Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo thinks the Cleveland Cavaliers deserve more respect after their impressive defeat of the reigning champions.

The Cavs moved to 30-19 for the season, with eight wins from their past nine games, thanks to a dominant 115-99 home victory over the Bucks.

Cleveland have already comfortably surpassed their win total from last season, when they claimed just 22 victories and were in the draft lottery for the third year running, and only one side in the Eastern Conference has won more than their 30 games in 2021-22.

After falling behind in the first quarter, they dominated the middle phase of Thursday's game, beginning the second half with a three-pointer triple in 48 seconds before marching into a 93-72 lead.

Giannis tallied 26 points, nine rebounds and three assists on his return from a knee problem but his efforts were not enough.

Last year's Finals MVP said there is little doubt the Cavs are now contenders not just for the playoffs, but for the title.

"This is not the Cleveland we knew over the past few years," said Giannis, who brought chicken wings to his post-game media conference.

"They have a good team, and we have to respect them more. They're a playoff team and are fighting for the title themselves."

Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of arguably their best win of the season: "It's who we are. We take on all challenges.

"We don't run from anybody. We don't back down. We give everybody our best shot."

Counterpart Mike Budenholzer had few complaints about the result, adding of the Cavs: "They played lights out tonight.

"I don't know what the right analogy is, but they played really well. They beat us pretty good.

"Live ball turnovers is when transition defense is the toughest, and we made a lot of them."

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo thinks the Cleveland Cavaliers deserve more respect after their impressive defeat of the reigning champions.

The Cavs moved to 30-19 for the season, with eight wins from their past nine games, thanks to a dominant 115-99 home victory over the Bucks.

Cleveland have already comfortably surpassed their win total from last season, when they claimed just 22 victories and were in the draft lottery for the third year running, and only one side in the Eastern Conference has won more than their 30 games in 2021-22.

After falling behind in the first quarter, they dominated the middle phase of Thursday's game, beginning the second half with a three-pointer triple in 48 seconds before marching into a 93-72 lead.

Giannis tallied 26 points, nine rebounds and three assists on his return from a knee problem but his efforts were not enough.

Last year's Finals MVP said there is little doubt the Cavs are now contenders not just for the playoffs, but for the title.

"This is not the Cleveland we knew over the past few years," said Giannis, who brought chicken wings to his post-game media conference.

"They have a good team, and we have to respect them more. They're a playoff team and are fighting for the title themselves."

Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of arguably their best win of the season: "It's who we are. We take on all challenges.

"We don't run from anybody. We don't back down. We give everybody our best shot."

Counterpart Mike Budenholzer had few complaints about the result, adding of the Cavs: "They played lights out tonight.

"I don't know what the right analogy is, but they played really well. They beat us pretty good.

"Live ball turnovers is when transition defense is the toughest, and we made a lot of them."

The Phoenix Suns recorded their eighth consecutive victory as they defeated the Utah Jazz 105-97 with Devin Booker producing another 40-point game on Wednesday.

Booker had 43 points, 12 rebounds and four assists after a first-quarter scoring blitz as the Suns opened up an early 39-18 lead.

Chris Paul (21 points) added some key points down the stretch as the Jazz rallied in the last quarter.

The 25-year-old shooting guard recorded his 16th career 40-point game, moving past Amar'e Stoudemire for most in Suns franchise history, sitting ahead of Tom Chambers and Walter Davis too.

The victory means the table-topping Suns improve to 38-9 overall and 8-0 on the road this calendar year.

 

Hornets break records in Pacers rout

The Charlotte Hornets set a franchise record for single game scoring and produced the highest points total this season as they downed the Indiana Pacers 158-126. The Hornets hit 24 three-pointers, with LaMelo Ball (29 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assists) and Kelly Oubre Jr (39 points) starring.

The Cleveland Cavaliers underlined their credentials as contenders with a 115-99 win over the champions Milwaukee Bucks. The Cavs moved above the Bucks with their eighth win in their past nine games, with Kevin Love scoring 25 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 26 points and nine rebounds for the Bucks.

Ja Morant was exceptional with 41 points, five rebounds and eight assists as the Memphis Grizzlies won 118-110 over the San Antonio Spurs, while Nikola Jokic (26 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) led the Denver Nuggets past the depleted Brooklyn Nets 124-118. James Harden was out with hamstring tightness.

 

Bulls wayward but winners

The Chicago Bulls only managed seven three-pointers, shooting at 26.9 percent from beyond the arc yet they won 111-105 over the Toronto Raptors. The Bulls had lost six of seven but have steadied to win their past two, with DeMar DeRozan having 29 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

Khris Middleton said the Milwaukee Bucks are having to learn how to win in different ways after impressing in the absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo against the Sacramento Kings.

Having needed to rely on an impressive defensive showing against the Chicago Bulls, it was the turn of the offense to turn it on in a 133-127 triumph against the Kings.

Middleton had 34 points, while Jrue Holiday put up 26 as the Bucks chalked up another tick in the win column despite Antetokounmpo missing out with soreness in his right knee.

"We just need to be able to win different type of ballgames," Middleton said after the defending champions moved to 29-19 on the season. 

''Every game is not going to be perfect, every game is not going to be pretty. To get defensive stops, to get 50-50 balls like we did [against the Bulls], it helps. 

"When you hit shots like we did tonight, it also helps."

Middleton made a key three-pointer with one minute and nine seconds remaining on the clock, with the Kings having fought back to within three points.

Holiday felt Middleton's effort was key in helping the Bucks get over the line.

"I feel like this is what he has been doing," Holiday said. ''He makes timely threes. He makes big shots, especially in that moment when they had momentum. He just came down and laced them, took advantage."

Donte DiVincenzo (20 points), George Hill (17) and Pat Connaughton (15) all made valuable contributions for Milwaukee to earn praise from Middleton.

"I think they were great," he added. 

"Pat got hot for us. George did a great job at the point guard position, just controlling the team. Defensively he was all over the place, coming down for rebounds and helping box out. 

"Pat has played so many different positions. It's weird to see him playing the center. He's a selfless guy doing anything that can help."

James Harden and Dejounte Murray both had triple-doubles as the Brooklyn Nets got past the San Antonio Spurs 117-102 on Friday.

Harden scored 37 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists with Kevin Durant out with a sprained left MCL as the Nets rallied from a 51-50 half-time deficit to improve to 29-16.

Kyrie Irving contributed 24 points with three rebounds and four assists for the Nets, who are top of the Eastern Conference.

Harden's triple-double was the 66th of his career, moving him to eighth on the all-time list, while Murray – who had 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists – recorded his ninth triple-double of the season and 13th of his career.

 

LeBron leads Lakers past Magic

LeBron James led the Los Angeles Lakers' second-half response as they fought back from an eight-point half-time deficit to win 116-105 over the Orlando Magic. James finished with 29 points, seven rebounds and five assists, playing the second half at center, while Russell Westbrook contributed 18 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

The Milwaukee Bucks edged the Chicago Bulls 94-90 in an important game in the Eastern Conference standings. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 30 points with 12 rebounds and three assists as the Bucks overcame Grayson Allen's ejection.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic recorded another triple-double with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists but Ja Morant overshadowed him with 38 points as the Memphis Grizzlies won 122-118 over the Denver Nuggets, while Stephen Curry had 22 points including a game-winning buzzer beater in the Golden State Warriors' 105-103 win over the Houston Rockets.

 

Sixers fluff 24-point lead

The Philadelphia 76ers blew a 24-point lead to lose 102-101 to the Los Angeles Clippers despite Joel Embiid scoring 40 points with 13 rebounds. Reggie Jackson finishing with 19 points and nine assists for the Clippers.

Khris Middleton wants the Milwaukee Bucks to "own it and learn from it" after another painful defeat again highlighted their struggles without Jrue Holiday.

Going down 121-114 to the Atlanta Hawks on Monday meant the Bucks have lost four of their last five games.

Middleton's 34 points, and 27 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo, could not propel Milwaukee to victory as they conceded 38 points in the fourth quarter.

The team's ball handling in Holiday's six-game absence has often not been clever, and the sooner the starting point guard returns, the better for the Bucks.

The Bucks have a 4-9 record when Holiday has been absent from the team this season, and his latest absence has been them slide to 27-19 for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

Sidelined by ankle soreness and COVID-19 protocols, Holiday also missed the win over the Brooklyn Nets that preceded the slide. Before that, he was showing exemplary form, averaging 23.9 points and 7.9 assists in his most recent 10 games, way above his season averages which now stand at 18.4 points and 6.7 assists.

"I've been playing with Giannis for years, so I know his spots where he wants the ball, how to get it to him, but Jrue adds another layer of that, where he's able to attack and get other guys going, including Giannis," Middleton said.

"I don't think it's on me to get Giannis going. I feel like Giannis gets himself going for the most part. Every now and then, I feel like I'm able to get him an easy one, but same thing with Jrue.

"We're just missing an extra playmaker, extra scorer, extra defender, an extra player out there."

Antetokounmpo had eight-of-20 shooting from the field in Monday's setback, and managed just six rebounds. Only once this season has he had fewer rebounds.

The Greek superstar leads the team with averages of 28.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and a field-goal percentage of 53.5 per cent, but there are nights when he cannot make a match-winning difference.

Middleton said the Hawks game "was a tough one to drop", and now the Bucks must regroup for a tussle with the 31-15 Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.

"We need to find a way to be smarter, be better," Middleton said. "Just gotta own it, learn from it, try to be better."

Coach Mike Budenholzer struck a similar tone, saying the reigning NBA champions have "a lot of areas where we need to be significantly better", adding: "We need more from everybody."

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic recorded another triple-double as the Los Angeles Lakers slumped below .500 again following a 133-96 humiliation at the hands of the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Nuggets center Jokic finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists and brought up his triple-double in the third quarter, as Denver piled on 73 first-half points before restricting the Lakers to only 36 points in the second half.

LeBron James scored 25 points with nine rebounds and two blocks for the Lakers, while Russell Westbrook had 19 points, five rebounds and three assists.

The defeat means the Lakers, who are still without Anthony Davis due to injury, move to a 21-22 record after losing three games in a row.

Bones Hyland was brilliant off the bench for Denver, who improve to 22-19, with a career-high 27 points including six triples and 10 rebounds.

 

Durant injured as Nets win

Kevin Durant limped out with a knee sprain as James Harden had 27 points, eight rebounds and 15 assists while Patty Mills scored 21 points as the Brooklyn Nets won 120-105 over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Pascal Siakam over-shadowed Giannis Antetokounmpo with a triple-double with 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists as the Toronto Raptors won 103-96 over the Milwaukee Bucks. Antetokounmpo scored 30 points with six rebounds and four assists.

Jayson Tatum had 23 points with 12 rebounds as the Boston Celtics won 114-112 to condemn the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls to three straight losses, while Darius Garland had 27 points and a career-high 18 assists in the Cleveland Cavaliers' comeback 107-102 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

 

Butler struggles as Heat go cold

Jimmy Butler struggled from the field, making one of 11 for his eight points as the Miami Heat's four-game winning streak was ended by the in-form Philadelphia 76ers 109-98. Joel Embiid had 32 points with 12 rebounds for the 76ers.

Steve Kerr insisted the Golden State Warriors' defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks is not a cause for concern as it is normal for sides to go through difficult spells.

The Warriors were beaten 118-99 by a Giannis Antetokounmpo-inspired Bucks on Thursday to make it four defeats in their past five games.

Despite losing to the Dallas Mavericks, the New Orleans Pelicans, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Bucks, Kerr's side are second in the Western Conference with a 30-11 record.

Without the injured Draymond Green once again, the Warriors showed some fight in the second half to reduce a 39-point deficit to 18, but that was as close as they got to the Bucks.

"I know we just got our butts kicked, but we're just in a rough patch in our season," Kerr said at his media conference. 

"It happens to every team, every year pretty much with very few exceptions. 

"We're in a little bit of a rut and we were playing a team that was ready and played a great first half. We're a little out of sorts. We've just got to get back on track, and we will."

Giannis Antetokounmpo dropped his third triple-double of the season to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a commanding 118-99 win over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.

The two-time NBA MVP had 30 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in front of coach Mike Budenholzer, who was back after returning from the league's health and safety protocol.

Antetokounmpo's 28th career triple-double came in under 30 minutes played, making him the first player in NBA history to achieve that feat multiple times.

Kris Middleton added 23 points for the Bucks, who move to 27-17 for the season, while Bobby Portis and Grayson Allen registered 20 and 15 respectively.

The Warriors trailed 77-38 at half-time and have now lost four times in five matches, yet they still boast the second-best record in the Western Conference.

Grizzlies' run goes on

The Memphis Grizzlies finished strongly to overcome the Minnesota Timberwolves 116-108 and extend their franchise-record run to 11 wins in a row.

Desmond Bane scored 21 points and Jaren Jackson Jr. added 20 for the in-form Grizzlies, who were also inspired by John Konchar's 15 and career-best 17 rebounds.

The Grizzlies suffered their heaviest loss of the season when the sides met in November, but they pulled away late on in this back-and-forth encounter to go 30-14 in the West.

As for the Timberwolves, they have now let successive games slip away after also going down 128-125 against the New Orleans Pelicans with 1.3 seconds to go on Tuesday.

Nets beaten in Durant and Irving's absence

The travel-weary Brooklyn Nets were made to pay for resting NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant as they suffered a 130-109 defeat to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving combined to great effect in the previous night's win at Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls, but that trident was split up.

With Irving still unable to play home games due to vaccine laws in New York and Durant and Patty Mills watching on from the side, the Thunder ran out deserved winners.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the way with 33 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists as the Thunder snapped a five-game losing run.

Elsewhere, Nikola Jokic powered the Denver Nuggets to a 140-108 win over the Portland Trail Blazers and the Pelicans were too strong for Los Angeles Clippers in a 113-89 win.

Thursday's clash between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Golden State Warriors was already an enticing one, but will arguably now be even more intriguing with two of the NBA's best heading into it on the back of defeats.

Reigning champions Milwaukee sit fourth in the Eastern Conference on 26-17 after back-to-back defeats on the road to the Charlotte Hornets, while the 30-10 Warriors were beaten at the Memphis Grizzlies last time out.

The star duo of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Stephen Curry will be the main attraction, as both usually are wherever they go, sitting fourth (966 points) and second (993 points) respectively in the league for points scored this season.

Golden State, currently second in the Western Conference, will be the favourites on Thursday, and despite their setback in Tennessee on Tuesday, Steve Kerr's men have been boosted by the timely return to action of Klay Thompson.

The 31-year-old tore an anterior cruciate ligament in 2019 before tearing his Achilles tendon during his recovery, but came back in style as he played his first game in over 940 days in style as he shot 17 points from just 20 minutes in the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, before managing another 14 in similar court time in Memphis.

Curry will, as ever, be the Warriors go-to man. He managed a triple-double of 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in the defeat to the Grizzlies, though surprisingly, hit just two of his nine three-point attempts at FedExForum.

He recently broke the all-time three-point record in the NBA and still leads the league by a distance in successful shots from downtown, with 186 to his name this season, well clear of Buddy Hield (154) and Fred VanVleet (134), having even played six fewer games than Hield.

The Warriors are expected to be without Draymond Green, who played just seven seconds of Sunday's win against the Cavaliers before withdrawing with a calf issue he apparently sustained in the warm-up and then missing the defeat in Memphis.

Green has the highest number of defensive rebounds for the Warriors this season (219) and is 22nd in the league overall.

The Bucks could also still be missing a key player in Jrue Holiday, who was sidelined from Monday's loss to the Hornets with an ankle injury.

Holiday has missed the last three games, but when he has been able to take to the court this season has often shone, averaging 18.4 points per game, including shooting 40 in the December defeat at the New Orleans Pelicans.

Despite Curry so often catching the eye with threes, where Golden State often win games is in the paint and in the restricted area, currently leading the league for highest team field goal percentage in both (60.1 and 64.4). The Bucks are eighth and seventh in the league in the respective areas, with percentages of 56.8 and 61.0.

However, in Antetokounmpo, the Bucks boast a player who leads the league in field goals made in the paint (266) and in the restricted area (228), so if they can get it to the Greek often and in space, he could just beat the Warriors at their own game.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Milwaukee Bucks – Khris Middleton

Middleton is in a solid run of form, which is a good thing for a player who has clustered his best work throughout this season. The 30-year-old began the season by scoring 20 or more points in three of his first four games, before a period out through illness.

He returned and took eight games to manage over 20 points again, before doing so for seven in a row. After missing three more games with a knee issue, Middleton has come back to score 20 or more in eight of his last 10 outings, and will back himself to do so again here.

Middleton got the most points and assists for his team last time out (27 and 11), and is third in the league for most field goals made from the baseline (37) behind only Kevin Durant (64) and DeMar DeRozan (45).

Golden State Warriors – Klay Thompson

Although it was technically a work event, there was a party atmosphere as the Warriors welcomed Thompson back to the court on Sunday against the Cavaliers, and while his numbers were impressive enough for someone who has spent the best part of three years sidelined, it is the less tangible positive vibes his return has brought that could be the difference-maker for Golden State.

Prior to his comeback on Sunday, Thompson boasted a career average of 19.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, while shooting at 45.9 per cent from the field and 41.9 from three-point range.

He may only get 20 minutes, as he has done in his two games back so far, but his sheer presence on the court could be enough to inspire his team-mates, such is the obvious delight among his fellow Warriors that he is finally fit and playing again.

 

KEY BATTLE – Rebounds to give Bucks an edge?

Milwaukee leads the Eastern Conference in rebounding, averaging 47.1, while Antetokounmpo boasts the third-highest number of defensive rebounds in the East this season with 325.

Golden State are fourth in the Western Conference for rebounds at 46.1, but as mentioned, look set to be without their stats leader in defensive rebounds in Green. The best offensive rebounders in both teams are Bobby Portis and Kevon Looney, who both have 97 to their name this season.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

This is their first meeting since April 2021, which the Warriors won 122-121, but the Bucks have won four of the previous six games between the two dating back to March 2018.

Khris Middleton said he was "definitely concerned" and stand-in head coach Darvin Ham bemoaned another defeat as the Milwaukee Bucks tripped up once more against the Charlotte Hornets.

The Bucks have followed a run of six consecutive wins with four defeats in five games, the latest being a 103-99 setback to the Hornets at Spectrum Center.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 26 points with 13 rebounds and eight assists, while Middleton had 27 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists, yet the Bucks delivered an incomplete performance.

The Hornets improved to 22-19, while the sliding Bucks are now 26-17 for the season, following up their championship campaign in 2021 with something not quite so persuasive.

It was a second loss to the Hornets in three days for the Bucks, who, like so many other teams, are feeling the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

Jrue Holiday has joined the ranks of Bucks stars sidelined and isolating due to the NBA's health and safety protocols, and inevitably his absence was felt. Holiday averages 18.4 per game this season and leads the team for assists (6.7)

Acting head coach Darvin Ham, leading the Bucks with Mike Budenholzer in health and safety protocols, could not coax out of the team a match-winning display, as James Borrego's Hornets extending their winning streak to three.

"My hat's off to Charlotte," Ham said. "JB has a great young group, it's a hell of an offensive team. And we just didn't make enough plays tonight.

"We just try to get to the game and as a staff, put our brains together and put together the best package possible. It's not going to be perfect, circumstances are what they are.

"I feel we're still in a position to win a game and we came up short."

From 99-99 with under half a minute remaining, LaMelo Ball sank the decisive shot and Miles Bridges made sure with two late free throws.

The Bucks looked to Middleton and Antetokounmpo in those late stages, which Ham said was the sensible play.

"Down the stretch you want the ball in the hands of your two best players and that was definitely deliberate," Ham said.

"Time and time again ... they've won a championship playing that way. There's not a better option in my opinion."

It gets no easier for the Bucks, who must tackle the Western Conference-leading Golden State Warriors on Thursday, albeit this time with home advantage.

Middleton, who had a fourth consecutive 20-plus point game, wants to see this slide halted as soon as possible.

He said: "I think you're definitely concerned – you never want to lose four out of five, you never want to lose two in a row."

Quoted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Middleton said: "We understand the circumstances. We're not using that as an excuse. Everybody's going through it.

"So we still have to find a way to… compete and give ourselves a chance to win, which we have these last two nights, we just couldn't pull it out."

Kyrie Irving finished with 22 points in his second game back but could not inspire the Brooklyn Nets to victory as they went down to a depleted Portland Trail Blazers 114-108 on Monday.

Anfernee Simons starred with 23 points, six rebounds and 11 assists for the Blazers who were missing Damian Lillard (abdomen).

The Nets were also without James Harden (knee), but had Kevin Durant (28 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) and Irving (22 points, eight rebounds, four assists) on court.

Durant's points return marks 19 straight games with 20 or more points, which is the second-longest streak of 20-point games in franchise history.

The defeat means the Nets are 25-14 and second in the east while the Blazers improve to 16-24.

 

Giannis cannot lift Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 26 points with 13 rebounds and eight assists but it was not enough as the Milwaukee Bucks lost their second straight game, going down 103-99 to the Charlotte Hornets. Khris Middleton had 27 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists for the Bucks.

First draft pick Cade Cunningham scored a career-high 29 points to lead the Detroit Pistons to an upset 126-116 win over the Utah Jazz, who were without Rudy Gobert again.

Joel Embiid scored 31 points with eight rebounds and six assists for the Philadelphia 76ers who beat the Houston Rockets 111-91.

 

Tatum cool as Celtics win in OT

Jayson Tatum went zero-of-seven from beyond the arc and shot at 33 percent from the field for his 24 points as the Boston Celtics edged the Indiana Pacers 101-98 in over-time. Domantas Sabonis had a triple-double for the Pacers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo extended his run of 30-point games to eight in a row but it was not enough as the Milwaukee Bucks lost 114-106 to the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday.

The reigning NBA Finals MVP piled on 21 points in the final quarter to finish with 43 for the game as the Hornets held off the Bucks' charge, with Charlotte guard LaMelo Ball scoring 19 points, with nine rebounds and eight assists.

Antetokounmpo also recorded 12 rebounds and two blocks in a final all-round game for the Bucks, who were missing Jrue Holiday and head coach Mike Budenholzer due to the league's health and safety protocols.

Khris Middleton had a near triple-double with 27 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, including shooting four triples.

The result means the reigning champions hold a 26-16 record having lost three of their past four games, while the Hornets are 21-19.

Sabonis silences Jazz, Brown triple-double

Domantas Sabonis piled on 42 points, making his first 10 shots of the game, as the Indiana Pacers won 125-113 over the Utah Jazz minus Rudy Gobert.

Jaylen Brown recorded his first career triple-double with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists as the Boston Celtics defeated the New York Knicks 99-75.

Jaren Jackson Jr scored 26 points with eight rebounds and five blocks as the Memphis Grizzlies, without Ja Morant, improved to a 27-14 record with a 123-108 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Leaders cooled by Heat

Chris Paul was quiet with nine points, seven assists and four turnovers as the table-topping Phoenix Suns lost 123-100 to the Miami Heat. Devin Booker had 26 points but shot five of 15 from the field, while Tyler Herro scored 33 points off the bench for the Heat.

Kevin Durant has reiterated that he will not try and force or persuade Kyrie Irving to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Irving had been left off the Brooklyn Nets' initial roster for the 2021-22 season, as he had elected against receiving a vaccine.

New York City's vaccine mandate means the seven-time All-Star cannot play home games unless he gets vaccinated.

Irving would have been available to play most road games, though the Nets elected not to include him at all.

That changed when, due to a depleted roster caused by a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, Irving was recalled, and the point guard returned with a 22-point display in Wednesday's win over the Indiana Pacers.

Yet Irving could not feature on Friday as the Nets went down 121-109 at home to the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Durant insisted the Nets must accept Irving's decision.

"I told him how important he is, how much I want him to play, play every game," Durant told reporters.

"But I'm not about to force somebody to get a vaccine, like that's not my thing. So he can play basketball? Nah, I'm not about to do that.

"We've had conversations about wanting him to be a part of the team and conversations about him being here full-time, but that's on his time. Whatever decision he want to make, he's going to make.

"It's on us to be professionals no matter what and do our jobs. All of us, from the owner down to the equipment manager, so whenever he ready, he'll be ready."

In Irving's absence, Durant and fellow star man James Harden delivered 29 and 16 points respectively for the Nets, but Milwaukee, inspired by Giannis Antetokounmpo's 31 points, had too much.

"I haven't even asked for an explanation," Durant continued. "It ain't my place I don't think. So I'm ready for whatever, that's been my whole mentality. 

"It's a weird situation, who knows? I don't understand most of this s***. COVID, all of this stuff has been crazy."

Harden added: "It felt good honestly to have him back [on Wednesday]. It felt good. It felt like an extra life that we had. 

"But we got to live with what we're dealt with, and that's home games we've got to figure ways and even road games.

"Just because Ky's on the road with us doesn't mean it's going to be easy for us as well. So we've got to mesh, we've got to find ways to win games."

Bucks talisman Antetokounmpo was asked whether his approach would be different.

"When it comes to basketball, I feel like I can talk to them," he replied. "I've got to let them make their decision. They're grown men and every situation is different.

"I cannot pressure somebody to do something that he doesn't feel comfortable doing. I can tell you why I did it. Why I felt comfortable doing it. To protect my family, to protect my mom and stuff, stay safe, and you just hope he understands that. But if he doesn't want to do it, I can't keep pressuring him."

Giannis Antetokounmpo registered a seventh successive 30-point game against the Brooklyn Nets as he propelled the Milwaukee Bucks to victory.

In the first meeting between these teams at the Barclays Center since last season's overtime win for the Bucks in the playoffs, Antetokounmpo stole the show on his return from a one-game illness absence.

Milwaukee lost to the Toronto Raptors without their talisman, a second straight defeat after a shock reverse to the Detroit Pistons, but the reigning NBA champions snapped that mini losing streak in style with a 121-109 triumph on Friday.

Antetokounmpo had 31 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. He went into the game having recorded 30 or more points and at least 10 rebounds in each of his previous six appearances against Brooklyn, including postseason meetings.

The Bucks were without several key players, including Jrue Holiday, and coach Mike Budenholzer due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, but they just had too much in the form of Antetokounmpo, who was ably supported by Bobby Portis, who had a double-double of 25 points and 12 rebounds.

The Nets has snapped a three-game losing streak on Wednesday by beating the Indiana Pacers, with Kyrie Irving returning.

However, Irving was not available for this home game, as he cannot play in New York state due to not being vaccinated against COVID-19.

Kevin Durant scored 29 points and James Harden added 16, but the Bucks had too much as they moved onto 26-15 for the season, though the Nets remain ahead of Milwaukee in second place in the Eastern Conference.

LaVine leads the way as Bulls roll on

The Chicago Bulls top the East and their winning run was extended to nine games thanks to a 130-122 defeat of the Washington Wizards.

Zach LaVine had a game-leading 27 points, as the Bulls ended a run of three games in which they had won by five points or fewer.

The Bulls have now matched their longest winning streak since 2010-11, when Chicago won nine in a row to finish the regular season.

James and Jokic rampant

LeBron James led the Los Angeles Lakers to their first four-game winning run of the season as he scored 32 points against the Atlanta Hawks, adding eight rebounds and nine assists in a convincing 132-118 victory.

The Lakers are now 21-19 and sixth in the Western Conference, a place ahead of the Denver Nuggets, who had reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic reach 20 points for a seventh straight game in a 121-111 win over the Sacramento Kings.

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