Jamal Murray earned plaudits for his "complete basketball game" after hitting the last-gasp three-pointer that earned the Denver Nuggets a 121-120 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

The impressive road win saw the Nuggets improve to 15-10 for the season and halt a streak of three defeats.

Murray's step-back game-winner came with less than a second remaining, capping a 21-point game, two nights after he shot just 2-of-11 from the field against the Dallas Mavericks.

Reigning back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic was also a force for the Nuggets with 33 points (14-of-25), 10 rebounds and nine assists, while Damian Lillard scored a game-high 40 points for Portland.

Lillard put the home team two points ahead with a stunning three-pointer with nine seconds remaining, but Murray brought the late twist.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone said: "It was great to see Jamal find his rhythm. Coming off a game against Dallas where I think he was really frustrated with his offense, not making shots the way he knows he's capable of making shots.

"I started him in that fourth quarter, and I was planning on taking him out to bring him back, but once Jamal sees the ball go in it doesn't take many for him to catch fire, and he ran the whole fourth quarter, obviously. [He had] 21 points, eight assists, only two turnovers, five rebounds – a complete basketball game.

"It was an understatement to say a much-needed win after losing three in a row. I thought our fourth-quarter defense was outstanding, 21 points allowed. As I told our players, when we don't turn the ball over and we defend, we're a really good team. Now the challenge is to do that a lot more consistently. A lot of guys stepped up and played well."

DeAndre Jordan played the 1,000th game of his NBA career, and Malone paid tribute to that achievement, saying of the 34-year-old center: "I'm really thankful that he's here and a part of our family."

Murray, meanwhile, felt the Trail Blazers, who dominated the third quarter 35-26, were brilliantly reined in by the Nuggets in the closing stages.

He told Altitude TV: "They came out hot in the second half, but we knew if we wanted to win the game we had to play defense together as a unit, especially with this crowd, so I think we did a good job of that.

"Dame got hot. It was our defense down the stretch. We were able to stay together, keep our unit together and get some stops down the stretch.

"We know they're going to make shots, especially on their home floor. We couldn't get down on ourselves and keep that negative energy. Go to the next play and figure it out."

Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo did not attempt a single shot from outside the key on his way to a dominant 31-point performance in Thursday's 115-110 win against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Adebayo also added 10 rebounds (four offensive) and four assists, shooting 14-of-21 from the field in a tremendously efficient outing as the Clippers' interior defense had no answers.

After failing to reach the 30-point mark in each of his first 13 games this season, Adebayo has now eclipsed the figure in four of his past 11 fixtures, raising his season average to a career-high 20.7 points per game.

He was supported in style by Jimmy Butler, who hit 10 of his 12 field goal attempts for a terrific game in his own right, posting 26 points, eight assists, five rebounds and four steals.

Paul George led the way for the Clippers, and was the only reason they were able to keep things close on the road while Kawhi Leonard was out for a scheduled rest day, scoring a team-high 29 points (10-of-20 shooting) with eight rebounds and seven assists.

The victory for the Heat snaps a two-game losing streak and pulls their record back to 12-14, leaving them 10th in the Eastern Conference, while the Clippers are ninth in the West at 14-13.

Johnson and the Spurs win all-Texas showdown

The San Antonio Spurs received standout performances from Keldon Johnson and Tre Jones to defeat in-state rivals the Houston Rockets 118-109.

Johnson finished one point off his season-high with 32 on 14-of-21 shooting, hitting half of his six three-point attempts, while Jones' 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting was a new career-high.

Despite the loss, it was a strong outing from this year's third overall pick in the NBA Draft, with Jabari Smith Jr scoring a career-high 23 points on nine-of-13 shooting. The six-foot-11, smooth-moving wing showed off his special shooting stroke, hitting four-of-seven from deep.

'Dame Time' not enough against the Nuggets

Damian Lillard scored 15 of his game-high 40 points in the final six minutes, but Jamal Murray had the last laugh as the Denver Nuggets outlasted the Portland Trail Blazers 121-120.

Lillard, in his second game back from injury, looked back to his best late in the fourth quarter, hitting a contested step-back three with nine seconds on the clock to go up by two. He ended up shooting 12-of-22 for his 40 points and 12 assists, hitting at least nine three-pointers for the 10th time in his career.

But Murray would hit his own step-back game-winner with less than a second remaining, putting a bow on his 21-point, eight-assist showing, while reigning back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic was a force with 33 points (14-of-25), 10 rebounds and nine assists.

Damian Lillard will be sidelined for the Portland Trail Blazers' next few games after an MRI scan confirmed he suffered a grade one calf strain in Saturday's 118-113 loss to the Utah Jazz.

The 32-year-old All-Star already missed four games this season with a calf injury, but this issue is in a different area to his previous injury.

The Blazers confirmed on Sunday that Lillard "will be re-evaluated in one to two weeks", meaning he will likely miss their upcoming games against the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday, the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday and the New York Knicks on Friday.

"An MRI taken Saturday night postgame vs. Utah on Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard revealed a grade one strain to the soleus muscle in the right lower leg," the Blazers said.

Lillard left Saturday's game in the third quarter with 13 points from 27 minutes. He said after the game that "the last time was worse".

"When I first strained it, I knew right away. The reason I took myself out is so hopefully this time we can get ahead of it instead of me staying out there and putting myself in a worse position."

Lillard is averaging 26.3 points and 7.0 assists this season for the Blazers, who are 10-6 and third in the Western Conference.

Royce O'Neale tipped in the game-winner with 0.7 seconds left as the Brooklyn Nets edged the Portland Trail Blazers 109-107 to improve their overall record to 7-9 on Thursday.

Kevin Durant, who finished with a game-high 35 points, missed his turn-around jumper but O'Neale was on hand with a tip-in to help the Nets snap their two-game skid.

Durant went 13-of-22 from the field with eight rebounds, three assists and a block, clocking up his 26,000th career NBA point along the way, becoming the 19th player to achieve that feat.

The Nets got strong contributions off the bench as Yuta Watanabe added 20 points with seven rebounds, while Ben Simmons had a double-double with 15 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists.

Game-winner O'Neale, who was in the starting line-up, had 11 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists for the game.

The victory comes after Durant's stinging public criticism of the Nets' starting quality in the continued absence of the suspended Kyrie Irving, who may return for Sunday's game with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Damian Lillard top scored for Portland, who fall to 10-5, with 25 points along with 11 assists. Anfernee Simons added 24 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 17, including a three-point play to tie the game up with 6.5 seconds to go.

Kawhi returns as Clippers shoot down Pistons

Kawhi Leonard had minimal impact on his return after 12 games out as the Los Angeles Clippers rallied from a 12-point deficit to win 96-91 over the Detroit Pistons.

Leonard scored six points with five rebounds and four assists after not playing since October 24 due to knee stiffness. The two-time NBA Finals MVP, who was in the starting lineup, shot two-of-eight from the field.

Reggie Jackson scored a team-high 23 points in a low-scoring game, while Ivica Zubac pulled down 18 rebounds with nine points.

Kings remain hot as Fox fires

The Sacramento Kings improved to 8-6 with their fifth straight victory, winning 130-112 over the San Antonio Spurs.

De'Aaron Fox scored a team-high 28 points on 11-of-15 shooting along with eight assists, while Malik Monk added 26 points off the bench. Spurs guard Devin Vassell top scored with 29 points, including four triples.

The Kings' five-game win streak is their first since the 2020-21 season, while it comes after they started the season 0-4, winning eight of their past 10 games.

The Portland Trail Blazers pulled out a 117-110 home win against the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday to bring their record to 9-4, having finally constructed a winning formula around centrepiece Damian Lillard.

While their defense was nothing special against the Spurs – winning despite allowing the visitors to shoot 51.8 per cent from the field – they are currently rated as the seventh-best defense in the league.

Having ranked 29th out of 30 teams in defensive rating last season, giving up an average of 116.3 points per 100 possessions, it was the continuation of a three-year stretch as one of the league's worst defenses. They were also 29th in the 2020-21 season (115.3) and 27th in the 2019-20 campaign (114.3).

Across those three seasons, the Trail Blazers put together a combined record of 104-124 and were floundering, despite the presence of arguably the franchise's greatest ever player, Lillard, still in his prime.

Lillard has career averages of 24.7 points and 6.6 assists per game, and at that pace he will pass Clyde Drexler as the franchise's all-time leading scorer in 12 games, as he trails by 279 points.

This season, with the addition of big wing Jerami Grant – who has averaged at least 19.2 in each of his past two seasons with the Detroit Pistons – as well as last season's arrival of jack-of-all-trades Josh Hart from the New Orleans Pelicans, and all of a sudden the Blazers may have surrounded Lillard with the best defensive cast of his career.

They now boast a 109.9 defensive rating in a year when scoring is up league-wide. 

The last time they managed a defensive rating below 110 was the 2018-19 season, where their mark of 109.5 had them 16th, but they were solid enough to give Lillard and his brilliance a chance to win them games.

That 2018-19 season was Lillard's deepest playoff run, making it to the Western Conference Finals. They had C.J. McCollum as their second scorer back then, but now have a two-pronged punch behind Lillard with Grant and 23-year-old Anfernee Simons.

Simons was the 24th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft after choosing a non-traditional route to the league, opting against playing any college or professional basketball, instead training at the famed IMG Academy.

After only playing sparingly in his first three seasons, Simons raised his average from 7.8 points per game in the 2020-21 season to 17.3 last campaign, starting 30 games as Lillard missed extended time through injuries.

He has again taken a leap this year, posting career-highs in points (22.3), assists (4.1) and made three-pointers (3.8).

As much as anything, this is a Trail Blazers team that finally makes sense when building around a star player and second-scorer who are both small guards. They have flanked them with two strong wing defenders in the starting line-up, and have committed to using a physically imposing bench brigade.

Against the Spurs, the four players to come off the bench were Nassir Little, who is a stocky six-foot-five, as well as long-armed six-foot-six rookie Shaedon Sharpe, six-foot-eight Trendon Watford and six-foot-nine Drew Eubanks.

They all have one thing in common – they know their job is to defend, and make Lillard's life as easy as possible on that end of the floor.

Lillard is still undoubtedly at a level required to lead a team deep into the playoffs, and now, in his 11th season, after years of calls for him to leave Portland and head to a powerhouse where he could be more widely seen and appreciated, he may finally have a team capable of coming along for the ride.

All-Star Damian Lillard's hot start to the new season has been curtailed after exiting the Portland Trail Blazers' 119-98 loss to the Miami Heat with a right calf strain on Wednesday.

Lillard, who had averaged 37.66 points across his past three games heading into Wednesday's game, limped out with approximately five minutes left in the third quarter.

The Blazers point guard appeared to injure his calf while shooting a three-pointer to cut the margin to 77-70, before limping out after the next offensive play.

Portland confirmed that Lillard had suffered a right calf strain, but the 32-year-old downplayed the severity of the issue after the game.

"It wasn't nothing that I was overly concerned with," Lillard told reporters. "I just know that it wouldn't make sense to try and push through it in the fifth game of the season.

"Honestly if this was a playoff game, I would have played. It would have been tight and uncomfortable, but I would have played. If that gives you any indication of how concerned I am now or would have been."

With Lillard forced out, the Blazers suffered their first loss of the season. Lillard finished the game with 22 points from 26 minutes.

Lillard is averaging 33.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 0.8 steals per game through five games this season.

The Memphis Grizzlies duo of Ja Morant and Desmond Bane outdueled Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets in a high-scoring 134-124 win on Monday night.

Both Morant (12-of-22 shooting) and Bane (14-of-21) finished with 38 points, combining to hit 12 of their 17 three-point attempts as the Grizzlies rode a 45-point third quarter to the win. The pair's combined total of 76 points set a new Grizzlies record for most points scored by a duo in a single game.

Morant, the reigning Most Improved Player, is firmly in the mix for MVP this season and he added eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals to his gaudy stat-line.

The Nets led 69-64 at halftime as Durant and Irving were also both on their way to big games, with both scoring 37 points as Durant shot 14-of-20 from the field and Irving was 14-of-24 in an offensive exhibition.

But the Grizzlies' third-quarter explosion was too emphatic, with Bane scoring 19 of his points in the period while the Nets had 28 as a team.

Embattled Nets All-Star Ben Simmons struggled, fouling out for the second time in the Nets' first three games, while also committing five turnovers with his eight assists. 

With the win, the Grizzlies are now 3-1, while the Nets fall to 1-2.

Simons catches fire in Trail Blazers win

Fresh off signing his $100million extension in the offseason, 23-year-old Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons produced his first game-winning performance of the season as his third-quarter explosion led a 135-110 home win against the Denver Nuggets.

The Trail Blazers – who at 4-0 join the 2-0 Milwaukee Bucks as the only two remaining unbeaten teams – largely shut down reigning back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic, holding him to nine points, nine rebounds and nine assists as he battled foul trouble all night.

Damian Lillard top-scored with 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting for the Blazers, adding eight assists and six rebounds, but it was Simons' third quarter that separated the teams.

In just over five-and-a-half minutes, Simons scored 22 of his 29 points, including a stretch where he made six consecutive three-pointers as he helped the Blazers score 80 in the second half. It is the Trail Blazers' first 4-0 start to the season since 1999.

Rockets youngsters hand the Jazz their first loss

Houston Rockets fans received a glimpse into the future in their 114-108 win against the previously undefeated Utah Jazz, with top-three draft picks Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr both delivering strong performances.

Both players shot at least 50 per cent from both the field and long range, and combined to hit all nine of their free throws. 

Green posted 25 points on nine-of-16 shooting, hitting four-of-eight from deep, while rookie Smith had 21 points (six-of-10 shooting, three-of-five from long range), nine rebounds and three blocks.

Vassell flashes star potential for the Spurs

Third-year wing Devin Vassell caught the eye with a starring performance in the San Antonio Spurs' 115-106 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Vassell – the 11th pick from the 2020 draft – has shown significantly more playmaking this season since the departure of Dejounte Murray in a trade to the Atlanta Hawks, and against the Timberwolves he dished off a career-high seven assists.

As well as showing his ability to create for his teammates, the six-foot-six wing with superb defensive skills showcased his all-round game, hitting five-of-10 from three-point range on his way to 22 points, and he also grabbed nine rebounds.

Stephen Curry led the way as the Golden State Warriors scored a franchise-record 50 second-quarter points in Sunday's 130-125 win over the Sacramento Kings at Chase Center.

The reigning NBA champions were dominant offensively, with their third most points in any half in franchise history as they opened up an 89-71 half-time lead, with Curry scoring 28 in the first half.

The Warriors fell just short of their franchise record of 92 for any half, from 2018 against the Chicago Bulls. It was Golden State's second most points in a first half.

The second quarter was their seventh ever with 50-or-more points, equaling their third most of any period.

Curry finished the game with 33 points, recording his third straight 30-point performance, marking the second time in his career he has done that to start a season. The reigning NBA Finals MVP made seven-of-12 from three-point range, with five of those coming in the second quarter.

The Kings never gave up and cut the margin to four points with 1:04 remaining but Golden State closed it with Andrew Wiggins capping it off with 24 points.

The Warriors shot at 51.7 per cent from the field, along with 42.4 per cent from beyond the arc, making 14-of-33 attempts.

Late Lakers woes prove costly

The Los Angeles Lakers slumped to an 0-3 record after poor late execution saw them lose 106-104 to the Portland Trail Blazers, with four-time MVP LeBron James missing a two-point shot on the buzzer.

The Lakers missed four of their final five shots of the game, after Damian Lillard's triple put the Blazers ahead after trailing by seven points with 1:56 remaining. Lillard finished with a game-high 41 points.

James finished with 31 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, while Anthony Davis added 22 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks, but the Lakers' late execution and three-point shooting cost them, going at 18.2 per cent from beyond the arc as a team.

Russell Westbrook contributed 10 points on four-of-15 shooting with six rebounds and six assists but was benched with 12 seconds remaining with the game up for grabs.

CP3 joins elite assists club

Chris Paul became the third player in NBA history to reach 11,000 assists, providing 11 in the Phoenix Suns' 112-95 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Devin Booker top scored with 35 points with 13-of-21 shooting from the field and five-of-nine from beyond the arc as the Suns led from wire to wire.

Paul brought up his 11,000th assist with his second of the game, an alley-oop pass for Deandre Ayton, joining John Stockton and Jason Kidd in the elite club.

Kawhi Leonard started on the bench again for the Clippers, playing 21 minutes for 11 points with six rebounds and two assists.

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham says he cannot afford to waste any time managing players' feelings after benching Russell Westbrook late as they slumped to an 0-3 start on Sunday.

The Lakers surrendered a seven-point lead with 1:56 left, losing 106-104 to the Portland Trail Blazers at Crypto.com Arena, following up defeats to the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors.

LeBron James had a two-point attempt rim out on the buzzer as they missed four of their final five shots in the last two minutes.

Leading 102-101, Westbrook missed a 15-foot pull-up jumper with 27.3 seconds remaining in the game and 18 seconds left on the shot clock. He was then sent to the bench after Damian Lillard drained a three-point to put the Blazers ahead.

"We don't have time for feelings or people being in their feelings. Like, we're trying to turn this thing around," Ham told reporters. "For one person to be in their feelings about when and where and how they should be in the game, I don't have any time for that."

Westbrook finished with 10 points on four-of-15 shooting, adding six rebounds and six assists in 28 minutes, with no turnovers, having given away four in their opening loss to Golden State.

Ham was critical of Westbrook's shot location rather than his decision to take on his jumper with 27.3 seconds left trying to execute a two-for-one, to ensure two offensive possessions in the final moments.

"I just wish we would've attacked the rim directly," Ham said. "That's the one shot that teams want you to take and want to give up – long twos, contested twos.

"With his ability to explode and get to the basket still being at a high level, I wish he would've did that. Especially with Nurkic standing back there with five fouls… shot selection is something we have to work on."

James would not be drawn on Westbrook, proactively calling out reporters for their line of questioning on the nine-time All-Star, who has started the season averaging 10.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 3.0 steals per game.

"I feel like this is an interview of trying to set me up to say something," James said. "I can tell that you guys are in the whole Russell Westbrook category right now. I don't like to lose. I hate to lose at anything.

"I don't care what happens throughout the course of my season or throughout the course of my career, I hate to lose. And especially the way we had this game. But give credit to Portland.

"You guys can write about Russ and all the things you want to try to talk about Russ, but I'm not up here to do that. I won't do it. I've said it over and over. That's not who I am."

James finished with 31 points on 12-of-22 field shooting, with eight rebounds, eight assists, two steals and two blocks, while Anthony Davis scored 22 points with 10 rebounds, two steals and six blocks.

The Lakers' woes from beyond the arc plagued them again, shooting six-of-33 from three-point range.

Damian Lillard insisted that while he wants to compete for an NBA title, he wants to do it with the Portland Trail Blazers and will be able to "live" with it if he does not achieve that goal.

Lillard confirmed a two-year extension with the Blazers, seeing him through to the 2026-27 season with the team that took him with the sixth pick in 2012 NBA Draft.

The six-time All-Star played only 29 games for Portland this past season, undergoing abdominal surgery in January before being shut down for the rest of the campaign.

Speaking at a news conference to announce the signing at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, the 31-year-old made it clear he is will be loyal to Portland as long as he can compete there.

"I've always said that if I do something that goes against who I am, and say I do end up winning, I know me better than any of y'all know me," Lillard said.

"So I'd be happy with it, because I don't think anybody wouldn't be happy being a champion, but it wouldn't be as fulfilling to me as I would want that moment to be.

"It's going to get done or it's not going to get done. I don't want to go out there with this crazy uphill battle that I'm fighting and we need a miracle times 10 to get it done. I just want a shot at it, and if that happens and it doesn't work out, then I can live with that."

While Lillard was sidelined, the Blazers made pulled off a number of trades before the February deadline, which included sending back-court partner CJ McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans.

They have then made moves to build around Lillard this off-season, acquiring Jerami Grant from the Detroit Pistons as well as signing free agent Gary Payton II, who was a key defensive piece to the Golden State Warriors' title run.

With that in mind, Lillard takes a sense of pride in Portland opting to build around him while he recovered, especially in this era of player power in the NBA.

"I don’t think that you earn something like this just by going out there and scoring a bunch of points," he said.

"Something that’s missing in our league is character, and the fight and the passion and pride about, you know, not just the name on the back, but the name on the front, and how you impact the people that you come in contact with."

The Portland Trail Blazers are nearing a two-year max extension with Damian Lillard worth $120million.

According to a report from Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, the extension – which will take his contract through the 2026-27 NBA season – will see the point guard paid $270m over the five years on his current contract.

Lillard is a six-time All-Star who has averaged 24.6 points per game since entering the league as the sixth pick in the 2012 draft.

Only four players – James Harden, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Stephen Curry – have averaged more in that span.

However, he played only 29 games last season due to an abdominal injury and averaged 24 points per game, his fewest since his third season in the league in 2014-15 (21).

With Lillard on the sideline and former backcourt partner C.J. McCollum traded to the New Orleans Pelicans, the Blazers missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13 –Lillard's rookie year.

Despite the disappointing campaign, Lillard remains the face of the franchise and, by handing him a lucrative extension, the Blazers have made it clear he will continue to be the focal point as they look to get back among the contenders in the Western Conference.

Michael Jordan has company at last.

The Chicago Bulls legend was for a long time the only player to average more than 30 points per game in the NBA playoffs, yet Luka Doncic is now writing his own name into the history books in Dallas.

The Mavericks superstar has a long way to go before he can come anywhere close to matching Jordan's achievements, but he has been spectacular in scoring 32.7 points per game through his first four postseason series.

Not only is Jordan (33.4 points per game) the sole player to top Doncic's mark across a playoff career, he alone since 1963-64 joins the former EuroLeague sensation in scoring more than 750 points over his first 23 postseason games (823 for Jordan, 751 for Doncic).

These look to be early steps in a truly great NBA career for Doncic, and he could yet end this season as a champion.

The Slovenian was outgunned taking on the Los Angeles Clippers on his own in the first round in consecutive years, but the Mavericks made bold moves this year – most notably appointing Jason Kidd and trading away Kristaps Porzingis – and are now in the Western Conference Finals.

Although Doncic averaged 32.6 points as the Mavericks beat the Phoenix Suns in the second round, he crucially had help, now surrounded with defense and shooting.

Dallas held the Suns to their three lowest points totals of the season (94 in Game 3, 90 in Game 7, 86 in Game 6), while Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie became the first team-mates to each score 30 points in a Game 7 since Los Angeles Lakers greats Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal against the Sacramento Kings in 2002.

As the tournament heats up, Doncic will need all the assistance he can get – but any Mavericks title run surely depends on their main man being the best player in every series.

That becomes a little tougher when Dallas are faced next with playoff veterans the Golden State Warriors.

This is the 10th year of the Steph-Klay-Draymond Warriors, in which time they have been to five NBA Finals, won three championships and seen off a whole host of superstars.

There are plenty of examples for Doncic to learn from then as he prepares to take on the greatest team of the past decade.

LeBron James (33.0 points per game, 7-15 record)

Ja Morant, who scored 35 points against Golden State in last year's play-in tournament, averaged 38.3 points across three games in the 2022 second round until a knee injury ended his series and, ultimately, the Memphis Grizzlies' season. That is the highest mark posted against the Warriors in the past 10 years, albeit with a limited sample size.

Among those to play 10 or more games, James (33.0 points per game) leads the way. Equally as impressive, the four-time MVP has the most total playoff points versus the Warriors since 2012 (727) – despite spending the bulk of his career in the Eastern Conference.

 

James did score 22 in a Lakers play-in win over the Warriors in 2021, but all of their 22 postseason encounters have come across four Finals series. Unfortunately, while James has excelled, his teams have not fared quite so well.

Prior to Morant's explosion, James accounted for three of the four highest series averages against the Warriors over this period – 35.8 in 2015, 34.0 in 2018 and 33.6 in 2017 – but the Cleveland Cavaliers lost on each occasion. Their one Finals win came in 2016, when James scored 29.7 points per game.

James had a little more help in 2016 – we'll come on to that – and the Cavaliers' various failures perhaps best illustrate the folly of Doncic attempting to take on a super-team alone.

The 51 points James scored in Game 1 in 2018 were the most against the Warriors in a single playoff game in the past 10 years, but he was let down by his team-mates – we're looking at you, J.R. Smith – and Cleveland not only lost that series opener but were then swept.

James Harden (29.8 points per game, 7-16 record)

Harden's playoff career is best known for his repeated failures to get the better of the Warriors, losing all of his four series against Golden State while on the Houston Rockets, yet only James has scored more points in such matchups since 2012 (685).

Counted among Harden's 23 postseason games against the Warriors in the past 10 years – only Iman Shumpert (24) has played more – are three 41-plus-point performances. James alone can top that (five games).

However, Harden has also failed to reach 20 points on five occasions, twice shooting worse than 20 per cent from the field in 2015. Consistency is the key at this time of year, and Harden has not had that.

The Rockets blew their biggest opportunity to make a first Finals since 1995 in 2018, when they led the Warriors 3-2 in the Conference Finals before Chris Paul went down injured. Houston lost Game 6 and Game 7, collapsing dramatically in the first of the two defeats as Harden did not contribute a single fourth-quarter point.

Doncic, unsurprisingly, has never shot worse than 20 per cent in the playoffs, while his best shooting performance (63.2 per cent) came in Game 7 against the Suns and his career-high points total came in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Clippers (46).

Kyrie Irving (27.7 points per game, 5-8 record)

Given Irving was the Cavaliers' second man behind James, it is difficult to draw a direct comparison with Doncic. But the point guard's performances show the sort of levels Dinwiddie or Jalen Brunson may have to reach to beat the Warriors if they are at the top of their game.

Irving's 2015 Finals debut ended in Game 1 when he sustained a fractured kneecap, but he returned in 2016 and played a huge role in the Cavaliers' historic win.

Cleveland were trailing 3-1 heading into Game 5 – a deficit that had never previously been overturned – only for Irving and James each to score 41 points, becoming the first team-mates to both top 40 in a Finals game. Irving shot 70.8 per cent from the field.

As the Cavaliers recovered to win 4-3, with Irving shooting a decisive three late in Game 7, his usage rate was a lofty 30.7 per cent for the series, taking responsibility off James' shoulders. Brunson is the Mavericks' second man, although his usage rate of 29.7 per cent was boosted a little by playing three games without the ball-dominant Doncic.

Damian Lillard (27.6 points per game, 1-12 record)

If nothing else, Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers provide an example of how not to play the Warriors. Only former Blazers team-mate Rodney Hood (0-12) has a worse record in playoff games against Golden State in the past 10 years.

A 43.7 per cent career shooter, Lillard has averaged 38.7 per cent from the field against the Warriors in the postseason. Sure, he has scored 27.6 points, but it has taken him 22.1 field goal attempts per game.

When Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are on the other side of the floor, you cannot afford to be so inefficient. Lillard's sole victory in 2016 came courtesy of his one 40-point performance – while Curry was out injured.

Only Allen Iverson (26.5) and Jordan (25.1) have attempted more field goals per playoff game than Doncic (24.3), so there is definitely scope for the Warriors to profit if he cools off – not that there has been a great deal of evidence to suggest that is likely.

Kawhi Leonard (21.9 points per game, 8-5 record)

The man who has occupied Doncic's playoff nightmares in the previous two seasons surely provides the blueprint for how to enjoy postseason success against the Warriors.

Leonard has played on two of the four teams to eliminate Golden State from the playoffs in the past 10 years; he has not lost a series to the Warriors – missing the entirety of their 4-1 defeat of the San Antonio Spurs in 2018 – and boasts the best winning percentage of any player to face Steve Kerr's winning machine on more than 10 occasions over this period.

The 2019 Finals showed the sort of standard that has been required to get the better of the Warriors in the past decade, with Leonard dominant as the outstanding player on the Toronto Raptors. He led the Raptors in points (171), rebounds (59) and steals (12) versus the Warriors, ranking second in assists (25) and blocks (seven).

 

Doncic made strides on defense over the course of the Suns series, but whether he is capable of such an all-round display is very much up for debate.

The Portland Trail Blazers are making interim general manager Joe Cronin their permanent appointment, according to reports.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski says Cronin, who has been in the role since December, is being given a four-year contract.

Cronin replaced Neil Olshey, who was fired following an investigation into complaints around the Blazers' "workplace environment".

Although Portland finished 13th in the West this season, missing out on the playoffs, Cronin has already had to make key decisions.

The Blazers traded guard CJ McCollum – a first-round pick in 2013 and key man thereafter – to the New Orleans Pelicans.

But Cronin plans to build around injured superstar Damian Lillard, McCollum's long-term team-mate.

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard will miss the remainder of the NBA season, the team confirmed on Monday.

This news comes despite Lillard progressing well through the reconditioning phase of his rehabilitation, following successful surgery in January to repair a lingering abdominal injury.

Lillard has met "several key performance benchmarks" and will continue end-stage rehabilitation over the next few weeks, the team added.

The 31-year-old first missed a game this season due to the injury in November and also missed game time in December as a consequence. The team officially called it lower abdominal tendinopathy.

In 29 games this season, Lillard averaged 24.0 points, 7.3 assists and 4.1 rebounds while shooting 40.2 per cent from the floor.

Three and a half games outside a play-in place in the Western Conference, the 12th-placed Trail Blazers are 26-44 on the year and 14-27 without Lillard.

The Ben Simmons saga has stretched on for more than a year but might finally be reaching its conclusion.

Simmons was the subject of trade rumours last January when the Philadelphia 76ers pursued James Harden from the Houston Rockets.

Harden instead headed for the Brooklyn Nets, and Simmons saw out the season in Philly, only for speculation to ramp up again after a deeply dissatisfying playoff exit.

Joel Embiid and Doc Rivers appeared to blame the former first overall pick for a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in which his reluctance to take shots in big moments came to the fore. That was in June. Simmons has not played since.

Both the player and the team have pushed for a move this season without success, but Thursday's looming trade should focus minds. The 76ers, led by MVP frontrunner Embiid, remain in title contention despite having a three-time All-Star on the sideline, yet a deal this week could significantly improve their chances.

Stats Perform looks at four potential landing spots for Simmons that might also suit his current employers...

Brooklyn Nets

Contrasting reports this week have considered the possibility of a belated Simmons-Harden trade, with the Australian sent to Brooklyn rather than Houston. The Nets move has not quite worked for Harden, who has struggled for form and fitness on a team too often missing one or more of their 'Big Three'.

The Sixers' former Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey would appear to remain interested in reuniting with Harden in Philly, although whether the Nets are quite so keen on Simmons remains up for debate. Publicly, they say otherwise.

The possibility of Seth Curry also moving to Brooklyn has been raised in some reports, presumably to replace the shooting Harden offers but Simmons does not. Curry is a regular for the Sixers, but Harden would represent a clear upgrade – although he has a player option at the end of this season – while Simmons' elite defensive play would not be missed given he is not playing at all right now.

Washington Wizards

Harden appeals given Morey's desire to get an elite player back in return for Simmons. For the same reason, Bradley Beal – beaten to the scoring title by Stephen Curry last year – is an attractive option.

Beal has been less impressive this year, particularly of late, and is now out with a sprained wrist. However, a move to a contender may well motivate a player who has spent his entire career to date with the Wizards, featuring in a grand total of 11 playoff games in the past five years.

The Wizards, like the Nets, might want a second player or at least a second asset to join Simmons in the trade – moving on from Beal would surely mean a complete rebuild – so the 76ers' response as time starts to run out will be intriguing. Again, Beal has a player option for next year.

Portland Trail Blazers

For a long time, it seemed Damian Lillard was the superstar the 76ers really wanted if they were to deal Simmons. At various stages, that possibility has appeared more or less likely.

When the speculation was at its most intense back at the start of the season, Simmons was unwanted in Philly while Lillard was one of the best players in the NBA. Now, Portland are struggling horribly, Lillard has not played since December and Simmons might seem quite an attractive option for the Blazers, who look to be using the final days before the deadline to drastically alter their roster.

It would still seem unlikely Lillard would depart, rather than remaining as the centrepiece of the team for next season and beyond, and the Blazers do not quite have another asset capable of turning the 76ers into title favourites. CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic may both leave, but Morey would surely want more for Simmons.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings would have to perform a significant U-turn for Simmons to end up in Sacramento, having decided late last month they were not interested in paying the sort of price Morey was looking for. The 76ers presumably would have wanted multiple players back, with the Kings lacking a Harden, Beal or Lillard.

Of course, Simmons has not played since those talks broke down, so there is little reason to believe the Kings would suddenly consider him worth the asking price, but as one of the NBA's most forgettable teams – out of the playoffs since 2006 – they surely have to take a risk at some stage.

Whether that risk is giving up multiple useful players for an out-of-favour superstar who does not score is another matter, yet the Kings really need to be active before Thursday, so it is not beyond the realms of possibility they could re-enter the Simmons conversation.

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