Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic recorded another triple-double as the Los Angeles Lakers slumped below .500 again following a 133-96 humiliation at the hands of the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Nuggets center Jokic finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists and brought up his triple-double in the third quarter, as Denver piled on 73 first-half points before restricting the Lakers to only 36 points in the second half.

LeBron James scored 25 points with nine rebounds and two blocks for the Lakers, while Russell Westbrook had 19 points, five rebounds and three assists.

The defeat means the Lakers, who are still without Anthony Davis due to injury, move to a 21-22 record after losing three games in a row.

Bones Hyland was brilliant off the bench for Denver, who improve to 22-19, with a career-high 27 points including six triples and 10 rebounds.

 

Durant injured as Nets win

Kevin Durant limped out with a knee sprain as James Harden had 27 points, eight rebounds and 15 assists while Patty Mills scored 21 points as the Brooklyn Nets won 120-105 over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Pascal Siakam over-shadowed Giannis Antetokounmpo with a triple-double with 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists as the Toronto Raptors won 103-96 over the Milwaukee Bucks. Antetokounmpo scored 30 points with six rebounds and four assists.

Jayson Tatum had 23 points with 12 rebounds as the Boston Celtics won 114-112 to condemn the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls to three straight losses, while Darius Garland had 27 points and a career-high 18 assists in the Cleveland Cavaliers' comeback 107-102 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

 

Butler struggles as Heat go cold

Jimmy Butler struggled from the field, making one of 11 for his eight points as the Miami Heat's four-game winning streak was ended by the in-form Philadelphia 76ers 109-98. Joel Embiid had 32 points with 12 rebounds for the 76ers.

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.

Kyrie Irving finished with 22 points in his second game back but could not inspire the Brooklyn Nets to victory as they went down to a depleted Portland Trail Blazers 114-108 on Monday.

Anfernee Simons starred with 23 points, six rebounds and 11 assists for the Blazers who were missing Damian Lillard (abdomen).

The Nets were also without James Harden (knee), but had Kevin Durant (28 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) and Irving (22 points, eight rebounds, four assists) on court.

Durant's points return marks 19 straight games with 20 or more points, which is the second-longest streak of 20-point games in franchise history.

The defeat means the Nets are 25-14 and second in the east while the Blazers improve to 16-24.

 

Giannis cannot lift Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 26 points with 13 rebounds and eight assists but it was not enough as the Milwaukee Bucks lost their second straight game, going down 103-99 to the Charlotte Hornets. Khris Middleton had 27 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists for the Bucks.

First draft pick Cade Cunningham scored a career-high 29 points to lead the Detroit Pistons to an upset 126-116 win over the Utah Jazz, who were without Rudy Gobert again.

Joel Embiid scored 31 points with eight rebounds and six assists for the Philadelphia 76ers who beat the Houston Rockets 111-91.

 

Tatum cool as Celtics win in OT

Jayson Tatum went zero-of-seven from beyond the arc and shot at 33 percent from the field for his 24 points as the Boston Celtics edged the Indiana Pacers 101-98 in over-time. Domantas Sabonis had a triple-double for the Pacers.

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. 

Kyrie Irving scored 22 points upon his return to the Brooklyn Nets side for the first time this season as they came from behind to beat the Indiana Pacers 129-121 and snap a three-game skid on Wednesday.

Irving had been ruled out of the entire regular season by the Nets due to his vaccination status but the franchise changed their stance a fortnight ago, permitting him to play road games.

The 29-year-old point guard played 32 minutes, making nine-of-17 from the field along with three rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Irving's return reunited the 'big three' alongside Kevin Durant (39 points, eight rebounds and seven assists) and James Harden (18 points, five rebounds and six assists).

The Pacers had led 73-60 at half-time with a biggest lead of 19 points before Brooklyn rallied with an 8-0 run to end the third quarter, before Patty Mills put them ahead with a fourth-quarter three-pointer.

Domantas Sabonis recorded a triple-double for the Pacers with 32 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

 

Popovich brings up 2,000th in style

Gregg Popovich coached the San Antonio Spurs for the 2,000th time, recording his 1,325th win in charge as they beat the Boston Celtics 97-95 with Jaylen Brown's lay-up buzzer beater rimming out. Brown scored 30 points with six rebounds, while Dejounte Murray had 22 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists for the Spurs.

Bojan Bogdanovic (36 points, 13 rebounds and four assists) won the battle of the Balkan stars against Nikola Jokic as the Utah Jazz edged the Denver Nuggets 115-109. The reigning MVP was exceptional for the Nugs with 26 points, 21 rebounds and 11 assists.

Joel Embiid scored 31 points as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Orlando Magic 116-106, while Giannis Antetokounmpo was absent with a non-COVID-related illness as the Milwaukee Bucks lost 117-111 to the Toronto Raptors with Pascal Siakam netting 33 points.

 

Curry goes cold for Warriors

Stephen Curry had an ordinary shooting night, going five-of-24 from the field and one-of-nine from beyond the arc as the Golden State Warriors lost 99-82 to the Dallas Mavericks. Curry finished with 14 points with nine rebounds while Mavs All-Star Luka Doncic had 26 points with seven rebounds and eight assists.

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.

James Harden felt "carelessness" on rebounds proved costly for the Brooklyn Nets as they were beaten by the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.

Despite the return from COVID-19 protocols of Kevin Durant, who put up 33 points, the Eastern Conference Leaders lost 110-102 at Barclays Center.

The Nets responded to falling behind in a high-scoring first quarter to lead by seven points in the third, Harden assisting Durant for two three-point jumpers in the space of 23 seconds.

However, Philadelphia mounted a late comeback before easing to a win that saw them improve to 19-16 for the season.

Harden tied Durant as top scorer for the Nets as he recorded a triple-double of 33 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists. It was his sixth of the season, a tally surpassed only by the Los Angeles Lakers' Russell Westbrook (eight).

Still, he was frustrated that they let their third-quarter lead slip by giving up too many opportunities.

 

"They've got more than enough talent to have a really good game after a really good first quarter," he said.

"We climbed back into the game, did a really good job locking down defensively and just doing what we were supposed to do. Obviously, 16 points in that second quarter, we got a chance in that third quarter, went up by eight or something, but we allowed them to get offensive rebounds and more shots in general.

"The rebounds were] a little bit of carelessness, a little bit of decision-making. I had a couple I wish I could have got back. That's the game right there. You talk about it in training camp, not allowing the opposing team to get so many more shots than us. Tonight was a case of that."

Next up for the Nets is a home game with the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday before they head to the Indiana Pacers next Wednesday, when Kryie Irving could make his first appearance of the season.

Irving, who was back on the practice court this week, is unvaccinated against COVID-19 and so is only able to play in road games due to New York City regulations.

Harden said of his team-mate: "He looked like Kyrie: elite. The same Kyrie. We're happy to have him back and we've got to get him on the court."

Joel Embiid bossed the Eastern Conference-leading Brooklyn Nets despite the return of Kevin Durant as the Philadelphia 76ers center scored 34 points in a 110-102 win on Thursday.

Embiid finished with 34 points, including three triples, six rebounds, three steals and one block as tension boiled over between him and Durant who exchanged words late in the game and gestured demonstrably after the final buzzer based on their history.

Durant returned from protocols with 33 points, seven rebounds and four assists, while James Harden recorded a triple-double with 33 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists.

The 76ers got home in a tight encounter with a 26-20 final quarter helping them to their third straight win and fourth in a row on the road.

Brooklyn's record moves to 23-10 while the 76ers improve to 19-16 as the east heats up.

 

Champions clinch fifth win in a row

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks were in the mood with a 136-118 victory over the Orlando Magic. The 2021 NBA Finals MVP scored 33 points with 12 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks for the reigning champions.

Jrue Holiday (25 points, five rebounds, seven assists) and Khris Middleton (22 points, three triples, six assists) made valuable contributions as the Bucks claimed their fifth consecutive win to improve to 24-13.

Bradley Beal returned from protocols with 29 points, six rebounds and 10 assists while Kyle Kuzma had 25 points with 10 rebounds as the Washington Wizards won 110-93 over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Kevin Love top scored for the Cavs, who were without Darius Garland in protocols, with 24 points and 11 rebounds.

 

Mills errant from range

Australian guard Patty Mills had an unhappy time in the Nets' loss to the 76ers, shooting one of eight from beyond the arc and 20 percent from the field for five points.

Title-winning NBA head coach Doc Rivers is "feeling good" despite entering the league's health and safety protocols on Thursday.

Dan Burke, who will step in as the Philadelphia 76ers acting coach in Rivers' absence, said the 60-year-old was in good health and spirits while isolating.

Rivers is one of seven NBA head coaches who has entered protocols, amid the rising COVID-19 surge around the league.

"He says he feels good. He's not the least bit worried," Burke told reporters about Rivers.

"If there's anybody who just takes things in stride and keeps it real and keeps it relative, it's Doc. That's the lead we've got to follow."

On Thursday, the 76ers are due to play the Eastern Conference-leading Brooklyn Nets who will be bolstered by the return of Kevin Durant after clearing protocols.

Rivers, who guided the Boston Celtics to the 2008 NBA title, has helped the 76ers to an 18-16 record this season.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic led the Denver Nuggets with a double-double as they withstood the Golden State Warriors' second-half charge to win 89-86 on Tuesday.

MVP contender Stephen Curry only managed two first-half points as the Warriors produced arguably their worst half of the season before storming back in the second half to tie the game in the fourth quarter.

Jokic, who had 22 points, 18 rebounds and five assists, made a key defensive stop on rookie Jonathan Kuminga after his own turnover at 88-86 before Andre Igoudala missed a three-point attempt on the buzzer to force over-time.

Curry's output increased dramatically in the second half to finish with 23 points including five triples, as the Warriors reeled in the Nuggets after trailing by 24 points. The Warriors' two-time MVP had six turnovers for the game.

However, Curry also reached another milestone with his 3,000 career three-point attempt made, marking 157 straight games with a triple.

Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points with eight rebounds with the Warriors without Draymond Green who entered COVID-19 protocols this week. The result means the ladder-leading Warriors fall to 27-7 while the Nuggets improve above .500 to 17-16.

 

LeBron and Russ end Lakers' skid

LeBron James and Russell Westbrook both recorded triple-doubles as the Los Angeles Lakers ended their five-game skid with a 132-123 victory over the Houston Rockets. James had 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists while Westbrook added 24 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 28 points with six rebounds and six assists in his second game since returning from COVID-19 protocols while Bobby Portis nailed five three-pointers in his 19-point haul as the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Orlando Magic 127-110.

Joel Embiid had 36 points with 11 rebounds while Tobias Harris (19 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) recorded a rare triple-double as the Philadelphia 76ers knocked off the Toronto Raptors 114-109.

 

Randle loses handle in offense

Last season's Most Improved Player Julius Randle continues to struggle to re-discover his offensive games, shooting five of 20 from the field and having only two assists in the New York Knicks' 96-88 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers labelled Joel Embiid "awesome" after a remarkable 41-point performance in their 108-103 win over the Boston Celtics on Monday.

Embiid finished the game with 41 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals and four blocks in a dominant display.

It marked Embiid's third game of at least 40 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four blocks, which is the second-most since blocks became official in 1973-74, behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's four.

Embiid also went past Charles Barkley with his sixth career game of at least 40 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

"He was awesome," Rivers said at the post-game news conference. “He took his shots. What we talk about with him every day, make or miss, just get your shot. Get the shot you want. I thought he did that.

"I thought Seth [Curry] did that as well. Our execution down the stretch was absolutely perfect. The spacing, I think we got two threes off their spacing out the post. [It] was perfect. That was pretty good.”

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

However, the Cameroonian center got the 76ers over the line with 17 points in the final quarter, including a clutch late shot in the corner under pressure.

"That's a shot that we work on every single day," Embiid said at the post-game news conference. "So that's a shot that I just didn't pull out of nowhere. We worked on it so many times.

"I saw the double team coming, and at that point, there had been a couple of times where I got doubled and we didn't cut quick enough, and I had no passing lanes and I ended up turning the ball over. So, in that situation, I thought I had a great angle and I had been making shots. I thought it was a great shot."

The win improves the 76ers' record to 16-15 but they are still well off the pace set by the Brooklyn Nets (21-9) in the Eastern Conference.

"I gotta do it every night," Embiid said. "Right now, it's a lot tougher because we got a bunch of guys out and haven't been winning. So that was one that we needed."

Page 1 of 19
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.