James Harden produced another triple-double as the in-form Brooklyn Nets won 100-95 over the Detroit Pistons on Saturday.

The Nets moved to 12-1 from their past 13 games, improving their overall record to 26-13 with their fourth consecutive victory.

Harden led the way with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, although he was 0-for-six from three-point range, inviting Detroit into the game.

Kyrie Irving (18 points) also struggled to find his radar, but Landry Shamet lifted from range, with 15 points including a trio of three-pointers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Russell Westbrook starred but the Greek forward's Milwaukee Bucks came out on top in a 125-119 win over the Washington Wizards.

Antetokounmpo finished with a sensational 33 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in a thrilling win, receiving good support from guard Jrue Holiday (18 points and eight rebounds) and center Donte DiVincenzo (10 points and 13 rebounds).

Westbrook scored 42 points for the Wizards along with 12 assists and 10 rebounds, while Rui Hachimura had 29 points and 11 boards.

In a tight match where only one point split the sides at half-time, Westbrook tied the game with a three-pointer with 41 seconds to go.

But Westbrook missed a chance to draw level again with 25 seconds to go at 121-119, allowing the Bucks to run away with it.

LaMelo shines, Charlotte's franchise record

LaMelo Ball impressed again with 23 points, six assists and nine rebounds in the Charlotte Hornets' 114-104 win over the Toronto Raptors.

The 2020 third pick helped Charlotte find their range as they shot a franchise record 11 three-pointers in the opening quarter, with Ball finishing the game with six of his own.

Kristaps Porzingis (25 points and six rebounds) and Luka Doncic (21 points and 12 assists) guided the Dallas Mavericks to a 116-103 victory over the Denver Nuggets.

Malcolm Brogdon scored 25 points and Domantas Sabonis had a triple-double as the Indiana Pacers enjoyed a 122-111 win against the Phoenix Suns.

Trae Young had 28 points as the Atlanta Hawks collected their fourth straight win, beating the Sacramento Kings 121-106.

 

Triple-doubles galore

There were five triple-double in one day, which is a new NBA record, produced by Harden, Antetokounmpo, Westbrook, Sabonis and New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (26 points, 12 assists and 12 rebounds against the Oklahoma City Thunder).

Hornet stung

Hornets guard Terry Rozier was forced out of his side's win over Toronto with a "left leg contusion" which will be a worry moving forward. He initially tried to play through it but eventually limped out of the game with 17 points to his name.

 

Saturday's results

New York Knicks 119-97 Oklahoma City Thunder
Charlotte Hornets 114-104 Toronto Raptors
Brooklyn Nets 100-95 Detroit Pistons
Milwaukee Bucks 125-119 Washington Wizards
Atlanta Hawks 121-106 Sacramento Kings
Portland Trail Blazers 125-121 Minnesota Timberwolves
Dallas Mavericks 116-103 Denver Nuggets
Indiana Pacers 122-111 Phoenix Suns

 

Pistons at Nets

Another bumper Sunday with nine games to come, including the Philadelphia 76ers taking on the San Antonio Spurs with Joel Embiid out, while the Utah Jazz face the out-of-sorts Golden State Warriors.

Kyrie Irving posted 40 points to lead the Brooklyn Nets past former team the Boston Celtics 121-109.

In the team's first game back since the NBA All-Star break, Irving – who left the Celtics in 2019 – starred as the Nets recorded their 12th win in 13 outings.

Former MVP James Harden had 22 points and 10 rebounds on Thursday, in the absence of star team-mate Kevin Durant (hamstring) and recruit Blake Griffin.

The Celtics were fuelled by Jayson Tatum's 31 points, but still had their four-game winning streak snapped.

Two-time reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo guided the Milwaukee Bucks to a comprehensive 134-101 victory over the New York Knicks.

Antetokounmpo – named All-Star Game MVP after starring for Team LeBron in Atlanta on Sunday – continued where he left off for the Bucks.

He had 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in 29 minutes for his fifth triple-double of the season.

Bucks team-mate Bryn Forbes (21 points) nailed the most threes without missing in Bucks history after going seven of seven from beyond the arc.

 

Young stars as Hawks soar

Trae Young put up 37 points as the Atlanta Hawks topped the Toronto Raptors 121-120. Atlanta trailed by 15-plus points in the fourth quarter in each of their last two games but came back to win both. According to Stats Perform, they are the only team in the past 15 years to overcome a 15-plus point fourth-quarter deficit to win back-to-back games. Norman Powell's 33 points and double-doubles from Kyle Lowry (17 points and 12 assists) and Aron Baynes (11 points and 15 rebounds) were not enough for the Raptors.

The Miami Heat defeated the Orlando Magic 111-103 behind Jimmy Butler's 27 points and 11 assists. All-Star Nikola Vucevic's double-double of 24 points and 17 rebounds was not enough for the Magic.

No Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons? No worries for the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers. Tobias Harris scored 24 points to lift the 76ers to a third consecutive win – a 127-105 success against the Chicago Bulls.

Devin Booker's 35 points inspired the Phoenix Suns to a 127-121 victory against the Portland Trail Blazers, who had 30 points from All-Star Damian Lillard.

All of the Sacramento Kings' starters were in double figures for points) as they took down the Houston Rockets 125-105 – De'Aaron Fox (30), Richaun Holmes (20 and 11 rebounds), Harrison Barnes (20 and 11 rebounds), Buddy Hield (20) and Marvin Bagley III (11).

 

Ball struggles

The Charlotte Hornets beat the Detroit Pistons 105-102, but it was a rough night for rookie LaMelo Ball. In 29 minutes, Ball made just three of 11 from the field and nailed only one of five three-point attempts for seven points.

After his All-Star appearance, Knicks forward Julius Randle finished three-of-12 shooting for seven points.

Stephen Curry won the All-Star Three-Point Contest, but he was far from convincing in the Golden State Warriors' 130-104 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. He made just one of eight three-pointers, finishing with 14 points on six-of-16 shooting.

 

Snell with the buzzer-beating three

With the Hawks trailing 120-118, Tony Snell called game after sinking a three as time expired.

 

Thursday's results

Brooklyn Nets 121-109 Boston Celtics
Atlanta Hawks 121-120 Toronto Raptors
Miami Heat 111-103 Orlando Magic
Philadelphia 76ers 127-105 Chicago Bulls
Milwaukee Bucks 134-101 New York Knicks
Minnesota Timberwolves 135-105 New Orleans Pelicans
Oklahoma City Thunder 116-108 Dallas Mavericks
Charlotte Hornets 105-102 Detroit Pistons
Los Angeles Clippers 130-104 Golden State Warriors
Phoenix Suns 127-121 Portland Trail Blazers
Sacramento Kings 125-105 Houston Rockets

 

Pacers at Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers (24-13) will return to action following the All-Star break, hosting the Indiana Pacers (16-19) on Friday. LeBron James' Lakers have lost back-to-back games.

Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons was crowned the 2021 NBA Slam Dunk champion on Sunday.

This year's All-Star Game Slam Dunk Contest was a lot different in more ways than one in Atlanta.

It took place at half-time of the All-Star showdown and was lacking in star power, with just three participants – Simmons, Obi Toppin (New York Knicks) and Cassius Staley (Indiana Pacers).

In a condensed format, first-time participant Simons dazzled at State Farm Arena, where he defeated New York's Toppin in the final to win the title.

Simons' self-lob, where he attempted to kiss the rim but fell just short, was chosen by the judges via a 3-2 vote ahead of Toppin.

Toppin had opted for a between-the-legs effort from just inside the free-throw line.

Blake Griffin could be set to swap the team sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings for a potential title contender after agreeing a contract buyout with the Detroit Pistons. 

Stories on Friday of a parting of the ways between the Pistons and Griffin hardly came as a surprise, considering he had not featured for the team in their previous 10 games prior to the All-Star break. 

Both parties agreed for the 31-year-old to be held off the active roster as the franchise worked towards a solution over his playing future.

With no trade able to be worked out, a settlement has instead been reached with Griffin – whose contract was due to run until the end of the 2021-22 season – that will see him become a much-coveted free agent. 

"Blake has been a great representative for our franchise and for the city of Detroit," Pistons owner Tom Gores said in a statement.

"His work ethic and his approach to the game contributed a lot to our culture. He has been a consummate pro and we wish him continued success. I'm grateful for everything he did for our team and for our community."

Now the six-time All-Star waits to see what offers come his way. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers are among those interested.

Griffin had averaged 12.3 points per game while shooting 36.5 per cent in his 20 outings for Detroit, who have found wins hard to come by in the 2020-21 campaign. 

Those figures are well down on his career numbers, though. After 642 games, he averages 21.4ppg, as well as 8.7 rebounds and a field goal percentage of 49.5 per cent. The only area of improvement this season has been free-throw success, landing 71 per cent compared to 69.5 per cent overall.

Selected with the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, Griffin spent his first eight seasons in the league with the Los Angeles Clippers, though his debut campaign was a write-off due to injury. 

However, he was named Rookie of the Year in 2011 after playing in all 82 games, making his first All-Star appearance and also winning the dunk contest. Further injury issues hampered his progress, yet the Clippers still gave him a five-year, $173million contract in July 2017. 

Just six months later, he was traded to the Pistons. Griffin was the leading piece in a six-player deal that also saw Detroit give up protected draft picks to acquire the power forward. 

Blake Griffin could be set to swap the team sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings for a potential title contender after reportedly agreeing a contract buyout with the Detroit Pistons. 

Stories on Friday of a parting of the ways between the Pistons and Griffin hardly came as a surprise, considering he had not featured for the team in their previous 10 games prior to the All-Star break. 

Both parties had agreed for the 31-year-old to be held off the active roster as the franchise worked towards a solution over his playing future.

With no trade able to be worked out, a settlement has instead been reached with Griffin – whose contract was due to run until the end of the 2021-22 season – that will see him become a much-coveted free agent. 

Now the six-time All-Star waits to see what offers come his way. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers are among those interested.

Griffin had averaged 12.3 points per game while shooting 36.5 per cent in his 20 outings for Detroit, who have found wins hard to come by in the 2020-21 campaign. 

Those figures are well down on his career numbers, though. After 642 games, he averages 21.4ppg, as well as 8.7 rebounds and a field goal percentage of 49.5 per cent. The only area of improvement this season has been free-throw success, landing 71 per cent compared to 69.5 per cent overall.

Selected with the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, Griffin spent his first eight seasons in the league with the Los Angeles Clippers, though his debut campaign was a write-off due to injury. 

However, he was named Rookie of the Year in 2011 after playing in all 82 games, making his first All-Star appearance and also winning the dunk contest. Further injury issues hampered his progress, yet the Clippers still gave him a five-year, $173million contract in July 2017. 

Just six months later, he was traded to the Pistons. Griffin was the leading piece in a six-player deal that also saw Detroit give up protected draft picks to acquire the power forward. 

Damian Lillard posted 44 points for the Portland Trail Blazers in a 123-119 win over the Sacramento Kings before the NBA All-Star break.

Lillard shot eight three-pointers in a dominant display, while he scored 10 straight points down the stretch to help take down the Kings on Thursday.

Portland's Lillard is the first NBA player to hit a game-winning field goal while trailing in the final 15 seconds one day and then follow that up with a 40-point game the next day since Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant did it on January 31 and February 1 in 2010, according to Stats Perform.

Trail Blazers team-mate Enes Kanter provided support with 22 points and 21 rebounds in a dominant double-double display.

According to Stats Perform, it is the first time in franchise history the Trail Blazers have had a player with 40-plus points and another with 20-plus points and 20-plus rebounds in the same game.

Elsewhere, Ja Morant and Jrue Holiday traded clutch buckets in the final 10 seconds, with the latter earning the Milwaukee Bucks a game-winning lead with two seconds remaining in their thrilling112-111 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was the first pick by Team LeBron for Sunday's All-Star Game in Atlanta, fuelled the Bucks by scoring 26 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

 

Lowry ties Raptors record

The depleted Toronto Raptors lost 132-125 to the Boston Celtics, but Kyle Lowry impressed. The veteran guard finished with 14 points and 19 assists. He tied a franchise record with his 19 assists, matching Damon Stoudamire (1996) and Jose Calderon (twice). Chris Boucher led the way with 30 points in the absence of stars Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, as well as head coach Nick Nurse and other players and stuff due to the league's health and safety protocols. Boston's Jayson Tatum starred with 27 points, 12 rebounds and five assists as the Celtics claimed their fourth win a row.

Bradley Beal (33 points and seven rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (27 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds) were exceptional as the Washington Wizards produced a big second-half performance to knock off the Los Angeles Clippers 119-117. The Clippers were without Paul George.

MVP candidate Nikola Jokic put up 20 points and 12 rebounds in the Denver Nuggets' 113-103 win at the Indiana Pacers.

The New York Knicks topped the Detroit Pistons 114-104 behind Julius Randle's double-double of 27 points and 16 rebounds, while he also tallied seven assists.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's 33 points and eight assists inspired the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 107-102 win against the San Antonio Spurs.

 

Brogd-off day

Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon had a night to forget in his side's loss to the Nuggets, which leaves Indiana 16-19 and slipping from playoffs contention in the Eastern Conference. Brogdon finished with 10 points from 34 minutes on court, shooting at four-of-14 from the field, while he missed all five of his three-point attempts.

 

Hart's half-courter

LeBron James selected two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo with his number one pick for the NBA All-Star Game, while Kevin Durant drafted Brooklyn Nets team-mate Kyrie Irving.

On Thursday, team captains James and Durant filled out their rosters for Sunday's All-Star contest in Atlanta.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar James and Milwaukee Bucks forward Antetokounmpo often go head-to-head in the All-Star Games as respective captains, but that is not the case this year.

Antetokounmpo will team up with James, who also selected Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and the Denver Nuggets' MVP candidate Nikola Jokic as starters.

Team LeBron's reserves are Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers), Chris Paul (Phoenix Suns), Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics), Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers), Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers) and Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz).

Durant – sidelined as he nurses a hamstring injury – turned to Brooklyn star Irving with the second overall pick in the All-Star draft.

MVP candidate and 76ers star Joel Embiid, Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, Washington Wizards sharpshooter Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum of the Celtics are the other starters for Team Durant.

The reserves drafted by Durant are James Harden (Nets), Devin Booker (Suns), Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans), Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls), Julius Randle (New York Knicks), Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic) and Donovan Mitchell (Jazz).

Team LeBron have won the past three All-Star Games after topping Team Giannis 157-155 in Chicago last year.

Joel Embiid enhanced his MVP credentials with a monster double-double as the Philadelphia 76ers trumped the NBA-leading Utah Jazz in a thrilling battle, 131-123 after overtime.

Embiid hit a game-tying three-pointer with 5.3 seconds remaining to force OT – Eastern Conference leaders the 76ers outscoring the Jazz 13-5 in the additional period to reign supreme in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

MVP candidate Embiid finished with 40 points and 19 rebounds to fuel the 76ers to back-to-back wins heading into the break, with the All-Star Game scheduled for Sunday.

Sixers team-mate Tobias Harris scored 11 of his 22 points in overtime as the 76ers improved to 24-12.

Jazz star Donovan Mitchell, who was ejected with 30.8 seconds remaining in OT, recorded 33 points in the road loss – Utah (27-9) suffering back-to-back losses.

James Harden showed no mercy in his first game against the Houston Rockets since January's blockbuster trade to the Brooklyn Nets.

Former MVP Harden had 29 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for his eighth triple-double since joining the Nets, who downed the injury-hit Rockets 132-114.

 

McConnell makes history

T.J. McConnell put up 16 points on eight of eight shooting, 13 assists and 10 steals off the bench in the Indiana Pacers' 114-111 win at the Cleveland Cavaliers. McConnell became the first player in NBA history to record 10-plus steals and make 100 per cent of his field-goal attempts in a game, per Stats Perform. He also became only the 10th player with a 10-plus steal triple-double since steals began being tracked in 1973-74.

Trae Young ended the game with 32 points as the Atlanta Hawks edged the Orlando Magic 115-112.

The Chicago Bulls trumped the New Orleans Pelicans 128-124 behind Zach LaVine's 36 points.

Triple-doubles from Mason Plumlee (14 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists) and Dennis Smith Jr. (10 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists) inspired the Detroit Pistons to a 129-105 win over the Toronto Raptors. Norman Powell had a game-high 36 points for the Raptors.

 

Lakers' poor form continues

Playing without LeBron James for the first time this season and with Anthony Davis already sidelined, defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers went down 123-120 to the Sacramento Kings. The Lakers have lost six of their last eight games, falling into a tie for third place in the Western Conference heading into the All-Star weekend.

The Rockets have lost 13 games in a row – the franchise's longest skid since dropping 15 straight in 2001.

 

Lillard sinks Warriors

Damian Lillard (22 points) scored the final eight points for the Portland Trail Blazers, including the game-winning three with 13.7 seconds remaining, in a 108-106 win against the Golden State Warriors. Stephen Curry's 35 points were not enough for the Warriors.

 

Wednesday's results

Indiana Pacers 114-111 Cleveland Cavaliers
Philadelphia 76ers 131-123 Utah Jazz (OT)
Detroit Pistons 129-105 Toronto Raptors
Brooklyn Nets 132-114 Houston Rockets
Atlanta Hawks 115-112 Orlando Magic
Charlotte Hornets 135-102 Minnesota Timberwolves
Chicago Bulls 128-124 New Orleans Pelicans
Dallas Mavericks 87-78 Oklahoma City Thunder
Portland Trail Blazers 108-106 Golden State Warriors
Sacramento Kings 123-120 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Clippers at Wizards

The Los Angeles Clippers (24-13) will look to snap a run of back-to-back defeats before the All-Star break when they visit the lowly Washington Wizards (13-20) on Thursday.

James Harden produced a triple-double as the Brooklyn Nets survived in overtime to claim a 124-113 win over the San Antonio Spurs on the road.

The Nets led by 10 points late in the game, but the Spurs forced overtime after the returning Kyrie Irving missed a lay-up and guard Dejounte Murray scored after falling to his knees on the transition.

But Brooklyn steadied the ship in overtime, with Harden finishing with 30 points, 14 rebounds and 15 assists, with good support from Irving (27 points) and Bruce Brown Jr. (23 points).

Zion Williamson scored 15 of his 26 points for the game in the third quarter as the New Orleans Pelicans toppled Western Conference leaders Utah Jazz 129-124.

The former number one pick's third quarter output was the second best of his career to date.

 

Doncic delights, Jokic goes big

Luka Doncic was one assist shy of a triple-double as he led the Dallas Mavericks to a 130-124 victory over the Orlando Magic, who have lost four in a row.

The in-form Slovenian All-Star finished with 33 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists for the Mavs, while Nikola Vucevic did his best for Orlando, with 29 points, 15 boards and eight assists.

Bojan Bogdanovic (31 points) was nailing three-pointers for fun for the Jazz, but the Pelicans' third quarter was the difference, piling on 40 points to 24.

Big Serbian Nikola Jokic posted 39 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists as the Denver Nuggets beat the Chicago Bulls for the eighth straight time 118-112.

Joel Embiid put up 24 points as the Philadelphia 76ers got past the Indians Pacers 130-114.

No launch for Rockets

The Houston Rockets suffered their 12th consecutive defeat, going down 101-90 to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The result leaves the Rockets heading towards the foot of the table with a 11-22 record, including nine defeats at home.

 

Downtown Trail Blazers

Carmelo Anthony posted a season-high 29 points which included six three-pointers in the Portland Trail Blazers' 123-111 win over the Charlotte Hornets.

Anthony's six three-pointers helped the Trail Blazers set a new franchise record for most in one game, finishing with 24.

Monday's results

Philadelphia 76ers 130-114 Indiana Pacers
Dallas Mavericks 130-124 Orlando Magic
Denver Nuggets 118-112 Chicago Bulls
New Orleans Pelicans 129-124 Utah Jazz
Brooklyn Nets 124-113 San Antonio Spurs (OT)
Cleveland Cavaliers 101-90 Houston Rockets
Portland Trail Blazers 123-111 Charlotte Hornets

 

Playoffs contenders face off

There are three clashes between top contenders on Tuesday, led by the Los Angeles Lakers (24-11) and Phoenix Suns (22-11) meeting, along with the San Antonio Spurs-New York Knicks and Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Clippers clashes.

LeBron James helped the Los Angeles Lakers end their losing streak, while Jimmy Butler inspired the Miami Heat.

James' double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds saw the Lakers snap their four-game losing run with a 102-93 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday.

Dennis Schroder contributed 22 points, while Montrezl Harrell (17 points) and Alex Caruso (10) finished with double-digits off the bench.

Butler was in fine form as the Heat overcame the Utah Jazz, who have the best record in the NBA, 124-116.

He went 12-of-22 from the field for his 33 points, while also contributing 10 rebounds and eight assists.

Miami (16-17) had five players in double-figures for points, including Goran Dragic (26).

Donovan Mitchell finished with 30 points for Utah (26-7).

 

Green guides Warriors, Lowry shines

Draymond Green posted a triple-double of 11 points, 19 assists and 12 rebounds in the Golden State Warriors' 130-121 win over the Charlotte Hornets. Green was the first Warriors player to reach 19 assists since Baron Davis in 2008.

For the Hornets, Malik Monk had 25 points in 25 minutes, including five three-pointers. He has at least 20 points and four three-pointers off the bench in three consecutive games. The only other Charlotte reserve to do that in three-plus straight is Dell Curry (March 1995), as per Stats Perform.

Kyle Lowry did likewise for the Toronto Raptors, his 20 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists seeing them past the Houston Rockets 122-111.

Kemba Walker poured in 32 points as the Boston Celtics overcame the Indiana Pacers 118-112.

The Los Angeles Clippers thrashed the Memphis Grizzlies 119-99, with Kawhi Leonard (30 points, nine rebounds and seven assists) starring.

 

Rockets crash to another loss

The Rockets slumped to their 10th consecutive defeat with the loss to the Raptors. Victor Oladipo (27 points) and John Wall (21) combined for 48 points, but they went 18-of-42 from the field in total.

 

Brilliant Butler

Butler was in incredible form to get Miami past Utah.

Friday's results

Boston Celtics 118-112 Indiana Pacers
Toronto Raptors 122-111 Houston Rockets
Sacramento Kings 110-107 Detroit Pistons
Miami Heat 124-116 Utah Jazz
Phoenix Suns 106-97 Chicago Bulls
Los Angeles Clippers 119-99 Memphis Grizzlies
Oklahoma City Thunder 118-109 Atlanta Hawks
Golden State Warriors 130-121 Charlotte Hornets
Los Angeles Lakers 102-93 Portland Trail Blazers

 

Mavericks at Nets

The Brooklyn Nets (22-12) have won eight straight and will take on Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks (15-16) on Saturday.

Of all the hotly debated topics of the sports world, perhaps none is harder to reach a conclusion on than what exactly constitutes an MVP.

Whether discussing NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB, there has never been a definitive answer on what someone needs to do to win a sport's most coveted individual award.  

Clearly, putting up impressive numbers is a must, that much is obvious. But can a player truly be an MVP for example if his team doesn't reach the playoffs? Or what if that player, regardless of statistics, is surrounded by all kinds of talent, should his chances then be diminished? And where does leadership come in? Shouldn't a candidate judged to be the best in the league be not only a scoring or offensive leader, but also a motivational force for his teammates to follow?  

This NBA season is bringing that debate back around, as several players have legitimate cases to take home the award.   

LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Luka Doncic and Stephen Curry are all worthy of being named MVP, but another player is doing even more with less and is truly defining what it means to be most valuable: Damian Lillard.  

Lillard is a seven-time All-Star and has been voted first or second All-NBA four times but has never finished higher than fourth in MVP voting. Lillard is having the best of his nine NBA seasons while almost single-handedly pushing the Trail Blazers to the upper reaches of the Western Conference.  

It's far from just scoring a bunch of points, though the Blazers star is doing plenty of that. He ranks fourth in the NBA with 29.6 points per game and is eighth with 8.0 assists. His 124 three-pointers trail only Curry, and he is fourth in free throws made (211). Lillard is tied with Bradley Beal (18) for the most 30-point games this season and is tied for the league lead (Curry) with 14 games of 30 points and five three-pointers. 

Where Lillard really separates himself from the pack is his continued performances in late and close situations (defined as the last two minutes of games separated by four points or fewer).   

Lillard has always been electric in high-stakes spots but he has taken it to a new level this season. He leads the NBA in points (52), is tied for the lead in field goals made (15) and hasn't missed a free throw (17 for 17) in late and close situations. He's also 15 for 20 (62.5 percent) from the field and five for eight from three-point range.   

The only other players in double figures in field goals made in late and close situations are James and Zach LaVine. James, however, is 14 for 31 (45.2 percent) from the floor and LaVine is 15 for 35 (42.9). 

To further illustrate Lillard’s clutch play, he's made nine of 13 shots (69.2 percent) in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime and the score within four points. LaVine is the only other player with as many as nine field goals in that situation but he's nine for 23 (39.1 percent).  

During Portland's 6-1 surge from February 9-20, Lillard was sensational. He averaged 32.7 points and 9.6 assists while shooting 38.8 percent (33 for 85) from three-point range.  

He tallied at least 30 points and 10 assists in four consecutive games during that stretch, the second straight season he's done that. The only other players to accomplish that since 1985-86 are Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Doncic.  

In a 126-124 win at New Orleans on February 17, Lillard became just the third player since at least 1985-86 to record 43 points and 16 assists in a game, joining Harden (twice) and Trae Young. Lillard had 11 fourth-quarter points in that win, including a go-ahead three-point play with 16.5 seconds remaining.  

Three nights earlier in a 121-118 win at Dallas, Lillard drilled a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 32 seconds remaining for the last of his 34 points.  

It should be mentioned that the other starters in those games for Portland were Robert Covington (waived, traded three times), Derrick Jones Jr (undrafted, waived), Enes Kanter (waived, traded three times) and Gary Trent Jr. (second-round draft pick).   

Sure, the Blazers also had the promising Anfernee Simons in that game, and 54-year-old Carmelo Anthony (not his real age but he's been around a while).  

Lillard is without question doing remarkable things with a very pedestrian supporting cast. And Portland (18-13) is doing far more than just getting by, winning eight of 12 to move up to second in the Northwest Division and fifth in the super competitive Western Conference.  

One big reason for Portland's success is its record in close games and Lillard has everything to do with that. After going 18-21 last season in games decided by nine points or fewer, the Blazers are 11-5 (.688) this season. Only Philadelphia (.765) has a better winning percentage. 

Portland's rise is remarkably coming without starting guard CJ McCollum, who has been out since January 16 with a broken foot, and starting center Jusuf Nurkic, who suffered a broken wrist two days earlier.  

Since January 18, when the Blazers began playing without McCollum and Nurkic, Lillard ranks third in the NBA in points per game (31.2) and fifth in assists (9.0). He's also third in 3-pointers made (196) and sixth in free throws made (119).  

With McCollum and his 26.7 points per game on the sidelines, Lillard has needed to carry perhaps the greatest offensive load of any player, and that can be a challenging proposition for any point guard.   

Curry, for example, while also a point guard, has Draymond Green to facilitate the offense, leaving him free to look for ways to score. James for all his incredible exploits isn't solely responsible for making sure Anthony Davis (when healthy) gets his touches and Embiid has Ben Simmons to distribute and score. Even the mega-talented Doncic has 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis to attract attention from opposing defenses.  

No team playing Portland this season has been too concerned with anyone on the floor other than Lillard, particularly now with McCollum out. Covington, Jones and Kanter are solid players but no team has ever installed a game plan designed to keep the ball out of their hands.  

Portland are 12.3 points per 100 possessions better when Lillard is on the floor. By comparison, the Lakers are 8.3 points better with James on the court and the Warriors score 9.9 more when Curry is in the game. 

While there clearly are other factors at play in these numbers, it's not difficult to make a case that no other player in the league is more valuable to their team than Lillard to the Blazers right now.  

James Harden's triple-double fuelled the streaking Brooklyn Nets to a 127-118 win over the Sacramento Kings in the NBA.

Harden recorded his sixth triple-double since joining the Nets from the Houston Rockets in January, finishing with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists as Brooklyn extended their winning streak to seven games on Tuesday.

The former MVP is averaging 27.7 points, 9.4 rebounds and 11.1 assists per game with a .500 field goal percentage during Brooklyn's seven-game winning run. Per Stats Perform, the last NBA player to reach all those numbers over a seven-game span was Magic Johnson in 1988.

Bruce Brown scored 13 of his career-high 29 points in the final quarter, while Nets team-mate Kyrie Irving put up 21 of his own at home to the slumping Kings – who have lost eight games in a row.

 

Jokic goes off in Denver, Giannis stars

Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic scored 41 points to inspire his team to a 111-106 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo helped the Milwaukee Bucks past the Minnesota Timberwolves 139-112 thanks to his 37 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, two blocks and two steals.

The Golden State Warriors topped the New York Knicks 114-106 behind Stephen Curry's game-high 37 points on the road.

Kawhi Leonard (32 points) and Paul George (30 points) combined as the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Washington Wizards 135-116.

 

Baptism of fire for debutant Finch

How big is the challenge facing new Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch? Look no further than the loss to the Bucks. Minnesota have lost five consecutive games and nine of their last 10 to own the NBA's worst record of 7-25. Former Raptors assistant Finch replaced Ryan Saunders on Monday.

Fred VanVleet was just four of 14 from the field for 12 points in the Toronto Raptors' 109-102 defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers. Joel Embiid had a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds for the 76ers, but he was only three-of-13 shooting from the field.

 

Doncic calls game

Luka Doncic delivered in a clutch moment for the Dallas Mavericks, who edged the Boston Celtics 110-107. Doncic nailed a three-pointer with 0.1 seconds remaining to break a tie against Boston. He posted 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

 

Tuesday's results

Cleveland Cavaliers 112-111 Atlanta Hawks
Detroit Pistons 105-93 Orlando Magic
Brooklyn Nets 127-118 Sacramento Kings
Golden State Warriors 114-106 New York Knicks
Philadelphia 76ers 109-102 Toronto Raptors
Dallas Mavericks 110-107 Boston Celtics
Milwaukee Bucks 139-112 Minnesota Timberwolves
Denver Nuggets 111-106 Portland Trail Blazers
Los Angeles Clippers 135-116 Washington Wizards

 

Lakers at Jazz

It is the hunted against the hunters on Wednesday. Defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers travel to the NBA-leading Utah Jazz midweek. A run of three consecutive losses has left the Lakers (22-10) third in the Western Conference, behind the Jazz (25-6) and neighbours the Clippers (23-10).

James Harden and Anthony Davis headline the reserves for next month's NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James and Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets will captain their respective sides – Team LeBron and Team Durant – in the 70th All-Star contest on March 7.

Nets guard and former MVP Harden has been named an All-Star for the ninth consecutive year as he headlines the Eastern Conference reserves, which also includes Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers), Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum (both Boston Celtics), Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls), Julius Randle (New York Knicks) and Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic).

Brown, LaVine and Randle have earned All-Star selection for the first time in their careers.

Lakers star Davis is the pick of the Western Conference reserves, alongside 11-time All-Star Chris Paul of the Phoenix Suns.

Joining the pair as reserves from the west are Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers), Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert (both Utah Jazz), Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers) and Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans) – who is a first-time All-Star.

The All-Star Game rosters will be determined through a March 4 draft, where James and Durant will select from the pool of players voted as starters and reserves in each conference.

The 10 All-Star Game starters were unveiled last week, with Durant, Kyrie Irving (Nets) two-time reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks), Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards) and Joel Embiid (76ers) in the Eastern Conference starter pool.

James, Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks), Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets) and Kawhi Leonard (Clippers) are in the Western Conference starter pool.

76ers head coach Doc Rivers will coach Team Durant, while Quin Snyder of the Jazz will coach Team LeBron.

Western Conference leaders, the Utah Jazz, bounced back from their first loss in 10 games by draining a franchise-record 28 threes while crushing the Charlotte Hornets 132-110.

Donovan Mitchell top scored with 23 points, while three players – Joe Ingles, Jordan Clarkson and Georges Niang – came off the bench to post 20 points or more to send the Jazz to 25-6.

Ingles and Niang each shot seven from downtown, while Clarkson added five. 

Utah became the fastest team in NBA history to record 500 three-pointers in a season, setting the record at 31 games.

The Miami Heat edged NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers 96-94 on Saturday.

In a rematch of last season's NBA Finals, which LeBron James and the Lakers won, the Heat came out on top in Los Angeles.

The Heat led by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter before the Lakers rallied, but Miami held on at Staples Center.

Kendrick Nunn (27 points) and Jimmy Butler (24 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals) fuelled the Heat on the road.

James led the slumping Lakers – who have lost back-to-back games – with a team-high 23 points.

 

CP3 surpasses Robertson as Suns set franchise record

It was a memorable day for Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns, who routed the Memphis Grizzlies 128-97. Paul passed Oscar Robertson for sixth place on the all-time assists list. Robertson had 9,887 assists. The Suns, meanwhile, nailed a franchise-record 24 three-pointers.

Zach LaVine's 38 points inspired the Chicago Bulls to a 122-114 victory over the Sacramento Kings. LaVine made 15 of 20 shots in his fourth consecutive game with 30 or more points.

Russell Westbrook (27 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds) and Bradley Beal (37 points) teamed up to guide the Washington Wizards to an 118-111 victory at the Portland Trail Blazers, who had their six-game winning streak snapped. Damian Lillard's 35 points and 12 rebounds were not enough for the Blazers.

 

Caruso scoreless

Alex Caruso dished off four assists, but it was a tough night for the Lakers shooting guard in a scoreless outing. He was 0-of-three from the field, missing both of his three-point attempts.

The less said about the Grizzlies' performance from beyond the arc, the better. Memphis were just five-of-33 from three-point range – shooting at 15.2 per cent in a crushing defeat at home to the Suns.

 

Rozier calls game!

Terry Rozier nailed a jumper as time expired to lift the Charlotte Hornets past the Golden State Warriors 102-100. Rozier finished with 36 points. Golden State lost Stephen Curry (illness) moments before tip-off.

 

Saturday's results

Charlotte Hornets 102-100 Golden State Warriors
Miami Heat 96-94 Los Angeles Lakers
Chicago Bulls 122-114 Sacramento Kings
Phoenix Suns 128-97 Memphis Grizzlies
Washington Wizards 118-111 Portland Trail Blazers
San Antonio Spurs-New York Knicks (postponed)
Houston Rockets-Indiana Pacers (postponed)

 

Nets at Clippers

It will be a blockbuster battle on Sunday when the Brooklyn Nets (19-12) visit the Los Angeles Clippers (22-9). The Nets will be without Kevin Durant (hamstring) for a fourth consecutive game. Both teams are second in their respective conferences.

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