James Harden said he was not trying to show off after his triple-double fuelled the high-flying Brooklyn Nets in the former NBA MVP's first game against the Houston Rockets since his blockbuster trade.

Harden showed no mercy on Wednesday, his 29 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds guiding the Nets to a 132-114 victory over the Rockets in Houston.

The former Rockets star received a mixed response from fans at Toyota Center midweek following the "drama" surrounding his January exit, having demanded a trade after more than eight seasons.

After condemning the struggling and injury-hit Rockets to a 13th consecutive defeat, Harden reflected on his return to Houston.

"I'm excited," Harden said. "We got a win. We've been playing very, very good basketball, and to finish out strong like this to in the All-Star break means a lot to us. Hopefully we can get guys healthy; KD [Kevin Durant], Jeff [Green], TLC [Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot], and after the break just keep rolling.

"As far as playing in Houston, a lot of mixed emotions from the fans, but knew that was gonna happen. I just wanted to come out here and give them a show."

Led by Harden, the Rockets reached two Western Conference Finals, while Houston earned three semi-final appearances after the nine-time All-Star was acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012.

The Rockets are planning to retire Harden's number 13 jersey in Houston.

"Hopefully I did something right," Harden said. "Obviously I came up short of a championship, but the work on and off the court that I put in over the past eight years was elite you know.

"I think that's the only thing I didn't do, or didn't accomplish is a championship, which is difficult to attain, but as far as bringing excitement to this city, taking care of the fans on and off the court is something that I try to contribute, so hopefully that outweighs that."

Harden has starred since joining Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn, where he has already tallied eight triple-doubles in a Nets uniform – second in franchise history behind Jason Kidd.

On Wednesday, Harden ensured the Nets closed out the first half of the NBA season with their 10th win in 11 games heading into the All-Star break.

The Nets, who have recorded seven straight road wins, are 24-13 ahead of Sunday's All-Star Game in Atlanta – only half a game behind the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference.

"So far, so good. Everything that I signed up for," added Harden. "Top to bottom, it's been great. Adversity has hit us as far as not missing any games, so we've been playing every other day schedule wise and then we're affected by injuries, guys in and out of the line-ups, crazy, weird things happening, but I think we've fought through adversity and we're in a really good position.

"Now we know each other a little bit better. Now it's time to get some rest, take care of your body and be ready to go. Second half is gonna be huge for us in the sense of how fast we can get off to a great start. Everybody goes through the same thing. There’' no excuses, and we're not here to make any."

All eyes in the NBA will be trained on Houston on Wednesday as the Rockets host James Harden and the Brooklyn Nets.

Harden was an outstanding player with the Rockets, winning the 2018 MVP award and twice reaching the Western Conference Finals, but he is unlikely to receive a warm welcome.

The nine-time All-Star decided in the offseason he wanted to leave Houston and worked to force a trade.

Although the Rockets initially resisted, a blockbuster deal was eventually agreed with the Nets, who pipped the Philadelphia 76ers to the signing.

Harden, slow by his lofty standards in the first eight games of the season in Houston, has rediscovered his best form in the NBA's newest 'big three' with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

Both the player and his former team, struggling badly at 11-22, will be determined to come out on top in this first meeting since they parted ways.


TOP PERFORMERS

Houston Rockets - John Wall

Even with Harden's numbers declining at the start of 2020-21, no Houston player has been able to match the 24.8 points he scored on average across those eight games.

Christian Wood (22.0) has come closest, yet an ankle injury has limited him to just 17 games. The Rockets have lost 12 in a row since he went down a month ago.

So, Wall, who missed the entirety of the Washington Wizards' 2019-20 campaign with a torn ACL, has had to step into the breach.

Although Houston's form is awful, Wall at least comes into this clash on somewhat of a roll, playing 10 straight games and scoring 32 points last time out against the Cleveland Cavaliers, his best return since December 2018.

Brooklyn Nets - James Harden

Wall is not alone in being asked to do some heavy lifting, as Harden, the third man signed to the 'big three', has operated without either Irving or Durant due to injuries at times in the early stages of his Brooklyn career.

He has done so admirably, however, averaging 25.3 points, 11.3 assists and 8.7 rebounds since leaving the Rockets.

With Irving returning following a back issue against the San Antonio Spurs on Monday, Harden scaled new heights, becoming the first player to post 30 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds in a game without a single turnover since individual turnovers were first tracked in 1977-78.

It was his seventh triple-double of the season already, a mark he only once passed in Houston colours (22 in 2016-17).
 

KEY BATTLE - CAN HOUSTON GET TO HARDEN?

Irving claimed after the Spurs game there would be "no animosity" and "no tension" in Houston "on the court or about James in my presence or anybody else's presence". That seemed optimistic.

Harden's parting shot at the Rockets, where he claimed to "have done everything that I can", prompted angry responses from Wall and the since-waived DeMarcus Cousins.

Given Wall and Cousins had each been team-mates of Harden for only eight games, it stands to reason that some of his long-standing colleagues might have been even more frustrated.

With the Nets a far superior outfit to the Rockets, the conversation around Harden on the court might prove as interesting as any matchup. The Brooklyn man will have to handle the heat.
 

HEAD TO HEAD

The Rockets have had the better of this series, boasting a 64-32 regular-season record, most recently winning in December 2019 when lifted by 44 points from Harden.

The 31-year-old has a 14-15 record against the Oklahoma City Thunder, his only other former team, averaging 28.2 points.

In Harden's three years with OKC, he was 6-6 against Houston.

James Harden is hopeful he will feel the love on his return to face the Houston Rockets for the first time with the Brooklyn Nets.

The Rockets (11-22) host Harden and the Nets at Toyota Center on Wednesday as they attempt to halt a miserable 12-game losing streak.

Last month Harden apologised for the "drama" surrounding his exit from the Rockets and wished his trade to the Nets could have been a smoother process.

Former NBA MVP Harden moved to the Nets after playing more than eight seasons with Houston and still feels part of the community, which he has been helping in the aftermath of the recent devastating storm in Texas.

"The love and the appreciation that I've given to that city and that I still give to that city, I'm hoping that the favour can be returned," Harden, who rejected a new contract with the Rockets last year, told ESPN.

"[I hope I will be] received with love.

"I thought I would never leave that franchise. I thought I was going to be in Houston, obviously, for the rest of my career. 

"Things happened. I've got different goals, and I've seen a different vision for myself and my career and my family.

"It doesn't change the fact of how I feel about the city. But it just didn't go as well - as smooth - as I planned." 

Perhaps reflecting on J.J. Watt's recent exit from the Houston Texans in the NFL, Harden added: "The communication between myself and the front office got a little shaky. 

"And now I look back at it and I see these other scenarios, other situations that are happening, specifically around other players that are in Houston, in different sports. 

"Their transition is going very smooth and I would've hoped for mine to go that smooth, but it didn't. I am where I am now.

"I feel like I'm a part of the community. Me now being in Brooklyn, it hasn't changed the way I feel about that city and everything it's done for me. 

"So whether it's trying to feed as many people as I can, get water, as much water as I can to the people that need it."

As Houston struggle, the Nets are at 23-13 after winning nine of their last 10, with Harden recording 30 points, 15 assists and 14 rebounds in a dramatic overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs on Monday.

Star trio Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have only played seven games together so far.

"I'm just excited for us, as a whole, to be able to play as many games as we can together because the potential that we have is very, very scary," Harden added.

"We're still just doing whatever it takes to come away with wins. The potential is going to be scarier when [Durant] gets back. But for right now, we're holding it down, and we're coming together as a team."

The past week in the NBA saw the Brooklyn Nets do something they hadn't previously done since February 9... lose a game.

Brooklyn's defeat to the Dallas Mavericks gave a boost to their rivals for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, headed by the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Milwaukee Bucks, another of those competitors, enjoyed a superb week with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo unsurprisingly coming to the fore.

Meanwhile, out west, Devin Booker strung together a series of performances that justified his place in the All-Star game.

By contrast, two players significantly more familiar with that contest suffered dips in form.

Here we take a look at some of the best and worst performers across the past week, aided by Stats Perform data.

 

RUNNING HOT...

Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Bucks are firmly back in contention for the top seed in the East after stretching their winning run to five games, with three of those victories coming in the past week.

Antetokounmpo was predictably pivotal to their success, tallying over 30 points in each matchup to extend his streak to four games in that regard.

He finished the week with back-to-back double-doubles against the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Clippers, scoring 36 points in the latter game.

His points per game average jumped from 28.37 to 37, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks sending a message that they are still very much a contender for the title.

Devin Booker

The All-Star snub who was later added as a replacement showed why he deserves his place in the showcase this past week.

Booker averaged 33 points across the Phoenix Suns' three games, an impressive improvement on his previous season-long average of 24.28.

He capped it in stunning fashion, dropping 43 in the win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, which saw him go 15 for 26 from the field.

At 22-11, the Suns will loom as a dangerous playoff team should he continue that kind of form.

James Harden

Brooklyn may have finally seen their eight-game winning streak come to an end, but it was a positive week for Harden individually.

Absent the other two members of the Nets' big three, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, Harden could not prevent them from falling to defeat to the Mavericks.

However, he was more prolific from beyond the arc this past week, averaging 4.67 made threes having entered the week putting up 3.08 per game.

Harden is converting threes at the highest rate of his career. He is shooting 39.7 per cent from beyond the arc and 41.8 per cent since his trade to Brooklyn from the Houston Rockets.

But he is attempting only 8.2 a game, the fewest since the 2015-16 season (8.0). If he continues to shoot more from deep and maintains his consistency in converting those attempts, a loaded Nets team will have yet another dimension.

GOING COLD...

Paul George

An up-and-down week for the Clippers started brilliantly for George, who racked up 30 points in a win over the Washington Wizards, going six of seven from three-point range.

But he tailed off thereafter, following up two 13-point efforts against the Memphis Grizzlies with a mediocre 16-point display in the loss to the Bucks.

His points per game average fell from 24.36 entering the week to 18 over the past seven days, and the Clippers will need a lot more from him if they are to earn a top-two seed in the West.

Terry Rozier

The man known as 'Scary Terry' did little to terrify opponents over the past week.

Rozier entered the week averaging a career-high 21.15 points per game but that dipped to 13.5 over the four games the Charlotte Hornets contested in the last seven days.

He put up 24 points in a loss to the Golden State Warriors but could not manage more than 12 in his other three outings.

Still averaging 20.2 a game for the season, the Hornets will want Rozier to deliver the kind of performance he did against Golden State consistently as they seek a first playoff berth since 2015-16.

Stephen Curry

Among the players to suffer the biggest decline in three-point shooting this past week was the man most consider the greatest shooter of all time.

Curry had been converting 5.03 three-pointers a game for the season but hit on an average of 3.25 a game as the Warriors won three of four last week.

He still enjoyed a 37-point outing against the New York Knicks, scoring seven triples in that triumph, but was one for 11 from deep versus the Indiana Pacers and two for seven in Sunday's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

However, with Curry experiencing a season in which he is averaging his highest points per game tally (29.5) since his unanimous MVP season of 2015-16 (30.1), the smart money says he will soon return to form from beyond the arc.

The Brooklyn Nets' eight-game winning streak ground to a halt at the hands of Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, who triumphed 115-98 in the NBA.

Nets star Kyrie Irving (right shoulder recovery) joined former MVP Kevin Durant (hamstring) on the sidelines for Saturday's clash.

Their absence proved too much for James Harden to carry, with the MVP candidate finishing the game on the bench in his casuals as the Mavericks won comfortably.

Harden scored 29 points, with seven rebounds and six assists for Brooklyn, who were jumped by the Mavs in a 38-26 opening quarter.

Despite the Nets closing to within four points at half-time, the Mavericks were never headed, led by Doncic – the All-Star posting 27 points, six rebounds and seven assists.

Doncic won special praise from Harden post-game, who said: "He never lets anyone speed him up, and he gets what he wants. We all know he has a very, very bright future. The Mavs got a special one."

The result leaves the Nets 22-13 in the Eastern Conference, while the Mavericks remain in playoffs contention with a 16-16 record in the west.

 

Sixers suffer rare home defeat, no stopping Jazz

Joel Embiid erupted for 42 points and 13 rebounds, but the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers were upstaged by the Cleveland Cavaliers 112-109 in overtime. It was just Philadelphia's third home defeat of the season in 17 games.

NBA leaders the Utah Jazz returned to winning ways with a 124-109 victory against the Orlando Magic. Donovan Mitchell fuelled the Jazz (27-7) with 31 points, including 25 in the second half, while Rudy Gobert contributed a double-double of 12 points and 16 rebounds. Nikola Vucevic had a game-high 34 points for the Magic in Orlando.

It was a memorable outing for Bradley Beal and head coach Scott Brooks in the Washington Wizards' 128-112 success at home to the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves. Beal put up 34 points – his 20th performance of 30-plus points in 29 games played this season. Per NBA history, only Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony and Harden have managed that many 30-plus performances in the first 30 games of a season. Scott, meanwhile, celebrated his 500th win as a head coach. Wizards star Russell Westbrook (19 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists) finished with a triple-double.

Nikola Jokic (19 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists) had his eighth triple-double of the season as the Denver Nuggets crushed the Oklahoma City Thunder 126-96.

 

Curry crumbles

It was a forgettable game for Philadelphia's Seth Curry, who finished with four points in 39 minutes. Curry was just one-of-13 from the field, making one of seven from beyond the arc.

 

Ben… from beyond the arc

It is not often Ben Simmons attempts a three-pointer, let alone make one. But the 76ers All-Star hit his fourth career three on Saturday. Simmons finished with 24 points on 11-of-17 shooting from the field, while he was 100 per cent from three-point range.

 

Saturday's results

Kyrie Irving and James Harden combined for 47 points as the Brooklyn Nets proved irresistible in their 129-92 triumph against the Orlando Magic.

Irving led the way with 27 points and nine assists, shooting 11 of 18 from the field and Harden dropped five threes from his 10 attempts from downtown to power Brooklyn to an eighth straight win.

The All-Star duo were supported by Joe Harris, who sank four of six threes for 14 points, while Landry Shamet came off the bench to score 19 points, tying Harden with five from distance. 

After the Magic opened up a 10-point lead during the first quarter, the Nets went 41-19 in the second quarter and never looked back, with Nikola Vucevic finishing with 28 points for Orlando.

Still waiting on Kevin Durant to return from a hamstring injury, the 22-12 Nets are second only to the Philadelphia 76ers (22-11) in the Eastern Conference.

Close on their tails are the third-placed Milwaukee Bucks, who beat the New Orleans Pelicans 129-125 to go 20-13, with Giannis Antetokounmpo (38 points) outshining Zion Williamson (34).

 

Beal and Westbrook chemistry continues for Wizards

The Washington Wizards made it a 3-1 road trip, following up on wins against the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers with a 112-110 victory against the Denver Nuggets.

The NBA's leading scorer Bradley Beal buried 33 points while Russell Westbrook made it three triple-doubles in five games with his 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

George comes up short for Clippers

Tyus Jones was the game's top scorer in the Memphis Grizzlies' 122-94 win against the Los Angeles Clippers despite only spending 15 minutes on court.

Jones was the only player in the game to make 20 points, as Clippers guard Paul George only dropped three of his 12 field-goal attempts for his 13 points.

 

Zion producing coast-to-coast

Williamson may have come out on the losing side but the 20-year-old not only matched Antetokounmpo almost blow-for-blow, but he also showcased some razor-sharp defensive skills. 

Thursday's results

Philadelphia 76ers 111-97 Dallas Mavericks
New York Knicks 140-121 Sacramento Kings
Brooklyn Nets 129-92 Orlando Magic
Memphis Grizzlies 122-94 Los Angeles Clippers
Washington Wizards 112-110 Denver Nuggets
Milwaukee Bucks 129-125 New Orleans Pelicans

 

Jazz at Heat

The NBA-leading Utah Jazz looked untouchable during a blowout win over the Los Angeles Lakers. The Miami Heat have also recently knocked off the defending champions and are on a four-win stretch.

James Harden's triple-double fuelled the streaking Brooklyn Nets to a 127-118 win over the Sacramento Kings in the NBA.

Harden recorded his sixth triple-double since joining the Nets from the Houston Rockets in January, finishing with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists as Brooklyn extended their winning streak to seven games on Tuesday.

The former MVP is averaging 27.7 points, 9.4 rebounds and 11.1 assists per game with a .500 field goal percentage during Brooklyn's seven-game winning run. Per Stats Perform, the last NBA player to reach all those numbers over a seven-game span was Magic Johnson in 1988.

Bruce Brown scored 13 of his career-high 29 points in the final quarter, while Nets team-mate Kyrie Irving put up 21 of his own at home to the slumping Kings – who have lost eight games in a row.

 

Jokic goes off in Denver, Giannis stars

Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic scored 41 points to inspire his team to a 111-106 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo helped the Milwaukee Bucks past the Minnesota Timberwolves 139-112 thanks to his 37 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, two blocks and two steals.

The Golden State Warriors topped the New York Knicks 114-106 behind Stephen Curry's game-high 37 points on the road.

Kawhi Leonard (32 points) and Paul George (30 points) combined as the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Washington Wizards 135-116.

 

Baptism of fire for debutant Finch

How big is the challenge facing new Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch? Look no further than the loss to the Bucks. Minnesota have lost five consecutive games and nine of their last 10 to own the NBA's worst record of 7-25. Former Raptors assistant Finch replaced Ryan Saunders on Monday.

Fred VanVleet was just four of 14 from the field for 12 points in the Toronto Raptors' 109-102 defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers. Joel Embiid had a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds for the 76ers, but he was only three-of-13 shooting from the field.

 

Doncic calls game

Luka Doncic delivered in a clutch moment for the Dallas Mavericks, who edged the Boston Celtics 110-107. Doncic nailed a three-pointer with 0.1 seconds remaining to break a tie against Boston. He posted 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

 

Tuesday's results

Cleveland Cavaliers 112-111 Atlanta Hawks
Detroit Pistons 105-93 Orlando Magic
Brooklyn Nets 127-118 Sacramento Kings
Golden State Warriors 114-106 New York Knicks
Philadelphia 76ers 109-102 Toronto Raptors
Dallas Mavericks 110-107 Boston Celtics
Milwaukee Bucks 139-112 Minnesota Timberwolves
Denver Nuggets 111-106 Portland Trail Blazers
Los Angeles Clippers 135-116 Washington Wizards

 

Lakers at Jazz

It is the hunted against the hunters on Wednesday. Defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers travel to the NBA-leading Utah Jazz midweek. A run of three consecutive losses has left the Lakers (22-10) third in the Western Conference, behind the Jazz (25-6) and neighbours the Clippers (23-10).

James Harden and Anthony Davis headline the reserves for next month's NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James and Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets will captain their respective sides – Team LeBron and Team Durant – in the 70th All-Star contest on March 7.

Nets guard and former MVP Harden has been named an All-Star for the ninth consecutive year as he headlines the Eastern Conference reserves, which also includes Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers), Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum (both Boston Celtics), Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls), Julius Randle (New York Knicks) and Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic).

Brown, LaVine and Randle have earned All-Star selection for the first time in their careers.

Lakers star Davis is the pick of the Western Conference reserves, alongside 11-time All-Star Chris Paul of the Phoenix Suns.

Joining the pair as reserves from the west are Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers), Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert (both Utah Jazz), Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers) and Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans) – who is a first-time All-Star.

The All-Star Game rosters will be determined through a March 4 draft, where James and Durant will select from the pool of players voted as starters and reserves in each conference.

The 10 All-Star Game starters were unveiled last week, with Durant, Kyrie Irving (Nets) two-time reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks), Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards) and Joel Embiid (76ers) in the Eastern Conference starter pool.

James, Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks), Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets) and Kawhi Leonard (Clippers) are in the Western Conference starter pool.

76ers head coach Doc Rivers will coach Team Durant, while Quin Snyder of the Jazz will coach Team LeBron.

The high-flying Brooklyn Nets made it six straight wins in the NBA with a 112-108 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Brooklyn were missing star Kevin Durant (hamstring) once again, but James Harden (37 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists) and Kyrie Irving (28 points and eight assists) stepped up in his absence.

The Nets held a 10-point lead at the final break but roared on by billionaire owner Steve Ballmer in the front row, the Clippers pushed hard in the last.

With the Nets leading 110-108 with 10 seconds to play, Clippers star Kawhi Leonard (29 points and 13 rebounds) was called for a tough offensive foul on former MVP Harden, spurning their final chance at victory.

The Nets have beaten all five Pacific Division teams on the road over their last 5 games. According to Stats Perform, Brooklyn are the first NBA team to beat an entire division on the road in consecutive games since the Milwaukee Bucks did so against the Pacific Division over their last five games of the 1972-73 season.

Brooklyn wrapped up a 5-0 road trip – their longest undefeated single trip in franchise history.

The Nets improved to 20-12 in the Eastern Conference – a half-game adrift of leaders the Philadelphia 76ers, while the Clippers slipped to 22-10.

James Harden warned the Brooklyn Nets are still growing after taking down Kawhi Leonard's Los Angeles Clippers as they extended their winning streak to six games in the NBA.

The star-studded Nets wrapped up a 5-0 road trip – their longest undefeated single trip in franchise history – with a 112-108 victory against the Clippers on Sunday.

Former MVP Harden (37 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists) and star team-mate Kyrie Irving (28 points) combined to inspire the Nets in the absence of Kevin Durant (hamstring).

The Nets have beaten all five Pacific Division teams on the road over their last 5 games. According to Stats Perform, Brooklyn are the first NBA team to beat an entire division on the road in consecutive games since the Milwaukee Bucks did so against the Pacific Division over their last five games of the 1972-73 season.

"The most I'm proud of is our mindset every game, every possession," said Harden, who joined the Nets from the Houston Rockets in a blockbuster trade in January.

"We don't take our opponent lightly at all, no matter who we're playing it's the same goal. It's the same mindset and that is to go out there and help each other defensively. Offensively, take your shots when you're open and when you're not, be unselfish. And it's contagious on both ends of the floor as you can see.

"So, we're still growing, but this is a really good road trip for us and now we get the opportunity to go back home and keep playing that same brand of basketball."

The in-form Nets (20-12) are now within half a game of Eastern Conference leaders the Philadelphia 76ers (20-11).

"I think just staying resilient with everything that's going on, not just within our league but in the world," Irving said about the Nets' winning run. "Obviously, we know how much of a privilege and blessing it is to be able to play this game every day so we just want to wish all the families at home well during these times.

"We get two hours, two and a half hours, three hours of basketball just entertaining people, so we don't take that for granted. Besides the winning streak, that's great, I just feel like it's a bigger purpose out here, so we're just having fun and we get to compete against the best. So that's why I think our resilience is probably what I'm most grateful for."

"We're all individuals, but we can hold each other to a standard where we all meet," continued Irving. "I think we've been able to communicate that in a very unique way. Steve [Nash] holds us accountable because we need to be coached. I don't know everything, everyone else on the team [doesn't], so it takes a full collective effort for us to go against these great teams.

"That's what I feel. I think he's right. I agree with him on that sentiment, but like I said, it's just a standard we can hold each other to. We want to be coached hard."

Nets head coach Steve Nash added: "A non-negotiable step in any team's aspirations is to have that resolve and toughness and connectivity. I've been saying that since day one and we're starting to see more consistent efforts. I just get a sense that our guys are coming together a little more off the floor as well.

"They're finding a bit of a bond and a joy playing together and fighting for one another and that is, other than the toughness and application I talked about, the fact that those guys have come together a little bit more, look like they like each other and want to play for each other has been the most positive part of the last six games."

LeBron James became third player in NBA history to clock up 35,000 points but could not prevent the Los Angeles Lakers falling 109-98 against the in-form Brooklyn Nets.

James needed 15 points to join esteemed company in Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone, and it took him until just before half-time to achieve the feat at Staples Center.

Hours before tip off, the 36-year-old was named a team captain in the 2021 All-Star game, becoming first player to be selected 17 straight times, and he went on to put up 32 points on Thursday.

But it was not enough for the NBA’s number one defense, as the Nets extended their winning run to five games, with Kyrie Irving returning from back tightness to boost the NBA’s number one offense.

James Harden powered up the Nets with his 18th double-double (23 points, 11 assists) of the season, while Joe Harris showed his three-point prowess, dropping six of seven attempts, to clock up 21 total points.

Brooklyn rallied midway through the first half, sinking seven from 11 shots from downtown to open up an 11-point lead. It was one they never relinquished to move to 19-12, while the Lakers fall to 22-8.
 

Red-hot Butler does it again

Jimmy Butler recorded his third straight triple-double (13 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds) in the Miami Heat's 118-110 win against the Sacramento Kings, while Bam Adebayo also got in on the act with 16 points, 10 assist and 12 rebounds. They are the only teammates to ever record same-game triple-doubles in multiple games.

Steve Nash said the Brooklyn Nets were "rightfully excited" about "a great morale booster" after a sensational fightback against the Phoenix Suns.

The Nets were down 24 points late in the second quarter and 21 at halftime, failing to lead at any point until a clutch James Harden three with 31.4 seconds remaining.

Harden added late free throws to clinch an epic 128-124 win, the first in franchise history after trailing by 21 points or more through two quarters.

The victory came despite Kyrie Irving's absence with tightness in his lower back, while Kevin Durant remained out due to a hamstring injury.

Coach Nash said of the locker room post-game: "It's all vibes in there right now, all vibes.

"The guys are rightfully excited. It's a great morale booster, especially missing Kevin and Ky and finding a way to make up for a 24-point deficit.

"We showed a lot of character, a lot of heart, and as a coaching staff, that just makes you proud."

Harden carried the team in the closing stages when the Nets went on a 12-0 run over the final two and a half minutes.

The last team to trail by at least eight points at that stage of a game before scoring 12 or more unanswered points to win were the Los Angeles Lakers in Kobe Bryant's final game in 2016.

Harden contributed 38 points - his most since moving to Brooklyn - along with 11 assists and seven rebounds, but he hailed the effort of the whole team.

"This is the true definition of a team; one man, two men go down, it's just next man up," he said.

"We got down 20-something at halftime and we didn't give up, we didn't quit, kept fighting. We cut the deficit down, kept fighting, and gave ourselves the chance to win it at the end of the game. Things went our way."

It does not get any easier for the Nets now, though, with defending champions the Lakers up next.

"We know who they have over there," Nash said. "We know how well they're coached and what they've been able to do in the last year or so.

"So it's a great test for us. You load the guys up and be ready to go and try to keep getting better."

But Harden is focused only on Brooklyn's continued improvement as they aim to extend a four-match winning run, over which Harden has averaged 26.3 points per game.

"Obviously, offensively we're really, really good," he said. "Defensively, we're not so great.

"So we have to find ways to be better in that category, which we all know. We're working on that, and whether it's the Lakers or any other team, that doesn't get us excited because we're still working on ourselves, if that makes sense.

"Obviously, we understand that calibre of team we're playing. But then the whole situation is we are working on ourselves."

LeBron James' double-double fired the Los Angeles Lakers back to winning ways, while James Harden stepped up to rally the Kyrie Irving-less Brooklyn Nets past the high-flying Phoenix Suns.

James put up 30 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists as the reigning NBA champions leaned on their defense in the 112-104 victory over the last-placed Minnesota Timberwolves.

Without the injured Anthony Davis, Dennis Schroder played the supporting role for James, posting 24 points, while the Lakers battled to claim eight steals and seven blocks in a closely fought contest.

After taking a two-point lead into the fourth quarter at Target Center, the road side pulled away in the closing stages to improve to 22-7 in second place in the Western Conference.

Harden pulled out the stops with a double-double to lead the Nets to a sensational 128-124 comeback win against the Suns, despite playing without Irving after the star guard felt tightness in his lower back.

Nets coach Steve Nash revealed Irving received treatment at half-time of Brooklyn's win against the Sacramento Kings on Monday but expects the six-time All-Star to only be sidelined in the short term.

The Nets surged, scoring 40 fourth-quarter points to turn around a 24-point deficit, with Harden (38 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds) backed up by Joe Harris (22 points) as they halted the Suns' six-game winning streak.

Jokic burns Celtics but Nuggets fall short, Zion on target for Pelicans

Nikola Jokic lit up the Boston Celtics, scoring 43 points, but the Denver Nuggets could still not make triple-digits as their three-game winning stretch was ended in a 112-99 loss.

Zion Williamson shot an efficient 31 points, sinking 13 of his 16 field-goal efforts and going four-of-four from the free-throw line, as the New Orleans Pelicans snapped a three-match losing run with a 144-113 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Meanwhile, Damian Lillard’s 31-point, 10-assist double-double led the Portland Trail Blazers past the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 115-104 win, while centre Enes Kanter pulled down 21 rebounds.

 

Bazley struggles to take his chances

The Thunder never recovered against the Blazers after falling 34-21 behind in the first quarter and forward Darius Bazley was one player that could not find his range.

Bazley shot four from 16 from the field for 14 points during his 36 minutes on court, only dropping one his seven efforts from three-point range.

 

Giannis powers up but the Raps edge the Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo proved unplayable at times, scoring 34 points in the Milwaukee Bucks' 124-113 loss against the Toronto Raptors, as he ghosted past three defenders for one of his buckets.

Tuesday's results

Boston Celtics 112-99 Denver Nuggets
Portland Trail Blazers 115-104 Oklahoma City Thunder 
Los Angeles Lakers 112-104 Minnesota Timberwolves
New Orleans Pelicans 144-113 Memphis Grizzlies 
Toronto Raptors 124-113 Milwaukee Bucks 
Brooklyn Nets 128-124 Phoenix Suns

 

Jazz at Clippers

There has been no stopping the Utah Jazz, who have won eight straight and 19 of their past 20 games to establish a lead in the Western Conference, but a tough challenge awaits when they go on the road to face the third-placed Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.

Jordan Clarkson and Ben Simmons were drawn into a high-scoring shoot-out as the NBA-leading Utah Jazz powered past the Philadelphia 76ers 134-123 in a mouth-watering showdown.

In a battle pitting the Western Conference-leading Jazz against Eastern Conference pacesetters, the Jazz came out on top thanks to Clarkson's 40 points.

Utah's Clarkson nailed a stunning eight three-pointers as he became first player to come off the bench and score 40 points in less than 30 minutes since 1991.

In response, 76ers All-Star Simmons fired up for a career-high 42 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, and Tobias Harris put up a 36-point, 10-rebound double-double, but the 76ers could not keep up with the Jazz.

Simmons opened with a career-best quarter of 19 points to give the 76ers a seven-point lead at the first buzzer before Utah took over and claimed an eighth straight win, and a 19th win in 20 games.

Missing Joel Embiid to a back injury, the 76ers' third straight loss opened the door for the Brooklyn Nets to close the gap in the east and they obliged, posting a franchise-record 25 three-pointers in a 132-121 win over the Sacramento Kings.

Kyrie Irving put up 40 points and former MVP James Harden added a triple-double (29 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds) to lead the Nets to a third consecutive victory as the struggling Kings fell to a fourth straight defeat.

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