Doc Rivers believes the Philadelphia 76ers have the tools to make a play for an NBA championship after clinching a deal to bring in James Harden.

The Sixers coach saw his team beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 100-87 on Friday night to improve to 33-22 for the season, and they sit fifth in the Eastern Conference.

A stiff test comes on Saturday as they tackle the Cleveland Cavaliers, who sit three places above Philadelphia after winning two more games, and from next week Harden comes into contention once he touches down after departing the Brooklyn Nets.

The Sixers signed up Harden and Paul Millsap this week from the Nets, sending Seth Curry, reserve center Andre Drummond, Ben Simmons and two first-round picks the other way.

Asked whether the trade means his team might now be equipped to mount a serious title challenge, Rivers said: "Yeah, I think so. I mean, I don't know. That's something we will find out. We did it with the belief we do, obviously."

Rivers is looking forward to coaching Harden, the 2018 MVP, despite the 32-year-old only scoring at 22.5 points per game this season, his worst record since posting an average of 16.8 with Oklahoma in the 2011-12 season.

"Obviously, we don’t have him yet, so we have to wait and see. But he's a guy that creates his own shot, creates shots for others," Rivers said. "He's another guy on your team that gets double-teamed, which is really valuable. When you have all that, you like it a lot."

Rivers, now 60, has previously won an NBA title, landing glory with the Boston Celtics 14 years ago.

His hunger for more success on that scale remains unstated, and he said: "Let me repeat this one more time - you and no one else can put no more pressure on myself than I do. It will never happen. I'm in this to win. I've always been in this to win.

"I think the reason we did this deal was so we could step into the fray."

Rivers acknowledged Drummond's part in the multi-player deal came as a surprise to the player.

"Drummond - he never thought he was leaving, but Ben and Seth had a pretty good inkling this could happen," Rivers said.

Joel Embiid had 25 points and 19 rebounds in the Sixers' Friday night win, and he will relish teaming up with Harden.

Simmons had not played for Philadelphia since their playoffs exit at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks last season, and he has finally got his wish to move on.

Embiid took aim at his former teammate as he said: "I honestly don't care. It's unfortunate how everything happened, because you look at the history and we didn't get it done as far as winning in the playoffs, but you look at the history being on the court, what we did in the regular season, we were dominant.

"So it's unfortunate that winning was not the biggest factor.

"It's unfortunate that for him, having his own team and being the star was more of his priorities. But I always thought that everything was great, the fit was great. But unfortunately Ben thought that it wasn't. But we all move on."

Joel Embiid extended his scoring run as the Philadelphia 76ers won their first game since trading for James Harden on Friday.

The 76ers have been busy in trade action this week, finally moving on Ben Simmons to the Brooklyn Nets and receiving Harden in exchange, but focus returned to the court against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Former MVP Harden is yet to make his 76ers bow, but Embiid – perhaps the best performer of this NBA season – continued to perform without him.

The Cameroonian center had 25 points, 19 rebounds and five blocks in the 76ers' 100-87 win, which also saw Tyrese Maxey score 24.

This was Embiid's 22nd straight game with 25 or more points in a sequence only three players – Kevin Durant (twice), new 76er Harden and former 76er Allen Iverson – have topped this century.

Embiid, who shows no sign of slowing, had already secured the best streak by a foreign-born player of the past 50 years when Giannis Antetokounmpo's 20-game run ended against the Phoenix Suns on Thursday.

Pacers new boys beaten

The 76ers next play the Cleveland Cavaliers, who will be on a high after a dramatic late show against the new-look Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers, fired by debutants Tyrese Haliburton (23 points) and Buddy Hield (16 points, nine rebounds, eight assists), did not trail at any point until late in the fourth quarter at home to the Cavs.

But Rajon Rondo's three-pointer swung momentum in the Cavs' favour, and their own recent signing Caris LeVert had a key role late on as he finished with 22 points in a 120-113 win.

More debutants deliver

Haliburton and Hield were not alone in making an instant impression.

Montrezl Harrell had 15 points as the Charlotte Hornets routed the Detroit Pistons 141-119, also boosted by 31 from LaMelo Ball and a triple-double for Terry Rozier. Meanwhile, Derrick White's 15 from the bench helped the Boston Celtics see off the Denver Nuggets despite Nikola Jokic's triple-double.

It was not all about those who have been on the move this week, though, as Jokic showed.

Dejounte Murray had a 32-point triple in the San Antonio Spurs' defeat of the Atlanta Hawks, while DeMar DeRozan's remarkable season continued with his fifth straight 30-point game.

DeRozan reached 35 as a blistering fourth quarter took the Chicago Bulls past the Minnesota Timberwolves 134-122.

The Brooklyn Nets went "all in" on James Harden, general manager Sean Marks says, making the decision to trade the former MVP "not easy".

After 80 games in just shy of 13 months, Harden has left the Nets for the Philadelphia 76ers in a blockbuster trade involving Ben Simmons.

The 76ers had been looking for a superstar in exchange for Simmons and were able to put together a package to tempt the Nets when it became clear Harden was open to moving on.

Harden had last January forced his way out of the Houston Rockets to move to Brooklyn and team up with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

But the Nets' 'Big Three' played just 365 minutes together across 16 games in the regular season and playoffs.

Although the Nets went 13-3 in those games, Harden and Irving were each absent for three games of the seven-game series against eventual champions the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2020-21 postseason.

The injury issues that dogged the trio last year have continued this season, while Irving has played just 13 games due to a refusal to be vaccinated.

The Nets, on a 10-game losing streak, are now moving in a new direction, but Marks insists their commitment to Harden up until Thursday's trade could not be questioned.

"Make no bones about it: we went all in on getting James Harden and inviting him to the group," Marks said on Friday.

"And these decisions to move on from a player like that, of that calibre, are never easy ones. I just want to be clear that this is not something that you think, 'great, let's just make a split decision and move on from that'.

"I give James a lot of credit for having open dialogue, open discussions with me and with the group, [Nets coach Steve Nash] and [owner] Joe Tsai and everybody over the last 24, 48 hours.

"Again, I said they're not easy, but I think that's something we pride ourselves on is being open and honest. James was honest with us and we were honest with him.

"I think it's a move that enables him to have a fresh start, enables this team to have a fresh start, without trying to push things to make things work.

"If we realise this is not going to work, short term or long term, then it's time to say for, both parties involved, this is better off."

Harden, whose 76ers debut is likely to be next week, will be warmly received in Philly.

Second-year point guard Tyrese Maxey welcomed the 10-time All-Star, who is set to shine alongside MVP candidate Joel Embiid.

"It's going to be great. It's two MVP-calibre players on top of what we have here already," Maxey said, adding: "It's going to be great, and I just can't wait."

Steve Nash could not help but contemplate the "what ifs" after James Harden's brief tenure with the Brooklyn Nets was ended in a big trade-deadline deal with the Philadelphia 76ers.

One of the most prolific shooters in NBA history, Harden was drafted to the Nets in January 2021 to form a tantalising big three alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

However, a combination of factors limited the amount of game time the trio enjoyed on court together, with Durant contending with injuries and Irving unable to play home fixtures this season as he is unvaccinated against COVID-19. Health protocols in New York mean players have to be jabbed to play in the city

Harden averaged just 22.5 points per game this season, his lowest average since the 2011-12 season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, as well as 8.0 rebounds and 10.2 assists.

Despite head coach Nash consistently saying Harden would not be moved on, he was sent to Philly in exchange for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry and Andre Drummond.

The deal reportedly also includes the Sixers sending the Nets an unprotected 2022 first-round pick as well as a protected 2027 first-round pick. The Nets also included Paul Millsap in the deal.

Speaking after the Nets were defeated 113-112 by the Washington Wizards – their 10th loss in a row – Nash could not help but wonder how things could have played out differently in last season's playoffs when they lost out in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Milwaukee Bucks.

"You're up 2-0 against the NBA champs, and then to not have James in the first games and then Kyrie in the last games, James being on one leg, Jeff Green being out of the lineup, all sorts of things that hampered our opportunity to win," Nash said. 

"To take them to overtime in Game 7, you definitely think there are some what-ifs, but that's life. You can't look back. You've got to look forward."

Nash, who said it was a "pleasure" to coach a "historic" player, added on the trade: "I think in the last hours, as the hours ticked by today, it seemed more apparent. 

"But you're never surprised. When I was asked those questions [about whether he would be traded], there was no conversation between the two teams."

The Nets have slid down the Eastern Conference standings and sit eighth as a result of their barren run.

But with the new additions, and Durant (sprained MCL), LaMarcus Aldridge (sprained ankle), Joe Harris (ankle surgery) and Nic Claxton (left hamstring tightness) all to come back, Nash remains hopeful the Nets can get back on track. 

"Yeah, I think we always set our sights at that," Nash said. "We're excited by the pieces that are coming in. 

"Obviously, we're on a time crunch a little bit and getting everyone healthy, gaining some cohesion and building a team that can flow and play at both ends of the floor, but we're not taking our foot off the gas. 

"We want to try to build and reach for the stars and try to have a sense of urgency with this new addition."

Irving said he made no attempt to try and convince Harden to stay but added he wished his now former teammate well in his future endeavours.

"That's not really my place, in terms of trying to convince somebody of something that he probably can't see right now," Irving said. 

"James probably couldn't see what we were getting into. Obviously with my status being in and out, I saw a few things maybe that could have impacted things.

"But who knows, we got to wait for him - I can't really speak for James.

"I think we're also forgetting, too, where I've asked for a trade, and I understand it, so I'm not here to judge him. I'm not here to talk bad on James. 

"He has a great family, he's a great person. And I don't want to separate that fact from anything. I just really want him to be happy. I want everybody in this league to be happy."

The Philadelphia 76ers solved their Ben Simmons conundrum with a blockbuster trade for James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets before the NBA trade deadline passed on Thursday. 

Simmons has refused to play for the Sixers this season after coach Doc Rivers and center Joel Embiid were critical of his performances in the Eastern Conference semifinals loss to the Atlanta Hawks last season. 

Philadelphia had been trying to trade the fifth-year guard/forward ever since, but the former Rookie of the Year's value plummeted after he came up short against the Hawks. 

However, according to multiple reports a deal was finally struck to send Simmons to Brooklyn in exchange for the 2018 NBA MVP Harden. Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, an unprotected 2022 first-round pick and a protected 2027 first-round pick were also sent to the Nets, with Paul Millsap going in the opposite direction. 

Harden can become a free agent in the offseason, while Simmons is under contract until 2025 after signing a five-year, $177.2million deal in 2019.

While the 76ers seemingly boosted their chances of contending by adding Harden, the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors remained idle. However, there were still plenty of other deals reported on Thursday.

 

Mavericks move on from Porzingis

The Luka Doncic-Kristaps Porzingis era is over in Dallas.

The Mavs sent Porzingis and a second-round pick to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans.

Injuries have continued to trouble the 7ft 3in center, who averaged 20 points and 8.8 rebounds per game in two and a half seasons in Dallas.

Kings trade Bagley, Bucks get Ibaka 

The Sacramento Kings made Marvin Bagley III the second overall pick in the 2018 draft but brought an end to his time in California as part of a seven-player, four-team trade. 

Bagley was sent to the Detroit Pistons, with Josh Jackson and Trey Lyles going to Sacramento. The Kings also received Donte DiVincenzo from the Milwaukee Bucks, who swapped Serge Ibaka for Semi Ojeleye and Rodney Hood. The reigning NBA champions also received two future second-round picks and cash considerations. 

Bagley has started just 17 games for Sacramento this season, averaging 9.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in 21.9 minutes per game.

Celtics bring Theis back, send Schroder to Houston

Daniel Theis is back for a second spell with the Boston Celtics.

Less than a year after he was traded to the Chicago Bulls by the Celtics, Theis was brought back from the Houston Rockets in exchange for Dennis Schroder, Enes Freedom and Bruno Fernando. Freedom is expected to be waived by the Rockets, though.

Boston also sent Bol Bol and PJ Dozier, who are both out for the season, to the Orlando Magic and offloaded Josh Richardson and Romeo Langford to the San Antonio Spurs. The Celtics' brought in Derrick White.

Elsewhere...

Goran Dragic's time with the Toronto Raptors is up after he was traded to the Spurs for Thaddeus Young, Drew Eubanks – whom they were set to waive – and a 2022 lottery-protected first-round pick. Dragic is expected to be bought out, with the Chicago Bulls, Mavs, Bucks, Warriors, Nets and Clippers all credited with an interest.

The Charlotte Hornets added Montrezl Harrel from the Wizards. Ish Smith and Vernon Carey Jr went the other way. 

Torrey Craig is back with the Phoenix Suns following a deal that saw Jalen Smith land with the Indiana Pacers. Aaron Holiday was also acquired from the Wizards.

James Harden is leaving the Brooklyn Nets to join the Philadelphia 76ers, according to reports.

The teams have agreed a trade that will see Harden move to Philadelphia, while Ben Simmons, Seth Curry and Andre Drummond head the other way, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski said.

The deal reportedly also includes the Sixers sending the Nets an unprotected 2022 first-round pick as well as a protected 2027 first-round pick. The Nets will also include Paul Millsap in the deal.

Simmons was the subject of trade rumours in January 2021 when the Sixers pursued Harden from the Houston Rockets. Harden instead headed for the Nets, and Simmons saw out the season in Philadelphia, only for speculation to ramp up again after a deeply dissatisfying playoff exit.

Simmons has not played since June when Joel Embiid and Doc Rivers appeared to blame the former first overall pick for a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

The 25-year-old Simmons averaged 14.3 points per game last season from his 58 appearances, plus 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists.

Harden, 32, has failed to settle in Brooklyn since arriving from Houston last January, averaging just 22.5 points per game this season, his lowest average since the 2011-12 season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, as well as 8.0 rebounds and 10.2 assists.

Curry has been enjoying the best season of his career in Philadelphia, averaging 15.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game, while Drummond has managed just 6.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, the worst return of his career.

James Harden is leaving the Brooklyn Nets to join the Philadelphia 76ers, according to reports.

The teams have agreed a trade that will see Harden move to Philadelphia, while Ben Simmons, Seth Curry and Andre Drummond head the other way, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski said.

The deal reportedly also includes the Sixers sending the Nets an unprotected 2022 first-round pick as well as a protected 2027 first-round pick. The Nets will also include Paul Millsap in the deal.

Simmons was the subject of trade rumours in January 2021 when the Sixers pursued Harden from the Houston Rockets. Harden instead headed for the Nets, and Simmons saw out the season in Philadelphia, only for speculation to ramp up again after a deeply dissatisfying playoff exit.

Simmons has not played since June when Joel Embiid and Doc Rivers appeared to blame the former first overall pick for a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

The speculation around Ben Simmons and what his situation means for the rest of the Philadelphia 76ers has been unhelpful, coach Doc Rivers acknowledges.

The NBA trade deadline passes on Thursday – in theory meaning an end to Simmons gossip at least until the end of the season.

Led by MVP candidate Joel Embiid, the 76ers are an impressive fifth in the Eastern Conference despite being without second man Simmons for the whole year so far.

The former number one overall pick has been the subject of trade talk for over a year and has actively pushed for a trade since before this season started.

The 76ers have not yet managed to find a deal that suits them, although the looming deadline may focus minds.

Potential trade options are seemingly decreasing, however, with the Sacramento Kings pulling out of talks and the Washington Wizards' Bradley Beal out for the year.

That might mean Simmons staying in Philly, but Rivers is just keen to get to the end of the week regardless.

"Absolutely," Rivers said of anticipating the deadline. "Especially this year, just because of the situation we're in.

"I know our guys are NBA players and all that, but they're human.

"I can't imagine the amount of names that have been thrown in. So every single guy goes to bed tonight thinking this may be his last night or whatever, so that's tough. It really is."

Should Simmons go elsewhere or stay on the sideline, the Sixers will require reinforcements at point guard. Rivers said the team "have to" add depth behind Tyrese Maxey, a breakout star in Simmons' absence.

But there is also the possibility Simmons himself could be the man to bolster Rivers' roster, making an improbable return to action.

Team-mate Embiid said after Tuesday's defeat to the Phoenix Suns: "Like I've been saying since the season started, I'm happy.

"Whoever wants to play is welcome. If someone wants to play, they're welcome. But we've got guys here that want to be here, that show up every single night."

The center was speaking in response to a question on Simmons, who he criticised following last year's playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

In a lengthy answer, Embiid added: "If you want to be part of us, I am sure everybody is going to be fine with it, but you've got to show up. You've got to want to be there. And I'm sure everybody is going to accept whoever that is."

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 44 points as the Milwaukee Bucks beat a lacklustre Los Angeles Lakers 131-116 to close in on Eastern Conference leaders the Miami Heat.

The defending NBA champions were 24 points ahead in the first half at the Crypto.com Arena and extended that lead to 30 points midway through the third quarter.

A strong rally from the Lakers, who had LeBron James and Anthony Davis in their line-up, made things interesting but the Bucks stood firm to win for a fourth straight game.

Antetokounmpo's game-high tally came from 17-for-20 shooting, while adding 14 rebounds and eight assists to inflict a fifth defeat in seven on LA, who fall back to three games below .500.

With his latest standout display, Antetokounmpo joins Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as only the third person with 40+ points, 10+ rebounds and five-or-more assists on 85-per-cent-plus shooting in a game.


Suns continue to shine

The NBA-leading Phoenix Suns rallied from 14 points down to overcome the Philadelphia 76ers 114-109 and record their 14th win in 15 games.

Devin Booker scored 35 points and Chris Paul added 16 points and 12 assists as the Suns improved to 44-10 for the season.

Joel Embiid led the way for the Sixers with 34 points and 12 rebounds – his fifth straight 25-point, 10-rebound game, which is the longest streak in the competition over the past two seasons.

Nets claim unwanted record

Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart helped themselves to 22 points each as the Boston Celtics made light work of the Brooklyn Nets in a 126-91 victory.

The Nets become the only side in the last 30 years to have every starter score six points or fewer with none of them getting to the line.

Elsewhere in Tuesday's action, the Los Angeles Clippers had forward Marcus Morris Sr. ejected in their 135-109 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers for a flagrant foul 2 on Ja Morant.

Morant was able to continue and ended the game with 30 points on 12 of 19 shooting from the field, making it the ninth time in 10 games the All-Star guard has reached 30 points.

The Ben Simmons saga has stretched on for more than a year but might finally be reaching its conclusion.

Simmons was the subject of trade rumours last January when the Philadelphia 76ers pursued James Harden from the Houston Rockets.

Harden instead headed for the Brooklyn Nets, and Simmons saw out the season in Philly, only for speculation to ramp up again after a deeply dissatisfying playoff exit.

Joel Embiid and Doc Rivers appeared to blame the former first overall pick for a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in which his reluctance to take shots in big moments came to the fore. That was in June. Simmons has not played since.

Both the player and the team have pushed for a move this season without success, but Thursday's looming trade should focus minds. The 76ers, led by MVP frontrunner Embiid, remain in title contention despite having a three-time All-Star on the sideline, yet a deal this week could significantly improve their chances.

Stats Perform looks at four potential landing spots for Simmons that might also suit his current employers...

Brooklyn Nets

Contrasting reports this week have considered the possibility of a belated Simmons-Harden trade, with the Australian sent to Brooklyn rather than Houston. The Nets move has not quite worked for Harden, who has struggled for form and fitness on a team too often missing one or more of their 'Big Three'.

The Sixers' former Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey would appear to remain interested in reuniting with Harden in Philly, although whether the Nets are quite so keen on Simmons remains up for debate. Publicly, they say otherwise.

The possibility of Seth Curry also moving to Brooklyn has been raised in some reports, presumably to replace the shooting Harden offers but Simmons does not. Curry is a regular for the Sixers, but Harden would represent a clear upgrade – although he has a player option at the end of this season – while Simmons' elite defensive play would not be missed given he is not playing at all right now.

Washington Wizards

Harden appeals given Morey's desire to get an elite player back in return for Simmons. For the same reason, Bradley Beal – beaten to the scoring title by Stephen Curry last year – is an attractive option.

Beal has been less impressive this year, particularly of late, and is now out with a sprained wrist. However, a move to a contender may well motivate a player who has spent his entire career to date with the Wizards, featuring in a grand total of 11 playoff games in the past five years.

The Wizards, like the Nets, might want a second player or at least a second asset to join Simmons in the trade – moving on from Beal would surely mean a complete rebuild – so the 76ers' response as time starts to run out will be intriguing. Again, Beal has a player option for next year.

Portland Trail Blazers

For a long time, it seemed Damian Lillard was the superstar the 76ers really wanted if they were to deal Simmons. At various stages, that possibility has appeared more or less likely.

When the speculation was at its most intense back at the start of the season, Simmons was unwanted in Philly while Lillard was one of the best players in the NBA. Now, Portland are struggling horribly, Lillard has not played since December and Simmons might seem quite an attractive option for the Blazers, who look to be using the final days before the deadline to drastically alter their roster.

It would still seem unlikely Lillard would depart, rather than remaining as the centrepiece of the team for next season and beyond, and the Blazers do not quite have another asset capable of turning the 76ers into title favourites. CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic may both leave, but Morey would surely want more for Simmons.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings would have to perform a significant U-turn for Simmons to end up in Sacramento, having decided late last month they were not interested in paying the sort of price Morey was looking for. The 76ers presumably would have wanted multiple players back, with the Kings lacking a Harden, Beal or Lillard.

Of course, Simmons has not played since those talks broke down, so there is little reason to believe the Kings would suddenly consider him worth the asking price, but as one of the NBA's most forgettable teams – out of the playoffs since 2006 – they surely have to take a risk at some stage.

Whether that risk is giving up multiple useful players for an out-of-favour superstar who does not score is another matter, yet the Kings really need to be active before Thursday, so it is not beyond the realms of possibility they could re-enter the Simmons conversation.

The Brooklyn Nets' losing skid extended to eight games as reigning MVP Nikola Jokic recorded a league-high 14th triple-double in the Denver Nuggets' 124-104 win on Sunday.

Jokic finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, including scoring 23 points in the second and third quarters when the Nuggets reversed a deficit into a 21-point lead.

Brooklyn were without James Harden for the second straight game due to hamstring tightness, with Kyrie Irving scoring 27 points with 11 assists.

The Nets, who are also playing without the injured Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge, have surpassed their longest losing streak since losing seven in a row in late 2019 and early 2020.

Brooklyn are 29-24 and have dropped down to seventh in the Eastern Conference.

 

Double-doubles for Bucks trio

The Milwaukee Bucks won their third straight to improve to third in the east with a 34-21 record after a 137-113 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 points, 10 rebounds and five assists while Jrue Holiday added 27 points and 13 assists. Bobby Portis also had a double-double with 24 points and 11 rebounds.

Joel Embiid and DeMar Rozan put on scoring masterclasses but the Philadelphia 76ers got up after a fast start 119-108 over the Chicago Bulls. Embiid finished with 40 points with 10 rebounds, while DeRozan had a season-high 45 points along with nine rebounds and seven assists.

Luka Doncic had a triple-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists despite foul trouble as the Dallas Mavericks won 103-94 over the Atlanta Hawks.

 

No shooting magic for Orlando

The struggling Orlando Magic managed five-of-25 from three-point range and 35.8 per cent shooting from the floor in their 116-83 loss to the Boston Celtics. The Magic are last in the east with a 12-43 record.

Nikola Vucevic was tasked with dominating the middle against the depleted Indiana Pacers and the Chicago Bulls center was up to the task.

Vucevic earned a 29th double-double of the season, scoring a season-high 36 points and adding 17 rebounds as the Bulls earned a 122-115 triumph on Friday.

DeMar DeRozan contributed 31 points to the cause against a Pacers side devoid of Goga Bitadze, Malcolm Brogdon, Isaiah Jackson, T.J. McConnell, Myles Turner and T.J. Warren due to injuries, while Domantas Sabonis is unavailable due to health and safety protocols.

The Bulls consequently remain top of the Eastern Conference after winning for the fourth time in six outings, with Vucevic going 16 of 21 from the field.

In credit to the Pacers, they were only trailing 65-62 at halftime and briefly led when Lance Stephenson landed a three-pointer with a little under three minutes of the third quarter remaining, but a 10-0 stretch in the fourth ensured the Bulls were in control.


Mitchell return inspires Jazz against out-of-sorts Nets

Donovan Mitchell missed eight straight games as a result of a concussion but made up for lost time as the Utah Jazz, fourth in the West, outclassed the out-of-form Brooklyn Nets 125-102.

Mitchell ended the game with 27 points on the back of eight-for-10 shooting, while he drained six three-pointers and added six assists in 22 minutes of action. His tally was a franchise record for most points scored under 22 minutes.

Bojan Bogdanovic was a valuable ally with 19 points and 11 rebounds, as the Nets were consigned to a seventh consecutive defeat.

James Harden (hamstring), Kevin Durant (knee), LaMarcus Aldridge (ankle) and Joe Harris (ankle) were all again absent for a Nets team who have plummeted to sixth in the East.


Doncic triple-double sparks Mavs comeback

Not for the first time in his career, Luka Doncic was the hero for the Dallas Mavericks as they overturned a 16-point second-quarter deficit to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers 107-98.

Doncic earned a 44th career triple-double, finishing with 33 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists in a game that was paused for 44 minutes during the opening period after it was ruled one of the rims was crooked.

Reggie Bullock made a pair of big three-pointers down the stretch in a 20-point showing, while Jalen Brunson put up 19.

The Mavs snapped a two-game losing streak, while the 76ers - for who Joel Embiid had 27 points and 13 rebounds - have lost two on the spin for the first time since the middle of December.

As the NBA All-Star break approaches, three players look to have established themselves as this season's MVP frontrunners – and they all happen to be big men born outside the United States.

That is surprising with the league trending towards teams hoisting up insane amounts of three-pointers and the idea of the big man in the middle becoming almost obsolete.

While this race will undoubtedly come down to the 11th hour, these three players have clearly separated themselves from the pack by playing some otherworldly basketball this season. 

JOEL EMBIID, Philadelphia 76ers

Embiid is the only one of the top three who has never won an MVP and that could end up working in his favour. The Philadelphia center was the runner-up to winner Nikola Jokic last season, and some wondered whether that was his best chance to win the award, but he has been better in nearly every area of the game while single-handedly carrying the 76ers to the upper reaches of the Eastern Conference.

Embiid's points (29.1), rebounds (10.8) and assists (4.4) have all ticked up slightly this season, though his field goal percentage has dropped. Maybe the most important stat that puts a fine point on just how valuable Embiid has been is Philadelphia's 27-12 record when he plays and 4-8 mark when he doesn't.

Embiid has had issues with durability throughout his career, never playing more than 64 games in any season. He has mostly put those issues to rest this season and played in 21 straight games before he had a scheduled maintenance day and missed Monday's win over Memphis. 

Because he hasn't had Ben Simmons playing alongside him this season, Embiid has taken on an even bigger role in the team's offense. He's maintained his scoring rate and his assists have jumped from 2.8 to 4.4 as he has assumed greater playmaking responsibility in both the half-court and transition, all while lowering his turnovers. 

Embiid's defence hasn't suffered even with his increased burden on the opposite end. His blocks have increased (1.35 to 1.44) and he is the biggest reason the 76ers have improved their scoring defence from last season (108.1 to 105.5).

Since Christmas, Embiid leads the league in scoring (33.8) while pulling down 10.9 rebounds per game. His stretch of eight consecutive games with at least 30 points from December 26 to January 12 is the longest in the NBA this season and is tied for the longest by any 76ers player (Allen Iverson, Wilt Chamberlain) since at least 1963-64. 

Philadelphia have won 15 of 19 during that span for a .789 winning percentage that ranks behind only the Grizzlies, moving the Sixers up to third in the Eastern Conference.

With 50.8 points, 16.1 rebounds and 7.6 assists per 48 minutes in January, Embiid became the first player in league history to average 50-15-5 per 48 in a calendar month. 

Embiid also isn't shrinking in the big moments, topping the league in points (127), field goals (40) and blocks (nine) in clutch situations.

All the ingredients necessary for an MVP are in place for Embiid, who has the production, the team success and even the narrative that he has put the team on his back in the absence of a fellow star player. Winning the top seed in the conference would certainly help Embiid's cause, and his play has that well within reach for the 76ers.

GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, Milwaukee Bucks

In the same that way that Embiid could be helped by having never won an MVP, Antetokounmpo could be hindered by having won back-to-back awards before Jokic took home the hardware last season. Only eight players have won three or more MVPs, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leading the way with six and LeBron James the only active player with more than two (four). 

The Greek Freak has overcome a slow start following a short offseason and is putting up remarkably similar numbers to his last few campaigns, so there is no denying that he is having another MVP-worthy season. As impressive as Antetokounmpo's numbers are, he may not be getting the attention he deserves because this level of production has become the norm for a player who is arguably an all-time great at just 27 years old. 

Antetokounmpo is the only player who had almost as good a January as Embiid, averaging 31.7 points, 10.9 points and 6.3 assists. His nine 30-point games in the month trailed only Embiid (12).

Milwaukee are jockeying with Cleveland and Chicago for the Central Division lead despite dealing with a revolving door of availability from their roster all season. Just like Embiid's chances at the MVP are boosted with a top seed, team success can only help Antetokounmpo's case. The Bucks were the number one seed in the East in both of his MVP seasons. 

Antetokounmpo's ability to affect a game in a myriad of ways was on display in a win over Golden State on January 13, when he had 30 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists and three blocks. All that production came in under 30 minutes of play and made him the first player with multiple 30-point triple-doubles in 30 minutes or less in the last 40 seasons. His other such outing came October 24, 2019, at Houston.

The Bucks superstar is one of only two players (also Jokic) currently averaging at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. 

If Milwaukee finish with the best record in the East and Antetokounmpo averages near 30 points per game, 11 rebounds and six assists, it might be difficult to deny him a third MVP award. 

NIKOLA JOKIC, Denver Nuggets

After winning the MVP last season, Jokic has replicated his numbers in 2021-22, if not exceeded many of them. He's done all that while leading the Nuggets to a 28-23 record despite the long-term absences of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., Denver's second and third-leading scorers last season. 

His performance this season has only reinforced his place among the league's elite and proven for the last time that he is not dependent on any player for his success, instead driving it for himself and his team-mates.

Jokic's scoring is basically equal to last season (25.9 to 26.4 in 2020-21), but his rebounds have jumped from 10.8 to 13.8 to put him second in the league behind Utah's Rudy Gobert as he has picked up the slack with Porter sidelined since early November. 

Jokic's assists (7.8), blocks (0.73), steals (1.42) and shooting percentage (57.2) are similar to last season, and he's again racking up the triple-doubles with a league-best 13 in 45 games after he had 16 in 72 last season. In only his seventh season, he is already fourth all-time in triple-doubles (70).

While Jokic's scoring in January (26.6) wasn't as robust as Embiid and Antetokounmpo, he did lead the league in total rebounds (212), ranked second in assists (144) and third in field goals made (158). He had a stretch of four consecutive triple-doubles from January 15 to 21 where he averaged 29.3 points, 13.0 rebounds and 12.3 assists, astonishing totals from any player, let alone a seven-footer. 

With 49 points in a win over the Clippers on January 19, Jokic became just the third center (also Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975 and Alvan Adams in 1977) since 1970-71 to record a triple-double with 45 points or more. 

While each player faces a separate set of circumstances from year to year, Jokic has been as good or better than his MVP season and has done so with much less around him. That itself won't guarantee him another MVP, but he's right there with the other candidates and has the rest of the season to prove himself worthy of becoming a back-to-back winner. 

Anthony Davis stepped up with a double-double in LeBron James' absence as the Los Angeles Lakers ended their three-game skid with a 99-94 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

James was absent for the fourth straight game with a knee issue but Davis took charge with 30 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks.

Russell Westbrook contributed with a double-double with nine points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists, while Carmelo Anthony added 24 points for the Lakers. Norman Powell landed five three-pointers in his 30-point haul for Portland.

The Lakers had raced to a 12-point quarter-time lead but the Blazers narrowed that to one point by half-time before seesawing second half which went down to the final moments.

The win means the Lakers improve to 25-27 but remain ninth in the Western Conference.

Embiid, LaMelo and Doncic star in defeats

Joel Embiid had 27 points and 14 rebounds but could not lift the Philadelphia 76ers as they went down 106-103 to the Washington Wizards. Spencer Dinwiddie (14 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) had a triple-double for the Wizards, while Kyle Kuzma added 24 points.

LaMelo Ball was excellent in a losing side as well, providing a career-high 38 points including four triples with six rebounds and nine assists as the Charlotte Hornets went down 113-107 to the Boston Celtics. Luka Doncic also had 40 points as the Dallas Mavericks lost 120-114 in overtime to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Ja Morant had 23 points, four rebounds and nine assists as the Memphis Grizzlies won 120-108 over the New York Knicks, while the Utah Jazz snapped their five-game skid with a 108-104 win over the Denver Nuggets.

 

Nets skid extends to six games

The Brooklyn Nets slumped to their sixth straight defeat, their worst skid since January 2020, after a 112-101 loss to the Sacramento Kings. James Harden, nursing a sore hand, only managed four points shooting two-of-11 from the field, which was his lowest return since May 15 last year.

Anthony Davis stepped up with a double-double in LeBron James' absence as the Los Angeles Lakers ended their three-game skid with a 99-94 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

James was absent for the fourth straight game with a knee issue but Davis took charge with 30 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks.

Russell Westbrook contributed with a double-double with nine points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists, while Carmelo Anthony added 24 points for the Lakers. Norman Powell landed five three-pointers in his 30-point haul for Portland.

The Lakers had raced to a 12-point quarter-time lead but the Blazers narrowed that to one point by half-time before seesawing second half which went down to the final moments.

The win means the Lakers improve to 25-27 but remain ninth in the Western Conference.

Embiid, LaMelo and Doncic star in defeats

Joel Embiid had 27 points and 14 rebounds but could not lift the Philadelphia 76ers as they went down 106-103 to the Washington Wizards. Spencer Dinwiddie (14 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) had a triple-double for the Wizards, while Kyle Kuzma added 24 points.

LaMelo Ball was excellent in a losing side as well, providing a career-high 38 points including four triples with six rebounds and nine assists as the Charlotte Hornets went down 113-107 to the Boston Celtics. Luka Doncic also had 40 points as the Dallas Mavericks lost 120-114 in overtime to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Ja Morant had 23 points, four rebounds and nine assists as the Memphis Grizzlies won 120-108 over the New York Knicks, while the Utah Jazz snapped their five-game skid with a 108-104 win over the Denver Nuggets.

 

Nets skid extends to six games

The Brooklyn Nets slumped to their sixth straight defeat, their worst skid since January 2020, after a 112-101 loss to the Sacramento Kings. James Harden, nursing a sore hand, only managed four points shooting two-of-11 from the field, which was his lowest return since May 15 last year.

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