Giannis Antetokounmpo insisted he is at his best when he is aggressive after the Milwaukee Bucks superstar posted 47 points in Wednesday's win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Antetokounmpo was unstoppable in Milwaukee midweek, erupting for a season high as NBA champions the Bucks took down the LeBron James-less Lakers 109-102.

The reigning NBA Finals MVP became the fifth player in the last 20 seasons to score 45-plus points on 75 per cent shooting from the field and 75 per cent shooting from three-point range.

Antetokounmpo is the first player to post at least 45 points on 75-plus per cent field-goal percentage against the Lakers since Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal in 1995.

"I feel like the past games I wasn't as aggressive as I want to be, wasn't initiating the contact, wasn't getting into the pain as much," Antetokounmpo told reporters post-game.

"At the end of the day, you try to develop your weaknesses and forget your strengths. Had two days in between, talk to the coaches, watch a lot of tape. I want to be aggressive, initiate the contact and get into the pain. Play with an edge.

"At the end of the day, I just let my instincts take over…"

 

Antetokounmpo added: "There's been so much I've been asked to do – lead, be vocal, pass the ball, rebound the ball, score the ball. I just try to compete. Moving forward, I just want to be aggressive. I'm my best when I'm aggressive."

All-Star team-mate Khris Middleton returned after an eight-game absence due to COVID-19 and tied Milwaukee's franchise record for career three-pointers.

Middleton – who finished with 16 points, six assists and five rebounds – matched Ray Allen for first place with his 1,051st career three.

"Feels good to have him back. We've missed him. Just having him out there, he draws a lot of attention. People have to guard him," said Antetokounmpo of Middleton.

"As much as I was complaining in the past, just an inside joke with him about seeing him too much, we have to get some space... I kind of missed him. Having him out there helped the team. He made great plays down the stretch."

It has been a topsy-turvy start to the season for the Bucks (7-8) in their title defence due to injuries and COVID-related absences – Milwaukee are 11th in the Eastern Conference.

"We have to start winning games. It's not the most important thing," Antetokounmpo continued. "The most important thing to get better and build good habits. Play good basketball down the stretch in May and June but at the end of the day, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth when you keep losing.

"We have to start putting teams away. When we're up 15, we can't step back, we have to attack and keep playing with that edge. Don't be satisfied. With Khris back, it's a good opportunity to get back on track. We're in a good place right now."

Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo erupted for a season-high 47 points as the NBA champions took down the Los Angeles Lakers 109-102.

Antetokounmpo dominated the Lakers, making 18 of his 23 field goals, while collecting nine rebounds and three assists for the Bucks (7-8) on Wednesday.

The reigning NBA Finals MVP became the fifth player in the last 20 seasons to score 45-plus points on 75 per cent shooting from the field and 75 per cent shooting from three-point range.

Antetokounmpo is the first player to post at least 45 points on 75-plus per cent field-goal percentage against the Lakers since Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal in 1995.

 

All-Star Bucks team-mate Khris Middleton made his return after eight games out due to COVID-19 and tied Milwaukee's franchise record for career three-pointers.

Middleton – who finished with 16 points, six assists and five rebounds – matched Ray Allen for first place with his 1,051st career three.

The Lakers (8-8), again without superstar LeBron James, were led by double-doubles from Talen Horton-Tucker (25 points and 12 rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (19 points and 15 assists).

 

Suns stay hot

The Phoenix Suns celebrated their 10th straight victory after outlasting the Dallas Mavericks 105-98. Devin Booker (24 points) and Deandre Ayton (19 points and 13 rebounds) fuelled the Suns, who are in the midst of their longest winning streak since 2010. Chris Paul had 14 assists without a turnover – his 46th career game with 10-plus assists and 0 turnovers, tying Muggsy Bogues for most by any player since 1985.

Damian Lillard's 22 points and 10 assists helped the Portland Trail Blazers upstage the Chicago Bulls 112-107. Zach LaVine (30 points), DeMar DeRozan (22 points) and Alex Caruso (12 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists) starred but the Bulls still lost on the road.

The Miami Heat defeated the New Orleans Pelicans behind Jimmy Butler's triple-double of 31 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds.

Kevin Durant nailed two three-pointers to move 26th on the all-time NBA list for threes made with 1,687, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer and Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash. The Nets beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 109-99.

 

Knicks continue to struggle for form

After returning to the playoffs last season, the New York Knicks have made a rocky start to the 2021-22 campaign amid plenty of hype. They were sensationally upstaged by the lowly Orlando Magic 104-98 – their fourth defeat in six games.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash labelled Kevin Durant as "one of the best who has ever played the game" after the superstar's latest achievement.

Durant posted 23 points in the NBA championship-chasing Nets' 109-99 win at home to Eastern Conference rivals the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.

Two-time champion Durant nailed two three-pointers to move 26th on the all-time NBA list with 1,687 threes, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer Nash.

"He's one of the best who has ever played the game so it's no surprise. It was coming I'm sure," Nash said after the Nets bounced back from Tuesday's blow-out loss to the league-leading Golden State Warriors.

James Harden fuelled the Nets with 27 points, while Patty Mills added 21 points to give Brooklyn four 20-point scorers for the first time this season.

The Nets have won eight of their past 10 games to be 11-5 to open the 2021-22 campaign.

"A lot of ups and downs. In the second half, we just had a meltdown and they capitalised. They made shots," Harden said post-game.

"We are fortunate they missed a lot of open shots. In the second half, they made a lot of them, so the good thing is we came away with the win and we just got to keep improving. No excuses.

"It wasn't a good showing for four quarters, but we came away with the win and we just got to keep pushing forward."

Mills added: "Nothing's gonna be handed to us on a silver platter. It's a grind, it's a marathon.

"And nights like tonight, you just got to dig deep and find a way to be infectious in a good way and be able to spread those good vibes on the court, on the bench, no matter what it is."

 

 

Doc Rivers is optimistic his injury-hit Philadelphia 76ers will improve despite seeing them lose a fifth game in a row as they fell 120-85 to the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.

Last season's Eastern Conference top seeds were missing MVP runner-up Joel Embiid, fellow All-Star Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle as they slipped to 8-7 after being overwhelmed by the Jazz.

Having won eight of their first 10 games this season, Philadelphia have now lost five straight - the first time they have done so since December 2017 - but Rivers is confident his team will get back to winning ways soon.

"We're in a little rut with guys out but you work through it. We'll get through it," Rivers told reporters after the defeat.

"There's no cavalry coming right now. We've got to play with what we have, we understand that. We've just got to do better.

"We don't have a margin of error in games. We almost have to play perfect to have a chance to win a game, and for a while we were doing that. Right now, we're not."

When asked about the absence of Embiid, Rivers added: “I don't talk about guys that aren't here. It's obvious you miss Joel Embiid and Matisse, but I'm not going to waste time talking about that.

"I've got to get our guys that are here to just keep hoping and keep getting better and see where we can get a win."

The Sixers head coach did have one positive to reflect on from the night, with rookie Charles Bassey posting five points, four rebounds and one block in 10 minutes off the bench.

"I thought he was fantastic," Rivers said. "He knows the coverages and stuff already. That's really impressive for a young guy. He actually got on a guy late in the game because the guy didn't do the right coverage. Just watching him, he knows how to play. He's raw, but I like how he plays."

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash says his side are not in the category of this season's NBA elite after a blowout 117-99 loss to the 12-2 Golden State Warriors on Tuesday.

The star-studded Nets, who were billed as title favourites this season, were humbled on their home court, with their record moving to 10-5.

The Nets added James Harden in January alongside Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant last season, but crashed out in the conference semi-finals to eventual champions the Milwaukee Bucks.

Brooklyn are 0-4 against this season's early contenders, the Warriors, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and Bucks.

"Well, I just don't think we're in that [elite] category yet," Nash said at the post-game news conference. "We've got a lot of work to do.

"We're trying to improve as a group, get better and hopefully we can find a way to overcome some of our deficiencies by the end of the year.

"The guys have been great buying into the things we want to do defensively. I think offensively we have all these different line-ups, different backgrounds, styles of play, 10 new players in our team, it takes time.

"We started the year with a continuity plan from last year that got thrown out when Ky [Kyrie Irving] didn't come back. Tonight was a great lesson for us that we've got to double down on some of our principles when the going gets tough."

Durant had his lowest points return for the season with 19, as the Warriors piled on a 35-18 third quarter, before benching star guard Stephen Curry, who was in foul trouble, for the majority of the final period.

Harden has had a slow start to the season by his standards after rehabbing a hamstring injury over the offseason, averaging 19.8 points per game.

The 32-year-old scored 24 points in Tuesday's defeat but remained bullish about the Nets, reiterating it is still early in the season.

"The goal is to be the best team at the end of the season, in the postseason," Harden said at the post-game news conference.

"That's the goal. But probably not [there yet]. We're probably nowhere near. But it's a long season for us to get better, and we will continue to get better."

Stephen Curry and the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors sent a message after crushing the championship-chasing Brooklyn Nets 117-99 on Tuesday.

Boasting Kevin Durant and James Harden, the Nets are dreaming big in their pursuit of a maiden title, but the star-studded franchise were reminded how far they must go after Curry torched Brooklyn with 37 points on the road.

Curry tallied his fifth career game with 35-plus points in less than 30 minutes – the most by any player since the three-point era (1980).

The two-time MVP reached 2,900 career three-pointers after making nine shots from beyond the arc at Barclays Center.

 

It marked Curry's 37th career game with nine three-pointers or more – no other player is in the 10-36 range as the high-flying Warriors improved to 12-2.

In his reunion with former team the Warriors, where he won two titles, Durant put up a season-low 19 points.

It was the first time this season Durant did not score at least 20 points in a game, shooting six-of-19 from the field as Harden led the Nets (10-5) with 24 points.

 

George dazzles in LA

Paul George maintained his red-hot form in the absence of injured star team-mate Kawhi Leonard, scoring 34 points and collecting nine rebounds to go with four assists and two steals as the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the San Antonio Spurs 106-92. San Antonio's Dejounte Murray (26 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists) narrowly missed out on a triple-double.

 

Philadelphia's slide continues

The Philadelphia 76ers were left to pick up the pieces following a fifth consecutive defeat, a 120-85 rout at the Utah Jazz (9-5). Missing MVP runner-up Joel Embiid and fellow All-Star Ben Simmons, the 76ers were simply no match for the Jazz in Utah as last season's Eastern Conference top seeds slipped to 8-7. Philadelphia have lost five straight games for the first time since December 2017.

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said there has never been any basketball player like Stephen Curry after his stellar performance in the rout of the Brooklyn Nets.

Curry reached 2,900 career three-pointers after making nine shots from beyond the arc in a 37-point display in Tuesday's 117-99 demolition of the championship-chasing Nets.

The haul marked Curry's 37th career game with nine three-pointers or more, but also helped the NBA-leading Warriors improve to 12-2 against the star-studded Nets, considered among the title favourites.

Two-time MVP Curry, who also had seven rebounds and five assists, tallied his fifth career game with 35-plus points in less than 30 minutes – the most by any player since the three-point era (1980).

When asked what makes Golden State's offence so great, Kerr responded: "Steph Curry… I'm not kidding. There's never been anyone like him. He's an offense by himself.

"He's going to pull defenders with him 35 feet from the hoop and it's a matter of putting smart people around him, like Draymond [Green] and Andre [Iguodala].

"The fact that Steph can be dominant on and off the ball is what makes him unique. There's nobody in the league now or, as far as I'm concerned, ever who had that combination of on-ball skill and pick-and-roll dominance, with the off-ball game of Reggie Miller or Rip Hamilton. That combination has never been seen."

The Warriors' exceptional start to the new season has fuelled hype about their own championship credentials, having won NBA titles in 2015, 2017 and 2018 before missing the playoffs in the past two campaigns.

Curry played down their title hopes but said Golden Stave have "championship DNA" and revealed he is motivated by their past two seasons of disappointment.

"It's always motivation coming off the last two years that we've had," Curry told ESPN after the game. "My injury two years ago, Klay [Thompson] being out for two years, us scrapping and clawing trying to get a playoffs spot last year.

"Coming in healthy this year, we wanted to set our own narrative and our own agenda. That's just playing Warrior basketball. We have so many talented guys, we can go through 11-12 with Klay and Wise [James Wiseman] who haven’t even been available yet.

"It's going to be a great year for us to keep building, have that chip on our shoulder. We have championship DNA but it's been two years since we've been able to prove it. We've got to take every opportunity to get there."

Thompson has resumed five-on-five practice in further good news for the Warriors, as he seeks to return after Achilles and ACL injuries, which meant he has not played in the NBA since June 2019.

Khris Middleton is poised to return when NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks face the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday after missing eight games following a positive COVID-19 test.

Middleton has not played for the Bucks since the October 31 defeat to the San Antonio Spurs due to coronavirus.

The Bucks have a 3-5 record in Middleton's absence, but the two-time All-Star has returned to practice and expects to play midweek.

"I've been working out the last couple of days here while guys were on the road," Middleton – a champion with Milwaukee last season – told reporters after Tuesday's practice.

"In practice, I felt good. But everybody knows game shape is a totally different ballgame. I can't wait to see how I feel tomorrow."

Milwaukee have opened their championship defence 6-8 and will hope Middleton's return can help lift them ahead of five straight home games.

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said: "I think it's underrated what he does for us defensively, underrated what he does for us on the boards, his communication, his leadership.

"Everybody's going to talk about the scoring and the shooting and all those things. I don't want to undervalue or underestimate those, but I think he really is a complete player and he's a great leader."

Middleton averaged 20.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists across the Bucks' title-winning 2020-21 season.

He has started the new season averaging 20.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo hinted that his next challenge may not be with NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks.

Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to their first NBA title in 50 years last season, earning the Finals MVP award after a dominant series averaging 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists against the Phoenix Suns.

The two-time NBA MVP had reiterated his commitment to the Bucks in December when he signed a super-max five-year, $228million contract extension, the largest in league history.

However, the 26-year-old suggested his future may be away from Milwaukee.

"One challenge was to bring a championship here and we did," Antetokounmpo told GQ. "It was very hard, but we did. Very, very hard. I just love challenges. What's the next challenge? The next challenge might not be here.

"Me and my family chose to stay in this city that we all love and has taken care of us – for now. In two years, that might change.

"I'm being totally honest with you. I'm always honest. I love this city. I love this community. I want to help as much as possible."

Antetokounmpo's agent Alex Saratsis tried to water down the comments, clarifying that they were about his ambition not switching teams.

"I don't think it's, 'I'm thinking about leaving the Bucks'," Saratsis said. "But I think he's genuinely like: 'Okay, I have reached the pinnacle. The next challenge is, let's repeat'.

"But what happens if you do repeat? What's the next challenge? What is that next barrier? When you think about it from a basketball perspective, by the age of 26, this kid has accomplished everything. So sometimes you're going to have to manufacture what those challenges are."

Antetokounmpo is averaging 26.5 points, 11.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game across 13 games this season, with the Bucks sitting 6-8.

Athens-born Greek star Antetokounmpo joined the Bucks as the 15th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.

Zion Williamson moved a step closer to returning to NBA action on Tuesday as he was cleared for contact by the New Orleans Pelicans.

Williamson is entering his third year as a professional but has so far seen his hugely promising career hindered by injury.

The former first overall draft pick did not make his NBA debut until January in the 2019-20 campaign after tearing his meniscus in his rookie preseason.

Relatively minor issues limited Williamson to 61 games last season, but he has not yet featured in 2021-22 due to a right foot fracture, for which he had surgery in the offseason.

Despite understandable concerns about the forward's durability, Williamson has excelled against NBA opposition.

After 22.5 points per game in his rookie year, he improved to 27.0 last season and will return on a streak of scoring 20 in 15 straight games. Before Tuesday's games, that was tied with Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant for the longest such active streak in the league.

When that return will be remains uncertain, but the Pelicans brought positive news in their latest release.

"The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that forward Zion Williamson has been cleared to participate in contact drills, beginning with one-on-one workouts and progressively working towards full team workouts," the team said.

"Williamson, who underwent imaging on his fractured right foot on Thursday [Nov. 11], was medically cleared by Dr. Richard Ferkel of Southern California Orthopedic Institute and Dr. Scott Montgomery of Ochsner Health.

"Williamson will undergo further medical imaging on November 24, which will determine his availability for full team workouts.

"Additional updates will be provided on his anticipated return to play timetable accordingly."

New Orleans are a miserable 2-13 in Williamson's absence this year. Only once (1-14 in 2004-05) in franchise history have they had a worse record through 15 games.

Since the 2019 NBA Draft, the Pelicans are now 40-45 (47.1) with Williamson and 23-51 (31.1) without him.

Early NBA Rookie of the Year frontrunner Evan Mobley could miss up to a month of action after suffering an elbow sprain.

Mobley – the third overall draft pick – has settled seamlessly into the professional environment with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Immediately installed into the Cavaliers' starting line-up, Mobley has averaged 14.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.0 steals through 15 games.

The former USC forward leads all rookies in minutes (506), points (219) and rebounds (120). He ranks joint-fourth in the entire league for dunks (32).

But Mobley's momentum will be slowed now by a spell on the sidelines following an injury sustained in Monday's defeat to the Boston Celtics.

"Cavaliers forward Evan Mobley left Monday night's game at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse against Boston in the third quarter with a right elbow injury and did not return to action," a Cavs statement read on Tuesday.

"Initial examination postgame and an MRI administered today at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health confirmed a right elbow sprain.

"Mobley will now undergo a period of treatment and rehabilitation and his return to play will be approximately two-four weeks. His status will be updated as appropriate."

Monday's game was the second of back-to-back encounters against Eastern Conference rivals the Celtics, which produced mixed results for Mobley.

The rookie played a huge role in a comeback win in their first meeting, scoring 12 fourth-quarter points as Cleveland recovered from 19 down.

However, on Monday, Mobley endured by far the worst shooting performance of his young NBA career prior to exiting injured.

He made zero of 11 field-goal attempts, scoring only a single point from the free throw line. He did add nine rebounds, five assists and two blocks.

No other player in the NBA this season has attempted as many as 11 field goals in a game without making any.

Luka Doncic has travelled with the Dallas Mavericks for their upcoming road trip despite an ankle injury.

Mavs superstar Doncic injured his left ankle in the closing stages of Monday's win over the Denver Nuggets, in which he had 23 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

Losing Doncic for an extended period would represent a significant blow to Dallas, who have relied on the Slovenian for 23.7 per cent of their points this season – the sixth-highest share of any individual in the league.

But reports on Tuesday brought positive news for fans of Jason Kidd's 9-4 team.

ESPN said Doncic's injury was considered "not too serious", while it was reported the player was part of the Mavericks' travelling party as they embark on a four-game road trip.

Doncic would appear unlikely then to feature against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, but Dallas play the same team again on Friday ahead of a double-header at the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Clippers have eliminated Doncic and the Mavericks from the playoffs in the first round in each of the past two seasons.

However, Doncic has scored an outstanding 33.5 points per game across those two series, contributing to a career average against the Clippers of 31.4 points (regular season and playoffs).

He has contributed 24.9 points, 7.9 assists, 8.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals through 13 games so far this year.

Kevin Durant and the Warriors have already renewed acquaintances since his trophy-laden spell with the team concluded, but Tuesday sees Golden State meet his Brooklyn Nets with both harbouring realistic championship ambitions.

Durant's departure, coupled with injuries to other stars, most significantly Klay Thompson – who has missed the last two seasons – have seen the Warriors fall short of the playoffs in successive campaigns.

However, the team that reached five successive NBA Finals from 2015 to 2019, winning three titles, are seemingly back among the NBA's elite having made an 11-2 start to the campaign.

With Steph Curry once again at his brilliant best after an MVP calibre campaign in 2020-21 and squad depth substantially improved from recent years, the Warriors, who hope to welcome Thompson back to the team for the second half of the season, look to have a roster capable of returning to the Finals.

Their championship mettle figures to be sternly tested by the Nets, who have won eight of their last nine to move to 10-4, a half-game back on the Eastern Conference-leading Washington Wizards.

Unsurprisingly it is Durant, the MVP of both his victorious Finals series with the Warriors, who is leading the Nets' charge.

He is first in the NBA in points per game with 29.6, just ahead of Curry (28.1), shooting 58.6 per cent from the field and 42.4 per cent from three-point range.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr believes this is a matchup of the two MVP frontrunners in Curry and Durant.

"Yeah, no doubt, to me they've been the two best players in the league so far," Kerr told reporters on Monday.

But Durant sought to downplay the significance of the high-profile clash.

"It's just another game," Durant said. "It's 15 games into the season and obviously they're the best team in the league and they're playing at an elite level, but it's a regular-season game.

"We obviously want to go out there and win in front of our home crowd, but we don't want to put too much pressure on ourselves and call this a Finals [preview]. We just want to build on who we are, figure out what we want to do out there and keep pushing."

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Golden State Warriors - Andrew Wiggins

It's easy to look to Curry here. After all, he is fifth in the NBA with 41 points/assists/rebounds per game.

But similarly crucial to Golden State's early-season surge has been former first overall pick Wiggins.

He is shooting a career-high 47.8 per cent from the field, while his recent aggressiveness in getting to the basket has been rewarded with a 35-point performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves and a 28-point effort in the loss to the Charlotte Hornets last time out.

Going against Durant and Co, the Warriors will need him to maintain that aggression.

Brooklyn Nets - Patty Mills

Mills exploded for 29 points in the Nets' win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, going nine of 12 from three-point range.

For the season, Mills is shooting 48.1 per cent from beyond the arc, putting him tied second in the league behind only Jonas Valanciunas (59.3).

In a meeting with the greatest shooter of all time in Curry, a continuation of that form from Mills would be extremely welcome for Brooklyn.

KEY BATTLE – KD to go at Green again

Durant and Draymond Green look to be friends again. A feud between the pair during the 2018-19 season appeared to contribute to Durant's departure at the end of that year, although the Nets superstar has since suggested – in an interview with Green – that the Warriors were to blame for mishandling the incident.

Green agreed; as he put it: "They f***** it up."

Still, all eyes will be on the duo every time they meet on the floor and with good reason. Green is among the best defenders of his generation; Durant is one of the very best scorers.

"Nobody is impossible to guard, but he is as close to impossible as it gets," Green said of Durant this year. Of course, it is not a matchup the forward will enjoy, but as Golden State's premier performer on that side of the ball – his defensive rating below 100 (97.8) for the first time since his Defensive Player of the Year campaign in 2016-17 – Green will have to play his part.

 

 

HEAD TO HEAD

The Nets won both meetings at a canter last season, even with Durant contributing – by his standards – a modest 42 points combined.

Unsurprisingly, the Warriors have the edge in the all-time series, up 54-39 – boosted by six wins in six in Durant's three seasons with Golden State.

Lonzo Ball believes the Chicago Bulls are "one of the top teams in the NBA" after their 121-103 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.

DeMar DeRozan was the star of the show with 38 points, while Ball added 27 of his own to go with 26 from Zach LaVine as the Bulls secured an impressive victory on Monday.

It was their first win against the Lakers since 2016, having gone eight games without success, and they move to 10-4 for the season.

The visitors were particularly deadly from three-point range, hitting 44.1 per cent (15 from 34 attempts), with Ball himself sinking 7 from 10. The Lakers managed just 18.8 per cent of theirs (six from 32).

"I think we are one of the top teams in the NBA," Ball said. "We've still got a lot to improve on and a long way to go, but I think we're moving in the right direction."

The Lakers struggled again in the absence of LeBron James (abdominal strain), with Talen Horton-Tucker (28 points), Russell Westbrook (25) and Anthony Davis (20) unable to do enough to tame their opponents.

Indeed, it was a Los Angeles native, DeRozan – reportedly considered by the Lakers in free agency before the season – who ran the game.

A day after putting up 35 points against the Clippers in the same arena, the 32-year-old went three better, and he acknowledged after the game that the extra motivation of playing in LA may have been a factor.

"Every night you've got to find some type of extra motivation," said DeRozan. "We've got a couple of guys that played [in LA], [others] from here. Just having that extra juice, that energy to go out there and compete, is always beneficial."

Meanwhile, the Lakers go to 8-7 and are 3-4 since James was sidelined. Another bad night for Frank Vogel's team was compounded when Davis was ejected for dissent.

Having lost his shoe after a missed shot, Ball retrieved it and gave it back to Davis, who was putting it on when the referee gave the ball to the Bulls to take out of bounds.

Davis made a comment to the official, before being given a technical and ejected from the game.

Of the incident, Vogel said: "Typically, the ref will let the guy get his shoe on, have some common sense.

"Quick inbounds. AD said that's 'BS,' which happens about 15 times in the NBA, every game. OK. Quick tech. Ejection. That's all I'm going to say about that."

DeMar DeRozan was at his brilliant best again as the Chicago Bulls routed the Los Angeles Lakers 121-103 in the NBA on Monday.

DeRozan is the face of the new-look Bulls and the four-time All-Star maintained his MVP-calibre start to the season with a game-high 38 points at Staples Center.

The 32-year-old, who joined the Bulls ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, had his fourth 35-plus point game of the month – tying a career high.

Chicago have won four of their past five games, having also trumped the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday, on the back of Lonzo Ball's seven three-pointers in his 27-point display against former team the Lakers.

Zach LaVine added 26 points for the Bulls, who improved to 10-4 in the Eastern Conference after beating the Lakers for the first time since 2016, snapping an eight-game drought.

Without superstar LeBron James, Talen Horton-Tucker (28 points), Russell Westbrook (25 points) and Anthony Davis (20 points) led the stuttering Lakers (8-7).

 

 

Streaking Suns sizzle

Last season's NBA Finals runners-up the Phoenix Suns celebrated their ninth successive victory after outlasting the Minnesota Timberwolves 99-96. Devin Booker (29 points), Deandre Ayton (22 points and 12 rebounds) and Chris Paul (21 points) all starred on the road. Ayton is the only player this season to be averaging 15-plus points and 10-plus rebounds while shooting at least 60 per cent from the field.

Cade Cunningham joined Stephen Curry (twice), Trae Young and Jason Kidd as the only rookies in NBA history with 25 points, five three-pointers, eight rebounds and eight assists in a game. The number one draft pick, however, was unable to prevent the lowly Detroit Pistons falling 129-107 to the Sacramento Kings.

 

Doncic limps off court

The Dallas Mavericks took down reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets 111-101, but it appeared to have come at a cost. Mavericks star Luka Doncic limped off the court after rolling his ankle in the final minute of the game. Doncic had posted 23 points and 11 assists to help fuel the Mavericks. Jokic's 35-point and 16-rebound double-double was not enough for Denver.

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