After missing the better part of two months following an ankle injury, LeBron James sounded a positive note following his return to the Los Angeles Lakers lineup Saturday. 

James played 28 minutes in the Lakers' 122-115 win over the Indiana Pacers, scoring 24 points and adding eight assists and seven rebounds. 

He had missed 26 of the Lakers' previous 28 games after hurting his ankle on March 20, but said he felt much better on Saturday than he had in his brief return to play two weeks ago. 

"I felt pretty good -- a lot better than I did last time I suited up," James said. 

"Just been putting in a lot of work, obviously off the floor, just getting my ankle right, getting my foot right, but I felt pretty good going into the game. 

"I think every game I'll get better and better, but it was a good first test for me."

Lakers head coach George Vogel was pleased with what he saw, though he did not indicate how much James might play in Sunday's regular-season finale. 

"I think he looked really good," Vogel said. "Obviously it's still going to take time before he gets to a 100 per cent but I thought most of the game he was in control and looked like his old self."

The key indicator for James was the way he felt in the second half.

The last time he played, May 2 against the Toronto Raptors, his leg and ankle grew noticeably stiff at halftime. There were no such issues Saturday. 

"Being in the Toronto game just gave me a sense of where I was as far as my ankle, physically, but I needed that. I needed that test to see where I was then to know where I needed to go," James added.

"Today was another opportunity to see where I'm at and how far I can go, too. I've still got some more room for improvement as far as my ankle, my mobility and my strength, but I'm 10 times better than I was in that Toronto game and I believe I can get five to 10 times better in the future.

"The more games that we have, the more opportunity I have to continue to strengthen it, strengthen everything around it, and continue to get better. 

"We've got a great team. I've got a great team around me. My trainer's on me every single day, and I'm on myself about doing what I can do to be available to this team and controlling what I can control. That's all I can worry about." 

The Lakers enter Sunday level with the Portland Trail Blazers at 41-30, with the final spot in the Western Conference top six on the line. 

Los Angeles will play at the New Orleans Pelicans and Portland face the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, with both games starting at the same time. The Lakers need to win and have Portland lose to avoid the play-in tournament, as the Blazers own the tie-breaker between the two. 

James said it does not matter to him or the team which seed the Lakers end up getting. 

"Let the chips fall where they may. Simple as that," he said. "We're ready to go." 

LeBron James is to return to action on Saturday for the Los Angeles Lakers, while Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder are also set to play against the Indiana Pacers.

James has missed the previous six games for the defending NBA champions due to a high ankle sprain.

However, head coach Frank Vogel confirmed to the media that the four-time MVP will be involved against the Pacers in the Lakers' penultimate game in the regular season.

A win over Indiana, as well as in Sunday’s clash with the New Orleans Pelicans, and Los Angeles can rise to sixth in the Western Conference, provided the Portland Trail Blazers lose to the Denver Nuggets.

If they finish as the seventh seed, though, then they will have to go through the play-in tournament to have a chance of defending their title.

James initially missed 20 games earlier in the campaign with the injury to his right ankle that he suffered against the Atlanta Hawks on March 20.

He briefly made a comeback earlier this month, only to be sidelined again after feeling pain in his second outing back.

In the 2020-21 season, James has averaged 25 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.8 assists.

Davis sat out Wednesday's win over the Houston Rockets due to a groin issue but is available again, while Schroder has cleared the NBA's health and safety protocols put in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said "there's a chance" superstar LeBron James will return to face the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.

James returned from a six-week absence due to a right ankle sprain only to re-aggravate the injury after just two appearances for injury-hit NBA champions the Lakers.

There had been hopes that James would make his comeback against the New York Knicks on Tuesday or the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, but the four-time MVP missed both games.

The Lakers – who are seventh in the Western Conference and currently occupy a play-in position ahead of the playoffs – only have two regular-season matchups remaining and James is listed as questionable for the clash with the Pacers.

"We want to see how he feels in response to today's work, like always," Vogel told reporters on Friday. "But there's a chance that he plays if things go well."

James has been averaging 25.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game for the Lakers this season.

Through 43 games in 2020-21, James boasts a field-goal percentage of 51.3 – his best since 2017-18 and it is the same story regarding his three-point percentage of 36.6, which is his highest since that season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"Anytime you've had guys that have been out for extended absences and they're returning to play, it's always going to be a little bit imperfect," Vogel said.

"So the more minutes you can get those guys, the better off it's going to be for us, in terms of the readjustment period. So if we're able to do that, that would be great."

The Lakers could also be boosted by the return of fellow star Anthony Davis for the Pacers showdown.

Davis, who did not practice on Friday, sat out the 124-122 win over the lowly Rockets midweek due to groin tightness.

"I feel fine. I feel great," Davis said. "Went through some things during practice, not everything, but got some work going on, got some work in on the side. So felt great, felt great today."

When has a player averaged at least 29 points and 10 rebounds per game in a season but failed to win the NBA MVP award?

Here's a hint: the internet was in its infancy, Hootie and the Blowfish were selling albums by the millions and the Orlando Magic, of all teams, were the league's biggest thing.

Not since Shaquille O'Neal in 1994-95 has a player reached those numbers without taking away the NBA's most cherished piece of individual hardware. Shaq actually did it twice without winning an MVP, losing out to Hakeem Olajuwon in 1993-94 and David Robinson the following year. O'Neal did average 29 and 10 while winning an MVP with the Lakers in 1999-2000, and the two players who have hit those marks since (Russell Westbrook in 2016-17 and Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2019-20) each came home with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.

Joel Embiid appears destined to buck that recent trend.

If money talks, it's given an emphatic answer as to who will seize the honour in 2020-21. Nikola Jokic has emerged as an overwhelming favourite in betting markets across the globe to claim his first MVP, with Embiid holding the second-shortest odds and a rising Stephen Curry emerging as a clear third in the public's mind.

Jokic's credentials are unquestionably worthy. The Denver Nuggets big man is closing out an unprecedented season for a player who spends his time predominately in the post, having posted averages of 26.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.4 assists heading into Denver's final three regular-season outings.

Only two players in league history have averaged 25-10-8 in a season, and neither was a frontcourt player. The great Oscar Robertson did it three consecutive times across 1960-63, and Westbrook had two straight across 2016-18.

Jokic's immense value to a Nuggets team who have successfully withstood the season-ending injury to Jamal Murray to secure a top-four seed in the Western Conference is perhaps best illustrated by his share of the team's combined points, rebound and assists. No player this season has accumulated a higher percentage than his 24.5, with the Mavericks' Luka Doncic and the Knicks' Julius Randle tied in second at 22.8 per cent.

Embiid is well down on the list, ranking 16th overall due to the 20 games the somewhat fragile seven-footer has missed this season. His dominance and importance to the Eastern Conference front-running Philadelphia 76ers would show, however, if the chart were adjusted to exclude games in which a particular player was absent.

Using that criteria, Embiid has accounted for 23.2 percent of the 76ers' points, rebounds and assists in games that he's taken the floor. That number is right in line with that of the defending two-time MVP Antetokounmpo and would put him in the top five. For the record, Doncic would move ahead of Jokic for the top spot at 24.8 percent.

Embiid's scattered availability is no doubt detrimental to his case, more so when factoring in that Jokic hasn't sat out a game all season. Just once has a player missed 13 or more games in a season and been named MVP, when Bill Walton earned the award in 1977-78 despite playing in only 58 of the Trail Blazers' 82 games.

On the flip side, it's hard to find anyone who's been more instrumental to his team's success than Philly's All-Star center. The Sixers are 9-11 when Embiid has missed a game and 38-11 when he plays, a .776 winning percentage that would tower over the rest of the NBA this season.

Embiid's importance becomes even more apparent when viewing the 76ers' performance when he's been on the court as opposed to off.

Their points per 100 possessions drop to 105.1 from 117.2, while opponents' points climb slightly from 103.9 to 105.8. That means a point differential of +13.3 falls dramatically to -0.7. Their shooting from the field (50.5 per cent to 45.4 per cent) and from three-point range (40.4 per cent to 34.7 per cent) also decreases.

Though the Sixers have remained an elite defensive team without Embiid, all of those off-court offensive splits would rank near the bottom of the NBA. It's not hyperbole to summarise that without their franchise player, Philadelphia would be scrapping for a spot in the play-in round instead of being on the verge of claiming a conference regular-season title.

Embiid is far from the only star whose team perform at a significantly lower level when he's not around, though. The Warriors have won just one of the eight games Curry has missed, while defending champions the Lakers are a mediocre 12-15 when LeBron James has been injured or rested and have been 11.6 points per 100 possessions better when 'The King' has taken the court compared to off it.

Like Embiid, the slew of missed games is going to be hard for James to justify in the minds of voters, and he's not playing for a team set for the top playoff seed in his conference. And the Lakers' descent into the West's middle tier can't all be attributed to James' absences – they also were without Anthony Davis in two-thirds of the games LeBron hasn't played.

Curry also represents an interesting case, and if there were an MVP for only the season's final month-plus, he'd be a hands-down winner. The veteran sharpshooter has averaged an insane 36.7 points per game since April 10, a stretch in which the Warriors have gone 13-5 to elevate themselves from a postseason question mark to a lock for the play-in round.

The two-time MVP also has the on/off split factor working in his favour, as the Warriors are +4.0 points per 100 possessions better than their opponent when he's on the court and a lottery-level -4.9 differential when he's not. Another potential feather in Curry's cap would be if he can hold off Washington's Bradley Beal for the league's scoring title, as four of the past seven MVPs led the NBA in points per game.

Curry has rightfully received the most credit for Golden State's late-season surge, but a closer look shows it hasn't been a one-man show. Andrew Wiggins is finally at least bearing some resemblance to the player the Minnesota Timberwolves thought they were getting back in 2014, one teams build franchises around, and the Warriors have posted a league-low 105.1 defensive rating since their hot streak began.

For all his heroics on the offensive end, Curry hasn't been a primary contributor to the Warriors' recent stretch of lockdown defense. Since April 10, opponents score fewer points (98.6 per 100 possessions, down from 107.6) when Curry is off the court and are less accurate from the field (41.9 per cent, down from 44.9), beyond the arc (27.9 per cent, down from 35.4) and in their effective field goal percentage (47.6, down from 51.9).

Jokic also won't be adding any All-Defensive Team mentions to his expanding resume, and it is a bit harder to quantify exactly where the Nuggets would be without him simply because he hasn't missed a game.

One thing's for certain, however – no player this season has had a larger impact on his team's offensive performance than the Serbian star. Their points climb to 118.2 per 100 possessions when he is involved, meaning a +6.0 point differential versus -0.7 when he is absent – despite the team allowing more points with Jokic on the court. The field goal percentage improves to 50.4, while their assists per 100 (28.4, from 22.1) are up and their turnovers (12.7, from 15.7) are down.

The Nuggets are arguably the league's most efficient offensive team with Jokic on the floor. Combine that with a unicorn quality of being the best passing big man of the digital age and a consistency edge on his main rivals, and you've got a recipe for a likely MVP winner. Curry and Doncic's otherwise strong candidacies take a hit by their teams currently standing eighth and sixth, respectively, in the West. Antetokounmpo likely gets hurt by recency bias (no one wants to vote for the same player three straight years) and his own team's success (the Bucks have still played at a relatively high level when he's missed games or not been on the court).

In reality, though, the race shouldn't be as lopsided as the betting odds suggest, provided voters can overlook Embiid's spotty attendance record. History shows, however, that will be a factor that ultimately works in Jokic's favour.

LeBron James announced he will not be in the line-up to face the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, though the Los Angeles Lakers superstar said he is "getting close" to returning from an ankle injury.

James returned from a six-week absence due to a right ankle sprain only to re-aggravate the injury after just two appearances for injury-hit NBA champions the Lakers.

There had been hopes that James would make his comeback against the New York Knicks on Tuesday or the Rockets midweek, but the four-time MVP is still sidelined following his update via social media.

James, who sat out the 101-99 overtime win against the Knicks, wrote on Twitter: "Getting close but I won't be in the line-up tonight but more importantly I will be there to put that CHAMPIONSHIP banner in the rafters at Staples Center in front of our fans!!"

Star team-mate Anthony Davis is also reportedly set to miss the clash with the lowly Rockets due to tightness in his groin as the Lakers prepare to raise their championship banner.

A full participant in Monday's practice, James has been averaging 25.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game for the Lakers this season.

Through 43 games in 2020-21, James boasts a field-goal percentage of 51.3 – his best since 2017-18 and it is the same story regarding his three-point percentage of 36.6, which is his highest since that season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Anthony Davis revealed he was dealing with groin tightness as the Los Angeles Lakers scraped past the New York Knicks for a big overtime win on Tuesday.

Davis missed more than two months with an Achilles issue but has crucially featured in all 11 games since his return last month, helping a Lakers team hit by a number of injuries.

LeBron James remained out – instead an active cheerleader on the sidelines – as the defending champions defeated the Knicks 101-99 at Staples Center.

Davis had 20 points but was clearly moving uneasily in the closing stages. He stayed in the game, though, with 43 minutes his most since early February.

"I'm hurting," he said afterwards. "There's nothing worse on my body, just my groin got tight. That was really it, I'm not sure where it came from, but my groin got a little tight.

"There was no way I was coming out of the game. It was a big game for us. The team was playing real hard, the situation that we're in, trying to battle for the six.

"It was a big game for them, trying to battle for fourth, trying to keep that fourth seed – I think they might be sixth now after the loss, I'm not sure.

"It was a huge game for us and I didn't want to come out, no matter injury, and finish the game and make sure we secure the win."

The Lakers are quickly back in action against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday and in need of another victory, still sitting seventh in the West – in an unwanted play-in place – but now just 1.0 games back from fifth.

"I'm not sure about tomorrow. I'm going to get treatment and see how I feel," Davis said. "I want to say I'm going to play, but it was really bothering me tonight.

"We'll see how I feel tomorrow and then later on in the day.

"There's a very strong possibility that I fight through it and play since the next day's an off day, but also I don't want to have it lagging and then I'm out for a couple of games. We'll see how I feel."

Regardless of Davis' status, there is the possibility James returns against the Rockets.

Having won back-to-back games for the first time since late March, the Lakers could now have some momentum heading into the postseason.

"It's good. It's a confidence booster for us," Davis said. "We've been playing well as of late.

"If [James] comes back tomorrow, we can get him back acclimated with the team and get him back in the rhythm. If he doesn't then he doesn't, but we want him to get healthy first and foremost, get ready for the playoffs.

"I'm not sure what he's going to do – that's none of my business, I just want him to get health – but my job is just to come out here and help this team.

"If he is able to come back tomorrow, it's our job to get him back into a rhythm to get him ready for playoff mode, which we know he'll be ready for."

Talen Horton-Tucker hit the game-winning three among eight overtime points, but the Lakers only reached that stage thanks to Davis' suffocating defense.

The Knicks had the lead and the ball in the final 30 seconds of regulation, only for Davis to brilliantly stop All-Star Julius Randle (31 points) and force a shot-clock violation.

"Julius, that's my guy," said the Lakers superstar, who guarded Randle throughout the closing stages. "I played with him in New Orleans and he's definitely developed his game, with his shooting ability and off the dribble.

"That last possession, I just had to lock in defensively and make sure that he wasn't going to score to help the team.

"I feel like I made him hit the three with my contest at the end [in overtime] – he shot it a little higher than normal.

"He's been playing like this all year. I think he's an MVP candidate, he for sure should win Most Improved, what he's doing, got this team in the playoffs right now for a team who hadn't been in the playoffs for a while.

"He's playing his a** off and you can do nothing but respect him."

The Los Angeles Lakers kept alive their aspirations to avoid the Play-In Tournament with a 101-91 over-time victory over the New York Knicks on Tuesday.

With LeBron James still absent with an ankle problem, the Lakers were pushed all the way by the in-form Knicks who had the chance to win the match in normal time when Julius Randle missed a good two-point look on the buzzer.

With James and Dennis Schroder unavailable and Alex Caruso exiting early with foot soreness, Talen Horton-Tucker played a key role with 13 points and 10 assists, including a vital over-time three-pointer after a costly turnover moments earlier.

In a team effort, Anthony Davis finished with 20 points, four assists and six rebounds, Andre Drummond had 16 points and 18 rebounds and Kyle Kuzma added 23 points off the bench.

The win improves the Lakers to 39-30, holding seventh spot in the Western Conference, behind the Dallas Mavericks (40-29) who lost to the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday.

Ja Morant (24 points) won the battle against Luka Doncic in a game where the Mavericks could have ensured they would avoid the Play-In Tournament.

 

76ers miss chance and miss Embiid

The Philadelphia 76ers missed the chance to seal top seeding in the East with a 103-94 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

Pacers center Domantas Sabonis had a busy night with 16 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists.

Joel Embiid missed for the 76ers with illness with Tobias Harris scoring 27 points in his absence as Philadelphia leave the door open at 47-22.

The 76ers are 8-11 without Embiid this season, while they are 38-11 with him in the side.

The Brooklyn Nets put together back-to-back wins to keep the pressure on the 76ers, triumphing 115-107 over the Chicago Bulls.

There was an injury scare for the Nets with Kyrie Irivng leaving the game with a facial contusion and undergoing testing for a possible concussion after a stray elbow from Nikola Vucevic early in the third.

Kevin Durant top scored for the Nets with 21 points and Bruce Brown Jr had 15 points to half-time and finished with 10 rebounds too, while Zach LaVine had a game-high 41 points for the Bulls.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 27 points, had 12 rebounds and five assists in the Milwaukee Bucks'  114-102 win over the Orlando Magic to improve their record to 43-25.

Stephen Curry was not his usual self, kept to only four points until half-time in the Golden State Warriors' 122-116 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

Curry finished with 21, while Andrew Wiggins had 38 points and Draymond Green got a triple-double as the Warriors stay in the hunt at 37-33 and eighth in the West.

The Miami Heat clinched a top six berth with a 129-121 win over the Boston Celtics with Tyler Herro starring off the bench with 24 points and 11 rebounds.

 

Thunder come crashing down

Oklahoma City Thunder have fallen away drastically this season and their 122-106 ot the Sacramento Kings made it eight consecutive defeats for Mark Daigneault's side. They have won once in their past 23, having been 20-26 at one point.

 

Jokic's defense splitting assist

Prime MVP candidate Nikola Jokic showcased his all-rounder game with an unbelievable pass for Austin Rivers in the Denver Nuggets' 117-112 win over the Charlotte Hornets. Jokic finished with six assists, along with 30 points and 11 rebounds.

 

Tuesday's results

Denver Nuggets 117-112 Charlotte Hornets
Minnesota Timberwolves 119-100 Detroit Pistons
Los Angeles Clippers 115-96 Toronto Raptors
Miami Heat 129-121 Boston Celtics
Memphis Grizzlies 133-104 Dallas Mavericks
Indiana Pacers 103-94 Philadelphia 76ers
Brooklyn Nets 115-107 Chicago Bulls
Milwaukee Bucks 114-102 Orlando Magic
Golden State Warriors 122-116 Phoenix Suns
Los Angeles Lakers 101-99 (OT) New York Knicks
Sacramento Kings 122-106 Oklahoma City Thunder

 

Spurs at Nets

The San Antonio Spurs are looking to seal their Play-In Tournament position while the Brooklyn Nets are out to reinforce their top two seeding.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James was a full participant in practice on Monday as he steps up his recovery from an ankle injury.

James returned from a six-week absence due to a right ankle sprain only to re-aggravate the injury after just two appearances for injury-hit NBA champions the Lakers.

The four-time MVP has since missed four straight games as the Lakers – seventh in the Western Conference – sit in the play-in positions in their playoff pursuit.

But James could reportedly return on Tuesday or Wednesday after Lakers head coach Frank Vogel provided an update following practice.

"He did participate in full practice. No update to his status tomorrow," Vogel told reporters on Monday. "General plan is to take it one day at a time. Nothing more than that."

Vogel added: "We did some drill work. We did some contrived scrimmages and we did a short, full scrimmage. And he did all of it."

James has been averaging 25.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game for the Lakers this season.

Through 43 games in 2020-21, James boasts a field-goal percentage of 51.3 – his best since 2017-18 and it is the same story regarding his three-point percentage of 36.6, which is his highest since that season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"What I've seen from LeBron today, he'll be fine. Trust me. He'll be fine," Lakers team-mate Anthony Davis said on Sunday, after inspiring a 123-110 win over the Phoenix Suns via 42 points and 12 rebounds.

"He's been in this game long enough. Obviously, he hasn't missed a ton of games, but he's been in this league long enough to be able to come back and lock in and do what he got to do to help the team.

"But I don't know what other teams are thinking. We know that we're confident against anybody we match up against, especially when we're fully healthy. That's our mindset.

"…We're going to come out and fight and I think teams know that just because we’re a lower seed we're not going to back down from anybody. We're going to come out and play Lakers basketball and I think teams know that and fear that as well."

Anthony Davis joked he is feeling "20 per cent" his old self after posting a season-high points tally to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to victory over the high-flying Phoenix Suns.

Davis was playing his 10th game since recovering from a strained Achilles and calf injury that kept him out for more than two months.

He posted 42 points and 12 rebounds, as well as five assists, three steals and three blocks as the Lakers beat their Western Conference rivals 123-110 in Los Angeles on Sunday.

It is the seventh time in Davis' career that he has managed 40 points, three blocks and three steals in a game. The only player to have more such games over the past 35 years is the great Michael Jordan (14).

The Lakers are now within a game of the sixth seed in the west, which guarantees a postseason berth, and Davis feels he is slowly getting back to his best.

"I'm at 20 per cent my old self!" the 28-year-old said. "I'm kidding. I'm feeling good. I'm getting my legs and my rhythm back, getting my steps back on both ends of the floor.

"I feel good. I'm getting better each game, getting my wind back each game.

"My legs are not as heavy during games. All the shots I'm taking, I'm not using all of my legs. My legs are feeling good again – that's important."

The Lakers were without LeBron James against the Suns for a fourth straight game due to a troublesome ankle injury.

Head coach Frank Vogel will not rush the four-time NBA champion back for the remainder of the regular season, with a decision to be made ahead of each remaining game. 

"Our position doesn't affect LeBron's timeline," Vogel said. "Bron's going to try to get in there as much as he can to get a rhythm without agitating the ankle. 

"I don't think how Anthony's playing or how our seeding situation looks like is going to change LeBron's timeline."

However, Davis expects James to be fit and ready for the postseason whether he plays before then or not.

"What I've seen from LeBron today, he'll be fine," Davis said. "Trust me. He'll be fine."

LeBron James will sit out the Los Angeles Lakers' match against the Denver Nuggets on Monday after re-aggravating his right ankle injury.

James was benched late in the Lakers' 121-114 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday with right ankle soreness.

The four-time MVP had missed 20 matches due to a right ankle injury until recently returning and the Lakers will not risk his health as they battle for playoffs seedings.

The Lakers have dropped three consecutive games coming into Monday's meeting with the Nuggets, as well as losing six of their past seven.

James said on Sunday that he would prioritise getting fully fit over returning too soon in a bid to improve the Lakers' seeding.

LA's recent poor form has seen them slip down to seventh spot in the Western Conference with a 36-28 record.

The Lakers are already without guard Dennis Schroder because of an exposure to a postive COVID-19 test.

There are just two weeks of the NBA regular season remaining and the race for the playoffs is really hotting up.

The top teams in the East are jostling for the first seed, while the Washington Wizards' form has taken them into a play-in place.

The West is even more open, with the top seven in flux and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers falling into the play-in game as things stand.

Lakers superstar LeBron James even suggested the individual responsible for this format "needs to be fired".

There is still time for James and Co, but players with momentum – identified by our NBA Heat Check, powered by Stats Perform data – will be key.
 

RUNNING HOT...

Jayson Tatum

The Boston Celtics are down in seventh in the East, meaning they are set to go through the play-in, but their 1.0-game deficit to the teams above them would undoubtedly be greater if not for Tatum.

Although the team went 2-2 last week, one of their wins – against the San Antonio Spurs – was particularly memorable.

Tatum put up 60 points in the overtime win, where the Celtics trailed by 32 at one stage. That performance matched Larry Bird's single-game Boston scoring record and ensured he averaged 42.7 over the three games he featured in, up from his prior seasonal mark of 25.7 for the biggest increase of the week.

Aaron Nesmith

Tatum also had some help from the bench as rookie Nesmith found his feet at this level. Last year's first-round pick averaged 3.4 points per game through April 25 and continued this unimpressive form with two points as Tatum sat out against the Orlando Magic. Then he hit form.

Displays of 15, 16 and 16 points meant an average of 8.9 for the week, including 85.7 per cent shooting against the Portland Trail Blazers, making all four attempts from beyond the arc.

It was a timely improvement as fellow wing Evan Fournier, dealing with long-term COVID-19 effects, scored just 10.5 points per game, down from 17.5 for the league's eighth-largest decline last week.

Michael Porter Jr

Nikola Jokic will win the NBA MVP award, but injuries to Jamal Murray and Will Barton appeared to have hit his hopes of team success with the Denver Nuggets until they won four straight last week.

Porter is the Nuggets' third-best scorer but looked better than that as he led the team in points in two of those victories.

Enjoying his first year as a regular starter, Porter had boosted his average to 18.2 points per game with a career-high 39 in the final game of the previous week yet raised those standards even further with 26.8 over four outings.
 

GOING COLD...

Joel Embiid

Jokic's impending individual recognition is in part due to the failure of his MVP rivals to stay fit. Joel Embiid was the frontrunner until he missed 10 games in a row.

The Philadelphia 76ers center might still have returned in time to wrestle back the top honour, but limited minutes last week – even in four Sixers wins – look to have put paid to those hopes.

Only appearing for more than 25 minutes when he contributed 34 points against the Spurs, Embiid averaged 22.5ppg, a significant decrease on his prior 30.0 for 2020-21.

James in LA, another early contender, certainly will not trouble Jokic after he returned for two games, scored 35 points in total and then went down again.

Malcolm Brogdon

The 76ers can afford to give Embiid a light schedule as they focus on an NBA title, but the Indiana Pacers would be happy simply making the playoffs from ninth in the East.

Their hopes were hit by a tough week for Brogdon, who played only 12 minutes in their second game against the Brooklyn Nets before succumbing to a hamstring issue that kept him out of a trip to Oklahoma City.

Brogdon, previously scoring 21.6 points for the year, could only partially be excused by injury, though, having shot five-of-14 against Portland then none-of-five in a brief Brooklyn outing.

Rudy Gobert

The Utah Jazz are wobbling at the top of the West, where they have been joined on 46-18 by the Phoenix Suns following a 2-2 week that included a defeat to their rivals for the first seed.

Phoenix and Deandre Ayton continue to prove tricky opponents for presumed Defensive Player of the Year Gobert, who could not carry the load in Donovan Mitchell's absence.

With 10 rebounds against the Suns – relatively poor by his dominant standards – Gobert averaged 10.3 for the week, down from 13.6, and Utah have now lost four straight against their co-leaders. That is a worry heading into the postseason.

LeBron James' status for the Los Angeles Lakers is unclear ahead of their meeting with the Denver Nuggets after he reinjured his right ankle in Sunday's loss to the Toronto Raptors.

Superstar James was playing for just the second time since missing 20 straight games due to a right ankle sprain, the longest injury absence during his career.

He put up 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists but exited with six minutes and 42 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and did not return to the contest.

James said he has no particular worries over the ankle, but that it is imperative for the team that he is fit and firing ahead of the postseason.

"First half it feels really good, obviously warming up for the game everything is going well," he said.

"The last two games at half-time, at the break, it's gotten a little sore on me, got a little tight, obviously coach decided not to put me back in because of that, that's it.

"I really don't have too much level of concern, but I need to be healthy and make sure my ankle is where it was before my injury.

"I need to be smart with it, talk to my trainer Mike and go over with the coaching staff and some of the players as well, most important thing to me is to be healthy and be at full strength when it really matters.

"It matters now to me because I hate sitting out games and not being out on the floor, but I'm also not helping myself or helping my team when I'm not out there at full strength."

Asked whether it is a case of wait and see for the Denver game, James replied: "That's the plan, the plan is to see how I feel, go from there.

"I definitely want to get healthy, not just for myself but for our team, it's definitely challenging right now, but I'll be fine."

The defending champions are in a lull right now, with the Raptors loss representing a sixth defeat over their previous seven games.

It leaves the Lakers seventh in the Western Conference, a finish that would require them to feature in the play-in tournament to make the playoffs – a concept James clearly has little time for.

"It doesn't matter at the end of the day if I'm not 100 per cent, close to 100 per cent it don't matter where we land," he said.

"That's my mindset, if it happens we end up as sixth, or fifth whatever the case may be, you know the playoff whatever that thing is, whoever came up with that s*** need to be fired, but whatever."

The Lakers have been blighted by injury concerns this season and had starting point guard Dennis Schroder unavailable versus Toronto due to health and safety protocols.

James believes the key to getting the Lakers firing again is having a fully fit roster available.

"Our team is predicated on health, we're a team that we need to be healthy and need to be full, if it's not one thing it's the other," he said.

"Today our starting point guard is not in the line-up, that's the biggest thing down the stretch more than the games we're playing is how healthy we're going to be going into the stretch run."

The Los Angeles Lakers slumped to their sixth loss in seven games with LeBron James finishing their 121-114 defeat to the Toronto Raptors injured in the locker room on Sunday.

James left the court in the fourth quarter due to a sore right ankle, the same ankle which sidelined the Lakers superstar for 20 games until his return against the Sacramento Kings on Friday.

The four-time MVP played 28 minutes, scoring 19 points with seven rebounds and six assists but he could not inspire reigning NBA champions the Lakers to reverse their worrying form ahead of the playoffs.

Toronto forward Pascal Siakam was exceptional with a season-high 39 points, 13 rebounds and four assists, while veteran guard Kyle Lowry also had a double-double with 37 points, including three three-pointers, and 11 assists.

The result means the Lakers slip to 36-28 and sixth spot in the Western Conference, while the Raptors are 27-38.

 

Giannis comes out on top against KD

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 49 points as the Milwaukee Bucks overcame the star-studded Brooklyn Nets 117-114 in their heavyweight Eastern Conference meeting. Making his return after a minor ankle issue, two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo also had eight rebounds and four assists, while Khris Middleton contributed 26 points and 11 rebounds in a key supporting role. Durant did his best to lift the Nets with 42 points and 10 rebounds.

Joel Embiid had his 14th game with 30 or more points and 10 rebounds, with only Antetokounmpo having more this season, as the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers won 113-111 in overtime against the San Antonio Spurs. MVP hopeful Embiid finished with 34 points and 12 rebounds after OT, with Seth Curry adding 22 points.

Devin Booker had 32 points to lead the high-flying Phoenix Suns to a 123-120 victory over the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder.

The New York Knicks kept up their hot run with 122-97 win against the Houston Rockets, fuelled by All-Star Julius Randle's 31 points in three quarters.

C.J. McCollum (33 points), Damian Lillard (26 points and 13 assists) and Jusuf Nurkic (14 points and 11 rebounds) combined to lead the Portland Trail Blazers past the Boston Celtics 129-119. Jayson Tatum's 33 points were not enough for the Celtics. Per Stats Perform, the Trail Blazers are the first team in NBA history to have four consecutive home losses immediately followed by four straight road victories.

 

From hero to zero

Dorian Finney-Smith nailed the game-winner for the Dallas Mavericks against the Washington Wizards on Saturday. But he was struggled in the 111-99 loss to the Sacramento Kings. Finney-Smith was one-for-seven shooting in 35 minutes, missing all five of his three-point attempts for just three points.

 

Timely tip from Simmons

Ben Simmons tipped home in the nick of time after Embiid's attempted buzzer-beating shot missed in the 76ers' win over the Spurs.

 

Sunday's results

Milwaukee Bucks 117-114 Brooklyn Nets
Portland Trail Blazers 129-119 Boston Celtics
New York Knicks 122-97 Houston Rockets
Philadelphia 76ers 113-111 San Antonio Spurs (OT)
Phoenix Suns 123-120 Oklahoma City Thunder
Sacramento Kings 111-99 Dallas Mavericks
Miami Heat 121-111 Charlotte Hornets
Toronto Raptors 121-114 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Nuggets at Lakers

The Lakers (36-28) have a big test to get back on track in the Western Conference against Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets (43-21) with playoffs seedings up for grabs.

LeBron James labelled his return from a six-week injury absence as a "good start" despite the Los Angeles Lakers falling to defeat against the Sacramento Kings.

Superstar James endured the longest injury-related layoff of his career and sat out 20 games due to an ankle sprain.

Afforded 32 minutes of action, James returned 16 points from six-of-12 shooting, to go with eight rebounds and seven assists. There were also two steals and five turnovers.

James even had the chance to snatch victory at the death but his three-pointer with a little under three seconds remaining missed, and the Kings added a couple of free-throws to run out 110-106 winners.

The four-time MVP spoke of his desperation to get back on the court.

"For my first game in six weeks, I felt okay. As far as my wind, I felt pretty good. As far as my ankle, it was a little tight at times, obviously," he said.

"But I came out unscathed and pretty good. So, it's a good start. It's been urgency for me to get back ever since I got injured. 

"So, that's just who I am. You guys could have seen the logging of the minutes and hours per day that I was doing as far as rehab and treatment, it was a lot more than I slept. 

"So, over the last six weeks, that's all I've been doing, is having an urgency to get back and play.

"I knew I wasn't going to get back to 100 per cent. It's impossible. I don't think I will ever get back to 100 per cent in my career."

The Lakers have largely toiled in the absence of James, while team-mate Anthony Davis only recently returned for a Los Angeles side blighted by fitness issues this season.

They have now lost five of their previous six games and their form over the past 10 reads 3-7.

The defending champions may not be in title-winning form with the playoffs looming but James insists the team are ready to meet the challenge head on.

"It's only nine games left," James said. 

"It's been a hell of a season, obviously. But we look forward to the challenge. It is what it is. This is the season, and we've got to make the most out of it."

Jayson Tatum tied Larry Bird's Boston Celtics' all-time single game scoring record with a 60-point haul in their 143-140 over-time win over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday.            

Tatum posted 31 points in the fourth quarter and over-time in an incredible individual display, also collecting eight rebounds and five assists.

The Celtics forward led Boston's comeback after trailing by 32 points with a career-high personal total.

He received good support as the Celtics turned around the Spurs' dominant first half, with Tristan Thompson having 15 rebounds, while guard Marcus Smart had 12 assists.

The win keeps the Celtics in the top six in the East with a 34-30 record, while the Spurs are 31-31 and set for the play-in tournament.

 

LeBron returns in defeat

LeBron James made his return from an ankle injury for the first time in 20 matches, but could not inspire the Los Angeles Lakers to victory as they surprisingly went down 110-106 to the Sacramento Kings.

James played 32 minutes, scoring 16 points, with eight rebounds and seven assists, while Anthony Davis made 22 points for LA too.

The 36-year-old looked mobile but speaking after the game, he made the revelation: "I don't think i'll ever get back to 100 per cent in my career."

Devin Booker scored a game-high 31 points as the Phoenix Suns toppled leaders Utah Jazz 121-100 in the top two clash in the West.

The Suns opened up a 16-point deficit at quarter-time and kept the Jazz at arm's length, with Rudy Gobert having a tough game defensively and offensively, with only eight points.

Kevin Durant was rested as the Brooklyn Nets lost 128-109 to the Portland Trail Blazers with Damian Lillard scoring 32 points with seven rebounds and nine assists.

Joel Embiid had 18 points as the Philadelphia 76ers won 126-104 over the Atlanta Hawks.

 

Wayward Nets

The Trail Blazers shot 16-from-36 beyond the arc, going at 44.4 per cent led by Damian Lillard's eight-from-13 but the Nets were far less productive from range. Brooklyn hit 13-from-41 beyond the arc, going at 31.7 per cent with Kyrie Irving only hitting two-from-eight.

 

Record-hunting Russell

Russell Westbrook moved within five triple-doubles of Oscar Robertson's all-time record as the Washington Wizards won 122-93 over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Westbrook had 15 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.

 

Friday's results

Philadelphia 76ers 126-104 Atlanta Hawks
Boston Celtics 143-140 San Antonio Spurs 
Washington Wizards 122-93 Cleveland Cavaliers
Memphis Grizzlies 92-75 Orlando Magic
Portland Trail Blazers 128-109 Brooklyn Nets
Chicago Bulls - Milwaukee Bucks
Phoenix Suns - Utah Jazz
Los Angeles Lakers - Sacramento Kings

 

Nuggets at Clippers

Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets (42-21) make the trip to California to take on one of the West's best, the Los Angeles Clippers (43-21).

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