Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant continues to shine in the NBA, but he is playing through a "little tweak" to his shoulder.

Durant maintained his MVP-calibre start to the season in Sunday's 120-96 rout of former team the Oklahoma City Thunder, scoring 33 points.

Despite the issue, two-time NBA champion Durant has scored at least 20 points in all 14 of his games in 2021-22 – one short of Karl Malone's record (15) set in 1997-98.

After making nine of his 17 shots from the field while collecting eight rebounds and dishing out four assists, Durant said of his shoulder: "It's solid.

"A little sore here and there, but I played, didn't get in the way too much. Keep getting treatment and take it a day at a time."

Nets head coach Steve Nash allayed concerns of Durant's shoulder post-game in Oklahoma.

"He's got a little tweak. But the ball still goes in the hole so I think he's hanging in there," Nash said.

"I don't think it's the type of thing that we expect to get worse so he's kind of playing through it, so it's not terrible."

It was a reunion for Durant, who spent eight seasons in Oklahoma City and was crowned NBA MVP before joining the Warriors in 2016.

Durant – who is 9-4 in games against his former teams – was booed by the crowd throughout the contest.

"You think about the foundation and how you built yourself up as a pro, and this is definitely the spot for me," he said. "It taught me all about what it means to be a pro.

"The people here and the organisation really guided me as a young player. That set the foundation for where I am today. There are a lot of great memories coming back, seeing a lot of people. It's good to see folks here and play in front of the crowd … I had a good time."

It was also a reunion for Nets team-mate James Harden, who started his career with the Thunder prior to moving to the Houston Rockets.

Harden – who finished with 16 points and 13 assists – and Durant were part of the Thunder team that progressed to the 2012 NBA Finals.

"It's crazy how stuff happens," Durant said. "You never thought when James got traded — I didn't know what the future would hold.

"For us to come back around on the same team as we got older is pretty sweet. ... We helped build this thing. It's good to come in here and see what it is today."

The Golden State Warriors had their seven-game winning streak ended by the Charlotte Hornets, who prevailed 106-102 in the NBA on Sunday.

Boasting the league's best record, Golden State (11-2) were upstaged in Charlotte, where Miles Bridges and Terry Rozier helped take down the high-flying Warriors.

Rozier made two key free throws down the stretch while outleaping Draymond Green on a late jump ball as he finished with 20 points – all in the second half – and Bridges had 22 of his own for the Hornets (8-7).

In his annual homecoming to Charlotte, Warriors superstar Stephen Curry put up 24 points and 10 assists, while team-mate Andrew Wiggins scored 28.

 

The Los Angeles Clippers also had their seven-game streak snapped after falling 100-90 the rampaging Chicago Bulls.

DeMar DeRozan maintained his MVP-calibre play with 35 points and Zach LaVine added 29 to top the Clippers on the road, where Paul George's double-double (27 points and 11 rebounds) was not enough.

 

Hawks soar thanks to Trae

Trae Young's season-best 42 points fuelled the Atlanta Hawks to a 120-100 win over reigning champions the Milwaukee Bucks. Young also had 10 assists, eight three-pointers and eight rebounds as Atlanta ended their six-game skid. In NBA history, only James Harden (three times), George, Russell Westbrook and Young have managed a performance of 40-plus points, 10-plus assists, eight-plus rebounds and eight-plus threes. Giannis Antetokounmpo returned for the stuttering Bucks, registering 26 points, six assists and five rebounds.

Patty Mills was red hot as the Brooklyn Nets routed the Oklahoma City Thunder 120-96. Mills made nine of his 12 three-pointers for 29 points. He broke the record for the most threes off the bench in franchise history. Kevin Durant top-scored with 33 points as Harden had 16 points and 13 assists.

The Los Angeles Lakers outlasted the San Antonio Spurs 114-106 behind double-doubles from Anthony Davis (34 points and 15 rebounds) and Westbrook (14 points and 11 rebounds).

 

Blazers routed in Denver

Playing without star Damian Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers were put to the sword by Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets 124-95. Portland had no answer for Jokic, who narrowly fell short of a triple-double after posting 28 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel lauded Anthony Davis for imposing "his will" as the stuttering NBA franchise returned to winning ways.

After their humbling at the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, Davis led the Lakers to a 114-106 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday.

Davis posted 27 of his game-high 34 points in the opening half, while collecting 15 rebounds and tallying six assists for the championship-chasing Lakers, who continue to be without superstar LeBron James.

Only once previously have the Lakers won the title after making a 7-6 start, improving to 57-25 in 2007-08 to take the top seed in the Western Conference.

Their early struggles prompted Davis to issue a warning regarding their "embarrassing" form following the 107-83 home loss to the Timberwolves.

Vogel hailed 2020 NBA champion Davis after helping the Lakers (8-6) outlast the Spurs (4-9).

"Anthony really imposes his will on this game," Vogel told reporters post-game in Los Angeles.

"I think he, probably more than anyone, was unhappy with how last game unfolded and he was intent to impose his will."

Davis added: "We're starting to get our guys back and we want to make a run. We want to go on a nice little winning streak and be the team that we know that we can be.

"But it starts with our defence. I feel like we had moments where we were like the old Lakers where we mess up and break down our coverages. But for the most part we looked really good."

Russell Westbrook added 14 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists for the Lakers, while Talen Horton-Tucker contributed 17 points in his season debut.

"To come out in his first game and do what he did was unreal," Davis said of Horton-Tucker. "I'm impressed.

"His first game and to come in and do what he did to help us win was huge and a sign of his hard work. A lot of guys usually come back and are kind of rusty, but he came in like he had been playing with us this whole time."

Coach J. B. Bickerstaff lauded Evan Mobley's "will to win" after the rookie "stepped up big" in the Cleveland Cavaliers' stunning comeback victory against the Boston Celtics.

The Cavaliers moved to 9-5 with their sixth win in seven games on Saturday, making this their best start to a season since 2016-17 – a year in which LeBron James led the team to the third of four straight NBA Finals visits.

This latest 91-89 triumph was particularly impressive as Cleveland trailed by 19 points when Mobley returned to the game late in the third quarter.

"We keep talking about chemistry and bonding and belief in one another, and that was on full display tonight," said Bickerstaff. "That's the only way you can explain it.

"There's no basketball reason we should have won that game, but there was a collective spirit that refused to allow us to lose that game. That's what we keep talking about brewing in that locker room.

"Don't get me wrong, some guys made critical plays and carried their weight, but it's the spirit of that basketball team, that has that fight in them, that won't give up."

Several of those critical plays belonged to third overall pick Mobley, who finished with 19 points, nine rebounds, three blocks and two steals in 40 minutes. Of those, 12 points, two blocks and a steal came in the fourth quarter as he played its entirety.

No player in the NBA scored more clutch points than Mobley's six on Saturday, albeit tied with the Celtics' Jayson Tatum – who the Cavs man was asked to stop.

 

"It's the will to win basketball games," Bickerstaff said of Mobley's best trait. "Literally the only thing that matters to him is: how do I help this team win?

"Not only was it the block, but it's the free throws, it's the baseline jumper, it's the post move to get to the finish. It was an array of different things.

"Then at the end of the game, we had him on Jayson Tatum. We put him on the other team's best player. Whatever it takes to win, he's willing to do it.

"He's not satisfied with these small victories or these small moments. He understands what he wants long-term, and he understands that in order to get there, you've got to do it every night.

"He didn't start out blazing, he was working his way through it in the first half. Then as the game got going, he found his way. And when it was clutch time, he stepped up big."

Mobley has quickly proven a threat from anywhere on the court in his short time in the NBA but is especially effective at the rim, making 70.1 per cent of his attempts.

In fact, 36.8 per cent of his successful field goal attempts have been dunks, with his 32 made dunks ranking joint-third in the NBA. Team-mate Jarrett Allen's 47 lead the way, while no team can rival the Cavaliers' combined 98.

Allen's latest dunk put Cleveland up with 35.9 seconds left against Boston, and Darius Garland said: "It's super fun, just bringing all the crowd into it, the arena gets pumped up. I like seeing it a lot."

Bickerstaff, whose team rank fourth in the league for points in the paint (672), added: "We want to put pressure on the rim, and however we can do that, we'll take it.

"Jarrett is an elite lob threat, and when you put that much pressure on the rim, defenses get concerned. Even if it's only two points, it's an emphatic two points, and defenses don't like that. Then they start to collapse and we've got wide open threes.

"We've got guys who we feel like can dominate the paint – that's our objective: offensively, we want to dominate the paint as much as we can."

Joel Embiid should be back in the lineup soon, but the Philadelphia 76ers need to figure some things out on defence in the meantime. 

Philadelphia fell 118-113 to the Indiana Pacers on Saturday after digging a large first-half hole as the 76ers proved unable to stop anyone from scoring. 

Indiana shot 67.4 per cent from the floor in the opening half, embarking on a 15-0 run beginning late in the first quarter and leading by as many as 20 before the break. 

"Listen, we didn’t deserve to win tonight," Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers told reporters. "They shot 57 per cent from the field, 67 I think at half-time, and we cooled them off a little bit.

"They played harder. They beat us in transition, I think they had 18 transition points in the first half, we cut it in the second half to make the game manageable, but when you’re on the road, and you get down 20 and you dig yourself a hole, it’s hard coming back, it is.

"Give them credit. They were better prepared. They were the better team tonight."

It was the fourth successive loss for the 76ers as Embiid missed his fourth consecutive game after testing positive for COVID-19 on Monday. 

Matisse Thybulle also missed his fifth game in a row due to health and safety protocols, and Tyrese Maxey said the void is significant. 

"They’re like defensive bail-outs," Maxey said. "When you make a mistake, they’ll cover it up because they’re just special guys. You can go for a gamble, miss it, Matisse will cover it up and get a block.

"Joel’s seven-foot at the rim, you get blown by, he’s blocking it or he’s challenging shots. It’s hard for offensive players to score on them. We’ve got to be collectively more solid without those guys." 

In a stretch when the short-handed 76ers cannot afford any letdowns, Maxey also said the team's "competitive nature slipped" in the first half, "and that's one thing we can never let slip". 

 

The Cleveland Cavaliers scored just nine points in the first half and trailed much of the game before rallying to stun the Boston Celtics 91-89 on Saturday. 

Cleveland (9-5) trailed by as many as 19 with 3:05 left in the third quarter before roaring back with a 24-4 run to set up a frenzied finish that featured seven ties and five lead changes in the last seven minutes of the game. 

Darius Garland led the Cavaliers with 22 points, including two critical free throws with 9.4 seconds left that provided the final margin. He had kept the home team in the game single-handedly earlier in the evening, making 10 of Cleveland's 12 first-half field goals. 

One night after dropping 38 points in a home win against the Milwaukee Bucks, Dennis Schroder had a game-high 28 for on Saturday, but he missed a potential game-tying shot at the buzzer. 

The Celtics (6-7) were foiled in their attempt to get over .500 for the first time this season but will have a chance to get back to even with a rematch Monday in Cleveland. 

The Cavaliers have won six of their last seven games. 

 

Clippers win seventh straight

After a 1-4 start to the season, the Los Angeles Clippers picked up their seventh straight win with a 129-102 defeat of the Minnesota Timberwolves (4-8). The Clippers (8-4) put the game away by half-time, building a 70-43 lead as Reggie Jackson scored 18 of his 21 points before the break. Paul George led all scorers with 23 and Anthony Edwards topped the Timberwolves with 21. 

The Washington Wizards (9-3) continued their hot start even without star Bradley Beal, rolling to a 104-92 victory over the Orlando Magic (3-10) behind 23 points, 11 rebounds and six assists from Spencer Dinwiddie and 20 points, six rebounds and seven assists off the bench by Montrezl Harrell. Beal missed the game to mourn the death of his grandmother. 

The New Orleans Pelicans opened up a lead of as many as 22 points in the first half and held on for a 112-101 defeat of the Memphis Grizzlies (6-7). The victory snapped a nine-game losing streak for the Pelicans (2-14) as they continue to play without Zion Williamson. 

 

Jazz continue to struggle

The Utah Jazz (8-5) lost for the fourth time in five games, falling 111-105 at home against the Miami Heat (8-5). The visitors built a 95-69 lead after three quarters and cruised the rest of the way as Tyler Herro led all scorers with 27 points. Utah made just 35 of 85 shots from the field (41.2 per cent), including 17 of 53 from three-point range (32.1 per cent).

Less than five months have passed since the Milwaukee Bucks faced the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Bucks advanced in six games and went on to win the NBA title, but the Hawks' surprise run meant the 2020-21 season was one both teams could reflect fondly on.

However, the early indications are 2021-22 will not be counted in the same category.

While there is a long way left to go in this campaign, the two teams enter Sunday's first regular-season meeting both below the playoff line. The Bucks are 6-7, while the Hawks have regressed significantly to 4-9.

Milwaukee can at least point to personnel issues. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday – their three main men – have so far shared just 21 minutes on the court.

Antetokounmpo is on course for an unprecedented fourth straight season averaging 25.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game but sat out of Friday's defeat to the Boston Celtics after spraining his ankle.

"He's kind of tested it a little bit twice today and he's just not able to go," coach Mike Budenholzer said before that game. "I know he'll get treatment, he'll probably get a lift, he'll do everything he can to get back as soon as possible."

Those words do not indicate an immediate return, even if he was originally listed as "probable" to play. Middleton has been out due to coronavirus but may return against the Hawks.

These mitigating factors are not available to Atlanta. They have named the five-man lineup that started their playoff run – prior to De'Andre Hunter's knee injury – on 11 occasions.

The Hawks should look to make the most of playing the short-handed champions and get their season back on track.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Atlanta Hawks – Trae Young

Young will not be short of motivation for this one. He scored 48 points in Game 1 against the Bucks, almost single-handedly winning the series opener as he attempted 34 field goals – the third-most by any player in a single game in the 2020-21 postseason – as well as contributing 11 assists.

But a combination of form and fitness then deserted the breakout star of the playoffs. He had just 15 points in Game 2, before rebounding with 35 in Game 3, only to suffer a foot injury that kept him out of the next two. Young returned with 23.5 per cent field goal shooting in Game 6 as Milwaukee sealed the series.

Atlanta's reliance on Young to both score and create became a real issue when he was faced with elite defense, forcing nine turnovers in Game 2 alone. He has a point to prove now.

Milwaukee Bucks – Jrue Holiday

The source of that elite defense was Holiday, who had scored 33 points in Game 1 but allowed Young too much space on the other side of the ball. The Bucks point guard quickly addressed that issue.

Holiday teamed up with Brook Lopez to effectively shut down Young, striking the right balance between aggressive defense and keeping a dangerous opponent away from the foul line; he attempted 12 free throws in Game 1 alone but only returned to the line 16 more times in the whole series.

An excellent display in Game 6 saw Holiday contribute 27 points, nine assists, nine rebounds, four steals and two blocks, offset only slightly by six turnovers. It is this sort of performance that will be required on Sunday. With Antetokounmpo and Middleton doubts, Holiday will have to drive Milwaukee on offense while being careful not to give Young free rein at the other end.

KEY BATTLE – Could Capela dominate?

It is not only the big names that have been missing for the Bucks, but also the big men. Lopez has not featured since the opening night of the season due to a back issue, while the absence of Antetokounmpo, who can play the five, deals a further blow to Milwaukee's depth.

Bobby Portis is set to line up against Clint Capela, who will expect to dominate his opponent on the boards, with 11.2 rebounds per game this year – a mark only Antetokounmpo on the Bucks' roster can top.

Capela has already been key for Atlanta in limiting the damage during their poor run. The Hawks's 110.1 defensive rating is the third-worst in the league, but that improves to 108.7 with Capela on the floor, by far the best rating of the team's regular starters.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Hawks might have taken the Bucks to six games in the playoffs, but this has been a series Milwaukee have dominated. Including that 4-2 Eastern Conference Finals victory, they are 16-4 in the teams' past 20 meetings. Atlanta won the opening playoff game by three but then lost four of the following five by double digits.

The Bucks have a 114-112 edge all-time in the regular season.

Anthony Davis has warned the Los Angeles Lakers they will not be NBA title contenders this season if they do not improve on their "embarrassing" form.

The Lakers lost 107-83 at home to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday to fall to 7-6 on the year, despite playing 10 of their first 13 games at Staples Center.

Only once previous have the Lakers won the title after making a 7-6 start, improving to 57-25 in 2007-08 to take the top seed in the West.

Even with LeBron James closing on a return from injury, such a turnaround looks unlikely this year as things stand. Three of their seven wins have come only after overtime – a league high.

Davis, who led the team with 22 points against the Timberwolves, is certainly concerned.

"We've got to decide who we want to be," he said. "A championship team? That's not us right now. We're not winning a championship the way we're playing.

"We've got to be better, and we've got to care more for our wins at home, wins in general. That was embarrassing."

LA have been especially poor in the third quarters of games, a theme that continued against Minnesota.

The Lakers scored just 12 points and allowed 40 for a differential of -28, their second-worst in any single quarter since at least 2002-03 (-31 in the second quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013-14).

The team are a combined -83 in third quarters this season, the worst record of any team in any single quarter in 2021-22.

"We sucked," Davis said. "No defense, can't score. That's not just this third quarter, it's every third quarter we've played this season.

"We come out slow, lackadaisical offensively and defensively. We've got to get it together. Why? I can't tell you. But we've got to do a better job."

Stephen Curry took Ray Allen's three-point record as he dropped 40 in the Golden State Warriors' win against the Chicago Bulls on Friday.

Warriors point guard Curry came into the game one behind Allen's tally of 3,358 three-pointers made across the regular season and playoffs.

And the two-time MVP eased past that mark as he shot nine of 17 from beyond the arc, moving to 3,366 for his career from 7,871 attempts in 886 games; Allen had 8,388 attempts in 1,471 games.

It is a record Curry is set to hold for a long, long time, with the nearest active player on the list James Harden in fourth, some 539 back on 2,827.

This was Curry's 38th career game making nine or more threes. His closest challenger in that regard is Damian Lillard on a distant 12, while Allen had only three such performances. Curry has two this season alone.

The Warriors as a team have now made 10 threes in 40 straight games, continuing a franchise record run.

Curry's 28.4 points per game have carried Golden State to a league-best 11-1 start, but only now does he feel he is truly coming into form, having also scored 50 against the Atlanta Hawks this week.

The previous two games before Atlanta's visit had seen Curry fail to reach 20 points, yet he was not concerned.

"It follows kind of the usual pattern for how I start seasons," he said on Friday.

The Warriors superstar said he was "not really worrying about the output". "It's just about trying to find win games and create momentum, and usually good things happen," he added.

The Chicago game – a 119-93 win, their ninth in a row against the Bulls – brought to an end an eight-game homestand in which Golden State went 7-1, suffering their only defeat on the year to the Memphis Grizzlies before winning seven straight.

"We took care of business. Defensively, we were really solid for all eight games," Curry said.

"We had different guys step up every night, we found a pretty solid rotation, for the most part, even got some young guys some good minutes.

"We're still trying to find opportunities for everybody, still trying to find our identity for how we're going to win, and everybody being comfortable in their roles and all of that, but we're winning and learning on the fly with some really good momentum.

"I'm proud – for eight games, it's hard to stay locked in, with the routine and monotony of every other day doing the same thing. It was a really impressive homestand."

Now the Warriors go on a four-game road trip, starting at the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday.

But Golden State have won their first three road games this year, meaning another victory would tie their second-best start to a season away from home. They have some way to go before matching the 14 consecutive road wins the 2015-16 Warriors started with.

"Hopefully we can pack that momentum with us," said Curry, part of that team, too. "But it all comes down to how you execute and getting that energy and effort that you bring.

"It's easy to get up for it when you have your home crowd rooting you on and that energy, but on the road it requires another level of focus and intensity to win games. We know how to do it, it's just a matter of showing up."

LeBron James is close to a return from an abdominal injury, with Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel confirming he is now "day-to-day".

James was absent for the fifth straight game with injury as the Lakers went down 107-83 to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, leaving them with a 7-6 record.

Vogel confirmed pre-game the 36-year-old's injury will not rule him out for an "extended stretch".

"LeBron, his rehab is progressing nicely," Vogel told reporters. "He's back to doing on the court basketball activity.

"This does not seem like it's going to be an extended stretch. He's to be considered truly day-to-day."

The Lakers had won three straight games before going 2-3 without James in the side over the past 10 days, suffering defeats to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Portland Trail Blazers and the Timberwolves.

Prior to featuring in all three games of that short winning run, James had also missed consecutive games with ankle soreness. LA are 3-4 for the year without him.

James has been averaging 24.8 points, 7.0 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game this season, while shooting 46.7 per cent from the floor and 34.7 per cent from three-point range.

The Lakers were on the wrong end of a 40-12 third quarter against the Timberwolves, having been ahead at halftime.

Anthony Davis top scored with 22 points and eight rebounds, while Russell Westbrook had 20 points but five turnovers and an awful plus/minus of -32. Three of his turnovers came in the third quarter as he scored just three points in eight minutes.

"There's no better motivator than a bad loss," Vogel told reporters after the defeat. "I think a lot of our guys are angry. Our coaching staff are angry. We'll get back to work."

Stephen Curry reached 40 points or more for the third time this season as the Golden State Warriors' electric start to the season continued with a 119-93 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Friday.

Curry finished with 40 points, including nine-for-17 three-pointers, along with five assists and four rebounds as the Warriors improved to 11-1.

The two-time MVP starred with 15 points in the third quarter alone, almost outscoring the Bulls as the Warriors piled on 35-17 points. Curry also passed Ray Allen's 3,358 all-time NBA mark for the most three-pointers made in regular season and playoffs games.

The result marks the Warriors' second-best ever start in franchise history, with their only loss coming in overtime against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Golden State are one of nine teams in NBA history to start the season without a regulation-time loss in their first 12 games, the best being the 2015-16 Warriors with 24 games.

 

Harden hits season high

James Harden backed up Wednesday's triple-double with a season-high 39 points including six three-pointers for the Brooklyn Nets in a 120-112 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. Harden got a double-double, with 12 assists along with five rebounds, while Kevin Durant added 28 points. Joe Harris shot six-for-six from three-point range in the first half, becoming the first player this season to achieve the feat.

Nikola Jokic returned from his one-game ban with a triple-double as the Denver Nuggets got past the Atlanta Hawks 105-96, with 22 points, 10 assists and 19 rebounds. Luka Doncic also registered a triple-double with 32 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists as the Dallas Mavericks defeated the San Antonio Spurs 123-109.

Denis Schroder had a season-high 38 points as the Boston Celtics won 122-113 in overtime over the Milwaukee Bucks, who were without Giannis Antetokounmpo (ankle) and Khris Middleton (COVID-19).

 

LeBron-less Lakers floored

Carmelo Anthony scored one-for-12 from the field while starter Kent Bazemore finished with zero points as the Los Angeles Lakers, missing LeBron James, lost 107-83 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Emerging point guard Ja Morant had five turnovers and shot 10-for-19 from the field as the Memphis Grizzlies were beaten by the Phoenix Suns 119-94.

James Harden says he is getting back to his best but admits the high standards expected will not come easy after a season-high 39 points as the Brooklyn Nets beat the New Orleans Pelicans 120-112.

Harden improved his season average to 19.8 points per game with his haul against the Pelicans where he landed five three-pointers and registered a double-double with 12 assists too.

The 32-year-old guard's offensive output this season contrasted dramatically with his career average of 25.0 points per game, along with career-best 36.1 points per game in the 2018-19 season with the Houston Rockets.

Harden had started the new campaign slowly after rehabbing his hamstring over the offseason but is starting to return to his best, with a triple-double against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday.

"I'm getting there. It wasn’t going to take long," Harden told reporters after the Pelicans win.

"This is the most talented players in the world. It's not going to be easy for me to just come out and do what I do. It takes a lot of reps, a lot of hard work to get to that point, to be playing at a point that you've seen me playing at.

"When I'm not scoring 30 points and I'm averaging 18-something points, it's like 'what's wrong with James?'. It's like, that's pretty solid still.

"I've been playing so well [in previous years], at another level where you guys set standards for me. I set standards for myself as well. for me I've just got to continue to work. I'm getting a lot better. The work don't stop."

Harden has shown flashes of his best at times throughout the early part of the season but is yet to put together a consistent run of high scoring, having reached 20 points in only four games this season prior to Friday's win.

The 2018 MVP's 39 points against the Pelicans bettered his previous season-high of 29, although he also had six turnovers.

"I can score, I know that," Harden said. "I've just got to put it together. Today was pretty solid, other than the turnovers. I've just got to continue to build.

"I felt last game at Orlando, my pace was good, I was getting to the basket, I was finding my teammates, I had that burst. Tonight the same thing, I've just got to continue to compound that feeling."

Nets head coach Steve Nash praised Harden but also urged patience as has consistently been their message this season.

"He played similar tonight as he did a couple of games on this trip," Nash said during his post-game news conference. "I think we've got to be patient with him. I think he's got some yards to go before he feels this was very night or feels at his best.

"There's the fitness, the rhythm and the confidence. For all those three things to come back it does take time. He was great tonight. He's been really good the last week or so and trending in the right direction. I don’t want to get too carried away. Let's give him time to get his game back."

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."

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