippers appeared in danger of letting slip a big lead against the Pacers, who pulled within two points of their opponents early in the third quarter. 

However, the home team responded with a 37-14 run, moving clear as they coasted to victory. They are back in action on Wednesday, taking on the Sacramento Kings.

Anthony Davis led the way as defending NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers continued their fine form with a 120-102 win over James Harden's Houston Rockets.

Davis, who sat out on Friday due to a groin strain, returned to score 27 points in Sunday's victory against the Rockets in Houston.

LeBron James posted 18 points, seven assists and seven rebounds as the Lakers won for the sixth time in seven games.

"[Tonight] was just A.D. being A.D. and just having him back in the line-up gives us a whole other dynamic both offensively and defensively," James said after the Lakers led by as many as 27 points.

Former MVP Harden finished with 20 points, while Rockets team-mate Christian Wood had 23 of his own.

It was a feisty game in Houston, where the Lakers' Markieff Morris and Rockets big man DeMarcus Cousins were both ejected in the opening half, while there were also five technical fouls and two flagrant fouls.

Kawhi Leonard reached a milestone after the Los Angeles Clippers held on to beat the Chicago Bulls 130-127.

Clippers star Leonard put up a season-high 35 points, including seven three-pointers, four assists and three steals to reach 10,000 career points.

Paul George contributed 28 points, seven rebounds and nine assists for the Clippers, who snapped a run of back-to-back losses.

The Bulls were led by Zach LaVine's season-high 45 points away to the Clippers in Los Angeles.

 

Durant stars on return

Back on the court following a three-game absence, Kevin Durant scored 36 points and collected 11 rebounds, but the slumping Brooklyn Nets still lost 129-116 at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander inspired the Thunder with 31 points.

Julius Randle's double-double of 29 points and 10 rebounds was not enough to lift the New York Knicks, who went down 114-89 to the Denver Nuggets. Nikola Jokic (22 points and 10 rebounds) propelled the Nuggets with a double-double of his own.

 

Curry struggles

While the Golden State Warriors trumped the struggling Toronto Raptors 106-105, Stephen Curry was uncharacteristically poor. Curry was just two-of-16 from the field, while he made only one of his 10 three-point attempts for 11 points in 38 minutes.

 

LeBron, the sniper!

James produced a moment of magic to unleash Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with a stunning left-handed pass from deep.

Sunday's results

Utah Jazz 96-86 Detroit Pistons
Los Angeles Clippers 130-127 Chicago Bulls
Oklahoma City Thunder 129-116 Brooklyn Nets
Denver Nuggets 114-89 New York Knicks
Los Angeles Lakers 120-102 Houston Rockets
Minnesota Timberwolves 96-88 San Antonio Spurs
Golden State Warriors 106-105 Toronto Raptors
Miami Heat-Boston Celtics (postponed)

 

76ers at Hawks

The high-flying Philadelphia 76ers (7-3) visit the Atlanta Hawks (4-5) on Monday. Doc Rivers and the 76ers are set to welcome back All-Star Joel Embiid, but Ben Simmons is expected to miss out after a depleted Philadelphia side – ravaged by coronavirus and injuries – lost to the Nuggets.

Kawhi Leonard warned the Los Angeles Clippers "have to change" after they were made to pay by the Golden State Warriors for another second-half capitulation on Friday.

The Clippers held a commanding 85-63 lead with just over three minutes of the third quarter remaining at Chase Center, but slumped to a 115-105 defeat.

Steph Curry was their chief tormentor, scoring half of his 38 points in the third quarter to leave the Clippers 6-4 in the NBA Western Conference.

The Clippers have lost eight games when leading by at least 15 points since the start of last season, according to ESPN, letting more advantages by such a margin slip than any other team in that period.

Four-time NBA All-Star Leonard, who scored 24 points, said such collapses are unacceptable and must be addressed.

The small forward declared: "We just have to change, pretty much. We've got to change it. We've got to get better."

He added: "I'm not about to tell you what we're doing in the locker room. It's locker room talk."

Leonard felt the Clippers made it far too easy for the Warriors (5-4) to storm back and secure what appeared to be such an unlikely victory when they were so far behind.

"Our third quarter was terrible as far as defense. Them able to get easy looks, coming down just laying up the ball with no one there. Steph Curry did a few times." said Leonard.

"In that third quarter, just guys coming down and getting either open looks or just walking to the basket and laying up the ball."

Paul George, the Clippers' highest scorer with 25 points as well as laying on seven assists, echoed Leonard's sentiments.

He said: "We want to just be great as a unit, just demand greatness out of everybody. We've got to be better. All of us included. This was a team loss, more than anything. We've just got to get better. We'll work on it."

George added: "I think this is good that something like this happened for this team so early. Because fact of the matter is, we have to be a better closing-out team."

Russell Westbrook, Doc Rivers and Billie Jean King reacted with revulsion to the assault on the US Capitol by supporters of outgoing president Donald Trump, united in the view there would have been a deadlier outcome had the rioters been black people.

On a dark day for the United States, thousands of Trump backers descended on Washington for a protest rally, refusing to accept the result of November's election that saw Joe Biden sweep to power.

Two weeks out from Biden's inauguration, many violent protesters breached security and accessed the Capitol, causing carnage and destruction as they appeared to go largely unchallenged.

There were a number of casualties, with four dead including a woman who was shot, while reports said a number of explosive devices were discovered.

Washington Wizards star Westbrook said: "It's very unfortunate to see. If those roles were reversed, if those were African-Americans, black people, it would be totally different."

He said the chaos was "just crazy, almost like a movie", and team-mate Bradley Beal agreed it was hard to stomach the scenes, given his view that police took a far less lenient approach to protesters during last year's Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

"It's very disheartening in a lot of ways - a lack of sense of urgency to respond to what was going on, versus protesters at Black Lives Matter over the summer," Beal said.

"The people who were invading our Capitol, that's unheard of and it's disheartening this is where we're at as a country."

Veteran Philadelphia 76ers coach Rivers called the insurgency "pretty disturbing" but vowed that "democracy will prevail".

"It shows a lot, though," Rivers said. "When you saw the [Black Lives Matter] protests in the summer, you saw the riots or more the police and the national guard and the army. And then you see this and you saw nothing.

"It basically proves the point about a privileged life in a lot of ways. I'll say it because I don’t think a lot of people want to: could you imagine today if those were all black people storming the Capitol and what would have happened?

"So that to me is a picture that’s worth a thousand words for all of us to see and probably something for us to reckon with again."

Tennis great King, a long-time activist for equality in sport and society, added on Twitter: "If the rioters storming the Capitol building today were Black and Brown people, the police response would be much different."

Footballer Megan Rapinoe became embroiled in a war of words with Trump during USA's triumph at the 2019 Women's World Cup.

Looking at footage of how seemingly easily the protesters were able to break into the Capitol, Rapinoe offered her opinion, writing: "This is crazy, how did they even get through the..... ohhhhh it was opened for them."

Trump had addressed the crowds earlier in the day, forcefully standing by his view that he was fraudulently robbed of an election win.

In the hours after the Capitol was cleared, Congress confirmed Biden's victory.

Richard Sherman, the San Francisco 49ers cornerback, described the rioters as "terrorists".

He wrote on Twitter: "Never thought Americans would let terrorists into the capital without a fight....sad day. There are certain things my brain could never imagine.... and one of them is black ppl storming a government building and taking things without deadly consequences. But that’s just my brain."

It was not just Sherman's brain thinking along those lines, though. Far from it.

Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard took the same stance, saying: "You just see the privilege, the privilege in America. "It's sad to see, because if any of us was out there, I think we would've been tear-gassed, Maced, probably gunshots, you know?"

And American track and field legend Michael Johnson said the scenes were only to be expected, given the nature of the Trump presidency.

"The alarms were sounded for four years. Republicans ignored them. Many in the media ignored them and normalized dangerous behavior," Johnson wrote on Twitter.

"Sadly, today it all came to be. Shameful! This president and his supporters. Shame on you! And take responsibility!

"People on Twitter (of course) literally equating BLM protesters fighting for justice and equality to White Supremacist Trump supporters (supposed Patriots) gleefully and violently desecrating America's oldest and greatest institutions of democracy. Sadly, this is typical America."

Stephen Curry and his Golden State Warriors team-mates have been playing with extra spice over the past week.

Questionable puns aside, the sight of a fit and firing Curry is certainly no laughing matter for defences across the NBA.

A golden era for the Warriors saw Steve Kerr's team reach the NBA Finals in five seasons running from 2015 to 2019, with Curry and the rest of a star-studded roster winning the title three times.

But a 2019-2020 season disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic was one of injury woe and transition for a Warriors side that finished bottom of the Western Conference (15-50), while they were a world away from playing in the NBA bubble in Orlando where the end of the regular season and the entire postseason was played.

The departures of Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala hit the Warriors after Klay Thompson had sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and Curry managed just five games in an injury-hit campaign.

However, after losing their opening two games this season, the Warriors have won four of the past five and welcome the Los Angeles Clippers to Chase Center on Wednesday with a 4-3 record – with Curry starring in wins against the Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings.

Five of the Warriors' next seven games come against teams with a .500 record or better, including a double-header versus the Clippers, and there is much intrigue as to whether Kerr's men can be a sustained threat this season.

TOP PERFORMERS

Golden State Warriors - Stephen Curry

Curry and the Warriors were certainly not firing on all cylinders in defeats to the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks to start the season – although his 20 and 19 points respectively were a team high.

Only one defeat has followed since then, though, and 32-year-old Curry has provided a timely reminder of his enduring quality including a barnstorming showing in defeating the Portland Trail Blazers 137-122 on Monday.

Curry sank a career-high 62 points in that game, as well as offering five rebounds and four assists, before following up with 30 against the Kings (nine rebounds, eight assists).

Consequently, the outlook for the Warriors and Curry himself looks a lot healthier. In the early throes of this season, he has averaged 32.0 points - second-most in the league - while his player efficiency rating (PER) ranks third.

His 32.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for 2020-21 are outperforming his career averages for the regular season (23.6 and 4.5), while his 6.4 for assists is only slightly lower (6.6).

A 36.9 per cent success rate from three-point range is way down on the 43.4 overall in his career, yet he was at 50.0 and 41.7 per cent in this metric over the Warriors' past two wins.

Golden State may need to find more assistance for Curry, though. The return to action of Draymond Green has allowed his superstar team-mate more space on the floor, but Andrew Wiggins (17.6) and rookie James Wiseman (11.4) are the side's next-highest average scorers. Without Thompson, the Warriors need a little more from their supporting cast.

TOP PERFORMERS

Los Angeles Clippers - Kawhi Leonard

Much was expected of a Clippers side that combined star-studded duo Kawhi Leonard and Paul George for the 2019-20 season.

But the Clippers surrendered a 3-1 lead to lose their Western Conference semifinal series to the Denver Nuggets last season and it has been a mixed bag thus far.

Defeat to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday left the Clippers at 5-3, and the Warriors might have to beware the wounded animal if they are to make a statement of their intent.

George missed that game due to ankle soreness, with Leonard putting up 30 points and 10 assists in the losing effort.

George leads the way for average points (25.1) for the Clippers this season, but Leonard (23.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists) is typically impressing across the board.

The efforts of Leonard are going to be particularly crucial if George, whose injury status is day-to-day, fails to make it against the Warriors.

KEY BATTLE: CAN BEVERLEY CONTAIN CURRY?

The best offensive point guard in Curry comes up against one of the league's best defensive point guards in Patrick Beverley. 

Beverley was on it against Spurs, contributing 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, along with two blocks, and it will be his job to be a nuisance against Curry.

If Beverley, a man with a penchant for trash talking, can keep Curry quiet then it is hard to imagine the Warriors will have the scoring power to take down the Clippers.

That being said, if Curry gains the upper hand in this battle of the guards then the Warriors can make a huge statement about their credentials this season.

HEAD TO HEAD

It was a clean sweep for the Clippers in the three games they played against the Warriors in 2019-20.

The most recent of those matchups was way back on March 10, though – a game in which Leonard put up 23 points in a 131-107 rout of the Warriors.

History is with the Warriors overall, with Golden State triumphing in 131 games to the Clippers' 90 from the 221 occasions on which the teams have faced off in the NBA's regular season.

Kawhi Leonard has been nicknamed 'Leatherface' due to the mask he must wear after an injury inflicted by Los Angeles Clippers team-mate Serge Ibaka, who he joked is now on the trading block.

A collision with Ibaka during the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets last week resulted in Leonard requiring eight stitches for a mouth laceration.

The four-time All-Star sat out two games, including the Clippers' heaviest defeat in their history when they went down by 51 points to the Dallas Mavericks, before returning in Wednesday's 128-105 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Wearing an unusual face mask did not seem to hamper Leonard too much as he had a game-high 28 points with seven assists, three steals and one block at Staples Center.

The protective gear has resulted in his team-mates referring to him by the name of the villain from 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' film series, but Leonard – a self-proclaimed "fun guy" known for his reserved personality – warned Ibaka not to take part in the teasing too much after injuring the franchise star.

"They started calling me Leatherface and stuff," said Leonard, continuing with a deadpan delivery.

"But Serge can't talk too much, we've got him on the trading block right now. So whoever wants him, let us know. We're trying to trade Serge."

Leonard said it was difficult to breathe in the mask and explained that the location of his injury was the reason for the odd aesthetics of the mask.

"Just where the injury is, it's a little difficult. Some guys have cheek fractures or they break their nose, and mine is really like trying to protect the stitches from getting hit and ripped, so it's a different scenario. You're trying to protect the lips and my jaw and my cheek," said Leonard.

"It's hard to do and that's what I'm saying it's kind of hard to breathe, because you can't really expose my mouth so much, you have to bring it [the mask] out and put a hole in.

"But there's a whole process to it. We're still trying to work on something better but it worked out pretty well tonight. I might have to get a mouthpiece or something."

Six of Leonard's seven assists came through the first two periods, tying his career high for assists in either half of a game.

The Clippers had 30 assists in total against the Trail Blazers, making it the first time since December 2014 that they have hit that mark in back-to-back games.

LeBron James made history in the Los Angeles Lakers' win over the San Antonio Spurs, while Jaylen Brown fuelled the Boston Celtics with a mammoth performance in the NBA.

Lakers superstar James became the first ever NBA player with 1,000 consecutive double-digit scoring games as the defending champions topped the Spurs 121-107 on Wednesday.

Celebrating his 36th birthday midweek, James posted 26 points, eight assists and five rebounds to help the Lakers improve to 3-2.

James – who surpassed Michael Jordan's mark, which only accounts for regular-season games, of 866 in March 2018 – last failed to score at least 10 points in a game on January 5, 2007.

Four-time NBA champion and MVP James has just eight single-digit scoring games in his illustrious career – six of them coming during his rookie season in 2003-04.

In the same game on Wednesday, Spurs assistant Becky Hammon became the first woman in NBA regular-season history to act as head coach.

Hammon – the first full-time, salaried female coach in NBA history – filled in after Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was ejected in the opening half.

 

Brown in 34-year first

Brown became the first Celtics player to score 40-plus points while playing less than 30 minutes in a game since Boston great Larry Bird did it in 1986, per Stats Perform. The 24-year-old Brown finished with 42 points in 29 minutes as the Celtics beat the Memphis Grizzlies 126-107.

The Miami Heat bounced back from their humbling at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks with a 119-108 victory 24 hours later. According to Stats Perform, Miami are the first team in NBA history to lose by 45-plus points and then come back to beat the same team the very next day.

Tyler Herro (21 points and 15 rebounds) and Bam Adebayo (22 points and 10 assists) led the Heat, while a triple-double from two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (26 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists) was not enough for the Bucks.

After a two-game absence due to a mouth laceration, Kawhi Leonard returned with 28 points to guide the Los Angeles Clippers past the Portland Trail Blazers 128-105. All-Star team-mate Paul George put up 23 points and 10 rebounds.

The Brooklyn Nets won a thrilling shoot-out with the Atlanta Hawks 145-141. Led by Kevin Durant (33 points and 11 rebounds) and Kyrie Irving (25 points), the Nets handed the Hawks their first loss of the season. Trae Young (30 points and 11 assists) and John Collins (30 points and 10 rebounds) each had double-doubles for the Hawks.

Rookie LaMelo Ball was seven-of-10 from the field, while making four of his five three-pointers for a game-high 22 points off the bench in the Charlotte Hornets' 118-99 success away to the Dallas Mavericks.

 

Doncic struggles

It was a forgettable game for the Mavericks, who dropped to 1-3. Star guard Luka Doncic was just four-of-10 from the field in a 12-point display. He also missed all five of his attempts from beyond the arc. Dallas team-mate Josh Richardson made just one of 10 shots from the field, while going 0-of-four from three-point range for four points.

Damian Lillard had 20 points, but the Trail Blazers star was far from efficient. While he was 14-of-15 from the free-throw line, Lillard made just three of 14 from the field and missed all eight of his threes.

 

LeBron with the slam

There was plenty to celebrate for James midweek – his birthday, another milestone and a Lakers victory. He capped the triumphant outing with a signature slam against the Spurs in San Antonio.

 

Wednesday's results

Boston Celtics 126-107 Memphis Grizzlies
Brooklyn Nets 145-141 Atlanta Hawks
Miami Heat 119-108 Milwaukee Bucks
Charlotte Hornets 118-99 Dallas Mavericks
Los Angeles Lakers 121-107 San Antonio Spurs
Los Angeles Clippers 128-105 Portland Trail Blazers

 

76ers at Magic

The Philadelphia 76ers (3-1) will visit the Orlando Magic (4-0) – the only undefeated team remaining in the NBA – on Thursday.

Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard has been cleared to make his return following a two-game absence.

Leonard sat out against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Dallas Mavericks after suffering a mouth laceration on Christmas Day in the NBA.

The two-time NBA champion was involved in an accidental collision with Serge Ibaka when his team-mate went for a defensive rebound and caught Leonard with his elbow in the win over the Denver Nuggets on Friday.

But Leonard will start against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, the Clippers announced pre-game.

Leonard – a four-time All-Star – is averaging 23.5 points, 5.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game for the Clippers (3-1) this season.

Kawhi Leonard has been ruled out of the Los Angeles Clippers' matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves as he continues to recover from a mouth laceration.

Leonard was involved in an accidental collision with Serge Ibaka when his team-mate went for a defensive rebound and caught the two-time NBA champion with his elbow in the Christmas Day win over the Denver Nuggets.

Clippers star Leonard sat out the humiliating defeat to the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, and the four-time All-Star will again be sidelined for Tuesday's clash with the Timberwolves.

"I am not sure when he's getting the stitches out," Clippers head coach Ty Lue said before tip-off against Minnesota. "But he's right now just day-to-day and recovery."

Leonard is averaging 23.5 points, 5.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game for the Clippers (2-1) this season.

The Clippers are looking to bounce back against the Timberwolves, following their 124-73 humbling at the hands of Luka Doncic's Mavericks.

Dallas produced a record-breaking first half as they earned a 77-27 lead at the interval – the Mavericks' 50-point advantage the largest through two quarters since the shot-clock era began in 1954-55.

It was also the first time in NBA regular-season history that a team won a road game by 50-plus points against a franchise that had a .650 or better winning percentage the season before, per Stats Perform.

Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks dominated the Los Angeles Clippers in a record-breaking first half on Sunday.

The Mavs had lost their opening two games of the new NBA season, while the Clippers won both of theirs, beating champions the Los Angeles Lakers in their season opener.

However, the tables turned in quite dramatic fashion at Staples Center.

The Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard, who sustained a blow to his face in the victory over the Denver Nuggets, and subsequently fell to pieces.

They trailed 77-27 at half-time, their 50-point deficit the largest through two quarters since the shot-clock era began in 1954-55, according to ESPN.

Doncic alone had 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists for Dallas. His first-quarter total of 13 matched the Clippers single-handedly.

A "scary" facial injury suffered by Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard on Friday left his team-mates "thinking of the worst".

The Clippers small forward was involved in an accidental collision with Serge Ibaka when his team-mate went for a defensive rebound and caught Leonard with his elbow.

Leonard was bleeding heavily from his mouth on the floor of the court before being taken off for further treatment in the locker room during the fourth quarter.

In the absence of the four-time All-Star, who later reportedly required eight stitches for a mouth laceration, the Clippers held out to beat the Denver Nuggets 121-108.

Paul George said he was "really worried" when he saw the initial damage to his team-mate, adding: "I was thinking of the worst. I didn't know if he was concussed or how hard of a hit [it was] or what actually happened because I didn't see it.

"I just saw him laying on the ground. That was first and foremost, just making sure he was okay."

Clippers forward Nicolas Batum said he spoke with Leonard after the game and that he appeared to be recovering.

"You don't want a player, any player, [to] go down like that with blood all over him and everywhere on the floor," Batum said.

"I think he's good. I just saw him in the locker room; he was okay, and that was kind of scary in the moment."

Leonard managed had 21 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals in half an hour of action at Pepsi Center as the Clippers gained some measure of revenge for their defeat to Denver in the second round of last season's playoffs.

Coach Tyronn Lue felt his players performed as expected to hold onto their advantage, with Leonard having left the court with the Clippers leading 108-97.

"Nothing was said [to the players]," he explained. "You know, just next man up. We know Kawhi is a great player. We've got to have the mindset that if he goes down, everybody has to be able to step up."

Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue lauded Paul George following his dominant performance against NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers.

George fuelled the Clippers' season-opening win over city rivals the Lakers, posting a game-high 33 points in the 116-109 victory on Tuesday.

After a forgettable playoff campaign in 2019-20, George provided a reminder of his All-Star quality as he scored 26 points in the second half.

George's haul is the second-most by any player in a season opener against the defending champions in the last 30 years, according to Stats Perform.

The six-time All-Star only trails LeBron James – who scored 37 points against defending champions the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 season opener.

"We just told him to be aggressive and he was unstoppable," Lue, who replaced Doc Rivers in the offseason, told reporters following his first competitive victory in charge of the Clippers.

The Lakers unveiled their championship rings pre-game, but Lue said: "Our focus was on us. The Lakers, they deserved that ring. They had a great year, and you can't take nothing away from them.

"Our focus wasn't really on the Lakers. They were the best team last year, so congratulations to them again, but now we're moving on."

Kawhi Leonard put up 26 points for the Clippers, who raced out of the blocks and led by as many as 22 points against the Lakers.

But it was the George show behind closed doors in Los Angeles amid the coronavirus pandemic after he was 13-of-18 from the field and five-of-eight from three-point range in 36 minutes.

George also finished with six rebounds, three assists and a steal as the Clippers earned early bragging rights against their neighbours.

Tuesday's result marked the second successive season the Clippers have beaten the Lakers in their season opener.

The Clippers are the first team to beat the Lakers in back-to-back season openers since the San Antonio Spurs did so in three straight campaigns from 1988 to 1990, per Stats Perform.

"I had a heck of an offseason coming into this year where I was able to train and get back on the floor and play basketball coming into the season," George told TNT.

"I'm just in a good headspace. I'm in a good physical space, and I put a lot of work coming into this year."

Last season, the Clippers sensationally surrendered a 3-1 series lead against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals, but Leonard added: "We're not thinking about last year.

"It's a different team. I'm just happy that we kept playing basketball the right way. Even if we lost the lead, we turned around and kept playing our basketball. We ran our offense, and that's what we take pride in tonight. Everybody had each other's back and was staying positive."

The Los Angeles Clippers claimed early bragging rights over the Los Angeles Lakers after upstaging the defending champions 116-109 on the opening night of the NBA season.

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard led the way as the Clippers took down city rivals the Lakers behind closed doors in Los Angeles amid the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday.

George fuelled the Clippers with 33 points, including 26 in the second half, while star team-mate Leonard added 26 points of his own.

LeBron James top-scored with 22 points as the Lakers' title defence started on a losing note, despite double-doubles from recruits Dennis Schroder (14 points and 12 rebounds) and Montrezl Harrell (17 points and 10 rebounds) – who left the Clippers via free agency.

Lakers star Anthony Davis finished with 18 points and seven rebounds in the season-opening defeat.

The Lakers, who unveiled their championship rings pre-game, were coming off the shortest offseason in NBA history after ending the franchise's 10-year wait for a title inside the Orlando bubble on October 11.

Frank Vogel's Lakers were slow out the blocks and the Tyronn Lue-led Clippers – who parted ways with head coach Doc Rivers at the end of 2019-20 – took advantage.

The Clippers raced out to a 22-point lead after outscoring the Lakers 39-19 in the opening quarter, though the latter eventually worked their way back into the contest.

However, it was too little too late as the Clippers – who sensationally surrendered a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets in last season's Western Conference semi-finals – ushered in the Lue era in style.

Kawhi Leonard says his "best decision" would be to decline the player option in his Los Angeles Clippers contract but that would not mean he has decided to move on.

Leonard joined the Clippers as a free agent in July 2019 after playing a massive role in the Toronto Raptors' being crowned NBA champions for the first time.

The four-time NBA All-Star and double NBA Finals MVP could opt out of remaining with the Clippers for the 2021-22 season and hit free agency once again.

Leonard, 29, said he is likely to pass up the player option, but is not looking that far ahead on the eve of a mouth-watering opening night clash with the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.

"Just for my situation right now, I'm just focused on this season," the star forward said on Monday.

"Not saying I'm going anywhere else or staying here, but I'm just focused on the season.

"Obviously, if I'm healthy, the best decision is to decline the player option. But that doesn't mean I'm leaving or staying. I'm focused on the season, like I said.

"We'll talk about that when the time is right."

Leonard averaged the most points (27.1) and assists (4.9) per game in his NBA career in his first season with the Clippers. 

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