There were 124 years of All-Star experience at last weekend's showcase game between Team LeBron and Team Durant in Atlanta. 

The Chicago Bulls' Zach LaVine was responsible for one of those years. 

And of all the exceptional players at last weekend's event, the first-time All-Star from the Bulls is one of the more intriguing. 

While several All-Stars are future Hall of Famers – the Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James, Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry and Phoenix Suns' Chris Paul just to name a few – and others are young and established stars – the Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic, Utah Jazz's Donovan Mitchell, Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons – LaVine is a veteran who is suddenly developing into a superstar. 

In fact, over the past five weeks, no one is scoring more than LaVine, who is averaging a league-best 32.3 points since February 6, while making exactly half of his 104 three-point attempts. 

He's been so spectacular he's played himself into max contract talk, although other discussions have had his name in various trade rumours if the rebuilding Bulls do not plan to sign him to an extension before his contract expires in 2022. 

Now in his fourth season in Chicago after spending his first three with the Minnesota Timberwolves, LaVine has the Bulls in position to participate in the Play-In Tournament and possibly earn their first postseason berth since 2016-17. 

He has the Bulls on the cusp of the playoffs behind a breakout season in which he is averaging career highs in every major category – 28.7 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game, 5.1 assists per game and 3.5 made three-pointers per game, while shooting 52.5 per cent on all field goals and 43.5 per cent on threes. 

If those numbers look impressive, that is because they have only been reached once before in a single season in NBA history. 

LaVine joins Stephen Curry from 2015-16 as the only players ever to average 25-plus points, five-plus rebounds, five-plus assists and three-plus made three-pointers per game, while shooting 50 per cent on field goals and 40 per cent on threes. Curry won his second MVP that season while leading the Warriors to a record 73 wins. 

While Curry was already an established star at that point after winning league MVP honours and an NBA title the season prior, LaVine is unexpectedly proving that he also belongs among the upper echelon of players in the league. 

He has transformed himself into one of the league's most dangerous scorers, capable of knocking down a three-pointer, pulling up and hitting a mid-range jumper or beating his man off the dribble and finishing at the rim. 

Coming out of the All-Star break, his 167 dunks and layups are seventh-most in the NBA – and the most by any guard. And while the six-foot-six LaVine was also among the league leaders in dunks and layups last season (11th with 287), he is finishing at higher rate. 

He is converting 64.2 per cent of his dunk and layup attempts this season after making 57.4 per cent of his attempts last season, and that increase in field goal percentage of 6.8 is the eighth largest by any player six-foot-six or shorter. 

While many of the leaders among dunks and layups are big men – New Orleans Pelicans power forward Zion Williamson, Milwaukee Bucks power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jazz centre Rudy Gobert – who live in the paint, the dynamic LaVine is just as much of a threat to knock down a three-pointer. 

His 120 made three-pointers rank fifth in the league and he is the league's only player with more than 120 dunks and layups and 90 threes. 

It is one thing to have made a lot of threes but another to actually be an efficient shooter – the Sacramento Kings' Buddy Hield has made 20 more three-pointers than LaVine but has hoisted up 94 more attempts – and LaVine has refined his shooting touch and is deadly from beyond the arc. 

He is hitting 43.8 per cent of his three-point attempts from the wing and his 53.8 per cent shooting from the corner ranks sixth in the league among the 103 players with at least 30 attempts.   

Overall, LaVine is shooting 43.5 per cent on three-pointers, an increase of 0.55 per cent from the perimeter from last season – the eighth-largest improvement in the NBA among players with at least 150 three-point attempts this season and last. 

The mid-range shot is somewhat of a lost art in the current game with the added weight given to a shot from a few feet further back beyond the arc, but it still has a place and if a shooter can connect from mid-range with regularity he becomes all the more threatening to score. 

LaVine has found his touch from mid-range, making 44.6 per cent of those shots this season after hitting at a 31.9 per cent clip last season. That increase of 12.7 per cent is the sixth-largest in the NBA among 73 shooters who have attempted at least 50 mid-range shots this season and last. 

Shooters shoot, and LaVine is thriving. His effective field goal percentage of 61.5 ranks second in the NBA among all guards. 

His all-round offensive game is one of the most complete in the league, and opposing defences are tasked with game planning against him, giving him similar treatment as they would give Curry or James, as he is a threat to score from anywhere on the court. 

Curry and James, however, have won multiple MVPs and titles. LaVine is certainly putting up MVP-type numbers, but the Bulls are not in the championship conversation. 

At the moment, at least. 

Chicago are only two games back of the Boston Celtics for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and are viewed as a team on the rise under first-year Bulls coach Billy Donovan. Instead of trading LaVine as was being speculated weeks ago, it is possible Chicago will be buyers at the March 25 trade deadline in their pursuit of a playoff berth. 

And if LaVine continues to excel and Chicago continue to improve over the next few seasons, MVP awards and NBA titles might not be out of the question for LaVine and the Bulls. 

Luka Doncic was happy to indulge in the feel-good factor after his stunning display in the Dallas Mavericks' win over the San Antonio Spurs.

Doncic put up his his eighth triple-double of the NBA season as the Mavericks were victorious for the fourth match running, downing the Spurs 115-104.

In a contest pitting seventh versus eighth in the West, the Slovenian posted 22 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists to complete his 33rd career triple-double.

The 22-year-old is now level with Bob Cousy in 11th on the all-time triple-doubles list.

He had defender Dejounte Murray tied up in knots at times and enjoyed getting the better of a quality opponent.

"It's a great feeling but I think he was doing an amazing job on me," said Doncic. 

"I think he's a really good defender but when you do a move, you feel good about it."

With Kristaps Porzingis regaining full fitness after knee surgery and top-scoring on 28 points, Doncic feels the best is yet to come from his Latvian team-mate.

"We are all progressing as a team," he said. 

"KP has been way better, he's getting the confidence after his injury. I think he's still going to build on his confidence and is going to be way better."

Those were sentiments echoed by the man himself, with Porzingis feeling good about his recovery.

"I feel like I'm getting there. I still have to keep working," he said.

"After surgery, the leg is not feeling the same, so you have to keep working on that strength and make sure it's strong and stable and you feel confident.

"It's non-stop work, but I'm feeling better with each game and looking forward to the second part of the season."

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has revealed the club and veteran LaMarcus Aldridge have mutually agreed to part ways.

The 35-year-old power forward/center will explore his trade options before the March 25 deadline.

"We've mutually agreed for him to work out some opportunities for him, and that'll be elsewhere," Popovich told reporters before Wednesday's 115-104 loss to Dallas.

"He's been a great team-mate. There was no problem there. We just think this is a win-win for LaMarcus and the club.

"When an opportunity arises, that'll be up to management, his agent, that sort of thing. We'll all move forward.

"He's done everything we've asked, and at this point we'd just like to do something that will work for him as much for our club because he deserves that."

Seven-time All-Star Aldridge had missed eight of San Antonio's final 11 matches prior to the All-Star break with a combination of hip and quadriceps injuries.

This season, Aldridge has averaged 13.7 points and 4.5 rebounds in 25.9 minutes per game.

Kevin Durant's return to play from a hamstring injury remains uncertain with Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash revealing he will undergo further scans.

Durant has not played for Brooklyn since the February 13 game against former team the Golden State Warriors due to the left hamstring injury.

Thursday's game with the Boston Celtics is set to be the 10th straight he has missed due to the injury.

Nash said Durant will undergo further scans which will dictate the next steps in his recovery.

"He hasn't played in a month," Nash said on Wednesday. "No matter what the scan says, there will still be an appropriate ramp-up time to make sure we put him in a position to finish the season strong.

"He's doing really well right now, and we all feel really positive about the direction he is going but we just need to be very cautious because he's a really important player for us."

Durant did not head to Atlanta for the All-Star break, instead remaining in Brooklyn to work with his physiotherapist.

The 32-year-old forward has participated in light on-court workouts but not high-speed running or drills with his team-mates.

Nash denied that the Achilles injury that Durant suffered in 2019 was related to his current problem.

"Through his history, through medical history and assessment, we don't feel like these two are related at all," Nash said.

Luka Doncic completed his eighth triple-double of the NBA season as the Dallas Mavericks won their fourth consecutive match 115-104 win over the San Antonio Spurs.

In the match-up between seventh and eighth in the West on Wednesday, the 22-year-old Slovenian finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists to complete his 33rd career triple-double.

Doncic is now tied with Bob Cousy in 11th on the all-time triple-doubles list.

Latvian center Kristaps Porzingis top scored with 28 points and 14 boards in a match which was tight until the Mavs pulled away in the last quarter, outscoring San Antonio 28-18.

Spurs had led by seven at half-time with DeMar DeRozan (30 points and 11 assists) their best but they faded to slip to an 18-15 record. Dallas improved to 19-16.

The Memphis Grizzlies stayed in the playoff hunt with a 127-112 win over the Washington Wizards, led by center Jonas Valanciunas with 29 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks.

Ja Morant (21 points, six rebounds and 10 assists) was impressive too, leaving the Wizards at 14-21, with Bradley Beal (21 points) and Russell Westbrook (20 points and 10 assists) unable to inspire them to victory.

West and East blockbusters

The Phoenix Suns (24-11) will meet Damian Lillard's Portland Trail Blazers (21-14) in a huge Western Conference clash, while in the East the Boston Celtics (19-17) make the trip to face James Harden's Brooklyn Nets (24-13), but Kevin Durant is still unavailable with a hamstring injury.

The NBA is back in action after the All-Star break, with an enticing Western Conference matchup on deck on Thursday.

While the Golden State Warriors are far from being the force they were at the peak of their dynasty, an incredible season from Stephen Curry is keeping them firmly in the playoff hunt.

Curry's remarkable scoring talents and his stunning shooting from three-point range can be an equaliser in any game and means the Los Angeles Clippers, despite their superior place in the standings, can take little for granted at Staples Center.

The Clippers go into this clash on a four-game losing streak and will need Kawhi Leonard – enjoying his best shooting season since 2013-14 by converting on 51.1 per cent of his attempts from the field – and Paul George to be at their best to avoid that run being extended.

TOP PERFORMERS

Golden State Warriors - Stephen Curry

It may be predictable to identify Curry as the key man for the Warriors but, if they are to make the playoffs, it is going to be a case of him against the world.

Curry is coming off a spectacular performance at the All-Star Game, where he won the three-point contest for a second time before playing a starring role in Team LeBron's victory.

He has an average of 24.7 points per game for his career against the Clippers and put up 38 in the previous meeting between the two.

Curry will be out for a repeat performance in his first game versus the Clippers in LA since January 2019.

Los Angeles Clippers - Paul George

George was also on the winning team at the All-Star game in Atlanta, having played a pivotal role alongside Leonard for the Clippers.

For Los Angeles, George is the player whose presence on the court appears to have the biggest impact, given he leads the team with a plus-minus rating of 8.6

He is also the player best suited to help the Clippers keep pace if Curry begins a deluge from beyond the arc. George leads the Clippers in three-point attempts (7.8 per game) and is shooting 45 per cent from deep.

His effective field goal percentage of 60.4 is also a team-high and ranks above that of Curry (59.5).

KEY BATTLE - WARRIORS MUST LIMIT SECOND CHANCES

The weakness of the Warriors continues to be on the boards. Golden State is second last in total defensive rebounds this season with 1,381.

As a result of their inability to dominate on the glass, only one team – the Brooklyn Nets (556) – have given up more second-chance points than the Warriors (526).

The Clippers have racked up 485 second-chance points this term, 10th in the NBA, and with the consistency with which Leonard and George are shooting the ball, the game could get away from the Warriors in a hurry if they allow Los Angeles to dictate on the boards.

HEAD TO HEAD

The two teams split the first pair of games in San Francisco this season, the Warriors bouncing back with a 115-105 win two days after suffering a 108-101 defeat.

That victory ended a run of four successive losses to the Clippers that stretched back to October 2019.

Only two of the last seven games between the Warriors and Clippers have been decided by single digits, indicating a close encounter may not be in the offing.

Philadelphia 76ers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have both been ruled out of Thursday's game against the Chicago Bulls due to coronavirus contact tracing.

Embiid and Simmons did not play in Sunday's NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, the duo late withdrawals after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

The pair will now miss the first game back following the All-Star break, though Simmons will also sit out Friday's clash with the Washington Wizards.

MVP candidate Embiid is eligible to return for Eastern Conference leaders the 76ers against the Wizards, while Simmons will be able to make his way back to the court at home to the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday.

Embiid has been averaging 30.2 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game for the 76ers this season.

76ers team-mate Simmons, meanwhile, is averaging 16.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.6 assists.

The 76ers (24-12) are half a game clear of the star-studded Brooklyn Nets (24-13) atop the east.

LeBron James said he is "in awe" of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Steph Curry after they put on a show for his side in the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday.

Antetokounmpo was named MVP after shooting a perfect 16 from 16 to claim a game-high 35 points in a 170-150 victory for Team LeBron over Team Durant.

Greek star Antetokounmpo recorded the most baskets without a miss in All-Star Game history, while Curry finished with 28 points in the 70th edition of the showpiece match at State Farm Arena, Atlanta.

James, who scored just four points in his 12:46 minutes on court, relished the opportunity to line up with Antetokounmpo and Curry.

Asked if he enjoyed playing in the same team as the duo, he replied: "Absolutely, that's why I drafted them, guys I obviously compete against on a nightly basis, but guys I'm just in awe of, Giannis and Steph.

"It's my first time teaming up with Steph and it was an honour to be on the floor with him, a guy I've seen come up and be the player that he is today, but it was great to be out there with them and the rest of the guys."

That is four wins out of four for James as captain in the All-Star Game and the 36-year would be happy to keep it that way.

"I hope they allow me to retire from being an All-Star captain, retire with a perfect 4-and-0 record, I'll keep that forever, but we'll see what happens," said the Los Angeles Lakers great.

"I try to pick the right team, guys who compete, and play to win, and I've been on the winning side of all four."

Giannis Antetokounmpo insisted he was not thinking about his perfect performance in the NBA All-Star Game after going 16-for-16 from the field to fuel Team LeBron past Team Durant.

Antetokounmpo was crowned All-Star MVP after posting a game-high 35 points in Sunday's 170-150 victory over Team Durant in Atlanta.

Milwaukee Bucks star and two-time reigning NBA MVP Antetokounmpo did not miss a shot, joining Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in history to go 16-for-16 or better from the field in any game (regular season, playoffs or All-Star Game), per Stats Perform.

It was also the most makes without a miss over an entire All-Star game. The previous record was held by Hal Greer going eight-for-eight in 1968.

"It actually wasn't [on my mind]," Antetokounmpo said of the perfect performance. "I was just trying to just play.

"When you're around guys like [Damian Lillard] and [Stephen Curry] and Chris Paul, it's just easy. Nobody is worrying about me. I'm just playing one-on-one, nobody is double-teaming.

"If you feel good, then I feel good that it will be good. I just get up and have fun and just try to get as many shots as I can."

Team LeBron – without Joel Embiid as he joined Philadelphia 76ers team-mate and Team Durant's Ben Simmons in sitting out due to COVID-19 contact tracing – entered the fourth quarter requiring only 24 points to seal victory under the Elam Ending rule.

Each of the first three quarters started with the score at 0-0 and lasted the standard 12 minutes, with the game clock turned off for the final period and a final target score set.

Team LeBron's Damian Lillard sealed the victory with a three-pointer – the Portland Trail Blazers guard posting 32 points.

Afterwards, Antetokounmpo was named All-Star Game Kobe Bryant MVP – the award named in honour of the Los Angeles Lakers and NBA great, who died in a helicopter crash last year.

"Obviously, I'm extremely happy at just having the award with the name of Kobe Bryant in my house," Antetokounmpo said.

"It's a great feeling. I wanted to win the one last year really bad and I had a chance to win because I felt like I wanted to have the trophy in my house, but this year I wasn't even thinking about winning it, I was just thinking about having fun, and I had the opportunity to play well.

"My team played great and I was able to just win it and to have the trophy with the name of Kobe Bryant, it's amazing, and I know he would be happy. Yeah, I know he'd be happy."

Giannis Antetokounmpo added another MVP award to his growing collection as the Milwaukee Bucks superstar guided Team LeBron to a 170-150 victory over Team Durant in Sunday's All-Star Game.

The previous three All-Star contests had pitted LeBron James against Antetokounmpo in a mouth-watering Team LeBron versus Team Giannis matchup.

But James and Antetokounmpo joined forces for this year's 70th All-Star Game as the later fuelled Team LeBron to a comprehensive win in Atlanta.

Two-time reigning NBA MVP Antetokounmpo – drafted first by Los Angeles Lakers superstar James – led Team LeBron to a fourth consecutive All-Star triumph behind his game-high 35 points on 16-for-16 shooting.

Antetokounmpo joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to go 16-for-16 or better from the field in any game (regular season, playoffs or All-Star Game), per Stats Perform. Chamberlain accomplished the feat twice in the regular season in 1966-67 (18-for-18 and 16-for-16).

Antetokounmpo's performance earned All-Star Game Kobe Bryant MVP honours for the first time in his career.

Team LeBron – without Joel Embiid as he joined Philadelphia 76ers team-mate and Team Durant's Ben Simmons in sitting out due to COVID-19 contact tracing – entered the fourth quarter requiring only 24 points to seal victory under the Elam Ending rule.

Each of the first three quarters started with the score at 0-0 and lasted the standard 12 minutes, with the game clock turned off for the final period and a final target score set.

Team LeBron's Damian Lillard sealed the victory with a three-pointer – the Portland Trail Blazers guard posting 32 points.

Stephen Curry, who won the Three-Point Contest as All-Star proceedings were condensed into one day amid the coronavirus pandemic – had 28 points for Team LeBron, including eight three-pointers in 22 minutes.

Jaylen Brown was next best for Team LeBron, while James tallied four points, four assists, two rebounds and a block in 13 minutes of action and Chris Paul posted six points and 16 assists.

Bradley Beal (26), Kyrie Irving (24 and 12 assists), James Harden (21), Jayson Tatum (21), Donovan Mitchell (15), Zach Lavine (13) and Zion Williamson (10) all had double-digit points for Team Durant.

Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons was crowned the 2021 NBA Slam Dunk champion on Sunday.

This year's All-Star Game Slam Dunk Contest was a lot different in more ways than one in Atlanta.

It took place at half-time of the All-Star showdown and was lacking in star power, with just three participants – Simmons, Obi Toppin (New York Knicks) and Cassius Staley (Indiana Pacers).

In a condensed format, first-time participant Simons dazzled at State Farm Arena, where he defeated New York's Toppin in the final to win the title.

Simons' self-lob, where he attempted to kiss the rim but fell just short, was chosen by the judges via a 3-2 vote ahead of Toppin.

Toppin had opted for a between-the-legs effort from just inside the free-throw line.

Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard is planning to represent the United States at the rescheduled Olympic Games in Tokyo this year.

Coronavirus forced the 2020 Games to be postponed, with the Olympics now due to be held in Tokyo from July 23 to August 8 this year.

Despite a potentially congested schedule, with the Clippers contenders in the Western Conference and the NBA season set to finish on July 22 if the Finals go the distance, Leonard is ready to play for Team USA.

"My plan is to go," Leonard said on Sunday, ahead of the All-Star Game in Atlanta.

Gregg Popovich's Team USA are set to play their first game against France on July 25.

"If I feel up to it and feel ready to go around that time, then I'm going to play," Leonard said.

Leonard added: "A lot of people were in for 2020, but just the pandemic pretty much killed everything."

Team USA won the Gold Medal in 2016, defeating Serbia at the Rio De Janeiro Games almost five years ago in Brazil.

Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry was dramatically crowned Three-Point Content champion on the final shot in Atlanta.

Gearing up for Sunday's All-Star Game, two-time MVP Curry reigned supreme thanks to his final shot – a two-point money ball that put him ahead of Utah Jazz star Mike Conley in a shooting masterclass.

Curry bested Conley and Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics in the final round to become just the seventh player to win the contest multiple times, and the first to do so since Jason Kapono (2007-08).

Three-time NBA champion Curry, who posted a final round score of 28, previously won the three-point competition in 2015.

Curry dedicated the win to injured Warriors team-mate Klay Thompson, who claimed the contest in 2016.

"The Splash bros, we are back," Curry said. "This one goes out to Klay Thompson, we got it done big fella."

Indiana Pacers star Domantas Sabonis upstaged Luka Doncic and Chris Paul to win the NBA Skills Challenge.

Sabonis defeated Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic in Sunday's final, ahead of the All-Star Game in Atlanta.

After losing to Miami Heat star Bam Adebayo in last year's decider, Sabonis went all the way in 2021 in a competition testing ball-handling, passing and shooting ability.

"I just wanted to come out here and have fun with," Sabonis said on TNT after the win.

Sabonis eased past New York Knicks All-Star forward Julius Randle in the opening round before stunning Mavericks star Doncic in the semi-finals in another flawless victory.

Vucevic topped veteran star Paul of the Phoenix Suns, but he was unable to stop Sabonis – who nailed a three-pointer on his fourth attempt for the title.

 

 

Blake Griffin has cleared free agency waivers and is set to join Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving on the Brooklyn Nets, according to reports.

The Athletic reported six-time All-Star Griffin was expected to link up with the NBA's latest 'big three' after leaving the lowly Detroit Pistons.

The 31-year-old, whose deal in Detroit was set to run until 2022, agreed a contract buyout with the Pistons earlier this week.

Griffin was tipped to join a contender, with the Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers mentioned alongside the Nets in initial reports.

But the star-studded Nets will seemingly get their man as they boost a roster that already includes three 2021 All-Stars.

The 24-13 Nets – second behind the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference – had been expected to add size after Jarrett Allen left in January as part of the blockbuster three-team trade that saw former MVP Harden arrive from the Houston Rockets.

Allen is now playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, where Andre Drummond – one mooted option – has sat out of action ahead of a potential move.

But Brooklyn are instead making Griffin their newest recruit, hoping he can stay fit for an extended period having played just 38 games since the start of last season.

Griffin has averaged 12.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 20 games this season for the Pistons (10-26), bottom in the east and only behind the Minnesota Timberwolves (7-29) for the worst record in the league.

Those numbers are down on his career average, including 8.7 boards per game, the same mark that Harden has reached for the Nets this season – a team-high among those still on the roster.

Brooklyn rank 14th in the league with 44.3 rebounds per game in 2020-21.

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