Nikola Jokic and the whole Denver Nuggets roster have to be better at channelling their frustrations after a baffling collapse against the Boston Celtics, head coach Michael Malone has said.

The Nuggets were seemingly coasting to a ninth straight NBA win when a three-pointer from Facundo Campazzo late in the third quarter had them 79-65 in front.

But things unravelled spectacularly, with the Celtics hitting the final nine points of the third and the first six of the fourth to take the lead in the game for the first time.

The Celtics went on an astonishing 31-3 run and outscored the Nuggets 31-8 in an outstanding fourth quarter to win 105-87 against one of the league's hottest sides.

Jokic, among the leading contenders for the MVP award this season, was sat down by Malone with a little over four minutes remaining for going after the officials on back-to-back possessions before a timeout.

Malone had sympathy with his star player but said the whole team need to keep their discipline in the heat of battle.

"Regarding Nikola, he gets frustrated with the referees and what he perceives to be a lack of calls, and you understand that," Malone said. 

"But that can never take you away from your duty as a basketball player. So that's something that he, myself and all of us can definitely be better at."

For his part, Jokic – who had 17, points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds – believes the arguments with the officials are just par for the course in the NBA.

"I think the whole 30 teams are complaining and whining," he said. 

"We are just one of them. It's just how the game goes. They're doing their job. We need to do our job. Sometimes it's miscommunication, like arguments, of course, like in every job."

The Nuggets were playing for a sixth time in nine nights and were without Jamal Murray (knee) for a fourth straight game.

Malone again stressed the need for his team to keep their cool, but is already itching to get back into it.

"We have to be better," he said. "They turned up the heat, got into us, switched everything, and we allowed that to kill our offensive flow, and then we started complaining and whining, not getting back. Not competing.

"[But] the best thing about the NBA is we get on a plane this afternoon, go to Golden State and try to right the ship and play at a much higher level than we played today."

Joel Embiid accomplished a 30-year first for the Philadelphia 76ers, who made light work of Eastern Conference rivals the Boston Celtics 106-96.

Embiid – in his second game back after sitting out 10 matchups due to bone bruising to his knee – posted 35 points as the 76ers eased past the Celtics in Boston on Tuesday.

76ers All-Star and NBA MVP hopeful Embiid became the first Philadelphia player with at least three games of 35-plus points against the Celtics in a season since Hall of Famer Charles Barkley in 1990-91.

Embiid had his team-leading 16th 30-point game this season, tied with Nikola Jokic for the seventh-most 30-point games in the league.

Danny Green was six-of-seven from the field – making five of his six three-pointers – for 17 points as the 76ers returned to the top of the Eastern Conference alongside the Brooklyn Nets.

The 76ers, meanwhile, swept a season series from the Celtics (3-0) for the first time since 2000-01.

In San Francisco, the Golden State Warriors edged the Giannis Antetokounmpo-less Milwaukee Bucks 122-121 thanks to Stephen Curry.

Curry had a game-high 41 points, six rebounds and four assists to fuel the Warriors on home court in the absence of two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo, who was sidelined due to knee soreness.

Warriors star Curry had his fourth 40-point game of the season (42nd of his career), while the former MVP hit his 200th three-pointer of the campaign – giving him an NBA-record eighth season with at least 200 threes.

 

Zion matches Shaq as Hawks set NBA record

Zion Williamson's 25 consecutive games with 20-plus points on 50 per cent shooting or better equalled Shaquille O'Neal for the longest streak in the shot-clock era (since 1954-55). The former number one pick posted a game-high 34 points on 12-of-18 shooting in the New Orleans Pelicans' 123-107 defeat the Atlanta Hawks.

The Hawks set an NBA record for three made in a quarter without a miss, going 11 for 11 in the third period. Atlanta finished 20-of-31 from beyond the arc against the Pelicans, boasting a 64.5 percentage. Trae Young (30 points and 12 assists) made six of seven three-point attempts, while Bojan Bogdanovic (21 points) was five-of-eight from three-point range.

Paul George (season-high 36 points) and Kawhi Leonard (29 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists) combined as the Los Angeles Clippers routed the Portland Trail Blazers 133-116.

Chicago Bulls recruit and All-Star Nikola Vucevic had 32 points and 17 rebounds in the team's 113-97 victory at the Indiana Pacers.

Jonas Valanciunas posted 20 points and 10 rebounds to tie Zach Randolph's franchise record with his 18th consecutive double-double as the Memphis Grizzlies topped the Miami Heat 124-112. 

The Denver Nuggets saw off the Detroit Pistons 134-119 behind Jokic's 27 points and 11 assists in 27 minutes. It was his 83rd career double-double, two more than Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain. Denver won their sixth straight game.

 

Bucks pair struggle

Donte DiVincenzo was just two-for-eight shooting, making two of his six three-point attempts for six points in 30 minutes. Fellow Bucks starter Brook Lopez (nine points) was only three of nine from the field, missing all four shots from beyond the arc.

Injury-hit defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers trumped the Toronto Raptors 110-101, but it was a forgettable outing for Kyle Kuzma (eight points). In 35 minutes, Kuzma finished three-of-13 shooting from the field, making two of 11 three-point attempts.

 

The Jokic-Gordon combo

Denver left Detroit in a spin as Jokic and new team-mate Aaron Gordon combined for a dizzying bucket.

 

Tuesday's results

Los Angeles Clippers 133-116 Portland Trail Blazers
Chicago Bulls 113-97 Indiana Pacers
Atlanta Hawks 123-107 New Orleans Pelicans
Philadelphia 76ers 106-96 Boston Celtics
Los Angeles Lakers 110-101 Toronto Raptors
Memphis Grizzlies 124-112 Miami Heat
Golden State Warriors 122-121 Milwaukee Bucks

 

Pelicans at Nets

The high-flying Nets (35-16) are set to welcome back former MVP Kevin Durant for Wednesday's clash with the Pelicans (22-28). Durant has been sidelined since February 13.

The team from the Mile High City is rising again.

The Denver Nuggets are starting to resemble the team that put forth a thrilling and historic run to last season's Western Conference finals, the first in NBA history to win two series in a postseason when faced with a 3-1 deficit. They are 12-3 since February 27, tied with the Phoenix Suns for the league's best record over that period, and are the only team with three players (Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr.) averaging better than 20 points per game during that time frame.

So, what has changed? How have the Nuggets elevated themselves back to a legitimate contender after spending the season's first two months mostly languishing in mediocrity?

It is no secret that offense is Denver's calling card, consistently ranking among the league's most efficient teams on that end even when hovering around .500 for nearly all of January and February. Defense is the true key to the Nuggets' success, however, and will ultimately be the determining factor to whether Mike Malone's crew wind up as serious title contenders or early playoff flameouts. 

Simply put, the Nuggets are awfully hard to stop when they are able to stop opponents at a passable level. Denver is 24-1 this season when holding foes to a field goal percentage of 47.5 per cent or below, with only the NBA-leading Jazz (32-1) owning a superior winning percentage when keeping teams under that number. The Nuggets are 19-1 when limiting opponents to 106 points or fewer, just slightly behind Utah's 20-1 mark for the best in the league when doing so. 

HIGHEST WIN PERCENTAGE WHEN OPPONENT FG PCT. UNDER .475:

Jazz 32-1 .970  
Nuggets 24-1 .960 
Bucks 25-4 .862 
76ers 26-7 .788
Nets 22-6 .786
Suns 22-6 .786 

The Nuggets were able to squeak by the Clippers in large part due to Jerami Grant's incessant hounding of Kawhi Leonard, who shot a combined 37 per cent in LA's four losses and finished with a 6-for-22 dud in the deciding Game 7. But Grant's free-agent departure to Detroit and the since-traded Gary Harris' inability to stay healthy has frequently left Denver without its top two defenders from last season, and a void Malone has often had difficulty trying to fill.

Need more proof? Well, just harken back to last year's playoff bubble. The Nuggets put on a defensive clinic at times in their conference semi-final series with the Clippers, holding them to 42 per cent shooting or below in all four victories. The Jazz shot a combined 51.6 per cent from the field while taking a 3-1 lead on Denver in that opening-round classic. In the final three games, they shot 44.4 per cent as the Nuggets stormed back to take the series.

Denver had no answer for the Lakers' interior game and abundance of size in the West finals, in which the eventual champions shot nearly 59 per cent from inside the 3-point line to win in five games. 

Until now. 

Aaron Gordon was not the biggest name to change uniforms at the trade deadline, but the former Orlando Magic forward could very well wind up being the most impactful of all the moves. What the Nuggets needed most of all was another Grant, someone with the size and athleticism to capably guard multiple positions, effectively get to the rim and offer at least a mild threat of perimeter scoring.

Gordon is not as good from the outside as Grant, but he is shooting a career-best 37.1 per cent from 3-point range and at just 25, there is still room to expand his game further. He is a superior rebounder and finisher, however, having shot a strong 65.1 percent at the rim for his career. And now playing alongside the premier passing big man of this generation in Jokic, there's reason to suggest that number can go up as well.

The Nuggets did not acquire Gordon for his offense, however. The Magic allowed 2.3 fewer points per 100 possessions this season with him on the court as opposed to him off it, and with a first-round matchup with either the Lakers or Clippers a real possibility, it was crucial that Denver added a player with the requisite size and skill to go head-to-head with Leonard or LeBron James.

It is an incredibly small sample size, but the returns have so far been smashingly successful. The Nuggets have opened the Gordon era with blowout wins over the Hawks and the admittedly depleted 76ers, and they are a plus-36 with their new acquisition on the floor over those two games.

With the defense seemingly upgraded and Porter's emergence as a legitimate third scoring option alongside the incomparable Jokic and the dynamic Murray, the Nuggets appear better equipped for an NBA Finals run after coming three wins short of getting there last season. 

Now, Gordon isn't the solution for all of Denver's issues. For all the great things Jokic does, rim protection will never be one of them. The Nuggets have allowed opponents to shoot 62.6 per cent at the rim, with only New Orleans having yielded a higher rate, and they were routinely manhandled inside by the Lakers' big lineups in the West finals. 

That looms as a potential problem again down the road, assuming the Lakers will have a healthy Anthony Davis for the playoffs, but one the Nuggets may have alleviated somewhat with the possibly under-the-radar deadline pickup of JaVale McGee. The veteran center provides the size and presence as an interior deterrent that Denver sorely lacked, though that benefit could come with a cost if it leads to Jokic playing less, or if he's alternatively moved to power forward, where his defensive limitations could be further exploited.

There are certainly worse problems to have, however, and there is little question the Nuggets got better at the deadline while many of their other chief competitors largely stood pat.

Buckle up, folks. The West's road to the NBA Finals just got a little more rocky.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joel Embiid's injury last week appeared to clear a path for LeBron James to collect his fifth NBA MVP award.

Philadelphia 76ers big man Embiid - averaging 29.9 points and 11.5 rebounds, as well as 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals - had already missed seven games this season before he went down with a knee injury against the Washington Wizards.

But Los Angeles Lakers superstar James did not see his clear run at the league's top individual honour last long.

James, who has 25.9 points, 7.9 assists and 7.9 rebounds per game, has carried the Lakers in Anthony Davis' absence but faces his own spell on the sidelines after an ankle sprain on Saturday.

That setback, in a defeat to the Atlanta Hawks, means this year's two leading MVP contenders face an uphill task to remain in contention as they sit out a key stretch of the regular season.

Nikola Jokic, the Denver Nuggets center, appears the man most likely to profit and has quickly been installed as the bookmakers' favourite.

But with several twists already in the race to succeed back-to-back winner Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jokic's standing is not yet safe.

With the help of Stats Perform data, we run through four potential winners ahead of Sunday's action - including Denver's 'Joker'.
 

NIKOLA JOKIC

The case against Jokic earlier in the season was his displays had not been able to lift the Nuggets into serious contention in the West. With 13 wins in their past 18 games to improve to 25-16, that is no longer the case.

While team-mate Jamal Murray has not been able to consistently perform at the standard he set in the 2019-20 playoffs - averaging 26.5 points in the 'bubble' but 21.1 this season - Jokic has taken his game to another level.

The Serbian's stat line for the year - 27.0 points, 8.6 assists, 11.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals - has never previously been achieved in league history, nor has any player in the past attempted at least 30 field goals across a season while shooting 56.6 per cent from the field, 41.6 per cent from three and 86.6 per cent of free throws.

This is an unprecedented campaign.

DAMIAN LILLARD

Tied with Denver at 25-16 in the West are the Portland Trail Blazers. Considering CJ McCollum has only played 16 games and Jusuf Nurkic 12, that is a quite remarkable achievement, led, of course, by Lillard.

Understandably, Lillard's usage rate is at a career-high 33 per cent, but he is making the most of those extra touches. Only Bradley Beal (32.5) has outperformed his 30.6 points per game - another career benchmark - and the Blazers star leads the league with 1,225 total points. Of those, 136 have come in 'clutch' situations, again putting Lillard at the top of the standings.

Taking a break from Portland's playoff push, Lillard even preserved enough energy to score 32 points in the All-Star Game, just ahead of Team LeBron team-mate and rival Stephen Curry (28). An MVP triumph would certainly see Portland's finest emerge from the shadow of the Golden State Warriors great.

GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO

Antetokounmpo beat James Harden to this award in 2018-19 and then LA's James last season, so a case of voter fatigue was always set to make him an unlikely winner for a third straight year, regardless of performances.

But with Embiid and James both hit by injuries, the 'Greek Freak' surely has to come into consideration. Once again, his numbers are seriously impressive.

The only man to outscore Lillard at the All-Star Game, putting up 35, Antetokounmpo is slightly down on last year's points (29.0 versus 29.5) and rebounds per game (11.7 versus 13.6) but has improved in all of the other key metrics with 6.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks.

The Milwaukee Bucks forward should be in the picture to retain both his MVP and Defensive Player of the Year titles.

JAMES HARDEN

Surely voters will not reward Harden in the year he forced his way out of the Houston Rockets? On performances alone, though, he deserves to be in the conversation.

The 2017-18 winner is not contributing the same number of points for the Brooklyn Nets as he was in Houston, but then his usage is down to 28.7 per cent for the year (28.1 in Brooklyn), by far the lowest it has been since the statistic was first tracked in 2014-15.

And Harden, still scoring an impressive 25.4 points since joining the Nets, is more than making up for this slight decline elsewhere.

So far the most prominent member of the team's 'big three', with Kevin Durant too often injured and Kyrie Irving absent for a spell, Harden leads the league in 2020-21 for assists (11.2) and is second for triple-doubles (11), making him an unpopular but worthy candidate.

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.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is confident of ending his wait for a first NBA All-Star Game win after learning of his Team LeBron team-mates.

Milwaukee Bucks superstar Antetokounmpo is making his fifth All-Star appearance this week but has ended on the losing side on all four prior occasions.

The two-time MVP was a team captain in the previous two years but was on the board this time and selected first by LeBron James.

Only once previously, in Antetokounmpo's All-Star bow in 2017, have the pair appeared together. The 'Greek Freak' led the team in scoring with 30 points, but they came up short.

That miserable record will come to an end in Atlanta in 2021, though, according to Antetokounmpo.

Alongside the Bucks forward, James took Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic and Stephen Curry as starters to produce an exciting blend of size and shooting.

"That's the starting five? Yeah, it's over guys," Antetokounmpo said. "Me, LeBron, Luka, Jokic and Steph? Man, that's a good starting five."

While Antetokounmpo is yet to taste victory at the annual event, James has three straight wins as captain of Team LeBron since the move away from the previous East versus West format in 2018.

The Los Angeles Lakers veteran is a three-time All-Star Game MVP and his newest team-mate is looking forward to linking up.

"He just makes plays," Antetokounmpo said of James. "Most of the time you're just wide open and I've never been used to that with somebody else creating the attention and me being wide open all the time.

"So, I've just got to do my job, make the right play, too, and do what I always do: just play hard and hope I can help him get a win."

Antetokounmpo was speaking after posting 26 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, two steals and a block in Milwaukee's dramatic 112-111 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

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.

LeBron James' performance was not enough as defending NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers lost 114-104 at home to the Phoenix Suns.

James posted a game-high 38 points, but the Lakers still went down to the Suns, who ended the team's run of back-to-back wins on Tuesday.

The Lakers had won 10 of their last 12 games against Phoenix – including sweeping the season series 3-0 last term – but a season-high 21 points from Dario Saric off the bench gave the Suns a rare victory.

Aside from Dennis Schroder (17 points), Talen Horton-Tucker (16 points) and Markieff Morris (12 points), James did not have much support as the Lakers continue to play without injured star Anthony Davis.

With the result, Phoenix extended their winning streak to three games.

 

Beal makes franchise history, Jokic dominates

Bradley Beal became the fastest player to reach 1,000 points in a season in Washington Wizards history – his 31st game of the campaign, surpassing the 33-game record held by Gilbert Arenas (2006-07) and Bernard King (1990-91). Wizards star Beal had 23 points in Washington's 125-111 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis' Ja Morant went off for 35 points and 10 rebounds.

Nikola Jokic produced another masterclass to inspire the Denver Nuggets' 128-97 rout of the Milwaukee Bucks. Jokic put up 37 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds for his ninth triple-double of the season and 50th of his career – the third-fastest player to the half-century mark in NBA history. A 27-point performance from two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo was not enough to prevent the Bucks from having their five-game winning streak snapped.

Paul George stepped up in the absence of injured team-mate Kawhi Leonard with a game-high 32 points, but the Los Angeles Clippers still lost 117-112 to the Boston Celtics.

Double-doubles from Trae Young (18 points and 10 assists) and Clint Capela (10 point and 17 rebounds) gave the Atlanta Hawks a 94-80 victory over the Miami Heat in Nate McMillan's debut as interim head coach following Lloyd Pierce's exit.

 

Heat fizzle out

It was a forgettable outing for the Heat in Miami. Their six-game winning streak ended abruptly on the back of a woeful shooting display. Miami shot just 37 per cent from the field, while they were only 27.3 per cent from three-point range. Tyler Herro was three-of-12 shooting as he converted just three of seven attempts from beyond the arc.

 

LeBron says no!

There was no way past James as he denied Phoenix's Deandre Ayton at the rim in the second quarter on Tuesday.

 

Tuesday's results

Memphis Grizzlies 125-111 Washington Wizards
Boston Celtics 117-112 Los Angeles Clippers
San Antonio Spurs 119-93 New York Knicks
Atlanta Hawks 94-80 Miami Heat
Denver Nuggets 128-97 Milwaukee Bucks
Phoenix Suns 114-104 Los Angeles Lakers
Detroit Pistons-Toronto Raptors (postponed)

 

Jazz at 76ers

The NBA-leading Utah Jazz (27-8) will travel to face Eastern Conference pacesetters the Philadelphia 76ers (23-12) in a blockbuster showdown on Wednesday. Both teams are coming off losses.

James Harden's triple-double fuelled the streaking Brooklyn Nets to a 127-118 win over the Sacramento Kings in the NBA.

Harden recorded his sixth triple-double since joining the Nets from the Houston Rockets in January, finishing with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists as Brooklyn extended their winning streak to seven games on Tuesday.

The former MVP is averaging 27.7 points, 9.4 rebounds and 11.1 assists per game with a .500 field goal percentage during Brooklyn's seven-game winning run. Per Stats Perform, the last NBA player to reach all those numbers over a seven-game span was Magic Johnson in 1988.

Bruce Brown scored 13 of his career-high 29 points in the final quarter, while Nets team-mate Kyrie Irving put up 21 of his own at home to the slumping Kings – who have lost eight games in a row.

 

Jokic goes off in Denver, Giannis stars

Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic scored 41 points to inspire his team to a 111-106 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo helped the Milwaukee Bucks past the Minnesota Timberwolves 139-112 thanks to his 37 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, two blocks and two steals.

The Golden State Warriors topped the New York Knicks 114-106 behind Stephen Curry's game-high 37 points on the road.

Kawhi Leonard (32 points) and Paul George (30 points) combined as the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Washington Wizards 135-116.

 

Baptism of fire for debutant Finch

How big is the challenge facing new Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch? Look no further than the loss to the Bucks. Minnesota have lost five consecutive games and nine of their last 10 to own the NBA's worst record of 7-25. Former Raptors assistant Finch replaced Ryan Saunders on Monday.

Fred VanVleet was just four of 14 from the field for 12 points in the Toronto Raptors' 109-102 defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers. Joel Embiid had a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds for the 76ers, but he was only three-of-13 shooting from the field.

 

Doncic calls game

Luka Doncic delivered in a clutch moment for the Dallas Mavericks, who edged the Boston Celtics 110-107. Doncic nailed a three-pointer with 0.1 seconds remaining to break a tie against Boston. He posted 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

 

Tuesday's results

Cleveland Cavaliers 112-111 Atlanta Hawks
Detroit Pistons 105-93 Orlando Magic
Brooklyn Nets 127-118 Sacramento Kings
Golden State Warriors 114-106 New York Knicks
Philadelphia 76ers 109-102 Toronto Raptors
Dallas Mavericks 110-107 Boston Celtics
Milwaukee Bucks 139-112 Minnesota Timberwolves
Denver Nuggets 111-106 Portland Trail Blazers
Los Angeles Clippers 135-116 Washington Wizards

 

Lakers at Jazz

It is the hunted against the hunters on Wednesday. Defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers travel to the NBA-leading Utah Jazz midweek. A run of three consecutive losses has left the Lakers (22-10) third in the Western Conference, behind the Jazz (25-6) and neighbours the Clippers (23-10).

The races for the top seeds in each conference in the NBA are getting more interesting.

It was a fascinating seven days of action in the NBA, which saw the Brooklyn Nets surge even with Kevin Durant on the sidelines.

They are on a six-game win streak and trail the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers by only half a game.

However, the Sixers can be encouraged by the form of their top two stars, who each enjoyed extremely productive weeks.

The Los Angeles Lakers are on a two-game losing streak and are two and a half games back of the Utah Jazz in the race for the top seed in the Western Conference.

They will be out to get back to their best this week, and an improvement in three-point shooting from the MVP frontrunner would be beneficial to them doing that.

Here we take a look at some of the best and worst performers across the past week, aided by Stats Perform data.

RUNNING HOT...

Ben Simmons

Simmons missed two games last week due to stomach flu but he was excellent in the pair of games in which he did feature for the Sixers.

He dropped 42 points in the loss to the Utah Jazz and, after a brief spell on the sidelines, was back with 28 in the defeat to the Toronto Raptors.

His points per game average for the week ballooned to 35, Simmons having entered the week putting up 14.13. Philadelphia will need more of the same the rest of the way if the Sixers are to clinch top spot in the East.

Jamal Murray

The Nuggets are in the thick of a crowded playoff race in the Western Conference, and their hopes of reaching the postseason will be boosted if Murray can maintain his form of the past week.

Having come into the week scoring 18.54 points per game, he averaged 35 last week, with that number inflated by a stunning 50-point game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which saw him shoot 84 per cent from the field and go eight of 10 from three-point range.

He went from putting up just over two triples per game to averaging five and, with a game against a Portland Trail Blazers team two and a half games ahead of them in the standings next up, Murray's success from deep will be pivotal.

Joel Embiid

Arguably the closest challenger to LeBron James for the league MVP award this season, Embiid was a monster on the boards for the Sixers this week.

His 50-point game in the win over the Chicago Bulls on Friday was also the first of two successive outings with 17 rebounds. 

Embiid's rebounds per game average jumped from 10.77 entering the week to 15 over the past seven days.

He will need to continue making that kind of all-round impact in scoring and rebounding if Embiid is to have any hope of denying LeBron the MVP.

GOING COLD...

Derrick Rose

Rose's second week as a New York Knick did not go to plan.

The 2011 MVP had come into the week registering 14.28 points per game, but that dropped to just 5.33 over the course of the last three games.

He endured a dismal week from the field, hitting just five of his 27 shots. Having gotten him out of a bad situation in Detroit, the Knicks will want a lot more from Rose in the coming weeks as they look to cement their grasp on a playoff spot.

Nikola Jokic

While Murray has been outstanding for the Nuggets, their MVP candidate had a down week in one key area of his game.

Denver lost three of their four games last week, and the Nuggets will look for improved play on the boards from Jokic as they target a reversal in fortunes. 

Jokic had been recording 11.5 rebounds per game but that dipped to 8.75 over his past four outings, failing to put up double-digit rebounds in back-to-back games against the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards.

He was back in double figures in each of Denver's last two games, and Jokic will aim to carry that momentum into this week and a key matchup with Portland.

LeBron James

This season has seen LeBron hit threes at his highest rate since joining the Los Angeles Lakers.

He has converted on 36.2 per cent of his attempts from beyond the arc but he suffered a decline from deep last week.

Having entered the week hitting 2.57 threes a game, he averaged just one over the course of the Lakers' last three matchups.

James has not made more than one three in a game since the second meeting in a back-to-back with the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 10.

With LeBron, though, drop-offs are only ever temporary. The MVP frontrunner should resume normal service from three-point range sooner rather than later.

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant have been named as team captains for the 70th NBA All-Star game on March 7.

Serving as a team captain for the fourth straight year, James received the most votes to earn his 17th All-Star appearance, and is joined in the Western Conference starters pool by Golden State Warriors’ three-point specialist Stephen Curry, who is selected as an All-Star for the seventh time.

Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers is named an All-Star for the fifth time, while Denver Nuggets centre Nikola Jokic makes a third appearance, and the Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic is called up for a second time to round off the starters pool from the west.

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.  

LeBron James' double-double fired the Los Angeles Lakers back to winning ways, while James Harden stepped up to rally the Kyrie Irving-less Brooklyn Nets past the high-flying Phoenix Suns.

James put up 30 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists as the reigning NBA champions leaned on their defense in the 112-104 victory over the last-placed Minnesota Timberwolves.

Without the injured Anthony Davis, Dennis Schroder played the supporting role for James, posting 24 points, while the Lakers battled to claim eight steals and seven blocks in a closely fought contest.

After taking a two-point lead into the fourth quarter at Target Center, the road side pulled away in the closing stages to improve to 22-7 in second place in the Western Conference.

Harden pulled out the stops with a double-double to lead the Nets to a sensational 128-124 comeback win against the Suns, despite playing without Irving after the star guard felt tightness in his lower back.

Nets coach Steve Nash revealed Irving received treatment at half-time of Brooklyn's win against the Sacramento Kings on Monday but expects the six-time All-Star to only be sidelined in the short term.

The Nets surged, scoring 40 fourth-quarter points to turn around a 24-point deficit, with Harden (38 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds) backed up by Joe Harris (22 points) as they halted the Suns' six-game winning streak.

Jokic burns Celtics but Nuggets fall short, Zion on target for Pelicans

Nikola Jokic lit up the Boston Celtics, scoring 43 points, but the Denver Nuggets could still not make triple-digits as their three-game winning stretch was ended in a 112-99 loss.

Zion Williamson shot an efficient 31 points, sinking 13 of his 16 field-goal efforts and going four-of-four from the free-throw line, as the New Orleans Pelicans snapped a three-match losing run with a 144-113 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Meanwhile, Damian Lillard’s 31-point, 10-assist double-double led the Portland Trail Blazers past the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 115-104 win, while centre Enes Kanter pulled down 21 rebounds.

 

Bazley struggles to take his chances

The Thunder never recovered against the Blazers after falling 34-21 behind in the first quarter and forward Darius Bazley was one player that could not find his range.

Bazley shot four from 16 from the field for 14 points during his 36 minutes on court, only dropping one his seven efforts from three-point range.

 

Giannis powers up but the Raps edge the Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo proved unplayable at times, scoring 34 points in the Milwaukee Bucks' 124-113 loss against the Toronto Raptors, as he ghosted past three defenders for one of his buckets.

Tuesday's results

Boston Celtics 112-99 Denver Nuggets
Portland Trail Blazers 115-104 Oklahoma City Thunder 
Los Angeles Lakers 112-104 Minnesota Timberwolves
New Orleans Pelicans 144-113 Memphis Grizzlies 
Toronto Raptors 124-113 Milwaukee Bucks 
Brooklyn Nets 128-124 Phoenix Suns

 

Jazz at Clippers

There has been no stopping the Utah Jazz, who have won eight straight and 19 of their past 20 games to establish a lead in the Western Conference, but a tough challenge awaits when they go on the road to face the third-placed Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.

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.

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