The past week in the NBA saw the Brooklyn Nets do something they hadn't previously done since February 9... lose a game.

Brooklyn's defeat to the Dallas Mavericks gave a boost to their rivals for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, headed by the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Milwaukee Bucks, another of those competitors, enjoyed a superb week with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo unsurprisingly coming to the fore.

Meanwhile, out west, Devin Booker strung together a series of performances that justified his place in the All-Star game.

By contrast, two players significantly more familiar with that contest suffered dips in form.

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

 

RUNNING HOT...

Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Bucks are firmly back in contention for the top seed in the East after stretching their winning run to five games, with three of those victories coming in the past week.

Antetokounmpo was predictably pivotal to their success, tallying over 30 points in each matchup to extend his streak to four games in that regard.

He finished the week with back-to-back double-doubles against the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Clippers, scoring 36 points in the latter game.

His points per game average jumped from 28.37 to 37, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks sending a message that they are still very much a contender for the title.

Devin Booker

The All-Star snub who was later added as a replacement showed why he deserves his place in the showcase this past week.

Booker averaged 33 points across the Phoenix Suns' three games, an impressive improvement on his previous season-long average of 24.28.

He capped it in stunning fashion, dropping 43 in the win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, which saw him go 15 for 26 from the field.

At 22-11, the Suns will loom as a dangerous playoff team should he continue that kind of form.

James Harden

Brooklyn may have finally seen their eight-game winning streak come to an end, but it was a positive week for Harden individually.

Absent the other two members of the Nets' big three, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, Harden could not prevent them from falling to defeat to the Mavericks.

However, he was more prolific from beyond the arc this past week, averaging 4.67 made threes having entered the week putting up 3.08 per game.

Harden is converting threes at the highest rate of his career. He is shooting 39.7 per cent from beyond the arc and 41.8 per cent since his trade to Brooklyn from the Houston Rockets.

But he is attempting only 8.2 a game, the fewest since the 2015-16 season (8.0). If he continues to shoot more from deep and maintains his consistency in converting those attempts, a loaded Nets team will have yet another dimension.

GOING COLD...

Paul George

An up-and-down week for the Clippers started brilliantly for George, who racked up 30 points in a win over the Washington Wizards, going six of seven from three-point range.

But he tailed off thereafter, following up two 13-point efforts against the Memphis Grizzlies with a mediocre 16-point display in the loss to the Bucks.

His points per game average fell from 24.36 entering the week to 18 over the past seven days, and the Clippers will need a lot more from him if they are to earn a top-two seed in the West.

Terry Rozier

The man known as 'Scary Terry' did little to terrify opponents over the past week.

Rozier entered the week averaging a career-high 21.15 points per game but that dipped to 13.5 over the four games the Charlotte Hornets contested in the last seven days.

He put up 24 points in a loss to the Golden State Warriors but could not manage more than 12 in his other three outings.

Still averaging 20.2 a game for the season, the Hornets will want Rozier to deliver the kind of performance he did against Golden State consistently as they seek a first playoff berth since 2015-16.

Stephen Curry

Among the players to suffer the biggest decline in three-point shooting this past week was the man most consider the greatest shooter of all time.

Curry had been converting 5.03 three-pointers a game for the season but hit on an average of 3.25 a game as the Warriors won three of four last week.

He still enjoyed a 37-point outing against the New York Knicks, scoring seven triples in that triumph, but was one for 11 from deep versus the Indiana Pacers and two for seven in Sunday's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

However, with Curry experiencing a season in which he is averaging his highest points per game tally (29.5) since his unanimous MVP season of 2015-16 (30.1), the smart money says he will soon return to form from beyond the arc.

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo relishes going up against the best in the world, saying it feels like "greatness" after taking down Kawhi Leonard's Los Angeles Clippers in a rallying display.

Antetokounmpo posted 36 points, including 17 in the final quarter, and 14 rebounds as the Bucks outlasted the Clippers 105-100 in NBA action on Sunday.

Two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo fuelled a game-closing 9-0 run to help extend Milwaukee's winning streak to five games.

Antetokounmpo became the first Bucks player with 35-plus points in four consecutive games since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1973 as Leonard and fellow All-Star Paul George struggled during the closing stages.

Leonard (25 points and nine rebounds) and George (16 points) went cold in the final quarter for the Clippers, combining to shoot three-for-15 and scoring just six points as the visitors were scoreless over the last four minutes of the game.

"It was individual pride," Antetokounmpo said of taking on the All-Star duo. "It is pride. It is an ego thing. Personally, I love that going down the stretch.

"I feel like it's greatness. When you go against the best in the world down the stretch and you are trying to get a stop and they are trying to score on you to win the game, it's greatness developing at that moment."

After dropping five straight games, the Bucks are now riding a winning streak in the Eastern Conference.

The Bucks (21-13) are one game adrift of leaders the Philadelphia 76ers (22-12) in the east.

"When we lost five, a lot of people were panicking," Antetokounmpo said. "Now, we win five and no one is talking about it. That is how it goes.

"Being able to get out of it, snap out of it ... that is what matters. This is important ... it's not over. We are not done yet. We might go again on a seven-game losing streak, 10. Hopefully not. I don't want to put it out in the universe. [But] there is no panic."

Paul George admits he is not a fan of the NBA All-Star Game going ahead this year, despite being selected to represent the Western Conference. 

George is averaging 24.6 points and shooting an impressive 48.6 per cent from three-point range this season for the Los Angeles Clippers, a team that boasts a 23-10 record after Tuesday's win over the Washington Wizards.

His efforts have been rewarded with a place among the list of reserves for the West for the game in Atlanta on March 7. 

It will be a seventh All-Star appearance for George, yet he feels that – amid the coronavirus pandemic – the league should have considered skipping the contest in 2021, insisting: "It's not something that needs to be had". 

"I'm not a fan of it, and that's just for personal reasons," George said. 

"I'm just not a fan of it with everything going on, I think it's just smart [not to happen]. I get that we have an amazing league, I'm not discrediting that. But I think, in the middle of a pandemic, it's not something that needs to be had. 

"I got fined for spending time with a team-mate, for having a team-mate over, then we're having this All-Star Game.  

"I've got personal reasons why I disagree with the game, but I've been selected, and I'll be there to play for the fans."

George missed out on selection for last year's All-Star lineups, while his first season with the Clippers finished in disappointing fashion, the team letting slip a 3-1 series lead to lose to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals. 

For the 30-year-old, however, such setbacks just fuel his desire to become even better.  

"It's just more so, me just staying grounded, me staying committed just to the process. With all the noise, everything going on, you find motivation through it," he said, referencing the reaction to the Clippers' postseason collapse in the Orlando bubble. 

"You dig deep and you would be amazed on what comes out of it. It was honestly just using everything as motivation and fuel and all of that towards this year.

"It's a good milestone to start how my season is going, but definitely not where I want it to end. Got a lot more work to do."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tyronn Lue relished seeing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George return from injury as the Los Angeles Clippers impressively beat the Utah Jazz.

The Jazz had won nine straight games and 20 of their last 21 NBA contests coming into Friday's game.

However, their streak came to an end as the Clippers emerged triumphant 116-112 in a battle between two championship contenders.

Leonard led the way for the home Clippers with 29 points as they improved to 22-9.

Donovan Mitchell had a game-high 35 points, but the Western Conference leading Jazz fell to 24-6.

Leonard had missed the previous three games with a lower leg contusion, while George was back after seven games out with a swollen toe.

The win came two days after the Clippers had lost by 18 to the Jazz playing without Leonard, George and Nicolas Batum.

"They are the best team in the NBA right now, record-wise, we knew that they won 20 of 21 coming into it – we understood that," Lue said after the win. 

"We got our guys back and we wanted to win this game and the guys went out and did a hell of a job.

"Our defense was pretty good until the heroics of Donovan Mitchell down the stretch.

"Pat Beverley and PG, we did a decent job on that first half and second half, he [Mitchell] got going, that's what great players do. 

"Overall, defensively, I thought we were pretty good like I said until the last 40 seconds or whatever it was of the game."

George had 15 points, six rebounds and five assists in 27 minutes.

"I wasn't ready to play 30-plus," he said. "Got to get back to that basketball conditioning.

"I probably would have hurt the team if I'd been on the floor past the minutes I was."

The Jazz were outrebounded 45-38, leaving Mitchell and Rudy Gobert clear where the game was lost.

"We lost the game on the boards," said Mitchell. "It was second-chance points that really hurt us. 

"If you look at the overall game, we played solid defense throughout, but they just came out there and got the extra boards and rebounds and we just got to do a better job of that.

"This is a bump in the road and a good one."

Gobert feels the loss will ultimately benefit the Jazz.

He said: "If we get those rebounds, we win this game. [The Clippers are] a very good team.

"They came out rested, they came out ready and it felt like a playoff game – the intensity, the tough shots that they were making all night. 

"It was a good opportunity for us to just keep getting better."

The Los Angeles Clippers will be without Paul George for their upcoming two-game road trip due to injury.

Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue confirmed George's absence for games against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Chicago Bills as the NBA All-Star deals with a swollen right toe.

George has been sidelined for the Clippers' past two games.

"Staying back home and getting some treatment," Lue said of George on Tuesday. "And we'll re-evaluate when we get back."

The Clippers face the Timberwolves on Wednesday before visiting the Bulls on Friday.

George is averaging 24.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game for the Clippers this season.

The Clippers (17-8) are third in the Western Conference, behind leaders the Utah Jazz (19-5) and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers (19-6), following back-to-back losses.

Paul George felt it was "disrespectful" of the referees to only give him one free throw attempt during the Los Angeles Clippers defeat to the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday.

Six-time All-Star George was sent to the line for the first and only time when he got an and-one play on Landry Shamet midway through the fourth quarter.

The Nets' superstar trio of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden combined to go 16-of-16 from the stripe, while Kawhi Leonard was 8-of-9.

"I mean, I think it was disrespectful that I had one free throw attempt today. I am going to leave it at that," said George, who finished the game with 26 points.

The last time George scored as many points with one or zero free throw attempts was in January 2018 against the Denver Nuggets, when he had 43 without a single foul shout.

He continued: "The amount of plays I initiated or created contact, and to get sent to the line one time. Definitely plays I'm gonna have sent in."

Brooklyn responded to George's made free throw with a 13-0 run. A Durant jumper was followed by a three-pointer from Irving, who hit another after adding two points in between.

A step back three from Harden put the Nets in a comfortable position with four minutes and 10 seconds remaining, and although the Clippers got back within one they were unable to avoid a 124-120 defeat at Barclays Center.

Irving scored a game-high 39 points, Harden had a triple-double of 23 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists, and Durant poured in 28 points to make franchise history.

Durant reached 500 points for the Nets in just his 17th game, making him the second-quickest to hit that mark with a new team in the NBA. Only Wilt Chamberlain managed it in less time with the Warriors in 1959-60 (14 games).

"I mean as good a defense we played all night, the fact of the matter is they have some of the best iso players in the world: Kyrie, James and KD," said George.

"I thought there was a stretch where we played great defense, were in their face, and it was almost like each one of them took turns in making a shot.

"They're just tough to guard, they're super confident in their shotmaking ability, [and] defense I thought couldn't be any better on some of those possessions."

Head coach Tyronn Lue felt George let not getting calls from the officials have too much of an impact on his production during the early stages.

Asked if he felt that affected George's rhythm, Lue responded: "Yeah, but it shouldn't. We talked about playing through the officiating, no excuses.

"Some calls should have gone his way but they didn't, and so we've just got to keep playing. I thought he got his composure back in the second half and he played through it, so it's a learning lesson for us."

Paul George was "super relieved" that both he and Kawhi Leonard were healthy after entering the NBA's contact tracing protocols – and the duo showed the Los Angeles Clippers exactly what they had been missing on Friday.

Having sat out two games due to guidelines put in place amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the superstars were cleared to return to action for the Clippers at the Orlando Magic.

George had 26 points, nine rebounds and five assists in the convincing 116-90 victory on the road, while Leonard contributed 24 points.

They combined for 35 points in the first half as the Clippers improved to 15-5 for the season, meaning they sit behind only the in-form Utah Jazz – who have won 10 in a row – in the Western Conference standings.

"I was super relieved that we were both healthy, first and foremost," George told the media. "We had been playing so well that it was unfortunate that we had to take the hiatus, but safety is first."

Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue was able to rest both George and Leonard in the fourth quarter with the Clippers in complete control.

Speaking after the win, Lue said having the pair back was "huge", considering they make life so much easier for the rest of the roster.

"I think on a night when guys were a little tired, just having their presence was big for us," Lue said.

"It was huge. Just making plays for everybody else, making the game easy.

"When teams double-team Kawhi or PG on the post-ups or pick-and-roll, it just makes it easier because our guys are getting open shots, so we needed those guys."

The Clippers went 1-1 without George and Leonard at the start of a six-game road trip; they are back in action on Sunday, taking on the New York Knicks.

Los Angeles Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have been cleared to return against the Orlando Magic on Friday.

Leonard and George missed the opening two games of a six-game road swing after reportedly entering the NBA's health and safety protocols.

The Clippers went 1-1 in the pair's absence against the Atlanta Hawks (lost 108-99) and Miami Heat (won 109-105).

But Leonard and George are set to take to the court when the Clippers (14-5) visit the Magic (8-11).

Leonard has been averaging 25.9 points, 5.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game in 2020-21, while Clippers team-mate George is averaging 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists.

The Clippers have gone 8-1 in their last nine games and have outscored opponents by an average of 12.8 points per game, second in the NBA in that span (Utah Jazz, plus-15.6), per Stats Perform. This stretch has come after the Clippers began the season 6-4, outscoring opponents by 0.8 points per game in that period.

Meanwhile, the Clippers have won 13 successive games against the Magic – dating back to January 2014. It is tied for the longest active winning streak by any current NBA franchise against any opponent (the Philadelphia 76ers versus New York Knicks and the 76ers against Charlotte Hornets – both 13).

Paul George feels the Los Angeles Clippers are learning to "weather the storm" after their impressive win over his former team the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Clippers moved to 12-4, the NBA's best record along with city rivals the Lakers, with a 120-106 home win on Friday.

Their sixth consecutive win came courtesy of 31 points and eight rebounds from Kawhi Leonard.

George added 29 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while Serge Ibaka (17 points, 11 rebounds) contributed a double-double.

A run from the Thunder saw the Clippers' 27-point advantage reduced to 10 in the third quarter, but six straight points from Leonard ended that comeback attempt.

"Teams are going to make runs, regardless of if it is a top team or a young team," George, who connected with three of his seven attempts from behind the arc said, per ESPN.

"You got to learn how to win in adversity and learn how to weather the storm. 

"It's more so about us withstanding that and executing down the stretch."

The teams will play again at Staples Center on Sunday, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander requiring special attention from his former team after an impressive 30-point, eight-assist outing for the Thunder.

"He was amazing - he had some great moves, great finishes around the basket as always," team-mate Mike Muscala said when asked about Gilgeous-Alexander. 

"He makes the game easier for everybody on the court."

But the Thunder have now lost four of their last five games, falling to 6-8 ahead of the rematch.

Meanwhile, the Clippers are 7-2 on home court and have won five consecutive home games in meetings between the two teams.

Stats Perform data shows their last home winning streak of five or more games against the franchise was a six-game home run against the Sonics from January 1990 to January 1992.

Oklahoma City have broken the 110-point mark only three times this season (3-0 in those games), fewest in the NBA, a run which will likely need to end for them to halt that streak and their recent slump.

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.

Paul George puts the strange scores in the early stages of the new NBA campaign down to the "crazy turnaround" between seasons.

The Los Angeles Clippers were embarrassed in a 51-point, 124-73 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, only to rebound with an impressive 124-101 defeat of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday.

In total, there were seven Clippers players to reach double figures for points – Lou Williams leading the way with 20, while George contributed 18 alongside six rebounds and five assists.

The NBA, like most professional sports leagues, was heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic last season, leading to the completion of the competition in the bubble in Orlando and meaning 2020-21 was shortened to a 72-game regular season.

George believes the truncated close season means teams across the league are still finding their groove.

"It's still early in the season, I think it's a crazy turnaround coming into this season," George said. 

"It's like game four, this would primarily be like pre-season a little bit with this being only game four but we only have seven games under our belt including pre-season. 

"So, it's still different, teams working through stuff, still kinks to iron out, no team is in perfect form or close to it right now. I think that's why there's been games with big blowouts."

The Clippers had well-documented injury issues last season and were without Kawhi Leonard for the second straight game due to a mouth laceration.

George, though, thinks the roster as a whole is better equipped to cope with such situations.

"I think it's just having a better understanding of one another, being with each other going into year two now it's more of an understanding and knowing guys' tendencies," he added. 

"We've kind of picked it up, it's just a familiar group that's out there now, we have to be a man-up team."

Williams' points came from the bench, while Ivica Zubac also contributed 12 as the Clippers' replacements outscored their Timberwolves counterparts 56-32.

Reggie Jackson, who put up 11 for his team, said: "It feels good to get a win after that atrocious loss, we knew that wasn't necessarily who we are.

"Zubac was making their team kind of pay for being a smaller team. He made it easy on us."

Zubac added: "Our coaching staff made a point that in the game against Dallas we had the least paint drives. Our focus was to put the ball on the floor and get into the paint."

Paul George played down the severity of the Los Angeles Clippers' defeat to the Dallas Mavericks as the All-Star took full responsibility for the crushing loss in the NBA.

The Clippers were humiliated by Luka Doncic's Mavericks on Sunday, beaten 124-73 in the absence of star Kawhi Leonard.

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.

George posted 15 points on four-of-13 shooting from the field, while he missed all six of his three-point attempts at home to the red-hot Mavericks.

"It's not that big of a deal," George said after the Clippers (2-1) suffered their worst loss in franchise history, having topped the Denver Nuggets on Christmas Day. "We got our butts whipped today, but it's one day.

"We wasn't ready today. We wasn't prepared. That's on me. So, we'll be ready for the next game."

"I take full responsibility," George added. "You know, it's a tough game coming [after] Christmas. I enjoyed my Christmas Day [celebration] yesterday. Today just popped up on me a little too fast.

"I'll take full ownership for that, coming out and being prepared to play today. Be a different situation come next game, and we will be ready."

It is 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.

"Just an exception," Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said. "It doesn't take away from what we've been doing and what we've been working on and how we're trying to get better each night.

"[There] wasn't a lot of fight, a lot of pop tonight, and we know we'll have that come next game."

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."

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