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

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

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

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

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Golden State Warriors - Stephen Curry

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

And he has typically delivered the goods against the Hornets.

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

Charlotte Hornets – LaMelo Ball

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

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

KEY BATTLE – Who dominates in the paint?

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

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

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

HEAD-TO-HEAD

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

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

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr joked the franchise should trade superstar Stephen Curry amid his fourth-quarter struggles.

Curry scored 20 points in 27 minutes as the Warriors routed the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder 103-82 in the NBA on Saturday.

The two-time MVP entered the contest having not scored in the fourth quarter of his previous three games and Curry did not register a point in the final period again, though he did not have to as he was afforded rest.

After the Warriors improved to 5-1, Kerr jokingly told reporters: "We should trade him."

Warriors star Draymond Green almost put up a triple-double, finishing with 14 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists at home to the Grizzlies.

Green was satisfied post-game thanks to the NBA's new rules, which go against offensive players initiating contact or flailing while trying to draw foul calls.

"Can I also say how satisfying it's been to watch the game of basketball without all those bulls*** calls," Green said. "I'm sorry, I'm not supposed to curse in interviews, right? Can I say how satisfying it is to watch the game without all those terrible calls. Guys cheating the game and grabbing guys and getting the foul. I've been really enjoying watching basketball this year.

"I kind of had stopped watching the NBA a bit because it was just too flailing and flopping and guys cheating the game and getting free throws. So I think that's been great. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that because I think that's been fantastic."

The new rules have particularly impacted Brooklyn Nets superstar James Harden and Green mentioned him specifically.

"James is one of the best at it," Green said. "At driving and drawing fouls, drawing fouls from the three-point line, he's one of the best at it. So I definitely remember those games of him going 24-for-24 from the free-throw line.

"And when you got a guy that shifty, and the moment you touch him they can hook and you're called for a foul, it's impossible to guard. You started to see a lot of guys master it, but they all learned from James for sure because he was the master before anybody else ever picked it up."

Curry, who improved his career three-point tally against the Thunder to 156 – his best second tally against any opponent, added: "I've been watching around the league and for the most part, I'd say about 9 out of 10 calls that used to go the other way are not, for good reason.

"There's probably some that are still in that gray area where they'll get more consistent, but it's great for the game. I know a lot of fans are loving it. The defensive-minded players are loving it, for us to put the ball in the basket, focus on that. I've tried to my entire career so I don't think it's a huge adjustment, but I like it."

NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks suffered consecutive defeats after being upstaged by the San Antonio Spurs 102-93.

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted a double-double of 28 points and 13 rebounds, but the Bucks still suffered back-to-back losses on Saturday.

The Spurs (2-4) trumped the Bucks (3-3) on the road in Milwaukee thanks to point guard Dejounte Murray, who scored 16 of his 23 points in the final period.

Murray entered the contest having put up 44 points, 22 rebounds and 23 assists over his previous two games – the only Spurs player in the last 30 seasons to have had at least 40 points, 20 rebounds and 20 assists over a two-game span, according to Stats Perform.

"Obviously, it's a good win against the NBA champions," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said after the Bucks were again without Jrue Holiday due to an ankle injury. "They were missing a pretty big piece tonight but it happens to all of us."

 

 

76ers gain some revenge as Heat sizzle

Facing the Atlanta Hawks for the first time since being surprisingly eliminated in last season's Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Philadelphia 76ers routed their rivals 122-94. Tobias Harris fuelled the 76ers with 22 points and 11 rebounds, joining Joel Embiid as the only 76ers players this season with 20-10 games.

The high-flying Miami Heat finished one short of setting a new franchise record after sinking 21 three-pointers in their 129-103 victory at the Memphis Grizzlies. Jimmy Butler led the way with 27 points.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic starred with 26 points and 19 rebounds as the Denver Nuggets outlasted the Minnesota Timberwolves 93-91.

Double-doubles from Deandre Ayton (17 points and 12 rebounds) and Chris Paul (16 points and 10 assists) helped last season's NBA Finals runners-up the Phoenix Suns beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 101-92.

 

Jazz taste defeat

The Utah Jazz were the last unbeaten team remaining having opened their season 4-0, until the new-look Chicago Bulls spoiled the party with a 107-99 win.

From 2014 to 2019, the Golden State Warriors put together one of the best stretches in basketball history, playing in the NBA Finals in five straight years and lifting the Larry O'Brien Trophy three times as league champions. 

Those Warriors teams were a combined 322-88 in the regular season, giving them the most wins in a five-year stretch in NBA history. That .785 winning percentage is also an all-time NBA record over five consecutive seasons. 

While Golden State's time for dynastic dominance is likely in the past, is the team's window for winning NBA titles closed, or does the Warriors' 4-1 start to this season foreshadow a return trip to the Finals next June?

The cornerstones of last decade's title teams, head coach Steve Kerr and point guard Stephen Curry, remain in place and appear as capable as ever. 

While the Warriors' failures in last season's play-in tournament kept them from a true playoff appearance, their 16-6 finish to the regular season showed that a team can still thrive with role players around Curry when he is right, and the two-time MVP was that and more down the stretch. 

After returning from a tailbone contusion in late March, Curry averaged 36.9 points per game and shot 43.7 per cent from three-point range in his last 24 games, seemingly single-handedly boosting Golden State from below .500 into the Western Conference playoff race. 

Despite a rotating cast of team-mates – including the arrival and subsequent departure of Kevin Durant – Curry has been the engine that powers the Warriors' high-scoring offense. Over the past eight seasons, Golden State score 116.4 points per 100 possessions with Curry on the court and just 103.5 per 100 possessions when he is on the bench. 

More surprising, however, is that the Warriors are better in almost every aspect of the game when their star guard is on the court, even in areas considered some of Curry's weaknesses. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, a sample size of over 26,500 minutes, Curry's presence has also helped Golden State improve their points allowed per 100 possessions, field goal defense, three-point defense, points in the paint and rebounding rate.

Curry is averaging 30.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.6 assists during the Warriors' 4-1 start and appears to be as potent as ever bombing three-pointers and pushing opposing defenses to their breaking point.

Klay's comeback, Green's regression

The uncertainty about Golden State's title hopes likely falls at the feet of the team's two remaining stars: Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

Thompson, a five-time All-Star and Curry's 'Splash Brothers' backcourt partner, could be the most pivotal player in the NBA this season. 

The 31-year-old guard last appeared in a game well over two years ago in the 2019 NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors, suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Game 6. In November 2020, Thompson ruptured his right Achilles tendon during a workout. 

The Warriors fully expect Thompson to return to action this season, with Christmas Day's matchup against the Phoenix Suns set as an initial goal, 13 months since having surgery to repair his Achilles. 

While every injury and recovery is as unique as the players who endure them, Thompson and the Warriors can look to Durant's story as reason for hope. 

Durant made huge contributions last season for the Brooklyn Nets after missing the entire 2019-20 campaign while recovering from a ruptured Achilles. Durant's return to the court came about 18 months after surgery, but he almost immediately looked like himself, scoring 22 points in 25 minutes in his first game back. Within a month of his return, Durant had his first 40-point game and played over 50 minutes in a double-overtime road game. 

The Nets handled Durant with care last season, giving him occasional rest days and treating a strained hamstring cautiously, but he had no restrictions in the postseason, where he carried the load for Brooklyn and was inches away from defeating the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in a Game 7. 

The Warriors will likely ease Thompson back into action as he builds endurance and re-adjusts to the speed of live games, but the team have said they expect him to make a "full recovery".

Green is a three-time All-Star and five-time All-Defensive Team selection who appears to be battling age regression while still playing a vital role. 

Never known for his scoring prowess, Green averaged 7.1 rebounds and a career-high 8.9 assists last season while providing the defensive versatility to play in almost any lineup the Warriors wanted. 

Green's problem has been the gradual decline in his offensive production, most notably his outside shooting. Through the 2017-18 season, Green shot 32.7 per cent from three-point range and averaged 11.6 points per game. Since 2018-19, his three-point shooting has dipped to 28.1 per cent and he is scoring 7.4 points per night. 

While those declines feel relatively small now, they will likely be magnified in a playoff series where opposing coaches will be hell-bent on creating defenses to get the ball out of Curry's hands at the expense of leaving Green wide open.

Green garnered a reputation as someone who steps up in the postseason and shot 34.2 per cent from deep in his first 80 career playoff games. 

Since 2018, however, Green has converted just 25.4 per cent of his postseason three-point attempts over 45 games, and he has made just 21.1 per cent over his past 35 playoff games. Teams will continue to leave Green open in crucial games, and the Warriors' title hopes may hinge on whether he hits just enough to make defenses think twice. 

Wiseman, Wiggins and depth

Golden State's trio of battle-tested stars will be the core of any potential playoff run this spring, but the Warriors have another asset this season that they have lacked in recent years: depth. 

Going 54-83 over the previous two seasons was certainly not an ideal way to follow five straight Finals appearances, but a pair of non-contending years gave the team some extra assets and helped some of the Warriors' younger players gain experience. 

The dismal 2019-20 season yielded number two overall pick James Wiseman, whose rookie year was marred by injuries, including a season-ending meniscus tear in April. The 20-year-old center has played just 42 basketball games since leaving high school and remains raw, but his talent could prove vital in a Western Conference playoff bracket that will likely include Nikola Jokic, Deandre Ayton and Rudy Gobert. 

Wiseman is still recovering from his knee injury, but the Warriors are expected to provide an update early in November with a more definitive timeline for his return. 

Rookies Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, the number seven and number 14 picks in this year's draft, will also look to compete for playing time, although Kuminga has yet to play due to a knee strain. 

The rest of Golden State's supporting cast has plenty of experience – at least in the regular season – but still has room for improvement. 

Andrew Wiggins, the maligned former number one overall pick who was acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves, has begun a second chapter of his career in a supporting role, and the move to Golden State has revived his career. Wiggins had a career-best shooting season last year, converting 47.3 per cent from the field and 38.0 per cent from three-point range. 

After sputtering a bit early last season, Wiggins excelled down the stretch and has averaged 20.0 points over his last 35 games. 

Damion Lee and Jordan Poole have gone through growing pains the past two seasons, attempting to fill in for Thompson in the backcourt, but both have emerged as interesting contributors. 

Lee has ignited the offense off the bench, averaging 14.2 points through five games this season with 12-for-26 shooting (46.2 per cent) from three-point range.  

Poole, a 2019 draft pick, showed a lot of improvement during last year's sophomore campaign. Although he is off to a slow shooting start this season, he is averaging 18.3 in 12 games as a starter, dating back to the start of last season. 

Back is 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala to provide a veteran presence on the wing, while six-foot-10 forward Nemanja Bjelica adds both size and outside shooting to a frontcourt still in flux. 

Contenders again?

The sum of all those pieces is a team with a relatively wide range of possibilities in 2021-22. 

So much weight rests on Curry's shoulders, and any serious injury to the Warriors' top man could spell disaster, as it did in 2019-20. 

There is no guarantee that Thompson can make signature contributions after returning from an absence that spans 28 months and counting. The playoff stage may prove to be too big for Golden State's collection of young prospects, and players like Green and Iguodala might be too far past their primes to provide the requisite lift. 

But the Warriors' roster holds the potential for a championship contender once again. 

Curry remains on the short list of star players who can control a playoff series, and there is enough depth in place to ease Thompson back into NBA action. After years of filling their roster with late draft choices and minimum salary veterans, the Warriors now have three lottery picks in Wiseman, Kuminga and Moody who could blossom into key pieces. 

In a competitive but wide-open Western Conference, Golden State still have questions to answer but have the potential to make a run at a fourth NBA title in the past eight seasons.

The Golden State Warriors lost for the first time this NBA season, Stephen Curry and his team-mates outlasted 104-101 by the rallying Memphis Grizzlies after overtime.

Golden State were riding a 4-0 record – their sixth such start to a campaign in franchise history – but the Warriors came unstuck at home to the Grizzlies on Thursday.

Having forced overtime with a 25-19 fourth quarter, Ja Morant's Grizzlies outscored the Warriors 6-3 in OT to inflict a first loss of the season on Golden State.

Morant – leading the league with 30.4 points per game this season – fuelled the Grizzlies with 30 points on the road after overturning a 19-point deficit.

 

Curry, who did not score in the fourth quarter or OT, had a game-high 36 points as the Warriors ended the game with 22 turnovers.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Bulls – enjoying their first 4-0 start to a season since 1996-97 – also lost for the first time in 2021-22, edged 104-103 by the New York Knicks.

 

Embiid leads the way, Jazz stay undefeated

Despite a sore right knee, last season's MVP runner-up Joel Embiid inspired the Philadelphia 76ers to a 110-102 victory over the winless Detroit Pistons. Embiid had 30 points and 18 rebounds. The 76ers star put up 19 points and 12 boards in the opening half – the sixth time since the start of last season he has posted a point-rebound double-double in a half, tied for seventh in the NBA during that span.

The Utah Jazz – last season's Western Conference top seeds – are the lone unbeaten team in the league after routing the Houston Rockets 122-91. All-Star Rudy Gobert (16 points and 14 rebounds) recorded another double-double. According to Stats Perform, it is the first time ever the Jazz are the last remaining undefeated side in the NBA.

 

Slumping Spurs lose again

The San Antonio Spurs lost their fourth consecutive game, this time falling to rivals the Dallas Mavericks 104-99.

Kevin Huerter was one of the surprising stars of the Atlanta Hawks' run to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, but he struggled in the 122-111 loss at the Washington Wizards. He was scoreless in 14 minutes, having missed all four of his shots from the field.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Curry brothers star as Steph makes history

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

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

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

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

 

Harden struggles from the floor in Nets loss

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

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

Draymond Green says he has grown to expect Golden State Warriors team-mate Stephen Curry's greatness after he scored 45 points in a 115-113 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Curry equalled his career-best opening quarter with 25 points as the Warriors opened up a 19-point lead before triumphing aided by the two-time NBA MVP's three-point shooting down the stretch.

The 33-year-old hit two clutch three-pointers in a tight final quarter, as the Warriors claimed a 2-0 start to the new season.

"He doesn’t surprise me," Green told ESPN after the game. "That sucks because it discredits what he's doing. At the same time, you grow to expect that.

"You grow to expect the greatness that he brings out here every night. You watch the preparation to come out and do this every night, I'm not surprised. It's still always amazing to see."

Curry had struggled with his shooting in the Warriors' opening night 121-114 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. The point guard shot five-from-21 from the field, describing his performance as "trash".

The seven-time NBA All-Star was perfect from his first 10 field-goal attempts for the game, finishing 16-from-25 including eight-from-13 from beyond the arc.

"I'm always impressed but I'm not surprised," Green added. "When you come off a game like he came off on Tuesday, you know he's going to come out firing. He doesn’t have too many off-shooting nights. Definitely impressed but not surprised."

Green had said earlier in the week prior to opening night that the Warriors were "nowhere near a championship team" but they have since toppled two contenders.

Curry said: "Tonight was another step in the right direction for us as a team. We're growing, we're maturing, it's obviously two games but we have a lot of room to grow."

Stephen Curry scored 45 points including two clutch three-pointers down the stretch as the Golden State Warriors won 115-113 over the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday.

Curry, who hit an equal career-high 25 points in the first quarter, was central to the Warriors win, which follows their opening night victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

After a wayward shooting display against Lakers that Curry described as "trash", the point guard nailed his first 10 field goal attempts for the game, finishing 16-from-25 including eight-from-13 from beyond the arc.

Curry also had 10 rebounds for the game, supported well by Andrew Wiggins with 17 points and six rebounds. Draymond Green battled throughout but had 10 points, six rebounds and seven assists.

The Warriors led by as much as 19 points but the Clippers clawed it back to a one-point game by half-time with Paul George excelling with 29 points along with 11 rebounds and six assists.

The game came down to the final minutes, with the Clippers leading by two points with less than two-and-a-half minutes to go after Marcus Morris Sr's three-pointer before Curry responded with two of his own.

 

Heat blow away Bucks

Reigning champions the Milwaukee Bucks were humbled 137-95 by the Miami Heat in Kyle Lowry's debut for his new team, although he only managed five points and six assists as he laboured with an ankle issue.

The Heat blew the Bucks apart early, opening up a 22-3 lead, with Tyler Herro top scoring with 27 points including a first-quarter buzzer beater from range after Max Strus' block.

Giannis Antetokounmpo top scored for the Bucks, who were without Jrue Holiday, with 15 points and 10 rebounds, shooting at 36.4 per cent from the field. Bucks forward Khris Middleton shot only four-from-14 from the field.

 

Young leads Hawks over Doncic's Mavs

Trae Young got the better of Luka Doncic as the Atlanta Hawks won 113-87 over the Dallas Mavericks.

Young finished the game with 19 points and 14 assists, which was the most by a Hawks player in a season opener since Mookie Blaylock in 1993. Clint Capela was excellent in the paint with 12 points and 13 rebounds, while Cam Reddish top scored off the bench with 20 points.

Doncic had his radar off, shooting six-from-17 for 18 points, along with 11 rebounds and seven assists. The Slovenian also gave up five turnovers.

Stephen Curry may have produced his eighth career triple-double and first since 2016 but he says he "played like trash" in Tuesday's NBA season-opening 121-114 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Curry's Golden State Warriors made a statement as they stunned the Lakers, with the star point guard contributing 21 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and three steals.

The two-time NBA MVP only managed five-from-21 from the field, shooting at 23.8 per cent, with nine of his points coming from the stripe.

"I played like trash, shot the ball terribly," Curry told ESPN after the game.

The Warriors turned in a 38-29 final quarter to claim the win, scoring 46 points in the paint for the game, compared to the Lakers' 34.

Golden State had a good spread of contributors, while the Lakers relied on LeBron James (34 points, 11 rebounds and five assists) and Anthony Davis (33 points, 11 rebounds and two assists), as Russell Westbrook battled on debut, finishing with eight points, five rebounds and four assists.

Curry added: "If we can win a game like that, where we create some good shots and stick with it defensively, against a pretty good team, that is a pretty good omen.

"We've got to learn from our mistakes, quit turning the ball over, make more shots, we'll be good.

"This is a good feeling. We had a lot of excitement coming into the season. New cast of characters mixed with our core. We weathered the storm tonight."

New Warriors additions Nemanja Bjelica, Andre Igoudala, Otto Porter Jr and Moses Moody all got minutes and contributed. Bjelica added 15 points and 11 rebounds from 26 minutes, while veteran forward Igoudala scored 12 points from 23 minutes.

Jordan Poole also stepped into the starting line-up to score 20 points, including 16 in the second half, and Curry was bullish that the team would continue to gel as they get into the season.

"That's what early season is all about," Curry said. "Obviously there was a lot of hype about this game. We want to be in a playoff-like atmosphere like this.

"We have a lot to learn and grow. Our chemistry is solid, in terms of what we're trying to do. When you have to go execute it, it's a different animal. I like learning lessons in wins."

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

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

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

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

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

 

Giannis fuels Bucks

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Draymond Green said the Golden State Warriors are "nowhere near a championship team", though the three-time NBA title winner believes they have the pieces to potentially develop into a contender.

The Warriors have failed to qualify for the playoffs in each of the past two years as they prepare to open their 2021-22 campaign against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on Tuesday.

It comes after the Warriors lost to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 NBA Finals prior to Kevin Durant's departure, having won championships in 2015, 2017 and 2018 before Klay Thompson's serious injuries.

Thompson is stepping up his return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and Achilles injury, while former number two pick James Wiseman is recovering from a knee problem, though the Warriors still boast two-time MVP Stephen Curry.

"I think this team could be very good," three-time Warriors All-Star Green said of Golden State. "But I think this team has to grow.

"We have to put it all together. Is there aspirations to winning a championship? Absolutely. But this team is nowhere near a championship team.

"I think we have a lot of pieces that could grow to be that, I don't doubt that at all, but we also can't get fooled by 5-0 in the preseason and say, 'Oh man, we're a championship team.' We've got a long f****** ways to go."

Golden State averaged 27.7 assists per game last season, leading the league for the sixth time in seven seasons, according to Stats Perform. The Warriors tied the Brooklyn Nets for the most games with at least 30-plus assists, going 24-3 (88.9) in those games.

Green added: "You don't just win a championship because you think the pieces fit. You don't just win a championship because you think you got good talent. You got to make that s*** work.

"And so do I think we have a good chance to be a really good team? Absolutely. But to say we can win a championship, we're so far away from that as is just about every other team in this league except maybe the Milwaukee Bucks because they're coming off that.

"Everybody else has a long ways to go and we're right there in that group that's going to be trying to create separation to be one of those teams that can contend in June."

Curry will play his 763rd game on Tuesday, with the three-time NBA champion on pace to be the second-quickest player in the last three decades to hit 5,000 assists (currently 4,984) and 18,000 points (currently 18,434), behind only Lakers superstar LeBron James (726 games).

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

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

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

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

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

Milwaukee Bucks

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

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

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

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

Phoenix Suns

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

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

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

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

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

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

Los Angeles Lakers

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Brooklyn Nets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golden State Warriors

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

The NBA and its leading stars will hope the coming regular season is exactly that: regular.

The past two have not been. In 2019-20, the season was paused for the coronavirus pandemic and resumed in Orlando, in a bubble and without crowds.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was at least able to put forward his claims for a second straight MVP honour prior to that point.

In 2020-21, a rapid turnaround from the playoffs appeared to catch some leading men out, before the brutal 72-game December-to-May calendar saw a number of top performers face spells on the sidelines.

As a result, Nikola Jokic was the clear MVP candidate, outstanding for the Denver Nuggets but crucially also one of just 11 players across the league to play in all 72 games. His 2,488 minutes trailed only New York Knicks pair Julius Randle (2,667) and RJ Barrett (2,511).

With a proper preseason to plan – and the Nuggets hurt by Jamal Murray's injury – it seems unlikely Jokic will defend his title.

But which players are most likely to follow his lead and move clear of the rest in the coming months? Stats Perform breaks down the chances of the MVP favourites.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Having claimed back-to-back MVP Awards, Antetokounmpo entered preseason last year as the favourite again and threatened for a time to contend, averaging 28.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. A six-game lay-off in April, immediately after scoring 47 points in Portland, put paid to those hopes.

However, it would have been tough for voters to justify again picking Antetokounmpo regardless. At that stage, he had won only three playoff series in his entire career. By contrast, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird – the three men previously honoured three years in a row – each celebrated at least one championship across the first two seasons of their respective runs.

It is very different now, though. Although Antetokounmpo would become only the ninth player to take the Maurice Podoloff Trophy on three occasions, there is less daunting historical precedent with the lean year in between. Crucially, too, the 'Greek Freak' is now himself a champion.

 

Antetokounmpo was the Milwaukee Bucks' Finals MVP as they won their first title in 50 years. Rather than regress in the playoffs – his points average had dipped from the regular season in four of his five prior postseason campaigns – the 26-year-old forward scaled new heights, taking more responsibility with a career-high 20.9 field goal attempts per game and being rewarded with 30.2 points.

Now embracing his strengths, taking only 3.3 shots from three-point range in the postseason and shooting 73.6 per cent at the rim, Antetokounmpo should have the confidence to kick on again.

Luka Doncic

It is Doncic, not Antetokounmpo, who has been installed as the early favourite this year. The Slovenian is only entering his fourth season, but it feels about time he truly established himself as a future great.

Doncic was one of those who acknowledged he was "not in my best shape" as the 2020-21 season promptly got under way, and the Dallas Mavericks were an underwhelming 8-12 at the end of January, although the point forward still averaged 27.4 points over that slow early period. He then weighed in with 30.3 points across 12 games in February.

Only four players bettered Doncic's 1,830 points come the end of the year, yet he could still be a little more consistent in pursuit of a regular-season award. The 22-year-old has set an astonishing standard on the biggest stage. While waiting on a first series win, his 33.5 playoff points are the most by any player to feature in at least 13 career games. Doncic's 143 points at the Tokyo Olympics led the tournament.

If Dallas can be competitive from the outset, Doncic's game is certainly a good fit for individual recognition, his 2020-21 usage rate of 36.0 per cent the highest among players with 500 or more possessions. Similarly dominant for Slovenia, his 57 assists and 196 minutes also topped the charts at the Olympics.

New coach Jason Kidd will ask "young Picasso" Doncic to share the ball around a little more this year, though, saying: "As a coach, I don't know if anybody told Picasso that he had to use all the paints. But I just want to remind Luka that he can rely on his team-mates, and his team-mates are going to be there to help him."

He added: "We know that it's easy to get the ball to Luka, but the one thing we do want to get accomplished is other guys as playmakers so come the fourth quarter Luka is fresh and is ready to deliver." Some more big moments – Luka's 93 clutch points ranked 21st last year – would certainly help Doncic's cause.

Stephen Curry

The Los Angeles Lakers' new 'big three' – we will come to the Brooklyn Nets shortly – is likely to help title hopes but hinder MVP bids. Russell Westbrook's relentless regular-season efforts, averaging 34.4 per cent usage over the past seven seasons, might take some of the shine away from LeBron James. Curry does not have that problem.

As last year, when he had the next-most first-place votes after Jokic (albeit just five to 91), the Golden State Warriors are set to be hugely reliant on Curry – at least until fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson is back from injury.

In his first full season since Kevin Durant left and Thompson went down, Curry set his stall out early with 62 points against the Portland Trail Blazers but saved his best for the end of the year, averaging 36.9 points after a tailbone injury in March to take a second scoring title. The two-time MVP could not quite do enough to carry the Warriors through the play-in round.

A young supporting cast is now another year older, however, meaning Golden State should be competitive enough to keep Curry in the limelight without having enough talent to distract from his displays.

Only Thompson's return is likely to alter the pattern of play after Curry set career highs in points (32.0), rebounds (5.5), field goal attempts (21.7), three-point attempts (12.7), foul line visits (6.3) and usage rate (34.7). He scored a league-high 24.6 per cent of the Warriors' points.

 

Kevin Durant

Durant, like James, was set to merely be the biggest star on a team of stars until the complications around Kyrie Irving's status arose. As it stands, Irving will not feature for the Nets due to his refusal to get a coronavirus vaccine that would allow him to play home games.

Of course, Brooklyn also have James Harden, who briefly flirted with the MVP picture last year prior to a hamstring injury, but Durant will be the team's go-to as long as he stays on the court.

Although Durant made only 32 starts in 35 games in 2020-21, he led the Nets in points per game (26.9) and usage rate (31.1). Irving ranked second in both categories (also 26.9 points per game, 30.5 per cent usage).

The former Warrior is now another year on from his awful Achilles injury and gave an indication in the playoffs of the player he can still be. Playing in all 12 games, unlike Harden and Irving, Durant scored an outstanding 34.3 points – a league best among those to play 10 or more games. Only a borderline call on a Durant shot in Game 7 against the Bucks ended Brooklyn's campaign.

With or without Irving, the Nets are expected to contend for the title this time. Durant was Finals MVP in his two championship triumphs in 2017 and 2018 but has only a single regular season award, back in 2013-14. If he is back to his best, as would appear to be the case, the 33-year-old could dominate the coming season from start to finish.

Joel Embiid

Should, as this list suggests, voters look for players who are capable of putting their teams on their backs, Embiid's case has only got stronger.

The big man was already the Philadelphia 76ers' key performer, evidenced by their 39-12 record with him in the team last year compared to 10-11 when he was missing. Indeed, had Embiid not been absent for such a number of games, he might well have pipped Jokic to the top individual award.

Jokic clearly had the edge as a creator, his 8.3 assists per game allowing him to tally 16 triple-doubles, Embiid actually averaged more points (28.5 to 26.4) and his prowess on defense (including 1.4 blocks per game) contributed to far superior numbers in terms of plus/minus (7.9 to 5.3) and defensive rating (103.1 to 109.2).

 

Ben Simmons, the Sixers' second man, was already underwhelming last year, and Embiid's responsibilities on both ends of the floor are set to increase due to the uncertainty surrounding his team-mate.

Even if Simmons sticks around, as is now a possibility, this is clearly Embiid's team. He felt it had not been previously, responding to reports Simmons was unhappy with the dynamic by saying: "I feel like our teams have always been built around his needs." Those claims were "disappointing" and "borderline kind of disrespectful", Embiid added.

He will certainly not be lacking motivation now to put his injury woes behind him, enjoy another outstanding season and claim the MVP award that evaded him last year.

Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry has praised LeBron James for his longevity and pushing him to sustain his prime for as long as he can.

Curry and James are set to face off on the opening night of the 2021-22 NBA season when the Golden State Warriors meet the Los Angeles Lakers on October 19.

Four-time NBA MVP and four-time NBA champion James enters his 18th NBA season with the Lakers among the favourites for the title.

Despite being 36-years-old, James remains a key part for the Lakers, who won the NBA in 2020, before bowing out in the first round of the 2021 play-offs.

Curry praised 17-time All-Star James for maintaining his high levels throughout an extended period, when the pair have arguably been the league's best players.

"He set the standard for that," Curry told reporters on Friday. "Let's keep it real – in his 18th year, nine straight Finals, all the things that he's accomplished.

"You have a vision of sustaining your prime for as long as you can, kind of re-imagining what that looks like. The work that goes into it, the intentionality, especially in the off-seasons, especially how you take care of your body, your mind. Balance on court, off court."

The Lakers forward had an injury-interrupted 2020-21 season, averaging 25.0 points,7.7 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game, having boasted a career-best 10.2 assists per game in the side's title-winning 2019-20 season. He has averaged 25.0 points per game or more since his debut season in 2003-04 with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

James is four years Curry's senior, with the 2003 NBA Draft first pick having claimed one more NBA title across his career than the Warriors point guard who debuted in 2009.

"For me, it's a weird perspective just because I still remember my college days and he was just coming into his prime in the league," Curry said.

"And my sophomore year, [NCAA] tournament run he came to a game, then came to a game my junior year. I still have a jersey that he signed back in '08 in my parents' house back in Charlotte. So it's kind of weird to think about what's happened in the last 13, 14 years.

"Hopefully there's more chapters of that, playing at that prime. Re-imagining and extending your prime and playing at a high level for a long time looks like."

Curry, who only played five games in the 2019-20 season due to injury, topped the NBA last season for points per game, at 32.0.

The 33-year-old's 32.0 points per game was a career-best return, while he also averaged 5.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game.

"I love exactly where I'm at," Curry said ahead of the new season. "I'm planning to be ready for opening night.

"Body feels good, mind feels good, shot feels strong. I'm not pacing myself but I'm being smart about how I approach preseason games."

Golden State Warriors star point guard Stephen Curry says Anthony Wiggins handled his responsibilities in deciding to get vaccinated ahead of the new NBA season.

Wiggins faced missing all of the Warriors' home games this season, 41 games, due to San Francisco's vaccine mandate having previously refused to get the shot, citing religious reasons.

Golden State head coach Steve Kerr confirmed on Sunday that Wiggins had since been vaccinated, opening up his availability.

"Obviously I think it’s great he’s available,” Curry said on Monday after Warriors shootaround. "Whatever process he went through to get to that decision, he’ll be able to speak on that.

"We’re excited to have him. It’s a good sign he’s handling his responsibilities as a part of the team. Whatever the process was is for him to explain."

Wiggins, who was the first pick in the 2014 NBA Draft before joining the Warriors from the Minnesota Timberwolves last year, averaged 18.6 points, 2.4 assists and 1.0 blocks per game in his first season with the franchise.

Curry has previously been outspoken about public health during the COVID-19 pandemic but insisted he would not have held any hard feelings towards Wiggins if he opted against the shot.

"I wouldn’t think badly of him had it not turned out that way," Curry said. "I hate that part of the conversation. The fact is, we can have a conversation about it and be respectful.

"There’s no way I would let that affect how I see him as a human being, as far as before this pandemic started versus now. I’m glad he’s available and he’s able to be with us today."

Wiggins and Green both started Monday's preseason game against the Portland Trail Blazers.

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