LeBron James says it was "surreal" to surpass Tim Duncan for playoff wins because the former San Antonio Spurs great "lived in the postseason".

The Los Angeles Lakers star contributed 38 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists to Saturday's 116-108 Game 3 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, claiming a 2-1 lead in the first-round series.

In the process, James claimed his 158th career postseason victory, moving clear of five-time champion Duncan and closing on 161-win all-time leader Derek Fisher.

The latest achievement of a glittering career was a source of great pride for James.

He said: "It's just always surreal for me when my name is associated with any of the greats. Obviously, you know how great Tim Duncan was in this league with that franchise.

"I had my battles with him and was a team-mate with him in the Olympics. Just seeing what he was able to accomplish, not only in the regular season but, more importantly, in the postseason...

"Basically, he lived in the postseason. That was his address.

"So, for me to be linked with a great in the Big Fundamental, it means a lot - not only to myself but to my home town and whoever has been following my career."

The Lakers have now enjoyed back-to-back wins after dropping the first game of the series to the eighth-seeded Blazers, but James is still determined to keep improving.

"At the end of the day, we want to get better every game throughout the series," he explained.

"We played extremely well in Game 2, we played really well tonight, but there's still some things we can get better at. We know that Portland's going to be better in Game 4.

"We have to have the same mindset going into Game 4, knowing that we're desperate and they're desperate as well. Who plays and who finds their keys and makes the least amount of mistakes will become victorious.

"Every game has its own challenges. We begin to prepare for them tomorrow, watch a lot of film and see the ways we can get better."

Portland were hampered by Damian Lillard's dislocated finger, suffered in Game 2, although he still top-scored for the Blazers on Saturday with 34 points.

"Obviously, I dislocated it, so it's going to have some effect in terms of ball-handling," Lillard said. "Tonight the biggest thing I felt was going up to shoot, gathering the ball.

"Sometimes I would subconsciously try to ease up on it, so I would lose the ball a little bit.

"When I'm making moves, in the middle of my dribble, sometimes I would ease up on it because I would feel the pain and lose the ball a little bit. It would stop me in my tracks.

"But I did as much treatment as I could. I tried to just ignore it. Once you decide to step out there, it is what it is. You've got to go out there and do what you've got to do. That's what I tried to do."

Gregg Popovich refused to dwell on the San Antonio Spurs missing the NBA playoffs for the first time in 23 years.

With the Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns both winning their final regular-season games on Thursday, the Spurs were eliminated from postseason contention for the first time since 1996-97.

San Antonio's fate was confirmed even before their 118-112 loss to the Utah Jazz at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

Despite missing out on a play-in berth behind the eighth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers and Grizzlies in the Western Conference, Spurs head coach Popovich looked to the future.

"It means a lot to a lot of people probably but I don't dwell on the past," said Popovich, who has led the Spurs to five NBA championship since replacing Bob Hill in 1996.

"That stuff's totally [not] important, what's important is the moment you do what you've got to do then you move on, but looking at the past doesn't do much good.

"Any success we've had has been because we've had some great players."

San Antonio had won three consecutive games prior to falling to the Jazz inside the Orlando bubble – the Spurs ending their coronavirus-hit 2019-20 campaign with a 32-39 record.

Popovich added: "I'm more excited about this than anything you guys are talking about right now, successes or non-successes, because the success for streaks or whatever the hell you're talking about ended.

"I could care less about that. I'm thrilled at the way they played here."

"They had no shot to get into this thing and basically willed themselves into it to have this opportunity," the 71-year-old continued. "The development of the young kids largely playing the way they did, this is the best we've played all year. I've really enjoyed it."

The Portland Trail Blazers dramatically set up a Western Conference play-in showdown against the Memphis Grizzlies as the red-hot Phoenix Suns missed out on the NBA playoffs.

Portland clinched the eighth seed in the west thanks to a nail-biting 134-133 win over the Brooklyn Nets in Orlando, Florida on Thursday.

The Suns improved to 8-0 at Walt Disney World Resort with a 128-102 victory against the Dallas Mavericks, and needed a Nets win to secure a play-in spot.

However, Damian Lillard's heroics of 42 points and 12 assists ensured the Trail Blazers clinched a play-in date against the Grizzlies – who trumped the Milwaukee Bucks 119-106 earlier in the day.

The Trail Blazers finished with a 35-39 record, ahead of the Grizzlies (34-39). Portland will only have to beat Memphis once in order to secure a playoff berth against the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers, while the Grizzlies require two wins against the Trail Blazers.

Phoenix (34-39) are the first team in NBA history to end the regular season on an eight-plus game winning streak and still miss the playoffs. The last team to do that in any of the four major sports were NHL's the Philadelphia Flyers in 1992-93, per STATS.

 

LeBron ends regular season as assist king

The Lakers lost 136-122 to the Sacramento Kings but LeBron James was still crowned the assist king in 2019-20. James had 17 points in 15 minutes, all in the first half. The three-time NBA champion and four-time MVP ends the regular season averaging a league-best 10.2 assists per game, ahead of the Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young (9.3). The 35-year-old also reached double figures in points in his 995th consecutive game.

Lillard has 154 points across his past three games, the second most by any player in a three-game span this season – behind himself in January (158). Per STATS, the last player with 150-plus points in two separate three-game spans in a season was Wilt Chamberlain in 1964-65.

Devin Booker put up 27 points as the Suns stayed unbeaten since the NBA's restart following the coronavirus pandemic, but it was not enough.

Dillon Brooks' 31 points led the way for the Grizzlies, while he was aided by team-mates Jonas Valanciunas (26 points, 19 rebounds, 12 assists) and Ja Morant (12 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists).

Jusuf Nurkic scored 22 points and 10 rebounds, while CJ McCollum had 25 points for the Trail Blazers. Caris LeVert finished with 37 points for the Nets.

 

Spurs' record-tying playoff streak over

The Spurs will not feature in the NBA playoffs for the first time in 23 years. San Antonio's absence from the postseason for the first time since 1996-97 was confirmed prior to their 118-112 loss to the Utah Jazz.

 

Dame from the arc

Lillard continues to prove his worth for the Blazers. Instrumental to Portland's play-in berth, Lillard highlighted his quality with a flurry of threes.

 

Thursday's results

Washington Wizards 96-90 Boston Celtics
Sacramento Kings 136-122 Los Angeles Lakers
Memphis Grizzlies 119-106 Milwaukee Bucks
Phoenix Suns 128-102 Dallas Mavericks
Utah Jazz 118-112 San Antonio Spurs
Portland Trail Blazers 134-133 Brooklyn Nets
Orlando Magic 133-127 New Orleans Pelicans

 

Regular season concludes

Friday will see teams play their final regular-season games before the playoffs start on August 17. The Denver Nuggets face the Toronto Raptors, the Miami Heat meet the Indiana Pacers, the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the Los Angeles Clippers and the Houston Rockets play the Philadelphia 76ers.

The San Antonio Spurs will not feature in the NBA playoffs for the first time in 23 years.

With the Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns both winning their final regular-season games on Thursday, the Spurs were eliminated from postseason contention for the first time since 1996-97.

It ended San Antonio's record-tying run of 22 consecutive playoff appearances before their clash with the Utah Jazz in the race for a Western Conference play-in spot at Walt Disney World Resort.

The Spurs held a 32-38 record heading into their final game of the season against the Jazz in Orlando, behind the eighth-placed Grizzlies (34-39), Portland Trail Blazers (34-39) and Suns (34-39).

With five championships since arriving at the Spurs in 1996, Gregg Popovich – one of the most successful head coaches in the league's history – has brought annual consistency to San Antonio.

The last time the Spurs missed the playoffs, Popovich stepped up from his role as general manager and replaced Bob Hill, who was fired after 18 games in 1996.

Damian Lillard produced an incredible performance to lift the Portland Trail Blazers, while Giannis Antetokounmpo was ejected in the NBA on Tuesday.

Lillard scored 61 points to guide the Trail Blazers past the Dallas Mavericks 134-131 and into eighth place in the Western Conference.

The guard was in stunning form, going nine-of-17 from three-point range at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Carmelo Anthony (26 points) provided some support for Lillard as Portland boosted their playoff chances.

Kristaps Porzingis scored 36 points for the Mavericks, while Luka Doncic had a double-double of 25 points and 10 assists.

Antetokounmpo was ejected in the second quarter of the Bucks' 126-113 win over the Washington Wizards.

The reigning NBA MVP head-butted Moritz Wagner, having scored 12 points and had nine rebounds in 10 minutes.

Brook Lopez finished with 24 points for the Bucks.

 

Booker leads in-form Suns, Tatum shines

Devin Booker had 35 points and nine rebounds as the Phoenix Suns beat the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 for a seventh straight win.

Jayson Tatum helped the Boston Celtics past the Memphis Grizzlies 122-107 thanks to 29 points.

In the same game, Ja Morant had 26 points and 13 assists for the Grizzlies.

Harrison Barnes' 25 points and eight rebounds helped the Sacramento Kings edge the New Orleans Pelicans 112-106.

 

Awful Augustin

D.J. Augustin struggled from the field, going one-of-eight for just six points in the Orlando Magic's 108-96 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

 

Amazing Lillard

Lillard had his third game this season with 60-plus points and five-plus assists and no player has had more than two such games in their career since the merger, according to STATS.

Tuesday's results

Brooklyn Nets 108-96 Orlando Magic
San Antonio Spurs 123-105 Houston Rockets
Phoenix Suns 130-117 Philadelphia 76ers
Boston Celtics 122-107 Memphis Grizzlies
Portland Trail Blazers 134-131 Dallas Mavericks
Sacramento Kings 112-106 New Orleans Pelicans
Milwaukee Bucks 126-113 Washington Wizards

 

Clippers face Nuggets

Coming off a loss to the Nets, the Los Angeles Clippers (47-23) take on the Denver Nuggets (46-25) on Wednesday.

The Brooklyn Nets upstaged the Los Angeles Clippers 129-120, despite Kawhi Leonard's big performance in the NBA on Sunday.

Leonard posted a game-high 39 points for the Clippers but it was not enough against the Nets in Orlando, Florida.

Caris LeVert put up 27 points and 13 assists as the Nets clinched the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.

Joe Harris added 25 points of his own for the Nets at Walt Disney World Resort, where team-mate Jarrett Allen (16 points, 16 rebounds) finished with a double-double.

Damian Lillard, meanwhile, dropped 51 points to inspire the Portland Trail Blazers to a 124-121 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

Lillard made 16 of 28 shots and 15 from 16 free throws to lift the Trail Blazers past the 76ers and within a half-game of the Memphis Grizzlies for eighth place in the Western Conference.

It was Lillard's fifth game of 50-plus points this season – tying Houston Rockets star James Harden – with all of those performances coming against teams that made the playoffs last year

Per STATS, the last player to have five 50-point games against postseason teams from the previous campaign was Michael Jordan (6) in 1986-87.

 

Career-high night for Rivers

Austin Rivers had a game to remember as the Rockets soared past the Sacramento Kings 129-112. The Rockets guard registered a career-high 41 points off the bench. Rivers is the first player in NBA history to score 40-plus points, make six or more three-pointers and shoot 70.0-plus per cent from the field off the bench in a game, per STATS. Harden contributed 32 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Rockets.

Gordon Hayward's 31-point display helped the Boston Celtics top the Orlando Magic 122-119 in overtime. Jayson Tatum scored 29, including the tying basket with 4.2 seconds remaining in regulation.

Defending champions the Toronto Raptors secured the Eastern Conference second seed and their fifth consecutive season with at least 50 wins after outlasting the Grizzlies. Pascal Siakam had 26 points.

The San Antonio Spurs and their hopes of becoming the first team in NBA history to reach the playoffs for 23 straight seasons remain alive after emerging 122-113 winners against the New Orleans Pelicans. San Antonio are 10th in the west, half a game adrift of Portland for the ninth spot, which would secure a play-in series.

 

Pelicans eliminated from postseason race, Wizards winless in bubble

Zion Williamson will have to wait another year for playoff basketball after the Pelicans lost to the Spurs. Despite 31 points and a season-high eight three-pointers from JJ Redick, the Pelicans – coupled with Portland's win – were eliminated from postseason contention.

The Washington Wizards' woes continued after falling to a 121-103 defeat against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Washington are the only winless team remaining in Orlando, having gone 0-6 since the restart.

 

Dame with the four-point play!

After struggling against the Clippers, Lillard came up big for the Trail Blazers in their meeting with the 76ers. A spectacular four-point play with less than three minutes remaining catapulted the Blazers into the lead.

Sunday's results

Houston Rockets 129-112 Sacramento Kings
Portland Trail Blazers 124-121 Philadelphia 76ers
Boston Celtics 122-119 Orlando Magic (OT)
San Antonio Spurs 122-113 New Orleans Pelicans
Toronto Raptors 108-99 Memphis Grizzlies
Oklahoma City Thunder 121-103 Washington Wizards
Brooklyn Nets 129-120 Los Angeles Clippers

 

Raptors face Bucks

It will be an epic encounter as the Eastern Conference's two best teams meet on Monday. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the top-ranked Milwaukee Bucks take on the in-form Raptors.

The Boston Celtics crushed the Toronto Raptors in the NBA on Friday, while the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference were secured.

The Celtics were too good for the Raptors 122-100 after another even team performance at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Jaylen Brown scored 20 points, with Boston seeing seven players in double-digits for points.

Jayson Tatum (18 points) and Kemba Walker (17) were among them as the Celtics improved to 46-23.

Toronto struggled in defeat, with Fred VanVleet going four-of-14 from the field for his 13 points.

The Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic clinched playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

The Nets were too good for the Sacramento Kings 119-106, while Orlando lost to the Philadelphia 76ers, but secured their spot after the Washington Wizards' loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

 

Harris, Embiid lift 76ers as Holiday shines

Tobias Harris (23 points and 15 rebounds) and Joel Embiid (23 points and 13 rebounds) saw the 76ers to their 108-101 win over Orlando.

Jrue Holiday went 11-of-16 from the field for 28 points in the Pelicans' 118-107 victory against the Wizards.

The San Antonio Spurs beat the Utah Jazz 119-111 thanks to 24 points from Derrick White.

 

Gilgeous-Alexander wayward

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander went three-of-13 from the field as the Oklahoma City Thunder were well beaten by the Memphis Grizzlies 121-92.

 

Brilliant Brown pass

Brown delivered a wonderful pass to Gordon Hayward in the Celtics' win.

Friday's results

San Antonio Spurs 119-111 Utah Jazz
Memphis Grizzlies 121-92 Oklahoma City Thunder
Brooklyn Nets 119-106 Sacramento Kings
Philadelphia 76ers 108-101 Orlando Magic
New Orleans Pelicans 118-107 Washington Wizards
Boston Celtics 122-100 Toronto Raptors

 

Lakers face Pacers

The Los Angeles Lakers (51-17) will be aiming to bounce back from back-to-back losses when they face the Indiana Pacers (42-27) on Saturday.

Gregg Popovich likened Nikola Jokic to a "reincarnation of Larry Bird" after he played a huge part in the Denver Nuggets' 132-126 win over the San Antonio Spurs.

Michael Porter Jr became the first Nuggets rookie to score 30 points or more and at least 10 rebounds in back-to-back games as his side move to 45-23 on Wednesday, hot on the heels of the second-placed LA Clippers in the West.

Porter poured in 30 points and provided 15 assists, but it was the performance of giant center Jokic that stood out for Spurs coach Popovich.

The Serbian landed 25 points, laid on 11 assists and grabbed four rebounds – three on offensive glass – and Popovich drew comparisons with Boston Celtics legend Bird.

He said: "Porter is a fine young talent. And Jokic, he's like a reincarnation of Larry Bird. He does everything. He's amazing. They were great."

Popovich said there was little his younger Spurs players could have done to stop Jokic from being so influential.

He added: "They've never seen anything like that,.

"He's stepping out and making threes. He's rebounding the ball, there should be an NBA rule, you can't tap it to yourself. He's Moses Malone.

"He's down there and he jumps about a quarter of an inch, then he taps it two or three times and then he gets it and he lays it back in.

"It's not just luck. He does it all the time. He is great on the board, he's obviously maybe the best big man passer in the league. If not, then close to it. He's a pretty special player."

The Los Angeles Lakers were well beaten in the NBA on Wednesday, while Joel Embiid led the Philadelphia 76ers to a win.

With the top seed in the Western Conference secured, the Lakers went down to the Oklahoma City Thunder 105-86.

LeBron James (19 points) and Anthony Davis (nine) went a combined 10-of-30 from the field as the Lakers shot at just 35.2 per cent.

Chris Paul top-scored in the Thunder's victory with 21 points.

Embiid's double-double of 30 points and 11 rebounds saw the 76ers past the Washington Wizards 107-98.

Philadelphia suffered a setback during their win, with Ben Simmons hurting his knee in the third quarter.

 

Even Celtics shine as Gobert lifts Jazz

The Boston Celtics had seven players in double-digits for points in a 149-115 thrashing of the Brooklyn Nets. Jaylen Brown (21), Jayson Tatum (19), Gordon Hayward (18) and Robert Williams III (18) led the way.

Rudy Gobert had a double-double of 21 points and 16 rebounds in the Utah Jazz's 124-115 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Fred VanVleet went eight-of-13 from the field for 21 points, to go with 10 assists, in the Toronto Raptors' 109-99 win against the Orlando Magic.

 

Davis struggles

Davis has been in good form for the Lakers, but the forward was three-of-11 from the field in their loss.

 

Diallo dunk

Hamidou Diallo delivered a huge dunk in the Thunder's win.

Wednesday's results

Utah Jazz 124-115 Memphis Grizzlies
Philadelphia 76ers 107-98 Washington Wizards
Denver Nuggets 132-126 San Antonio Spurs
Oklahoma City Thunder 105-86 Los Angeles Lakers
Toronto Raptors 109-99 Orlando Magic
Boston Celtics 149-115 Brooklyn Nets

 

Lakers face Rockets

The Lakers (51-16) will try to bounce back on Thursday in a blockbuster clash with the Houston Rockets (42-25).

The Los Angeles Lakers clinched the Western Conference top seed as Anthony Davis erupted, while reigning NBA champions the Toronto Raptors extinguished the Miami Heat.

Davis led the way for the Western Conference-leading Lakers with 42 points and 12 rebounds in Orlando, Florida on Monday.

LeBron James added 22 points as the Lakers (51-15) – six games ahead of rivals the Los Angeles Clippers in the West – look forward to their first playoff appearance since 2013.

Donovan Mitchell top-scored for the Jazz (42-25) with 33 points at the Walt Disney World Resort.

As for the Raptors, they outlasted Eastern Conference rivals the Heat 107-103 thanks to Fred VanVleet.

VanVleet posted a career-high 36 points and made seven three-pointers for the Raptors, who have won back-to-back games since the league resumed behind closed doors following the coronavirus-enforced break.

The Raptors (48-18) are second in the East amid a six-game winning streak, while the Heat are fourth (42-25).

 

Red-hot Warren stars again, Jokic triple-double

After his career-high 53 points in his team's first game back, T.J. Warren put up 34 points and 11 rebounds as the Indiana Pacers defeated the Washington Wizards 111-100. Warren had 16 points in the third quarter to spark a 22-2 run. He was 14-for-26 from the field.

A Nikola Jokic triple-double (30 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists) and Michael Porter Jr's double-double (37 points, 12 rebounds) fuelled the Denver Nuggets' 121-113 overtime victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

 

Pelicans struggle from the line

While the New Orleans Pelicans secured a much-needed 109-99 win against the Memphis Grizzlies, they made just 24-of-39 free throws. JJ Redick, a reliable free-throw shooter at 91 per cent, missed back-to-back attempts in the game.

Kendrick Nunn was 0-of-seven from the field and missed all five of his three-point attempts in the Heat's defeat. His two points came via a pair of free throws in 16 minutes of action.

 

Clutch Milton lifts 76ers

With the Philadelphia 76ers trailing 130-128, Shake Milton nailed a three-pointer 6.1 seconds from the end to help his team outlast the San Antonio Spurs 132-130.

Monday's results

Toronto Raptors 107-103 Miami Heat
Indiana Pacers 111-100 Washington Wizards
Philadelphia 76ers 132-130 San Antonio Spurs
Los Angeles Lakers 116-108 Utah Jazz
Denver Nuggets 121-113 Oklahoma City Thunder (OT)
New Orleans Pelicans 109-99 Memphis Grizzlies

 

Nets face Bucks

The NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks (54-13) will look to bounce back from their loss to the Houston Rockets when they face the Brooklyn Nets (31-35) on Tuesday. Brooklyn occupy the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Houston Rockets edged the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA on Sunday, while the Boston Celtics also claimed a narrow win.

The Rockets rallied past the Bucks 120-116 on the back of a standout performance from Russell Westbrook at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Westbrook finished with 31 points, eight assists and six rebounds, while James Harden had 24 points.

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo scored a game-high 36 points, to go with 18 rebounds and eight assists.

The Celtics claimed their first win since the restart by overcoming the Portland Trail Blazers 128-124.

Jayson Tatum bounced back to form, going 11-of-22- from the field for 34 points.

 

Mavs clinch playoff spot, Morant marvellous

After the Memphis Grizzlies' loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the Dallas Mavericks reached the playoffs for the first time since 2015-16.

They later fell to a 117-115 defeat to the Phoenix Suns despite 40 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds from star Luka Doncic.

Ja Morant had 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting, plus nine rebounds and nine assists, in the Grizzlies' 108-106 loss to the Spurs.

 

Johnson struggles

Tyler Johnson missed all seven of his field-goal attempts in the Brooklyn Nets' 118-110 win over the Washington Wizards

 

Markelle magic

Markelle Fultz hit a shot from three-quarter court in the Orlando Magic's win over the Sacramento Kings.

Sunday's results

Brooklyn Nets 118-110 Washington Wizards
Boston Celtics 128-124 Portland Trail Blazers
San Antonio Spurs 108-106 Memphis Grizzlies
Orlando Magic 132-116 Sacramento Kings
Houston Rockets 120-116 Milwaukee Bucks
Phoenix Suns 117-115 Dallas Mavericks

 

Raptors face Heat

Following a win over the Los Angeles Lakers, defending champions the Toronto Raptors (47-18) face another test when they take on Eastern Conference rivals the Miami Heat (42-24) on Monday.

Jonathan Isaac opted not to wear a 'Black Lives Matter' t-shirt or kneel for the anthem prior to the Orlando Magic's NBA game against the Brooklyn Nets, saying he did not think such acts were "the answer".

The 2019-20 NBA season resumed on Thursday in Florida and players have been wearing 'Black Lives Matter' t-shirts and taking a knee for the anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality.

However, while the rest of his Magic team-mates knelt and wore those t-shirts prior to tip-off against the Nets on Friday, Isaac remained standing in his Orlando jersey.

"I believe that black lives matter," the forward told reporters after Orlando's 128-111 win.

"A lot went into my decision and part of it is my thought that kneeling while wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt don't go hand in hand with supporting black lives.

"And so I felt like, just me personally and what it is that I believe in, standing on a stance that I do believe that black lives matter, but I just felt like it was a decision that I had to make and I didn't feel like putting that shirt on went hand in hand with supporting black lives."

Isaac, who became an ordained minister in March, added: "I don't think that kneeling or putting on a t-shirt for me, personally, is the answer.

"I feel like for me black lives are supported through the gospel. All lives are supported through the gospel. That we all have things that we do wrong and sometimes it gets into a place of pointing fingers about which wrong is worse."

Later on Friday, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and assistant Becky Hammon also stood for the anthem, though both were wearing the Black Lives Matter t-shirts.

Popovich has frequently spoken out about racial injustice in the past and Spurs star DeMar DeRozan urged others not to "vilify" those who did not kneel.

"Don't take away nothing from those guys," he said.

"You know Pop speaks out. When it comes to Becky, she's been [on the] front line, fighting for equality since I've been a fan of hers playing in the WNBA.

"So everybody has their own right of making a statement and you can't vilify nobody for not doing what the other group is doing. I'm all for it."

Asked why he had not knelt, Popovich replied: "I prefer to keep that to myself.

"Everybody has to make a personal decision. The league has been great about that. Everybody has the freedom to react any way that they want. For whatever reasons that I have, I reacted the way I wanted to."

Giannis Antetokounmpo starred in a win for the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA on Friday, while the Houston Rockets edged the Dallas Mavericks.

Antetokounmpo's double-double of 36 points and 15 rebounds helped the Bucks past the Boston Celtics 119-112.

The reigning NBA MVP went 14-of-20 from the field in the Bucks' victory.

Marcus Smart scored 23 points off the bench for Boston, while Jaylen Brown contributed 22 points.

James Harden starred with 49 points in the Rockets' 153-149 overtime win against the Dallas Mavericks.

Kristaps Porzingis (39 points and 16 rebounds) led the Mavericks, but they fell short.

 

Fantastic Fournier, Portland trio shine

Evan Fournier went 10-of-15 for 24 points in the Orlando Magic's 128-118 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

The Portland Trail Blazers overcame the Memphis Grizzlies 140-135 after overtime thanks to CJ McCollum (33 points), Damian Lillard (29) and Carmelo Anthony (21).

 

Terrible Tatum

Jayson Tatum struggled badly in the Celtics' loss. The forward went two-of-18 from the field for just five points in 32 minutes.

 

Harden's hot start

Harden made a fast start with 23 points in the first quarter for the Rockets.

Friday's results

Orlando Magic 128-118 Brooklyn Nets
Portland Trail Blazers 140-135 Memphis Grizzlies
Phoenix Suns 125-112 Washington Wizards
Milwaukee Bucks 119-112 Boston Celtics
San Antonio Spurs 129-120 Sacramento Kings
Houston Rockets 153-149 Dallas Mavericks

 

Lakers face Raptors

In another battle between two championship contenders, the Los Angeles Lakers (50-14) face the Toronto Raptors (46-18) on Saturday.

The NBA finally returns on Thursday and it's been a long-time coming.

Not since March 11 have players taken to the court and fans watched official games due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But, after months of waiting, the New Orleans Pelicans-Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers-Los Angeles Clippers clashes will headline the 2019-20 season restart in Orlando, Florida.

Inside the Walt Disney World Resort bubble, 22 teams will resume their regular seasons before the playoffs.

The Milwaukee Bucks topped the NBA standings at the time of the postponement, while the Los Angeles Lakers were flying in the Western Conference.

Using STATS data, we look at the best-performing players prior to the hiatus as LeBron James eyes a fourth championship ring and Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo chases a maiden title.

 

Red-hot LeBron

After a tough first season in Los Angeles, James has returned to his brilliant best in 2019-20. Before the coronavirus-enforced break, the four-time MVP catapulted himself into the mix for a fifth Most Valuable Player honour by leading the Lakers – who have played 63 of their 82-game regular season – to a Western Conference-best 49-14 record.

As the 35-year-old superstar prepares to resume his bid for another NBA crown, James leads the league in assists per game with 10.6. If he maintains his pace, James would be the third-oldest player to lead the NBA in assists per game behind two-time MVP and Phoenix Suns great Steve Nash – who did so in both 2009-10 (age 35-36) and 2010-11 (age 36-37). The former Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers forward has also been averaging 25.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game this season.

James, whose maiden campaign at Staples Center was cut short by a Christmas Day injury almost two years ago, was playing some of his best basketball alongside All-Star recruit Anthony Davis before the March suspension. In five games that month, James averaged 30.0 points and 10.6 assists per game, while shooting 55.7 per cent from the field. It is the only time in the last 30 years that any NBA player has averaged 30.0-plus points and 10.0-plus assists on 55.0-plus per cent shooting in a calendar month (minimum five games played).

 

Giannis – The Greek Freak

The Eastern Conference-leading Bucks (53-12) are on track for their first NBA title since 1971 thanks to superstar MVP Antetokounmpo after Mike Budenholzer's side lost in the Conference Finals last season.

Antetokounmpo – expected to go close to winning back-to-back MVPs – has not taken a backward step since being crowned the league's best in 2018-19, averaging 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game for the high-flying Bucks this season.

The only players to average 25/13/5 in a season are Elgin Baylor (1960-61), Wilt Chamberlain (1963-64 and 1965-66) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1972-73 and 1975-76).

 

Harden firing Rockets

James Harden's standing among the greats is often debated but there is no doubting his quality and importance to the Houston Rockets.

Harden has established himself as a scoring machine in Houston since joining the Rockets from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012, especially from beyond the arc, and after averaging 36.1 points last season, the 2018 MVP is at it again.

In 2019-20, Harden – now partnered with fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook – is averaging 34.4 per game. The only players to average 34-plus points in back-to-back seasons are Wilt Chamberlain (six straight from 1959-60 to 1964-65), Baylor (three straight from 1960-61 to 1962-63) and Michael Jordan (1986-87 to 1987-88).

The Rockets – sixth in the west with a 40-24 record – are relying heavily on Harden to lead the two-time champions to their first NBA Finals appearance since 1995.

 

Dallas' dazzling Doncic

If you thought Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic was a one-season wonder, think again.

The reigning Rookie of the Year continues to take the NBA by storm, elevating the Mavericks (40-27) into a legitimate playoff threat after Dallas missed the postseason for a third consecutive year last term.

A first-time All-Star this season, Doncic is averaging 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game for the much-improved Mavs in 2019-20.

The 21-year-old Slovenian sensation – who is forming a formidable combination with fellow international star Kristaps Porzingis – is looking to join Oscar Robertson (five times), Jordan (1988-89), Harden (2016-17) and Westbrook (2016-17) as the only players to average 28/8/8 in a season.

 

Williamson following in MJ's footsteps

When it comes to number one draft pick Zion Williamson, believe the hype.

The Pelicans rookie has not missed a beat since debuting in January, quickly making his presence known around the NBA competition.

Likened to James during his college days with Duke, Williamson has averaged 23.6 points per game in his first 19 games – the most by any player through 19 career games since Chicago Bulls and NBA legend Jordan (25.6).

Williamson has helped fill the void left by Davis in New Orleans and the Pelicans – 10th in the Western Conference with a 28-36 record – will be hoping the 20-year-old can lead the organisation to just their second playoff appearance in five seasons.

 

Keep an eye on Nets' LeVert

The Nets will be far from full strength in the NBA bubble. Superstars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are both sidelined through injury, while DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Wilson Chandler and Taurean Prince have opted out.

Step up Caris LeVert.

LeVert has been much improved since re-joining the starting line-up with the playoff-chasing Nets. In his first 14 games off the bench, he was only averaging 11.1 points, 2.7 assists and 2.6 rebounds as Brooklyn went 5-9.

Since returning to the starting five, the 25-year-old is averaging 24.1 points, 5.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds through his last 16 games. More importantly, the Nets (30-34) boasted a 9-7 record to be seventh in a congested Eastern Conference.

San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills announced on Wednesday he will donate all the money he earns during the NBA restart in Orlando to Black Lives Matter organisations.

Mills, who is from Australia, becomes the second NBA player in three days to announce he will be donating the remainder of his 2019-20 salary to social justice causes after the Los Angeles Lakers' Dwight Howard pledged approximately $700,000 to Breathe Again on Monday. 

"I'm proud to say I'm taking every cent earned from these eight games that we're playing, which for me will turn out to be $1,017,818.54, and donating that directly back to the Black Lives Matter Australia, Black Deaths in Custody and to a recent campaign that's called We Got You - dedicated to ending racism in sport in Australia," Mills said in a video posted by the Spurs.

"I'm playing in Orlando because I don't want to leave any money on the table that could be going directly to Black communities."

An 11-year veteran, Mills is averaging a career-best 11.7 points and is now the second-leading scorer on San Antonio's roster after LaMarcus Aldridge announced a month ago he will miss the rest of the season following right shoulder surgery. 

The Spurs had the Western Conference's 12th-best record at 27-36 when the season was halted in mid-March, good enough to be one of 22 teams invited to Orlando to finish the season. They have made the playoffs every year since the 1997-98 season, but sit four games back of the eighth-placed Memphis Grizzlies with eight games scheduled.

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