The Philadelphia 76ers made a statement as Joel Embiid piled on a 40-point triple-double as they won 103-93 over the Cleveland Cavaliers without new acquisition James Harden on Saturday.

Embiid scored 40 points with 14 rebounds and 10 assists for the Sixers, who improve to 34-22. It was only Embiid's fourth career triple-double.

The Cameroonian center's points haul included a highlight-reel dunk, a one-handed throw-down over Jarrett Allen late in the first half.

Embiid also made four of five three-pointers, going at 50 per cent from the field, while he added three steals in an outstanding game as they wait on Harden to be cleared medically to debut.

 

Klay hits season-high

Klay Thompson scored a season-high 33 points, marking a major milestone in his recovery from long-term injury, as the Golden State Warriors won 117-115 over the Los Angeles Lakers. Thompson shot five-of-nine from beyond the arc, with Stephen Curry (24 points, five rebounds, eight assists) taking a backseat. LeBron James had 26 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists for the Lakers.

The Chicago Bulls, sitting second in the Eastern Conference, overcame a sluggish start as DeMar DeRozan scored 38 points with six rebounds and five assists, while Nikola Vucevic added 31 points and 15 rebounds in a 106-101 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Luka Doncic scored 45 points with 15 rebounds and eight rebounds in a losing cause as the Dallas Mavericks went down 99-97 to the Los Angeles Clippers, while the table-topping Phoenix Suns won their fourth straight with a 132-105 win over the Orlando Magic led by Devin Booker's 26 points and Chris Paul's 15 assists.

 

Nets slump to 11th straight loss

Kyrie Irving led a late Brooklyn Nets charge that fell short as they went down 115-111 to the Miami Heat. Irving scored 29 points, including 20 in the final quarter, with five rebounds and five assists as the Nets slumped to their 11th straight defeat. Bam Adebayo had 19 points and 14 rebounds for the Heat who have won five in a row.

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 Brooklyn Nets will not trade James Harden says head coach Steve Nash.

The 2018 MVP has been the subject of trade speculation as Thursday's deadline approaches but the Nets head coach quashed the talk.

Harden, who joined the Nets from the Houston Rockets in January last year, had turned down a three-year extension in the off-season fueling the rumours.

"Yes, that's correct," Nash told reporters before Sunday's 124-104 loss to the Denver Nuggets, when asked if the Nets do not plan to trade Harden.

He added: "I've talked to James; he wants to be here. He wants to be here long term as well, so I don't think anything's changed other than noise from the outside.

"James wants to be here, we're building with James and we think we have the best chance to win with James.

"I don't think anything's changed on the inside, in our locker room, in our communication, it's just all the noise from the [outside]."

Harden's Nets teammate Kyrie Irving, who scored 27 points with 11 assists against the Nuggets, reiterated Nash's sentiment that the 32-year-old guard was committed to Brooklyn.

"The few conversations that we've had, he's been really committed, and we just hold him to his word, but obviously when we're going out to play games we can't even really think about it," Irving said.

"We would love to have him in the lineup, at his optimum healthy version of himself, and then we'll let the rest take care of it, but who knows? Who knows what's going to happen?"

Harden was absent for the Nuggets defeat with hamstring tightness, which has forced him out of the Nets' past two games, not helping end their eight-game losing skid.

"It's day-to-day," Nash said. "It's a matter of does that strength get back to where we feel confident and he feels confident that we're not risking anything. That's what we're dealing with right now."

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.

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson came to life in the final quarter as the Golden State Warriors edged the short-handed Brooklyn Nets 110-106 on Saturday.

Curry struggled with his shooting throughout, going five-of-18 from the field, but found his range late, scoring 14 of his 19 points in the final quarter to lead Golden State to victory despite Kyrie Irving's game-high 32 points for the Nets, who were without James Harden with a hand strain.

Thompson also had his issues shooting five-of-14 for the game, but scored nine fourth-quarter points including a clutch three-pointer to make it 107-103 with 12.1 seconds left.

Five-time All Star Thompson finished with 16 points, while Curry had 19 points, with seven rebounds and eight assists. First-time All-Star Andrew Wiggins led the Warriors' scoring with 24 points, including 17 in the first half.

Irving had seven rebounds and seven assists to go with his 32 points which included three triples, while Patty Mills hit six three-pointers in his 24 points.

The Warriors, who are 24-4 at home this season, improve to 37-13, while the Nets move to 29-20.

 

Embiid and Morant continue hot streaks

Joel Embiid led the Philadelphia 76ers' rally from a 17-point deficit as they won 103-101 over the Sacramento Kings. Embiid scored 25 or more points for the 17th consecutive game, finishing with 33 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, while Tyrese Haliburton had 38 points for the Kings.

First-time All-Star Ja Morant scored 34 points including four three-pointers as the Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Washington Wizards 115-95, while Jayson Tatum starred with 38 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in the Boston Celtics' 107-97 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Jimmy Butler had a triple-double with 37 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists but the Miami Heat went down in triple overtime 124-120 to the Toronto Raptors. Gary Trent Jr had 33 points for Toronto who had blown a 10-point three-quarter time lead.

Pacers battle as Doncic stars for Mavs

The Indiana Pacers' road struggles continued with their 20th loss in 26 games away from home, with Luka Doncic dominant as the Dallas Mavericks blew them out 132-105 with 30 points, six rebounds and 12 assists. 

James Harden hit out at what he perceives to be a lack of consistency from the officials following the Brooklyn Nets' 136-125 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The nine-time NBA All-Star endured a frustrating time at Target Center as he got to the line only four times and scored 13 points.

Only once this season, against the Phoenix Suns in November (12), has Harden – who shot four-of-13 – ended a game with fewer points.

But Harden feels as though he has been on the end of some tough treatment from referees.

"I don't know. I don't even want to talk about it," he told reporters. "But it's definitely – when I get to the basket, it's the same calls the guys are getting. 

"Obviously, you can't call all of them. But there's ones where there's clearly stiff-arms and trips and things like that. On the other end, there's no consistency. So it's frustrating."

Asked what explanation he has had regarding certain calls going against him, Harden said: "Nothing. Honestly, nothing. 

"Like [officials say], 'I didn't see it,' or 'I didn't think it was a foul.' But it's clear. It's extremely clear. I don't want to talk about it. I just got to keep going. It's not going to stop me. 

"I'll keep on going to the basket, keep being aggressive and keep making plays for my team."

The Timberwolves were awarded 31 free throw attempts compared to 15 for the Nets, who had 29 personal fouls called against them compared to 17 for their opponents.

Nets Head coach Steve Nash echoed Harden's complaints as he also took aim at the officials.

"I think there's nights where it's fair, and even including the points of emphasis this year," Nash said. "Then there's other nights where it feels like he gets targeted a little bit. 

"It just automatically gets lumped into that point of emphasis where he is creating the foul, which is not always the case at all."

NBA officials have clamped down on offensive players who attempt to create contact and draw fouls from opponents, which Nash claims Harden has become the biggest victim of.

"I think it's been well-documented that he's a poster child," Nash said. "I think the start of the year was rough – they were really trying to correct the point of emphasis. 

"I think they overcorrected. Now we [have] come back to the middle, but tonight was one of those nights where I felt like some of the calls that should go his way didn't."

The Nets allowed 30 points in every quarter for the second time in 10 days, when losing 130-109 to Oklahoma City, as they fell behind the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.

Harden's treatment was the big talking point from the Timberwolves loss, but Kyrie Irving backed his team-mate to adapt.

"I think teams have made adjustments, the referees have made adjustments, and now we have to make adjustments," said Irving, who led the Nets with 30 points.

"He goes to the paint aggressively and we want him to continue doing that. He's going to be James. We know who James is – we know he's going to be himself.

"But the whistle can go either way night to night. And depending on the [officiating] crew we have, I think that also has an effect on it.

"We just want to start off the game with a consistent whistle. And when he's going in there and he's creating some contact, we feel like he deserves that respect."

James Harden and Dejounte Murray both had triple-doubles as the Brooklyn Nets got past the San Antonio Spurs 117-102 on Friday.

Harden scored 37 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists with Kevin Durant out with a sprained left MCL as the Nets rallied from a 51-50 half-time deficit to improve to 29-16.

Kyrie Irving contributed 24 points with three rebounds and four assists for the Nets, who are top of the Eastern Conference.

Harden's triple-double was the 66th of his career, moving him to eighth on the all-time list, while Murray – who had 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists – recorded his ninth triple-double of the season and 13th of his career.

 

LeBron leads Lakers past Magic

LeBron James led the Los Angeles Lakers' second-half response as they fought back from an eight-point half-time deficit to win 116-105 over the Orlando Magic. James finished with 29 points, seven rebounds and five assists, playing the second half at center, while Russell Westbrook contributed 18 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

The Milwaukee Bucks edged the Chicago Bulls 94-90 in an important game in the Eastern Conference standings. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 30 points with 12 rebounds and three assists as the Bucks overcame Grayson Allen's ejection.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic recorded another triple-double with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists but Ja Morant overshadowed him with 38 points as the Memphis Grizzlies won 122-118 over the Denver Nuggets, while Stephen Curry had 22 points including a game-winning buzzer beater in the Golden State Warriors' 105-103 win over the Houston Rockets.

 

Sixers fluff 24-point lead

The Philadelphia 76ers blew a 24-point lead to lose 102-101 to the Los Angeles Clippers despite Joel Embiid scoring 40 points with 13 rebounds. Reggie Jackson finishing with 19 points and nine assists for the Clippers.

Brooklyn Nets All-Star Kyrie Irving has been fined $25,000 by the NBA for directing obscene language toward a fan.

The NBA announced the fine on Thursday with the incident occurring in the second quarter of Monday's 114-107 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Irving responded with obscene language to a fan who could be heard heckling the 29-year-old former Cavaliers point guard. He said: “Got y’all a championship and m***********s still ungrateful.”

Nets teammate Kevin Durant along with New York Knicks' Julius Randle have also been fined for obscene language this season as the NBA attempts to crack down on the use of profanity.

Irving was making his fifth appearance in the NBA this season, due to his vaccination status which meant he could not play home games in New York City, with the Nets not wanting him on a part-time basis. The Nets reversed that decision last month, allowing him to play in road games.

Irving has averaged 22.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists since his return this season.

Brooklyn Nets' All-Star Kyrie Irving has been fined $25,000 by the NBA for directing obscene language toward a fan.

The NBA announced the fine on Thursday with the incident occurring in the second quarter of Monday's 114-107 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Irving responded with obscene language to a fan who could be heard heckling the 29-year-old former Cavaliers point guard. He said: “Got y’all a championship and m***********s still ungrateful.”

Nets teammate Kevin Durant along with New York Knicks' Julius Randle have also been fined for obscene language this season as the NBA attempts to crack down on the use of profanity.

Irving was making his fifth appearance in the NBA this season, due to his vaccination status which meant he could not play home games in New York City, with the Nets not wanting him on a part-time basis. The Nets reversed that decision last month, allowing him to play in road games.

Irving has averaged 22.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists since his return this season.

Kyrie Irving says he is enjoying the pressure placed on him due to the absence of Kevin Durant after delivering a match-winning display for the Brooklyn Nets.

Irving had 30 points, three rebounds and seven assists in a 119-118 win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday.

The All-Star guard is only able to play road games, due to a vaccination mandate in place in New York City. Irving is unvaccinated against COVID-19.

He made his return two weeks ago and is averaging 20.0 points per game.

The onus was very much on Irving in Washington, with Durant missing the game due to a knee injury sustained against the Oklahoma City Thunder last week.

It has been reported that Durant will be out for between four and six weeks and Irving knows he has to step up in his absence.

"I like the pressure," he told reporters. "I love pressure. It brings out the best in me personally.

"Then also I'm able to carry that energy with the team whether it be communicating with guys in short conversations on the floor or off the floor.

"Just trying to demand responsibility from all of us, from myself first, but from all of us, that this isn't going to be perfect. It's not going to ever look perfect.

"This is just what we have, and we can't replace anybody that's out, but what we can do is fill up the stat sheet with the little things that may show up and things that may not show up.

"We'll see where we are at the end of the game when we leave it all out there playing hard."

Irving had initially been left out of the Nets' roster for the season due to his decision not to get vaccinated, though he was recalled when injuries and COVID-19 cases took their toll.

"It feels incredible [to be back]," Irving said. "I don't take one day for granted.

"I know it's difficult at times, not only for just me, but for everyone else, just the monotony coming in every single day working on [our games], but this is what we signed up for when we were playing in fifth grade, fourth grade, this was the dream right here. Just getting on the road and trying to win some ballgames and play at a high level."

The Brooklyn Nets clinched a contentious one-point win over the Washington Wizards, with Kyrie Irving the star man for the visiting team.

Irving had 30 points, three rebounds and seven assists as the Nets triumphed 119-118 on Wednesday, with Kyle Kuzma and Spencer Dinwiddie missing late three-pointers in the closing seconds for the Wizards.

Kuzma was left infuriated, however, as he reflected on a moment earlier in the fourth quarter when it appeared a member of the Brooklyn bench purposefully deflected a pass that had been headed his way.

Nevertheless, Kuzma and his Washington team-mates must reflect on an opportunity missed as they were unable to build on their 117-98 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Wizards are now 23-22 for the season and sit eighth in the Eastern Conference, five places behind the 28-16 Nets.

Brooklyn were without talisman Kevin Durant, but Irving – who can only play in road games due to his refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19 – stepped up.

Irving scored 22 of his 30 points in the first half and has averaged 20.0 points per game since his return to the team.

Pacers stun LeBron's Lakers

LeBron James brought up his 10,000th career regular-season rebound but his 30-point haul was not enough as the Los Angeles Lakers slumped to a 111-104 home defeat to the struggling Indiana Pacers.

James' double-double could not stem the Pacers' tide in a fourth-quarter blitz as Indiana, 13th in the East, inflicted a fourth defeat on the Lakers in the space of five games and increased the pressure on Los Angeles coach Frank Vogel.

It is just the second win in 12 games for Indiana, who snapped a four-game losing streak. Caris LeVert had 30 points, while Domantas Sabonis hit a triple-double of 20 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

 

It was a miserable night all-round for Los Angeles teams, with the Clippers slipping to a 130-128 overtime defeat in Denver.

Nikola Jokic had a triple-double of 49 points – the second-best tally of his career in a single game, after a 50-point showing against the Sacramento Kings last season – 14 rebounds and 10 assists, the last of which teed up Aaron Gordon for the winning three-pointer with 1.9 seconds remaining in OT.

Bucks down depleted Grizzlies, Embiid hits 50

Reigning NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks capitalised on the Memphis Grizzlies' lack of star power as they claimed a 126-114 win.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 33 points and 15 rebounds for the Bucks, who took advantage of Memphis being without two of their leading scorers in Dillon Brooks and Desmond Bane, though Ja Morant (33 points, 14 assists) gave his all for the Grizzlies.

Elsewhere, Joel Embiid scored 50 points in only 27 minutes in a 123-110 victory for Philadelphia over the Orlando Magic.

Embiid is now the third player in Sixers history to have multiple games with 50 points or more, while he reached 50 points and 10 rebounds quicker than any NBA player since 1955.

Kyrie Irving does not feel compelled to change his stance regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, despite the Brooklyn Nets potentially being without Kevin Durant for six weeks.

The seven-time NBA All-Star has refused to be vaccinated against coronavirus and is therefore banned from playing in home games due to New York's vaccine mandate.

Irving was left off the Nets' initial roster for the 2021-22 season, but that decision was reversed last month when the 29-year-old was included as a part-time player.

He has been restricted to four road games so far and has averaged 20 points, which is down on his career average of 22.8.

The Nets could do with Irving more than ever after losing Durant to a knee injury that will keep him out for at least a month, but the point guard is staying rooted to his decision.

"That's what I think comes into a lot of this culture and basketball and sport and entertainment," he said. "You bring in teams and you bring in situations. 

"Kev's going to heal, Kev's going to be okay, and we're going to have to deal with that as his team-mates. 

"But in terms of where I am with my life outside of this, I stay rooted in my decision. And that's just what it is.

"It's not going to be swayed just because of one thing in this NBA life. That somehow it's brought to my attention as being more important than what's going on in the real world. 

"It's just not happening for me. I respect everyone else's decision. I'm not going to try to convince anyone of anything or any of that, I'm just standing rooted in what I believe in. 

"Though we're dealing with this right now with Kev, I know I'm protected by the organisation, by my team-mates, by all the doctors I've talked to. And I just stand rooted."

 

Irving was speaking after leading Brooklyn with 27 points in their 114-107 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday – his best tally since returning to action this month.

The Nets are once again denied the chance to partner star trio James Harden, Durant and Irving, but head coach Steve Nash is hopeful others can step up.

"It's a great opportunity for guys and our team to grow," he said. "We can't rely on Kevin in ways we could, and we have to find ways and solutions to be competitive without him."

The Nets' 'Big Three' have played only 16 games together, going 13-3 across that period.

"It's a great challenge for us," Nash added. "I don't spend time dwelling on it. It wouldn't do us any good. It wouldn't do me any good. 

"It wouldn't do the team any good if the leader of the team is sitting at home contemplating how many games they haven't played.

"That would take me away from being excited and positive to come in every day and try to affect the group positively for these guys to feel empowered and to grow."

In a season when players are prone to missing time due to COVID-19 protocols, injury maintenance and routine rest, any single regular-season game rarely feels meaningful.

The Brooklyn Nets’ 138-112 thumping of the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, however, seemed to make a statement about the pecking order at the top of the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls maintain the best record in the East at 27-12, two games ahead of the Nets, but Brooklyn used a dominant second-half surge to display how astronomically high the team’s ceiling is.

Playing in front of a frenzied crowd, the Bulls matched the Nets shot-for-shot for a while, and the game was tied at 71 early in the third quarter. Brooklyn responded by tightening its grip on the defensive end of the floor and playing the last 8:29 of the quarter on a 30-8 run.

Chicago opened the fourth quarter by turning the ball over four times in five possessions, and the Brooklyn lead grew to as much as 38 before both teams removed their marquee players – a scary reminder to rest of the NBA that a juggernaut is looming in the East.

Irving makes the difference

With Kyrie Irving declining to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the Nets opened the season without him and played well with either Kevin Durant or James Harden running the show. Part of the luxury of having three of the league’s top 15 players is that one injury – or one bizarre soap opera centered around medical choices and municipal rules – doesn’t derail the season.

The Nets’ trio of All-Stars has still played only 16 games together, including the playoffs, but the early returns show that having Durant, Harden and Irving all on the court at the same time makes for a historically great offense.

The Nets’ change of heart to allow Irving to be a road-only, part-time player may have vaulted them to the top of the NBA title conversation.

With Durant, Harden and Irving on the court together, the Nets are scoring 125.4 points per 100 possessions. For comparison, the Utah Jazz have the NBA’s most efficient offense over the course of this entire season at 114.2 points per 100 possessions.

In all other scenarios over the past two seasons, including those when Durant and Harden play together, the Nets have operated with an offensive efficiency of 113.1 – an impressive number but one that is noticeably less than 125.4.

Nets, With/Without Kevin Durant, James Harden & Kyrie Irving On Court - Since 2020-21 (reg & post)

  With All  All Other Lineups Points/100 125.4 113.1 Opp Points/100 110.2 108.3 Point Diff/100 +15.2 +4.8 FG Pct .535 .481 Opp FG Pct .450 .449 3-Pt Pct .418 .449 Opp 3-Pt Pct .350 .347

Due to New York regulations, Irving can’t play home games for the Nets, but he is permitted to participate in most road games. After scoring 22 points in each of his first two games of the season, Irving needed just nine points in Wednesday’s blowout of the Bulls. His impact, however, is not lost on head coach Steve Nash.

“Kyrie definitely is another huge threat on the floor, whether he scores nine points or 29,” Nash told reporters. “Clearly you lose a generational talent when he’s not in the lineup.

“But there’s a level we reached (on Wednesday night) – with the purpose, the pace, the spirit, the resolve – that I thought was really important for our group to see how successful they can be when they do that.

“Even without Kyrie, can we bring that same level more often than not? If we do, we’ll get back to a top-10 defense like we were for most of the year and get back to pushing for the top spot in the East. But it’s hard work. It’s not easy, and you’ve got to do it day-in and day-out.”

Nash’s point rang true just a day later, when the Nets were beat 130-109 at home on Thursday by the Oklahoma City Thunder, albeit without Irving and Durant.

Brooklyn’s title hopes very well could come down to finding a way around the local regulations that prevent unvaccinated players like Irving from playing in New York, since the trio has already proven to be lethal.

Harden back in form

One powerful force allowing the Nets to climb toward the top of the East has been the re-emergence of Harden.

The league’s officials opened the season determined to stop rewarding offensive players for flailing and flopping in ways that aren’t natural to basketball, and some of the league’s brightest stars saw a sharp decline in free throw attempts, Harden included.

It is fair to say he has since adjusted.

Through the first 12 games of the season, Harden was averaging just 18.2 points per game and was attempting an average of just 4.7 free throws per game.

Since Nov. 12, Harden is scoring 24.8 points per game and attempting 9.8 free throws per contest.

The nine-time All-Star still isn’t shooting as efficiently as he typically does but has continued to thrive as one of the league’s best distributors. Harden’s 9.9 assists per game trail only Chris Paul’s 10.1 in the league this season. Harden is averaging 3.0 assists in both the first and third quarters, when he mostly plays with Durant and the rest of the starting unit.

His numbers will never again be as impressive as they were in Houston, where Harden was essentially a one-man offense, but he has adapted very well to playing alongside other stars and focusing a bit more on distribution – something that many critics doubted after he spent so long as the lone focal point with the Rockets.

Durant No. 1?

Durant remains the most reliable and lethal scorer in the league today, and his overall game puts him in the discussion for the best player in the world. He has played so well that it is easy to forget that he was rehabilitating from a ruptured Achilles tendon just 13 months ago.

Durant carried an incredible load in the last year’s playoffs, playing over 40 minutes per game, averaging 34.3 points and getting within a toe’s length of knocking out the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo may be the only other player with a claim to be the best in the world right now after winning two MVPs and a championship over the past three seasons.

But Durant’s ball-handling and outside shooting make him feel like a more traditional creator of offense, and his playoff resume credentials speak for themselves after he won back-to-back titles and Finals MVPs with the Golden State Warriors.

The bench brings the right blend

Lost in the excitement over Durant, Harden and Irving playing together Wednesday in Chicago was how well the supporting cast played, even with Joe Harris, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Claxton missing the game.

Rookies Day’Ron Sharpe and Kessler Edwards were forced into starting roles and heavy minutes against the Bulls and met the challenge head-on. Sharpe was especially productive, totaling 20 points and seven rebounds in by far the best game of his young career.

The shooting of 13th-year guard Patty Mills has proven to be a crucial part of Brooklyn’s offense, and his 6-for-8 performance from behind the 3-point line against the Bulls indicates he will remain vital in the postseason.

This blend of youth and experience bodes very well for the Nets down the stretch. Sharpe, Edwards, Cameron Thomas and David Duke Jr. have all had impressive moments this season and have plenty of room to grow.

Mills, Aldridge, Harris, Blake Griffin and even Paul Millsap bring plenty of experience that will be appreciated this spring. And while at least a few of Brooklyn’s depth players will be cut from the playoff rotation, the roster appears to have the flexibility to account for unique playoff matchups.

The bottom line

While depth will play a role, the Nets will only go as far as their three stars take them this season.

The regular season will likely continue to be a roller coaster ride, full of ups and downs. Brooklyn has used 20 different starting lineups in 41 games this season, second most in the league, and that is a recipe for inconsistent results.

But this team made a statement in Wednesday’s road rout of the Bulls, showing what the whole league has feared since last season: Durant, Harden and Irving have the talent and chemistry to be one of the most potent NBA trios ever, and the Nets should be considered title favorites as long as all three can take the floor.

James Harden is excited by what could be as he along with team-mates Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving combined to score 61 points in the Brooklyn Nets' 138-112 victory against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.

Harden managed a double-double of 25 points and a season-high 16 assists, while Durant scored a game-high 27 points to lead the Nets to a comfortable victory at United Center.

Kyrie Irving, who can only play on the road due to COVID-19 vaccine laws in New York, added nine points in his third game back for the Nets.

Speaking after the victory, which took the Nets to a 26-14 record for the season, Harden was asked about his on-court relationship with Durant and Irving.

"We're that good," Harden emphasised. "We have a chance to be that good. We just haven't had enough of it. Last year I think we had 15 games maybe together, and this year only two.

"It felt good tonight on both ends of the ball, to be locked in on the same page and, offensively, sharing the basketball and making each other better."

Durant also faced the media after another stellar showing, having now scored at least 25 points in 12 straight games, and the 11-time NBA All-Star made clear that he is not concerned with what people on the outside think of his team.

"We're trying to make no statements to the league," Durant said. "I mean, who cares what they think? We know what we bring to the table, and it's all about us. But I'm sure people were watching the game tonight."

Meanwhile, the Bulls became the first team in NBA history to win by 45+ points one day and then lose by 25+ the next, having beaten the Detroit Pistons 133-87 on Tuesday.

Coach Billy Donovan praised his team for a run that has seen them reach a 27-12 record so far, acknowledging that they were second best on the day, particularly in the third quarter when the Nets scored more than twice the number of points managed by the Bulls (39-19).

"I think you own it," Donovan said. "I think our guys have worked hard up to this point to be where we are in the standings, and with that there's a greater responsibility."

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