LeBron James returned from a five-game injury-enforced absence with a triple-double as the Los Angeles Lakers won 122-115 over the New York Knicks in overtime.

James had missed five games with swelling in his left knee but returned in style, contributing 29 points with 13 rebounds and 10 assists as they rallied from a 21-point second-quarter deficit.

The Lakers had gone 1-4 in James' absence but the four-time MVP was pivotal with his fourth triple-double of the season.

Anthony Davis was excellent for the Lakers with 28 points and 17 rebounds, while Malik Monk added 29 points too.

RJ Barrett netted a career-high 36 points and Julius Randle added 32 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists for the Knicks.

 

Suns bounce back, Morant stars

The table-topping Phoenix Suns bounced back from their loss to the Atlanta Hawks with a 95-80 win over the Washington Wizards led by Deandre Ayton's 20 points and 16 rebounds. Chris Paul added 14 points and nine assists, while Devin Booker was quiet with only 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

Jimmy Butler dropped 27 points shooting 10-of-13 while Bam Adebayo added 20 points and 12 rebounds as the Miami Heat won 104-86 over the Charlotte Hornets.

Ja Morant scored 33 points in three quarters as the Memphis Grizzlies claimed their fifth win in six games, routing the Orlando Magic 135-115.

 

Blazers skid extended by Bucks

The Portland Trail Blazers slumped to their fifth straight defeat, leaving them with a 21-33 record as Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 29 points with nine rebounds and six assists in the Milwaukee Bucks' 137-108 win. Bobby Portis also scored 30 points for the Bucks.

Reggie Jackson proved the hero for the Los Angeles Clippers as they edged Los Angeles Lakers 111-110 in a thrilling conclusion to Thursday's contest.

The lead changed hands five times in the final 63 seconds, but it was 25-point Jackson's driving layup with four seconds remaining that proved decisive.

Anthony Davis wasted the chance to add to his team-high 30 points and 17 rebounds by missing a running floater as time expired, meaning a fourth defeat in five for the Lakers.

The eventful finale to the game could have been avoided from the Clippers' perspective, though, as they led by 17 with four minutes left of the third quarter.

The Lakers recovered, scoring eight straight points to move in front with just over a minute left, but after plenty of toing and froing it was Tyronn Lue's men who came out on top.

 

Suns' winning streak halted

Western Conference leaders the Phoenix Suns saw their 11-game winning run ended as they lost an eighth straight game at the Atlanta Hawks for the first time in their history, going down 124-115.

Chris Paul and Devin Booker had been confirmed as All-Star reserves shortly before tip-off, but it was starter Trae Young who stole the show with 43 points.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Conference leaders also lost. The Chicago Bulls paid for a sloppy turnover late in overtime in their 125-120 reverse at the hands of the Toronto Raptors.

In second place in the East, Tyler Herro set aside his disappointment at missing out on an All-Star selection by scoring 24 points from the bench in the Miami Heat's 112-95 win at the San Antonio Spurs.

The Spurs had scored at least 100 in each of their prior 18 home games before this defeat, last enjoying a longer single-season run in 1992-93.

 

Klay dazzles as Warriors see off Kings

The Golden State Warriors made it eight wins in a row thanks to a 126-114 victory against the Sacramento Kings, with Klay Thompson hitting his first seven shots on his way to 23 points and seven assists.

Steph Curry added 20 points and now has 71 assists and 24 turnovers in his last nine games for the Warriors, who improved to 40-13 for the season in the Western Conference.

Giannis Antetokounmpo drove the Milwaukee Bucks home with a triple-double as they bounced back with a 112-98 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday.

Antetokounmpo finished the game with 33 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists, including 13 points in the fourth quarter as the Bucks closed it out on a 17-4 run. The Greek forward was scoreless in the first quarter.

The Wizards, missing Bradley Beal to a wrist injury, had rallied from a 17-point deficit to be within contention in the final period but the reigning champions pulled away.

The Bucks had lost 136-100 to the Denver Nuggets in their last game and Antetokounmpo was delighted to put that behind them as they improved to 32-21.

Jrue Holiday provided good support with 22 points, five rebounds and two assists and Khris Middleton caught fire late to add 13 points and five rebounds.

 

Warriors win without All-Stars

The Golden State Warriors put aside the absence of All-Stars Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson as they beat the San Antonio Spurs 124-120. Jordan Poole starred with 31 points, six rebounds and five assists as Golden State won after a 35-16 fourth quarter rally.

The Chicago Bulls reinforced top spot in the east with a 126-115 victory over the Orlando Magic led by DeMar DeRozan with 29 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, while Zach LaVine chipped in with 26 points.

Karl-Anthony Towns (24 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists) got the better of Nikola Jokic (21 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists)) as the Minnesota Timberwolves won 130-115 over the Denver Nuggets.

 

Harden shooting cools down

James Harden returned from a hand injury but went six-of-19 from the field and four turnovers as the Brooklyn Nets went down 121-111 to the streaking Phoenix Suns. Harden had 22 points and 10 assists while Kyrie Irving hit 26 points. Devin Booker scored 35 points while Chris Paul added 20 points with 14 assists.

On paper, a contest between the Phoenix Suns and the Brooklyn Nets is a mouthwatering prospect.

However, the Nets are still missing star player Kevin Durant and while their form is on the floor as a result of that and other recent injury issues, the Suns are on fire, pardon the pun, and the assumption heading into Tuesday's clash is that Monty Williams' team should ease to yet another win.

Phoenix beat the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday to record their 10th win in a row. They have only been beaten once in 14 games in 2022, and sit on a record of 40-9 to comfortably lead the Western Conference.

The Nets, meanwhile, are down in sixth place in the Eastern Conference on 29-20 having lost four in a row following their 110-106 defeat to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday.

Durant remains out with a knee injury, while James Harden has also missed recent games as a result of a hamstring problem and a hand strain, though he could be back for this encounter.

LaMarcus Aldridge will also be absent after leaving the arena on crutches after Saturday's game with an apparent ankle sprain.

Kyrie Irving will be able to play with the game being on the road, and looks to be rediscovering some form after missing so much basketball in the first few months of the season, hitting 32 points against the Warriors, with seven rebounds and seven assists.

For the Suns, Jae Crowder could be in line for a return after a wrist injury that has kept him out of their last four games, while Deandre Ayton, who has missed seven games, will likely be a late call following an ankle issue.

With stronger form and a deeper roster heading into Tuesday's game, Phoenix will certainly be the favourites at Footprint Center, but the visitors will be determined to arrest their recent slide.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Phoenix Suns - Devin Booker

The Suns main point-getter, Booker is the only man to have broken 1,000 points for Phoenix this season (1,056) at an average of 25.1 points per game, the 13th best record in the league.

Booker enjoyed himself when the Suns beat the Nets in November, hitting 30 points and making four out of six three-point attempts.

Brooklyn Nets - Patty Mills

While a lot of the attention will undoubtedly be on Irving, Mills must continue to step up in the absence of Durant and with Harden struggling to find form and fitness.

Steve Nash's Mr. Consistent has played the most games of anyone for Brooklyn this season (48) and is the only Net to have hit three figures for three-pointers made (158). His 24 points against the Warriors on Saturday was his highest score since he managed 34 on Christmas Day against the Los Angeles Lakers, so it appears he could be returning to form. 

KEY BATTLE - Can Brooklyn keep pace?

This encounter sees two of the top five teams for average points per game go head-to-head, so in theory, it should be an exciting high-scoring affair.

You might assume that the Nets' average of 111.9 points per game - the fifth-best in the league - is heavily influenced by the absent Durant, but they have actually bettered that average in four of the last six games he has missed.

Phoenix will be confident of living up to their third-best average in the league of 112.9 having also been outperforming that average in recent games, having scored 113 or more in six of their last eight outings.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Overall, the record between the Suns and the Nets could barely be closer, with the Suns edging their 93 regular-season meetings 47-46. However, the Nets have enjoyed more success in recent years, prevailing in 10 of the last 13 meetings, although Phoenix did win 113-107 in Brooklyn earlier this season.

Monty Williams is thrilled to be at the helm of the NBA's best team after a 40th win of the season for the Phoenix Suns saw him rewarded with a coaching role for the upcoming All-Star Game.

The Suns became the first team this season to hit 40 wins as they overturned a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to clinch their 10th straight win, beating the San Antonio Spurs 115-110.

Devin Booker top scored with 28 points including four three-pointers, while Mikal Bridges hit 26 and Chris Paul added 20 points, eight rebounds and a season-high 19 assists.

With his team the best in the Western Conference – and the league – Williams will now coach Team LeBron in next month's All-Star game.

"It's a huge blessing, to be in this position where you can be the caretaker of an organisation, represent an organisation, the city, the team, your family," Williams told a news conference.

"I'm mindful of that. I'm also mindful of all the sacrifices people make so I can be in this position. This is a team effort for sure. The players, what they do every day, our staff. The medical people.

"There's so many people that contribute to this. You get to coach the game but I'm thinking about everybody that has contributed. Our place is a special place, with a special group.

"I'm so grateful for the blessings that I have. God has blessed me beyond measure, in so many ways, to do what I do, get paid for it, live in Phoenix, drive the car I drive, have filtered water at home.

"I have so many things that I didn't have as a kid that I don't take for granted and this is another one."

Barring a surprising omission, Paul will join his coach in the 2022 All-Star Game.

Paul, an 11-time All-Star, has averaged 14.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 10.2 assists across 48 games so far in 2021-22, with his tally in the latter category leading the NBA.

"I'm just happy for Monty, happy for our staff," he told reporters.

"Everybody contributes to it, that's just the way our staff is, everybody plays a role in it. It may seem like something small to a lot of people but that's big.

"Some coaches coach in this league for a long time and never get that opportunity. I'm glad that more people around the world get a chance to see him celebrate."

Asked about his players saying they were determined to win in order to secure his place as an All-Star coach, Williams said: "It blew me away.

"I wasn't almost in tears about it but when I sat and thought about those guys thinking about me in that way I was quite emotional because it's really my job to put them in a position to be successful.

"To have them want me, our staff, to be in that position, says a lot about them. It's a special group and I'm grateful to be part of this resurgence of basketball here."

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic triumphed against Giannis Antetokounmpo as the Denver Nuggets routed the reigning champions Milwaukee Bucks 136-100 on Sunday.

Jokic almost recorded his 13th triple-double of the season, while he matched his season-high for assists with 13.

The Serbian had 18 points, nine rebounds and 15 assists for the Nuggets, while Aaron Gordon contributed a team-high 24 points including four triples as Denver dominated the second half 71-43 after leading by eight points at the long break.

Antetokounmpo, who won the 2019 and 2020 MVP awards, finished with 29 points but only managed seven in the second half. The Greek forward also had nine rebounds and two assists.

Khris Middleton was kept quiet offensively with nine points, five rebounds and seven assists while Jrue Holiday added 14 points, five rebounds and eight assists.

The Nuggets improve to 28-21 overall aided by a five-game win streak, including four on the road, while the Bucks slip to 31-21.

 

Suns fight back for 10 straight

The table topping-Phoenix Suns overturned a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to clinch their 10th straight win, beating the San Antonio Spurs 115-110. Devin Booker top scored with 28 points including four three-pointers, while Chris Paul was exceptional with 20 points, eight rebounds and a season-high 19 assists.

Trae Young starred with 36 points and 12 assists as the Atlanta Hawks extended their winning streak to seven games with a 129-121 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, who were without LeBron James for the third straight game with a knee soreness. Malik Monk scored 33 points for the Lakers.

Luka Doncic recorded a triple-double with 34 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists but the Dallas Mavericks lost 110-108 to the Orlando Magic, while 2021 top draft pick Cade Cunningham claimed a second career triple-double in the Detroit Pistons' 115-105 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

 

Jazz starter suffers worrying injury

Utah Jazz swingman Joe Ingles went down with an apparent knee injury in the second quarter of their 126-106 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Jazz confirmed Ingles will undergo an MRI in Salt Lake City on Monday.

The absences of LeBron James and Anthony Davis were felt as the Los Angeles Lakers suffered a second successive defeat.

Davis registered 31 points, 12 rebounds in Thursday's loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, but like James missed out through injury on Friday against the Charlotte Hornets.

That meant the onus was on Russell Westbrook to step up, and though he had 35 points, he ultimately missed a crucial, game-clinching three-pointer, having decided to go for the win rather than try for overtime.

P.J. Washington secured the rebound after Westbrook's attempt hit the rim, and added further insult with a free throw with 0.2 seconds left on the clock to seal a 117-114 win for Charlotte.

Since a four-game winning streak was snapped by the Memphis Grizzlies on January 9, Los Angeles has won just three of their nine games.

The Hornets, meanwhile, gained revenge for their overtime loss to the Lakers back in November in the only previous meeting this season, ending a six-game losing streak against Los Angeles in the process.

Suns in red-hot form

It is now nine wins in a row for the Phoenix Suns, who lead the NBA with 39 victories in 2021-22 after overcoming the Minnesota Timberwolves 134-124.

Devin Booker led the game with 29 points, while Chris Paul had a triple-double of 21 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists and Cam Johnson's tally of 23 points included crucial back-to-back three-pointers in the fourth quarter.

The Suns' record of 39-9 is the best in franchise history at this stage of a season, and have now won the 30 games in which they have led after three quarters.

While the Suns top the Western Conference, the Miami Heat continued their run at the top of the East by holding off a late push from the Los Angeles Clippers in a 121-114 success.

Miami has now won 10 of their last 12 games and snapped a six-game losing streak against the Clippers, who fought back to within four points but fell short of another comeback after their record-setting efforts against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday.

All-Star Morant sets franchise record

Ja Morant proved why he has been named an All-Star starter as he delivered a triple-double of 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a 119-109 win for the Grizzlies over the Utah Jazz.

It was the highest-scoring triple-double in franchise history and the fourth overall for Morant, who has scored at least 30 points for five straight games as Memphis moved to 34-17.

DeMar DeRozan's return to San Antonio ended in defeat for the Chicago Bulls, who went down 131-122 to the Spurs.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic recorded a triple-double in the Denver Nuggets' victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, while Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 38 points in an emphatic win for the Milwaukee Bucks over the New York Knicks.

The Phoenix Suns recorded their eighth consecutive victory as they defeated the Utah Jazz 105-97 with Devin Booker producing another 40-point game on Wednesday.

Booker had 43 points, 12 rebounds and four assists after a first-quarter scoring blitz as the Suns opened up an early 39-18 lead.

Chris Paul (21 points) added some key points down the stretch as the Jazz rallied in the last quarter.

The 25-year-old shooting guard recorded his 16th career 40-point game, moving past Amar'e Stoudemire for most in Suns franchise history, sitting ahead of Tom Chambers and Walter Davis too.

The victory means the table-topping Suns improve to 38-9 overall and 8-0 on the road this calendar year.

 

Hornets break records in Pacers rout

The Charlotte Hornets set a franchise record for single game scoring and produced the highest points total this season as they downed the Indiana Pacers 158-126. The Hornets hit 24 three-pointers, with LaMelo Ball (29 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assists) and Kelly Oubre Jr (39 points) starring.

The Cleveland Cavaliers underlined their credentials as contenders with a 115-99 win over the champions Milwaukee Bucks. The Cavs moved above the Bucks with their eighth win in their past nine games, with Kevin Love scoring 25 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 26 points and nine rebounds for the Bucks.

Ja Morant was exceptional with 41 points, five rebounds and eight assists as the Memphis Grizzlies won 118-110 over the San Antonio Spurs, while Nikola Jokic (26 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) led the Denver Nuggets past the depleted Brooklyn Nets 124-118. James Harden was out with hamstring tightness.

 

Bulls wayward but winners

The Chicago Bulls only managed seven three-pointers, shooting at 26.9 percent from beyond the arc yet they won 111-105 over the Toronto Raptors. The Bulls had lost six of seven but have steadied to win their past two, with DeMar DeRozan having 29 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

Chris Paul inspired the Phoenix Suns to a 115-109 victory over the Utah Jazz as the NBA leaders matched their best start to a season in franchise history.

Devin Booker top-scored for the Suns with 33 points, but it was Paul's season-high 27 that got his side out of a hole against a shorthanded Jazz.

The visitors led 87-85 at the end of the first quarter at Footprint Center and moved to 95-91 early in the second quarter as they went in search of just a third win in 10 games.

But point guard Paul stepped up for the Suns by making his first five shots in the fourth quarter, including a couple of 3-pointers, as the hosts responded with 14-2 to take the win.

Monty Williams' side are now 37-9 for the season, equalling their franchise record from 2006-07, ahead of facing the same opponents again on Wednesday.

 


Cavs hold off Knicks thanks to Garland

Darius Garland tied LeBron James' streak of 10-or-more assists in five straight games for a Cleveland Cavaliers player over the past decade in a tense 95-93 win over the New York Knicks.

The 21-year-old point guard recorded 12 assists in total and added a critical late 3-pointer as the Cavs held off a late charge from the Knicks, who trailed 86-71 with 9:41 left in Ohio.

Kevin Love led the scoring with 20 points, nine of those coming in just over a minute in the third quarter, as the Cavs went 10 games over .500 for the first time since the days of James in 2018.


Pelicans power past Pacers

Elsewhere in Monday's action, the New Orleans Pelicans trailed for a large portion of the game but had enough in the tank to beat the Indiana Pacers 117-113.

Josh Hart played through the pain barrier to inspire the Pelicans with 22 points and 10 rebounds, adding to Devonte' Graham's 22 points.

The Chicago Bulls put a poor run of six defeats from seven games behind them by beating Oklahoma City Thunder 111-110 in a tense encounter.

Nikola Vucevic's 26 points and 15 rebounds were nearly not enough as the Thunder, who trailed by 28 points, missed a 3-pointer through Shai Gilgeous-Alexander late on to level the contest.

Khris Middleton stepped up in Giannis Antetokounmpo's absence with 34 points as the Milwaukee Bucks brushed aside the Sacramento Kings 133-127 on Saturday.

Antetokounmpo missed the game for the reigning champions with a knee injury but Middleton picked up the slack with 34 points including five triples along with six rebounds and five assists.

Jrue Holiday also contributed strongly with 26 points, five rebounds and four assists as the Bucks responded after a slow start with a 71-point second half.

Tyrese Haliburton was the Kings' best with 24 points including five three-pointers and 12 assists.

Milwaukee's 17th road win improves their record to 30-19, sitting fourth in the congested Eastern Conference standings.

 

OKC downed by Cavs

The Oklahoma City Thunder suffered their fifth straight loss, going down 94-87 to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavs, who are fifth in the east, were led by Darius Garland with 23 points and 11 assists along with Evan Mobley who had 15 points and 17 rebounds. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 29 points for OKC.

 

Booker off as Suns rise

Chris Paul produced a masterclass with 18 points and 16 assists as the Phoenix Suns flexed their muscle with a 113-103 win over the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers had beaten the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors on their road trip but the Suns were too hot to handle, even with Devin Booker only managing 11 points, shooting five-of-23 from the field.

Luka Doncic is hopeful of playing against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday despite suffering a neck injury in Thursday's defeat to the Phoenix Suns.

Doncic, star man for the Dallas Mavericks, sustained the injury when he fell to the court after contact with Suns center Bismack Biyombo in the third quarter of the 109-101 loss.

The two-time NBA All-Star was seen clutching the back of his neck after the fall and had to apply a heat pack to the area.

The 22-year-old Slovenian made his way back onto the court to play out the final seven minutes, though he could not inspire the Mavs to victory as a four-game winning streak was snapped.

Doncic is confident he will be fine to return against the Grizzlies, however. 

"It's my neck. It's the spine," Doncic explained to reporters after the game. "When I fell down, I hit my back. It's pretty sore right now.

"I think it's a little worse because it's the spine. But it'll be OK in a couple of days."

Doncic, who registered 28 points against the Suns, played with a neck injury in last season's playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers.

He has averaged 25.2 points per game this season, 5.1 more than any other Mavs player, while he also leads the team for rebounds (8.8) and assists (8.7).

Across 31 games so far in 2021-22, Doncic's points average is down on last season (27.7 across 61 appearances).

The Mavs sit fifth in the Western Conference with 26-20 record and .565 win percentage. 

Thursday's defeat was only their second in 12 games, but the Suns simply had too much. Phoenix hold the NBA's best record so far this season, sitting on 35-9 with a .795 win rate.

Devin Booker led the Suns with 28 points, five rebounds and six assists, and claimed trust within the Phoenix roster has been crucial to their success so far.

"We all trust each other," Booker told reporters.

"We had a lot of learning curves last year, but having that time and that experience together, I know put us in a situation where we never hit the panic button.

"We never get flustered or out of whack. We just stick with what we do."

Stephen Curry scored 39 points but it was not enough as the Golden State Warriors were shocked by a depleted Indiana Pacers 121-117 in over-time on Thursday.

The Pacers were without Domantas Sabonis (ankle), Caris LeVert (calf) and Malcolm Brogdon (Achilles) yet found a way to win led by Chris Duarte with 27 points and seven rebounds.

Curry hit six three-pointers in his 39-point haul with five rebounds and eight assists while Kevin Looney had 13 points and 15 rebounds.

The two-time MVP shot 12 of 27 from the field, while Klay Thompson shot six of 17 from the field and zero of seven from beyond the arc.

The Warriors gave away 21 turnovers for the game which was costly as the Pacers claimed rare back-to-back road wins.

 

Suns clinch fifth straight win

The table-topping Phoenix Suns stormed home with a 35-19 fourth quarter to knock off Luka Doncic's Dallas Mavericks 109-101.

Devin Booker finished with 28 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, while Chris Paul had 20 points and 11 assists. The Suns enjoyed a 22-6 run to finish the game, with Paul underlining their clutch status with a late three-pointer.

Phoenix improve to 35-9 on the back of a five-game winning run. Doncic, who nursed a minor neck issue, had 28 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the Mavs.

 

Knicks clipped by Pelicans

Julius Randle shot one-of-nine from the field as the New York Knicks were humbled 102-91 by the New Orleans Pelicans. Randle only managed four points, while Kemba Walker also struggled with only five points.

Two teams in the NBA are on league-leading four-game winning streaks heading into Thursday's schedule. The pair face one another at American Airlines Center.

The Phoenix Suns have pulled clear of the Golden State Warriors at the top of the West, their league-best record improving to 34-9 while Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Co are .500 across their past 10 games.

But this latest Suns run has been matched by the Dallas Mavericks, who are again recovering from a slow start.

The Mavs have won 10 of their past 11 outings after a 16-18 start. In 2020-21, Dallas recovered from an early 8-13 record to take the fifth seed – the same position they again occupy.

Dallas' problems prior to these recoveries have undoubtedly been linked to Luka Doncic, their sensational superstar who has tended to end seasons in more impressive fashion than he begins them.

Doncic has been the preseason MVP favourite in consecutive years but each time showed up looking a little out of shape.

The Slovenian is not denying that, saying in December: "I had a long summer. I had the Olympics, took three weeks off and I relaxed a little bit. Maybe too much. I've just got to get back on track."

But there are signs now that Doncic is delivering as promised. Having returned from an ankle injury to feature in nine of the Mavs' past 10 games, he had a year-high 41 points last time out against the Toronto Raptors. Three of his five triple-doubles for the year have come in this period, too.

Will this improvement continue against Phoenix, though?

The Suns are 5-0 against Dallas across the past two seasons, albeit all five meetings (three last year, two this year) have come during those tricky starts for the Mavs.

Since themselves returning to contention, Phoenix have not yet played a Mavs team in their groove.

 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Dallas Mavericks – Kristaps Porzingis

The Suns have a wealth of talent, while Dallas too often have only had Doncic. The need for a second man to step up and help the two-time All-NBA First Team selection is evident. Porzingis is the obvious candidate.

While the Mavs struggled while Doncic was out, Porzingis has shown that he can play the role of leading man when required.

His usage rate of 28.6 per cent this year is the highest it has been since he moved to Dallas – explained by Doncic's lay-off – and the knock-on effect is an increased offensive output when the simple option of passing the ball to his team-mate is removed.

Porzingis has scored 22.8 points per game Doncic has missed this season, versus 18.6 when he has played. Even including those the pair have played together, Porzingis' offense improves from 29.8 points per 100 possessions with Doncic to 35.4 without.

Doncic's high usage (36.3 per cent, the highest in the NBA among those involved in 250 or more possessions) reduces Porzingis' role significantly at times, but Dallas need both to fire against a team like the Suns.

Phoenix Suns – Chris Paul

Nominally a point guard, Doncic is more of a point forward, hogging most of the shots himself. In truth, there are few genuine point guards remaining in the NBA. Paul is one of them.

Even at 36, Paul has started all 43 games – ranking 21st in the league for minutes (1,383) – and leads the NBA in assists (429), well clear of second-placed James Harden (390). Not since 2015-16 has he averaged this rate of 10.0 assists per game.

Given the frequency with which Paul is creating shots for team-mates, his assist-to-turnover ratio is even more impressive, ranking second with 4.38 dimes per turnover.

With Curry and the Warriors slightly on the wane, Paul could soon be in serious consideration for the MVP award. A big performance in a big game such as this one would aid his cause.

KEY BATTLE – Doncic to deliver in Ayton's absence?

The Suns will be without center Deandre Ayton, the player they selected first overall in 2018 before Doncic went two picks later.

Ayton, who has an ankle injury, was a little slower than Doncic to truly establish himself but has never struggled against the Mavs, enjoying a 10-1 record in such matchups.

Doncic missed Phoenix's first two wins against Dallas this season and has only three victories in the 11 games he has played versus the Suns.

With Ayton's role in Phoenix's recent success starting to alter the narrative around the 2018 draft, in which Doncic was quickly considered the most talented young player, the Dallas man may see this as an opportunity to send a message.

HEAD TO HEAD

This had been a closely fought rivalry until the Suns' dominance in the Ayton-Doncic years. Now, Phoenix boast a 93-74 record against the Mavs and will hope to improve that further on the road.

Dallas are a more impressive 47-36 in home games against the Suns.

LeBron James scored 25 points as the Los Angeles Lakers snapped their three-game losing streak by beating the Utah Jazz on Monday.

A superb late show from Stanley Johnson, who hit 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, saw the Lakers respond to their loss to the Denver Nuggets two days ago by winning 101-95.

Utah were hoping that size mattered, with Rudy Gobert playing his second game back following a positive coronavirus test and Anthony Davis still sidelined.

Gobert came up with 19 points and 16 rebounds, his second double-double in as many days despite not attempting a shot until the second quarter, but he could not prevent Johnson's clever layup move that put the Lakers 89-87 ahead.

In reality, it was Johnson's day: having been re-signed to a 10-day contract earlier, he scored six consecutive points in the final quarter and tied the game at 83-83, making seven of his nine shots.

Russell Westbrook's 15 points also proved key, but it was his spectacular dunk over Gobert in the second quarter – called for a technical foul – that drew the biggest cheers.

 

Booker hits season-high 48 as Suns roll on

The Phoenix Suns moved to 34-9 with a fourth win in a row, defeating the San Antonio Spurs 121-107.

Devin Booker scored 48 points, his best return in a game this season, finishing 18-for-33 from the field and sinking five of 13 three-point attempts.

Double-doubles from Chris Paul and Bismack Biyombo helped the Phoenix to a dominant fourth-quarter display, outscoring the Spurs 34-16 as they made it five straight wins in San Antonio.

 

Adebayo back with a Bam, Doncic drags Mavs past Thunder

The Miami Heat edged out the Toronto Raptors 104-99 as All-Star center Bam Adebayo returned from six weeks out following thumb surgery.

Adebayo's 14 points and a triple-double from Jimmy Buttler of 19 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds helped the Heat move into a virtual tie for the lead in the Eastern Conference with the struggling Chicago Bulls.

The Dallas Mavericks made it three wins in a row, a triple-double from Luka Doncic helping them to hold off a second-half comeback from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 104-102 victory.

CJ McCollum, back from a 17-game absence caused by a collapsed lung, scored 16 points as the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Orlando Magic 98-88 – their 10th straight victory over the East's bottom side.

 

Cade Cunningham insisted he was acknowledging his "people" and not taunting the opposition after he was ejected during the Detroit Pistons' loss to the Phoenix Suns.

The Pistons fell to a 135-108 reverse against the NBA-leading Suns on Sunday as they saw two of their players ejected in the second half.

Cunningham was the first to be dismissed in the third quarter, ending an enthralling battle with Devon Booker, for what referee Kevin Cutler later described as "a physical taunt for pointing at the defender".

Cutler was referring to Cunningham's gesture after he slammed past Jalen Smith and immediately pointed in the 21-year-old's direction, leading to his second technical foul.

But Cunningham – who had 21 points, one rebound and four assists before his ejection – provided a different view after the game as he justified his celebration.

"I had my people right behind the bench," said Cunningham, who finished on 9-for-15 shooting in 24 minutes. 

"I went baseline to dunk the ball, and he's right in between me and my people. I probably should've read that situation better. I don't really get into taunting too much. 

"Usually I'm chilling after a play. I realised the situation after he tech'ed me [technical fouled] up, but I didn't think I was going to get a tech. 

"I let coach Monty [Williams of the Suns] over there, let him know, 'Good game,' and stuff like that."

Detroit trailed by 20 at the time of Cunningham's removal, and that increased to 27 by the end of the game after Josh Jackson was also ejected with 41 seconds remaining.

Pistons coach Dwane Casey – whose side are 10-32, the second-worst record in the league – believes his team must manage their reputation by maintaining strong disciplinary levels.

"He [the referee] said Cade pointed at the guy that he dunked on," Casey said after the game. "I didn't see that part. I thought he was pointing towards his teammate. 

"That's why he said he got a technical for and got ejected for, he already had one. I've seen a lot worse things to get ejected for than that. 

"The Josh one, I haven't looked at it yet. He said Josh hit, or pushed, or whatever at [Ish] Wainright. I didn't see that part either, I have to look at that.

"We're not in a position as a team to complain. Let me be the bad guy to fight for us.

"As a young team, we shouldn't get that reputation of complaining to officials. Until we get to that level, we have to button up and zip up and play our butts off."

Despite Cunningham's dismissal, the 20-year-old has been in fine form recently – averaging 17.9 points, 5.7 assists and 4.9 rebounds since November 30 (a span of 18 games).

With the Pistons looking to bounce back with a trip to the Golden States Warriors on Tuesday, Cunningham insisted that his team are heading in the right direction.

"We're still locked in," Cunningham added. "We feel ourselves getting better and growing together. 

"This is a big road trip that we got to go into. We're going to play some good teams. We're excited to take that challenge on and see what we got." 

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