Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant will sit out Friday's NBA showdown with the Cleveland Cavaliers to rehabilitate his Achilles.

Durant, who has returned this season after sitting out the entire 2019-20 campaign due to an Achilles injury, played more than 50 minutes in Brooklyn's double-overtime loss to the Cavaliers on Wednesday.

With the Cleveland clash the first of back-to-back games as the Nets are also scheduled to face the Miami Heat on Saturday, Durant has been ruled out.

Durant – who injured his Achilles during his time with the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals – posted 38 points and 12 rebounds in Brooklyn's 147-135 defeat to the Cavaliers midweek.

The two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP became the second Net ever to post three straight 30-plus point games.

Durant – the 2014 league MVP – has been averaging 31.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game for Steve Nash's Nets (9-7) this season.

LeBron James said he was not fuelled by his MVP snub as he scored a season-high 34 points in a Los Angeles Lakers victory over Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks.

James also provided eight assists and claimed six rebounds in a 113-106 win for the NBA Western Conference leaders on Thursday.

Antetokounmpo, the NBA MVP and Defensive Player of the Year winner last season, finished with a 25-point haul but could not prevent the Bucks - third in the Eastern Conference - from slipping to 9-6.

Superstar James dismissed a suggestion he may have been out to prove a point after missing out on the MVP award last year, as the Lakers extended their franchise away record to eight consecutive wins on the road to start the season.

He told reporters: "I think you know me. I think all of you guys know me. It's never been about individual.

"It's all about the team success and that's all that matters. I can care less about that. I just try to play well and help our team win versus any opponent and that’s what it’s all about."

Lakers star Anthony Davis declared "I suck right now" after he scored 18 points, took nine rebounds, laid on six assists and came up with two blocks.

Yet James says his fellow All-Star is being too hard on himself.

"He's continuing to grow every single game. Every single film session, we kind of break those things down - what he sees on the floor," James said.

"Tonight was another example of him just seeing the other side of the floor and putting the ball on time, on target and guys knocking it down."

Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis provided a scathing assessment of his form despite another road win for the NBA champions, saying "I suck right now".

The Lakers extended their franchise away record to eight consecutive wins on the road to start the season by topping the Milwaukee Bucks 113-106 on Thursday.

LeBron James posted a season-high 34 points, while All-Star team-mate Davis had 18 points, nine rebounds, six assists and two blocks for the Western Conference-leading Lakers (12-4).

Davis, though, was far from pleased with his performance after shooting just eight-of-18 from the field and missing his only three-point attempt.

"Right now, to be hard on myself, man, I think I suck right now," Davis said post-game.

"I'm not making shots, I'm not making free throws. But I think tonight my aggressiveness, just being a poster and getting to the paint allowed guys to get open."

David added: "My aggressiveness tonight. That's the only way I feel like I'm gonna get out of this funk or whatever that I'm in.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself to be a better basketball player every game, and that's what I'm gonna continue to do."

"I trust my team-mates. AC [Alex Caruso] hit one for me. Bron hit one and Kenny [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] hit one, and they're in the right spots where I want guys when I have the ball in the post," Davis continued.

"And just [am] able to make the read with their guys doubling or collapsing to the paint when I get there, and was able to kick it out and those guys made shots."

 

The Los Angeles Lakers stayed perfect on the road after beating the Milwaukee Bucks 113-106 in the NBA on Thursday.

LeBron James posted a season-high 34 points as defending champions the Lakers extended a franchise record after winning their eighth consecutive away game to start the season.

James also tallied eight assists and six rebounds to help the Lakers – 8-0 on the road – bounce back from a loss in the first of a seven-game road trip, upstaging reigning two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in the process.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 23 points for the Western Conference-leading Lakers (12-4) in Milwaukee, where the Bucks (9-6) dropped back-to-back games.

Antetokounmpo's double-double of 25 points and 12 rebounds were not enough for the Bucks, who also had solid contributions from Jrue Holiday (22 points) and Khris Middleton (20 points).

 

Curry stars

Stephen Curry put up 30 points, but the Golden State Warriors still went down 119-104 at home to the New York Knicks. The two-time MVP moved into fourth place on the franchise's all-time games played list after making his 714th regular-season appearance, surpassing Paul Arizin. RJ Barrett's 28 points for the Knicks were a career high.

Golden State's Eric Paschall scored his 1,000th career point in his 74th game, reaching the 1,000-point mark in the fewest amount of games played by a Warriors second round draft pick in the Modern Draft era (since 1966). Previously, Gilbert Arenas did so in 79 games.

Donovan Mitchell's season-high 36 points fuelled the Utah Jazz's 129-118 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Mitchell was 11-of-19 shooting from the field, while he made six of eight three-point attempts. The Jazz have won seven straight games.

 

Schroder struggles in Milwaukee

Dennis Schroder failed to get going for the Lakers. The offseason recruit was just two of 10 from the field, while missing all three of his attempts from beyond the arc for four points in 33 minutes.

Kelly Oubre Jr. did not perform much better for the beaten Warriors. His seven points were on two-of-11 shooting from the field at home to the Knicks. Oubre also missed all four of his three-point attempts.

 

Steph with the behind-the-back pass

While the Warriors were unable to claim the win, Curry produced a couple of highlight moments. His behind-the-back pass to set up Draymond Green for the three-pointer was the pick of the bunch.

 

Thursday's results

Los Angeles Lakers 113-106 Milwaukee Bucks
Utah Jazz 129-118 New Orleans Pelicans
New York Knicks 119-104 Golden State Warriors

 

Celtics at 76ers

The Boston Celtics (8-5) and Eastern Conference rivals the Philadelphia 76ers (10-5) will do battle again at Wells Fargo Center on Friday after Joel Embiid's 42-point double-double inspired Doc Rivers' team midweek.

The list of Kobe Bryant's accomplishments during his 20 NBA seasons is almost too long to recount.  

Yet among his All-Star selections, championships and signature moments, his 81-point game stands out both for its historical significance and its representation of Bryant's personality and career.  

Friday marks the 15th anniversary of this astounding feat, the closest anyone has ever come to Wilt Chamberlain's NBA scoring record, a seemingly impossible 100 points.  

Chamberlain reached triple digits on March 2, 1962, in a much different NBA than the one Bryant faced. Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points per game that season while playing every minute of every game. In scoring 100 points, he led the Philadelphia Warriors to a 169-147 win over the New York Knicks.  

Bryant's feat, while falling short of the century mark, remains the gold standard for scoring in the modern game.  

On January 22, 2006, the Toronto Raptors travelled to Los Angeles to face the Lakers and were gaining confidence. After a desperate 1-15 start, Toronto's season had stabilised, and the Raptors entered Staples Center having won 10 of their previous 16 games. But Toronto had just allowed 113 points in a win against Seattle and entered the game giving up 102.2 points per game, third-most in the NBA.  

Bryant went on to make history, making 28 of his 46 field goal attempts – including 7-for-12 shooting from beyond the arc – and hitting 18 of 20 free throws.  

Perhaps the greatest testament to Bryant's achievement is that no player over the 15 years since has come particularly close to scoring 81 points in a game, despite several factors working in their favor.  

In 2005-06, a team got 79.0 field goal attempts per game on average, the fourth-slowest pace of all time. Almost any other season in NBA history would have been more likely to have an astounding scoring outburst.  

In the 1961-62 season, when Chamberlain made history, teams averaged 107.7 shots per game and attempted 37.1 free throws per game, nearly 11 more than in 2005-06.  

The league has picked up its pace since Bryant's feat as well, with teams attempting 88.8 field goals last season, giving the modern player more opportunities than Bryant had.  

The other advantage that current players have in piling up stats is the three-point shot.  

Bryant's 7-for-13 performance from deep was dynamic in 2006. Twice in the 2005-06 season, Chicago Bulls guard Ben Gordon made nine three-pointers in a game to lead the league. Only four players made more than seven threes in a game that season. The average team attempted 16.0 threes per game.  

Teams are launching an average of 35.1 three-point attempts during this young season, on pace to be the 10th in a row with an increase in long-range shooting. Ten players have already made eight or more threes in a game this season, despite most teams having played about 15 games.  

Even with a faster pace and increased frequency of long-distance barrages in the modern game, Bryant's 81-point mark still appears virtually unobtainable.  

Since that date, Devin Booker's 70 points are the high mark. There have been 19 games in which a player scored 60 or more, four by Bryant himself.  

One integral element to Bryant's scoring explosion was the composition of that Lakers team. Bryant did have Lamar Odom, but LA's other starters on that historic night were Kwame Brown, Chris Mihm and Smush Parker. The Lakers finished that season 45-37, far from a bad team, but Bryant scored 35.4 points per game as the Lakers relied on him almost entirely for scoring.  

Bryant scored 34.7 percent of the Lakers' points that season, the fourth-highest scoring share of all time. Only Chamberlain and Michael Jordan have scored a higher percentage of a team's points in a season.  

Given that profile, there are a few players who stand out as possible candidates to make a run at a historical scoring game in the foreseeable future.  

Booker, James Harden and Kemba Walker all have at least one 60-point game in their careers but now find themselves on teams with better supporting casts, making it unlikely they could get enough shots to chase history.  

Damian Lillard, however, could fit the mould perfectly. Team-mates CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic will both miss significant time due to injuries, and Lillard has crossed the 60-point barrier three times, all within the past 15 months. Add his 36.2 minutes per game – top 10 in the league – and 10.1 three-point attempts per game, and Lillard seems as likely as anyone to produce a dazzling scoring total.  

Stephen Curry scored a career-high 62 points on January 3 and will be a constant centerpiece in the Golden State Warriors' offense without Klay Thompson. While Curry is 25th in the league at 34.4 minutes per game, his historic three-point shooting makes him a constant threat.  

League scoring leader Bradley Beal remains in the mix, despite the Washington Wizards acquiring ball-hungry Russell Westbrook in the offseason. Westbrook has often taken games off due to rest, and Beal scored 60 on January 6. He also carries the advantage of getting to the free throw line 9.5 times per game, fourth in the NBA this season.  

That list ignores perennial MVP candidates Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and LeBron James, as well as young dynamos like Trae Young and Luka Doncic.  

The fact that there are so many candidates to make a run at 81 points without anyone coming close in the past 15 years indicates just how phenomenal Bryant's accomplishment was.  

Whether Bryant's mark lasts forever or is eventually bested, it will always be a brilliant snapshot of an all-time great player. He won championships before and after his 81-point game, but Bryant's legacy is as a scorer and a relentless competitor, perfectly represented by that gaudy scoring total 15 years ago.  

Bryant wore number eight and number 24 during his decorated career, but 81 is just as important to his legacy.

The NBA has announced the Memphis Grizzlies' next three games have been postponed in accordance with COVID-19 protocols.

Memphis had already seen Wednesday's scheduled meeting with the Portland Trail Blazers called off, the Grizzlies not having the league-required minimum of eight players available for action.

The same teams had been due to meet on Friday, however that clash will no longer be going ahead as planned.

Back-to-back games with the Sacramento Kings, set to take place on Sunday and Monday, are also postponed due to the combination of unavailable Grizzlies players and contact tracing for others on the roster. 

"The Memphis Grizzlies' next three games - Friday, January 22 at Portland and Sunday, January 24 and Monday, January 25 vs Sacramento - have been postponed in accordance with the NBA's health and safety protocols," the NBA said in a statement.

"The games are being postponed due to unavailable players for the Grizzlies and contact tracing for other players on their roster, and in order to ensure the health and safety of players on both teams."

In total, 20 games have been postponed during the NBA regular season as the competition deals with the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Grizzlies are 7-6 on the season and on a five-game winning streak. Following the postponements, they are next due to be in action on January 27, when they host the Chicago Bulls.

The Milwaukee Bucks host the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday in what most expected to be the matchup from last season's NBA Finals.

The Miami Heat put paid to that in the injury-enforced absence of reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Lakers battled their way to the championship.

This will be their first meeting since then, though it could be lacking in star power with LeBron James questionable to appear due to a left ankle sprain.

The Bucks will be keen to bounce back and make a statement against one of the league's strongest teams after a five-game winning run ended at the hands of James Harden, Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets last time out.

The Lakers also have a point to prove, though, having suffered a fourth-quarter collapse against the Golden State Warriors in their previous outing.

Milwaukee are their first opponents on a gruelling seven-game road trip, though they are yet to be beaten away from Staples Center this season.

KEY PERFORMERS

Khris Middleton

Middleton has the best offensive rating of any of Bucks starter (126.5) and his net rating of 16.5 is only marginally bettered by Jrue Holiday (17.5).

He is making a career high 2.6 three-pointers per game this season and is doing a better job of punishing teams when he gets to the free throw line – he is shooting at 93.2 per cent from the stripe, a solid improvement on the career mark of 87.6 per cent he entered this season with.

He is not only a perpetual threat from beyond the arc, either. This season he has made 75 per cent of his field goals at the rim – that's better than Antetokounmpo (70.1 per cent).

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

There can be no doubt that James and Anthony Davis are the most important players on the Lakers roster, but Caldwell-Pope is proving that the decision to hand him a three-year, $40million contract to return to the team last November was a great decision.

He is shooting at 53.7 per cent from beyond the arc this season, second only to Seth Curry (59.5 per cent) among players with a minimum of 40 attempts in the league.

Caldwell-Pope also has the highest plus minus per game (11.4) for qualifying players in the league this season. It is a significant jump from the 2.3 he averaged over the previous campaign and shows just how much of an impact he is having early on.

KEY BATTLE: CAN DAVIS CONTAIN GIANNIS?

When the teams met back in March – before the season was shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic – Antetokounmpo drew two fouls from Davis within four minutes of the first quarter.

It piled the pressure on the Lakers, who were forced to try to defend the Bucks' best player using a backup option. But when your backup option is LeBron, you are in good hands.

Antetokounmpo ended the game with 32 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, but it was the Lakers who emerged 113-103 winners.

While defending Giannis, LeBron still shone on the offensive end and finished with 37 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and three steals.

Davis was limited to just 29 minutes due to his foul trouble and, particularly if James misses out due to his ankle injury, will need to be more disciplined on Friday.

HEAD TO HEAD

That was only the third time Antetokounmpo has faced the Lakers since LeBron joined the team ahead of the 2018-19 season and it was his first lost.

Los Angeles benefited from keeping Giannis to 47.6 per cent shooting from the field but it is not a guarantee for success – the Bucks are 20-17 when Antetokounmpo shoots below 50 per cent on at least 20 attempts.

Still, since Giannis entered the league in 2013, LeBron is 16-5 against the Bucks with an average of 27.4 points per game.

Steve Nash admitted the Brooklyn Nets were "a little lost at times" during Wednesday's defeat to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Nets' 'Big Three' of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving played together for the first time, but Brooklyn fell to the Cavs 147-135 after double overtime.

Durant (38 points and 12 rebounds), Irving (37 points) and Harden (21 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds) combined for 96 points, yet Collin Sexton (42 points) inspired the Cavs.

Nets head coach Nash said it was normal to see his new-look team struggle at times.

"This is the first night that we've had everyone on the floor together. We seemed a little lost at times, which is natural because we haven't played together so there's a little indecision," he told a news conference.

"We started the game turning the ball over, I think we had seven or eight in the first quarter. We cleaned it up, got ourselves back in the game. Obviously, we have to defend better, but I stay positive.

"These guys, it's the first night out together, we're just getting a feel for each other and this is going to be a process that's going to take the entire year. While we're all disappointed, we've got lots to build on, lots to grow and lots more opportunities."

The Nets gave up 20 points in the second period of overtime to lose the game.

Nash said the defense would be a key focus for Brooklyn (9-7) as the season goes on.

"We had breakdowns all over the place. We've got a lot of work to do, we know that," he said.

"We know that we have a very offensive team right now so we have to find ways to defend, to get connected, to be on the same page and that's going to take some time.

"It's definitely early doors as far as this new team, this new group, [are] learning to defend together and how we can be effective defensively, and that's got to be the part of our game that we're going to focus on the most going forward."

The Nets face the Cavs again on Friday.

There is no doubt Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid is performing at an MVP level following his monstrous double-double midweek, according to Tobias Harris.

The 76ers took down Eastern Conference rivals the Boston Celtics 117-109 thanks to Embiid's 42 points and 10 rebounds in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Embiid – returning to action following knee soreness – had 22 points in the first half as the three-time All-Star topped 40 points for the second time in three games, joining Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal as the only NBA players with multiple such performances.

There is only one other instance where a Sixers player had a 40 and 10 game on one or fewer turnovers since the three-point era – Embiid himself in 2019.

76ers team-mate Harris hailed Embiid, who is averaging 26.4 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game this season.

"It's not sort of, it's for sure MVP-calibre," Harris told reporters of Embiid after the 76ers improved to 10-5, and 8-1 on home court.

76ers head coach Doc Rivers was also full of praise following Embiid's mammoth display, which consisted of 12-of-19 shooting in 34 minutes.

"I'm not surprised at the level," Rivers said. "He's just more talented than even I knew. I knew he was extremely talented, but he has so many more gifts."

Harris, who signed a maximum contract at the start of 2019-20, contributed 22 points to help the 76ers past the Celtics.

His performance was not lost on Embiid, who added: "Tobias had a great night. He's playing at an All-Star level as he should be and he should be an All-Star."

"I just pride myself on doing whatever I can for our team," Harris said. "Making winning plays and the right play out there so that's just been my MO and I know my role as a player and I know what's asked of me night after night to be a leader and also to be a top player on this team and I’m embracing that."

While Ben Simmons did not have the best offensive outing, the two-time All-Star excelled defensively.

Simmons almost recorded a triple-double with 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, while he tallied two steals as he defended the likes of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.

"I thought Ben was unbelievable defensively," Rivers said. "First of all, we put him on Kemba tonight, we put him on Jaylen Brown tonight, put him on Marcus Smart tonight. It's amazing what he can do for us and tonight was a great example of that."

Joel Embiid produced another mammoth performance to lead the Philadelphia 76ers past Eastern Conference rivals the Boston Celtics 117-109 on Wednesday.

Embiid posted 42 points and 10 rebounds – going 12 of 19 from the floor in Philadelphia, where the three-time NBA All-Star scored 22 points in the first half.

Returning to action following knee soreness, Embiid topped 40 points for the second time in three games as he joined Bradley Beal as the only NBA players with multiple such performances.

There is only one other instance where a Sixers player had a 40 and 10 game on one or fewer turnovers since the three-point era – Embiid himself in 2019.

Luka Doncic recorded another triple-double as the Dallas Mavericks beat the Indiana Pacers 124-112 to snap a three-game losing streak.

Doncic put up 13 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists for his fifth triple-double of the season – tied for the most alongside Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic – and 30th of his career.

The 22-year-old is the youngest player to reach 30 career triple-doubles, while he is the second-fastest in terms of games played (146), eclipsing Magic Johnson (190) but behind Oscar Robertson (75).

 

Irving stars on return but Sexton outshines Nets trio

After a seven-game absence due to personal reasons, Kyrie Irving had 37 points in the Brooklyn Nets' 147-135 double overtime loss against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Kevin Durant led the Nets with 38 points and 12 rebounds, and fellow superstar James Harden finished with a triple-double of 21 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. However, Collin Sexton's 42 points lifted the Cavaliers past Brooklyn's 'Big Three'.

Clint Capela had 27 points and a career-high 26 rebounds for the Atlanta Hawks, who outlasted the Detroit Pistons 123-115 in overtime. Trae Young scored 38 points and John Collins registered 31 points, while Detroit's Jerami Grant posted a career-high 32 points.

 

Lowry's shooting woes

While collecting 10 rebounds and tallying seven assists, Kyle Lowry was far from his best in the Toronto Raptors' 111-102 loss to the Miami Heat. Lowry was just two-of-12 from the field, while he made just one of 10 shots from three-point range for eight points in 36 minutes.

 

Anthony on the buzzer!

Cole Anthony did it all at the death. He grabbed the rebound and ran the length of the court before sinking the buzzer-beating shot to lift the Orlando Magic past the Minnesota Timberwolves 97-96.

Wednesday's results

Cleveland Cavaliers 147-135 Brooklyn Nets (OT)
Dallas Mavericks 124-112 Indiana Pacers
Philadelphia 76ers 117-109 Boston Celtics
Atlanta Hawks 123-115 Detroit Pistons (OT)
Miami Heat 111-102 Toronto Raptors
Orlando Magic 97-96 Minnesota Timberwolves
Phoenix Suns 109-103 Houston Rockets
Golden State Warriors 121-99 San Antonio Spurs
Los Angeles Clippers 115-96 Sacramento Kings
Washington Wizards-Charlotte Hornets (postponed)
Portland Trail Blazers-Memphis Grizzlies (postponed)

 

Lakers at Bucks

LeBron James and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers (11-4) travel to face Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks (9-5) on Thursday. Both teams are coming off losses.

Kevin Durant said his first game alongside James Harden and Kyrie Irving for the Brooklyn Nets "felt perfect" despite a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Irving returned and the Nets had their 'Big Three' together for the first time following the blockbuster arrival of former MVP Harden, but fell to the Cavs 147-135 after double overtime on Wednesday.

Durant (38 points and 12 rebounds), Irving (37 points) and Harden (21 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds) combined for 96 points, yet it was Collin Sexton (42 points) who inspired the Cavs.

Despite the loss, Durant – who became the second Net ever to post three straight 30-plus point games – was happy with how the game felt alongside his two superstar team-mates.

"It felt right, it felt perfect, it felt like we belong together," he told a news conference.

"It felt like this journey together is going to be fun. It was tough first start, especially it was an up and down game for us, but I like where we are."

The Nets' loss saw them slip to 9-7 and they sit fifth in the Eastern Conference.

But Durant is looking ahead, with the Nets facing the Cavs again on Friday.

"Obviously we'd love to win the basketball game, that's the most important thing and we're definitely disappointed about that, but we have a long season ahead of us, just keep plugging away," he said.

"I like where we are, I like the comradery that we have and we're building.

"The communication from the coaching staff to the players is at a high level so looking forward to keep building, keep grinding, we've got the same team next game."

The Washington Wizards will get more preparation time before their return to NBA action after the team's clash against the Milwaukee Bucks was postponed.

Washington last played on January 11 and finally returned to practice on Wednesday following a coronavirus outbreak.

The Wizards (3-8) were due to face the Bucks (9-5) on Friday, but that clash was postponed by the NBA.

"The game is being postponed due to the number of available players for the Wizards, contact tracing for other players on their roster, and the length of time preceding the game during which the team was unable to practice," an NBA statement read.

Wizards star Bradley Beal said earlier on Wednesday his team were pushing for the game to be postponed.

"We weren't able to get into a gym for a week," Beal said, via ESPN.

"That alters guys' rhythm, shape. That is just like a recipe for injury, honestly. I think we are fighting the league on it."

Washington's next scheduled game is against the San Antonio Spurs (8-6) on Sunday.

Nikola Jokic has become a more aggressive scorer because he was beaten with a pillowcase full of soda cans by Mike Malone, the Denver Nuggets coach joked.

Nuggets center Jokic had 27 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in three quarters as Denver cruised to a 119-101 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Pepsi Center on Tuesday.

The 25-year-old has had at least a double-double in each of his 14 games this season and is averaging a triple-double of 25.1 points, 11.4 rebounds and 10 assists – all of which represent career highs.

Jokic's best scoring season was 2018-19 when he averaged 20.1 points per game, and Malone gave a light-hearted response when asked what has motivated the Serbian to become more prolific.

He replied: "I locked him in my office one day and I beat him with a pillowcase full of soda cans and I said: 'You've got to score more!'"

In a far more serious tone, Malone continued: "You know how he is, he's a great player, he's playing at an MVP level. You go back to tonight, 27, 12 and six, only one turnover.

"Early on they were playing him one-on-one, and sometimes I get frustrated because I don't think we give him the ball enough, especially when he's being guarded one-on-one.

"Nikola has seen every possible double-team, and so have we as a team. We space the floor correctly and he is so willing to find the open man, and we had great possessions against the double-team.

"He's always going to take what the defense gives him but he is being more aggressive, which is what we need from him."

The Nuggets are 10-2 against the Thunder since 2017-18, their best record against any Western Conference opponent in that span.

Denver's latest victory saw them improve to 7-7 on the season, but they are yet to hold a winning record this season after never being .500 or worse after their first game in the previous campaign.

Zion Williamson needs to "get in shape" if he is to fulfil his potential in the NBA, according to Hall of Famer Karl Malone.

New Orleans selected Williamson with the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft but a meniscus tear in preseason and a season shortened by the coronavirus pandemic meant he played just 24 games in his rookie campaign.

The Duke product is up to 36 games – still less than half the standard season – but former power forward Malone, a two-time MVP who had All-NBA First Team honours on 11 occasions, thinks he need to improve his physique if he is to maximise his abilities.

Williamson is listed at six foot, seven inches and 284 pounds, with Malone pointing to Glen 'Big Baby' Davis as an example of someone who did not live up to their billing due to their size – Davis was 6ft 9in and played at 289 pounds.

"I love Zion Williamson. Zion needs to get into shape. If he doesn't get in shape, we might not ever know his full potential," Malone said on The Players' Tribune's Knuckleheads podcast.

"There's a young man that played at LSU, 'Big Baby' Davis. Big Baby made a comment about eight months ago, he did an ESPN show … he came on that show and he said, 'Look guys, I'm about to get into trouble now with what I'm about to say. I know everybody loves Zion and I love him too. But Zion has the same body type that I had.'

"He was talking about himself. And he said if he doesn't get into shape, we'll never know his full potential. And he did get heat from that."

Williamson had 32 points with five rebounds and three assists as the Pelicans suffered a 118-102 defeat to the Utah Jazz on Tuesday, New Orleans losing for the sixth time in seven games to slip to 5-8 for the season.

This season the 20-year-old is averaging 23.4 points and 8.0 rebounds in 32.6 minutes per game. That ranks him 44th in minutes per game, with his usage percentage of 29.1 enough for 39th in the league.

However, he leads in the league in contested three-points shots per game at 5.9.

Malone added: "I'm still waiting on him to play the whole damn season… and he needs to be averaging 40 minutes per game. Look here, you're a 21, 22-year-old kid. Your a** shouldn't get tired."

Nikola Jokic enhanced his MVP credentials with another double-double in the NBA as the Denver Nuggets eased past the Oklahoma City Thunder 119-101.

Two-time All-Star Jokic led the Nuggets with a game-high 27 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in just three quarters on Tuesday.

Jokic – averaging a triple-double in 2020-21 – has posted a double-double in every game he has played for the Nuggets this season, a league-high 14.

The Nuggets outscored the Thunder 66-43 in the second and third quarters to win for the second time in three games, with team-mate Paul Millsap also putting up a double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds.

Luguentz Dort had 20 points on eight-of-11 shooting for the visiting Thunder in Denver.

The Utah Jazz, meanwhile, stayed hot with a 118-102 victory against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Donovan Mitchell scored 28 points to go with seven rebounds and four assists to lead the Jazz to their sixth successive win.

Rudy Gobert (13 points and 18 rebounds) and Jordan Clarkson (18 points) also made contributions for the in-form Jazz.

Zion Williamson's game-high 32 points were not enough for the Pelicans, who have dropped six of their past seven games.

 

Nets at Cavaliers

James Harden, Kevin Durant and the star-studded Brooklyn Nets (9-6) will look to stay hot when they visit the Cleveland Cavaliers (6-7) on Wednesday.

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