The Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Clippers were all victorious as the NBA's regular season concluded in Orlando on Friday.

Philadelphia's final game before their Eastern Conference first-round playoff blockbuster against the Boston Celtics on Monday saw the 76ers top the Houston Rockets 134-96.

Joel Embiid (14 points) overcame a wrist problem and played for the 76ers at Walt Disney World resort, where Tobias Harris (18), Al Horford (10), Alec Burks (16), Shake Milton (11), Mike Scott (10), Raul Neto (14) and Furkan Korkmaz (12) all had double-digit points.

The Rockets, who are set to meet the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference on Tuesday, were led by James Harden's 27 points and 10 assists.

Defending champions the Raptors, meanwhile, defeated the Denver Nuggets 117-109 behind Stanley Johnson's season-high 23 points.

Johnson scored 19 points in the second half, while Paul Watson put up a career-high 22 points for the in-form Raptors – who have won four games in a row and seven of their eight regular-season matchups in Florida.

The Raptors – second in the east – begin their playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday, while the Western Conference's Nuggets open against the Utah Jazz.

 

Mann impresses for Clippers

With Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Lou Williams rested, rookie Terance Mann stepped up as the Los Angeles Clippers outlasted the Thunder 107-103 in overtime. Mann had 25 points and 14 rebounds for a double-double, including the go-ahead three-pointer with less than three minutes remaining in OT. Amir Coffey contributed 21 points.

Hamidou Diallo's double-double of 27 points and 11 rebounds led the playoff-bound Thunder.

 

Robinson scoreless as Pacers cool Heat

Ahead of their upcoming first-round clash in the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat lost 109-92 to the Indiana Pacers and Duncan Robinson struggled. Robinson was zero of three from the field, while he missed all three shots beyond the arc to go scoreless in 13 minutes. Trying to stay fit before the playoff matchup as both teams rested stars, the Heat lost Derrick Jones Jr. to a neck strain following a scary collision.

 

Harden with the behind-the-back pass

The 2018 MVP produced this assist for Rockets team-mate Jeff Green.

 

Friday's results

Toronto Raptors 117-109 Denver Nuggets
Indiana Pacers 109-92 Miami Heat
Los Angeles Clippers 107-103 Oklahoma City Thunder (OT)
Philadelphia 76ers 134-96 Houston Rockets

 

Grizzlies face Trail Blazers

The Western Conference play-in clash will see the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers go head-to-head on Saturday. A win for the Trail Blazers will secure a first-round matchup against the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers. Memphis have to go 2-0 in the play-in tournament.

The Los Angeles Clippers bounced back in the NBA on Wednesday, while James Harden starred in a loss.

Coming off a defeat to the Brooklyn Nets, the Clippers outclassed the Denver Nuggets 124-111.

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard led the Clippers, while Lou Williams impressed off the bench.

George (27 points), Leonard (26) and Williams (23) top-scored for the Clippers.

Harden had 45 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists, but the Houston Rockets fell to the Indiana Pacers 108-104.

The Rockets were without Russell Westbrook, who is battling a quad injury.

 

Turner records double-double, Lowry leads Raptors

Myles Turner's double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds guided the Pacers.

Kyle Lowry led an even Toronto Raptors performance with 19 points in a 125-121 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.

Chris Boucher went seven-of-12 from the field for 19 points off the bench for the Raptors.

 

Horrible Holiday

Aaron Holiday struggled for the Pacers. The guard was one-of-11 from the field for just two points in 25 minutes.

 

Comeback kings

Darius Bazley scored 16 points in the fourth quarter as the Oklahoma City Thunder edged the Miami Heat 116-115. It marked the 17th time this season the Thunder have trailed entering the fourth quarter and won, the equal most in a season in the shot-clock era (since 1954-55). They joined the 1962-63 Los Angeles Lakers, 1990-91 San Antonio Spurs and 2007-08 Cleveland Cavaliers, as per STATS.

Wednesday's results

Indiana Pacers 108-104 Houston Rockets
Toronto Raptors 125-121 Philadelphia 76ers
Oklahoma City Thunder 116-115 Miami Heat
Los Angeles Clippers 124-111 Denver Nuggets

 

All eyes on Western Conference

The Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs are in action on Thursday, looking to claim seeds eight and nine in the Western Conference to get into the play-in.

The Houston Rockets are unsure if star guard Russell Westbrook will be available for the start of the NBA playoffs.

Westbrook sat out Wednesday's 108-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers after an MRI confirmed a strained right quadriceps.

The 2017 MVP has already been ruled out of Friday's final seeding game against the Philadelphia 76ers and Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni is unsure when Westbrook will return.

"We'll see how it responds and everything, but we all hope," D'Antoni. "We'll just see next week. I don't know right now."

Westbrook, who posted 20 points, six assists and five rebounds in the Rockets' defeat against the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, had previously felt discomfort in his right quad.

The nine-time All-Star sat out back-to-back games after feeling soreness during a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on August 4.

"I don't think he aggravated it [against the Spurs]," D'Antoni said. "During the game and after the game, he was fine. He woke up the next day and was sore, so they're checking it out to make sure it can respond to treatment.

"We don't know 100 per cent right now, but he's definitely going to be out Friday and then we'll see."

A blockbuster acquisition from the Oklahoma City Thunder, Westbrook has been averaging 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game.

The Rockets – fourth in the Western Conference – are eyeing their third NBA championship and first since 1995.

Damian Lillard produced an incredible performance to lift the Portland Trail Blazers, while Giannis Antetokounmpo was ejected in the NBA on Tuesday.

Lillard scored 61 points to guide the Trail Blazers past the Dallas Mavericks 134-131 and into eighth place in the Western Conference.

The guard was in stunning form, going nine-of-17 from three-point range at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Carmelo Anthony (26 points) provided some support for Lillard as Portland boosted their playoff chances.

Kristaps Porzingis scored 36 points for the Mavericks, while Luka Doncic had a double-double of 25 points and 10 assists.

Antetokounmpo was ejected in the second quarter of the Bucks' 126-113 win over the Washington Wizards.

The reigning NBA MVP head-butted Moritz Wagner, having scored 12 points and had nine rebounds in 10 minutes.

Brook Lopez finished with 24 points for the Bucks.

 

Booker leads in-form Suns, Tatum shines

Devin Booker had 35 points and nine rebounds as the Phoenix Suns beat the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 for a seventh straight win.

Jayson Tatum helped the Boston Celtics past the Memphis Grizzlies 122-107 thanks to 29 points.

In the same game, Ja Morant had 26 points and 13 assists for the Grizzlies.

Harrison Barnes' 25 points and eight rebounds helped the Sacramento Kings edge the New Orleans Pelicans 112-106.

 

Awful Augustin

D.J. Augustin struggled from the field, going one-of-eight for just six points in the Orlando Magic's 108-96 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

 

Amazing Lillard

Lillard had his third game this season with 60-plus points and five-plus assists and no player has had more than two such games in their career since the merger, according to STATS.

Tuesday's results

Brooklyn Nets 108-96 Orlando Magic
San Antonio Spurs 123-105 Houston Rockets
Phoenix Suns 130-117 Philadelphia 76ers
Boston Celtics 122-107 Memphis Grizzlies
Portland Trail Blazers 134-131 Dallas Mavericks
Sacramento Kings 112-106 New Orleans Pelicans
Milwaukee Bucks 126-113 Washington Wizards

 

Clippers face Nuggets

Coming off a loss to the Nets, the Los Angeles Clippers (47-23) take on the Denver Nuggets (46-25) on Wednesday.

The Brooklyn Nets upstaged the Los Angeles Clippers 129-120, despite Kawhi Leonard's big performance in the NBA on Sunday.

Leonard posted a game-high 39 points for the Clippers but it was not enough against the Nets in Orlando, Florida.

Caris LeVert put up 27 points and 13 assists as the Nets clinched the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.

Joe Harris added 25 points of his own for the Nets at Walt Disney World Resort, where team-mate Jarrett Allen (16 points, 16 rebounds) finished with a double-double.

Damian Lillard, meanwhile, dropped 51 points to inspire the Portland Trail Blazers to a 124-121 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

Lillard made 16 of 28 shots and 15 from 16 free throws to lift the Trail Blazers past the 76ers and within a half-game of the Memphis Grizzlies for eighth place in the Western Conference.

It was Lillard's fifth game of 50-plus points this season – tying Houston Rockets star James Harden – with all of those performances coming against teams that made the playoffs last year

Per STATS, the last player to have five 50-point games against postseason teams from the previous campaign was Michael Jordan (6) in 1986-87.

 

Career-high night for Rivers

Austin Rivers had a game to remember as the Rockets soared past the Sacramento Kings 129-112. The Rockets guard registered a career-high 41 points off the bench. Rivers is the first player in NBA history to score 40-plus points, make six or more three-pointers and shoot 70.0-plus per cent from the field off the bench in a game, per STATS. Harden contributed 32 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Rockets.

Gordon Hayward's 31-point display helped the Boston Celtics top the Orlando Magic 122-119 in overtime. Jayson Tatum scored 29, including the tying basket with 4.2 seconds remaining in regulation.

Defending champions the Toronto Raptors secured the Eastern Conference second seed and their fifth consecutive season with at least 50 wins after outlasting the Grizzlies. Pascal Siakam had 26 points.

The San Antonio Spurs and their hopes of becoming the first team in NBA history to reach the playoffs for 23 straight seasons remain alive after emerging 122-113 winners against the New Orleans Pelicans. San Antonio are 10th in the west, half a game adrift of Portland for the ninth spot, which would secure a play-in series.

 

Pelicans eliminated from postseason race, Wizards winless in bubble

Zion Williamson will have to wait another year for playoff basketball after the Pelicans lost to the Spurs. Despite 31 points and a season-high eight three-pointers from JJ Redick, the Pelicans – coupled with Portland's win – were eliminated from postseason contention.

The Washington Wizards' woes continued after falling to a 121-103 defeat against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Washington are the only winless team remaining in Orlando, having gone 0-6 since the restart.

 

Dame with the four-point play!

After struggling against the Clippers, Lillard came up big for the Trail Blazers in their meeting with the 76ers. A spectacular four-point play with less than three minutes remaining catapulted the Blazers into the lead.

Sunday's results

Houston Rockets 129-112 Sacramento Kings
Portland Trail Blazers 124-121 Philadelphia 76ers
Boston Celtics 122-119 Orlando Magic (OT)
San Antonio Spurs 122-113 New Orleans Pelicans
Toronto Raptors 108-99 Memphis Grizzlies
Oklahoma City Thunder 121-103 Washington Wizards
Brooklyn Nets 129-120 Los Angeles Clippers

 

Raptors face Bucks

It will be an epic encounter as the Eastern Conference's two best teams meet on Monday. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the top-ranked Milwaukee Bucks take on the in-form Raptors.

The LeBron James-less Los Angeles Lakers fell to another NBA loss, while Giannis Antetokounmpo starred again on Thursday.

Without James (groin), the Lakers suffered a second straight loss, beaten by the Houston Rockets 113-97.

James Harden led the way for the Rockets with 39 points on 11-of-19 shooting, while the guard also had 12 assists and eight rebounds at the Walt Disney World Resort.

In James' absence, Anthony Davis had a double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Lakers.

Coming off back-to-back losses, the Milwaukee Bucks clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference by beating the Miami Heat 130-116.

The Bucks recovered from a 23-point deficit to bounce back, with Antetokounmpo finishing with 33 points and 12 rebounds.

Khris Middleton also posted 33 points for Milwaukee.

Leonard, Lillard in form

Kawhi Leonard had 29 points as the Los Angeles Clippers eased past the Dallas Mavericks 126-111.

Damian Lillard hit 11 three-pointers in a 45-point haul to lead the Portland Trail Blazers to a 125-115 win over the Denver Nuggets.

A career-high 35 points from Bogdan Bogdanovic guided the Sacramento Kings to a 140-125 success against the New Orleans Pelicans.

 

Cook can't take chance

Quinn Cook was unable to make the most of his start for the Lakers. The guard went two-of-12 from the field for just six points in 29 minutes.

 

Amazing Lillard

Lillard went 11-of-18 from three-point range in an incredible performance.

Thursday's results

Sacramento Kings 140-125 New Orleans Pelicans
Milwaukee Bucks 130-116 Miami Heat
Phoenix Suns 114-99 Indiana Pacers
Los Angeles Clippers 126-111 Dallas Mavericks
Portland Trail Blazers 125-115 Denver Nuggets
Houston Rockets 113-97 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Celtics face Raptors

The Boston Celtics (45-23) and Toronto Raptors (49-18) go head-to-head in another blockbuster battle on Friday.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James has been ruled out of Thursday's NBA showdown with the Houston Rockets.

The Western Conference-leading Lakers cited a sore right groin for James' absence against the Rockets at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

James – who endured a difficult first season in Los Angeles after suffering a groin injury on Christmas Day in 2018 – posted 19 points and 11 rebounds in the Lakers' 105-86 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday.

The four-time NBA MVP and three-time champion is averaging 25.3 points, 10.3 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game this season.

James and the Lakers (51-16) have already clinched the top seed in the west as the Los Angeles franchise prepare for their first playoff appearance since 2013.

The NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks crashed to a 119-116 defeat against the Brooklyn Nets, while the Phoenix Suns upstaged the Los Angeles Clippers at the buzzer.

Back-to-back three-pointers from Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot put the Nets ahead during the closing stages as the Bucks suffered a surprise loss in Orlando, Florida on Tuesday.

Luwawu-Cabarrot posted a career-high 26 points for the Nets (32-25), while reigning MVP and Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 16 points before sitting out the entire second half.

The Bucks (54-14) are yet to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference following consecutive defeats at the Walt Disney World Resort.

There was another upset in the Orlando bubble as the Clippers went down 117-115 to the Suns following Devin Booker's buzzer-beating shot.

Booker nailed a turnaround jumper over Clippers star Paul George as time expired in a 35-point performance for the Suns, after Kawhi Leonard had tied the game with 31.1 seconds remaining.

The playoff-chasing Suns (29-39) claimed their third consecutive victory since the NBA resumed following the coronavirus-enforced break.

Leonard led the Clippers (45-22) with 27 points, while team-mate George contributed 23 of his own.

 

Doncic's historic triple-double leads Mavs

Luka Doncic's 34 points, career-high 20 rebounds and 12 assists helped the Dallas Mavericks top the Sacramento Kings 114-110 in overtime. At 21 years and 158 days, Doncic became the youngest player to finish a game with 30 or more points, 20 or more rebounds and 10 or more assists.

T.J. Warren enjoyed another fine outing with 32 points as the Indiana Pacers beat the Orlando Magic 120-109.

A 21-point and 19-rebound Jusuf Nurkic double-double fuelled the Portland Trail Blazers' 110-102 victory over the Houston Rockets.

 

Bogdanovic struggles

In the Kings' loss to the Mavericks, Bogdan Bogdanovic was just one for 15 from the field in 21 minutes. The Kings shooting guard only made one of eight three-pointers for three points.

 

Harden inspires quick basket

A perfectly weighted inbound pass from Houston Rockets star James Harden caught the Portland Trail Blazers napping as Russell Westbrook made the catch before teeing up Ben McLemore in a swift move.

 

Tuesday's results

Brooklyn Nets 119-116 Milwaukee Bucks
Dallas Mavericks 114-110 Sacramento Kings (OT)
Phoenix Suns 117-115 Los Angeles Clippers
Miami Heat 112-106 Boston Celtics
Indiana Pacers 120-109 Orlando Magic
Portland Trail Blazers 110-102 Houston Rockets

 

Thunder face Lakers

The Oklahoma City Thunder will meet the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. The Thunder are coming off a loss, while the Lakers clinched the top seed in the west on Monday.

The Houston Rockets edged the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA on Sunday, while the Boston Celtics also claimed a narrow win.

The Rockets rallied past the Bucks 120-116 on the back of a standout performance from Russell Westbrook at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Westbrook finished with 31 points, eight assists and six rebounds, while James Harden had 24 points.

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo scored a game-high 36 points, to go with 18 rebounds and eight assists.

The Celtics claimed their first win since the restart by overcoming the Portland Trail Blazers 128-124.

Jayson Tatum bounced back to form, going 11-of-22- from the field for 34 points.

 

Mavs clinch playoff spot, Morant marvellous

After the Memphis Grizzlies' loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the Dallas Mavericks reached the playoffs for the first time since 2015-16.

They later fell to a 117-115 defeat to the Phoenix Suns despite 40 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds from star Luka Doncic.

Ja Morant had 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting, plus nine rebounds and nine assists, in the Grizzlies' 108-106 loss to the Spurs.

 

Johnson struggles

Tyler Johnson missed all seven of his field-goal attempts in the Brooklyn Nets' 118-110 win over the Washington Wizards

 

Markelle magic

Markelle Fultz hit a shot from three-quarter court in the Orlando Magic's win over the Sacramento Kings.

Sunday's results

Brooklyn Nets 118-110 Washington Wizards
Boston Celtics 128-124 Portland Trail Blazers
San Antonio Spurs 108-106 Memphis Grizzlies
Orlando Magic 132-116 Sacramento Kings
Houston Rockets 120-116 Milwaukee Bucks
Phoenix Suns 117-115 Dallas Mavericks

 

Raptors face Heat

Following a win over the Los Angeles Lakers, defending champions the Toronto Raptors (47-18) face another test when they take on Eastern Conference rivals the Miami Heat (42-24) on Monday.

James Harden scored 49 points in a 153-149 overtime victory over the Dallas Mavericks, but it was the Houston Rockets' defensive effort that the former MVP wanted to highlight. 

Another fine offensive night from Harden saw him move past Calvin Murphy to become the player with the second-most points in the franchise's history, behind only Hakeem Olajuwon. 

With Russell Westbrook adding 31 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists too, it was a fine outing for Houston's leading duo, though Harden was quick to defer praise to the collective performance at the other end of the court. 

"It's not even about the points," Harden told ESPN on court after the game. 

"Our effort was there continuously throughout the course of the night against one of the best offenses in this league.

"They were going to be tough from the beginning of the game and we had to stay with it, even when we were down by double digits. We kept fighting, especially on the defensive end and forced overtime. 

"We wanted to stay with it and give ourselves a chance at the end of the game. We did that. Our confidence defensively was building, especially in that fourth quarter. We kept pushing the tempo, kept fighting." 

Luka Doncic had a triple-double for the Mavs - his NBA-leading 15th of the season - but went just one-for-nine from three-point range, while Trey Burke added 31 points from the bench having drained eight of his 10 attempts from beyond the arc. 

"We are a young team. We have got a lot to learn," Doncic said.  

"We will get better, for sure. I know we are going to get together when it matters most, so I'm not worried about that."

Giannis Antetokounmpo starred in a win for the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA on Friday, while the Houston Rockets edged the Dallas Mavericks.

Antetokounmpo's double-double of 36 points and 15 rebounds helped the Bucks past the Boston Celtics 119-112.

The reigning NBA MVP went 14-of-20 from the field in the Bucks' victory.

Marcus Smart scored 23 points off the bench for Boston, while Jaylen Brown contributed 22 points.

James Harden starred with 49 points in the Rockets' 153-149 overtime win against the Dallas Mavericks.

Kristaps Porzingis (39 points and 16 rebounds) led the Mavericks, but they fell short.

 

Fantastic Fournier, Portland trio shine

Evan Fournier went 10-of-15 for 24 points in the Orlando Magic's 128-118 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

The Portland Trail Blazers overcame the Memphis Grizzlies 140-135 after overtime thanks to CJ McCollum (33 points), Damian Lillard (29) and Carmelo Anthony (21).

 

Terrible Tatum

Jayson Tatum struggled badly in the Celtics' loss. The forward went two-of-18 from the field for just five points in 32 minutes.

 

Harden's hot start

Harden made a fast start with 23 points in the first quarter for the Rockets.

Friday's results

Orlando Magic 128-118 Brooklyn Nets
Portland Trail Blazers 140-135 Memphis Grizzlies
Phoenix Suns 125-112 Washington Wizards
Milwaukee Bucks 119-112 Boston Celtics
San Antonio Spurs 129-120 Sacramento Kings
Houston Rockets 153-149 Dallas Mavericks

 

Lakers face Raptors

In another battle between two championship contenders, the Los Angeles Lakers (50-14) face the Toronto Raptors (46-18) on Saturday.

The NBA finally returns on Thursday and it's been a long-time coming.

Not since March 11 have players taken to the court and fans watched official games due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But, after months of waiting, the New Orleans Pelicans-Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers-Los Angeles Clippers clashes will headline the 2019-20 season restart in Orlando, Florida.

Inside the Walt Disney World Resort bubble, 22 teams will resume their regular seasons before the playoffs.

The Milwaukee Bucks topped the NBA standings at the time of the postponement, while the Los Angeles Lakers were flying in the Western Conference.

Using STATS data, we look at the best-performing players prior to the hiatus as LeBron James eyes a fourth championship ring and Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo chases a maiden title.

 

Red-hot LeBron

After a tough first season in Los Angeles, James has returned to his brilliant best in 2019-20. Before the coronavirus-enforced break, the four-time MVP catapulted himself into the mix for a fifth Most Valuable Player honour by leading the Lakers – who have played 63 of their 82-game regular season – to a Western Conference-best 49-14 record.

As the 35-year-old superstar prepares to resume his bid for another NBA crown, James leads the league in assists per game with 10.6. If he maintains his pace, James would be the third-oldest player to lead the NBA in assists per game behind two-time MVP and Phoenix Suns great Steve Nash – who did so in both 2009-10 (age 35-36) and 2010-11 (age 36-37). The former Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers forward has also been averaging 25.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game this season.

James, whose maiden campaign at Staples Center was cut short by a Christmas Day injury almost two years ago, was playing some of his best basketball alongside All-Star recruit Anthony Davis before the March suspension. In five games that month, James averaged 30.0 points and 10.6 assists per game, while shooting 55.7 per cent from the field. It is the only time in the last 30 years that any NBA player has averaged 30.0-plus points and 10.0-plus assists on 55.0-plus per cent shooting in a calendar month (minimum five games played).

 

Giannis – The Greek Freak

The Eastern Conference-leading Bucks (53-12) are on track for their first NBA title since 1971 thanks to superstar MVP Antetokounmpo after Mike Budenholzer's side lost in the Conference Finals last season.

Antetokounmpo – expected to go close to winning back-to-back MVPs – has not taken a backward step since being crowned the league's best in 2018-19, averaging 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game for the high-flying Bucks this season.

The only players to average 25/13/5 in a season are Elgin Baylor (1960-61), Wilt Chamberlain (1963-64 and 1965-66) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1972-73 and 1975-76).

 

Harden firing Rockets

James Harden's standing among the greats is often debated but there is no doubting his quality and importance to the Houston Rockets.

Harden has established himself as a scoring machine in Houston since joining the Rockets from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012, especially from beyond the arc, and after averaging 36.1 points last season, the 2018 MVP is at it again.

In 2019-20, Harden – now partnered with fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook – is averaging 34.4 per game. The only players to average 34-plus points in back-to-back seasons are Wilt Chamberlain (six straight from 1959-60 to 1964-65), Baylor (three straight from 1960-61 to 1962-63) and Michael Jordan (1986-87 to 1987-88).

The Rockets – sixth in the west with a 40-24 record – are relying heavily on Harden to lead the two-time champions to their first NBA Finals appearance since 1995.

 

Dallas' dazzling Doncic

If you thought Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic was a one-season wonder, think again.

The reigning Rookie of the Year continues to take the NBA by storm, elevating the Mavericks (40-27) into a legitimate playoff threat after Dallas missed the postseason for a third consecutive year last term.

A first-time All-Star this season, Doncic is averaging 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game for the much-improved Mavs in 2019-20.

The 21-year-old Slovenian sensation – who is forming a formidable combination with fellow international star Kristaps Porzingis – is looking to join Oscar Robertson (five times), Jordan (1988-89), Harden (2016-17) and Westbrook (2016-17) as the only players to average 28/8/8 in a season.

 

Williamson following in MJ's footsteps

When it comes to number one draft pick Zion Williamson, believe the hype.

The Pelicans rookie has not missed a beat since debuting in January, quickly making his presence known around the NBA competition.

Likened to James during his college days with Duke, Williamson has averaged 23.6 points per game in his first 19 games – the most by any player through 19 career games since Chicago Bulls and NBA legend Jordan (25.6).

Williamson has helped fill the void left by Davis in New Orleans and the Pelicans – 10th in the Western Conference with a 28-36 record – will be hoping the 20-year-old can lead the organisation to just their second playoff appearance in five seasons.

 

Keep an eye on Nets' LeVert

The Nets will be far from full strength in the NBA bubble. Superstars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are both sidelined through injury, while DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Wilson Chandler and Taurean Prince have opted out.

Step up Caris LeVert.

LeVert has been much improved since re-joining the starting line-up with the playoff-chasing Nets. In his first 14 games off the bench, he was only averaging 11.1 points, 2.7 assists and 2.6 rebounds as Brooklyn went 5-9.

Since returning to the starting five, the 25-year-old is averaging 24.1 points, 5.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds through his last 16 games. More importantly, the Nets (30-34) boasted a 9-7 record to be seventh in a congested Eastern Conference.

Houston Rockets star guard Russell Westbrook was on Wednesday cleared to practice for the first time since testing positive for COVID-19.

Westbrook arrived at the NBA bubble near Orlando, Florida on Monday following two negative tests after announcing last week he had contracted the virus. 

"First of all, I'm just thankful and blessed to be able to go out and compete again," the 2017 MVP said while wearing a mask before Wednesday's practice.

"But, just quarantining at home, trying to be productive, obviously not able to get on the basketball floor, but finding ways to kind of stay active and do as much conditioning as I can probably do as far as that." 

Westbrook said he was in good shape before needing to quarantine, and his only symptom was a stuffy nose. 

Although he was able to still do some exercise while self-isolating, the nine-time All-Star urged everyone to take the proper safety precautions to protect themselves against the virus. 

"I'm not a doctor nor a specialist, but I do know that it's definitely something to take very seriously," he said. "To understand that wearing a mask can be [the difference] between life or death honestly ... there are people dying from this virus each and every day and it's something that we all need to take very, very seriously." 

In his first season with Houston after arriving from the Oklahoma City Thunder, the 31-year-old Westbrook was averaging 27.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists prior the league being halted. 

The Rockets will resume their season against the Dallas Mavericks on July 31 and play their first exhibition game against the Toronto Raptors on Friday. 

It is possible Westbrook could play in the first scrimmage if he and the team's medical staff determine he is healthy enough. 

Shaking off the rust, however, is Westbrook's top priority at the moment. 

"I have to see if I can make a layup at this point," he joked. "I got to start there and work my way from there."

Houston Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni is hopeful Russell Westbrook will be ready to play after joining his team-mates in the NBA bubble following his coronavirus diagnosis.

Westbrook tested positive for COVID-19 last week prior to Houston's departure for Orlando, where the 2019-20 season will resume via a 22-team format on July 30 after the league was halted in March due to the coronavirus crisis.

The 2017 MVP travelled to Walt Disney Resort on Monday, with the Rockets scheduled to restart their campaign against the Dallas Mavericks on July 31.

While Friday's scrimmage against defending champions the Toronto Raptors might be too soon for Westbrook, D'Antoni is confident the nine-time All-Star will be up to speed for the Mavericks clash.

"I do expect that once he clears everything that he'll be ready to go five-on-five and all that," D'Antoni said.

"I would think Friday might be a little early. That'll be up to the medical staff and Russell himself and see how he feels in the days before.

"Hopefully, he'll get in a couple of scrimmages and then be ready for us to play."

Westbrook – in his first season with the Rockets after arriving from the Oklahoma City Thunder – was averaging 27.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game prior the league's suspension.

D'Antoni added: "Any time you miss a key piece like that, it makes it a little bit more difficult, but I know he'll be ready. So on one side, we're just anxious to get him.

"It'll give everybody a little pep in their step, but there was no doubt before. The energy has been great. These guys have been practicing hard, so it's just one step closer to being whole. We can get him in there and work on a couple of things and get ready."

The Rockets are sixth in the Western Conference with a 40-24 record, nine and a half games behind the Los Angeles Lakers and five and a half adrift of the second-placed Los Angeles Clippers.

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden arrived in Orlando, Florida on Tuesday for the NBA's season restart five days after the rest of the team.

The Rockets, who did not disclose a reason for Harden's absence, posted a video on their Twitter feed of Harden arriving at the league's campus-like environment.

The six-time All-NBA selection and 2018 MVP will have to isolate and register multiple negatives tests for COVID-19 before he will be cleared to join his team-mates.

Harden's arrival comes one day after team-mate Russell Westbrook announced that he tested positive for COVID-19. Westbrook said he is "currently feeling well, quarantined, and looking forward to rejoining my team-mates when I am cleared".

Harden led the NBA with 34.4 points per game when the NBA season was paused on March 12.

Houston have clinched a playoff spot and are tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder for fifth place in the Western Conference, one game behind the Utah Jazz and 1.5 games ahead of the Dallas Mavericks.

The Rockets are scheduled to resume their season on July 31 against Dallas.

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