If the rest of the NBA hoped the Golden State Warriors' era as a contender was over, their first six games of the new season suggest they were sorely mistaken.

The Warriors are 5-1, their only loss an overtime defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies, with a deeper and more well-rounded roster looking likely to help them return to the playoffs for the first time since their Game 6 loss to the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals in 2019.

Thursday will provide another examination of just how good the high-flying Warriors are, with the Charlotte Hornets heading to the Bay Area hoping to improve on an encouraging 4-3 start.

It is a contest that will pit one of the greatest point guards of all time against perhaps the future of the position as Stephen Curry prepares to go head-to-head with one of the players vying to assume his mantle.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Golden State Warriors - Stephen Curry

Curry remains the engine that drives the Warriors, and games against the Hornets, for whom his father Dell spent much of his NBA career, take on a special significance for the Golden State star.

And he has typically delivered the goods against the Hornets.

Indeed, Curry has averaged 27.3 points across 17 games versus Charlotte, only three of which have seen him score fewer than 20.

Charlotte Hornets – LaMelo Ball

Ball has picked up where he left off following an outstanding rookie year that was hindered by injury, and his battle with Curry figures to be fascinating to watch.

His average of 52.1 points/assists/rebounds per 48 minutes is fourth among guards to have played at least five games this season, and he will be the man to whom the Hornets will likely turn to pull off the upset on the road.

KEY BATTLE – Who dominates in the paint?

While it is easy to put almost all the focus on Curry vs. Ball and the outside shooting of the former, the battle in the paint could well be one that has a significant influence on the outcome of this game.

The Hornets are sixth in the NBA with 49.3 points per game in the paint, but the Warriors' defense is allowing only an average of 42.3 points in the paint, the seventh-fewest in the league.

Should Golden State prevent Charlotte from enjoying their usual success in the paint, then it could prove a long evening for the underdog Hornets.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The Warriors won the last meeting back in February, ending a run of three successive defeats to the Hornets.

Curry had a game-high 29 points, though the Warriors saw six other players post double figures in a 130-121 victory.

The new NBA season is two weeks in and narratives are already forming.

The Golden State Warriors are back, the Chicago Bulls' rebuild was a success, and several top teams – including defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks – are toiling.

Those themes may not hold for the entire regular season, but we have now seen enough to recognise some patterns – and the same is true on an individual level.

Which players have made flying starts to this campaign, and which are yet to find their feet? Stats Perform takes a look with the first 2021-22 edition of NBA Heat Check.

RUNNING HOT...

Miles Bridges

The Charlotte Hornets were already a fun watch last year thanks to LaMelo Ball, but the second-year point guard has help in 2021-22. Bridges has been one of the key men in lifting the Hornets to an exciting 5-3 start.

Playing alongside Ball, Gordon Hayward and surprise 2020-21 star Terry Rozier, Bridges leads Charlotte in scoring with 23.1 points per game. Now in year four, his previous best had seen 13.0 in his sophomore season.

Bridges' shooting from the field (47.2 per cent) and from three-point range (34.4 per cent) is actually down on last year, while he is only marginally more accurate from the foul line (88.2 per cent).

But the forward is thriving on having been given increased responsibility this season. He is back to being a regular starter, up to 35.5 minutes per game from 29.3, and attempting almost twice as many shots. Through Monday's games, only seven players in the NBA had attempted more shots from three (61).

With assists (3.4), rebounds (7.9), steals (1.8) and blocks (0.9) also on the rise, the Hornets could have a major asset if Bridges maintains these standards.

Ja Morant

If Bridges' development has represented a major shock, Morant's has not. The Memphis Grizzlies sensation was the Rookie of the Year two seasons ago and dumped the Warriors out in the play-in round last year.

Still, Morant's performances have been mightily impressive. His 28.3 points per game trail only Stephen Curry and Paul George. Having played more games than both, his 198 total points lead the league. Morant also tops the charts for field goals made (75).

After a 2-0 start, Morant had 40 in a losing effort against the Los Angeles Lakers and soon added 30 against the Warriors to return the Grizzlies to winning ways.

The 22-year-old is certainly not the finished article – only Russell Westbrook has had more turnovers than his 34 and a plus/minus of -6.1 suggests his scoring is not making up for shortcomings in other areas – but the rate of improvement indicates Memphis will be rewarded soon enough for sticking by their man.

Harrison Barnes

Barnes has seen what elite looks like, having been drafted by the Warriors in 2012 and started every game across the regular season and playoffs when they won the title three years later.

But Barnes was merely the fourth or fifth scoring option on that team and, through moves to the Dallas Mavericks and then the Sacramento Kings, has taken time to establish himself as a leading man.

This could well be the year, though. Barnes is the Kings' top scorer with 23.3 points per game, boosted by a career-high 36 against the Portland Trail Blazers on opening night.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the forward's scoring output has fallen with each passing performance since that stunning display, but he is bringing more to Sacramento than just scoring. Last year's 6.6 assists were a career high, only to be topped by a staggering 10.3 this time.

Although Barnes' Kings team-mates suggested after the Portland game they were always confident he could produce such displays, his progress at 29 has come as a surprise to everyone else.

GOING COLD...

Damian Lillard

Numerous players have explained away their below-par outputs by complaining about the NBA's new interpretation of the foul rule this season – a "change in the officiating of overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves by offensive players with the ball in an effort to draw fouls" essentially meaning fewer trips to the foul line for certain stars.

Trae Young, one of those prominently affected, named Lillard as another who was suffering more than usual.

Lillard is attempting only 3.9 free throws per game this year, in line with his career-low rookie year. His 18.6 points are below 19.0 he offered the Blazers in 2012-13. He had 28.8 last season.

But those foul calls are not Lillard's only issue, with his shooting from the field also hugely underwhelming through seven games.

The point guard is making only 34.9 per cent from the field and, having previously scored 4.1 three-point attempts per game, 23.1 per cent from beyond the arc. Those are also career lows and sources of major concern for Portland.

Dwight Howard

The Lakers made significant changes to their roster in the offseason and a number of the new recruits have not yet hit their stride.

It figures that Westbrook, now the third man in LA, should have seen his points (18.3), assists (8.7) and rebounds (8.7) take a hit along with his usage rate (28.5 per cent) after averaging a triple-double on the Washington Wizards, but Howard's slow early-season form was less predictable.

The three-time Defensive Player of the Year played a key bench role in the Lakers' title success in 2019-20, even starting seven playoff games, before joining the Philadelphia 76ers for a season.

Back at Staples Center, Howard is proving far less effective to this point. Both his points (4.3) and, most concerningly, rebounds (4.0) have reached career lows. His minutes are down from 17.3 last year to 15.2 this, but his averages per 48 only further display a decrease in performance – 23.3 rebounds becoming 12.7.

With Howard also involved in an altercation with Anthony Davis during a defeat to the Phoenix Suns, it is fair to say his Lakers return has not so far gone entirely to plan.

James Harden recorded his first triple-double of the season as the Brooklyn Nets claimed back-to-back wins for the first time this NBA campaign in a 117-91 victory over the lowly Detroit Pistons on Sunday.

Harden finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists after three quarters, while Nets team-mate Kevin Durant top-scored with 23 points but was ejected in the third quarter for shoving his elbow into Kelly Olynyk's face.

Former MVP Harden has had a slow start to 2021-22, however, he backed up his season-high 29 points against the Indiana Pacers on Friday with another impressive showing which will encourage the championship-chasing Nets (4-3) that he is getting back to his best after an injury-impacted offseason.

Harden hit four three-pointers as the superstar guard – already Brooklyn's all-time triple-double leader with 13 – joined Hall of Famer Larry Bird for second on the NBA's all-time list with 59.

 

Mitchell leads Jazz past struggling champs

Donovan Mitchell starred with 28 points, including a treble of first-quarters three-pointers as the Utah Jazz hit their first five attempts from range in a 107-95 win against slumping champions the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Bucks, who have lost three in a row.

Carmelo Anthony – who is shooting a career-high 50 per cent and 52.2 per cent from three this season – scored 23 points off the bench, while LeBron James had 15 points, seven rebounds and assists in the Los Angeles Lakers' 95-85 triumph over the Houston Rockets.

Luka Doncic led the way for the Dallas Mavericks with 23 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists in a 105-99 victory against the Sacramento Kings.

 

Dame cold in Blazers loss

All-Star Damian Lillard's shooting was wayward as the Portland Trail Blazers were downed 125-113 by the Charlotte Hornets, hitting two from 14 from three-point range for a below-standard 14-point return.

LeBron James returned from injury with 26 points as the Los Angeles Lakers overcame a slow first half to defeat his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, 113-101 on Friday.

James had missed the Lakers' past two games with a sore ankle but marked his return by top scoring, adding eight assists and three rebounds.

The four-time MVP only shot 10 from 22 from the field and one from 10 from three-point range, draining a three-quarter time buzzer beater from almost halfway.

Carmelo Anthony added 24 points off the bench for the Lakers while Anthony Davis had 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists.

The Cavs, who have beaten contenders the Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers this season, led by as much as 11 points at one stage, including holding a one-point lead into the fourth quarter.

James played a lead role in steadying the ship for the Lakers, who scored 25-16 in the fourth quarter to win by 12 points and improve their record to 3-3.

 

Harden finds his scoring touch

James Harden re-discovered some form with a season-high 29 points, including 21 in the first half, in the Brooklyn Nets' 105-98 win over the Indiana Pacers. LaMarcus Aldridge added 21 points off the bench to reach 20,000 career NBA points, while Kevin Durant dominated with 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

Jimmy Butler starred with 32 points, 10 rebounds and five assists while Bam Adebayo added 26 points and 19 rebounds as the Miami Heat downed the in-form Charlotte Hornets 114-99.

Damian Lillard hit five from seven three-pointers, finishing with 25 points as the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 111-92. Paul George finished with 42 points for the Clippers, who are 1-3.

 

Doncic wayward as Mavs routed

Luka Doncic had an off-night, with 16 points, shooting five from 18 from the field as the Dallas Mavericks were brushed aside 106-75 by the Denver Nuggets.

Hornets guard LaMelo Ball's bright start to the season has stalled, managing only six points in their loss to the Heat, shooting none from five from beyond the arc.

The Brooklyn Nets' stuttering start to the season continued with their third defeat in five games as they went down 106-93 at home to the Miami Heat.

Jimmy Butler starred for the Heat with a double-double with 17 points and 14 rebounds as well as seven assists and four steals as Miami improved their record to 3-1.

Bam Adebayo stole the show in the final quarter as the Nets threatened to overtake them, landing three big dunks to finish with 24 points and nine rebounds.

James Harden had some bright moments but only managed 14 points with seven rebounds and seven assists, while Kevin Durant had 25 points and 11 rebounds.

All three Nets defeats this season have been by double-digit margins as they continue to miss Kyrie Irving who is absent due to his vaccination status.

 

Giannis hits 40 in Bucks defeat

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 40 points but it was not enough as the Milwaukee Bucks suffered their second loss in their title defence 113-108 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Antetokounmpo had 40 along with 16 rebounds and seven assists, while all five Timberwolves starters contributed strongly led by D'Angelo Russell (29 points, five rebounds and six assists) and Anthony Edwards (25 points, seven rebounds and three assists).

Harrison Barnes (22 points, nine rebounds and four assists) drained a turnaround triple on the buzzer to clinch the Sacramento Kings a 110-107 win over last season's the Phoenix Suns who had closed a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit late in the game, led by Devin Booker (31 points, six rebounds and eight assists).

The Cleveland Cavaliers added another impressive scalp to their list this season as they downed the Los Angeles Clippers 92-79 with Collin Sexton scoring 26 points.

 

Westbrook turnovers as Lakers lose

Russell Westbrook got his first Los Angeles Lakers triple-double but he also had 10 turnovers in their 123-115 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, with LeBron James absent due to an ankle injury.

LaMelo Ball struggled with only seven points, shooting three-from-14 from the field and only one-from-five beyond the arc as the Charlotte Hornets won 120-111 over the Orlando Magic.

Khris Middleton's three-point radar was off in the Bucks loss to the Timberwolves, shooting one-from-eight and contributing only 16 points, leaving Antetokounmpo with too much to do.

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.

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."

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.

The Philadelphia 76ers put aside the Ben Simmons drama for 48 minutes as the championship-chasing team opened their NBA season with a 117-97 win at the New Orleans Pelicans.

Simmons was nowhere to be seen in New Orleans after the disgruntled All-Star – demanding a trade – was suspended on Tuesday for "conduct detrimental to the team" following reports he was ejected from practice by head coach Doc Rivers.

The 76ers – last season's Eastern Conference top seeds – played without Simmons on Wednesday and made light work of the Zion Williamson-less Pelicans behind Joel Embiid (22 points), Furkan Korkmaz (22 points), Tobias Harris (20 points and 12 rebounds) and new starting point guard Tyrese Maxey (20 points, seven rebounds and five) for their first season-opening road win since 2004.

Korkmaz sizzled in the fourth quarter, scoring 18 points on four-for-four shooting from three-point range – the most points in a quarter by a Sixers bench player since Lou Williams in 2011.

 

 

LaMelo leads Hornets rally, Brown has career night

LaMelo Ball put on a show as he helped the Charlotte Hornets come back to pip the Indiana Pacers 123-122. The reigning Rookie of the Year put up 31 points, including seven three-pointers – tying a career high, nine rebounds and seven assists to fuel Charlotte's rally. The Hornets used a 24-0 run – in which Ball scored 12 points – in the third period to the stun the Pacers. Chris Duarte (27 points, six three-pointers and five rebounds) became the first Pacers rookie with 25-plus points, five-plus rebounds and five-plus threes in a game since Jamaal Tinsley in 2002.

A career-high 46 points from Jaylen Brown was not enough as the Boston Celtics lost a wild showdown with the New York Knicks 138-134 after double overtime. Brown's tally was the most points ever by a Celtics player in a season opener. The Knicks withstood the Celtics thanks to Julius Randle (35 points) and debutant Evan Fournier, whose 32 points were the most by a player on debut in franchise history.

Jo Morant had 37 points – the second most on opening night in franchise history, behind only his 44-point haul last season – in the Memphis Grizzlies' 132-121 win at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Memphis posted 73 points by half-time – tying the fifth-highest first-half scoring total in their history.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic's 27 points and 13 rebounds guided the Denver Nuggets past last season's NBA Finals participants the Phoenix Suns 110-98.

CJ McCollum (34 points), Damian Lillard (20 points and 11 assists) and Jusuf Nurkic (20 points and 14 rebounds) combined for 74 points but the Portland Trail Blazers still lost 124-121 to the Sacramento Kings, who were led by Harrison Barnes' 36 points and eight three-pointers.

 

Forgettable debut for Rockets rookie

The second pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Jalen Green endured a baptism of fire midweek. The Houston Rockets rookie finished with nine points on four-of-14 shooting from the field, while he made just one of six three-pointers. His minus-37 was the worst plus-minus by a Rockets rookie in a game in the last 20 seasons – tied for the fourth worst by any Rocket in that span. The Rockets were taken down 124-106 by Minnesota Timberwolves trio Karl-Anthony Towns (30 points and 10 rebounds), Anthony Edwards (29 points) and D'Angelo Russell (22 points).

Back on home court for the first time since February 2020, the Toronto Raptors' long-awaited return to Canada ended in a disappointing 98-83 loss to the Washington Wizards. Toronto missed 19 of their first 21 three-pointers, finishing seven of 34 from beyond the card. They were just 30.9 per cent from the field overall.

Suns star Devin Booker was far from his best against the Nuggets, finishing three-of-15 shooting for 12 points in 30 minutes of action.

Phoenix Suns star and former number one draft pick Deandre Ayton was among a number of players who did not sign rookie contract extensions before the deadline.

Monday was the deadline for the 2018 draft class to pen new deals with their respective teams in the NBA.

Malcolm Brogdon of the Indiana Pacers (two-year, $45million), Memphis Grizzlies star Jaren Jackson Jr. (four year, $105m), Kevin Huerter of the Atlanta Hawks (four-year, $65m), Suns guard Landry Shamet (four-year, $43m) and the Milwaukee Bucks' Grayson Allen (two-year, $20m) all extended their contracts.

However, there were some notable names missing, including Ayton – who can enter restricted free agency next year, according to ESPN and Adrian Wojnarowski.

Ayton played a key role in Phoenix's run to the NBA Finals last season, however, the Suns did not come to the table as the 23-year-old center eyed a five-year max contract.

In 2020-21, Ayton averaged 14.4 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game, while he boasted a career-best 62.6 field-goal percentage and career-high 76.9 percentage from the free-throw line.

Ayton's numbers elevated in his first playoff campaign – 15.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, though his future in Phoenix is now uncertain.

Cleveland Cavaliers star Collin Sexton also failed to reach a contract extension agreement with the Eastern Conference strugglers.

Sexton did not land a new deal, despite career highs in points (24.3), assists (4.4), rebounds (3.1) and field-goal percentage (47.5).

The other players without contract extensions are Miles Brides of the Charlotte Hornets, the Orlando Magic's Mo Bamba, Marvin Bagley III of the Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks forward Kevin Knox.

The term "positionless" has been all the buzz in the NBA the last few years, and the first round of the 2021 draft followed that trend as the Detroit Pistons took Cade Cunningham with the first overall pick and players with similar skill sets went off the board soon after. 

Longstanding positional terms like guard, forward and center have gone out the window as athletic players like NBA MVP Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets have taken over the league, and Cunningham leads the latest crop of versatile options. 

Checking in at 6-foot-8, Cunningham often plays like a point guard, leading his team down the floor – exactly the kind of headache-inducing matchup teams are seeking these days. 

After the Houston Rockets took guard Jalen Green second overall and the Cleveland Cavaliers used the third pick on big man Evan Mobley, the Toronto Raptors surprised many prognosticators by taking another of those positionless players at number four with Scottie Barnes. 

At 6-foot-9, his role at Florida State was similar to Cunningham's at Oklahoma State, running the offence while defending across multiple positions. 

"He's a multi-faceted, multi-positional two-way player," Raptors head coach Nick Nurse told reporters. "We like guys that can handle, pass, score, defend, rebound a little bit and just kind of come at you in waves with that." 

Most had expected Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs to be Toronto's pick after US fans fell in love with him during the NCAA Tournament, but he fell to the Orlando Magic at number five. 

The Okahoma City Thunder then took yet another 6-8 talent in Australia's Josh Giddey at number six in a move that caught many off guard. 

It was more of the same with the following pick as the Golden State Warriors took Jonathan Kuminga, a player who can defend anyone and is unafraid to launch from three-point range. 

It was that kind of night as NBA teams added young talent while trading players and picks in this and future drafts.

Because most transactions cannot become official until August 6, teams selected players they know they will not keep due to deals made ahead of and during the draft. 

Those types of moves prevailed in the latter half of the first round, with numerous reported trades on the cards. 

Among them, yet another versatile big man in Turkey's Alperen Sengun, who was drafted at number 16 by the Oklahoma City Thunder but reportedly will play for Houston. 

The 6-foot-10 Sengun told reporters he believes his passing abilities will help him excel as other European imports have done before him. 

"With my new team, Houston, I will bring something different on the court," he said. "I will do whatever it takes and whatever is needed." 

As the lines between positions and roles continue to blur in the NBA, that approach has increasingly become the default setting across the board. 

 

2021 NBA Draft first-round picks

1. Detroit Pistons – Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
2. Houston Rockets – Jalen Green, USA
3. Cleveland Cavaliers – Evan Mobley, USC
4. Toronto Raptors – Scottie Barnes, Florida State
5. Orlando Magic – Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
6. Oklahoma City Thunder – Josh Giddey, Australia
7. Golden State Warriors – Jonathan Kuminga, Congo
8. Orlando Magic – Franz Wagner, Michigan
9. Sacramento Kings – Davion Mitchell, Baylor
10. New Orleans Pelicans – Ziaire Williams, Stanford (traded to Grizzlies)
11. Charlotte Hornets – James Bouknight, Connecticut
12. San Antonio Spurs – Josh Primo, Alabama
13. Indiana Pacers – Chris Duarte, Oregon
14. Golden State Warriors – Moses Moody, Arkansas 
15. Washington Wizards – Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
16. Oklahoma City Thunder – Alperen Sengun, Turkey (reportedly traded to Rockets)
17. Memphis Grizzlies – Trey Murphy III, Virginia (traded to Pelicans)
18. Oklahoma City Thunder – Tre Mann, Florida
19. New York Knicks – Kai Jones, Texas (reportedly traded to Hornets)
20. Atlanta Hawks –Jalen Johnson, Duke
21. New York Knicks – Keon Johnson, Tennessee
22. Los Angeles Lakers – Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky (traded to Pacers via Wizards)
23. Houston Rockets – Usman Garuba, Spain
24. Houston Rockets – Josh Christopher, Arizona State
25. Los Angeles Clippers – Quentin Grimes, Houston (reportedly traded to Knicks)
26. Denver Nuggets – Nah'Shon Hyland, VCU
27. Brooklyn Nets – Cam Thomas, LSU
28. Philadelphia 76ers – Jaden Springer, Tennessee
29. Phoenix Suns – Day'Ron Sharpe, North Carolina (reportedly traded to Nets)
30. Utah Jazz – Santi Aldama, Loyola (reportedly traded to Grizzlies)

Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball has been voted NBA Rookie of the Year.

The 19-year-old seemed to have locked up the honour early with a stellar first three months in his maiden campaign, but a mid-season injury added some suspense. 

As Ball missed five weeks in March and April with a fractured list, top draft pick Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves began to heat up. 

But Ball's overall body of work prevailed, as he received 84 first-place votes and 465 overall points from the selection panel. 

Edwards was second with 15 first-place votes and 309 points, while Tyrese Haliburton of the Sacramento Kings came third with 114 points. 

Ball averaged 15.7 points, 6.1 assists and 5.1 rebounds in 28.8 minutes across 51 games. 

His signature performance may have come on January 9, when he had 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists against the Atlanta Hawks to become the youngest NBA player to record a triple-double. 

Edwards finished with averages of 19.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 72 games. 

 

Jayson Tatum posted 50 points as the Boston Celtics overcame indifferent form to secure seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and an NBA playoff berth with a 118-100 win over the Washington Wizards.

Boston's play-in tournament victory against Washington on Tuesday secured a first-round meeting with star-studded second seed the Brooklyn Nets in the playoffs.

All-Star Tatum scored 32 of his 50 points in the second half as the Celtics rallied past the in-form Wizards, who had 15 of their last 20 games prior to the matchup at TD Garden.

Tatum added eight rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal for the Celtics, who open their series against the Nets on Saturday, while Kemba Walker added 29 points.

Russell Westbrook was below his usual standards for the Wizards, finishing with 20 points and 14 rebounds before prematurely exiting the game in the last quarter.

Bradley Beal added 22 points, nine rebounds and six assists as the Wizards now prepare to face the Indiana Pacers on Thursday to earn eighth seed and a date with the top-ranked Philadelphia 76ers in the east.

The Pacers cruised past the shell-shocked Charlotte Hornets with a 144-117 triumph earlier on Tuesday.

Indiana raced out to 17-4 lead and never looked back as the Hornets and Rookie of the Year candidate LaMelo Ball – who was four-for-14 from the field while making just two of six three-pointers – had a game to forget.

Pacers All-Star Domantas Sabonis had 21 rebounds along with his 14 points and nine assists in the win.

Malcolm Brogdon returned after three weeks out with a hamstring injury to add 16 points and eight assists from 16 minutes.

Oshae Brissett top-scored with 23 points as Indiana had eight players reach double figures, with Doug McDermott (21 points) shooting four-from-six beyond the arc.

It is that time of year again – the NBA playoffs.

Although this season has a different feel due to the new play-in tournament, it's crunch time as LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers eye back-to-back championships.

The Utah Jazz claimed the best record in the league for the first time in their history, while Eastern Conference top seed the Philadelphia 76ers and the star-studded Brooklyn Nets loom large.

With the play-in tournament due to get under way to determine the final eight teams from each conference set to feature in the playoffs, the Stats Perform AI team have been crunching the numbers to find a worthy winner of the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

The Stats Perform model takes proprietary data and creates an offensive and defensive rating for each team.

Those ratings are paired with the team's opponent and adjusted for each team's pace. In addition, the home team get a slight boost for home-court advantage.

The model uses this information to calculate a projected score for both teams. The winners receive a victory in the race for the Larry O'Brien Trophy – this was done for every game in the playoffs.

So, here are the AI-generated results in the event that the play-in winners are the Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards.

 

Suns sizzle as Lakers crash out, Heat stun Bucks in sweep

Much has been made about the Phoenix Suns this season. Led by All-Star Devin Booker and star veteran Chris Paul, the franchise returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10. Second behind the Jazz in the Western Conference, the Suns ease past the Lakers 4-1. Winning the opening three games 120-93, 90-88 and 105-104, Phoenix never look back as they end the Lakers' quest to land consecutive championships for the first time since 2009-10.

The Milwaukee Bucks loaded up heavily in the offseason, bringing in Jrue Holiday to aid two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in his quest for a title and the franchise's first since 1971. But after trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and semi-finals, the third-seeded Bucks are sensationally swept 4-0 by last season's runners-up the Miami Heat.

Eastern Conference top seed for the first time since 2001, the Joel Embiid-led 76ers flex their muscles 4-2 against the Wizards but it is not easy. Dropping consecutive games to Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook and Washington, Doc Rivers' Philadelphia rally past the Wizards 112-109, 91-99 and 110-104 to bounce back from last season's first-round sweep at the hands of the Celtics.

Boasting a three-headed monster in Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, the second-seeded Nets dig deep against the Celtics 4-3 in the east. With all eyes on the star-studded Nets big three following an injury-interrupted regular season, Brooklyn lose two of the opening three matchups but reel off back-to-back victories to set the tone before progressing beyond the first round for the first time since 2013-14 thanks to a 110-91 Game 7 triumph.

Looking to put last season's playoff capitulation behind them, having sensationally surrendered a 3-1 lead at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals, Kawhi Leonard's Los Angeles Clippers make light work of Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks 4-1. A 128-106 rout in Game 1 ignites the Clippers, while the third-seeded Nuggets – spearheaded by MVP favourite Nikola Jokic – are upstaged by the Portland Trail Blazers 4-3. Following in the footsteps of the Clippers, Denver cough up a commanding 3-0 lead as Damian Lillard's Trail Blazers complete a stunning comeback.

The New York Knicks and their fans have been waiting since 2013 to play postseason basketball. Their playoff return does not disappoint as the fourth seed – spearheaded by All-Star Julius Randle – make the most of their home-court advantage against the Atlanta Hawks to come out 4-3 winners. Trae Young's Hawks race out to a 3-1 lead but the Knicks are not to be denied.

 

Trail Blazers continue giant-slaying run, Clippers bow out to Jazz as 76ers roll on

Ranked sixth heading into the playoffs, the Trail Blazers defy their seeding by producing another shock performance, this time outlasting the highly fancied Suns in seven games. Western Conference finalists in 2018-19, Portland humble Phoenix 129-96, 117-86 and 126-92 in Games 1, 3 and 4 to seize the momentum and while the Suns storm back to force a series decider, Lillard, CJ McCollum and the Trail Blazers step up to the plate.

Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert experienced consecutive first-round exits in 2018-19 and 2019-20, but featuring in their first Conference semi-final since 2018, the Jazz prove too hot for the fourth-ranked Clippers and take a 4-2 series win. Utah, who beat Los Angeles in two of the three regular-season contests, win the opening three games of the second-round series and never look back as pressure mounts on Leonard, Paul George and the championship-chasing Clippers.

The standout teams in the east, the 76ers and Nets barely raise a sweat en route to the Conference Finals. In pursuit of a first championship since 1983, the 76ers sweep the Knicks 4-0, while the Nets end Miami's hopes with their own devastating 4-0 success.

 

Nets conquer 76ers, Jazz rally past Blazers

A matchup many predicted when the 76ers appointed head coach Rivers and the Nets landed former MVP Harden in a blockbuster trade with the Houston Rockets in January. Philadelphia's cast of Embiid, fellow All-Star Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, sharp-shooter Seth Curry and Danny Green come up against Durant, Harden, Irving and Blake Griffin, and it is Brooklyn who prevail in a thriller. The Nets and 76ers split the opening six games before a deciding seventh game. With a championship berth on the line, Steve Nash's Nets edge the 76ers 112-109 as question marks again emerge over whether the Philadelphia franchise can succeed with both Embiid and Simmons.

Not since 1997-98 had the Jazz secured a spot in the Finals, having enjoyed back-to-back appearances in the midst of Karl Malone's greatness, but Utah end that drought against Portland. The Jazz overturn 1-0 and 3-2 deficits to finally end the Trail Blazers' fairytale run as Portland fall agonisingly short of their first Finals appearance since 1992.

 

Jazz make history

The last five head coaches to win a title in their first year were Nick Nurse (Toronto Raptors, 2019), Tyronn Lue (Cleveland Cavaliers, 2016), Steve Kerr (Warriors, 2015), Pat Riley (Lakers, 1982) and Paul Westhead (Lakers, 1980). Rookie and two-time MVP Nash has been looking to join that list with a Nets side eyeing their maiden championship – having faced a long wait since joining the league in 1976-77.

Despite a frightening array of talent, the Nets go down 4-1 in the Finals as the Jazz make history, headlined by a resounding 121-102 win in Game 5.

After consecutive Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998, the Jazz finally break through for their first NBA title thanks to coach Quin Snyder, Mitchell, Gobert, Mike Conley and Co.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.