Khris Middleton is set to make his return from injury for the Milwaukee Bucks against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.

The three-time NBA All-Star underwent a procedure to repair torn ligaments in his wrist in July and has yet to play for the Bucks this season.

Middleton's last appearance was back in April when he sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in Game 2 of the opening round of the playoffs against the Chicago Bulls.

The Bucks went on to lose to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semi-finals in the absence of Middleton.

According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Bucks are about to have one of their star men back, though, when they host the Lakers at Fiserv Forum.

The Bucks sit second in the East having amassed a 15-5 record through 20 games of the 2022-23 NBA season, three games back on the 18-4 Celtics.

The Atlanta Hawks learned Thursday that their 125-108 win over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday came at a cost.

De'Andre Hunter exited in the first quarter with a right hip flexor strain and will be re-evaluated in one week, while John Collins will miss at least two weeks due to a left ankle sprain sustained on a dunk attempt just before halftime.

Tests on Collins' ankle on Thursday confirmed the severity of the sprain, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, while Collins ranks fourth at 12.3 points per contest and second in rebounds at 7.5 per game.

While Atlanta’s lineup took a hit with the injuries to Hunter and Collins, reinforcements are on the way with Bogdan Bogdanovic expected to make his season debut soon, following his knee surgery in the offseason.

Bogdanovic averaged 15.1 points last season and his 169 made three-pointers were second on Atlanta behind Trae Young.

In addition to the imminent return of Bogdanovic, the Hawks also may have caught a break with the timing of the injuries to Hunter and Collins. Atlanta has the easiest strength of schedule this month, with its 14 December opponents sporting a .422 combined winning percentage.

Wednesday’s win snapped a season-worst three-game losing streak for Atlanta, who own a one-game lead over the Washington Wizards for first place in the Southeast Division.

The Golden State Warriors (11-11) have a golden opportunity to climb back above .500 when they host the 9-12 Chicago Bulls on Thursday.

Both teams entered the season with lofty expectations, but have sputtered out of the gates, struggling in areas they are meant to excel in.

With four championships since 2015, the Warriors have been widely regarded as the greatest shooting team the game has ever seen, but the underlying factor of their greatest years has always been their defense.

Boasting the league's best defensive efficiency in their 2014-15 championship season, second-best for their 2016-17 title, and 11th for their 2017-18 crown – the Warriors rediscovered their dominance on that end of the floor this past season to finish as the second-best defense en route to another ring.

That has cratered this campaign, with Golden State currently allowing 113.4 points per 100 possessions for the 21st-ranked defense.

What that means is that some of the Warriors' point totals from their eighth-ranked offense are going to waste, having scored over 110 points in seven of their 11 losses so far.

Meanwhile, the Bulls have committed to offensively-minded scorers DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and Zach Lavine as their core trio, but currently own the 22nd-best offense.

In a clash between two sides struggling to establish an identity, the result could simply come down to which side's X-factor shows up – or more specifically, which one shoots the lights out.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Golden State Warriors - Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson is a Warriors legend, a future Hall-of-Famer and one of the greatest shooters in the history of the NBA – but he has never been less efficient than he is right now.

However, when Thompson is feeling it this season, the Warriors win. Shooting 35.5 per cent from the field and 32.5 per cent from deep in losses, Thompson's numbers skyrocket to 43.7 per cent from the field and 44.7 per cent on three-pointers in the 10 wins he has played in.

Only the Boston Celtics score a higher percentage of their points from three-pointers (41.7 per cent) than the Warriors (41.2 per cent), so it makes sense that when their secondary sharpshooter catches fire, good things happen.

Chicago Bulls - Zach Lavine

While the Warriors rely on a heavy dose of three-pointers to put up their points, the Bulls are the opposite, leading the league in their percentage of points that come from the mid-range (14.6 per cent).

This is primarily due to DeRozan's affinity for the mid-range, and in turn, it leaves them 28th in the percentage of points that come from the three-point line (27.4 per cent).

To outgun the Warriors, you need to score big, and the Bulls' best bet to get hot from deep is Zach Lavine.

Making 2.8 threes per game, he is the only Bulls player averaging more than Coby White's 1.5, and his win/loss splits are eerily similar to Thompson's.

He is hitting 3.6 threes at 43.9 per cent in wins, and 2.1 threes at 26.4 per cent in losses, indicating his outsized importance and responsibility for the interior-heavy Bulls offense.

KEY BATTLE - Can the Bulls slow down the Warriors' ball movement?

While the Bulls' offense has been disappointing, their defense has actually been a pleasant surprise, climbing from the 23rd-ranked unit last season up to the 11th-best this time around.

Golden State's porous defense and second-highest pace in the league could provide a perfect environment for the Bulls to put up a big score, so it may come down to if they can force Stephen Curry to beat them by himself.

While Curry has been spectacular, averaging 31.4 points, the Warriors lead the league in assists per game at 29.7, so if the Bulls can figure out how to force the Warriors into isolations and restrict their quick passing, they can force the reigning champions to play the game out of their comfort zone.

 

HEAD-TO-HEAD

This will be the first meeting between the Warriors and Bulls this campaign after two fixtures in the 2021-22 season – resulting in two convincing Golden State wins.

The champions-in-waiting hammered the Bulls 119-93 last November, before following it up with a 138-96 thrashing in January, making it 10 consecutive victories against Chicago dating back to 2017.

LeBron James has questioned why the media have not asked him about the controversial photo of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

The Washington Post published a photograph last month of Jones, as a 14-year-old, amid a crowd of white pupils attempting to block black students from North Little Rock High School in 1957.

The now-80-year-old says he was merely an observer and did not engage in discrimination, during a period where US schools were undergoing desegregation.

Speaking after the Los Angeles Lakers' 128-109 win over the Portland Trail Blazers however, James asked why reporters had not asked for his opinion on the matter, in contrast to the Kyrie Irving scandal earlier this season.

"I got one question for you guys before you guys leave," he said. "I was thinking when I was on my way over here, I was wondering why I haven't [had] a question from you guys about the Jerry Jones photo.

"But when the Kyrie [Irving] thing was going on, you guys were quick to ask us questions about that."

Irving was suspended by the Brooklyn Nets in early November after posting links to material containing anti-Semitic depictions, including a documentary.

"When I watch Kyrie talk and he says, 'I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we're talking about my people and the things that we've been through,' and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, black people, have been through in America," James continued.

"I feel like as a black man, as a black athlete, as someone with power and a platform, when we do something wrong, or something that people don't agree with, it's on every single tabloid, every single news coverage, it's on the bottom ticker. It's asked about every single day.

"But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, it's just been buried under 'Oh, it happened. Okay, we just move on.'

"I was just kind of disappointed that I haven't received that question from you guys."

Devin Booker lauded the support of the Phoenix Suns' adoring fans after being serenaded with chants of "MVP" during his 51-point showing against the Chicago Bulls.

Having put up 44 points in Monday's win over the Sacramento Kings, Booker continued his hot streak as the Suns secured a sixth victory on the bounce, downing the Bulls 132-113.

The Footprint Arena resonated with chants for Booker to land the MVP prize, and the 26-year-old was loving it.

"It's the best," Booker said about the home crowd.

"I don't know how many sell-out crowds that is in a row, but it's impressive.

"Mondays, Tuesdays, Saturdays, it doesn't matter what day of the week it is. They show up and show out."

Booker added 26 of his 51 points in the third quarter, including making five-of-five from three-point range.

It was the fourth 25-point quarter in Booker's career, tied with Kobe Bryant for second most in the past 25 years.

Booker shot at 80 per cent from the field, making six-of-seven from three-point range, while he also added four rebounds and six assists before sitting out most of the final quarter.

It marked Booker's fourth career 50-point game, which is the most in franchise history.

"It felt like a double-sized rim out there," Booker said. "If I rise up, it's going in."

Devin Booker continued his hot scoring run with a season-high 51 points in only 31 minutes as the Phoenix Suns won 132-113 over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.

Booker, who scored 44 points against the Sacramento Kings on Monday, added 26 of his 51 points in the third quarter, including making five-of-five from three-point range.

It was the fourth 25-point quarter in Booker's career, tied with Kobe Bryant for second most in the past 25 years.

Booker shot at 80 per cent from the field, making six-of-seven from three-point range, while he also added four rebounds and six assists before sitting out most of the final quarter.

It marked Booker's fourth career 50-point game, which is the most in franchise history.

Suns center Deandre Ayton contributed 30 points with 14 rebounds and two blocks as Phoenix improved to 15-6.

The Bulls fall to 9-12, with DeMar DeRozan top scoring with 29 points with seven rebounds.

Tatum stars in front of royals with 49-point haul

Jayson Tatum scored a season-high 49 points as the Boston Celtics maintained their perfect home record in November with a 134-121 victory over the Miami Heat.

The Celtics small forward scored 28 of his points in the first half, which is the most in any half this season, while he also had 11 rebounds, three assists and two assists. Jaylen Brown added 26 points with seven rebounds in a game attended by the Prince and Princess of Wales, who sat courtside.

Tatum brought up his fifth 45-point game, which is second behind Larry Bird (19) in Celtics history, having moved ahead of Paul Pierce (four).

Hot Nets above .500 for first time this season

The Brooklyn Nets claimed their fifth straight home win as Kevin Durant scored 39 points in a 113-107 victory over the Washington Wizards.

Durant managed a game-high 39 points on 13-of-20 shooting with five rebounds and five assists, while Kyrie Irving added 15 of his 27 points in the final quarter.

The win improved the Nets to 12-11, moving above .500 for the first time this season on the back of three straight wins.

Jayson Tatum says hearing the Boston Celtics' fans chanting "M-V-P" for him is something he dreamed about as a kid.

Tatum scored a season-high 49 points in the Celtics' 134-121 win over the Miami Heat on Wednesday, where he played in front of the Prince and Princess of Wales, who sat courtside.

The fans quickly moved on from the royals' presence as they chanted "M-V-P" in honour of Tatum as early as the first quarter after scoring his side's first six points.

The 24-year-old small forward shot eight-of-12 from three-point range along with 15-of-25 from the field, while making 11-of-12 from the line.

Tatum, who has previously spoken about wanting to one day be the MVP, also had 11 rebounds, three assists and two steals in an all-round display showcasing why the Celtics fans adore him.

"That means everything," Tatum told ESPN about the "M-V-P" chants. "That's something I dreamed about as a kid.

"To hear it in front of our home crowd, in front of the best fans in the world, holds a special place in my heart. I love this place. I love being here.

"Hearing that during the game gives you chills."

Tatum's scoring performance was his third 40-point game this season, while he became the first player in NBA history to record multiple games of 45-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and eight-plus three-pointers.

It was also Tatum's ninth 30-point game in November, which is the equal most in a calendar month in his career. Only Larry Bird (10) has more in a month for the Celtics.

Tatum also became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 900 three-pointers made.

"I'm just glad I hit some threes tonight," he said. "I've been shooting terribly from three, so it just felt good to see some go in… I'll get 50 a game one day."

The Brooklyn Nets announced Ben Simmons will miss at least another three games with a left lateral upper calf strain.

Simmons exited Monday's 109-102 win over the Orlando Magic due to left knee soreness, according to the Nets.

Brooklyn head coach Jacque Vaughn clarified prior to Wednesday's game against the Washington Wizards that Simmons was dealing with a new issue, beyond the knee complaint, which saw him miss six games earlier this season.

"It's the knee, but the back of the knee," Vaughn told reporters. "He was grabbing his knee during the game and said he needed to come out.

"It ended up being the back of the knee, so it's the upper part of the calf."

Simmons, who is averaging 8.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists this season, will miss upcoming games against the Wizards, the Toronto Raptors (Friday) and the Boston Celtics (Sunday).

The 26-year-old had been enjoying his best run for the Nets over the past fortnight since his February trade from the Philadelphia 76ers, scoring double-digit points in six straight games.

Vaughn added that there was no specific event when Simmons suffered the injury, meaning they could commence his return to play on managed minutes.

Norman Powell's late rally came as no surprise to Los Angeles Clippers head coach Ty Lue, after he helped seal a 118-112 wn over the Portland Trail Blazers.

The shooting guard was traded from the Oregon outfit down the West Coast in February, just months after signing a mammoth new five-year deal to stay with them.

Facing off against his former side, Powell posted a 32-point performance off the bench, with 22 coming in the final quarter alone, to take the team to 13-9 for the season.

Lue acknowledged the 29-year-old was likely to be fired up by the chance to impress against the Trail Blazers, and was more than happy to reap the rewards.

"When you get traded from somewhere, you want to play well against them," Lue stated after Powell connected on four of his five three-point attempts.

"I thought he was a little too excited in the first half - we are always going to stay with our guys and he had 24 points in the second half, really attacking the basket.

"He was getting to the paint and getting to the free-throw line.

"He's been playing great for about the last three to four weeks."

Powell, a former NBA champion during his time with the Toronto Raptors, is looking to help the Clippers bounce back after the team missed the playoffs by coming up short in the play-in tournament last term. 

The Clippers are fifth in the Western Conference, two places above Portland, who dropped to 11-10.

Luka Doncic's dazzling NBA feats are "getting boring", joked Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd, after the point guard posted his third 40-point triple-double of the season.

The Slovenian scored 41 points alongside 12 rebounds and 12 assists to help his side snap a four-game losing run in spectacular style, as they edged a 116-113 win over the Golden State Warriors.

It takes Doncic to three for the number of 40-point triple-doubles in the NBA this season, while no other player has yet managed one.

Kidd jested that it was not enough for a player of his calibre and stressed the 23-year-old remains a generational talent.

"It's getting boring," he quipped. "I mean, let's see something different. Maybe [he can] do it with his left hand. I'm just joking.

"Look, he's one of the best in the world, and that's what he does. Some of us can take him for granted. The man is special."

Doncic, who leads the NBA scoring charts this season, was exhausted but delighted to help the Mavericks turn matters around after a tough end to November.

"I just participated, giving everything I got," he added. "I was really tired at the end, but we needed this game. I think we deserved this win, and we for sure needed this win."

The Warriors came close to forcing overtime, with Klay Thompson missing a late three-point opportunity after the ball rimmed out, to Doncic's relief.

"I was scared, I'm not going to lie," he added. "It's Klay. He's not going to miss many open shots. I was really happy when it didn't go in."

The NBA's leading scorer Luka Doncic increased his average with a stunning 42-point triple-double to defeat the Golden State Warriors 116-113 at home on Tuesday.

Averaging 33.1 points per game this season, Doncic eclipsed 40 points for the fifth time in 19 outings, hitting 14-of-27 from the field while adding 12 rebounds, 12 assists and four steals.

He finished with a plus/minus of plus 22 in 39 minutes, meaning his team was outscored by 19 in the nine minutes he was on the bench.

Doncic received strong support from Tim Hardaway Jr, hitting five-of-11 from long range for his 22 points, while their 2020 first-round draft pick Josh Green showed signs of life with three three-pointers and impressive defense off the bench.

For the Warriors, Stephen Curry continued his MVP-calibre season with another 32 points (11-of-24 shooting), five rebounds and five assists, while last year's seventh overall draft pick Jonathan Kuminga had 14 points (six-of-eight), 10 rebounds and two blocks.

The Mavericks came into the contest on a four-game losing streak, but pulled their record even at 10-10, while the Warriors are in the same boat at 11-11.

Powell shines in revenge game

Norman Powell enjoyed his most productive game of the season to deliver the Los Angeles Clippers a 118-112 comeback win on the road against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Playing on the road against his former club, Powell scored a team-high 32 points off the bench in just 26 minutes, going 10-of-16 from the field, four-of-five from deep and eight-of-10 from the free throw line.

He had 22 of his points in the fourth quarter to overcome a 95-82 deficit at three-quarter time, with the Clippers winning the final period 36-17.

Anfernee Simons was at his sharpshooting best for the Blazers, finishing 13-of-24 from the field and nine-of-16 from three-point range for his 37 points, marking the fourth time in the 23-year-old's career that he has hit nine threes in a game.

Randle has a birthday to remember

Julius Randle turned 28 on Tuesday, and he celebrated with a season-high 36 points in a one-sided 140-110 New York Knicks blowout of the Detroit Pistons.

Randle shot 14-of-24 from the field and six-of-13 from deep, raising his true shooting percentage – which accounts for and weights three-pointers and free throws – to 58.4 per cent.

That figure is more efficient than his 2020-21 season (56.7 per cent true shooting), where he became an All-Star and second-team All-NBA selection, after struggling mightily this past campaign (50.9 per cent).

The Knicks are now one game below .500 at 10-11, and boast the league's 10th-best offense.

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was unfazed by his side's narrow 113-116 road loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, instead choosing to focus on what he called Jonathan Kuminga's best game as a professional.

There were warning signs early that this was not going to be the Warriors' night as they quickly fell down 23-6 after eight minutes of action, and despite fighting back well, they were unable to overcome the brilliance of Luka Doncic.

The 23-year-old MVP favourite scored 41 points on 14-of-27 shooting with 12 rebounds, 12 assists and four steals – posting a game-high plus/minus of plus 22 in his 39 minutes.

That means in the nine minutes he was on the bench, the Mavericks were outscored by 19 points, and Kerr acknowledged after the game that there was nothing they could do about the Slovenian when he is playing like that.

"Luka is Luka, he is just a tremendous shot-creator and shot-maker, and we just couldn't get the ball to go down tonight," he said.

"I love the effort, and I told the guys we're in a really good spot. We have kind of rounded into form, our bench has an identity, and we very easily could've won that game – but the ball has to go in the hoop, and sometimes it doesn't.

"Just an off night, you could see right away we fell down 23-6. We had plenty of good looks, it's just part of the season. This happens, no big deal."

A big part of the Warriors' fightback was Kuminga's play when both teams had their second-units on the floor, with the former lottery pick hitting six-of-eight from the field for 14 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in his 26 minutes.

"It was the best game I've ever seen 'JK' play," he said. "Everything he did contributed towards making an impact on winning.

"His defense on Luka was fantastic, he was disciplined, he stayed down, he challenged shots, and I think he had a couple blocks. 

"He stayed patient offensively, he took the shots that were there, he knocked down a big three. JK has been fantastic, he's really coming into his own and that's exciting.

"It's exciting, because it's not easy. It's not easy for him to be thrown into a high-pressure environment, and to have to be counted on to win.

"A lot of guys, a lot of his colleagues, guys who were drafted near him are being given 30 minutes every night and there's not nearly as much pressure to win, because they're not on championship teams.

"He's handled everything really well, I think the way he is playing is a direct reflection of his attitude and approach these last few weeks."

Kuminga's sophomore season has got off to a rocky start, with the 20-year-old's minutes, points, rebounds, assists, field goal percentage and three-point percentage all lower than his marks as a rookie.

The seventh overall pick from the 2021 NBA Draft is beginning to figure it out, now posting back-to-back games with at least 20 minutes played while shooting over 60 per cent from the floor, and his status as the Warriors' most athletic wing gives him the upside to be a factor as they attempt to defend their title.

Julius Randle celebrated his 28th birthday in style as he dropped 36 points on the New York Knicks' best shooting night of the season to hammer the Detroit Pistons 140-110.

Randle's 36 points sets a new season-high for the 2021 All-NBA selection, kicking off his night with the first quarter of his career with at least five three-pointers, before finishing 14-of-24 from the field and six-of-13 from deep.

Averaging 24.3 assists per game to sit 18th in the league, the Knicks dished 31 dimes en route to setting their new season-best mark of 45.7 per cent shooting from long-range, hitting 16 of their 35 total attempts.

The win on the first game of their road trip snaps a two-game losing streak for the Knicks, and Randle said he was determined to make his birthday a great night for the whole squad.

"The road is usually where teams come together," he said. "That's what we do, so I'm just trying to lead by example and play with energy, play with effort, and do whatever I can do help this team win.

"It was flowing. Anytime we get stops we can get out in transition and get easy buckets, and offensively we're starting to move without the ball. It's good.

"It's always what the defense gives me. Naturally, I'm going to be aggressive, but I was just locked in and taking the shots they were giving me."

When asked if he can sense a big game like this in the hours leading up to the contest, Randle admitted he had a feeling this one was going to go well.

"Sometimes [I can tell]," he said. "I could tell today a little bit. I was just locked in, felt good by myself and how my body was feeling. We've got to follow it up tomorrow."

After Randle's career-best 2020-21 campaign, there were concerns this past season that he had regressed and that perhaps his great year was an outlier, with his true shooting percentage dipping from 56.7 to 50.9 – his lowest figure since the 2015-16 season.

He started slow again this time around, but quickly figured things out, putting up 21.5 points per game with strong splits of 47.4 per cent from the field, 35.4 per cent from deep on 6.9 attempts per game, and 80.4 per cent from the free throw line during November.

It has resulted in his true shooting percentage – which weights three-pointers and free throws to produce one figure – jumping back up to a 58.4 per cent, and coach Tom Thibodeau said it is no surprise.

"He's been doing it for a while now," he said. "Offensively, we're scoring a ton of points, I think we're top-10 in scoring.

"We're scoring in the paint, guys are sharing it, making plays, getting to the line a lot. I like where we are offensively, and I thought our rebounding was really good tonight. We just have to keep building."

Veteran guard Derrick Rose added: "Of course, with it being his birthday, we knew when he first came out how the game was going to go. 

"He forced his will on the team, and everybody else had to follow. That's normally what happens when leaders lead."

The Knicks are now 10-11, and if they can just figure out how to fix their 24th-ranked defense, their 10th-ranked offense is potent enough to flirt with the playoffs.

Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan agreed a contract extension before the 2022-23 season began last month, the team's public relations staff have confirmed.

Donovan signed a four-year deal when he took charge of the Bulls in September 2020, and led the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2017 last season.

The Bulls posted a 46-36 record in 2021-22, making it their first winning season since 2015-16, while they have won three of their last four games to improve to 9-11 following an inconsistent start to the new campaign.

Donovan's original contact with the six-time NBA champions was set to expire in 2024, but reports suggest the 57-year-old's new deal will run for several more seasons.

The Bulls led the Eastern Conference for much of last campaign and made the postseason despite guard Lonzo Ball suffering a serious knee injury – which has kept him out since January.

Donovan coached the Oklahoma City Thunder for five years before making the move to Chicago, leading the team to the Western Conference playoffs in each of his five seasons at the helm.

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns will only miss an estimated four-to-six weeks of action after suffering a right calf strain.

Towns' injury appeared to be serious when he went down in a non-contact situation in the third quarter of Monday's 142-127 loss to the Washington Wizards, needing to be helped back to the locker room.

However, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the 27-year-old underwent imaging on Tuesday and is expected to return "sometime in January".

Towns was named 2016 Rookie of the Year and has made three All-Star games (2018, 2019 and 2022).

He is also the only center ever to win the Three-Point Contest during All-Star Weekend.

Towns is not having his best year, averaging 21.4 points per game this season – his lowest figure since 2017-18 – as well as a career-low 8.5 rebounds and a career-low 0.7 blocks.

But his absence is still likely to be felt keenly by a Minnesota team at 10-11, having lost their last three games.

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