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.

Donovan Mitchell scored 43 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers claimed a rare win over the former face of their franchise LeBron James, beating the Los Angeles Lakers 116-102 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Tuesday.

Mitchell's season-high 43-point haul was the most by a Cavaliers player ever against James, while it meant that the 37-year-old four-time NBA MVP has a 17-3 record against his former side.

The Lakers were not helped by the first-quarter exit of in-form big man Anthony Davis, who did not return due to flu-like symptoms.

James finished with 21 points on eight-of-17 shooting, pulling down 17 rebounds with four assists, while Thomas Bryant came off the bench to add 19 points with Davis out.

The Cavs led by two points at the final change, but Mitchell took control on 17-of-27 shooting with four three-pointers along with six rebounds, five assists and four steals. Mitchell scored 29 of his 43 points in the second half.

Cavs center Jarrett Allen capitalised on Davis' absence on his own return from injury with 24 points and 11 rebounds, while point guard Darius Garland had 21 points with 11 assists.

The Cavs' win means they are 11-1 on their home floor and improved their season record to 16-9, snapping the Lakers' three-game win streak.

Mavs down Nuggets in a thriller

Dorian Finney-Smith drained a clutch three-pointer with 16.8 seconds remaining as the Dallas Mavericks downed the Denver Nuggets 116-115.

Tim Hardaway top scored with 29 points including six three-pointers for the Mavs, who claimed an impressive road win, even with Luka Doncic only managing 22 points on five-of-17 shooting. Doncic did record a triple-double, adding 10 rebounds and 12 assists.

Back-to-back reigning MVP Nikola Jokic was also down on his usual output, scoring 19 points with eight rebounds and eight assists, while the center missed a crucial free-throw with 12 seconds left. 

Heat humiliated in second-half blitz

The Miami Heat were humiliated at home by the Detroit Pistons who triumphed 116-96, led by Bojan Bogdanovic and his 31 points, with 28 coming in the second half.

The Pistons piled on 69 second-half points after scores were 50-47 in the Heat's favour at half-time to improve their record to 7-19.

Heat point guard Tyler Herro top scored for the game with 34 points, while Bam Adebayo scored 21 points with 15 rebounds.

The Sacramento Kings just keep on winning, defeating the Memphis Grizzlies 113-109 on the road for their seventh straight victory – a feat they have not achieved since 2004.

Their 113 points is the lowest total they have put up during this winning run, having not previously fallen below 120. 

The Kings' scoring power, which includes the highest total in a game this season (153 against the Brooklyn Nets) has them as the second-best offense in the NBA at 117.7 points per 100 possessions, trailing only the Boston Celtics (118.2).

De'Aaron Fox was the catalyst on Tuesday, scoring a team-high 32 points on 11-of-21 shooting, including five-of-eight from deep, while adding eight rebounds, six assists and four steals.

Fox's ability to go head-to-head with Grizzlies superstar Ja Morant bodes well for the Kings, as the 24-year-old former fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft appears on track for his first All-Star appearance.

He is averaging a career-high 25.4 points per game at a career-best 55.8 field goal percentage, and he is also top-20 in assists with an average of 6.4.

At 10-6, the Kings are currently occupying the third seed in the Western Conference, and they will look to extend their streak to eight games when they head to Atlanta to take on the Hawks on Wednesday.

Davis' dominance goes to waste

Anthony Davis had one of the most statistically impressive games of his career in the Los Angeles Lakers' 115-105 loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Davis scored 37 points on 11-of-17 shooting, hitting 15 of his 16 free throws, while grabbing 21 rebounds, snatching five steals and swatting five blocks. He is the first player since the league began recording blocks and steals in 1973 to post at least 37 points, 20 rebounds, five steals and four blocks in a game.

For the Suns, Mikal Bridges and Devin Booker scored 25 each, while center Deandre Ayton had 14 points and 15 rebounds before being shoved to the ground by Patrick Beverley late in the fourth quarter, drawing an ejection for the Lakers guard.

Bogdanovic leads unlikely Pistons win

Despite the return of reigning back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic and second-fiddle Jamal Murray, the Detroit Pistons pulled off an upset 110-108 road win against the Denver Nuggets.

After missing some time due to the league's health and safety protocols, Jokic was back to his dominant best, scoring 31 points on 12-of-16 shooting with 10 assists and nine rebounds, but it was not enough.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored a team-high 22 points on eight-of-17 points for the Pistons, while Alec Burks chipped in 21 points and three steals off the bench, and Killian Hayes set the table with nine assists.

The Denver Nuggets' reigning back-to-back league MVP Nikola Jokic has entered the league's health and safety protocols, ruling him out of Wednesday's game against the New York Knicks.

Jokic, 27, is averaging a career-high 8.9 assists per game to go with his 20.8 points and 9.5 rebounds, helping the Nuggets to a 9-4 record through their first 13 games.

Having won five of their past six games, the Nuggets will be without Jokic and second-year talent Bones Hyland, who is also in health and safety protocols.

They will have to clear the league's guidelines before being able to return to the floor, with a maximum of 10 days before they are automatically cleared.

The Nuggets head away from home to take on the Dallas Mavericks on both Friday and Sunday, before returning home to face the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday.

Jayson Tatum was one of six Boston Celtics to reach double-figures in a dominant 131-112 home win against the Denver Nuggets, further boosting their league-best offense.

The Celtics boast an offensive rating of 119.4, meaning they average 119.4 points per 100 possessions. It is a stat detailing offensive efficiency, as it provides a more accurate representation than just raw points per game since teams play at different paces.

In second-place is the Utah Jazz at 116.0, but the gap of 3.4 from first-to-second is greater than the gap between the Jazz and the 11th-ranked Dallas Mavericks (113.1).

It illustrates just how impressive the Celtics have been on that side of the ball this season, after leading the league in defensive rating last campaign by a wide margin.

Against the Nuggets, Tatum top-scored with 34 points on 11-of-21 shooting to raise his season average to a career-high 31.2 points per game, while co-star Jaylen Brown chipped in a hyper-efficient 25 points (11-of-15 shooting) to keep up his career-high average of 25.4.

Speaking to the media after the win, Tatum said the key to their success has been following the principles laid out by new head coach Joe Mazzulla and remaining unselfish.

"I think it's just the way we're playing on offense," he said. "Continuous movement, we trust in each other, we move the ball. You pass it, you trust you're going to get it back.

"The only thing you can do wrong is stay still, so we just continue to keep moving, find the open man and make the right play."

Coach Mazzulla is also enjoying the show, saying he believes his side's team-first mindset is driving their play.

"The cool thing about offense, and basketball in general, is you have to be able to make each other better," he said. "Whether you have the ball or not. 

"Our guys have bought into making each other better, whether they have the ball or not. It's cool to watch.

"It starts with decision-making. When you have great spacing, and you make the right play, and you read the coverage the right way, the passing is a little easier, so we stay out of those disadvantage situations that kind of force turnovers."

Veteran big-man Al Horford added: "Guys are really conscious of understanding what coach wants from us, what he expects. 

"He wants good spacing and we’re doing a good job of getting to those positions, and it’s fun to see when it comes together like that."

The Celtics are now 9-3, and have won five in a row. They will try to keep their hot streak alive when they travel to take on the Detroit Pistons on Saturday.

Stephen Curry's 39 points were not enough to prevent the Golden State Warriors from slumping to their fourth straight defeat as Jalen Suggs lifted the Orlando Magic to a 130-129 victory on Thursday.

The reigning champions, who led by 16 points at one stage, had gone into the final minute with scores tied but Suggs drained a three-pointer, followed by making a steal, sinking one of two free-throws to make it to a two-score game.

Suggs finished the game with 26 points with nine assists, while rookie Pablo Banchero contributed 22 points with eight rebounds.

Curry scored 39 points on eight-of-15 three-point shooting with nine assists for Golden State. Klay Thompson found form with seven triples in his 27-point haul.

The Magic scored 33-of-46 points from the free-throw line, compared to Golden State's 10-of-15.

The result means the Warriors fall to 3-6, having lost three of their past four games to sides who missed last year's playoffs. Golden State are also 0-5 on the road.

Jokic records another triple-double

Two-time MVP Nikola Jokic's third triple double of the season and 79th of his career helped the Denver Nuggets to a 122-110 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Jokic scored 15 points with 13 rebounds and 13 assists as Jamal Murray contributed 24 points including four three-pointers for Denver who improve to 5-3.

For the Thunder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 37 points but only four in the final quarter when OC went seven-for-22.

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham was almost brought to tears when speaking about Russell Westbrook buying in and delivering as a bench player after ending their winless start to the season.

Westbrook made a strong contribution for the Lakers, coming off the bench for the second straight game and playing 32 minutes with 18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists as the Lakers won 121-110 over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday to end their five-game losing run.

The 2017 MVP shot six-of-12 from the field including two three-pointers, while he was perfect with four-of-four from the free-throw line.

Westbrook's new role under Ham, who took over from Frank Vogel in the off-season, comes after the point guard was the subject of widespread criticism for the Lakers missing the playoffs in his first year at the franchise last season.

"I'm so happy for him," Ham told reporters. "Last couple of games, Minnesota and tonight, he's been phenomenal. Nothing short of amazing. But I'm so happy. I can't even imagine what that kid is going through.

"One of the biggest things about me getting this job was for him to get that respect that he deserved because a lot of what went on last year was not his fault.

"And everything, all the blame was placed on him. I told him, 'man, just listen to me, believe in me bro. I'm gonna put you in a position to succeed with the group, but you have to put the group first. I can't be about me or I or mine. It's got to be us, ours, we'. And he's done that."

Westbrook, who had 18 points and eight rebounds against the Timberwolves on Friday, may not have started on Sunday but he played a key role down the stretch, with a lay-up and two free-throws in the final two minutes.

"Like I've mentioned since day one, whatever is needed from me to help the team win, that’s what I'll do," Westbrook said.

The win improved the Lakers, who were the last winless team in the NBA, to 1-5 having missed the playoffs last season with a 33-49 record.

"I just think guys got tired of going through the same motions through the last four, five games where we've been highly competitive," Ham said. "I saw a different type of focus… It's a part of the process.

"Tonight we needed to prove something to ourselves, not the world, not to the media. That felt great how we responded throughout the game."

LeBron James top scored with 26 points, while power forward Anthony Davis was exceptional with 23 points and 15 rebounds but appeared to labor with a back issue.

"It's day by day," Davis said. "One day I feel great, the next day [I don't]. Just try to manage it and keep getting treatment. I'm not going to let that stop me."

The Los Angeles Lakers ended their winless start to the season to move to a 1-5 record with a 121-110 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.

LeBron James scored a game-high 26 points with six rebounds and eight assists, while Anthony Davis excelled with 23 points and 15 rebounds, although he appeared to nurse a back injury late.

Russell Westbrook was solid again off the bench, adding 18 points on 50 per cent shooting with eight rebounds and eight assists. Westbrook scored four points in the final two minutes to see off any Nuggets' challenge.

The Lakers improved their three-point shooting, making 13-of-30 attempts at 43.3 per cent, while they also scored 48 points in the paint, taking advantage of the defensive limitations of the Nuggets' two-time MVP-winning center Nikola Jokic.

Jokic recorded a double-double with 23 points and 14 rebounds while Jamal Murray, who missed the 2021-22 campaign with a ruptured ACL, had his best scoring game of the season with 21 points.

The win ends the Lakers' five-game losing run to start the season. For Denver, the defeat means they are 1-3 on the road this season and 4-3 overall.

Warriors beaten by struggling Pistons

The Golden State Warriors had defensive issues again as they suffered back-to-back losses and fell to a 3-4 record after a 128-114 loss to the Detroit Pistons, who ended their own five-game losing run.

Last year's top NBA Draft selection Cade Cunningham was an assist short of a triple-double, contributing 23 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists as the Pistons dominated after quarter-time.

Stephen Curry scored 32 points on 10-of-24 shooting, while Jordan Poole added 30 with Klay Thompson rested. The Warriors, who have given up 120-or-more points in five of their past six games, only made 12-of-39 three-point attempts (31 per cent).

Doncic matches rare Jordan feat

Luka Doncic became the first player since Michael Jordan in 1986 to score 30-or-more points in each of the first six games of the season as the Dallas Mavericks won 114-105 over the Orlando Magic.

The Slovenian point guard shot 17-of-26 from the field for 44 points with three rebounds and five assists. Doncic scored 30 of his 44 points in the first half.

Top 2022 NBA Draft pick Pablo Banchero failed to reach 20 points for the first time in his career, scoring 18 on six-of-20 shooting for the Magic.

Giannis Antetokounmpo went up a gear in the second half while Steve Nash was ejected for the first time as a head coach as the Milwaukee Bucks downed the Brooklyn Nets 110-99 on Wednesday.

Antetokounmpo scored 34 of his 43 points in the second half – 28 of those coming in the paint - as the Bucks put the foot down with a 67-44 after half-time at Fiserv Forum. 

The Greek forward backed up his 44 points against the Houston Rockets on Saturday, meaning his 87 points in their past two games is the most across a two-game span in his 10-year NBA career.

The Nets were leading 70-66 in the third quarter when Nash was ejected after being incensed by a non-call from the officials after Antetokounmpo bumped into Patty Mills.

Kevin Durant scored 33 points on 10-of-23 shooting from the field with six rebounds and five turnovers, while Kyrie Irving added 27 points for the Nets who led by as much as 12 points.

Ben Simmons battled again with four points on two-of-seven field shooting with none-of-two from the stripe, along with four personal fouls. Simmons has nine field goals and 18 personal fouls in four games this season.

The Bucks shot at 56 per cent from the field in the second half, with Antetokounmpo supported well by Bobby Portis with 20 points and 11 rebounds.

LeBron's Lakers' winless start drags on

LeBron James' Los Angeles Lakers slumped to an 0-4 start after Nikola Jokic put in a dominant display to lead the Denver Nuggets to a 110-99 victory.

Jokic scored 31 points with 13 rebounds and nine assists for the Nugs, who were far better defensively. The Serbian led both teams outright in points, rebounds and assists for the 85th time in his career, which is the most by a center in NBA history.

James, who fell to an 0-4 start for the second time of his career and first since his 2003-04 rookie season, managed 19 points with seven rebounds and nine assists, while Anthony Davis had 22 points with 14 rebounds. Russell Westbrook was out injured.

The Lakers' NBA-worst three-point struggles continued, albeit with a slightly improved eight-of-30 (27 per cent) from beyond the arc.

Sixers' struggles continue as Trent Jr sparkles

The Philadelphia 76ers' early season struggles continued too, going down 119-109 to the Toronto Raptors, leaving them with a 1-4 record.

The Sixers' record is their fifth 1-4 or worse start through five games. Philadelphia were 1-4 in 2017-18 yet made the playoffs, but missed out on the other three occasions when they were 0-3.

Joel Embiid scored 31 points with five rebounds and Tyrese Maxey impressed with 31 points including four three-pointers. Raptors guard Gary Trent Jr bettered him with five triples, scoring 27 points, while Pascal Siakam added 20 points and 13 assists.

Anthony Davis has rallied around maligned Los Angeles Lakers teammate Russell Westbrook, who has been listed as doubtful for Wednesday's game against the Denver Nuggets due to left hamstring soreness.

Westbrook exited the Lakers' final preseason game against the Sacramento Kings 11 days ago after only five minutes due to a hamstring issue. 

The 33-year-old nine-time All-Star has played all three of the Lakers' games this season since, but has been the subject of significant criticism, the latest for taking on and missing a midrange shot late in Sunday's loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Lakers head coach Darvin Ham declined to elaborate on his likely line-up for the Nuggets game, as they look to snap an 0-3 start to the season.

Westbrook's status was disclosed by the Lakers after Ham spoke to reporters, while the former MVP was not made available either.

The Lakers point guard is averaging 10.3 points shooting at 28.9 per cent from the field with 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.0 steals per game across three games this season.

Davis, who has started this season impressively despite the Lakers' winless start, leapt to the defence of Westbrook who has copped the brunt of the criticism directed at the team.

"I mean, it's crazy," Davis said. "People are forgetting who Russ is… I can't imagine how tough it is for him. It's something you guys have to ask him.

"But just as a team, as an organisation, we're just trying to be there for him and just keep supporting him and make sure that he doesn't get caught up in it, because that's when things can go bad for him. We want to make sure that he's continuously in a great space.

"He was all smiles today, which is a good thing. We want to make sure that no matter what, he knows we're on his side and we have his back. And whatever he needs from us, we're right here, on and off the court."

The Lakers' winless start to the season comes after missing the playoffs in 2021-22 with a 33-49 record.

"Obviously, there's some sense of urgency," Davis added. "You don't want to dig yourself too big of a hole. But we've got to stay even-keeled.

"We can't get rattled or flustered and things like that. Just like if we win 12 in a row, we don't want to get too high.

"We think all this adversity is going to be good for us. We're glad it's happening in October and not March or April."

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.

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr feels nobody has figured out the correct answer for how to defend reigning back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic after the Denver Nuggets left Chase Center with a 128-123 upset win on Friday night.

With the Nuggets' second-best player Jamal Murray sitting out the game as part of his recovery plan from a long-term injury, Denver's fate was left in the hands of Jokic, and he delivered once again.

Jokic posted a triple-double in the win, finishing with 26 points (seven-of-13 shooting), 12 rebounds and 10 assists in his 34 minutes.

The Nuggets led by 10 points with just 74 seconds remaining, but a Warriors flurry saw them cut the lead to 124-123 after a steal in the backcourt gave Jordan Poole an easy layup with 14 seconds on the clock.

But Jokic steadied the ship, immediately heaving a full-court pass to Bruce Brown for an uncontested dunk to avoid having to sweat through a pair of free throws, before the big Serbian went to the line to close the game out himself, hitting both foul shots to finish 11-of-11 from the charity stripe.

When asked after the game if the seven-foot maestro is the Warriors' kryptonite, Kerr said he does not know how anyone would slow him down.

"He’s everybody’s kryptonite,” he said. "He’s a two-time MVP for a reason. The guy is a phenomenal player, and he just makes the game so much easier on his teammates.

"They've done a really good job in Denver the past few years, building their roster, building their identity. But yeah, Jokic is Jokic. I don't know if any other team gives him a hard time."

Nuggets head coach Michael Malone echoed the sentiment, saying at this point the only advice he can give the 27-year-old is about being a vocal leader.

"My biggest challenge for Nikola is always finding a way to use his voice and be a leader," he said. 

"This is his team. He’s a great player, and what makes him great is he makes every one of those guys better. 

"That chemistry is only going to continue to get better and better as the season goes along – but tonight was a great example of what it has potential to be."

It is too early to read anything into the new NBA season. After all, the 2022-23 campaign is only getting started.

Then again, premature assumptions are all part of the fun of following sport, especially basketball.

Things began well for the Golden State Warriors as the defending champions beat the Los Angeles Lakers on opening night.

Hauls of 33 points from Stephen Curry, 20 from Andrew Wiggins and 18 from Klay Thompson were enough to see the Warriors beat LeBron James and the Lakers 123-109 on Tuesday, though they will likely expect a sterner test from the Denver Nuggets on Friday.

The visitors have two-time MVP Nikola Jokic to call on, with the Serbian showing off his abilities with a strong opening performance against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.

Jokic recorded 27 points, four rebounds and six assists, though it was not enough to stop his team suffering defeat.

The Jazz ran out 123-102 victors, with the Nuggets defense unable to stop their opponents from scoring 75 points in the first half at Vivint Arena.

Coach Michael Malone was pleased with his team's response in the second half, but acknowledged the league will not allow you to "pick and choose".

''In that first half [the Jazz] outworked us and I think to a man everyone in [our] locker room would agree,'' Malone said. ''We looked like a different team, felt like a different team [in the second half]. But in this league you can't pick and choose when you play.''

Against a Warriors team capable of taking a game away in an instant, that has to be the main area of focus for Denver at Chase Center.

Following the Draymond Green-Jordan Poole incident that Steve Kerr described as "the biggest crisis we've had since I've been coach here", the Warriors will be hoping to further put that behind them with another home win.

Repeat their impressive showing from their opening game, and you would be a fool to bet against that happening.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Golden State Warriors – Stephen Curry

I mean… who else?

Curry continued his inspired form from last season's Finals to top-score against the Lakers, recording six rebounds and seven assists on top of his 33 points, though he only shot four from 13 three-point attempts.

If he can find his range against the Nuggets, who knows how many points he could put up? Which will take pressure off his teammates and allow them to focus on stopping Jokic.

Denver Nuggets – Aaron Gordon

In reality, it's Jokic, but his high levels are almost there to be taken for granted right now.

In addition, Wednesday showed that even a brilliant outing from him does not lead to a win for Denver without others helping him, which Gordon at least did, and will likely need to do again.

His 22 points, 10 rebounds and two assists provided some support, but those points scored and rebound numbers were way up on his average for last season (15.0 and 5.9 per game) so the test will be to repeat it.

KEY BATTLES – Nuggets have to tighten it up

Although the Nuggets leaked points like a sieve in Utah, it was not due to one particular opponent running riot.

Utah's top scorer was Collin Sexton with 20, but seven Jazz players reached double figures on the night, showing that Denver did not seem capable of stopping anyone from finding the hoop.

They averaged 110.4 points against in the league last season, the 14th best in the NBA, and will surely need to keep the champions down there or below if they are to stand a chance.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The Nuggets actually enjoyed a productive time against the Warriors last season, winning the first three meetings against them, before Golden State took the fourth. Since the start of the 2014-15 campaign, the Warriors have won 16 of their 27 clashes (Denver winning the other 11).

The new NBA season is about to get underway, with narrative everywhere across the league.

The defending champions in Golden State are many people's favourites to go again, but the Warriors have not exactly prepared perfectly after two of their stars recently came to blows during the preseason.

The Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving saga seems to have ended with hope that the pair can fire the Brooklyn Nets to glory, especially if the team's third star in the form of Ben Simmons can finally join them on the court.

Will back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic lead the Denver Nuggets to glory? Or can Luka Doncic do the same for the Dallas Mavericks? Might Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks get back to the top again?

Stats Perform's experts give their predictions on who could thrive in the regular season, who might take the MVP crown and who will go all the way and lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June 2023.

 

Liam Phillips

East first seed: Milwaukee Bucks

West first seed: Denver Nuggets

MVP: Joel Embiid

Champions: Denver Nuggets

Simply put, the Nuggets will have a terrific regular season record as long as Jokic is healthy, and he is one of the most durable superstars of his era.

Jokic has played at least 73 games in six of his seven years, and the other season he played 72 out of 72 in the shortened 2020-21 season.

The Nuggets went 48-34 this past season with their second and third-best scorers being Aaron Gordon (15.0 points per game) and Will Barton (14.7).

With ascending talents Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. returning from long-term injuries to assume those roles and give the Nuggets three elite scoring options, they could ride the best offense in the league all the way through the Finals.

Ben Spratt

East first seed: Milwaukee Bucks

West first seed: Denver Nuggets

MVP: Luka Doncic

Champions: Milwaukee Bucks

There are no shortage of potential contenders in the West, with each of the Nuggets, the Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers looking strong candidates depending on injuries or – in the case of Golden State – off-court (or, rather, practice court) issues.

In the East, however, a fit Bucks team would appear to be clear of the rest, particularly given the Boston Celtics' tumultuous offseason.

The Bucks were a disappointing 13-13 in the regular season and playoffs last year when missing Khris Middleton, who did not play the final 10 games of the postseason as the Bucks narrowly lost to the Celtics.

With his return and the omnipresent threat of Antetokounmpo, it might be difficult to bet against the 2021 champions.

Nicholas McGee

East first seed: Philadelphia 76ers

West first seed: Golden State Warriors

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Champions: Golden State Warriors

Preseason fights, Klay Thompson being restricted to limited action in the exhibition schedule, key bench players leaving in free agency. Will any of it matter? No.

The Warriors have navigated discord before during title defences and will do so again in 2022-23. Even with the likes of Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. departing, the Warriors have excellent depth with several emerging talents complementing a core that reaffirmed their championship pedigree by beating the Celtics in six games last season.

Golden State will bank on Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody taking the next step in their second seasons, while Jordan Poole has the chance to ascend to stardom once the fallout from him being punched by Draymond Green dies down.

Everything revolves around Stephen Curry, though, and there is no sign of him slowing down or his game-tilting range reducing at 34 years old.

This is a team with an insatiable appetite for proving themselves all over again, and they have all the resources to do so once more. If James Wiseman stays healthy and blossoms into an impactful starting center, it will be difficult to envisage anyone stopping them.

David Segar

East first seed: Milwaukee Bucks

West first seed: Memphis Grizzlies

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Champions: Milwaukee Bucks

As Ben said, it is difficult to see a stronger contender in the East than Milwaukee, presuming their stars can stay fit.

With Ja Morant getting better all the time and the Phoenix Suns looking like they might fall away slightly, it would not be a huge surprise to see an ever-improving Grizzlies team top the West and perhaps even make it to the NBA Finals this time.

However, it feels like Giannis is ready for another big campaign and, in a team that includes the likes of Middleton, Jrue Holiday and new arrival Joe Ingles, he should have plenty of capable support.

Only Embiid (30.6) and LeBron James (30.3) averaged more points per game than Antetokounmpo's 29.9 last year, a career high for the Greek.

Anything can happen in the NBA, but of all the big teams who could threaten, Milwaukee feel like the one with the fewest issues heading into the season, and they will want to make up for their early playoff elimination at the hands of the Celtics last time out.

 

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