Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out the Milwaukee Bucks' showdown with the Boston Celtics on Friday.

The Bucks opted to hold out superstar Antetokounmpo in Boston due to an ankle injury, having been listed as probable for the NBA champions.

Antetokounmpo has been averaging 26.6 points, 11.8 rebounds and a career-high 6.0 assists, while shooting 49.6 per cent from the field and 28.6 from three-point range.

The two-time MVP is averaging at least 25.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game for what would be a fourth consecutive season. No player in NBA history has done that four seasons in a row, per Stats Perform.

The Bucks (6-6) have struggled for consistency due to injuries, but are riding a two-game winning streak.

In their last game against the New York Knicks, the Bucks scored 78 of their 112 points via three-pointers (69.6 percent) – the highest percentage by any team in a game in NBA history.

Rudy Gobert suggested he was willing to take any fights out of the NBA spotlight after a tussle with Myles Turner that saw the two big men ejected.

Utah Jazz center Gobert was involved in a scuffle with Indiana Pacers counterpart Turner on Thursday.

With Jazz team-mates Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles then entering the fray and also getting ejected, the Pacers closed out a 111-110 win.

"I don't think I did anything wrong," Turner said, but Gobert appeared to disagree as he criticised NBA officials for putting him in such situations.

"We know we aren't going to fight," said the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

"Guys need to stop acting like they're going to fight, because they know that in two seconds there's going to be like 20 security guards in between us. Okay, it's cool for the cameras, but they know we aren't going to fight.

"Guys that are not about that life need to stop acting like they are, because at some point I might have to stand up for myself – also if the officials keep doing like they've been doing over this season.

"There are a lot of guys who do way too much s***, and I have to keep my head cool. I do a lot of self-control.

"It's actually funny, because my boxing coach was at the game. That's the only time in a year that he came to the game. That's funny.

"But they teach you how to keep your calm. If I don't feel threatened, I'm not going to throw a punch and get suspended and hurt my team. I didn't feel a threat at all, and I'm not going to fight on a basketball court.

"But if somebody wants to fight, I'm easy to reach, I'm really easy to reach. I'm just not going to do it on social media. If anyone's got a problem, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, easy."

Asked about Mitchell and Ingles also being ejected, Gobert replied with a smile: "I was surprised when I heard it, but then when I watched the video and saw what happened..."

Los Angeles Clippers coach Ty Lue welcomed the contributions of his supporting players as they helped Paul George lead the team to a sixth straight win.

The Clippers beat the Miami Heat 112-109 on Thursday to continue their streak. They have also now won six in a row against the Heat, their longest such sequence in this matchup since the teams' first meeting in 1988.

With Kawhi Leonard still on the sidelines, fellow All-Star George has been the Clippers' main man this season, with his usage rate up to 34.3 per cent.

He is averaging 26.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game – his best marks outside of his All-NBA First Team season in 2018-19. His 5.4 assists per game are a new high.

George had 27 points against Miami, again leading the team, but he also had a negative plus/minus (-1) for the first time in this winning run.

While the forward's 38 minutes ensured he remains the Clippers' most used player this year (388 mins), there were signs of fatigue and Lue called his man back to the bench in the third quarter.

Crucially, however, the Clippers had a positive point differential of four in the 10 minutes George sat in this game, prompting the coach to laud a team effort.

George was one of five players to score double-figures and one of three to pass 20 – also Reggie Jackson (22) and Eric Bledsoe (21).

"In that third quarter, PG was a little tired, so we had to get him out early," Lue said.

"That group we had on the floor increased the lead, so it bought him more time. It was just a total team win. We did a lot of great things."

Leonard's absence with an ACL tear represents a big blow to the Clippers, but they are now 7-4 this year as George excels.

However, when Leonard went down halfway through last season's playoff campaign, George improved from averaging 24.9 points per game to 29.6.

Indeed, since the pair joined the team together in 2019, George has 26.8 points across the regular season and postseason when Leonard is missing, versus 21.7 when his team-mate is also in the lineup.

This responsibility may suit George this year then, and asked how he was coping with the strain, he simply replied: "I'm still going, still going."

The Philadelphia 76ers have been accused of worsening Ben Simmons' mental-health situation by agent Rich Paul, who criticised the NBA franchise for fining and suspending the wantaway All-Star.

Simmons is yet to feature for the 76ers this NBA season, notifying Philadelphia he is not mentally ready to play, having sought a trade following the team's shock playoff exit to the Atlanta Hawks in 2020-21.

He was suspended by the 76ers for the season opener due to "conduct detrimental to the team", while the Australian guard was reportedly fined for failing to co-operate with team physicians on his mental-health issues.

As Simmons' future continues to dominate headlines amid reported interest from the likes of the Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors, Paul provided an update.

"I truly believe the fines, the targeting, the negative publicity shined on the issue — that's very unnecessary and has furthered the mental health issues for Ben," Paul told The Athletic.

"Either you help Ben, or come out and say he's lying. Which one is it?"

"I don't think the 76ers are a bad organisation. Josh Harris and David Blitzer are great governors, they've done a great job with the organisation. I have respect for Daryl Morey," Paul said. "Ben has a mental issue, let's support him. I'm happy he got to a place where he realised and accepted help. I understand it's a business, but even in business, you need humanity.

"I have a great level of respect and love for the city of Philadelphia, as someone who loves the game, but this isn't about that. This is about Ben getting back to a place mentally where he can be back on the floor — and only Ben can tell us when that is. We have to allow him to do that."

 

Simmons – an elite defender who signed a five-year, $177.2million contract extension in 2019 – and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers, who were eliminated in the semi-finals.

The 25-year-old had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs against the Hawks last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star, according to Stats Perform.

Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career-worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.

"In this case, we have to get Ben help and not put finances above mental health," Paul said. "As an agent, I understand contractual obligations and I hold myself accountable in this business. But if someone is telling you something, we can no longer turn a blind eye in today's world.

"This is no longer about a trade. This is about finding a place where we can help Ben get back to his mental strength and get back on the floor. I want him on the floor playing the game that he loves.

"I want Ben on the floor whether that's in a 76ers uniform or any other uniform, that's not up to me, but I want him in a state where he can resume play. We want to cooperate and want to work him back on the floor."

On when Simmons could return to playing, Paul added: "He's not there yet. How can a doctor, who has only met with Ben once, say, 'Ben is mentally ready to play?' So do we keep digging on him, or help him?

"Now that we understand that reluctance from Ben, it all makes sense. There was a shying away from it. If Ben has repeatedly showed behaviour that entails he isn't mentally ready to play, embrace him. Support him. We have to remove our ego from it. We all have to take responsibility."

The Philadelphia 76ers suffered a third consecutive defeat in the NBA, this time upstaged 115-109 by the visiting Toronto Raptors.

While 2020-21 MVP runner-up Joel Embiid and Matisse Thybulle remain sidelined due to the league's health and safety protocol, last season's Eastern Conference top seeds the 76ers welcomed back star Tobias Harris and Seth Curry.

Tyrese Maxey also scored 33 points in back-to-back 30-point games, but it was not enough for the 76ers (8-5) at home to the Raptors in Philadelphia on Thursday.

Maxey became the first 76er in either his first or second season with consecutive 30-plus point games since Embiid in 2017.

 

But Eastern Conference rivals the Raptors (7-6) silenced Wells Fargo Center thanks to Fred VanVleet (32 points), Gary Trent Jr. (20 points) and Og Anunoby (20 points).

VanVleet and Trent hit back-to-back three-pointers over the final 1:10 to lift the Raptors, who had lost three games in a row.

 

Streaking Clippers cool Heat

The Los Angeles Clippers (7-4) posted their sixth successive victory after outlasting the Miami Heat 112-109. Paul George scored 27 points and Reggie Jackson registered all his 22 points in the second half as the Clippers overturned a 17-point deficit. Bam Adebayo's season-high 30 points and 11 rebounds were not enough for the Heat (7-5), who dropped their third straight game and fourth of five.

 

Jazz beaten at home

For the first time this season, the Utah Jazz (8-4) lost at home following a surprise 111-100 defeat against the Indiana Pacers. All-Star pair Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were ejected in the fourth quarter, along with team-mate Joe Ingles and Indiana's Myles Turner. The Pacers (5-8) were led by Malcolm Brogdon's season-high 30 points.

The recent history of the New York Knicks is littered with abysmal play, a never-ending coaching carousel and a general lack of excitement for a fanbase starved for a winner.

But all that can be forgotten now that Madison Square Garden is rocking again in support of a team on the rise with a chance to make noise in the NBA playoffs.

After ending a seven-year playoff drought in a surprising first season under head coach Tom Thibodeau in 2020-21, New York is eager for more and might have enough to warrant the newfound optimism surrounding the franchise.

While the Knicks' first postseason appearance since 2012-13 was a short one – a first-round loss to the Atlanta Hawks – it signalled a rebirth for a franchise that had a league-worst .330 winning percentage (184-374) during a run of seven consecutive seasons without playoffs from 2013-14 to 2019-20.

A 41-31 record last season was New York's best since they went 54-28 in 2012-13 and those 41 wins surpassed their total from the two previous campaigns combined (38-110). Maybe that record can be at least partly attributed to a fluky, COVID-19 riddled campaign where the Knicks caught opponents by surprise, but a 25-11 home record and a 25-17 mark against the Eastern Conference shouldn't be overlooked.

Thibodeau was clearly the main catalyst for the reversal, bringing his trademark defence to a team that ranked 17th in opponent scoring (106.1) the previous seven seasons before his arrival. In Thibodeau's first term at the helm, the Knicks led the NBA in that category (104.7) as well as opponent field goal percentage (44.0) and opponent three-point percentage (33.7). He was named NBA Coach of the Year for the second time (Chicago Bulls, 2011).

Besides the obvious difference in the on-court product, Thibodeau brought instant credibility to a franchise that employed six different coaches since the 2012-13 playoff appearance. His .587 career winning percentage (400-282) ranks seventh among active coaches (minimum 100 games).

While team defence and the superb play of Julius Randle carried the Knicks last season, an offensive injection was needed to take the next step.

Bringing in the starting backcourt of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier has made the Knicks a more dangerous perimeter shooting team after Atlanta exposed New York's glaring lack of scoring depth in the playoffs.

In the five-game loss to the Hawks, the Knicks failed to break 100 points in the final three games and shot just 39.8 percent from the field overall. That wasn't a surprise considering New York ranked 26th last season in scoring (107.0), 21st in field-goal percentage (45.6) and 21st in field goals made (847).

Walker is a four-time All-Star who has been one of the NBA's most consistent point producers over the past decade. The Charlotte Hornets' all-time leading scorer, Walker averaged at least 20 points in five straight seasons from 2015-16 to 2019-20 before slipping to 19.3 last season with Boston.

Fournier was acquired in a sign-and-trade with the Celtics after spending the bulk of his career with the Orlando Magic. He has shot at least 40 percent from three-point range in three separate seasons, including knocking down 41.3 percent last season with Orlando and Boston.

Fournier is averaging 13.8 points this season while connecting on 36.1 percent from downtown, starting all 12 games in the backcourt with Walker.

The three-point shot has become a much bigger part of the Knicks' arsenal compared to last season. After taking 30 three-point attempts per game last season, the Knicks have put up 38 threes per contest so far in 2021-22. That plus-eight increase is by far the biggest of any team this year with the Minnesota Timberwolves (6.8) coming next.

The volume of three-pointers has led to an offense that is averaging 110.8 points through 12 games this season, which is the seventh highest in the league. The last time New York averaged more than 110 points per game for a full season was the Patrick Ewing-led 1988-89 team (116.7).

Randle remains the leader and focal point for New York, emerging last season as an All-Star for the first time and winning the NBAs Most Improved Player award in a runaway. Randle set career highs last season in scoring (24.1), rebounding (10.2) and assists (6.0) and while his scoring has dipped to 21.9 this term, that is to be expected with more offensive options on the roster.

Still, Randle is one of five players this season leading their teams in points per game, rebounds per game and assists per game, along with Luka Doncic, Paul George, Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Randle could become the first player in franchise history to lead the Knicks in points, rebounds and assists in two different seasons.

In just his third season with the Knicks, he already has 15 games with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds. Only Ewing (148) and Carmelo Anthony (29) have more such games for the franchise since Ewing joined New York in 1985.

Randle's value to the Knicks was on display in last Friday's stunning comeback win at defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks. Randle outplayed two-time NBA MVP Antetokounmpo in the second half and finished with 32 points and 12 rebounds as New York overcame a 21-point deficit for a 113-98 win.

That marked the first time in franchise history that the Knicks overcame a 20-point deficit to record a double-digit victory since the NBA began tracking play-by-play in boxscores during the 1997-98 season.

Another key to that win was the stellar play of veteran guard Derrick Rose, who matched a season high with 23 points to go with eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and zero turnovers. He finished with a plus-31 for one of the best marks in the league this season and not far behind his league best-tying plus-34, accomplished in a 121-96 victory over Orlando on October 22.

Rose has played the role of super substitute this season, averaging 13.3 points while shooting 48.9 percent (22 for 45) on three-pointers while amassing a plus-95 rating that is tied for ninth in the NBA.

The Knicks nearly did it to Milwaukee again on Wednesday, erasing a 24-point deficit before falling short in a 112-100 loss. Walker and Fournier combined for just four points, but Rose and Immanuel Quickley totalled 40 off the bench to spark the comeback.

Bench scoring has been another key to New York's early season rise on offense. The Knicks rank sixth in the NBA in scoring from reserves (39.6), with Rose, Alec Burks and Obi Toppin the main contributors.

Quickley has come alive recently, looking more like the player he was last season. The second-year guard has averaged 12.3 points on 48.5 shooting in his past four games after scoring 5.3 in his first eight contests.

Getting the best version of Quickley would help ease the pressure on Walker and Rose and would go a long way toward keeping the veteran duo fresh for the second half of the season.

RJ Barrett has been limited to 30 points in his last three games after he reeled off five consecutive games of at least 20 points, matching the longest streak of his young career. During that stretch, the 21-year-old averaged 25 points on 51.7 percent shooting (45 for 87) and 5.8 rebounds while knocking down half his three-point attempts (16 for 32).

Barrett's continued evolution as a scorer and complement to Randle's power game will be key for the Knicks and the early returns are promising. After shooting 49.1 and 51.1 percent at the rim in his first two seasons, Barrett has raised that number to 57.6 this season as he learns how to finish at the hoop and maximise his considerable physical tools.

As necessary as the improved offense was, it has come at a cost on the opposite end.

New York ranks 22nd in scoring defence (109.6) and that doesn't sit well with Thibodeau, judging by his recent postgame comments. That needs to be cleaned up if the Knicks are to compete against the best teams in the east for the long run.

The Eastern Conference appears to be much improved this season, with top contenders Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Miami leading the way. Cleveland, Chicago and Washington seem to have made huge strides and the Knicks are also in that mix of potential playoff teams.

Only the most diehard Knicks fan would dare dream of a championship this season but it's not a joke anymore to suggest that just maybe there could be one on the horizon.

Luka Doncic cannot always be "superhuman", Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd insists, after the preseason MVP favourite continued a mixed start to the campaign with an "average" night against the Chicago Bulls.

Mavericks superstar Doncic, now in his fourth year in the NBA, was expecting to be among the league's leading players in 2021-22.

Dallas are a competitive 7-4 through 11 games and their point forward has 24.5 points per game, but that is a considerable drop on last year's 27.7 or his 2019-20 peak of 28.8.

And Doncic, despite a sensational game-winning buzzer-beater against the Boston Celtics last week, is not helping the Mavs in the way his team would hope.

Only eight qualifying players – seven of them on teams with .250 records or worse – have a lower plus/minus per game than Doncic's -8.7.

That was -20 in Wednesday's 117-107 defeat to the Bulls despite the 22-year-old averaging close to his first triple-double of the season with 20 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.

Doncic had four steals for only the sixth time in his career but also gave up four turnovers and is averaging 4.4 for the year, a new high.

"Luka was just average tonight," Kidd said. "We always expect him to be superhuman, but there's going to be nights in this season where he's going to be average.

"His average is really good, but he again had some great looks that didn't go down for him."

Indeed, Doncic made just six of 18 shots from the field and one of six from three-point range.

Although he is attempting more field goals than ever before (21.2 per game), his shooting is down to 43.3 per cent, including a career-low 28.6 per cent from three.

Kidd praised much-maligned team-mate Kristaps Porzingis, who "stepped up" with 22 points and 12 rebounds, but the Mavs clearly cannot afford a player, in Doncic, with a team-high 35.9 per cent usage rate to be missing both shots and passes.

"I think that's a question for him," Kidd said of Doncic's shooting woes. "When you look at the shots that he's taking, he's getting a lot of great looks.

"I think in the game of basketball, some go in, some don't. He still has to continue to be aggressive and take those looks. The ones that he's missing right now will fall for him – he just has to stay with it."

One tweak could be to get Doncic closer to the basket, with his shooting at the rim way up to 75.6 per cent. He has scored 40.1 per cent of his points in the paint this year (only marginally up on 40.0 per cent).

"His strength is being able to create on the perimeter for others and for himself, so that's something that we can definitely do, put him in the post to try to take some of the stress away from him having to work so hard," Kidd said. "That will come in due time as the season goes on."

Anthony Davis says the injury-hit Los Angeles Lakers are "starting to realise how good of a team we are" after they beat the Miami Heat 120-117 in overtime on Wednesday.

Russell Westbrook posted a second consecutive triple-double of 25 points, 12 rebounds and 14 assists, while Davis scored 24 points and claimed 13 rebounds at Staples Center.

Malik Monk also played a big hand, finishing with a team-high 27 points - including five of the Lakers' eight points in overtime as they moved to 7-5.

Justin Reaves and Rajon Rondo (both hamstring) joined LeBron James (abdominal strain) on a lengthy Lakers injury list, but Davis says confidence is building in adversity following a second straight overtime win.

"Trying to find ways to get wins while everyone is getting back healthy," Davis said.

"The last two games have definitely been fun. Guys are having fun. Guys are starting to realise how good of a team we are."

 

Monk relished the opportunity to make a big impact after starting on the bench.

"I had this role a couple of times last year in Charlotte, the year before that when a lot of guys get hurt and I had to come in and play big minutes and facilitate and do other things that I normally don't do," he said.

"But I work on my game a lot, so I was really prepared for this moment."

Lakers coach Frank Vogel revealed that Reaves and Rondo had only suffered minor injuries and are both day-to-day.

Double-doubles from Bam Adebayo (28 points, 10 rebounds, six steals and four assists) and Kyle Lowry (18 points and 11 assists) were in vain for the Heat (7-4), who lost Jimmy Butler due to a sprained ankle.

Andrew Wiggins dismissed the notion his star showing in the Golden State Warriors' 123-110 triumph over the Minnesota Timberwolves was a "revenge game".

The Timberwolves traded Wiggins to the Warriors in February 2020, and the 2015 Rookie of the Year was a thorn in the side of his former employers at Chase Center on Wednesday.

Wiggins had a season-high 35 points and four rebounds in 32 minutes as the Warriors moved to 10-1 in the NBA this season.

But the 26-year-old insists getting one over on his former team was not a primary focus.

"No, not a revenge game, a well-played game against a former team," he said. 

"A fun game. The game of basketball's fun. Facing your former team is always one you wake up excited for.

"I'm going to keep it rolling. I'm going to stay aggressive."

There was one moment Wiggins in particular did enjoy, though, that coming with a drive to the baseline and a one-handed slam over Karl-Anthony Towns, who he dunked on twice in the game.

"That's my guy," Wiggins said. "He got me last year, so I got him back."

Wiggins made each of his first 10 shots and scored 22 of his points on the back of nine-for-nine first-half shooting.

"Andrew was just fantastic, the aggression from the beginning of the game, loved his energy," said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. 

"Obviously he was pretty excited to play against his old team. We needed everything he brought us tonight."

The Warriors are top of the Western Conference, while the Timberwolves are down in 13th after a sixth straight defeat.

Brooklyn Nets superstars Kevin Durant and James Harden expressed their pleasure with the team's response after bouncing back to crush the Orlando Magic in the NBA on Wednesday.

After falling to the Chicago Bulls on Monday, the championship-chasing Nets routed the lowly Magic 123-90 on the road in Orlando midweek.

Durant posted 30 points on 11-of-12 shooting, while Harden had a triple-double of 17 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists to lead the Nets to their sixth win in seven games.

"That's really what you want to do — finish quarters, finish halves off the right way," said Durant, who had his sixth 30-plus game of the season. "We got to lead and we got some momentum, we got to take advantage. I think we did that."

In his 12 games this season, Durant has been averaging 29.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game, while shooting 58.5 per cent from the field and 82.9 per cent from the free-throw line. According to Stats Perform, the last player to reach all those numbers over any 12-game span was Bulls great and Hall of Famer Michael Jordan in 1988.

 

Harden added: "It's a long season. The quicker we can bounce back and get rid of it, the better our team will be, individually and as a collective unit. In Chicago, that quarter [the fourth quarter] was just one of those quarters.

"First three quarters we played pretty solid. We just wanted to come back, get that bad taste out of our mouth and perform tonight and we did an unbelievable job of that. Get some rest and we got two more games on this six-game road trip."

The Nets improved to 8-4 for the season as head coach Steve Nash said: "It was a solid bounce-back game from Chicago. I thought we got a little sloppy at the end of the half where we might have found some separation there.

"They responded in the third and a lot of good things. I thought we had moments on both ends of the floor where we were really good and really diligent with our game plans. I was happy with it and the guys did very well."

The Los Angeles Lakers survived to outlast the high-flying Miami Heat 120-117 in overtime as Russell Westbrook led the way in the NBA.

Westbrook posted a triple-double of 25 points, 12 rebounds and 14 assists, while team-mate Anthony Davis scored 24 points and collected 13 rebounds to fuel the Lakers (7-5) in the continued absence of LeBron James on Wednesday.

The Lakers had trailed 102-93 with less than seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter before rallying to force OT.

Malik Monk, who had a team-high 27 points, scored five of the Lakers' eight points in overtime to secure victory at Staples Center.

Double-doubles from Bam Adebayo (28 points, 10 rebounds, six steals and four assists) and Kyle Lowry (18 points and 11 assists) were not enough for the Heat (7-4), who lost Jimmy Butler to injury.

 

 

Durant reaches MJ levels, Wiggins' Warriors win 10th game

The Brooklyn Nets (8-4) crushed the Orlando Magic (3-9) 123-90 behind Kevin Durant's 30 points on 11-of-12 shooting. In his 12 games this season, Durant has been averaging 29.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game, while shooting 58.5 per cent from the field and 82.9 per cent from the free-throw line. According to Stats Perform, the last player to reach all those numbers over any 12-game span was Hall of Famer Michael Jordan in 1988. James Harden had his 59th career triple-double of 17 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.

Andrew Wiggins flexed his muscles against former team the Minnesota Timberwolves, putting up 35 points to inspire the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors (10-1) to a 123-110 victory. Anthony Edwards' career-high 48 points were not enough for the Timberwolves (3-7).

Defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks (6-6) blew a 24-point lead before overcoming the New York Knicks (7-5) 112-100. Giannis Antetokounmpo (15 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists) fell short of a triple-double.

 

Reeling Pelicans lose eighth straight

The New Orleans Pelicans' season went from bad to worse on Wednesday following a 108-100 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder (4-6). New Orleans – without star pair Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram – have lost eight games in a row to be a league-worst 1-11.

Damian Lillard claims officiating in the NBA this season has been "unacceptable", as he did not expect to be impacted by the league's foul rule change.

A new interpretation of the foul rule in 2021-22 has seen a "change in the officiating of overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves by offensive players with the ball in an effort to draw fouls", essentially meaning fewer trips to the foul line for certain players.

Portland Trail Blazers star Lillard had attempted 484 free throws last year, the fifth-most in the NBA.

But that figure has dropped from 7.2 per game all the way down to 3.2 following the officiating changes, a huge factor in Lillard's points output decreasing from an elite 28.8 to 19.3.

Only in his rookie season has the point guard scored fewer points per game, while he has never averaged fewer free throw attempts.

Given Lillard scored 23.1 per cent of the Blazers' points in 2020-21, with only Stephen Curry on the Golden State Warriors contributing a greater share (24.6 per cent), this dip has had a significant knock-on effect.

Portland are 5-6 this year and one of only three teams still winless on the road, with their latest loss coming on Tuesday at the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Blazers had snapped a seven-game losing streak against the Clippers in the teams' previous meeting but went down 117-109 at Staples Center, where Lillard was furious with the officials, restricted to only one free throw attempt.

He has visited the foul line just three times in the past three games and let rip during his post-game media duties.

"I feel like the way the game is being officiated is unacceptable," Lillard said.

"I don't want to go too deep into it so they make a big deal out of it, but the explanations, the s*** that's getting missed, I mean, come on...

"I'm not that type of player – I felt like coming in, the rule change wouldn't affect me, because I don't do the trick the referees, I don't do the trick plays. It's just unacceptable, man.

"Then the explanations and the remarks in return when you're telling them is just like... I don't really have anything else to say about it."

For all Lillard's complaints, his shooting performance has also been down this year, averaging 36.5 per cent from the field, 25.5 per cent from three-point range and 85.7 from the foul line; he was 45.1, 39.1 and 92.8 last season.

These numbers were not helped by a hopeless performance against the Indiana Pacers last week, when he was two-of-13 from the field for a mere four points in 38 minutes.

Only once previously in his career had Lillard scored so few points while playing more minutes (four in 40 versus the Orlando Magic in 2013).

But he had a year-high 27 against the Clippers and added: "I'm feeling better each game. I still feel like I'm not completely rolling, but I'm feeling better every game."

Doc Rivers is unclear about the severity of Seth Curry's foot injury as the Philadelphia 76ers' availability concerns got worse with the guard withdrawn prior to Tuesday's 118-109 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The 76ers went into the game leading the Eastern Conference at 8-3 despite being without Joel Embiid, Matisse Thybulle, Isaiah Joe and Tobias Harris due to COVID-19, with Ben Simmons also still unavailable.

Curry was pulled out of the 76ers side for the game shortly before tipoff with a left foot contusion.

"I don’t know," Rivers told reporters about Curry's injury after the game. "I literally thought he was gonna play and then late, you could hear the language, it didn’t sound like he was gonna play.

"We start adjusting pretty quickly after that. I’m not even sure what it is. I think it’s his toe, but I’m not sure."

Guard Tyrese Maxey scored 31 points, with five rebounds and four assists, while center Andre Drummond had 17 points along with 20 rebounds, but the 76ers missed their stars.

Rivers had indicated pre-game that Harris may be the closest to returning of the quartet who had entered the league's health and safety protocol.

"All the other guys are still where they're at. I would say just talking to Tobias, he's the one guy who'll be back sooner than later," Rivers said.

Rivers was impressed that the decimated 76ers, who also lost to the New York Knicks on Monday, were in the hunt against the reigning champions before a 27-16 fourth quarter.

"We gave ourselves a chance to win the game in both and there’s something to be taken from that so we do learn a lot," Rivers said. "But we didn’t win the games. That’s a fact.

"We had chances. It’s an opportunity to grow, an opportunity to get better, I’m not down about the loss. You either do one of two things in a competition. You either win the game or you lose the game. Period.”

Two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo says the Milwaukee Bucks will reap the benefits of rotating their roster amid injuries later in the championship race.

The reigning champions overcame the under-manned Eastern Conference leaders the Philadelphia 76ers 118-109 on Tuesday, snapping a run of five losses in six games.

Antetokounmpo starred with 31 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and two blocks, but unheralded Grayson Allen and Bobby Portis impressed in the absence of small forward Khris Middleton (COVID-19) and center Brook Lopez (back).

Allen hit five three-pointers to finish with 25 points, while starting center Portis had 19 points and 10 rebounds across 35 minutes on court. Semi Ojeleye added 11 points and eight rebounds off the bench.

"Obviously you always want to win, you play to win," Antetokounmpo said during his post-game news conference. "Grayson and Semi today were really good.

"Semi was shooting his open shots, he was being aggressive, diving for the ball. That's good. We're going to need that.

"We need these guys feeling comfortable playing with me and Jrue [Holiday]. We're going to need everybody to win a championship and play down the stretch in May and June."

Allen, who joined the Bucks from the Memphis Grizzlies in the off-season, went eight-for-13 from the field, including shooting at 56 per cent from beyond the arc.

"Grayson did a good job getting to the right spots," Antetokounmpo said.

The Bucks finished strong with a 27-16 fourth quarter to get over the 76ers, who were without Joel Embiid. The win improves Milwaukee's record to 5-6 on the season.

"It's always good to get a win," the Greek forward said. "Sometimes it's pretty, sometimes it's ugly, but a win is a win. We're trying to build some momentum here.

"With a stop or a block or a play or a pass, just do whatever it takes to get a win. That's what my team needs me to do. That's why I showed a bit of emotion... I just wanted us to get a win."

Holiday missed his three attempts from three-point range and shot four-for-14 from the field to finish with eight points in his third game back from an ankle injury.

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said: "I thought he had some big plays defensively. His effort on the boards, he can put a body on a guy like Drummond, so Giannis and Bobby can clean stuff up. Jrue is working his way and really getting better."

The Milwaukee Bucks picked up a much-needed victory against a depleted opponent on Tuesday, outlasting the Philadelphia 76ers 118-109. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points and 16 rebounds for the reigning NBA champions, who had lost five of their previous six games. 

Milwaukee (5-6) caught the 76ers at the right time, with Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris among four players sidelined by COVID-19 protocols and Seth Curry nursing a left foot contusion. 

Despite those absences, Philadelphia (8-4) stayed in the game until the closing minutes, leading by as many as 13 in the second quarter and entering the fourth quarter up 93-91. 

Tyrese Maxey had 39 points and Embiid's replacement, Andre Drummond, contributed 17 points and 20 rebounds for the 76ers, who have dropped six straight games to the Bucks. 

 

George, Clippers keep Blazers winless on road

Paul George led a balanced Clippers attack with 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists as Los Angeles defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 117-109. The loss kept Portland (5-6) winless in five road games this season, with two of those losses coming at Staples Center. 

Reggie Jackson added 23 points for the Clippers (6-4), while Nicolas Batum contributed 22 as he made six of eight shots from three-point range. Damian Lillard scored 27 to lead the Blazers. 

 

Cold-shooting Hawks fall to Jazz

The Atlanta Hawks made an impressive 51.4 percent of their three-point attempts (18 of 35) against the Utah Jazz, but connected on just 19 of 50 (38 per cent) from two-point range as they fell 110-98. 

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.