James Harden and Dejounte Murray both had triple-doubles as the Brooklyn Nets got past the San Antonio Spurs 117-102 on Friday.

Harden scored 37 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists with Kevin Durant out with a sprained left MCL as the Nets rallied from a 51-50 half-time deficit to improve to 29-16.

Kyrie Irving contributed 24 points with three rebounds and four assists for the Nets, who are top of the Eastern Conference.

Harden's triple-double was the 66th of his career, moving him to eighth on the all-time list, while Murray – who had 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists – recorded his ninth triple-double of the season and 13th of his career.

 

LeBron leads Lakers past Magic

LeBron James led the Los Angeles Lakers' second-half response as they fought back from an eight-point half-time deficit to win 116-105 over the Orlando Magic. James finished with 29 points, seven rebounds and five assists, playing the second half at center, while Russell Westbrook contributed 18 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

The Milwaukee Bucks edged the Chicago Bulls 94-90 in an important game in the Eastern Conference standings. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 30 points with 12 rebounds and three assists as the Bucks overcame Grayson Allen's ejection.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic recorded another triple-double with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists but Ja Morant overshadowed him with 38 points as the Memphis Grizzlies won 122-118 over the Denver Nuggets, while Stephen Curry had 22 points including a game-winning buzzer beater in the Golden State Warriors' 105-103 win over the Houston Rockets.

 

Sixers fluff 24-point lead

The Philadelphia 76ers blew a 24-point lead to lose 102-101 to the Los Angeles Clippers despite Joel Embiid scoring 40 points with 13 rebounds. Reggie Jackson finishing with 19 points and nine assists for the Clippers.

The Brooklyn Nets clinched a contentious one-point win over the Washington Wizards, with Kyrie Irving the star man for the visiting team.

Irving had 30 points, three rebounds and seven assists as the Nets triumphed 119-118 on Wednesday, with Kyle Kuzma and Spencer Dinwiddie missing late three-pointers in the closing seconds for the Wizards.

Kuzma was left infuriated, however, as he reflected on a moment earlier in the fourth quarter when it appeared a member of the Brooklyn bench purposefully deflected a pass that had been headed his way.

Nevertheless, Kuzma and his Washington team-mates must reflect on an opportunity missed as they were unable to build on their 117-98 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Wizards are now 23-22 for the season and sit eighth in the Eastern Conference, five places behind the 28-16 Nets.

Brooklyn were without talisman Kevin Durant, but Irving – who can only play in road games due to his refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19 – stepped up.

Irving scored 22 of his 30 points in the first half and has averaged 20.0 points per game since his return to the team.

Pacers stun LeBron's Lakers

LeBron James brought up his 10,000th career regular-season rebound but his 30-point haul was not enough as the Los Angeles Lakers slumped to a 111-104 home defeat to the struggling Indiana Pacers.

James' double-double could not stem the Pacers' tide in a fourth-quarter blitz as Indiana, 13th in the East, inflicted a fourth defeat on the Lakers in the space of five games and increased the pressure on Los Angeles coach Frank Vogel.

It is just the second win in 12 games for Indiana, who snapped a four-game losing streak. Caris LeVert had 30 points, while Domantas Sabonis hit a triple-double of 20 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

 

It was a miserable night all-round for Los Angeles teams, with the Clippers slipping to a 130-128 overtime defeat in Denver.

Nikola Jokic had a triple-double of 49 points – the second-best tally of his career in a single game, after a 50-point showing against the Sacramento Kings last season – 14 rebounds and 10 assists, the last of which teed up Aaron Gordon for the winning three-pointer with 1.9 seconds remaining in OT.

Bucks down depleted Grizzlies, Embiid hits 50

Reigning NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks capitalised on the Memphis Grizzlies' lack of star power as they claimed a 126-114 win.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 33 points and 15 rebounds for the Bucks, who took advantage of Memphis being without two of their leading scorers in Dillon Brooks and Desmond Bane, though Ja Morant (33 points, 14 assists) gave his all for the Grizzlies.

Elsewhere, Joel Embiid scored 50 points in only 27 minutes in a 123-110 victory for Philadelphia over the Orlando Magic.

Embiid is now the third player in Sixers history to have multiple games with 50 points or more, while he reached 50 points and 10 rebounds quicker than any NBA player since 1955.

Billy Donovan says the Chicago Bulls' "margin for error is not great" after losing for a fourth straight game in the absence of several key players.

Without the likes of Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine and Alex Caruso, the Bulls were beaten 119-106 by the in-form Memphis Grizzlies on Monday.

Despite losing to the Grizzlies, the Boston Celtics, the Golden State Warriors and the Brooklyn Nets in successive games, Chicago are top of the Eastern Conference.

The Nets are now 27-15 for the season and have allowed an average of 127 points across those past four defeats, following a run of 14 wins from their previous 17.

And after committing 18 turnovers in an error-strewn performance against the Grizzlies, Donovan accepts an improvement is required.

"For us right now, our margin for error is not great," he said. "Turnovers here, offensive rebound, a couple easy transition points – we're going to have to eliminate those things.

"We've got to be really meticulous and good at taking care of the ball, defensive rebounding and getting back."

DeMar DeRozan led the Bulls with 24 points on 10 of 24 shooting, on top of his five assists, while Coby White finished with 16 points, six rebounds and five assists.

While the shorthanded Bulls are going through a rough patch, White believes there could be long-term gains for his side.

"I feel like this is a chance for us to grow," he said. "We're getting the opportunity now.

"I feel like we're just taking it day-by-day and trying to just grow and develop and get better for the team."

The Grizzlies have won 12 of their last 13 games and are third in the West ahead of a four-game road trip that begins against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.

"I thought our guys came out ready," Memphis interim coach Darko Rajakovic said. 

"I thought we did a really good job defensively. To be honest with you, I thought we were supposed to score even more. 

"We missed a couple of chippies, a couple of open looks that we usually make."

The Golden State Warriors showed off their newfound depth and flexed their muscle with a 138-96 rout over the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls on Friday.

Three Warriors scored more points than Stephen Curry, who finished with 19 points including four three-pointers in the win without Draymond Green (calf) and Klay Thompson (rest).

Top 10 draft pick Jonathan Kuminga top scored with 25 points, while Jordan Poole added 22 including five triples and Andrew Wiggins contributed 21.

Golden State piled on 78 points in the first half, leading by 31 at the main break and never looked back after the Bulls lost Zach LaVine to a knee injury early in the first quarter.

DeMar DeRozan was kept quiet with 17 points, two rebounds and seven assists, while Nikola Vucevic top scored for the Bulls with 19 points along with 14 rebounds.

Chicago, who were humbled 138-112 by the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, slip to a 27-13 record but remain top of the Eastern Conference.

 

Suns and Heat continue stellar records

Devin Booker scored 35 points including five three-pointers while Deandre Ayton had 27 points with 12 rebounds as the ladder-leading phoenix Suns won 112-94 over the Indiana Pacers. The Suns are 32-9 at the halfway mark, which is their second-best record in franchise history after 41 games.

Jimmy Butler returned from a three-game absence due to an ankle injury with 23 points, 10 assists and two steals as the Miami Heat rallied late to win 124-118 over the Atlanta Hawks. The Heat improve to 27-15 and sit second in the east.

Joel Embiid had 25 points, 13 rebounds and six assists as the Philadelphia 76ers got past the Boston Celtics 111-99. Embiid fell five points short of breaking the 76ers franchise record for 30 points or more in nine straight games.

 

Grizzlies winning run ended

The Memphis Grizzlies' 11-game winning streak came to a halt at the hands of Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks 112-85. The Grizzlies struggled from beyond the arc, making seven-of-31 (22.6 percent) from three-point range with Jaren Jackson Jr missing all six of his three-point attempts. Doncic had a triple-double with 27 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

Giannis Antetokounmpo dropped his third triple-double of the season to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a commanding 118-99 win over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.

The two-time NBA MVP had 30 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in front of coach Mike Budenholzer, who was back after returning from the league's health and safety protocol.

Antetokounmpo's 28th career triple-double came in under 30 minutes played, making him the first player in NBA history to achieve that feat multiple times.

Kris Middleton added 23 points for the Bucks, who move to 27-17 for the season, while Bobby Portis and Grayson Allen registered 20 and 15 respectively.

The Warriors trailed 77-38 at half-time and have now lost four times in five matches, yet they still boast the second-best record in the Western Conference.

Grizzlies' run goes on

The Memphis Grizzlies finished strongly to overcome the Minnesota Timberwolves 116-108 and extend their franchise-record run to 11 wins in a row.

Desmond Bane scored 21 points and Jaren Jackson Jr. added 20 for the in-form Grizzlies, who were also inspired by John Konchar's 15 and career-best 17 rebounds.

The Grizzlies suffered their heaviest loss of the season when the sides met in November, but they pulled away late on in this back-and-forth encounter to go 30-14 in the West.

As for the Timberwolves, they have now let successive games slip away after also going down 128-125 against the New Orleans Pelicans with 1.3 seconds to go on Tuesday.

Nets beaten in Durant and Irving's absence

The travel-weary Brooklyn Nets were made to pay for resting NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant as they suffered a 130-109 defeat to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving combined to great effect in the previous night's win at Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls, but that trident was split up.

With Irving still unable to play home games due to vaccine laws in New York and Durant and Patty Mills watching on from the side, the Thunder ran out deserved winners.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the way with 33 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists as the Thunder snapped a five-game losing run.

Elsewhere, Nikola Jokic powered the Denver Nuggets to a 140-108 win over the Portland Trail Blazers and the Pelicans were too strong for Los Angeles Clippers in a 113-89 win.

Draymond Green is unlikely to play in the Golden State Warriors' upcoming road games against the Milwaukee Bucks and the Chicago Bulls according to head coach Steve Kerr.

The Warriors are 28-6 this season with Green in the side but also 2-4 in games he has missed, highlighting his importance.

Klay Thompson's long-awaited return from injury on Sunday coincided with Green's calf tightness meaning the Warriors are yet to have that pair and two-time MVP Stephen Curry together.

Kerr said after Tuesday's 116-108 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies that Green would not be returning during their four-game road trip despite some reports.

"I think it's doubtful right now that he would join us," Kerr told reporters. "He's doing well.

"With the back-to-back, it seems far-fetched to think that we'll just fly him out and play him. He's not ready to do that. We'll see how it goes the next couple of days."

The return of Thompson, with the Warriors second in the west with a 30-10 record, marks a new beginning according to Kerr who said they will "shuffle the deck".

Thompson, who had not played for 941 days prior to Sunday's return, has spent 20 minutes on court in both appearances.

"That'll be a process as he continues to ramp up his minutes and we get Draymond back," Kerr said. "You'll see the team start to form in terms of how we're going to close games, not only offensively bur defensively.

"In a strange way, these three to four weeks are going to be about re-establishing our identity as a team. We did a great job in the first 40 games in becoming a great defensive team.

"A lot of guys have played important minutes and established roles but now that's going to be shaping up a bit because Klay is going to play a huge role.

"We've learned a lot about our young guys. Over this next month we're going to shuffle the deck and try some different combinations and try get everything in order for the stretch run and playoffs."

He added: "It's no secret that down the stretch we're going to want Steph [Curry] and Klay shooting big shots. Wigs [Andrew Wiggins] can also attack and get to the rim. We're going to call a lot of plays for Klay and try to get the ball in his hands."

Stephen Curry recorded his first triple-double since the opening game of the season but the Golden State Warriors went down to the streaking Memphis Grizzlies 116-108.

Ja Morant starred for the Grizzlies with 29 points including five in the final minutes as Memphis extended its winning run to 10 games and improved to 29-14.

Morant, who also had five rebounds and eight assists, spearheaded the Grizzlies' final-quarter 29-18 rally where Tyus Jones hit back-to-back triples to give them a lead they would not surrender.

Curry had 27 points with 10 rebounds and 10 assists for the Warriors although he only shot at 38 percent from the field.

Klay Thompson contributed 14 points with three rebounds and three assists in his second game back from long-term injury as the Warriors moved to 30-10.

 

Bulls pile on the points

The Chicago Bulls had eight players reach double-digit scoring as they hammered the struggling Detroit Pistons 133-87 with DeMar DeRozan starring with 20 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.

The Los Angeles Clippers overcame a 25-point third-quarter deficit to defeat the Denver Nuggets 87-85. MVP Nikola Jokic (21 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists) had a double-double but missed a game-winning three-point attempt on the buzzer.

Chris Paul provided 12 assists to go with his 15 points and five steals as the table-topping Phoenix Suns defeated the Toronto Raptors 99-95.

 

OKC slump in five-game skid

The Oklahoma City Thunder slumped to their fifth straight loss, going down 122-118 to the Washington Wizards. The result leaves OKC with a 13-27 record in second last in the west.

LeBron James could not help but admire Ja Morant's astonishing block for the Memphis Grizzlies in their 127-119 defeat of the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.

James top-scored with 35 points and added seven assists for the Lakers, taking him above Oscar Robertson (9,887) for the seventh most in NBA history.

But his efforts was ultimately relegated to a mere footnote afterwards, with Morant attracting headlines and acclaim for his Michael Jordan-esque block on Avery Bradley in the first quarter.

Morant had been robbed by Bradley at the other end but the 22-year-old All-Star contender darted back and came out from behind his rival to smash the ball off the glass with both hands following a lay-up attempt.

He was not going to be modest about it, saying after the game: "I just got back and made an incredible play.

"I was just trying to gather the ball. Most of the time on a break like that, if you block it, they might have a player trailing to get the ball and lay it up.

"It worked out perfect for me. Now I'm probably all over the internet for it."

Indeed he was, and among those applauding his efforts was James, clearly impressed even if the incident was to the Lakers' detriment.

"It starts with timing and also just stalking your prey," James said. "And that's exactly what Ja was doing that whole play, and I saw it happen.

"I didn't know he was going to do it in that fashion, but they got rockets in his calf muscles. It was just a spectacular play."

Russell Westbrook was less willing to dish out praise, though, producing a typically curt response.

"It was a block," he said.

But Jaren Jackson Jr. was not having that, lauding it as arguably the greatest such intervention he had seen in basketball.

"That's probably the best block I've ever seen live, probably the best block I've ever seen, period," he said.

"That was crazy. I knew he was going to do it, too, because he always loads up right before."

Victory saw the Grizzlies improve to 28-14, giving them the fourth-best record in the Western Conference.

It also ensured they set a new franchise record of nine successive wins, having previously racked up eight in a row on four separate occasions.

Klay Thompson marked his return from a two and a half year absence with 17 points as the Golden State Warriors saw off the Cleveland Cavaliers 96-82 on Sunday.

The 31-year-old, who had missed 941 days rehabbing from a torn ACL and ruptured Achilles tendon, was 7 of 18 from the field and 3 of 8 from three-point range.

Thompson also added three rebounds, an assist and a steal in 20 minutes, earning a rousing reception as he left the court

"I was just happy to be out there doing what I love again and getting my rhythm back," Thompson said. "It feels really good... It was surreal. 

"The ovation to start the game, I just was so grateful for these fans. It was special. I'm never going to forget this night."

With his impressive comeback display, Thompson reached 12,000 career points and 1,800 made three-pointers.

Red-hot Grizzlies set franchise record 

The Memphis Grizzlies soared to new heights by beating the Los Angeles Lakers 127-119 as they won nine successive games for the first time in franchise history. 

The Lakers had won four in a row ahead of the contest but could not live with their opponents, who had previously won eight in a row in 2004, 2012, 2013 and 2015.

Desmond Bane had 23 points and Jaren Jackson Jr. added 21, though it was a breathtaking block from Ja Morant to deny Avery Bradley that stole the show.

While it was a disappointing occasion for the Lakers, LeBron James scored 35 points – 23 of those arriving in the first half – and added seven assists.

That saw James move to 9,888 career assists in NBA and pass Oscar Robertson (9,887) for the seventh-most in history.

Mavericks halt Bulls' winning run

The Chicago Bulls' own nine-game winning run came to an end with a 113-99 defeat to the Dallas Mavericks, with Luka Doncic starring for the home side.

Doncic had 22 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists for his third triple-double of the campaign, while Josh Green and Maxi Kleber had season highs of 18 points each.

Elsewhere on Sunday, Kevin Durant scored 28 points for Brooklyn Nets in their 121-119 win against the San Antonio Spurs.

Cam Thomas made a runner in the lane with a little over a second to go in overtime as the Nets, who led by 10 with four minutes to play, snapped a five game losing run at home.

Giannis Antetokounmpo extended his run of 30-point games to eight in a row but it was not enough as the Milwaukee Bucks lost 114-106 to the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday.

The reigning NBA Finals MVP piled on 21 points in the final quarter to finish with 43 for the game as the Hornets held off the Bucks' charge, with Charlotte guard LaMelo Ball scoring 19 points, with nine rebounds and eight assists.

Antetokounmpo also recorded 12 rebounds and two blocks in a final all-round game for the Bucks, who were missing Jrue Holiday and head coach Mike Budenholzer due to the league's health and safety protocols.

Khris Middleton had a near triple-double with 27 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, including shooting four triples.

The result means the reigning champions hold a 26-16 record having lost three of their past four games, while the Hornets are 21-19.

Sabonis silences Jazz, Brown triple-double

Domantas Sabonis piled on 42 points, making his first 10 shots of the game, as the Indiana Pacers won 125-113 over the Utah Jazz minus Rudy Gobert.

Jaylen Brown recorded his first career triple-double with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists as the Boston Celtics defeated the New York Knicks 99-75.

Jaren Jackson Jr scored 26 points with eight rebounds and five blocks as the Memphis Grizzlies, without Ja Morant, improved to a 27-14 record with a 123-108 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Leaders cooled by Heat

Chris Paul was quiet with nine points, seven assists and four turnovers as the table-topping Phoenix Suns lost 123-100 to the Miami Heat. Devin Booker had 26 points but shot five of 15 from the field, while Tyler Herro scored 33 points off the bench for the Heat.

Chris Paul recorded his first triple-double of the season with a career-high 13 rebounds in the Phoenix Suns' 106-89 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday.

Paul finished the game with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists as the NBA-leading Suns improved to 30-8, while the Clippers slipped below .500 at 19-20 for the first time since they were 3-4 earlier this season, while Phoenix became the first team to reach 30 wins this season as they moved a game ahead of the Golden State Warriors.

The rebounding feats of Paul, playing his 1,128th NBA game, were complimented by the Suns veteran bringing up 41 assists from Phoenix's past three games.

Paul (474) also moved past NBA legend Oscar Robertson into third overall for most games with 10 or more points and 10 or more assists, behind John Stockton (714) and Magic Johnson (543).

Cameron Johnson had a career-high 24 points with seven rebounds for the Suns as Devin Booker went none-of-seven from beyond the arc for his 11 points.

Marcus Morris Sr had 26 points with eight rebounds and three assists for the Clippers who were without Paul George, Nicolas Batum and Kawhi Leonard.

Warriors lose without Curry and Green

The Warriors struggled in the absence of injured All-Star duo Stephen Curry (quad) and Draymond Green (hip), going down 101-96 to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Brandon Ingram scored 32 points with 11 rebounds and six assists for New Orleans.

Evan Fournier shot 10 three-pointers as he haunted his former side with 41 points and eight rebounds as the New York Knicks overcame the Boston Celtics 108-105 but it was RJ Barrett who hit a buzzer beater to clinch the win. Jayson Tatum had 36 points, six rebounds and nine assists.

 

Pistons pumped as Cunningham struggles

The Detroit Pistons were hammered by 30 points in the 118-88 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies with no player scoring more than 14 points.

The Pistons hold a 7-30 record this season with only three road victories from 20 games. They shocked the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this week but were no match for in-form Memphis, who extended their winning streak to seven.

Top draft pick Cade Cunningham shot five-of-19 for his 12 points.

There are no hard and fast rules for voters to determine the winner of the NBA's Most Improved Player Award. 

Does it go to a player who came out of nowhere to become a big-time contributor? Is it geared more toward players who take the next step on their journey to superstar status? Or is it for players who rebound from disappointing seasons for whatever reason?

The award can reasonably fit players from several different categories so as the season nears the halfway point, now is a good time to look at some of the leading contenders for a trophy that nobody is sure what it takes to win. 

MILES BRIDGES - CHARLOTTE HORNETS

The betting lines for the Most Improved Player Award have had Bridges on top for most of the season and it's not hard to see why. 

Bridges has improved every season since he was the 12th overall selection out of Michigan State in 2018, and he has taken a huge leap forward in 2021-22. 

With career highs of 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists, Bridges can affect the game in a myriad of ways. He is one of only 12 players averaging at least 19 points, seven rebounds, three assists and one steal per game this season.

Like a lot of players who ended up winning the Most Improved Player Award, Bridges has benefitted from a big increase in minutes. He has jumped from 29.3 minutes per game last season to 35.8 this year. 

While Bridges' field goal and three-point percentages are down from last season, that can be partly attributed to a change in his approach as he's attacking the rim more efficiently and shooting 40.9 percent from midrange, up from 28.6 last season.

Though he's proven capable of doing more than scoring, Bridges' ability to put up points in bunches has been a welcome sight for the playoff-hopeful Hornets. He already has six 30-point games this season after he had just three in his first 211 NBA games.

Bridges' case for the award gets even stronger with the success of the Hornets, who are in position for a playoff spot with 20 wins after winning 33 games all last season. With Bridges leading the way, Charlotte ranks second in the NBA with 115.5 points per game and features five players averaging at least 15 per game.

JORDAN POOLE - GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

Perhaps no player with a legitimate chance to win this award has come further than Poole, who struggled mightily as a rookie in 2019-20 and was even sent to the G League in January 2021 after struggling to carve out a role with the team. 

This season, though, Poole has been nothing short of a revelation for Golden State, who are vying for the league's best record and are back among the NBA's elite after a dismal 2019-20 and a mediocre season last year. 

Poole has replaced the departed Kelly Oubre in the starting lineup and been the perfect complement for Stephen Curry while the Warriors await Klay Thompson's season debut. Poole is averaging 17.7 points – nearly six more than last season - and has increased his rebounds from 1.8 to 3.3 and his assists from 1.9 to 3.4. He's done all that as his minutes have jumped from 19.4 last season to 29.9 in 2021-22 while going from a fringe rotation player to the third-scoring option behind Curry and Andrew Wiggins. 

Golden State coach Steve Kerr said that Thompson will move into the starting lineup as soon as he's ready and that will certainly have an effect on Poole. Curry's ability to create open shots for his teammates simply by existing is obvious and Poole could struggle to adapt with only so many touches to go around between the Splash Brothers and Wiggins. 

The Warriors' stellar season thus far should only help Poole's case even if he does play in the same backcourt as the possible league MVP.

TYRESE MAXEY - PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

No player has improved his scoring at a greater rate than Maxey, who is more than doubling his scoring average, rebounds and assists from his 2020-21 rookie season. After making just eight starts all last season, Maxey has helped fill the void left by Ben Simmons with 31 starts in 32 games and is a big reason why the 76ers are fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Maxey entered the league with the reputation of a scoring guard, but he has added a new dimension to his game this season and looks more like a true point guard with each performance. He has overcome some early season turnover issues and his assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.58 ranks seventh in the league, not bad for a player who is in his first full season running an offense. 

His improvement in scoring stems mainly from a more polished shot and it's proven in his percentages. 

After shooting 30.1 percent from three-point range last season, Maxey is connecting on 38.0 from deep this season and has made double figures in field goals five times after doing so just twice in all of 2020-21. 

Additionally, Maxey hasn't had a problem being Philadelphia's primary offensive weapon when Joel Embiid sits out. In the 11 games Embiid has missed this season, Maxey has averaged 22.4 points on 49.2 percent shooting compared to 13.9 points on 45.9 percent when the two are in the same lineup.

DESMOND BANE - MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

There's an argument to be made that teammate Ja Morant is as worthy of the Most Improved Player Award as Bane but the difference lies with expectations. The otherworldly Morant is ascending as most believed he would after he was the second overall pick in 2019, while Bane has had a far more dramatic leap as the 30th overall selection the following year. 

Bane was an impressive shooter in his rookie season, averaging 9.2 points and hitting on 43.2 percent from long range. He has continued the stellar shooting in his sophomore season and has developed other areas of his game. Bane is tied for seventh in the league in three-pointers made (112) and at 17.4 points per game, only Tyrese Maxey has improved his scoring from last season at a greater rate. 

Bane's evolution truly became evident from November 28-December 19 when Morant was sidelined for 12 games. 

During that span, Bane averaged 17.5 points and 5.0 rebounds while making 36 of 79 (45.6 percent) from beyond the arc as the Grizzlies won 10 of 12 without their best player. In a 108-95 win over the Lakers on December 9 and Memphis also missing second-leading scorer Dillon Brooks, Bane scored 23 points on nine-of-20 shooting, including five of 11 from downtown.

With almost no fanfare, Bane has become one of the elite shooters in the league. 

Earlier this season he became just the sixth player in NBA history to make 200 three-pointers and shoot at least 40 percent from deep in his first 100 career games. The others are Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Duncan Robinson, Voshon Lenard and Landry Shamet.

DEJOUNTE MURRAY - SAN ANTONIO SPURS

With the offseason departure of DeMar DeRozan, Murray has become the unquestioned leader of the rebuilding Spurs and he seems to finally be getting the attention he deserves as one of the best point guards in the league. 

Murray has improved his scoring in each of his five NBA seasons and is up to a career-best 18.0 this season. He's also averaging 8.4 rebounds - the most of any guard in the NBA – and ranks in the league's top five in assists (8.9), steals (2.03) and triple-doubles (6).

Whereas many of the candidates for this award have seen a huge uptick in minutes, Murray is averaging barely two more minutes per game (31.9 to 34.2). 

One area of his game that could prevent Murray from winning this award is his shooting. His 44.2 field goal percentage puts him 16th among point guards, while his 33.6 three-point percentage is ranked 23rd. He also is connecting on just 69.6 percent from the foul line.

San Antonio is currently 10th in the Western Conference and has a shot at qualifying for the play-in round of the playoffs. This award has traditionally gone to a player on a team that experiences a certain level of success so the Spurs finishing at least in the top 10 in the conference would be a big help to Murray's case. 

LeBron James powered the Los Angeles Lakers to a hard-fought 122-144 win over the Sacramento Kings with a last-quarter barrage on Tuesday.

James finished with 31 points including 14 in the fourth quarter along with five rebounds and five assists for the game to help the Lakers improve to 20-19.

With the Lakers trailing 102-101 with less than five minutes to go, the four-time MVP hit back-to-back three-pointers to claim the ascendancy.

Malik Monk contributed 24 points for the Lakers, while Russell Westbrook had 19 points and seven rebounds.

De'Aaron Fox scored 30 points with three rebounds and six assists for the Kings who move to 16-23.

 

Paul and Booker shine for Suns

Chris Paul provided 15 assists alongside his 11 points as the west's second seeds, the Phoenix Suns, defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 123-110. Devin Booker scored 33 points for the Suns with nine rebounds and four assists, while Jonas Valanciunas had 25 points with 16 rebounds for the Pels.

The Memphis Grizzlies secured their sixth straight win with a 110-106 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers led by Ja Morant with 26 points, five rebounds and six assists. Darius Garland (27 points and 10 assists) and Kevin Love (18 points and 10 rebounds) were good for the Cavs.

 

Sabonis struggles from stripe

Domantas Sabonis struggled from the stripe making five-of-12 free-throws while he was bossed by Julius Randle as the Indiana Pacers were beaten 104-94 by the New York Knicks. Sabonis only managed 15 points with eight rebounds, while Randle scored 30 points with 16 rebounds. The Pacers have lost five in a row.

Kevin Durant questioned the intensity shown by the Brooklyn Nets after they suffered a home defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Nets lost for a third game running on Monday, with Ja Morant starring for the Grizzlies at Barclays Center.

Morant scored a game-high 36 points as the Grizzlies won 118-104, claiming a fifth consecutive victory.

While Memphis had five players in double figures for points, the Nets relied on the shooting prowess of Durant and fellow star James Harden.

Durant led the way with 26 points, three rebounds and six assists, with Harden adding a further 19 points, four rebounds and eight assists, but other than Nic Claxton (11), no other Brooklyn player had above 10 points.

Now 23-12 and behind the Chicago Bulls at the top of the Eastern Conference, the Nets have to recover before facing the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.

Durant said Brooklyn "relaxed too much" after the defeat to a depleted Los Angeles Clippers team last time out, and the 11-time All-Star put Brooklyn's latest defeat down to a lack of urgency.

"It's about coming into the games with a sense of urgency on both ends of the floor," Durant told reporters. "Making the correct play on both ends of the floor."

 

While Durant's frustration with the Nets' performance was evident, he was full of praise for the game's star performer Morant.

The 22-year-old leads the Grizzlies for points per game (25.1), and assists per game (6.7), while his 5.7 rebounds per game ranks him second in Memphis' roster.

Morant's field goal percentage of 49.2 is up on his previous seasons (47.7 in 2019-20 and 44.9 in 2020-21), while he is well on course for a career-best points tally.

"He's just controlling the game," Durant said of Morant.

"He's always been an efficient player who can run the point guard spot, he's developed into a major scorer as well. He just plays with a great pace out there, plays with joy and enthusiasm, and you see him blossoming in front of our eyes.

"Since college, he's been on this trajectory. As a basketball fan, you can't wait to see what he's like in years going forward."

It was a sentiment echoed by Morant's team-mate Desmond Bane, who contributed 29 points to the Grizzlies' score.

"People will debate whether or not [Morant] should be an All-Star," Bane said of Morant.  "I think we should be debating whether or not he's the best point guard in the league."

For his part, Morant believes Memphis are finally getting the respect they deserve.

"Since I [came] here, I've been saying we deserve more respect," Morant said. "The stuff we're doing now, obviously that recognition and everything will come."

The Brooklyn Nets suffered a third straight defeat as Ja Morant inspired the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday, while the Milwaukee Bucks also slipped up.

Morant scored a game-leading 36 points to lead the Grizzlies to a 118-104 victory – Memphis' fifth successive win.

He was ably supported by Desmond Bane (29 points), Brandon Clarke (16), Jarret Culver and Tyus Jones (both 12), with Kevin Durant and James Harden unable to prevent the Nets' recent slump continuing.

Memphis' victory at the Barclays Center was taken in by Antonio Brown, the NFL wide receiver who was dismissed as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer after his remarkable walk-out against the New York Jets on Sunday.

While the Grizzlies travel to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers on Tuesday, Brooklyn must lick their wounds after relinquishing top spot in the Eastern Conference to the Chicago Bulls, who edged out the Orlando Magic 102-98 to win an eighth straight game.

Pistons stun Bucks

The Pistons had the worst record in the league heading into their clash with reigning champions Milwaukee, but Saddiq Bey's career-high 34 points saw Detroit overcome the odds.

Milwaukee's six-game winning streak was snapped by a 115-106 reverse, with a 31-point turn from talisman Giannis Antetokounmpo not enough.

It was a stunning result for the Pistons, who had lost 12 straight regular-season games to the Bucks by an average of 16.7 points heading into the game – while Milwaukee had also downed Detroit four times in the 2019 playoffs.

Detroit are now 7-28 for the season, meaning it is the Magic who have the league's worst winning percentage. The Bucks must now bounce back against the Toronto Raptors, who beat them in December, on Wednesday.

Jazz get back on the horse

The Utah Jazz responded to their defeat to Western Conference leaders the Golden State Warriors with a 115-104 triumph over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Donovan Mitchell was the standout performer, topping up his game-high 29 points with three rebounds and five assists. It is now nine road wins in a row for the Jazz, who sit third in the West behind the Warriors and the Phoenix Suns.

While the Suns are at New Orleans on Tuesday, Golden State kept themselves secure at the top by collecting a fifth win in six games with a 115-108 victory at home to the Miami Heat.

Doncic and Embiid lift Mavs, Sixers

Luka Doncic claimed another double-double with 21 points and a joint season-high 15 assists to propel the Dallas Mavericks to a convincing 103-89 triumph over the Denver Nuggets.

Doncic's team may have come out on top, but fellow Balkan star Nikola Jokic led the game with 27 points, adding 16 rebounds, albeit last season's MVP could not stop Denver having a three-game winning run ended.

The Mavs are sixth in the West, one place behind Denver but having won a game more.

Joel Embiid, meanwhile, is a player well in the running to take Jokic's regular-season MVP crown, and he turned in a brilliant display in the Philadelphia 76ers 133-113 rout of the Houston Rockets.

Embiid turned in a fourth straight 30-point game with a triple-double of 31 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists.

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