James Harden and Kyrie Irving combined to lead the star-studded Brooklyn Nets to a 113-106 victory over the Washington Wizards as Blake Griffin made his bow.

Harden posted 26 points and eight assists, while Irving had 28 points and seven rebounds to fuel the Nets in the NBA on Sunday.

The Wizards, who trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half and 12 in the second, closed to 103-102 three minutes from the end in Brooklyn, where former All-Star Griffin debuted after his arrival from the Detroit Pistons earlier this month.

But Nicolas Claxton (16 points) stepped up with two dunks and some big plays down the stretch to lift the Nets past the Wizards.

Russell Westbrook finished with 29 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists but the Wizards still lost on the road, where team-mate Rui Hachimura added 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Elsewhere, Zion Williamson joined Shaquille O'Neal (2000-01) as the only players in the shot-clock era to score 20-plus points on 50 per cent shooting or better in 20 consecutive games in a single season.

Williamson posted 30 points on nine-of-13 shooting from the field as the New Orleans Pelicans upstaged the Denver Nuggets 113-108.

Brandon Ingram also had 30 points for the Pelicans, while MVP candidate and Nuggets star Nikola Jokic (29 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists) registered his 52nd career triple-double and 11th of the season.

 

Paul reaches milestone

Chris Paul became the sixth player in NBA history to reach 10,000 career assists, joining John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Mark Jackson and Magic Johnson. Paul finished with 11 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds in the Phoenix Suns' 111-94 victory against the Los Angeles Lakers, who were without injured stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Montrezl Harrell had 23 points and 10 rebounds for defending champions the Lakers.

The Dallas Mavericks routed the Portland Trail Blazers 132-92 behind Luka Doncic's 37 points. His 117 points across a three-game span are the second most in franchise history, only behind his 118 in a three-game period last month.

Collin Sexton scored 23 of his 36 points in the second half and Jarrett Allen (17 points and 15 rebounds) contributed a double-double as the Cleveland Cavaliers topped the slumping Toronto Raptors 116-105, condemning their opponents to an eighth consecutive loss.

The Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers earned their 15th straight win over the New York Knicks – a narrow 101-100 overtime success, dating back to December 2017. It is the longest active winning streak in the NBA by one team over another and the fourth longest run over a single opponent in franchise history.

 

Rockets can't stop the rot

The Houston Rockets suffered a franchise-record 20th consecutive defeat after going down 114-112 at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Rockets' skid is tied for the ninth-worst in NBA history and the worst since the 76ers and their record-setting 28-game losing streak across the 2014-15 and 2015-16 campaigns.

The Pistons and Miami Heat both struggled from three-point range. Detroit were just 16 per cent (four of 25) in their 100-86 loss to the Chicago Bulls, while Miami were 24.3 per cent (nine of 37) in a 109-106 overtime defeat against the Indiana Pacers.

It was a forgettable night for Damian Lillard and the Blazers. All-Star Lillard (19 points) was just seven of 16 from the field, while he missed all seven of his three-point attempts. Portland team-mate C.J. McCollum (13 points) was not much better after going six-of-15 shooting and 0-of-five from beyond the arc in 24 minutes.

 

Griffin can still dunk

Much has been made about Griffin and his lack of dunks. Not since December 2019 had Griffin dunked in the NBA amid question marks over his troublesome knee and fitness. But that changed in his debut on Sunday. Griffin, who finished with two points in 15 minutes, dunked in the final quarter.

 

Sunday's results

Indiana Pacers 109-106 Miami Heat (OT)
Oklahoma City Thunder 114-112 Houston Rockets
New Orleans Pelicans 113-108 Denver Nuggets
Boston Celtics 112-96 Orlando Magic
Brooklyn Nets 113-106 Washington Wizards
Cleveland Cavaliers 116-105 Toronto Raptors
Chicago Bulls 100-86 Detroit Pistons
Philadelphia 76ers 101-1000 New York Knicks (OT)
Phoenix Suns 111-94 Los Angeles Lakers
Dallas Mavericks 132-92 Portland Trail Blazers

 

Pacers at Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks (27-14) will look to extend their winning streak to seven games when they host the Pacers (19-22) on Monday. Indiana have won back-to-back games.

Kyrie Irving is "super excited" at the prospect of having Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin on the same team after the Brooklyn Nets saw a six-match winning streak snapped by the Orlando Magic.

The Nets had lost just once in 15 previous NBA outings before going down 121-113 at the Amway Center on Friday.

Irving scored 43 points and also posted six rebounds and four assists, while James Harden contributed 19 points in the losing effort.

Aaron Gordon had 38 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Evan Fournier drained 31 points and Nikola Vucevic 22 for a Magic side that responded to a loss to the New York Knicks last time out.

Irving said the loss can be a "great learning experience".

"They just got going early and we got down in a hole. And when you're trying to play out of a hole for the rest of the game, obviously when teams are shooting the three — or when a team is shooting the three like they were tonight — it makes it a lot more difficult and you have to be perfect down the stretch," Irving said. 

"But they came in off a back-to-back very desperate, and we didn't match their energy so it kind of happens like that, this is what it feels like to lose. 

"We don't want too many more feelings like this, so just learn from it and move forward, but great learning experience."

The Nets, second in the East, will soon be reinforced by the return of Kevin Durant, who is absent with a hamstring injury, and Griffin, who is yet to play since signing for Brooklyn on March 8.

Griffin has been contending with a left knee issue and Irving is excited by the impact both men can have on the team.

"I am super excited. You know, it's just high-level talent out there," he added.

"So, when you can just prepare for the game and go over the X's and O's, you can look to your left and right and know the guys next to you have your back and you're able to play at a high level offensively and defensively and make an impact, you've got to look forward to that. 

"I look forward to it for sure. And as a competitor wanting to be on the main stage, we want all our guys healthy. 

"Hopefully we can hit a stride at the right time and make a run, but this is great practice ground right now to just get as healthy as we can before stepping into the playoffs soon, very soon."

The Brooklyn Nets' six-game winning streak came to a grinding halt with a 121-113 loss to the lowly Orlando Magic, despite the return of Kyrie Irving after groin soreness.

The Magic were coming into the match on a nine-game losing streak, but jumped out of the blocks with Aaron Gordon scoring 21 points in the first half.

Orlando led by as many as 12 points in the second quarter before the Nets closed to trail by only two at the main break, led by Irving, who finished with a game-high 43 points, six rebounds and four assists.

James Harden's output was slightly down, finishing with 19 points, four rebounds and nine assists as Orlando raced away again in the third.

Gordon finished with a season-high 38 points, Evan Fournier scored 31, while center Nikola Vucevic had 22 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists as the Magic pulled off an upset.

The Utah Jazz returned to the winners' list with a thrilling 115-112 triumph over the Toronto Raptors, who have now lost seven in a row.

The Jazz had lost four of six coming into the match, but found some form, led by Donovan Mitchell with 31 points and five rebounds, the star pinching the lead late after the Raptors were up by five with 90 seconds to go.

Pascal Siakam put up a three-point attempt on the buzzer which cruelly rimmed out.

Blazers do it again, Wiggins' season high

CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard produced another special performance as the Portland Trail Blazers came from behind again to win their third straight game, 125-119 over the Dallas Mavericks.

McCollum finished with 32 points, including seven three-pointers, while Lillard had 31 points along with six assists as Portland scored 32 points to 21 in the last to win. The victory was also Portland's Terry Stotts' 500th as head coach.

Andrew Wiggins produced a season-high 40 points, including six three-pointers, eight rebounds and four steals as the Golden State Warriors beat the Memphis Grizzlies 116-103.

Nikola Jokic sparkled with 34 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists as the Denver Nuggets edged the Chicago Bulls in overtime 131-127. Jamal Murray also scored 34 for Denver.

Guard Malcolm Brogdon scored 27 points as the Indiana Pacers piled on the points in a 137-110 win over the Miami Heat.

Mason Plumlee had 16 rebounds while Frank Jackson scored 23 points as the struggling Detroit Pistons won back-to-back games, 113-100 over the Houston Rockets, who have lost 19 in a row.

 

Melo makes history

Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony, 36, scored 18 points in Portland's win but he also brought up the milestone of 27,000 NBA points, becoming only the 11th player to reach the figure.

When the Brooklyn Nets signed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the 2019 offseason, it was apparent that the team were destined to eventually become a juggernaut.

With two stars and the talent behind them to either keep a deep bench or trade for a third star, the Nets were always in position to become a contender, even with Durant sitting out last season to rehabilitate his ruptured Achilles.

Because of Brooklyn's pedigree, Steve Nash – the former two-time MVP turned first-year head coach – will not be considered for Coach of the Year.

But Brooklyn's road to title contention has been a bumpy one, and Nash has helped guide the Nets to the top of the Eastern Conference – alongside the Philadelphia 76ers – despite challenging circumstances.

The Nets have won six games in a row to climb to 28-13, tied with the 76ers for the best record in the East, but it can be easy to forget the obstacles Brooklyn have faced in the first half of the season. 

One look at the Nets' first game of the season, a 125-99 win over the Golden State Warriors, serves as a reminder of this team's dramatic metamorphosis.

Spencer Dinwiddie started in the backcourt alongside Irving to open the season but played just three games before suffering a ligament tear in his right knee, ending his season.

Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Landry Shamet and Taurean Prince combined to play over 80 minutes in the season opener and only now remains in Brooklyn after the James Harden trade – Shamet.

Since the Nets traded away much of their depth, Nash has tinkered with line-ups and found gems further down the bench to supplement the team's star-power.

Bruce Brown, who was acquired in November for virtually nothing, has morphed into a versatile role-player who is very efficient from the floor.

Brown played a total of 13 minutes in the Nets' first seven games this season but has become a key member of the team's rotation, starting in 23 games and guarding much taller players in Brooklyn's smaller line-ups. Brown is shooting 55.5 per cent from the floor this campaign and averaged 18.0 points during a six-game stretch before the All-Star break. Brooklyn are 11-2 when Brown scores in double figures this season and 7-0 when he scores at least 15.

Tyler Johnson was also an afterthought to start the season, appearing in just seven of Brooklyn's first 24 games. Since then, Johnson has played just under 20 minutes per game while developing into a reliable floor-spacer, shooting 42.4 percent from beyond the three-point arc this term and going five for eight from deep in his only start.

Journeyman Jeff Green is scoring 11.9 points per game since the Harden trade – compared to 6.1 before the deal – and has even started at center when DeAndre Jordan has been forced to miss games.

While Nash has been blessed with three star players on his roster, even the trio of Durant, Irving and Harden has faced hardships.

Irving took an indefinite leave of absence for personal reasons in early January without communicating with the team first. While he only missed seven games, the mystery of Irving's absence left the Nets in a state of uncertainty and left Nash to answer for his star guard amid a barrage of media questions.

Nash showed the savvy of a veteran head coach and the sensitivity required in the new-age NBA by not vilifying Irving. A more authoritarian coach could have used the media to force Irving back, a move that may have jeopardised a relationship with a star player and eroded the trust of the entire team.

Irving returned with back-to-back 30-point games and is averaging career highs with 27.6 points per game, 52.0-percent shooting from the field and 41.5-percent shooting from beyond the arc.

Then there is Durant, who has reminded the world that he may have been the best player in the NBA before rupturing his Achilles in the 2019 NBA Finals, but the former MVP has missed more games than he has played this season.

After two stints in league COVID-19 protocols, Durant has been sidelined for over a month with a hamstring strain and is expected to be out another week or two after having a routine MRI to track progress.

In all, the Nets have had 21 different starting line-ups this season, second only to the Houston Rockets' 26. That number is likely to increase soon, once Blake Griffin is ready to make his Brooklyn debut.

Only sharpshooter Joe Harris has played in every game for the Nets in 2020-21.

While Harden has been reliably excellent since moving to Brooklyn, Irving has missed 12 games and Durant has been absent for 22. The trio have been on the floor for just 186 minutes so far, less than 10 percent of Brooklyn's season.

Those minutes, however, have been transcendent, bucking a recent trend of power trios going through growing pains before hitting their stride.

With Durant, Irving and Harden on the floor at the same time, the Nets are averaging 120.6 points per 100 possessions. And while some pundits envisioned this offensive-minded trio taking turns in isolation plays, 64.8 percent of the Nets' field goals have been assisted when they all play together, more than when one or more of the stars is relegated to the sideline.

It is hard to deny Nash credit for the quick chemistry between Durant, Irving and Harden, and his ability to fill gaps with role players has kept Brooklyn playing well even when the stars are sitting.

The Nets' star-power makes Nash virtually ineligible to win Coach of the Year, an award that typically goes to an over-performing team that are good but not great. While Durant, Irving and Harden will receive accolades for the Nets' season, a lesser coach certainly could have derailed this runaway train given the numerous challenges.

Yes, the Nets have elite talent. But Nash has done plenty to maximise that talent while largely flying under the radar.

James Harden revelled in his history-making triple-double as the star-studded Brooklyn Nets stayed hot in the NBA.

Harden posted a triple-double of 21 points, 15 assists and 15 rebounds to fuel the in-form Nets to their fifth consecutive victory – a 117-112 win over rivals the New York Knicks on Monday.

Former MVP Harden became the first Nets player in franchise history to have a 15-plus point, 15-plus assist and 15-plus assist game.

Nets superstar Harden is averaging 25.0 points, 11.1 assists and 8.1 rebounds per game this season.

After the Nets (27-13) recorded their 13th win in 14 games, Harden was asked about triple-doubles and he told reporters "Whatever it takes. Like rebounding, I try to go help it, especially when we're small.

"I know I have to go rebound the basketball a little bit more. I know I have to put my body on bigs a little bit more because I'm not athletic enough or big enough to be able to jump with them. I've got to use my body just being crafty around that rim as far as rebounding.

"And then playmaking, it's just getting my team-mates shots and getting our bigs easy opportunities at the rim. Offensively, I'm not being as efficient as I want to be, but that's come and that's the least of my worries, the least of my concerns.

"I'm just excited and happy to continue this journey with these guys. We're playing some pretty good basketball right now."

Nets team-mate Kyrie Irving had a game-high 34 points as Brooklyn won the Battle of the Boroughs against the Knicks.

"As a kid, obviously New Jersey versus New York, that was a big thing," Irving added. "Whether the Knicks were at Continental Airlines Arena, or New Jersey was at MSG, now that Brooklyn versus New York, kind of the whole entire area, a lot of people I see on Instagram and Twitter, media outlets, just New York, New York versus this whole big thing.

"But I think as players we feel it naturally. But obviously, being from here, it's a little bit of have a different sentiment, because I got to go home and actually be around Knicks and Nets fans. It's my family. So it's basketball, it's competition. It's a world sport. So it's just nothing but respect. But obviously you want to come out here and just have fun going against New York Knicks. They've been playing well season so well, Coach, team, and just appreciate the opportunity."

James Harden made history as the Brooklyn Nets earned bragging rights against rivals the New York Knicks following their 117-112 win in the NBA on Monday.

Harden posted a triple-double of 21 points, 15 assists and 15 rebounds to fuel the in-form Nets to their fifth consecutive victory.

The former MVP became the first Nets player in franchise history to have a 15-plus point, 15-plus assist and 15-plus assist game.

Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 34 points for the star-studded Nets, who won for the 13th time in 14 games.

A 33-point and 12-rebound double-double from All-Star Julius Randle was not enough for the Knicks in the Battle of the Boroughs.

Giannis Antetokounmpo recorded his third straight triple-double to lead the Milwaukee Bucks past the lowly Washington Wizards 133-122.

Two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo had 31 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists as the Bucks extended their winning streak to four games.

Antetokounmpo became the first reigning NBA MVP with three consecutive 20-point triple-doubles since Hall of Famer Michael Jordan in 1988-89, while he is the first Bucks player with three successive triple-doubles.

Big games from Bradley Beal (37 points) and Russell Westbrook (23 points and 17 assists) were not enough to inspire the Wizards.

 

LeBron lifts Lakers, Curry makes history

LeBron James produced another dominant display as defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers routed the Golden State Warriors 128-97. James put up his fourth triple-double of the season – 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.

Warriors star Stephen Curry finished with 27 points, three rebounds, two assists and three steals. With his second assist of the night, Curry (4,856) surpassed Guy Rodgers (4,855) as the franchise's all-time assists leader. He also nailed a three-pointer in his 100th consecutive game, the third three-point streak of at least 100 games in NBA history. Curry holds the record with a 157-game three-point run between 2014 and 2016.

MVP candidate Nikola Jokic put up 32 points and 14 rebounds in the Denver Nuggets' 121-106 win at home to the Indiana Pacers – his 35th double-double of the season.

Luka Doncic recorded a triple-double of 25 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds, but the Dallas Mavericks lost 109-99 to the Los Angeles Clippers. With his 34th career triple-double, Doncic moved ahead of Bob Cousy for 11th on the all-time list.

 

Morant and George lack efficiency

Both Ja Morant and Paul George tallied double-digit points for their respective teams, however, it was far from convincing. Morant was four-of-12 shooting for 15 points in 29 minutes as the Memphis Grizzlies went down 122-99 to the Phoenix Suns, while Clippers star George had 15 points on five-of-18 shooting.

 

Poetry in motion

James was at his brilliant best against the Warriors, highlighted by a driving run to the basket in the second quarter.

 

Monday's results

Charlotte Hornets 122-116 Sacramento Kings
Milwaukee Bucks 133-122 Washington Wizards
Brooklyn Nets 117-112 New York Knicks
San Antonio Spurs 109-99 Detroit Pistons
Los Angeles Clippers 109-99 Dallas Mavericks
Denver Nuggets 121-106 Indiana Pacers
Phoenix Suns 122-99 Memphis Grizzlies
Los Angeles Lakers 128-97 Golden State Warriors

 

Knicks at 76ers

The Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers (27-12) will put their five-game winning streak on the line when they host the Knicks (20-20) on Tuesday.

Kyrie Irving has his eyes on the prize after starring for the Brooklyn Nets in a Thursday's 121-109 victory over his former team the Boston Celtics.

Irving put up 40 points in the Nets' first game back since the NBA All-Star break, reminding the Celtics what they have been missing out on since he left in 2019.

His efforts laid the foundations for a 12th win in 13 games for the Nets, who were without Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin as former MVP James Harden posted 22 points and 10 rebounds.

While Irving clearly enjoyed his night's work, he is looking ahead to the playoffs after snapping the Celtics' four-game winning run.

"I'm just waiting for the main stage," he said. "Playing in front of millions of people and it actually mattering in terms of win or lose or go home.

"I'm looking forward to that, but games like this in the middle of the season against guys that you know well, that's always a blessing."

Irving hugged his old team-mates at the end of the contest, apparently making a mockery of the notion he has a frosty relationship with his erstwhile colleagues.

"Big surprise to a lot of people," he joked. "All that s*** talking about me and all the relationships I have with every former team-mate of mine."

Harden was full of praise for Irving, suggesting it was the 28-year-old's mental toughness that elevated him above the crowd.

"He's a different breed," Harden said. "He has that killer mentality in a sense of, no matter who we play or where we're playing, he is going to go out there and try to destroy the opponent, and that's something that you'd want on your team at all times.

"That mentality is what sets him apart from a lot of guys in this league."

Kyrie Irving posted 40 points to lead the Brooklyn Nets past former team the Boston Celtics 121-109.

In the team's first game back since the NBA All-Star break, Irving – who left the Celtics in 2019 – starred as the Nets recorded their 12th win in 13 outings.

Former MVP James Harden had 22 points and 10 rebounds on Thursday, in the absence of star team-mate Kevin Durant (hamstring) and recruit Blake Griffin.

The Celtics were fuelled by Jayson Tatum's 31 points, but still had their four-game winning streak snapped.

Two-time reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo guided the Milwaukee Bucks to a comprehensive 134-101 victory over the New York Knicks.

Antetokounmpo – named All-Star Game MVP after starring for Team LeBron in Atlanta on Sunday – continued where he left off for the Bucks.

He had 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in 29 minutes for his fifth triple-double of the season.

Bucks team-mate Bryn Forbes (21 points) nailed the most threes without missing in Bucks history after going seven of seven from beyond the arc.

 

Young stars as Hawks soar

Trae Young put up 37 points as the Atlanta Hawks topped the Toronto Raptors 121-120. Atlanta trailed by 15-plus points in the fourth quarter in each of their last two games but came back to win both. According to Stats Perform, they are the only team in the past 15 years to overcome a 15-plus point fourth-quarter deficit to win back-to-back games. Norman Powell's 33 points and double-doubles from Kyle Lowry (17 points and 12 assists) and Aron Baynes (11 points and 15 rebounds) were not enough for the Raptors.

The Miami Heat defeated the Orlando Magic 111-103 behind Jimmy Butler's 27 points and 11 assists. All-Star Nikola Vucevic's double-double of 24 points and 17 rebounds was not enough for the Magic.

No Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons? No worries for the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers. Tobias Harris scored 24 points to lift the 76ers to a third consecutive win – a 127-105 success against the Chicago Bulls.

Devin Booker's 35 points inspired the Phoenix Suns to a 127-121 victory against the Portland Trail Blazers, who had 30 points from All-Star Damian Lillard.

All of the Sacramento Kings' starters were in double figures for points) as they took down the Houston Rockets 125-105 – De'Aaron Fox (30), Richaun Holmes (20 and 11 rebounds), Harrison Barnes (20 and 11 rebounds), Buddy Hield (20) and Marvin Bagley III (11).

 

Ball struggles

The Charlotte Hornets beat the Detroit Pistons 105-102, but it was a rough night for rookie LaMelo Ball. In 29 minutes, Ball made just three of 11 from the field and nailed only one of five three-point attempts for seven points.

After his All-Star appearance, Knicks forward Julius Randle finished three-of-12 shooting for seven points.

Stephen Curry won the All-Star Three-Point Contest, but he was far from convincing in the Golden State Warriors' 130-104 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. He made just one of eight three-pointers, finishing with 14 points on six-of-16 shooting.

 

Snell with the buzzer-beating three

With the Hawks trailing 120-118, Tony Snell called game after sinking a three as time expired.

 

Thursday's results

Brooklyn Nets 121-109 Boston Celtics
Atlanta Hawks 121-120 Toronto Raptors
Miami Heat 111-103 Orlando Magic
Philadelphia 76ers 127-105 Chicago Bulls
Milwaukee Bucks 134-101 New York Knicks
Minnesota Timberwolves 135-105 New Orleans Pelicans
Oklahoma City Thunder 116-108 Dallas Mavericks
Charlotte Hornets 105-102 Detroit Pistons
Los Angeles Clippers 130-104 Golden State Warriors
Phoenix Suns 127-121 Portland Trail Blazers
Sacramento Kings 125-105 Houston Rockets

 

Pacers at Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers (24-13) will return to action following the All-Star break, hosting the Indiana Pacers (16-19) on Friday. LeBron James' Lakers have lost back-to-back games.

Giannis Antetokounmpo added another MVP award to his growing collection as the Milwaukee Bucks superstar guided Team LeBron to a 170-150 victory over Team Durant in Sunday's All-Star Game.

The previous three All-Star contests had pitted LeBron James against Antetokounmpo in a mouth-watering Team LeBron versus Team Giannis matchup.

But James and Antetokounmpo joined forces for this year's 70th All-Star Game as the later fuelled Team LeBron to a comprehensive win in Atlanta.

Two-time reigning NBA MVP Antetokounmpo – drafted first by Los Angeles Lakers superstar James – led Team LeBron to a fourth consecutive All-Star triumph behind his game-high 35 points on 16-for-16 shooting.

Antetokounmpo joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to go 16-for-16 or better from the field in any game (regular season, playoffs or All-Star Game), per Stats Perform. Chamberlain accomplished the feat twice in the regular season in 1966-67 (18-for-18 and 16-for-16).

Antetokounmpo's performance earned All-Star Game Kobe Bryant MVP honours for the first time in his career.

Team LeBron – without Joel Embiid as he joined Philadelphia 76ers team-mate and Team Durant's Ben Simmons in sitting out due to COVID-19 contact tracing – entered the fourth quarter requiring only 24 points to seal victory under the Elam Ending rule.

Each of the first three quarters started with the score at 0-0 and lasted the standard 12 minutes, with the game clock turned off for the final period and a final target score set.

Team LeBron's Damian Lillard sealed the victory with a three-pointer – the Portland Trail Blazers guard posting 32 points.

Stephen Curry, who won the Three-Point Contest as All-Star proceedings were condensed into one day amid the coronavirus pandemic – had 28 points for Team LeBron, including eight three-pointers in 22 minutes.

Jaylen Brown was next best for Team LeBron, while James tallied four points, four assists, two rebounds and a block in 13 minutes of action and Chris Paul posted six points and 16 assists.

Bradley Beal (26), Kyrie Irving (24 and 12 assists), James Harden (21), Jayson Tatum (21), Donovan Mitchell (15), Zach Lavine (13) and Zion Williamson (10) all had double-digit points for Team Durant.

Blake Griffin has cleared free agency waivers and is set to join Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving on the Brooklyn Nets, according to reports.

The Athletic reported six-time All-Star Griffin was expected to link up with the NBA's latest 'big three' after leaving the lowly Detroit Pistons.

The 31-year-old, whose deal in Detroit was set to run until 2022, agreed a contract buyout with the Pistons earlier this week.

Griffin was tipped to join a contender, with the Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers mentioned alongside the Nets in initial reports.

But the star-studded Nets will seemingly get their man as they boost a roster that already includes three 2021 All-Stars.

The 24-13 Nets – second behind the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference – had been expected to add size after Jarrett Allen left in January as part of the blockbuster three-team trade that saw former MVP Harden arrive from the Houston Rockets.

Allen is now playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, where Andre Drummond – one mooted option – has sat out of action ahead of a potential move.

But Brooklyn are instead making Griffin their newest recruit, hoping he can stay fit for an extended period having played just 38 games since the start of last season.

Griffin has averaged 12.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 20 games this season for the Pistons (10-26), bottom in the east and only behind the Minnesota Timberwolves (7-29) for the worst record in the league.

Those numbers are down on his career average, including 8.7 boards per game, the same mark that Harden has reached for the Nets this season – a team-high among those still on the roster.

Brooklyn rank 14th in the league with 44.3 rebounds per game in 2020-21.

LeBron James selected two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo with his number one pick for the NBA All-Star Game, while Kevin Durant drafted Brooklyn Nets team-mate Kyrie Irving.

On Thursday, team captains James and Durant filled out their rosters for Sunday's All-Star contest in Atlanta.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar James and Milwaukee Bucks forward Antetokounmpo often go head-to-head in the All-Star Games as respective captains, but that is not the case this year.

Antetokounmpo will team up with James, who also selected Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and the Denver Nuggets' MVP candidate Nikola Jokic as starters.

Team LeBron's reserves are Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers), Chris Paul (Phoenix Suns), Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics), Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers), Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers) and Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz).

Durant – sidelined as he nurses a hamstring injury – turned to Brooklyn star Irving with the second overall pick in the All-Star draft.

MVP candidate and 76ers star Joel Embiid, Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, Washington Wizards sharpshooter Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum of the Celtics are the other starters for Team Durant.

The reserves drafted by Durant are James Harden (Nets), Devin Booker (Suns), Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans), Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls), Julius Randle (New York Knicks), Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic) and Donovan Mitchell (Jazz).

Team LeBron have won the past three All-Star Games after topping Team Giannis 157-155 in Chicago last year.

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.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash was left frustrated after injuries contributed to the end of the team's eight-game winning streak in the NBA.

The short-handed Nets had their streak snapped following Saturday's 115-98 defeat against the Dallas Mavericks.

Kyrie Irving (shoulder) joined fellow star Kevin Durant (hamstring) – who missed his seventh successive game – on the sidelines and former MVP James Harden was unable to lift the Nets in the duo's absence.

Harden posted 29 points for the Nets in Brooklyn, where he only managed four following half-time.

Afterwards, first-year coach Nash said: "I think everyone's frustrated that we just had a little, just shorter obviously options tonight.

"You're missing two All-Star starters, but even beyond that, Jeff [Green] went out, Tyler [Johnson] couldn't play. It just stretched everything and put us in territory where a lot of guys hadn't had a lot of minutes together.

"So, frustrating, but that's the nature of this season. I've said that time and time again. We're gonna have all sorts of nights where we're gonna mix and match, play different things, and tonight I think we weren't quite good enough, but Dallas played well and one or two too many factors that went against us."

"We usually take James out first, not first, but we take him out early so we can get him back in with the second unit," Nash added. "Obviously tonight we couldn't do that. We were just standing a little it and like I said, a bunch of guys who hadn't played a lot, hadn't played a lot together, and Dallas played well. It's a good team.

"We weren't maybe quite up to it tonight and needed to make more shots, turn the all over less, and it wasn't to be."

On playing short-handed against Luka Doncic and the Mavericks, Harden told reporters: "We fought in that first half. We were down double-digits, fought and cut it to four points at half-time.

"That second half, we just didn't have any legs on our entire team after losing a couple players. It was legs. Every time we made a run, they countered it and made a run. Credit to them. They played pretty well tonight. We just didn't have it.

"Throughout the course of a year, there's going to be games like that. We just chalk it up, prepare and get ready for San Antonio."

The Nets (22-13) are second in the Eastern Conference, half a game adrift of leaders the Philadelphia 76ers (22-12).

The Brooklyn Nets will be without star Kyrie Irving against the Dallas Mavericks due to "right shoulder injury recovery".

Brooklyn announced the absence of Irving ahead of Saturday's NBA clash with the Mavericks.

Seven-time All-Star and 2016 NBA champion Irving underwent shoulder surgery in March last year.

Irving has been averaging 27.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game for the star-studded Nets this season.

The Nets are already without former MVP Kevin Durant through the All-Star break.

A left hamstring injury means Durant will not return until after the All-Star Game, which takes place in Atlanta on March 7.

Durant has missed the Nets' last six games, though Brooklyn are in the midst of an eight-game winning streak.

The Nets (22-12) are second behind the Philadelphia 76ers (22-11) in the Eastern Conference.

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