LeBron James believes he should have more than four MVP awards as the Los Angeles Lakers superstar staked his claim for another NBA honour on Thursday.

James posted 37 points to lead defending champions the Lakers past the Charlotte Hornets 116-105 in Los Angeles.

The 36-year-old has been averaging 25.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game for the Lakers, who have won four straight games since the All-Star break.

James was crowned the NBA's best player in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013 and as the four-time league champion contends for this year's honour, he feels worthy of more.

"I should have more than four... But I don't, and I don't sit around crying about it," James told reporters post-game.

Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Michael Jordan and Bill Russell (both five) have won more MVP awards than James.

Since James last claimed the honour in 2013, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry (twice), Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo (twice) have been named the league's best.

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel strongly endorsed James as the 2020-21 MVP, adding: "He's the MVP of the league so far, in my opinion.

"He's the best player to ever play the game, in my opinion.

"It's a mistake on the voters' part to go season after season without voting the best player in the league."

In the absence of injured star Anthony Davis, the Lakers have returned to form following the All-Star Game.

The second-placed Lakers (28-13) are only one and a half games behind the NBA-leading Utah Jazz (29-11) in the Western Conference.

"We haven't really talked about it," James said of the conference race. "If it gets to a point where we can capture it, why not? But we haven't talked about seeding all year.

"We've gotten better since the break, but the most important things for our ballclub is playing championship basketball every night and being healthy."

Washington Wizards star Russell Westbrook made history in a shock 131-122 win over the NBA-leading Utah Jazz.

Westbrook posted 35 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists for his 13th triple-double of the season to guide the struggling Wizards past the high-flying Jazz on Thursday.

Former MVP Westbrook became the first player in franchise history to record at least 35 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in a game as the Wizards snapped a five-game losing streak.

Wizards team-mate Bradley Beal had a game-high 43 points at home to the Jazz, who were led by Donovan Mitchell's season-high 42 points.

Joe Ingles added 34 points for the Jazz, who still have the league's best record at 29-11 despite the loss.

LeBron James flexed his muscles with 37 points as defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Charlotte Hornets 116-105.

James also had eight rebounds and six assists to help the Lakers to their fourth straight win since the All-Star break – Dennis Schroder chipped in with 22 points of his own.

Rookie of the Year contender LaMelo Ball recorded a team-high 26 points, seven assists and five rebounds for the Hornets in his first meeting against James in Los Angeles.

 

Edwards sets franchise record, Randle stays hot

It was an unforgettable outing for Anthony Edwards, who posted a career-high 42 points in the Minnesota Timberwolves' 123-119 win at the Phoenix Suns. It set the record for most points by a rookie in franchise history, eclipsing Zach LaVine's 37 in 2015. Timberwolves team-mate Karl-Anthony Towns also had 41 points and 10 rebounds in a monster performance. Devin Booker put up 35 points for the Suns, but it was not enough.

Julius Randle had 18 points, 17 assists and 10 rebounds to lead the New York Knicks past the Orlando Magic 94-93. His third triple-double of the season saw the All-Star become the first Knicks player with three-plus triple-doubles in a season since Michael Ray Richardson (seven) in 1981-82.

Damian Lillard followed up his season-high 50 points with 36 in the Portland Trail Blazers' 101-93 victory against the New Orleans Pelicans. Fellow All-Star Zion Williamson recorded a double-double of 26 points and 10 rebounds for the Pelicans.

The Atlanta Hawks soared to their seventh straight win thanks to a 116-93 success against the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder.

 

Thunder struggle from the floor

The Thunder went down to the Hawks behind a poor shooting display. Oklahoma City were at just 36.2 per cent from the field, compared to Atlanta's 54.0 per cent. Aleksej Pokusevski finished two-for-11 from the floor, while missing all three of his attempts from beyond the arc for four points. Veteran Al Horford (11 points) was three of 13.

C.J. McCollum struggled in Portland's win. He was just three-of-16 shooting for 11 points in 21 minutes. He also made three of six three-pointers at home to the Pelicans.

 

LeBron says no!

James was at his brilliant best at both ends of the floor, denying the Hornets with a block late in the fourth quarter.

 

Thursday's results

Washington Wizards 131-122 Utah Jazz
Atlanta Hawks 116-93 Oklahoma City Thunder
New York Knicks 94-93 Orlando Magic
Minnesota Timberwolves 123-119 Phoenix Suns
Portland Trail Blazers 101-93 New Orleans Pelicans
Los Angeles Lakers 116-105 Charlotte Hornets

 

Nets at Magic

The red-hot Brooklyn Nets (28-13) will put their six-game winning streak on the line when they visit the struggling Magic (13-27) on Friday.

LeBron James has not been doing anything different in recent matches but the Los Angeles Lakers' shooters have "come alive" since the All-Star break, says head coach Frank Vogel.

Superstar James registered a second consecutive triple-double in as many nights as the Lakers outclassed the NBA-worst Minnesota Timberwolves 137-121.

James, who had 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, now needs just one more to rack up a landmark 100th career triple-double, while it marked his fifth of this season.

Prior to the All-Star game, the Lakers had lost six times in eight games but are now on a three-game winning streak, with James at the heart of team's impressive fortunes.

But Vogel insists it is merely a case of the team being hotter with the ball, saying: "I honestly don't think [James] has been playing that differently than what he was doing leading into the break

"I just think our shooters have come alive. I think we hit a little bit of a wall coming into the break, and then our shooters got their legs under them a little bit, and in the last three games they've been hitting shots, so his assist totals are up."

Several players contributed for the Lakers, with Dennis Schroder putting up 16 points and seven assists, while Kyle Kuzma also had 16 points.

Youngster Talen Horton-Tucker followed up an 18-point showing versus the Golden State Warriors with 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

The last two games have seen Horton-Tucker excel against two 2020 first-round draft picks in James Wiseman and Anthony Edwards, and James said the 20-year-old – selected in the second round in 2019 – will only continue to grow in stature.

"It's something we've talked about all year, if you go back to the draft Talen Horton-Tucker would not go in the second round," James said about his team-mate. 

"We're super-duper lucky and blessed to grab him when we grabbed him. His ability to get downhill, his ability to get to the lane and finish or his ability to make the extra passes, he's a big guard, but with great handle and great balance. 

"This is Talen's rookie year too pretty much, he's learning, he'll continue to get better, he's a damn good player right now he'll continue to get better and better."

Damian Lillard scored a season-high 50 points, including 20 in the last quarter, as the Portland Trail Blazers produced a remarkable comeback to snatch a last-gasp 125-124 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday.

The Pelicans led by 17 points late in the third term and Brandon Ingram had the chance to ice the game late on, before missing two free-throws as Portland snatched victory.

Lillard was the catalyst with his 20 final-quarter points, totalling 50 for the game, along with 10 assists and six rebounds. He also finished with six three-pointers and 18 of 18 free-throws.

He coolly scored two free-throws after Nickeil Alexander-Walker's costly fumble turned over possession. Zion Williamson had one last chance to steal victory but missed from a good close look.

The result improved Portland's record to 23-16 as they stay firmly in playoff contention while the Pelicans slipped to 17-23, despite Lonzo Ball's career-high 17 assists.

Lillard is now tied with LeBron James in seventh for all-time most 50-point NBA games.

Meanwhile, James had the 99th triple-double of his career with 25 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists, while Montrezl Harrell was equal top scorer for the Los Angeles Lakers in a 137-121 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Smooth Jazz back among winners

Rudy Gobert scored 11 of his 16 points in the final period as the Utah Jazz bounced back from their loss to the Golden State Warriors with a 117-109 win over the Boston Celtics.

Gobert, who also had 12 rebounds, was well supported by Donovan Mitchell (21 points and five assists) and impressive sixth man Jordan Clarkson (20 points and three assists) as the Jazz stormed home to edge past Boston.

Without Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris stepped up for the Philadelphia 76ers with 30 points in a thrilling 99-96 triumph over the New York Knicks.

Ben Simmons had 16 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists for the 76ers, who trailed by nine at the final change before a dominant fourth quarter.

Jimmy Butler starred with 28 points, 12 rebounds and four assists as the in-form Miami Heat made it five wins in a row with a 113-98 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Miami center Bam Adebayo also returned from injury with 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists.

Nate McMillan is yet to lose as head coach at the resurgent Atlanta Hawks, who claimed their sixth consecutive win, beating the Houston Rockets 119-107, led by Danilo Gallinari with 29 points.

 

No lift-off as Rockets grounded

While Atlanta have turned their season around with a coaching change, Houston have now lost 17 in a row. Stephen Silas is left scratching his head, with his side going from 11-10 to 11-27.

 

Big blocks

There were some huge blocks on Tuesday but 76ers veteran Dwight Howard stole the show early in the fourth, putting Julius Randle on the floor with an emphatic swat.

 

Tuesday's results

Utah Jazz 117-109 Boston Celtics
Miami Heat 113-98 Cleveland Cavaliers
Chicago Bulls 123-102 Oklahoma City Thunder
Atlanta Hawks 119-107 Houston Rockets
Philadelphia 76ers 99-96 New York Knicks
Portland Trail Blazers 125-124 New Orleans Pelicans
Los Angeles Lakers 137-121 Minnesota Timberwolves

 

Bucks at 76ers

The 76ers, without the injured Embiid, take on Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks in a blockbuster clash on Wednesday.

Stephen Curry said it was "embarrassing" for the Golden State Warriors to crumble so woefully to the Los Angeles Lakers on the night he made franchise history.

A 128-97 loss came a day after the Warriors beat the Utah Jazz, with Curry, now the team's all-time assists leader, disheartened to be part of such a feeble showing.

For the Warriors it was another 20-plus point defeat, having suffered such losses to the Clippers and the Suns already in March.

Curry said: "We've got to play better. We have to develop a winning attitude every single night, and honestly, we've got to get sick of getting blown out, because that's embarrassing.

"We have to have some pride about how we're playing. You can lose games - that's going to happen - but not like that."

Curry added: "Winning is hard in this league. We all know that, and we all know you can't just show up, and momentum's not just going to carry just because you played well the game before.

"We talk about the margins and where we are as a team. If you want to beat the good teams, you can't have any cracks in the armour."

Curry scored a team-high 27 points and went past Guy Rodgers to become the player with the most assists in regular-season play for the Warriors, reaching 4,856 for his career with the team.

He had only two assists against the Lakers but has a career average of 6.6 per game, alongside a points average of 23.8.

"It's special. It's kind of a longevity award," Curry said of his new assists mark.

"But in terms of playing for the same franchise for 12 years and hopefully a lot longer, there's been some greats that have come through here for however long.

"And anytime you've done something or reached a level that is the top of the list for a franchise, it's pretty special. I wish it was under different circumstances obviously, with the game tonight.

"But I can take a second and appreciate that for sure, because a lot goes into that. I've had a lot of great team-mates over the years.

"Obviously I love to score, but the ability to set other guys up and assists only count if other people make baskets, so it makes it a pretty special record."

LeBron James said he takes pride in having a "triple-threat game" after closing on a landmark 100th career triple-double in the Los Angeles Lakers' rout of the Golden State Warriors.

The four-time MVP posted 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds to help the Lakers to a 128-97 victory at the Chase Center on Monday, ending a two-game losing streak on the road.

It was the 98th time James had posted a triple-double in his legendary career and he spoke about what it meant to have so many weapons in his arsenal.

"For me, I've always wanted to have a triple-threat game," he told reporters.

"One where I can pass the ball. I love passing ball to my team-mates, giving those guys good looks.

"Being able to rebound, that's always important, rebounding wins championships as the great Pat Riley would say.

"And then being able to score a little bit too, that's probably the least out of the three for me, but being able to be out on the court and control the game in three facets of the game - it's always been important for me to do it in a win, the losses never mean much to me.

"To do it in a win and make an impact on the game, when it happens in the flow of a game that's what's more important."

James' performance was particularly important given the Lakers have been hit by injuries. Marc Gasol, Kostas Antetokounmpo (both health and safety protocols), Anthony Davis (strained right calf), Jared Dudley (torn MCL in right knee) and Alex Caruso (concussion protocol) were all unavailable for the defending champions.

Davis has been missing for a month but has been a vocal presence on the sidelines for the Lakers.

"I just think he's trying to lead any way possible, obviously he can't be on the floor and do things he does at a high level," James said of his team-mate.

"He's just giving his words to a lot of guys, being there for them, showing them things on the iPad, showing them films during course of a game, being as helpful as he can be to our ball team."

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.

Nicolo Barella said he is inspired by Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James and former NBA MVP Allen Iverson as the Inter midfielder discussed his love of basketball.

Barella has established himself as one of the best midfielders in Serie A and Europe amid Inter's Scudetto charge this season.

The 24-year-old Inter and Italy star has scored three Serie A goals and supplied five assists for the Nerazzurri, who are nine points clear atop the table.

Barella revealed he wears the number 23 jersey because of four-time NBA champion James, while also highlighting his admiration for Philadelphia 76ers great Iverson.

"I played basketball for four years. There was a lot of competition in my family, but my cousins are better than me," Barella told Sky Sport Basketball Conversation.

"I discuss basketball with Romelu Lukaku, Achraf Hakimi and Lautaro Martinez. We follow NBA. When I join the national team, I talk about it with Davide Calabria, Mattia Perin and Giorgio Chiellini.

"Allen Iverson's jersey was one of the first ones I bought. Seeing someone like him dominating among the giants was an important source of inspiration for me. In addition to his technical skills, his attitude impressed me.

"I wear the number 23 shirt, because LeBron James also inspires me. I used to have the number 24 because it's the day when my daughter was born. I had a little argument with my wife for this change, but in the end, she understood.

"What impresses me about LeBron is the fact that he manages to change a team, bringing all his team-mates to the highest level.

"Cristiano Ronaldo is the LeBron James of football. He has talent, desire to work hard, and longevity and he brings his desire to win in every team.

"Winning the NBA is like winning the Champions League, it's more important than a Scudetto, even if I hope I can win one sooner or later."

LeBron James has praised the continued development of Kyle Kuzma following his starring role in the Los Angeles Lakers' hard-fought victory over the Indiana Pacers. 

The defending NBA champions returned to action after the All-Star break on Friday, though they were made to work for the win by a Pacers team that led by 12 at one stage in the fourth quarter.

However, Kuzma led an impressive rally with his team in trouble, scoring 15 of his 24 points in the final quarter as the Lakers - again without the injured Anthony Davis - eventually triumphed by a 105-100 scoreline.

James had 18 points but was happy to defer to the hot hand, leading to 10 assists. After the game, the four-time MVP pointed to how his long-time team-mate has continued to get better, year on year.

"It's all about growth. The game has just slowed down every year for him. I've been with him for the past three years and the game has just slowed down," James told the media.

"He knows his role with this team - and he does it to a high level. Tonight was another example of that."

He added: "Tonight, he had it going. We continue to find the hot hand, so I wanted to continue to get him the ball so he could continue to make plays.  

"That's the growth of him, knowing that some games are going to be different. It's not always going to be high-scoring nights, but he is still able to make an impact – especially on the glass, with his energy and effort. 

"But we need him to make shots, especially in the absence of AD [Davis]."

Kuzma also contributed 13 rebounds as the Lakers played a 10th successive game without Davis, who is expected to be out for at least another two weeks due to a leg injury.

Center Marc Gasol is also sidelined, with James insisting it is now down to the rest of the roster to step up in the absence of the two big men.

Montrezl Harrell certainly helped out against the Pacers, contributing 17 points and six rebounds as he played 32 minutes off the bench.

"It's a collective group, a collective effort in the front court," James said. "Starting with DJ [Damian Jones], 'Trez' [Harrell] coming off the bench smooth, myself, Kyle, it's a collective group.

"We all have to put our hard hats on in the absence of Marc and AD, play bigger than our size. It's going to be a collective effort from all of us. We all have to step up."

The Los Angeles Lakers returned to winning ways in their first game since the All-Star break, LeBron James helping the NBA champions to a 105-100 victory over the Indiana Pacers.

The Lakers had dropped back-to-back games prior to Sunday's All-Star Game in Atlanta, but they snapped their skid at home to the Pacers on Friday.

James – who sat out the loss to the Sacramento Kings before the break – posted 18 points and 10 assists for his 16th double-double of the season.

But it was Kyle Kuzma who top-scored for the Lakers off the bench, putting up 24 points – including 15 in the final quarter – 13 rebounds and two steals.

Eastern Conference leaders the Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to four games after topping the lowly Washington Wizards 127-101.

However, Philadelphia's triumph was overshadowed by a knee injury to MVP candidate and All-Star Joel Embiid.

Embiid will have an MRI after appearing to hyperextend his knee in a scary fall in the third quarter – the 76ers big man hobbled to the locker room in pain.

He had 23 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks prior to the injury in Washington.

 

Westbrook reaches milestone

While Russell Westbrook saw his league-leading streak of 13 double-doubles come to an end, the Wizards star surpassed 21,000 career points. With 25 points, eight assists and five rebounds, Westbrook joined James and Oscar Robertson as the only players with at least 21,000 points, 6,000 rebounds and 7,000 assists in their careers.

The 76ers snapped a 10-game losing streak away to the Wizards. Philadelphia also swept the Wizards for the first time since 2008-09.

Goran Dragic scored 20 of his 25 points in the final period as the Miami Heat defeated the Chicago Bulls 101-90. Jimmy Butler led the Heat with 28 points against his former team.

The Denver Nuggets edged the Memphis Grizzlies 103-102 behind Nikola Jokic's double-double of 28 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists.

 

Cavs crumble, Rockets lose again

It was a forgettable outing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were humbled 116-82 by the New Orleans Pelicans. Cleveland scored just nine points in the third quarter. The Cavaliers shot 34.1 per cent from the field. Kevin Love – in his first game back since December – was one-of-four shooting, while he made only one of three attempts from beyond the arc for four points in 10 minutes. Isaac Okoro was one of eight from the field, while he missed both three-pointers for two points in 29 minutes.

The Orlando Magic were also swept aside 104-77 at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. Michael Carter-Williams finished with five points on two-of-nine shooting, making just one of his three shots from beyond the arc.

The Houston Rockets were no match for the NBA-leading Utah Jazz – 114-99 – in the absence of Victor Oladipo, Christian Wood and Danuel House Jr. Ben McLemore was three-of-14 from the field for eight points. The Rockets guard was also two-of-six from three-point range. It was Houston's 15th straight loss.

 

Rudy says no!

After featuring in the All-Star Game, Utah's Rudy Gobert was back to business with a double-double (14 points and 13 rebounds). He put up six blocks, including an emphatic effort in the third period.

 

Friday's results

Philadelphia 76ers 127-101 Washington Wizards
Denver Nuggets 103-102 Memphis Grizzlies
New Orleans Pelicans 116-82 Cleveland Cavaliers
Miami Heat 101-90 Chicago Bulls
San Antonio Spurs 104-77 Orlando Magic
Los Angeles Lakers 105-100 Indiana Pacers
Utah Jazz 114-99 Houston Rockets

 

Pistons at Nets

The lowly Detroit Pistons (10-27) – bottom of the Eastern Conference – will visit the in-form Brooklyn Nets (25-13) on Saturday. Brooklyn have won three straight, while Detroit have dropped back-to-back games.

 

Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis will be re-evaluated in two weeks as he continues to recover from tendinosis and a calf strain in his right leg.

Davis has not featured for NBA champions the Lakers since exiting against the Denver Nuggets on February 14.

The 28-year-old was examined by team doctors on Friday – before the Lakers resumed their title defence following the All-Star break, with Davis cleared to enter the next phase of his return to play process.

At least another fortnight on the sidelines would mean Davis missing a minimum of nine games, including Friday's matchup against the Indiana Pacers.

It has been tough for Davis and the Lakers coming off a shortened offseason after ending their 10-year title drought in 2019-20 inside the Orlando bubble amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Davis is averaging 22.5 points per game this season – his lowest since his second year in the league with the New Orleans Pelicans (20.8).

The eight-time All-Star's average of 8.4 rebounds in 2020-21 is the lowest since his rookie season (8.2) in 2012-13.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said he is rested and ready to lead the team's title defence in the second half of the NBA season.

James and defending champions the Lakers will return to action against the Indiana Pacers on Friday following the All-Star break.

Lakers veteran James was in Atlanta for the All-Star Game, playing 13 minutes as Team LeBron beat Team Durant 170-150.

But after sitting out the final game before the break – a 123-120 loss to the Sacramento Kings on March 3 – James is feeling refreshed in the Lakers' pursuit of back-to-back championships.

"It's go time," James told reporters on Thursday. "It's time to get prepared and making that turnaround, that last lap going into the postseason.

"… I'm not into looking ahead saying, 'OK, let's take this off, take that off'. Nah, it's go time for me."

The Lakers (24-13) head into the Pacers clash on the back of consecutive defeats, leaving James and his team-mates third in the Western Conference behind NBA leaders the Utah Jazz (27-9) and Phoenix Suns (24-11).

In his 18th season, James has been averaging 25.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game for the Lakers.

James added: "I kind of use the first half of the season as being in gear one, two and three, and then in the second half being in more like four, five, six, and then when the playoffs start you're in seven.

"And that's kind of the way I've always kind of adjusted over the last few years of my career, really just ramping up more, more and more as the months go on as the games go on going into the playoffs."

The Lakers will welcome the Pacers to Staples Center in Los Angeles without star Anthony Davis.

Davis remains sidelined with tendinosis and a calf strain in his right leg, having not played since February 14.

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said Davis will be re-evaluated by team doctors on Friday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is confident of ending his wait for a first NBA All-Star Game win after learning of his Team LeBron team-mates.

Milwaukee Bucks superstar Antetokounmpo is making his fifth All-Star appearance this week but has ended on the losing side on all four prior occasions.

The two-time MVP was a team captain in the previous two years but was on the board this time and selected first by LeBron James.

Only once previously, in Antetokounmpo's All-Star bow in 2017, have the pair appeared together. The 'Greek Freak' led the team in scoring with 30 points, but they came up short.

That miserable record will come to an end in Atlanta in 2021, though, according to Antetokounmpo.

Alongside the Bucks forward, James took Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic and Stephen Curry as starters to produce an exciting blend of size and shooting.

"That's the starting five? Yeah, it's over guys," Antetokounmpo said. "Me, LeBron, Luka, Jokic and Steph? Man, that's a good starting five."

While Antetokounmpo is yet to taste victory at the annual event, James has three straight wins as captain of Team LeBron since the move away from the previous East versus West format in 2018.

The Los Angeles Lakers veteran is a three-time All-Star Game MVP and his newest team-mate is looking forward to linking up.

"He just makes plays," Antetokounmpo said of James. "Most of the time you're just wide open and I've never been used to that with somebody else creating the attention and me being wide open all the time.

"So, I've just got to do my job, make the right play, too, and do what I always do: just play hard and hope I can help him get a win."

Antetokounmpo was speaking after posting 26 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, two steals and a block in Milwaukee's dramatic 112-111 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

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.

The Los Angeles Lakers are still the defending NBA champions, but they are not without their weaknesses. Ones that the league's other premier teams are beginning to exploit.

The NBA's oldest team wheezes into the All-Star break with losses in six of their last eight games and looking up at the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns – and possibly cross-town rivals the Los Angeles Clippers – in the Western Conference standings. And although that entire rough stretch has come with Anthony Davis sidelined by an Achilles' strain, the difference-making forward's absence does not solely explain the Lakers' slump.

There is no debate that the Lakers are a far better team with Davis on the floor, but the offensive struggles that have been exposed during the team's recent descent into mediocrity were in reality present even when the perennial All-Star was healthy. In 21 games since January 30, the Purple and Gold rank 22nd in the NBA in points per game, 24th in offensive rating, and dead last in three-point percentage with a 31.0 percent success rate from beyond the arc.

Granted, the Lakers were not a prolific perimeter shooting team during last year's championship run. Their ratio of points from three-pointers to total points stood at 29.1 percent, which ranked 25th in the NBA. That was 2019-20, however. This is 2020-21, a season in which triples are being taken and made at historic levels, and it is no coincidence that the teams that currently rank in the top four in three-point percentage (Clippers, Brooklyn Nets, Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks) also happen to own four of the top seven winning percentages.

The Jazz seemingly provided the blueprint on how to attack the Lakers when they knocked down 22 threes in handing the Los Angeles franchise their most lopsided loss of the season, a 114-89 defeat on February 24. The Suns followed the plan to a T when they drained 16 triples in a win earlier this week.

Truth is, those teams' methods were more of a trend than a discovery. The Lakers have allowed 14 or more three-pointers only 10 times in 37 games thus far, but they have lost eight of those contests. Just six teams have a lower winning percentage than the Lakers when permitting that many treys in a game, and none of them would be headed to the playoffs right now (for the record, those teams are the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings, Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks).

The initial reaction may be to believe that this is some sort of defensive issue, but it is not. The Lakers still lead the league in defensive rating and rank in the top 10 in three-point percentage defense. But it is become more than apparent that they have had trouble keeping up against opponents that can bomb away from long range with high proficiency, a real potential problem down the road should they meet the Jazz or Clippers in the playoffs, or the Nets in a possible Finals scenario.

The Lakers have one player, the streaky Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is shooting 38 percent or better from beyond the arc while taking at least three three-pointers per game. The Clippers have seven such players, the Jazz six. The Nets have five, as do the Denver Nuggets, who have battled inconsistency and injuries but showed in a dominant win over the Lakers last month that they are still plenty dangerous.

Getting Davis back will surely help matters, as the chart below illustrates the offensive impact he brings when on the floor.

LAKERS, WITH/WITHOUT ANTHONY DAVIS ON COURT, 2020-21

(/100 = per 100 possessions)

With/Without

Points/100 – 112.8/106.4

FG Pct – .498/.469

Three-Pt Pct – .371/.338

Turnovers/100 – 13.9/15.5

 

The difference Davis makes, particularly from a shooting efficiency perspective, is more than evident. But is that enough, especially with there being no guarantee he will remain healthy throughout the postseason grind?

In hindsight, the contributions Danny Green made to last year's title run as a floor stretcher and perimeter defender may have been seriously undervalued. Wesley Matthews was supposed to fill that role following Green's initial trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder (before joining the Philadelphia 76ers) for Dennis Schroder, but he is shooting a career-worst 33.7 percent on threes and has been a complete non-factor offensively during the Lakers' current rut.

Caldwell-Pope's shot has gone south of late as well. In fact, he has had one of the steepest individual drop-offs from the perimeter over the last month-plus.

LARGEST DECREASE IN THREE-POINT PCT, PRE-FEBRUARY VS. REST OF SEASON – 2020-21

(min, 3.0 3PA/individual game)

Pre-Feb Since 2/1 Diff.

Tobias Harris, Phi – .464/.279/-.185

Wayne Ellington, Det – .505/.333/-.172

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, LAL – .478/.317/-.161

Garrett Temple, Chi – .408/.255/-.153

Desmond Bane, Mem – .520/.377/-.143

 

To summarise, the Lakers do not necessarily need another shooter if they are operating at full strength, though bringing one in surely would not hurt. That brings us to the next question – who could or should general manager Rob Pelinka be targeting at the trade deadline for some added reinforcements?

In a perfect world, the answer would be Bradley Beal should the Washington Wizards be open to parting with the league's current leading scorer. That is also a complete fantasy since the Lakers have neither the assets nor cap flexibility to pull off such a blockbuster. Even a less pricey option like JJ Redick is not realistic. Pelinka will need to do some bargain-hunting if he wants to buy.

Here are a few likely available options that seem to fit the Lakers' needs and price range:

Wayne Ellington, Pistons

Though he has been off the mark lately (see above), the 33-year-old journeyman is still hitting at an over 43 percent clip on three-pointers, is on a cheap contract and can likely be had for minimal cost with Detroit in the midst of a massive rebuild. Ellington would be a liability on the defensive end, but those deficiencies could be mitigated by the Lakers' strong supporting cast.

Ben McLemore, Rockets

McLemore is having a terrible year for a terrible Rockets team, but he shot 40 percent or better from three-point range in each of the previous two seasons and may benefit from a change of scenery. Team-mate Sterling Brown does not have McLemore's overall track record, but he is shooting above 40 percent on threes this season and could be a target as well.

George Hill, Thunder

A onetime team-mate of LeBron James in Cleveland, Hill would be an excellent fit as a sharp-shooting, savvy veteran who can alleviate some ball-handling duties from the King and Schroder. Though clearly not part of the Thunder's long-term plans, Hill's value and $9.6million salary still may be a tad too costly for the Lakers, who might have to part with a young asset like Kyle Kuzma to get a deal done.

The Lakers will not be making major moves at the deadline, nor should they have to with a roster that is deep, experienced and sports two of the game's best players. But in a season that is unveiled several legitimate challengers to their throne, playing it safe may just be the greatest risk.

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