Giannis Antetokounmpo came close to a triple-double as reigning NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks took down the Indiana Pacers 119-109 on Monday.

Antetokounmpo finished the game with 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, as well as two blocks and a steal to fuel the Bucks.

Bucks team-mate Khris Middleton provided good scoring support with 27 points, five rebounds and seven assists, including a remarkable three-pointer on the first-quarter buzzer.

Milwaukee pulled away throughout the game, leading by 15 points at the final change, having no issues in Jrue Holiday (ankle) and Brook Lopez's (back) absence.

While the Bucks improved to 3-1, the Pacers slipped to a 1-3 record despite Domantas Sabonis' 21 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.

 

 

Bulls maintain perfect start

The Chicago Bulls improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1996-97 thanks to a 111-108 victory against the Toronto Raptors. The Bulls led by 10 points with less than three minutes remaining before Fred VanVleet (15 points and a career-high 17 assists) missed a three-point attempt on the buzzer to send it to overtime.

Jayson Tatum posted 41 points, including six three-pointers, with seven rebounds and eight assists as the Boston Celtics outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 140-129 after overtime. The Celtics closed the extra period with a 14-0 run to storm to victory.

Paul George had a career-high eight steals along with 16 points as the Los Angeles Clippers won 116-86 against the Portland Trail Blazers. Luke Kennard added 23 points.

Jonas Valanciunas put up 22 points and a career-high 23 points as the New Orleans Pelicans snapped a season-opening three-game skid by topping the Minnesota Timberwolves 107-98.

 

Harden's radar still off

The Brooklyn Nets improved their record to 2-2 with a 104-90 win over the Washington Wizards although James Harden's shooting radar was off. The former MVP finished five of 17 from the field, including going at 12.5 per cent from beyond the arc for his 14 points.

Damian Lillard continues to struggle for the Blazers this season. The All-Star finished four-of-15 shooting against the Clippers, while he missed all eight of his three-point attempts. Lillard has made two of 24 three-pointers this season (8.3 per cent). He is shooting 34 per cent overall.

Kevin Durant believes the Brooklyn Nets' chemistry has "grown pretty fast" after the NBA championship-chasing franchise improved to 2-2 for the season with Monday's 104-90 win over the Washington Wizards.

Durant led the way with 25 points along with eight rebounds and four assists for the Nets, while Patty Mills came off the bench to contribute 21 points in Kyrie Irving's ongoing absence.

Brooklyn have relied on Durant, who has top scored in all four games this season, while James Harden's shooting has been errant, and fellow star Irving absent due to his vaccination status 

The Nets bowed out of last season's Eastern Conference semi-finals against eventual champions the Milwaukee Bucks, with injuries to their big three Durant, Harden and Irving taking their toll.

Durant and Harden only played 11 games together last season following the latter's January trade from the Houston Rockets, but they have played all four alongside each other this campaign.

Harden managed 14 points with five-from-17 shooting from the field though he only made one of his eight three-pointers on Monday, but Durant was bullish about their improving chemistry in offense.

The Nets shared around the points with Harden also having nine assists, while starters Bruce Brown (14 points and three rebounds) and Joe Harris (11 points, eight rebounds and two assists) contributed.

"It felt like we always had that unselfish energy around our team," Durant told reporters after the game.

"I felt like our chemistry has grown pretty fast, learning how to play with one another. This was a good step in the right direction.

"It's always good to get a W, it's good for the morale of the team. We want to build on it and keep growing.

"It's a long season. It's still the first few weeks of the season so we want to keep finetuning."

Brooklyn's victory was aided by a strong defensive display, keeping Wizards guard Bradley Beal quiet, led by Durant.

Beal finished with 19 points after shooting 36.4 per cent from the field, making only three from 13 from three-point range.

Nets head coach Steve Nash said: "It's a huge aspect of Kevin's game that he can be an incredible defender and impact the game at that end of the floor at an elite level.

"We know what he can do offensively but we're reminded here that defensively he's incredible at times as well."

The Los Angeles Lakers claimed their first win of the season after outlasting Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies 121-118 in the NBA on Sunday.

LeBron James and the Lakers had lost back-to-back games to open the 2021-22 campaign but finally had something to celebrate at home to the Grizzlies.

Anthony Davis posted 22 points and eight rebounds, while team-mate James finished with 19 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Lakers (1-2).

But it was Lakers veteran Carmelo Anthony who led the way with 28 points (on 10-of-15 shooting) from the bench.

Anthony passed Moses Malone for ninth place on the all-time NBA leading scorers list.

Morant excelled with 40 points and 10 assists, but it was not enough for the Grizzlies (2-1), who lost for the first time.

 

 

Curry brothers star as Steph makes history

Stephen Curry was at it again to lead the Golden State Warriors to their first 3-0 start to a season since 2015 after a 119-107 victory against the Sacramento Kings. The two-time MVP put up 27 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and three steals to fuel the unbeaten Warriors. With his fifth assist, Curry became the first player in franchise history to dish out 5,000 career assists.

The Philadelphia 76ers topped the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder 115-103. Seth Curry maintained his red-hot form, going seven-of-10 from three-point range for a team-high 28 points. Curry was six of seven from beyond the arc for 23 points in the opening quarter – a new career-high for a single period. He is the fourth 76ers player with at least 20 points in a quarter since 2010, joining Joel Embiid (four times), Jodie Meeks and Lou Williams. Embiid had 22 points, nine rebounds and six assists against the Thunder.

Jalen Green enjoyed a breakout game, despite the Houston Rockets going down 107-97 to the Boston Celtics. Green became the first rookie in Rockets history with 30-plus points and eight three-pointers in a game after finishing with 30 points – including eight threes, four rebounds and three assists.

The Charlotte Hornets are off to their first 3-0 start to the season thanks to a 111-95 win over the Brooklyn Nets behind Miles Bridges' 32 points. Kevin Durant led the Nets with 38 points in Brooklyn.

 

Harden struggles from the floor in Nets loss

James Harden was far from his best against Hornets, going just six-of-16 shooting from the field for 15 points in 33 minutes, while he also finished with eight turnovers.

Evan Fournier was three-of-11 shooting from the field – making just two of seven three-pointers – as the New York Knicks were stunned 110-104 by the Orlando Magic.

Kevin Durant said nobody is hoping Kyrie Irving will return to "save us" after the Brooklyn Nets were beaten by the Charlotte Hornets amid protests in support of the absent NBA All-Star.

Irving is yet to play this season due to his refusal to be vaccinated against coronavirus, which is preventing him from practicing or playing with the Nets – New York has a mandate in place that states players must have had a COVID-19 jab.

Demonstrators gathered outside Barclays Center prior to Sunday's 111-95 defeat at home to the Hornets, showing their support of Irving.

After the Nets dropped to 1-2 for the season, Durant was asked about team-mate Irving and him being away from the championship-chasing franchise.

"It's three games in. Of course, we've got enough," Durant told reporters post-game after posting 38 points.

"We definitely want Kyrie Irving out here on the floor and he's a huge part of what we do, but it's not happening right now. So we've got to figure it out.

"But nobody's going to lose confidence while we're playing and hope Kyrie comes and saves us during the game. No, you've got to play."

James Harden was far from his best against the Hornets, going just six-of-16 shooting from the field for 15 points in 33 minutes, while he also tallied eight turnovers.

 

The former MVP endured an injury-hit first season with the Nets following his blockbuster trade from the Houston Rockets.

"I'm just getting my confidence back," Harden said. "I'm a little hesitant. You guys can see it. Just making sure my confidence continues to build, and that's all that matters.

"We're at game three and hopefully my confidence -- not hopefully -- but my confidence will rise and will continue to get better as games go on, and I feel more confident and get that burst of speed like I'm normally used to. No worries at all."

Harden has also found himself drawing fewer fouls this season after the NBA introduced a rule change, aimed specifically at players who make "abnormal movements" to get to the free-throw line.

He only went to the line once against the Hornets, having averaged 4.0 attempts heading into the contest – his lowest average since the 2010-11 season (4.2).

"I feel like he's unfairly become the poster boy of not calling these fouls," Nets head coach Steve Nash said. "Some of them are definitely fouls still."

Nash added: "I think he’s got to stick with it. But they're just so alert and aware, and he's the poster child of these new decisions.  I get it, there's a line, but some of them are still fouls.

"So, he's just got to stick with it, he’s got to keep going to the basket, and he's got to do what he does because a large portion of them are still fouls, and if he doesn't get fouls, he can still make plays.

"He can still finish them, and pass and do all the things that he does. So he's just got to continue as he finds his rhythm again after very little basketball for half a year. Keep attacking, keep attacking, and they're gonna respect his skill level and his ability to get guys on his shoulder and get to the basket."

Steve Nash said "it's not going to be pretty for a little while" after the Brooklyn Nets rallied past the Philadelphia 76ers 114-109 for their first win of the season.

The Nets had never led or tied the 76ers until LaMarcus Aldridge's dunk levelled Friday's NBA clash at 108-108 with 48 seconds remaining in Philadelphia.

Brooklyn, who were blown out by reigning champions the Milwaukee Bucks in their season opener, relied on superstars Kevin Durant and James Harden to eventually see off Eastern Conference rivals the 76ers.

Durant had a triple-double of 29 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists, while Harden finished with 20 points for the Nets, who closed out the contest on a 16-1 run.

"It's not going to be pretty for a little while here," said Nets head coach Nash in the continued absence of Kyrie Irving (unvaccinated).

"We just got to continue to fight, play for each other and figure out ways to compete and stay engaged while we figure out rotations and combinations and what we are all about."

 

On Durant and Harden, Nash added: "I think they are excited for their new team-mates. But it takes time to find that rhythm and combinations. And also we lost a big piece [Irving].

"It is not just the new pieces, it's the void that we are used to playing with. It is, it is a lot for us to take on at this moment in time. But hopefully in the weeks coming, we start to clear some of the debris so to speak and figure out how we can best play together."

Nets recruit Patty Mills (three-of-three shooting from beyond the arc) became the first player in NBA history to open a season 10-10 from three.

Durant recorded his 13th career triple-double and the former MVP said of playing without Irving: "We wasn't planning on having to do this, but you know, it's good for us to make adjustments.

"It's good for guys who wasn't expecting to play bigger roles to step into those roles and see who we are. This is the situation we were in, and I think a lot of guys have taken advantage of it.

"For James and myself, it feels like each game may be different and we may have to do different things than we thought coming into the season. But it's all good. It's always gonna help us get better."

Harden added: "We're the best at what we do, we'll figure it out. Me personally, I've been through a lot where I had different team-mates, different line-ups and playing small ball, so I'm used to trying to figure it out and just go with the flow and making it work. We have a really good team and we'll figure it out.

"Kevin is the same way and one of the best to ever touch a basketball. So we just got to go out there and do what we do and things will work out."

The Phoenix Suns soared to a 115-105 victory as LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers were condemned to back-to-back defeats to start the 2021-22 NBA season.

Chris Paul fuelled the Suns with 23 points and 14 rebounds in Los Angeles, where the Lakers were no match for last season's NBA Finals participants and fell to 0-2.

Paul became the first player in NBA history with 20,000 points and 10,000 assists.

Devin Booker (22 points) and Mikal Bridges (21 points) also impressed for the Suns, while double-doubles from Anthony Davis (22 points and 14 rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (15 points and 11 rebounds) were not enough for the Lakers.

James finished with 25 points in front of the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Justin Bieber at Staples Center.

The Lakers' woes were compounded by a row between team-mates Davis and Dwight Howard on the bench during the second quarter as the pair had to be separated.

 

 

Durant's Nets spoil 76ers' opener

The Philadelphia 76ers looked in control and on track for victory but they were upstaged 114-109 by Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets. Kevin Durant posted a triple-double of 29 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists as the Nets used a 16-1 run to stun the 76ers in their first home game of the season in Philadelphia. James Harden had 20 points, while LaMarcus Aldridge added 23 points off the bench on 10-of-12 shooting. Seth Curry made all four of this three-pointers to finish with 23 points, the same amount as 76ers team-mate Tobias Harris.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic showed why he was crowned the league's best player last season, scoring 32 points, collecting 16 rebounds and supplying seven assists in a 102-96 win against the San Antonio Spurs. It was his eighth 30/15/5 game, doubling the rest of the Nuggets franchise history combined.

The Chicago Bulls' new-look team improved to 2-0 thanks to a 128-112 triumph over the New Orleans Pelicans. Lonzo Ball inspired the win behind his triple-double (17 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds), while Zach LaVine (32 points) and DeMar DeRozan (26 points) also came up big.

The Utah Jazz stayed unbeaten courtesy of dominant displays from All-Star duo Donovan Mitchell (27 points) and Rudy Gobert (17 points and 20 assists) in the 110-101 road win at the Sacramento Kings.

Myles turner joined James, Harden, Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady as the only players in NBA history to score 40 points, 10 rebounds, five three-pointers and three blocks in a game. The Indiana Pacers still lost 135-134 to the Washington Wizards in overtime.

 

Celtics lose again

The Boston Celtics were booed off the court at half-time and throughout the second half in their 115-83 defeat against the Toronto Raptors. Jaylen Brown was three-for-13 shooting for nine points and five turnovers, while Marcus Smart ended the game scoreless on 0-for-six shooting in 29 minutes as the Celtics fell to 0-2.

Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid made an impassioned plea for fans to support team-mate Ben Simmons amid his continued absence.

Simmons is yet to feature for the 76ers this NBA season, sitting out Friday's clash with Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets, having been suspended for Wednesday's opener against the New Orleans Pelicans due to "conduct detrimental to the team".

The three-time All-Star has sought a trade away from the 76ers following last season's shock playoff exit to the Atlanta Hawks, while he was reportedly ejected from Tuesday's practice as head coach Doc Rivers grew frustrated with his lack of engagement.

After a meeting between Simmons, Embiid and the rest of the team, last season's MVP runner-up threw his support behind the former number one pick prior to tip-off against the Nets in Philadelphia.

"I urge you guys to continue to support us and our team-mate Ben, because he's still our brother," Embiid said as he grabbed the microphone on court.

Following the meeting, ESPN reported Simmons notified the 76ers he was not mentally ready to play and needed time to step away.

"I felt good up and down throughout and I kept saying that, things do change," Rivers told reporters pre-game.

"That still doesn't mean it's gonna work out perfect or it could, but I always believed that. I've never wavered from that. I've said that 100 times and I still stick with it."

Rivers added: "It was a productive day, but it's a start. That's the only way you can get going, you gotta start, and today was a start."

 

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

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

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

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

"He is part of the team," he continued. "We have certain rules, obviously, the other day, that didn't happen, but today was a good day.

"Most people, we look at problems instead of the possibilities and I think if we focus on the possibilities, just in life in general, you have a pretty good chance of going to a good place. If you focus on the problems, you're probably gonna continue to have problems."

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said while disgruntled All-Star Ben Simmons remains away from the team, he took positives from Friday's meeting.

Simmons – who has demanded a trade – was suspended for Wednesday's NBA season-opening win over the New Orleans Pelicans due to "conduct detrimental to the team" following reports he was ejected from practice after Rivers grew frustrated with his lack of engagement.

The Australian has also been ruled out of Friday's showdown with star-studded Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets at Wells Fargo Center.

Reports of a meeting between Simmons, Rivers and his team-mates emerged on Friday, with ESPN claiming the former number one pick was not mentally ready to play and needed time to step away.

Speaking afterwards and prior to tip-off against the Nets, Rivers told reporters: "I felt good up and down throughout and I kept saying that, things do change.

"That still doesn't mean it's gonna work out perfect or it could, but I always believed that. I've never wavered from that. I've said that 100 times and I still stick with it."

Rivers added: "It was a productive day, but it's a start. That's the only way you can get going, you gotta start, and today was a start."

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

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

 

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

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

"He is part of the team," he continued. "We have certain rules, obviously, the other day, that didn't happen, but today was a good day.

"Most people, we look at problems instead of the possibilities and I think if we focus on the possibilities, just in life in general, you have a pretty good chance of going to a good place. If you focus on the problems, you're probably gonna continue to have problems."

Including the playoffs, Philadelphia are 9-2 in their last 11 games against the Nets. Additionally, the 76ers have six straight home wins in the series, starting with Game 2 of the first round of the 2019 postseason.

Four Philadelphia players scored 20-plus points against New Orleans, with Joel Embiid and Furkan Korkmaz each having 22 and Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey finishing with 20. The 76ers had zero games last season with four 20-plus point scorers, according to Stats Perform.

James Harden said he is "not planning on leaving" the Brooklyn Nets, despite the contract deadline passing without a new deal.

Harden and the championship-chasing Nets did not reach an agreement over a contract extension prior to Monday's deadline in the NBA.

The former MVP – entering the third season of a four-year, $171.1million deal signed with the Houston Rockets before his blockbuster trade to the Nets last season – is now set to enter unrestricted free agency at the end of the 2021-22 campaign.

But the 32-year-old superstar dismissed the possibility of leaving Brooklyn after the Nets lost 127-104 to reigning NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks in Tuesday's season opener.

"The contract, the money is going to be there. I'm not planning on leaving this organisation and the situation that we have," Harden said, having scored 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in Milwaukee.

"So my focus, honestly, is just focus on the season and then winning the championship. The contract and all that stuff will work itself out, but my focus is going to be locked on this season."

Harden added: "Last year was a whirlwind for me individually, as far as my health and playing. So this year I feel like I need to come back and show I am one of those ones. So I've got a lot to prove myself and that's all I'm worried about and focused on.

"I love it here. Myself and [Nets owner Joe Tsai, Clara Wu-Tsai, general manager Sean Marks and head coach Steve Nash].

"From top to bottom the communication has been unbelievable, it's been amazing. I feel at home. It's nothing to worry about. For me individually I just want to focus on this year and that's it."

Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors spoiled the party as they stunned LeBron James' Los Angeles Lakers 121-114 on the opening night of the 2021-22 NBA season, while defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks started with a bang.

A star-studded crowd was in attendance to watch Curry and James go head-to-head in the season opener at Staples Center, with likes of Justin Bieber, Kevin Hart and Usher watching courtside.

Looking to bounce back from last season's first-round playoff exit as they were eventually dethroned by the Bucks, James and the Lakers were outlasted in Los Angeles, where Russell Westbrook endured a rough debut.

Despite double-doubles from James (34 points and 11 rebounds) and Anthony Davis (33 points and 11 rebounds), the Lakers were no match for the Warriors and Curry – who put up a triple-double of 21 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds.

It was Curry's eighth career triple-double, while Jordan Poole added 20 points as the visiting Warriors and their bench outscored the Lakers' role players 55-29.

 

Giannis fuels Bucks

The Bucks unveiled their championship banner, rings and crushed Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets 127-104 behind Giannis Antetokounmpo's 32 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in the league's season-opening matchup. Khris Middleton contributed 20 points and nine rebounds on a memorable night in Milwaukee, where the Bucks won the Eastern Conference semi-final rematch.

While the Nets were blown away on the road, Kevin Durant produced again with 32 points and 11 rebounds. The former MVP has scored at least 25 points in 11 consecutive games against the Bucks, equalling the feat achieved by James (from 2011 to 2013).

Nets recruit Patty Mills (21 points on seven-for-seven shooting from beyond the arc) tied the NBA record for most made threes on debut for a new team, while James Harden (20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists) flirted with a triple-double.

 

Westbrook's woes, Harris behind Brooklyn's struggles?

All eyes were on Westbrook following his return to California and move to the Lakers. But the former MVP failed to impress, however. In 35 minutes, Westbrook was only four-for-13 shooting for eight points, while he had five rebounds and four assists to go with four turnovers.

The Nets went 24-4 (85.7) last season when Joe Harris scored at least 15 points – best in the NBA (minimum 25 games). Harris had the fourth-most games in the NBA with a positive plus/minus, behind only Rudy Gobert, MVP Nikola Jokic and Royce O'Neale. So based on that pre-game fact, it is no surprise the Nets lost after Harris was far from his best in Milwaukee. The 2019 NBA Three-Point Contest champion finished with just nine points on three-for-nine shooting in 31 minutes.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash was not happy with his team's performance after the NBA title-chasing franchise were blown away by defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks on opening night.

After unveiling their banner and championship rings in a pre-game ceremony, Giannis Antetokounmpo fuelled the Bucks to a 127-104 rout following his double-double on Tuesday.

Kevin Durant had 32 points and 11 rebounds and fellow Nets superstar James Harden put up 20 points, eight rebounds and eight rebounds as he flirted with a triple-double on the road, while Patty Mills (21 points on seven-for-seven shooting from beyond the arc) tied the NBA record for most made threes on debut for a new team.

But the Nets were no match for the Bucks in a repeat of last season's Eastern Conference semi-final after being outscored 37-25 in the opening period.

"We weren't very good," Nash said. "If you're not playing at a high level against the champs, you're not going to win."

It was a tough start to the season for Durant and Nets, who were without All-Star Kyrie Irving amid his absence because of not being vaccinated against COVID-19.

"We can’t give a team 20 more shots than us," Durant told reporters after the Bucks made 48 of 105 shots, while the Nets finished 37-84 from the field. "Imagine coming to a game and say 'here, take the ball 20 times on offense before we get an offensive position.

"This is one game out of 82 of them. We'll look at it that way. Every team will look at it that way. The Bucks won today, but they're still trying to fine-tune what they do, too.

"I think every team in the league is going to look at their first few games, first few weeks and see where their team is going and then make adjustments."

During preseason, Durant called the Bucks – spearheaded by Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday – a dynasty after they ended their 50-year wait for a championship in 2020-21.

But after Tuesday's showdown, the former MVP told reporters: "Maybe I was reaching a little bit.

"I just look at it as it's hard in the league for four or five guys to stay together as long as the Bucks did, through the ups and downs of losing in the first or second round, almost going to the Finals in 2019.

"They've been through a lot together. That's probably what I meant more than anything."

"They're just a team with some continuity," former Golden State Warriors forward Durant added. "I take that 'dynasty' thing back. I know it's a lot how that word gets thrown around. But they have some continuity a lot of teams don't have."

Giannis Antetokounmpo hailed the Milwaukee Bucks for putting aside the excitement of receiving their NBA championship rings prior to Tuesday's dominant 127-104 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

The Bucks reminded the star-studded Nets who runs the Eastern Conference in their emphatic season-opening victory at Fiserv Forum, where Antetokounmpo led the defending champions with 32 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks.

Antetokounmpo and his Bucks team-mates received their championship rings in a glittering pre-game ceremony in front of a sell-out crowd in Milwaukee before blowing out Kevin Durant and the Nets in a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference semi-final.

"It was hard. Obviously very excited for the ring and seeing our banner," Antetokounmpo told ESPN after his double-double display.

"It's been hard to balance that, going from that excitement and that emotional state, going to get ready to play the game.

"I think we did a great job. When the ceremony was over, we were able to focus on our gameplan and ourselves. We were able to get the win."

The Bucks raced to a 37-25 first-quarter lead and led by as much as 23 points as they were never headed by a Nets side missing Kyrie Irving due to his absence related to not being vaccinated against coronavirus.

Milwaukee had issues of their own, with Donte DiVincenzo and Bobby Portis unavailable, while Jrue Holiday only played 18 minutes after succumbing to a right heel contusion.

Antetokounmpo had good support from Khris Middleton who finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and three assists, as well as Pat Connaughton (20 points)

Young small forward Jordan Nwora also contributed 15 points and six rebounds from 26 minutes off the bench.

"We've got a deep team," added Antetokounmpo, who had averaged at least 25.0 points and 10.0 rebounds over the past four seasons heading into the opener – the first player to accomplish the feat since Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal (1993-94 to 2002-03).

"Everybody is ready to step up, everybody is ready to play. We play hard and we play together. We try to play good basketball which is what we did tonight."

The 26-year-old Greek power forward also said it was a "compliment" to be named pre-game in the top-75 greatest players in NBA history to mark the competition's 75th anniversary.

The Brooklyn Nets are itching for the opportunity to get revenge on the Milwaukee Bucks for last season's Eastern Conference semi-finals defeat, and Tuesday's ring celebration could be the ideal chance.

Their playoffs meeting earlier this year was something of a classic, with the series going to the wire as Milwaukee ultimately came good.

James Harden struggled with an injury, Kyrie Irving was out and Kevin Durant was denied what he thought was a winning three-pointer at the buzzer, but it turned out to only be a two-pointer and overtime beckoned.

The Bucks went on to win in OT and that sent them on their way to only a second NBA championship and a first since 1971.

It is fair to say the Nets have not forgotten what occurred in June and they will be highly motivated for their season opener against the Bucks, who will also be collecting their championship rings.

"It goes without saying we're definitely excited," said Nets shooting guard Joe Harris.

"We would've been excited no matter who we were playing against. This is going to be an awesome atmosphere.

"[There's a] sour taste in our mouth from the last time we played against Milwaukee, so obviously excited we get to start off with them to start the season.

"But nothing to discredit Milwaukee, they had an unbelievable season. Rightfully NBA champions.

"They're an unbelievable team with a lot of talent across the board. Right now, they're the team to beat.

"For us, it's not looking too far ahead, though. One game at a time. All of the focus is on Milwaukee and getting a good start to the season."

"We'll see how our group responds," coach Steve Nash added. "They may have extra motivation.

"They may just be locked into what their jobs are. So, I'm not really sure how they'll respond to that, or if that'll have an impact on them.

"But more than anything, I just want our guys to be prepared to start fast and play well."

Of course, last season the Nets were many people's favourites for the championship prior to that series defeat to the Bucks.

And while Durant acknowledged the excitement ahead of the Nets' season opener, he is reminding his team-mates they need to begin with high standards and maintain them every game, not just against the best teams.

"No matter what we play, we've got to hold ourselves to a championship-level standard, and we're not exercising good habits if we only get up against teams like Milwaukee," Durant said.

"Everybody's excited for the first game, but we want to keep this energy, no matter where we play."

It's difficult to go back to back in any sport and, in the marathon that is an NBA season, that rings particularly true.

Seven franchises have achieved the feat, with the Golden State Warriors the last team to do so in 2018.

But the fact the 73-9 Warriors of 2016 proved unable to retain the title illustrates just how difficult a challenge it is to repeat and hold on to the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

The Milwaukee Bucks will attempt to become the eighth franchise to successfully defend their crown, though they will face no shortage of competition.

With the 2021-22 season beginning on Tuesday, Stats Perform looks at some of the top contenders for the title in the coming campaign.

Milwaukee Bucks

Let's start with the obvious. The Bucks are the favourites because they have the best player on the planet, with all due respect to reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was fourth in points per 75 possessions last regular season with 29.6 and dominated on the defensive glass. His defensive rebounding percentage of 28.9 was 12th in the league.

The main feather in his cap going into 2021-22 is his ability to elevate his game to another level. In leading the Bucks past the Phoenix Suns in last season's Finals, he racked up 211 points. That tied Bob Pettit for the third-most in a Finals debut behind Rick Barry (245) and Jerry West (218). Only West and Michael Jordan (both four) can better his tally of three games with 40 points or more in a single Finals.

Supported by Khris Middleton, who had five games of 30 points or more in the postseason, and an elite facilitator in Jrue Holiday, whose 10.5 assists per 48 minutes ranked fifth among players to play in at least 10 playoff games, Antetokounmpo has a deep and dynamic surrounding cast, making the Bucks excellent candidates to go all the way again.

Phoenix Suns

The Suns may not be the first name on everyone's lips when it comes to title contenders but, having led 2-0 in the Finals before succumbing to Giannis and the Bucks, they are deserving of a place on the list.

In an offseason that could have seen much change, the Suns managed to keep the band together, the headline deal being an agreement that saw Chris Paul signed to a new contract.

While Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker are both the present and the future for the Suns, their title aspirations rest largely on the ageing shoulders of Paul. 

Paul was the only Finals player to finish above Holiday in assists per 48 minutes in the postseason (minimum 10 games), averaging 12.0 across the course of the playoffs.

He set up Ayton 143 times in the regular season and reached three figures in laying on buckets for Booker (118) and Mikal Bridges (106), living up to his moniker of 'Point God'.

However, with a combined plus/minus of -37 across the four successive losses to Milwaukee, he will have to raise his game when it matters most if he and the Suns are to end their respective waits for a title.

Los Angeles Lakers

Rarely has LeBron James not had a chance to win the NBA title over the course of his illustrious career.

However, injuries limited James to just 45 games and Anthony Davis to 36 in the regular season, forcing the Lakers into a play-in game.

James performed heroics to lead the Lakers past the Warriors in that game but they were subsequently bounced out of the playoffs by the Suns.

The Lakers' response was to add to their arsenal of stars by acquiring Russell Westbrook in a trade with the Washington Wizards.

 

Former MVP Westbrook tied Jokic for the league lead with 45.5 points/assists/rebounds per game in 2020-21 while breaking Oscar Robertson's record for career triple-doubles.

Such numbers will not be possible playing alongside James and Davis but, if he can thrive in a more supplementary role, the Lakers should be firmly in the mix to regain their 2019-20 title.

Brooklyn Nets

There is a case to be made that, had the Nets not been hit by injuries in their Eastern Conference semi-finals series with the Bucks, they would have been the ones lifting the trophy.

However, Kyrie Irving and James Harden were limited to only four games in that seven-game series, leaving the burden primarily on Kevin Durant.

For very different reasons, there will be a lot of strain on Durant in 2021-22.

The Nets are facing up to not having Irving for most of if not all of the campaign as the issue of his vaccination status casts a cloud over the start of their season, which begins against the Bucks.

Unable to play in home games or practice with the Nets due to being unvaccinated, the franchise has said Irving will not play until the matter is resolved.

That means the Nets face being without a player who averaged 51.7 points/assists/rebounds per 48 minutes last season.

Despite his absence, the Nets cannot be discounted as contenders due to the presence of Durant (57.5) and Harden (56.9), but that duo must stay healthy and must at least maintain if not exceed their 2020-21 levels for Brooklyn to have a legitimate shot.

Golden State Warriors

Once perennial favourites, the Warriors are perhaps more of an outside bet these days. However, when you have Stephen Curry, you cannot be taken lightly as a potential contender.

The Warriors missed out on the postseason in 2020-21 following consecutive defeats to the Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies in the play-in tournament, Curry having willed Golden State to an eighth-placed finish in the Western Conference.

Curry averaged a career-high 32.0 points per game and his scoring average of 32.1 points per 75 possessions was second only to Joel Embiid (32.9).

 

Converting a league record 5.3 threes per game, last season was the third in which he averaged at least 5.0. He is the only player to achieve the feat even once.

And with fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson due back at some point, having missed the past two seasons through injury, and Andre Iguodala returning to likely finish his career with Golden State, Curry should have much more help this time around.

He still has his main facilitator Draymond Green, who led the league in setting up Curry 194 times last term, while the onus will be on 2020 first-round pick James Wiseman to develop into the floor-stretching big man the Warriors drafted him to be after an injury-curtailed rookie year.

Andrew Wiggins' vaccination status is cleared up, ensuring the Warriors will have a former number one overall pick who shot a career-high 47.7 per cent from the field in the previous campaign.

Jordan Poole's 18 points in 19 minutes in preseason against the Lakers gave further rise to hopes he can emerge as a valuable piece for the Warriors, whose two rookie first-round picks Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody add to an intriguing blend of experience and youth that could help Golden State get back among the elite.

Giannis Antetokounmpo said "there's nobody in this world that can slow down" Kevin Durant as reigning NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks begin their title defence against the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday.

All eyes will be on Antetokounmpo and Durant when the two Eastern Conference rivals go head-to-head in Milwaukee on opening night.

Milwaukee defeated Brooklyn in a seven-game Eastern Conference semi-finals series en route to their first NBA title in 50 years last term.

As Antetokounmpo and Durant prepare to clash in a battle of the former MVPs, the Bucks superstar called for a team approach in trying to nullify the Nets forward.

"We have got to do it as a team," Antetokounmpo told reporters. "There's nobody in this world that can slow down KD.

"One of the best players in the world. Can score the ball from everywhere. We've got to do it as a team. If Khris [Middleton] is going to start on him, if I'm going to start on him, we don't know.

"But no matter what the assignment is, no matter what the game plan is, what coach tells us to do, we have to also do it."

In 10 games against the Nets across the regular season and postseason, Antetokounmpo only once scored fewer than 30 points. He averaged 61.5 points/assists/rebounds per 48 minutes and had an effective field-goal percentage of 57.9.

In three of those games, Durant went over 40 points, with the two-time Finals MVP averaging 58.5 points/assists/rebounds per 48 minutes and posting an effective field-goal percentage of 55.6.

However, Durant's plus-minus across all meetings with the Bucks was minus 18 compared to plus 26 for Antetokounmpo, perhaps speaking to his lack of support in the postseason.

The Bucks will raise their 2021 title banner and receive their championship rings prior to tip-off against the star-studded Nets.

Giannis Antetokounmpo's brother Kostas won the 2020 NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers.

"I said let me keep it very, very simple," Giannis Antetokounmpo added in reference to the ring design. "I’m not competitive, guys. I said, I want my ring to be bigger than my brother’s.

"When Kostas, my brother, showed me his ring, it was huge. It was like an airpod case. I said at least, you know, you guys don’t sell us short, give us a big ring also."

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