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.

Crowds came flocking back in force, we had the full complement of golf majors and tennis grand slams, and sport almost ran smoothly over the past 12 months.

To boot, there were sensational moments, featuring both the biggest names in sport and some that few had heard of at this time last year.

Here, Stats Perform looks back at some of the biggest stories of the year, and the numbers that made them so remarkable.

Jacobs, the shock Tokyo Olympics sprint king

Entering 2021, Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs had a career-best of 10.03 seconds for the 100 metres. By most standards that is staggeringly quick, but at the very elite level of sprinting it ranks as only middling. To put it into some context, 34 men ran quicker than 10.03 seconds in 2021. Jacobs finished only 19th at the 2019 World Championship and few outside of athletics circles knew the name. The former long-jumper grabbed a little attention when he produced a world-leading 6.47 seconds to win the 60 metres at the European Indoor Championships in March, then he ran 9.95 for the 100m in Savona in May, but he still headed to the Tokyo Olympics as a big outsider, not expected to be a factor. Jacobs made a mockery of his lowly billing, as he powered to personal bests in the heats and semi-finals before doing so again in the final, dashing home first in 9.80 seconds to grab gold and leaving rivals gasping in astonishment. He led Italy to sprint relay gold too, a glorious double in that country's remarkable year of success.

Emma Raducan-who? From A level exams to US Open top marks

Twelve months ago – no, make that barely six – London-based Raducanu was simply not a factor in grand slam discussions. Fresh out of school, she had to fight to earn a wildcard for Wimbledon when organisers initially baulked at the idea, but they were persuaded and Raducanu went on to reach the fourth round. The teenager who was born in Canada and has a Romanian father and Chinese mother had arrived, but it was at the US Open that she roared into the history books. There was no wildcard in New York for the British youngster, but Raducanu won three qualifying matches and then raced through the main draw, defeating 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez in the title match. She did not drop a set in 10 matches and became the first women in the Open era to win 10 main-draw matches in her first two grand slams. It made her the first qualifier to win a slam and the first US Open women's singles winner since Serena Williams in 2014 to triumph at the tournament without dropping a set along the way. The $2.5million in prize money was followed by endorsement offers from across the world as Raducanu became an instant superstar. The tennis world waits to see what comes next.

No country for old men as US win Ryder Cup

The youngest Ryder Cup team ever assembled by the United States torched European hopes at Whistling Straits in September, scoring a 19-9 victory. That was the widest margin of victory by either side since Europe, rather than Great Britain and Ireland, became the USA's opposition in 1979. Dustin Johnson bounced back from losing four of his five matches in the 2018 edition to finish with a 5-0 record, just the third player in US v Europe battles to finish with a perfect record (after Larry Nelson in 1979 and Francesco Molinari in 2018). Johnson, at 37, was the oldest player on the team. European veteran Lee Westwood matched Nick Faldo's record of 11 appearances in the match, while Sergio Garcia stretched his points record from 25.5 to 28.5 as he and Jon Rahm combined well, but it was emphatically an event that belonged to the host Americans.

Veteran Mickelson still had his day 

He might have been absent for the US team's Ryder Cup triumph, but Phil Mickelson's name was up in lights again as he became the oldest winner of a men's golf major, landing the US PGA Championship title in May. At the age of 50, Mickelson caused a huge upset at Kiawah Island, scooping his sixth career major when he held off Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen on the final day. It was his only top-10 finish of the year on the PGA Tour.

Federer bagelled, Djokovic denied Golden Slam

Strange things happened in men's tennis in 2021, not least the sight of Roger Federer suffering a 6-0 'bagel' at the end of a straight-sets Wimbledon quarter-final defeat. That happened against Hubert Hurkacz in July, and it was the last match Federer played in the year. He wants to play again, and the 40-year-old believes he can, but knee surgery will keep him out of action until mid-2022 at the earliest, by his own reckoning, and that Centre Court defeat to Hurkacz could turn out to be how his eight-title Wimbledon career ends. Novak Djokovic joined Federer and Nadal on a joint-record 20 grand slam titles by cleaning up at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, and he has now spent a record 353 weeks at number one, passing Federer this year. But Djokovic could not make it a Golden Slam, losing to eventual champion Alexander Zverev in the Olympic Games semi-finals, and a Grand Slam was just beyond him too, Daniil Medvedev winning his first major when he swept the Serbian in straight sets in the US Open final.

Another year, more records for Brady

At the age of 43, Tom Brady was MVP in the Super Bowl as he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in February. He now has seven Super Bowl wins behind him, another outright record, and has been MVP in the game on an unmatched five occasions. Brady, having turned 44 in August, is in the hunt for another Super Bowl ring and perhaps outright NFL MVP honours this season, although Aaron Rodgers will likely deny him the latter accolade. Still, the records keep coming for Brady. He has moved in front of Drew Brees to have the most pass completions in league history (7,200 and counting), become the first ever 15-time Pro Bowler, and in December became the first quarterback to throw 700 career touchdowns.

England's Ashes surrender calls for Root and branch review

Joe Root became the first England captain – or player, indeed – to suffer nine defeats in Tests starting in a single calendar year, in a strange 12 months for the Yorkshireman. His form with the bat has been up there with the best of his career, the 31-year-old scoring 1,708 Test runs to go third on the all-time single-year list, with only Mohammad Yousuf and Viv Richards ahead of him. Even in the Tests that England have lost, Root has made a number of handy contributions with the bat, scoring 648 runs at an average of 38.11. Overall he has scored 26 per cent of England's Test runs across the year, the highest proportion of any player for their respective team in 2021. Yet the Ashes were lost by lunch on day three of the third Test, an outrageously dismal result. Root top-scored in England's two innings in Melbourne, typically, but he cannot get a tune out of many of his team-mates, so ends the year with his future as skipper in doubt.

Curry still hot as NBA records fall

In January, LaMelo Ball became the youngest player to post a triple-double in the NBA, as the 19-year-old Charlotte Hornets prospect grabbed 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a win over the Atlanta Hawks. Come December, the Memphis Grizzlies set two records in the same game, scoring a franchise-high number of points and winning by the biggest margin in NBA history, as they handed out a 152-79 thrashing to the Oklahoma City Thunder. December was also the month when Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors set a new three-pointer record, becoming the first man to make 3,000 threes in a career after going past Ray Allen's previous NBA record of 2,973.

LeBron James applauded Ja Morant's performance as he led the Memphis Grizzlies to a 104-99 home win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers were ahead in the third quarter, but a dazzling display from Morant – including a late flourish – saw the Grizzlies come back from behind to claim victory.

The 22-year-old scored 41 points in total, the second time he has broken the 40-point barrier in two games against the Lakers this season.

James, who managed to equal a career-high record of eight three-pointers in the defeat, claimed the quality of Morant's shooting made him nearly unstoppable, with the Grizzlies star recording six for seven from beyond the arc.

"When you shoot the ball as well as he did tonight from the perimeter, with his speed and his athleticism, it's going be hard to contain a guy like that because he's doing the whole three levels of scoring," James said after the game.

"You can't, there's nothing you can do. He has you at his beck [and call]."

Lakers guard Malik Monk agreed with his team-mate, adding that the free throws his side gave away helped Morant find his range.

"We started fouling, man, and he went to the free throw line and started seeing the ball go in, and he got his rhythm that way," Monk said.

"And when a guy gets it going like that, there's not much you can do."

Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins credited Morant with leading by example and spurring the side on to victory from a losing position late on.

"What an unbelievable night by [Morant], the tone he was setting throughout the game," Jenkins said.

"When he got going, it just kind of fuelled everyone else, and we kind of just broke loose there in that third quarter."

Ja Morant's 41 points overshadowed LeBron James as the Memphis Grizzlies won 104-99 to inflict a sixth defeat in seven games for the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.

Morant was excellent for the Grizzlies, draining six of seven three-pointers in his 41-point haul along with 10 rebounds and two assists.

James, who turns 38 on Friday, tried his best for the slumping Lakers with 37 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists, while Russell Westbrook had another triple-double with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists.

But the four-time MVP came up short in the final 30 seconds, missing a three-point attempt to tie the game before an aimless pass turned the ball over.

Morant skilfully tipped in two to make it 102-97 with 1:15 to go and scored 25 of his 41 points in the second half.

Booker stars as Suns silence Thunder

Devin Booker landed six triples in his 38-point haul as the Phoenix Suns defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 115-97 to improve to a 27-7, putting them joint-top with the Golden State Warriors. Along with his 38 points, Booker also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Chicago Bulls had a full team performance in their 131-117 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, with contributions from Zach LaVine (25 points), Coby White (17 points, 12 assists), Nikola Vucevic (16 points, 20 rebounds) and DeMar DeRozan (20 points, eight assists).

Rudy Gobert starred with 22 points and 14 rebounds as the Utah Jazz recorded their eighth straight road win, beating the depleted Portland Trail Blazers 120-105 despite Damian Lillard's 32 points.

Brown struggles from beyond the arc

Jaylen Brown has been in top form lately but hit one of 13 from beyond the arc as the Boston Celtics went down 91-82 to the Los Angeles Clippers.

James Harden scored 39 points in his second game since coming out of the NBA's COVID-19 protocols to inspire the Brooklyn Nets past the Los Angeles Clippers 124-108.

Harden returned with 36 points and a triple-double in the Nets' 122-155 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas Day and backed that up against the depleted Clippers, who were without star duo Paul George (elbow) and Kawhi Leonard (ACL).

The 2018 NBA MVP was in a dominant mood, with Kevin Durant absent in protocols, shooting 15 of 25 from the field and providing 15 assists, as well as having eight rebounds and two steals.

Patty Mills and Nicolas Claxton both contributed 18 points for the Nets, while the latter had three blocks. Marcus Morris Sr was the Clippers' best with 24 points, five rebounds and six assists.

 

Bulls duo combine for Hawks defeat

Trae Young returned from COVID protocols with 29 points and nine assists but it was not enough as the Atlanta Hawks lost 130-118 to the Chicago Bulls who had Zach LaVine (30 points, four rebounds, nine assists) and DeMar DeRozan (35 points, five rebounds, 10 assists) impress. LaVine and DeRozan became the first team-mates each with 20 points and five assists in a half over the last 25 seasons.

Ja Morant drained a last-gasp clutch shot to earn the Memphis Grizzlies a thrilling 114-113 win over the Phoenix Suns, who were missing center Deandre Ayton and head coach Monty Williams after entering protocols. Desmond Bane had a career-high 32 points and Morant finished with 33, grabbing the win after Devin Booker (30 points) had put the Suns ahead with five seconds left with a three-pointer.

The Utah Jazz extended their win streak to four games, even without injured Donovan Mitchell, as they defeated the San Antonio Spurs 110-104 with Jordan Clarkson (23 points, eight rebounds, five assists) starring off the bench.

 

In-form Celtic misses the mark

Jaylen Brown has been in hot point-scoring form lately but his shooting was down at 33.3 percent as the Boston Celtics – without Jayson Tatum who has entered COVID protocols - lost 108-103 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Brown scored 26 points but made only two of eight from beyond the arc.

The Philadelphia 76ers moved above .500 as Joel Embiid scored 36 points with 13 rebounds in a 117-96 win over the Washington Wizards on Sunday.

The 76ers center was the dominant player on court, but also involved in a spat with Montrezl Harrell, which saw the latter ejected after a second technical foul in the third quarter.

Embiid had good support from Tobias Harris (23 points, seven rebounds, three assists) and Seth Curry (11 points with three triples, five rebounds, nine assists).

The Wizards had held a six-point quarter-time lead but the 76ers responded with excellent second and third periods, totalling 67-41 to take control of the game.


Jokic double-double leads Nugs past Clippers

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic led the Denver Nuggets past the Los Angeles Clippers 103-100 in a thriller with the Serbian center finishing with 26 points, 22 rebounds and eight assists. Youngster Brandon Boston Jr, who had 18 points, missed a three-point attempt on the buzzer to force over-time. Jokic becomes the first player to record 25 or more points, 20 or more rebounds and five or more assists in back-to-back games since Charles Barkley in 1988.

Veteran Kevin Love scored 22 points making six-of-nine from beyond the arc, with nine rebounds from 18 minutes on court as the Cleveland Cavaliers thrashed the Toronto Raptors 144-99 to improve to 20-13. The 45-point win was the Cavs' largest margin since 1991, when they had a franchise-best 68-point win over the Miami Heat.

Zach LaVine scored 32 points including five three-pointers while DeMar DeRozan added 24 points as the Chicago Bulls got past the Indiana Pacers 113-105.  

 

Morant still finding his feet

Ja Morant continues to adjust after returning from injury, shooting eight-of-18 from the field including zero-of-three from three-point range while having four turnovers in the Memphis Grizzlies' 127-102 win over the Sacramento Kings. Morant did finish with 18 points and nine assists.

In what had been a foregone conclusion for years, the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry officially affirmed himself as the greatest 3-point shooter in NBA history just 11 days before Christmas.

Receiving a pass from Andrew Wiggins at the right wing at Madison Square Garden on December 14, Curry quickly put up a shot from 28 feet out that swished through the net for his 2,974th career 3-pointer, surpassing Ray Allen’s mark.

Curry has revolutionised the game of basketball, and while he didn't invent the 3-point shot, he is credited with being the first one to truly exploit its value.

He broke Allen's tally in 511 fewer games – that's more than six seasons – and when the three-time NBA champion and two-time league MVP finally decides to retire, it's conceivable he could have well over 5,000 made 3s.

While Curry is the best 3-pointer shooter to ever pick up a basketball, you would never guess it by his performances on Christmas.

This will be Curry's ninth game on Christmas, and the NBA's all-time 3-point king has never made more than two 3-pointers in a game on December 25.

That's right, the man who averages 3.8 made 3-pointers a game – the best in league history – and has an NBA-best 517 games with at least three 3-pointers made, is averaging 1.3 made 3s on Christmas.

This season alone, Curry is averaging 5.4 made 3-pointers a game, which beats out the 5.3 he averaged per game last season and the 5.1 he averaged in 2015-16 and again 2018-19 for the best in a single season in NBA history. No other player has averaged more than 4.8 made 3s in a season.

He also enters this Christmas having made at least three 3-pointers in each of his last 14 games, which is tied for the eighth-longest streak in NBA history (Curry is responsible for four of the seven longer streaks). But now he takes the court on a day when all those shots that routinely go through the hoop for him clank off the rim.

In his eight prior Christmas games, Curry has made 0, 0, 2, 1, 1, 2, 2 and 2 3-pointers giving him just 10 made 3s. He's made at least 10 3-pointers in a single game 22 times in his career – 17 more than Klay Thompson, who ranks second on the list.

Just how incomprehensible is it that Curry has never hit at least three 3-pointers on Christmas? There have been 292 times in his career where he's drained at least three 3-pointers in a quarter. Since Curry's 2009-10 rookie season, the only other player with more than 150 quarters with at least three 3-pointers made is Damian Lillard with 166.

Well, perhaps he's not attempting as many 3-pointers on December 25. Nope, that's not the case, he's simply missing badly, shooting 20.4 per cent on his 49 shots from beyond the arc. Just for the sake of comparison, of the 174 players with at least 80 3-point attempts this season, Curry's 20.4 per cent would finish dead last.

His 20.4 per cent shooting from 3-point range on December 25 is his second worst for a date he's played at least three games, beating out only the 17.6 per cent he's shot in three games on December 16.

Curry is typically deadly from the wing, knocking down 43.2 per cent of his shots from there to trail only Joe Harris' 43.3 per cent shooting for the best by any player who started his career in 2003 or later with at least 500 attempts from the wing. However, on Christmas, Curry is abysmal from the wing, misfiring on 28 of his 32 attempts to connect just 12.5 per cent of the time.

Overall, on Christmas he's shooting 30.2 per cent from the floor, which is his worst for a single day with a minimum of three games played. And not only is Curry's shooting on December 25 his worst for any single day, but it's also the worst for anyone who's played on Christmas since 1983 with a minimum of 50 attempts.

Not surprising given his shooting struggles, Curry is averaging 13.1 points on Christmas – 11.2 fewer than his career average – which, again, marks his lowest scoring average for any day in which he's played in at least three games.

It's just about unfathomable for someone with a 24.3-scoring average and 540 career 20-point games, but he has never scored more than 19 points on his eight Christmas Day games. There is only one other date Curry has played more than one game and failed to score 20 points and that is February 16 – and he's had six fewer opportunities, playing just twice on that day.

Part of Curry's Christmas shooting woes could stem from the competition he's facing. The NBA constructs a doozy of a schedule on Christmas Day, pitting the best teams up against one another with one marquee matchup followed by another. So, Curry's Warriors often find themselves in a playoff rematch or a date with another formidable foe.

And while he's struggled mightily on his Christmas Day matchups, Curry has often faced those same teams at other points in the same season and not had the same problems, averaging 20.3 points, on 48.9 per cent shooting from the field and 47.4 per cent from 3-point range.

Just last Christmas, Curry finished with 19 points on 6-of-17 shooting – including 2-of-10 on 3-pointers – in Golden State's 138-99 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. He got a measure of revenge in a rematch with the eventual champion Bucks later in April, exploding for 41 points while shooting 66.7 per cent and making half of his 10 3-point attempts in a one-point victory.

This Christmas, Curry and the Warriors face another huge challenge with a visit to the Phoenix Suns in a showdown between the teams with the league's best two records.

But if his last trip to the desert was any indication, Curry could be in for another long night. Just over three weeks ago on November 30, Curry had his worst shooting performance of the season, going 4-of-21 from the floor (19.0 per cent) and 3-of-14 (21.4 per cent) from beyond the arc for 12 points in a 104-96 loss at Phoenix.

Three days later against the same Suns team, Curry was a bit better, shooting 40 per cent on 20 field goal attempts and going 6-of-11 from the perimeter with 23 points in a 22-point win.

This time, though, he certainly seems poised to exorcise the ghost of Christmas past. He arrives back in Arizona coming off a 46-point performance while draining eight 3s in Thursday's win over the Memphis Grizzlies for his third straight game scoring at least 30 points – the first time this season he's accomplished that.

For the greatest 3-point shooter of all time, it seems that Curry can't possibly have another clunker on Christmas. He's too good to have been in such a funk and it doesn't seem to make sense he would struggle so much on one particular day – unless of course, he doesn't believe in Santa Claus.

Stephen Curry scored 46 points including eight three-pointers as the Golden State Warriors defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 113-104 on Thursday.

Curry fell four points shy of his season-high 50-point haul but dominated throughout for the Warriors, shooting eight-of-14 from beyond the arc with four rebounds and four assists. The two-time MVP brought up his third return of 45 points or more this season.

Gary Payton II played a key role in the starting rotation with 22 points with four triples including a clutch three-pointer in the fourth quarter.

Curry's haul marked a return to form as Golden State improved to 26-6, remain one-half game behind the Phoenix Suns (26-5) for the best record in the NBA ahead of their Christmas Day match-up.

 

LeBron, Kemba and Jokic heroics fall short

LeBron James scored 36 points with nine rebounds, six assists and two blocks but it was not enough to prevent the Los Angeles Lakers from going down 138-110 to the San Antonio Spurs. The result leaves the Lakers with a record below .500 at 16-17 after four straight defeats.

Kemba Walker produced a vintage display with a season-high 44 points with nine rebounds and eight assists as the New York Knicks went down 124-117 to the Washington Wizards.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic's heroics were also in vain as the Denver Nuggets lost 115-107 to the Charlotte Hornets despite the Serbian's 29 points, 21 rebounds and five assists.

Devin Booker (30 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) and Deandre Ayton (19 points, 12 rebounds) led the way as the Suns stayed top and claimed their fifth straight win in a 113-101 triumph over the Oklahoma City Thunder, while Khris Middleton (26 points, five rebounds, seven assists) and Jrue Holiday (24 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) delivered again in Giannis Antetokounmpo's absence as the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Dallas Mavericks 102-95.

 

Embiid loses his radar

Joel Embiid shot six-of-17 from the field as the Philadelphia 76ers lost 98-96 to the depleted Atlanta Hawks. Embiid finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds and two assists.

Joel Embiid inspired the Philadelphia 76ers to a thrilling 108-103 road win over the Boston Celtics with 41 points including 17 in the fourth quarter on Monday.

Embiid's remarkable final period also included a steal from a last-ditch Celtics inbound with 3.9 seconds on the clock and the 76ers leading 106-103.

The 76ers center made 14 of 27 shots from the field (52 percent) and collected 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals and four blocks.

Tobias Harris (25 points, seven rebounds and three assists) and Seth Curry (26 points, four rebounds and seven assists) provided good support for Embiid.

Jayson Tatum had a down game for the Celtics, only managing 17 points, while Jaylen Brown scored 30 points with five rebounds and four assists.

 

Draymond's season-first triple-double

Stephen Curry scored 30 points including four three-pointers but Draymond Green (16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists) stole the show with his first triple-double of the season as the Golden State Warriors beat the Sacramento Kings 113-98. Green also had two blocks and two steals.

Dejounte Murray became the first player in San Antonio Spurs history to reach six triple-doubles in one season, with 24 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists as they won 116-92 over the Los Angeles Clippers. Paul George returned from an elbow injury with 25 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Clippers.

Rudy Gobert dominated with 23 points and 21 rebounds as the Utah Jazz improved to 21-9 with a 112-102 win over the Charlotte Hornets. LaMelo Ball (21 points, 11 assists and six rebounds) and Miles Bridges (21 points and 11 rebounds) were good for the Hornets.

 

Grizzlies cannot win with Morant

Ja Morant could not lift the Memphis Grizzlies upon his return from injury, managing only 16 points in a 102-99 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who had rookie Josh Giddey (19 points and 11 assists) impress. The Grizzlies bizarrely went 10-2 without Morant during his three-week absence, having been 9-10.

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