Ja Morant sustained a knee injury in Friday's loss to the Atlanta Hawks, dealing a hefty blow to the Memphis Grizzlies' hopes this year.

"Ja Morant exited during the first quarter of Friday's game against the Atlanta Hawks," a team statement read. "Preliminary imaging revealed a left knee sprain. Further updates will be provided as appropriate."

There was immediate concern for Morant, who hobbled off the floor after pulling up while dribbling despite receiving no contact.

The 22-year-old had scored only two points in eight minutes to that point, meaning it was no surprise the Hawks eased to a 132-100 win – their biggest of the season.

For the third time in three years since he was selected second in the 2019 NBA Draft, Morant is scoring the largest share of Memphis' points.

His 22.0 per cent of their scoring this season makes him the ninth-most influential individual in the NBA, with Kevin Durant's 24.3 per cent of the Brooklyn Nets' points leading the way.

In the early part of this year, Morant had been spoken about as a potential Most Improved Player candidate, despite already scoring 19.1 points per game last year – the 36th-most in the league. He ranked 52nd (17.8 points) as he was named Rookie of the Year in 2019-20.

That output has improved to 24.1 points per game this year, despite Friday's lowly output, which means only nine other players have seen a greater improvement in their scoring from last season.

Morant ranks 11th for field-goal shooting improvement (up to 47.6 per cent) and seventh for an upgrade in accuracy from three-point range (now 35.6 per cent).

This rapid progress has made Morant the most prolific under-23 scorer in the NBA this year (458 points), leading a group that also includes preseason MVP favourite Luka Doncic.

The Grizzlies fell to 9-10 with their latest loss, but that middling record is still enough for eighth place in the Western Conference for a team Morant led to the playoffs in 2020-21.

Whether Memphis can stay in touch while Morant is out is another matter. Since he arrived in the league, their point differential has been 0.5 in their favour per 100 possessions with him on the court but -2.1 with him absent.

The Phoenix Suns are closing in on a franchise record after celebrating a 15th successive win with a 118-97 victory against the New York Knicks in the NBA.

Last season's Finals runners-up, the Suns are two victories away from equalling their all-time consecutive win streak of 17 games thanks to Friday's triumph – Phoenix won 17 straight games in 2006-07.

Devin Booker fuelled the red-hot Suns with 32 points at Madison Square Garden, Chris Paul (14 points and 10 assists) and Deandre Ayton (14 points and 13 rebounds) contributed double-doubles on the road.

Reigning Western Conference champions the Suns boast a 16-3 record this season, a mark only bettered by rivals the Golden State Warriors (17-2).

 

 

Warriors win again

The Warriors extended their winning streak to six games by topping the Portland Trail Blazers 118-103. Stephen Curry led Golden State with 32 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, while the two-time MVP surpassed Scottie Pippen for 62nd place on the NBA's all-time scoring list. Draymond Green put up 12 points and 12 assists.

The Los Angeles Lakers lost a wild game against the Sacramento Kings, outlasted 141-137 following triple overtime. Not even Russell Westbrook's triple-double (29 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds) or LeBron James' 30 points and 11 assists could lift the Lakers in LA.

Defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Nikola Jokic-less Denver Nuggets 120-109 behind Giannis Antetokounmpo's 24 points and 13 rebounds. By topping the depleted Nuggets, the Bucks made it six straight victories.

 

Jazz stunned in Salt Lake City

The lowly New Orleans Pelicans shocked the Utah Jazz 98-97 courtesy of Devonte' Graham's go-ahead three-pointer with 1.9 seconds remaining on the road.

The Los Angeles Clippers defeated the struggling Detroit Pistons 107-96, but it was a rough outing for star Paul George, who was just five-for-19 shooting in a 12-point display. Number one draft pick Cade Cunningham, meanwhile, finished with 10 points having made only three of his 13 shots from the field.

The Memphis Grizzlies scored the final seven points of the game for a stunning 119-118 road defeat of the Utah Jazz on Monday.

After Bojan Bogdanovic made a pair of three-pointers to give Utah a 108-112 lead with 1:28 to play, Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. combined to make four free throws and Jackson hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 5.7 seconds to play as Memphis (9-8) pulled out the win.

Utah (11-6) missed their final four shots of the game and also turned the ball over twice in the final 20 seconds. 

Morant had 32 points to lead all scorers and added seven assists, while Desmond Bane scored 28 and Jackson finished with 26. 

Bogdanovic led the Jazz with 24 points and Rudy Gobert contributed 23 on nine-of-10 shooting while grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds and blocking five shots. 

 

Durant, Nets hold off Cavaliers

Kevin Durant had 27 points and nine rebounds while James Harden chipped in 14 points and 14 assists for the Brooklyn Nets in a 117-112 road victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. LaMarcus Aldridge added 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting off the bench for Brooklyn (13-5) as Darius Garland led Cleveland (9-9) with 24 points and 11 assists as he made only nine of 27 shots from the field. 

Tyrese Maxey scored 24 and Andre Drummond collected 23 rebounds as the Philadelphia 76ers (10-8) pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 102-94 defeat of the Sacramento Kings (6-12) despite playing without Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and Seth Curry. De'Aaron Fox led the Kings with 23 in Alvin Gentry's first game as interim head coach. 

Jaylen Brown scored 19 points in 23 minutes as he returned to the Boston Celtics lineup after missing the previous eight games with a right hamstring strain. Jayson Tatum led all scorers with 30 as the Celtics (10-8) defeated Houston 108-90, sending the Rockets (1-16) to their 15th consecutive loss as they fell to 0-11 on the road. 

The Phoenix Suns held off a late charge by the San Antonio Spurs to prevail 115-111 for their 13th consecutive win. Devin Booker had 23 points to lead the Suns (14-3) while Deandre Ayton added 21 points and 14 rebounds. 

 

Bulls draw blanks from field

The Chicago Bulls entered Monday level with the Nets for the best record in the Eastern Conference but could not find their shooting touch in an ugly 109-77 home defeat against the Indiana Pacers. The Bulls (12-6) made 31 of 85 shots from the field (36.5 per cent), including just six of 28 (21.4 per cent) from three-point range. They scored 30 points in the second quarter but just 47 in the other three combined as Indiana (8-11) built an earl lead, then ran away with it in the second half. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo's monster performance helped the Milwaukee Bucks top the Orlando Magic 117-108 in the NBA on Saturday.

Antetokounmpo posted 32 points and collected 20 rebounds to fuel the NBA champions at home to the lowly Magic in Milwaukee.

The Finals MVP became the fifth player to reach 32 points, 20 rebounds, five assists, two steals and three blocks in a game over the past 40 season, following in the footsteps of DeMarcus Cousins, Tim Duncan, David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Bobby Portis added a season-high 24 points along with 15 rebounds as the streaking Bucks (9-8) celebrated their third consecutive victory.

 

 

Lillard leads Blazers

Damian Lillard had a season-high 39 points as the Portland Trail Blazers outlasted the Philadelphia 76ers 118-111. Portland improved to 8-1 at home to his season. The 76ers, who continue to be without MVP runner-up Joel Embiid (COVID protocol), were led by 28 points apiece from Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey.

All-Star pair Rudy Gobert (21 points and 14 rebounds) and Donovan Mitchell (26 points) inspired the Utah Jazz to a 123-105 victory away to the Sacramento Kings.

 

Lowry struggles from the floor

The Miami Heat's prized recruit, Kyle Lowry had an off night in the team's 103-100 loss at Eastern conference rivals the Washington Wizards. The NBA champion was just three-of-12 shooting – making one of only seven three-pointers in a seven-point display.

The Charlotte Hornets had their five-game winning streak snapped by the Atlanta Hawks, who prevailed 115-105. Charlotte tasted defeat, despite big performances from Miles Bridges (35 points and 10 rebounds) and LaMelo Ball (15 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds).

Stephen Curry led the Golden State Warriors' fourth-quarter charge and registered his fourth 40-point game of the season in a 104-89 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.

Curry had been listed as "questionable" for the game due to a hip complaint but overcame that to post 40 points including nine three-pointers for the Warriors who improve to 13-2.

Golden State had trailed by 13 points early in the final quarter, before going on a 17-0 initiated by three consecutive Curry triples.

Curry had 13 points during the 17-0 run and 20 for the final quarter, as the Warriors flicked the switch with a 36-8 last period.

Draymond Green played a strong deputy hand with 14 assists for the Warriors, while Darius Garland had 25 points for the Cavs.

Curry also broke his own record for the most triples made by a player in the first 15 games of season, overtaking his 2018-19 haul of 80 and moving his 2021-22 tally to 85.

 

Sixers snap five-game skid

Guards Seth Curry (20 points, six rebounds and five assists) and Tyrese Maxey (22 points, five rebounds and four assists) helped the Philadelphia 76ers end their five-game skid with a 103-89 win over the Denver Nuggets. Nikola Jokic had 22 points in the first half but finished with 30 for the game, along with 10 rebounds and seven assists.

Jimmy Butler had 32 points, five assists and four steals while Kyle Lowry dished off 12 assists as the Miami Heat downed the Washington Wizards 112-97, despite Bradley Beal's 30 points.

Ja Morant starred with 28 points, five rebounds and five assists for the Memphis Grizzlies in a 120-108 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, with Paul George managing 23 points, including five from beyond the arc.

 

Murray loses his radar

Dejounte Murray only managed seven points, shooting at 17 percent from the field, missing all four three-point attempts in the San Antonio Spurs' 115-90 defeat to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

DeMar DeRozan was at his brilliant best again as the Chicago Bulls routed the Los Angeles Lakers 121-103 in the NBA on Monday.

DeRozan is the face of the new-look Bulls and the four-time All-Star maintained his MVP-calibre start to the season with a game-high 38 points at Staples Center.

The 32-year-old, who joined the Bulls ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, had his fourth 35-plus point game of the month – tying a career high.

Chicago have won four of their past five games, having also trumped the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday, on the back of Lonzo Ball's seven three-pointers in his 27-point display against former team the Lakers.

Zach LaVine added 26 points for the Bulls, who improved to 10-4 in the Eastern Conference after beating the Lakers for the first time since 2016, snapping an eight-game drought.

Without superstar LeBron James, Talen Horton-Tucker (28 points), Russell Westbrook (25 points) and Anthony Davis (20 points) led the stuttering Lakers (8-7).

 

 

Streaking Suns sizzle

Last season's NBA Finals runners-up the Phoenix Suns celebrated their ninth successive victory after outlasting the Minnesota Timberwolves 99-96. Devin Booker (29 points), Deandre Ayton (22 points and 12 rebounds) and Chris Paul (21 points) all starred on the road. Ayton is the only player this season to be averaging 15-plus points and 10-plus rebounds while shooting at least 60 per cent from the field.

Cade Cunningham joined Stephen Curry (twice), Trae Young and Jason Kidd as the only rookies in NBA history with 25 points, five three-pointers, eight rebounds and eight assists in a game. The number one draft pick, however, was unable to prevent the lowly Detroit Pistons falling 129-107 to the Sacramento Kings.

 

Doncic limps off court

The Dallas Mavericks took down reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets 111-101, but it appeared to have come at a cost. Mavericks star Luka Doncic limped off the court after rolling his ankle in the final minute of the game. Doncic had posted 23 points and 11 assists to help fuel the Mavericks. Jokic's 35-point and 16-rebound double-double was not enough for Denver.

The Cleveland Cavaliers scored just nine points in the first half and trailed much of the game before rallying to stun the Boston Celtics 91-89 on Saturday. 

Cleveland (9-5) trailed by as many as 19 with 3:05 left in the third quarter before roaring back with a 24-4 run to set up a frenzied finish that featured seven ties and five lead changes in the last seven minutes of the game. 

Darius Garland led the Cavaliers with 22 points, including two critical free throws with 9.4 seconds left that provided the final margin. He had kept the home team in the game single-handedly earlier in the evening, making 10 of Cleveland's 12 first-half field goals. 

One night after dropping 38 points in a home win against the Milwaukee Bucks, Dennis Schroder had a game-high 28 for on Saturday, but he missed a potential game-tying shot at the buzzer. 

The Celtics (6-7) were foiled in their attempt to get over .500 for the first time this season but will have a chance to get back to even with a rematch Monday in Cleveland. 

The Cavaliers have won six of their last seven games. 

 

Clippers win seventh straight

After a 1-4 start to the season, the Los Angeles Clippers picked up their seventh straight win with a 129-102 defeat of the Minnesota Timberwolves (4-8). The Clippers (8-4) put the game away by half-time, building a 70-43 lead as Reggie Jackson scored 18 of his 21 points before the break. Paul George led all scorers with 23 and Anthony Edwards topped the Timberwolves with 21. 

The Washington Wizards (9-3) continued their hot start even without star Bradley Beal, rolling to a 104-92 victory over the Orlando Magic (3-10) behind 23 points, 11 rebounds and six assists from Spencer Dinwiddie and 20 points, six rebounds and seven assists off the bench by Montrezl Harrell. Beal missed the game to mourn the death of his grandmother. 

The New Orleans Pelicans opened up a lead of as many as 22 points in the first half and held on for a 112-101 defeat of the Memphis Grizzlies (6-7). The victory snapped a nine-game losing streak for the Pelicans (2-14) as they continue to play without Zion Williamson. 

 

Jazz continue to struggle

The Utah Jazz (8-5) lost for the fourth time in five games, falling 111-105 at home against the Miami Heat (8-5). The visitors built a 95-69 lead after three quarters and cruised the rest of the way as Tyler Herro led all scorers with 27 points. Utah made just 35 of 85 shots from the field (41.2 per cent), including 17 of 53 from three-point range (32.1 per cent).

Stephen Curry reached 40 points or more for the third time this season as the Golden State Warriors' electric start to the season continued with a 119-93 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Friday.

Curry finished with 40 points, including nine-for-17 three-pointers, along with five assists and four rebounds as the Warriors improved to 11-1.

The two-time MVP starred with 15 points in the third quarter alone, almost outscoring the Bulls as the Warriors piled on 35-17 points. Curry also passed Ray Allen's 3,358 all-time NBA mark for the most three-pointers made in regular season and playoffs games.

The result marks the Warriors' second-best ever start in franchise history, with their only loss coming in overtime against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Golden State are one of nine teams in NBA history to start the season without a regulation-time loss in their first 12 games, the best being the 2015-16 Warriors with 24 games.

 

Harden hits season high

James Harden backed up Wednesday's triple-double with a season-high 39 points including six three-pointers for the Brooklyn Nets in a 120-112 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. Harden got a double-double, with 12 assists along with five rebounds, while Kevin Durant added 28 points. Joe Harris shot six-for-six from three-point range in the first half, becoming the first player this season to achieve the feat.

Nikola Jokic returned from his one-game ban with a triple-double as the Denver Nuggets got past the Atlanta Hawks 105-96, with 22 points, 10 assists and 19 rebounds. Luka Doncic also registered a triple-double with 32 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists as the Dallas Mavericks defeated the San Antonio Spurs 123-109.

Denis Schroder had a season-high 38 points as the Boston Celtics won 122-113 in overtime over the Milwaukee Bucks, who were without Giannis Antetokounmpo (ankle) and Khris Middleton (COVID-19).

 

LeBron-less Lakers floored

Carmelo Anthony scored one-for-12 from the field while starter Kent Bazemore finished with zero points as the Los Angeles Lakers, missing LeBron James, lost 107-83 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Emerging point guard Ja Morant had five turnovers and shot 10-for-19 from the field as the Memphis Grizzlies were beaten by the Phoenix Suns 119-94.

The Los Angeles Lakers survived to outlast the high-flying Miami Heat 120-117 in overtime as Russell Westbrook led the way in the NBA.

Westbrook posted a triple-double of 25 points, 12 rebounds and 14 assists, while team-mate Anthony Davis scored 24 points and collected 13 rebounds to fuel the Lakers (7-5) in the continued absence of LeBron James on Wednesday.

The Lakers had trailed 102-93 with less than seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter before rallying to force OT.

Malik Monk, who had a team-high 27 points, scored five of the Lakers' eight points in overtime to secure victory at Staples Center.

Double-doubles from Bam Adebayo (28 points, 10 rebounds, six steals and four assists) and Kyle Lowry (18 points and 11 assists) were not enough for the Heat (7-4), who lost Jimmy Butler to injury.

 

 

Durant reaches MJ levels, Wiggins' Warriors win 10th game

The Brooklyn Nets (8-4) crushed the Orlando Magic (3-9) 123-90 behind Kevin Durant's 30 points on 11-of-12 shooting. In his 12 games this season, Durant has been averaging 29.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game, while shooting 58.5 per cent from the field and 82.9 per cent from the free-throw line. According to Stats Perform, the last player to reach all those numbers over any 12-game span was Hall of Famer Michael Jordan in 1988. James Harden had his 59th career triple-double of 17 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.

Andrew Wiggins flexed his muscles against former team the Minnesota Timberwolves, putting up 35 points to inspire the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors (10-1) to a 123-110 victory. Anthony Edwards' career-high 48 points were not enough for the Timberwolves (3-7).

Defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks (6-6) blew a 24-point lead before overcoming the New York Knicks (7-5) 112-100. Giannis Antetokounmpo (15 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists) fell short of a triple-double.

 

Reeling Pelicans lose eighth straight

The New Orleans Pelicans' season went from bad to worse on Wednesday following a 108-100 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder (4-6). New Orleans – without star pair Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram – have lost eight games in a row to be a league-worst 1-11.

Stephen Curry posted 50 points and 10 assists to guide the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors to a 127-113 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

Curry enjoyed a season-high night in terms of points as the Warriors won for the ninth time in their opening 10 games of the 2021-22 campaign on Monday.

The two-time MVP became the only NBA player in the last 25 years to have 50-plus points, 10-plus assists and a plus-minus of 30 or better in a single game, according to Stats Perform.

Curry, who had seven rebounds and nine three-pointers, also joined James Harden as the only players to put up 50-plus points, 10-plus assists in 35 minutes or fewer in the last 40 seasons.

The three-time champion became the third Warriors player in franchise history with at least 10 50-point games.

 

 

Bulls stop star-studded Nets

Kevin Durant recorded 38 points and 10 rebounds but the Brooklyn Nets still lost 118-95 at the Chicago Bulls. All of Chicago's starters – DeMar DeRozan (28), Zach Lavine (24), Nikola Vucevic (11 and 13 rebounds), Lonzo Ball (11) and Javonte Green (11) – finished with double-digit points to snap Brooklyn's five-game winning streak.

In the absence of Joel Embiid (health and safety protocol), Andre Drummond had 14 points and 25 rebounds for the Philadelphia 76ers. He became the first 76er with 25-plus rebounds in a game since Charles Barkley in 1987. Shorthanded Eastern Conference leaders the 76ers lost 103-96 to the New York Knicks, however.

Russell Westbrook (17 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds), Anthony Davis (32 points and 12 rebounds) and Carmelo Anthony (29 points on seven-of-10 three-pointers) helped the Los Angeles Lakers outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 126-123 in overtime. LaMelo Ball had a triple-double of 25 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists for the Hornets.

 

Jokic loses his head

The Denver Nuggets upstaged the high-flying Miami Heat 113-96, despite having reigning MVP Nikola Jokic ejected. Jokic registered a triple-double of 25 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists before he was tossed for violently slamming his shoulder into Markieff Morris late in the final period.

Undeterred by a dreadful first quarter, the New York Knicks stormed back for a 113-98 road win against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. 

Trailing the defending NBA champions 38-19 after the opening period, the Knicks found their rhythm behind Julius Randle's game-high 32 points. 

Derrick Rose came off the bench to score 23 and RJ Barrett added 22 for the Knicks as they improved to 6-3 overall and 4-1 on the road.

"Obviously, you don't want to get down like we did, but we did," Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters. "It's a long game. You've got to keep fighting and get it to a manageable number. Once we got going a little bit and we made a couple hustle plays, it galvanized us and gave us energy."

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 25 points and Grayson Allen 22 for the Bucks, but Milwaukee's other three starters combined for just 15 points as the champs shot 40.2 per cent from the field and were out-rebounded 59-37. 

The Bucks (4-5) have lost four of their last five games and are 1-4 at home. 

 

Clippers fight back to down Timberwolves

The Los Angeles Clippers mounted an impressive comeback of their own, trailing the Minnesota Timberwolves by 21 at one point before rallying for a 104-84 victory. Paul George had 21 points, 11 rebounds and four assists to lead the Clippers (4-4), while Karl-Anthony Towns had 20 points and eight rebounds for Minnesota (3-5).

Kevin Durant's 29 points and 10 rebounds lifted the Brooklyn Nets (6-3) to a 96-90 road win against the Detroit Pistons (1-8). First overall draft pick Cade Cunningham's shooting woes continued as he went six-for-17 from the field but the rookie led the Pistons with 17. 

Stephen Curry made just five of 15 shots from the field, all but two of those attempts coming from three-point range, but the Golden State Warriors (7-1) still rolled to a 126-85 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans (1-9) thanks to 26 points from Jordan Poole. 

 

Morant misfires in loss to Wizards

Ja Morant has been one of the NBA's most effective scorers so far this season but the Washington Wizards (6-3) shut down the Memphis star in a 115-87 rout of the Grizzlies (5-4). Morant entered the game averaging 27.0 points and shooting 52.2 per cent from the field but made just four of 17 shots Friday on the way to an 11-point night. 

Seth Curry and Joel Embiid led the way as the shorthanded Philadelphia 76ers beat the high-flying Chicago Bulls 103-98 in a battle of the Eastern Conference contenders.

The 76ers (6-2) were without starters Tobias Harris and Danny Green, in addition to disgruntled Ben Simmons' ongoing absence, but still outlasted the Bulls in Philadelphia for their fourth successive win on Wednesday.

Curry posted 22 points, including a crucial late jumper with 10.7 seconds remaining, while the returning Embiid put up 18 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and a big block during the closing stages to deny DeMar DeRozan (joint season-high 37 points).

The 76ers – boasting an eight-game winning streak over the Bulls, their best run against the Chicago franchise since March 1984 – shot 42.9 per cent from three-point range as they swept their four-game homestand for the first time since February last year.

 

Chicago (6-2), who have emerged as a contender in the east after landing DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso in the offseason to go with Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, overturned a double-digit deficit to level the game in the fourth period but could not complete the job.

 

Durant fuels streaking Nets

The Brooklyn Nets made it three wins in a row thanks to a 117-108 victory against the Atlanta Hawks and Kevin Durant's 32 points. Durant is averaging 28.3 points, a career-high 8.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists while boasting a career-best 59.2 per cent field-goal percentage.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic had 34 points and 11 rebounds, but missed a shot on the buzzer to send the game to overtime as the Denver Nuggets went down 108-106 at the Memphis Grizzlies.

Paul George leads the league in scoring and the Los Angeles Clippers star was behind the team's 126-115 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves with 32 points.

Jordan Poole's second career 30-point game (31 points) led the Golden State Warriors to their sixth win in seven games, a 114-92 success against the Charlotte Hornets.

 

Walker's woes

There is plenty of hype around the New York Knicks, especially after bringing Kemba Walker to Madison Square Garden. However, the four-time All-Star had a game to forget in the 111-98 loss to the Indiana Pacers. Walker made just two of his 11 shots, while missing all five of his three-pointers for four points.

The new NBA season is two weeks in and narratives are already forming.

The Golden State Warriors are back, the Chicago Bulls' rebuild was a success, and several top teams – including defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks – are toiling.

Those themes may not hold for the entire regular season, but we have now seen enough to recognise some patterns – and the same is true on an individual level.

Which players have made flying starts to this campaign, and which are yet to find their feet? Stats Perform takes a look with the first 2021-22 edition of NBA Heat Check.

RUNNING HOT...

Miles Bridges

The Charlotte Hornets were already a fun watch last year thanks to LaMelo Ball, but the second-year point guard has help in 2021-22. Bridges has been one of the key men in lifting the Hornets to an exciting 5-3 start.

Playing alongside Ball, Gordon Hayward and surprise 2020-21 star Terry Rozier, Bridges leads Charlotte in scoring with 23.1 points per game. Now in year four, his previous best had seen 13.0 in his sophomore season.

Bridges' shooting from the field (47.2 per cent) and from three-point range (34.4 per cent) is actually down on last year, while he is only marginally more accurate from the foul line (88.2 per cent).

But the forward is thriving on having been given increased responsibility this season. He is back to being a regular starter, up to 35.5 minutes per game from 29.3, and attempting almost twice as many shots. Through Monday's games, only seven players in the NBA had attempted more shots from three (61).

With assists (3.4), rebounds (7.9), steals (1.8) and blocks (0.9) also on the rise, the Hornets could have a major asset if Bridges maintains these standards.

Ja Morant

If Bridges' development has represented a major shock, Morant's has not. The Memphis Grizzlies sensation was the Rookie of the Year two seasons ago and dumped the Warriors out in the play-in round last year.

Still, Morant's performances have been mightily impressive. His 28.3 points per game trail only Stephen Curry and Paul George. Having played more games than both, his 198 total points lead the league. Morant also tops the charts for field goals made (75).

After a 2-0 start, Morant had 40 in a losing effort against the Los Angeles Lakers and soon added 30 against the Warriors to return the Grizzlies to winning ways.

The 22-year-old is certainly not the finished article – only Russell Westbrook has had more turnovers than his 34 and a plus/minus of -6.1 suggests his scoring is not making up for shortcomings in other areas – but the rate of improvement indicates Memphis will be rewarded soon enough for sticking by their man.

Harrison Barnes

Barnes has seen what elite looks like, having been drafted by the Warriors in 2012 and started every game across the regular season and playoffs when they won the title three years later.

But Barnes was merely the fourth or fifth scoring option on that team and, through moves to the Dallas Mavericks and then the Sacramento Kings, has taken time to establish himself as a leading man.

This could well be the year, though. Barnes is the Kings' top scorer with 23.3 points per game, boosted by a career-high 36 against the Portland Trail Blazers on opening night.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the forward's scoring output has fallen with each passing performance since that stunning display, but he is bringing more to Sacramento than just scoring. Last year's 6.6 assists were a career high, only to be topped by a staggering 10.3 this time.

Although Barnes' Kings team-mates suggested after the Portland game they were always confident he could produce such displays, his progress at 29 has come as a surprise to everyone else.

GOING COLD...

Damian Lillard

Numerous players have explained away their below-par outputs by complaining about the NBA's new interpretation of the foul rule this season – a "change in the officiating of overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves by offensive players with the ball in an effort to draw fouls" essentially meaning fewer trips to the foul line for certain stars.

Trae Young, one of those prominently affected, named Lillard as another who was suffering more than usual.

Lillard is attempting only 3.9 free throws per game this year, in line with his career-low rookie year. His 18.6 points are below 19.0 he offered the Blazers in 2012-13. He had 28.8 last season.

But those foul calls are not Lillard's only issue, with his shooting from the field also hugely underwhelming through seven games.

The point guard is making only 34.9 per cent from the field and, having previously scored 4.1 three-point attempts per game, 23.1 per cent from beyond the arc. Those are also career lows and sources of major concern for Portland.

Dwight Howard

The Lakers made significant changes to their roster in the offseason and a number of the new recruits have not yet hit their stride.

It figures that Westbrook, now the third man in LA, should have seen his points (18.3), assists (8.7) and rebounds (8.7) take a hit along with his usage rate (28.5 per cent) after averaging a triple-double on the Washington Wizards, but Howard's slow early-season form was less predictable.

The three-time Defensive Player of the Year played a key bench role in the Lakers' title success in 2019-20, even starting seven playoff games, before joining the Philadelphia 76ers for a season.

Back at Staples Center, Howard is proving far less effective to this point. Both his points (4.3) and, most concerningly, rebounds (4.0) have reached career lows. His minutes are down from 17.3 last year to 15.2 this, but his averages per 48 only further display a decrease in performance – 23.3 rebounds becoming 12.7.

With Howard also involved in an altercation with Anthony Davis during a defeat to the Phoenix Suns, it is fair to say his Lakers return has not so far gone entirely to plan.

The NBA's hottest young scorer got the best of the reigning MVP on Monday as Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies defeated Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets 106-97. 

Morant had 26 points, eight assists and seven rebounds for the Grizzlies, who bounced back from an ugly home loss to the Miami Heat on Saturday. 

The 22-year-old Morant is averaging 28.3 points per game, second only to Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors (28.7), while shooting 52.4 per cent from the field. 

Jokic played a team-high 33 minutes and finished with 23 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and four blocked shots. 

The Nuggets superstar has shown no ill effects from the knee contusion that forced him out of a game against the Utah Jazz last week in the second quarter. 

The teams meet again in Memphis on Wednesday. 

 

Short-handed 76ers top Trail Blazers

Joel Embiid missed the game with a planned rest day and Tobias Harris sat out due to health and safety protocols, but the Philadelphia 76ers still managed to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers 113-103 behind 23 points from Seth Curry and 21 off the bench from Georges Niang. Embiid's replacement, Andre Drummond, added 14 points and 15 rebounds for the 76ers as Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined to make just 15 of 40 shots from the field, including five of 17 from three-point range, for Portland. 

After making just one of nine shots from the field in the first half, Paul George hit 10 of 15 in the second to finish with 32 points and lead the Los Angeles Clippers past the Oklahoma City Thunder 99-94. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 28 for OKC. 

The Chicago Bulls outscored the Boston Celtics 39-11 in the fourth quarter to rally for a 128-114 road victory. DeMar DeRozan had a spectacular shooting game, making 15 of 20 from the field to lead the Bulls with 37 points while Zach LaVine added 26. 

OG Anunoby had 36 points as the Toronto Raptors handed the New York Knicks their second loss of the season, 113-104 at Madison Square Garden. Gary Trent Jr. added 26 for Toronto, while RJ Barrett led New York with 27 points.

 

Beal, Wizards suffer second loss

Bradley Beal made only three of 11 shots from three-point range and the Washington starting lineup attempted just five free throws as the Wizards suffered their second defeat of the season, 118-111 to the Atlanta Hawks. 

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr joked the franchise should trade superstar Stephen Curry amid his fourth-quarter struggles.

Curry scored 20 points in 27 minutes as the Warriors routed the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder 103-82 in the NBA on Saturday.

The two-time MVP entered the contest having not scored in the fourth quarter of his previous three games and Curry did not register a point in the final period again, though he did not have to as he was afforded rest.

After the Warriors improved to 5-1, Kerr jokingly told reporters: "We should trade him."

Warriors star Draymond Green almost put up a triple-double, finishing with 14 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists at home to the Grizzlies.

Green was satisfied post-game thanks to the NBA's new rules, which go against offensive players initiating contact or flailing while trying to draw foul calls.

"Can I also say how satisfying it's been to watch the game of basketball without all those bulls*** calls," Green said. "I'm sorry, I'm not supposed to curse in interviews, right? Can I say how satisfying it is to watch the game without all those terrible calls. Guys cheating the game and grabbing guys and getting the foul. I've been really enjoying watching basketball this year.

"I kind of had stopped watching the NBA a bit because it was just too flailing and flopping and guys cheating the game and getting free throws. So I think that's been great. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that because I think that's been fantastic."

The new rules have particularly impacted Brooklyn Nets superstar James Harden and Green mentioned him specifically.

"James is one of the best at it," Green said. "At driving and drawing fouls, drawing fouls from the three-point line, he's one of the best at it. So I definitely remember those games of him going 24-for-24 from the free-throw line.

"And when you got a guy that shifty, and the moment you touch him they can hook and you're called for a foul, it's impossible to guard. You started to see a lot of guys master it, but they all learned from James for sure because he was the master before anybody else ever picked it up."

Curry, who improved his career three-point tally against the Thunder to 156 – his best second tally against any opponent, added: "I've been watching around the league and for the most part, I'd say about 9 out of 10 calls that used to go the other way are not, for good reason.

"There's probably some that are still in that gray area where they'll get more consistent, but it's great for the game. I know a lot of fans are loving it. The defensive-minded players are loving it, for us to put the ball in the basket, focus on that. I've tried to my entire career so I don't think it's a huge adjustment, but I like it."

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