LeBron James passed Kobe Bryant for outright third-most triple-doubles in the history of the Los Angeles Lakers.

James posted his 22nd triple-double for the Lakers during Tuesday's 100-93 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round series.

The three-time NBA champion moved above the late Bryant (21) and is now behind only Magic Johnson (138) and Elgin Baylor (24) in Lakers history.

The triple-double (23 points, 17 rebounds and a postseason-high 16 assists) was the 24th of James' playoff career.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said he is embarking on his toughest championship run in the NBA.

Western Conference top seed the Lakers – back in the playoffs for the first time since 2013 – will begin their postseason campaign against the Portland Trail Blazers, starting Tuesday.

The playoffs will take place inside the Orlando bubble at Walt Disney World Resort amid the coronavirus pandemic, eliminating any home-court advantage as the Lakers meet in-form eighth seed Portland.

Eyeing a fourth NBA title after the 2019-20 season was suspended in March due to COVID-19 before returning in July, James told reporters on Monday of his postseason prospects: "Probably the toughest one.

"It's the toughest championship run for me personally. From the circumstances of just being in here."

On the differences of playing behind closed doors in Florida, James added: "What's different for me in this environment? As far as me locking in on an opponent and individuals, that hasn't changed. What's different is this is the environment, not home.

"Not with my family, not in my own bed, I'm not in our own practice facility. I'm not preparing to be at Staples [Center] tomorrow with our fans. I'm not with a lot of things that's essential to my everyday regimen. So that's what's different."

James' streak of 13 consecutive playoff appearances and eight straight trips to the NBA Finals came to an end during a difficult first season with the Lakers in 2018-19.

But the 35-year-old has led the way for the Lakers this season, silencing his doubters by averaging 25.3 points, 10.2 assists and 7.8 rebounds per game.

"I don't take anything for granted," James said. "I live life, every day I maximize that day. I don't take anything for granted. Because at the end of the day, I know where I come from, I know what I stand for, so I don't take anything for granted, especially being in my 17th season.

"I don't go into any season saying, 'OK, playoffs, playoffs, championship, championship'. I just am all about the process."

The NBA playoffs are finally here.

After the regular season extended into August with eight rounds of seeding games in the Orlando 'bubble' - followed by the Portland Trail Blazers' win in their play-in game - we have our 16 playoff teams.

The Milwaukee Bucks are the top seed in the East, while the Los Angeles Lakers led the way in the West.

But everything does not always go to script in the playoffs, with the Bucks on top last year, too, but losing out to eventual champions the Toronto Raptors - inspired by Kawhi Leonard, now of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Despite this unpredictable format, the Stats Perform AI team have been crunching the numbers behind the scenes and running 10,000 simulations.

Using this model, we have taken a look at how the coming weeks could pan out...
 

BUCKS AS CHAMPS? LAKERS WIN UNLIKELY

After another outstanding regular season and with Giannis Antetokounmpo in their ranks, it may come as no surprise the Bucks are favourites to take the title for just the second time.

What might be slightly more unexpected is the distance by which Milwaukee are considered the frontrunners.

According to our model, the Bucks have a 29.6 per cent chance of triumphing, winning 2,959 of the 10,000 simulations.

The Clippers are next on the list and would win the championship in 18 per cent of cases, while the Raptors' title defence stands a 13.6 per cent chance of being successful, just ahead of the Boston Celtics on 13.4 per cent.

That means the Lakers are way down in fifth on our list of contenders, despite boasting LeBron James and Anthony Davis and enjoying a strong season to date.

Indeed, LeBron's team won the playoff tournament in just 848 of the 10,000 simulations - or a measly 8.5 per cent.
 

ORLANDO COULD YET CONJURE UP SOME MAGIC

The Bucks have a great opportunity to win the championship and they will certainly be expected to get through their first-round series against the Orlando Magic, the eighth seed in the East.

But do not count the Magic out entirely at this stage.

Orlando will have their work cut out if they are to get anyway near the Finals, let alone take home the trophy, but not every simulation saw the local side make an early exit.

Of the 10,000 simulations, six (0.06 per cent) actually saw the Magic go all the way and claim a stunning title triumph.

Steve Clifford's team are unsurprisingly least likely to win the championship, although the eighth seed in the West, the Blazers, are ranked ahead of the Brooklyn Nets, who came seventh in the East.

The Philadelphia 76ers and Indian Pacers are each also given less than a one per cent chance of becoming champions.
 

BUCKS IN SEVEN AFTER CLIPPERS SWEEP LAKERS?!

The playoffs can often feel too random for any model to contend with, but what if we ran the simulation just once?

Well, in that scenario, the Bucks still came out on top, but they were pushed all the way to seven games by the Clippers, requiring a remarkable fightback after going 3-1 down in the Finals. They won Game 7 112-90, however.

Both teams had come into that series full of momentum after 4-0 sweeps in the Conference Finals.

Milwaukee brushed aside the Sixers, who beat the odds to come past the Celtics and then the Raptors, while the Clippers battered rivals the Lakers, winning each game by more than 10 points.

Besides Philadelphia's shock run, the biggest upset in the bracket saw the sixth-seeded Utah Jazz sensationally beat the third-seeded Denver Nuggets 4-0.

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel is wary of NBA playoff opponents the Portland Trail Blazers as they boast the hottest player in the league in star Damian Lillard.

The top-seeded Lakers will face eighth seed the Trail Blazers in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs, starting Tuesday in Orlando.

Portland secured a date against LeBron James and the Lakers thanks to Saturday's play-in victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, with Lillard instrumental in the Trail Blazers' remarkable run to the postseason.

Lillard leads the NBA in scoring at Walt Disney World Resort since the restart with 37.6 points per game, including the play-in clash. He is also averaging 46.3 points in his past four games following a career-high 61 against the Dallas Mavericks earlier this month.

As the Lakers prepare to make their first playoff appearance since 2013, Vogel – in his maiden season with the storied franchise – praised Lillard and the Trail Blazers.

"Definitely not your typical eighth seed," Vogel said in a videoconference call on Sunday. "They've played at an elite level during this stretch in the bubble, at least offensively.

"And we've got a ton of respect for obviously Dame and CJ [McCollum] and [Jusuf] Nurkic, but really for their whole team and their whole culture. They've got a system that's been together for a number of years.

"They have the continuity piece, [Western] Conference Finals last year, so just a ton of respect for what they're bringing to the table."

Lakers star Anthony Davis also hailed Lillard, adding: "He's balling right now. He’s hot. He's doing whatever he's doing, whatever he can do to make his team win. He's carrying the load. Playing a ton of minutes.

"And so he's the head of the snake for their team. You gotta do your best to contain him and take away some of his tendencies. But they also have other guys who make plays as well.

"So they're a tough opponent, but everybody knows what level he's on and his mindset. And he's gonna go out there and do what he can to help his team win."

Meanwhile, Vogel said Rajon Rondo will clear quarantine on Monday, though there is no timetable for the Lakers guard's return.

Rondo has been sidelined with a fractured right thumb, forced to leave the Orlando bubble prior to the season resuming amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"I'm not sure exactly when he's going to be available to be in uniform," Vogel said. "We'll get him on the court and see where he's at. But no specific timetable yet on him."

With the regular season over, it's time for business in the Orlando bubble.

The Portland Trail Blazers completed the NBA's playoff bracket with their play-in win against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.

Now, Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks, the LeBron-James led Los Angeles Lakers and Kawhi Leonard's Los Angeles Clippers are among the teams vying for supremacy at Walt Disney World Resort.

With the postseason scheduled to start on Monday, we use STATS data to preview the first-round series.

Eastern Conference

Milwaukee Bucks (1) v Orlando Magic (8)

Eyeing their first NBA championship since 1971, the Bucks head into the opening-round series struggling for form.

The Bucks, who went 52-8 from their first 60 games, recorded a 4-9 win-loss ratio from their last 13 fixtures – becoming the first team in NBA history to have more losses in their final 13 regular-season games than they did in the entire season prior to that.

Inside the bubble but in familiar surroundings, the Magic have the chance to snap a playoff drought, despite the odds being stacked against them.

Not since 2010 have the Magic won a playoff series. Orlando swept the Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks en route to the Conference finals, before losing to the Boston Celtics. The Magic have since suffered first-round exits at the hands of the Hawks (2011), Indiana Pacers (2012) and Toronto Raptors (2019).

Toronto Raptors (2) v Brooklyn Nets (7)

Defending champions the Raptors have form on their side in pursuit of back-to-back championships.

Toronto went 27-5 over their last 32 games, easily the best record in the NBA during that period – ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder (21-10), Los Angeles Clippers (20-10), Bucks (20-11) and Celtics (21-13).

Nets star Spencer Dinwiddie has been one of the most clutch players this season, making an NBA-high seven go-ahead baskets in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime.

Dinwiddie's seven for 13 is better than the Denver Nuggets' Nikola Jokic (five), Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray of the Nuggets (both four).

Boston Celtics (3) v Philadelphia 76ers (6)

The Celtics renew hostilities with rivals the 76ers, having won the past four series between the two teams – Philadelphia have not claimed a series against Boston in the playoffs since 1982.

Philadelphia's hopes will rest on Joel Embiid in the absence of injured fellow All-Star Ben Simmons, who is the only player in NBA history to average 8.0-plus rebounds and 8.0-plus assists per game for his career.

The 76ers are 35-22 (.614 per cent) with Simmons in the team, while they are just 7-8 (.467 per cent) without the Australian star on the court. Philadelphia also allow more opposition points per game in his absence – 113.6 compared to 107.2.

Indiana Pacers (4) v Miami Heat (5)

All eyes will be on Indiana's T.J. Warren, who averaged 31.0 points per game with a .664 effective field-goal percentage this month following the restart.

Since 1985-86, the players with 30.0-plus points and a .650-plus effective field-goal percentage in a month (minimum five game played) are Charles Barkley (1990), Stephen Curry (2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019), Antetokounmpo (2017 and 2019) and Karl Anthony-Towns (2019).

With Heat pair Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson, Miami are the first NBA team to have two undrafted players averaging 13.0-plus points per game in the same season – minimum 70 per cent of team games played – since the Philadelphia Warriors in 1956-57 (Joe Graboski and Neil Johnston).

 

Western Conference

Los Angeles Lakers (1) v Portland Trail Blazers (8)

Making their first postseason appearance since 2013, the Lakers – who have a 74.6 per cent chance of winning this series using Stats Perform's advanced simulation tool – are one of the favourites to go all the way thanks to James and Anthony Davis.

James and Davis have combined well in LA, where the former has supplied 184 assists for the All-Star recruit this season – the most to one player in 2019-20, ahead of Damian Lillard to Hassan Whiteside (132). Three-time champion and four-time MVP James is also the second-oldest player to average 10 assists or more in a season in NBA history, with Steve Nash averaging 10.0-plus assists in each of his final three campaigns.

This will be the second playoff meeting between James and Carmelo Anthony. James and the Heat eliminated Anthony and the New York Knicks in the first round in 2012. Both averaged 27.8 points in the series. James was the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, while Anthony was the third pick. Their matchups date back to high school, when LeBron was at St. Vincent St. Mary's and Carmelo at Oak Hill Academy.

Portland's go-to man Lillard leads the NBA in scoring inside the bubble at 37.6 per game, including the play-in clash. The Trail Blazers star is averaging 46.3 points in his past four games following a career-high 61 against the Dallas Mavericks earlier this month. He has contributed to Portland averaging a league-high 126.0 points per game at Walt Disney World Resort, while the Lakers have only managed 106.4 points per game – the second worst behind the Washington Wizards.

How about most points per game by team-mate duos? Lillard and CJ McCollum (52.2) are second to James Harden and Russell Westbrook (61.5) but ahead of third-placed James and Davis (51.4).

Los Angeles Clippers (2) v Dallas Mavericks (7)

Can Leonard claim consecutive NBA titles after leading the Raptors to their first champion last season? Well it all begins against the Mavericks.

Leonard – the 2019 Finals MVP – averaged a career-high 27.1 points per game this season, while he averaged 30.5 during last year's playoffs. The four-time All-Star has also averaged 31.0 points per game in three games against the Mavericks this term, with the Clippers sweeping the season series.

Led by Luka Doncic, the Mavericks boast the second-highest offensive rating ever – 113.7 – behind last year's Golden State Warriors (113.9). The Clippers have a 111.1 rating, tied with the Trail Blazers for second this season.

Doncic is averaging 30.0 points, 10.1 assists and 9.7 rebounds in the bubble. The reigning Rookie of the Year also has three triple-doubles, including a 20-rebound triple-double.

Denver Nuggets (3) v Utah Jazz (6)

A Jazz team boasting the likes of Joe Ingles and Mitchell are the best three-point shooting team at 38.0 per cent, though Utah went 2-5 in their last seven regular-season games – allowing 110-plus points per game.

Rudy Gobert is also one shy of 250 career double-doubles as the Jazz look to avenge their season sweep at the hands of the Nuggets, though each game was decided by six or fewer points.

The Nuggets made the Conference semi-finals last season, snapping a five-year playoff drought. Jovic will be key for Denver, having averaged 7.0 assists per game for a second successive season – the most by any center in the NBA.

Houston Rockets (4) v Oklahoma City Thunder (5)

It will be a reunion as Harden, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul face their former teams.

The Rockets have advanced to at least the second round of the playoffs in three straight seasons and their hopes will depend on the team's starting five – their starters are averaging 89.1 points per game, the most in the league.

Former Thunder star Harden is also coming off his third consecutive season averaging 30 or more points per game (34.3 in 2019-20). He is the franchise's all-time leader in postseason assists (510) and second in points (2,061) behind Hakeem Olajuwon (3,727).

Westbrook, who arrived from the Thunder in a blockbuster trade at the start of the season, is second all-time for Oklahoma City in playoff points (2,489), behind Kevin Durant's 2,620, third in rebounds (686), first in assists (778) and first in steals (184).

The Thunder, boasting ex-Rockets guard Paul, have not progressed beyond the first round of the postseason since 2016 after blowing a 3-1 lead against the Warriors in the Conference Finals.

The NBA bubble has already produced plenty of storylines and the playoffs have not even started yet.  

The coronavirus pandemic forced the league to think outside the box, leading to games being played within a bio-secure one. Through careful planning and at great expense, a plan was drawn up to take the show on the road to Orlando, Florida. 

Walt Disney World is used to delivering entertainment; the resumption of the basketball season has not disappointed on that front, aided by a revised structure that offered several teams renewed hope. 

Amid great uncertainty during a global health crisis, the players and teams bought into the proposal to deliver sporting drama to an eager audience watching on from afar. 

Scoring climbed upon the resumption – the average rose by 4.3 points per game per team – while the absence of the bottom feeders, those teams too far back to contend and already focused on the next campaign and beyond, led to a slight rise in the number of close contests.  

"It's better than what we had envisioned," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. "Players have taken to it in a more spirited way than we thought they would.   

"We knew that this would require enormous sacrifice on everyone's part, but I think that what is hard to calibrate - and this maybe goes to my experience when I first came into the arena - is the human emotion that comes with being around other people. And I think everyone realised they missed it more than they even understood." 

Now the initial 22-team field is down to 16, the Portland Trail Blazers confirmed in the final playoff spot after coming through a play-in tournament, one of several changes put in place due to a shortened regular season.  

The top seeds will be the focus moving forward now, but others have claimed the spotlight during the action seen so far.

RED-HOT SUNS CATCH FIRE 

The Phoenix Suns are done for the campaign despite winning all eight seeding games, another new concept from the NBA that condensed the race to qualify in both conferences.  

They were always a long shot to make it, but that did not stop Monty Williams' roster from giving it their all to make up the gap. They ended up making unwanted history, becoming the first team to finish the season on a winning streak of eight or more games and still not make the playoffs. 

Phoenix's eight straight wins all came while scoring 110 or more points in every game, matching the longest such streak in franchise history (having also done so between November 23 and December 9 way back in 1971).  

Their average points per game increased from 112.6 to 122.3, while they were successful with 40.2 per cent of their attempts from deep. The Suns were also outstanding from the free throw line, shooting 90 per cent, not to mention on social media.

Devin Booker was a major reason for the sudden hot streak. The guard averaged 30.5 points in Florida and provided one of the more memorable moments during the seeding games, hitting a buzzer-beating game-winner to down the Los Angeles Clippers.  

Booker had 20 or more points in every outing and while they missed out on the playoffs for a 10th straight season, Phoenix's form in the sunshine state provides renewed hope for the future. 

"I just think that we have a group that wanted to come here and wanted to prove to the world that they were worthy of being here," Williams said. They certainly did that.

LILLARD BLAZES A TRAIL 

The Suns only narrowly missed out on a play-in place to the Memphis Grizzlies, who owned the tie-breaker between the pair after both finished with identical 34-39 records in a competitive Western Conference.  

Memphis had arrived in Orlando sitting in eighth but dropped down a spot due to the form of the Trail Blazers, who piggybacked Damian Lillard's hot hand to go 6-2 following the restart.  

Lillard was unsurprisingly named bubble MVP, as he finished top for points, averaging an outstanding 37.6 a game, and three-pointers, hitting 44 to finish 10 ahead of team-mate Gary Trent Jr.   

The point guard had 154 points in a three-game run at one stage, just shy of the 158 he managed during a similar span back in January. His tally of 71 successful free throws, meanwhile, put him behind only James Harden (73).  

But it was not just about the scoring for Lillard, who also averaged 9.6 assists per outing for a Blazers roster who will hope to continue their fine form when they face the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs.  

To put Lillard's performances into context, the five-time NBA All-Star is the only player since the league merger to have 150-plus points, as well as 25 or more assists, in a three-game spell – and he has done it twice this season.  

If his feats on the court were not enough, the 30-year-old has also found the time to drop three tracks on a new EP titled "Live From The Bubble". Both on and off the court, Lillard has capitalised on the opportunities presented to him during this unique campaign, one that is far from over for him and his team just yet. 

The playoffs will be different, of course. They always are. The Lakers will focus on stopping Portland's top scoring option, but without Lillard's recent efforts the Trail Blazers would surely have missed out on even getting a shot at causing an upset in the opening round.

SEEDS OF CONCERN FOR LAKERS?

And what of the Lakers, the top seeds in the West who are preparing for a first playoff appearance since 2013?  

They always had a long-term goal in mind, knowing the seeding games allowed key personnel to get enough minutes to be primed for bigger challenges ahead while still having plenty left in the tank.  

Coach Frank Vogel has also experimented with rotations with one eye on the not-too-distant future, so it is understandable that the overall numbers have dropped of late.  

Still, the Lakers ranked first in field goal percentage and fourth for effective field goal percentage when the season was halted in March -they were 19th and 21st in those respective categories in Florida.  

Indeed, the statistics where they saw numbers increase while going 3-5 was in turnovers and opposition scoring, which jumped to 113.4 points per game (instead of 106.9 earlier in the campaign).  

LeBron James and Anthony Davis also dipped in terms of production, the latter averaging 21.6 points, way down from his previous number of 26.7, in seven outings. 

The drop in output should not raise too many alarms, particularly with both stars in the conversation to be crowned overall MVP.  

Yet the Lakers will understand the unprecedented circumstances have altered the outlook for all teams still standing, particularly as home advantage no longer exists within the bubble. 

The seedings run was fun - now it is time to get serious. Those still alive will fight it out to discover who will be crowned champions at the end of a season that will never be forgotten.

The Portland Trail Blazers came through a back-and-forth play-in game against the Memphis Grizzlies with a 126-122 win to set up a first-round playoff series with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Portland's form in the 'bubble' saw them leapfrog the Grizzlies into the eighth seed, meaning they needed just a single win on Saturday to advance, where Memphis would have needed back-to-back victories.

At various stages throughout the game, the Grizzlies looked capable of teeing up a rematch, recovering from a tough first quarter and then seizing the lead by scoring 42 points in the third.

But the Blazers' key names stood up to the task, as Damian Lillard - the NBA's form star - contributed 31 points and 10 assists, while Jusuf Nurkic had 22 points and 21 rebounds.

And it was CJ McCollum who closed the game out in dominant fashion, making two vital late shots against Ja Morant, including a three-pointer straight over the rookie to secure a four-point lead inside the last two minutes.

"He can't guard me," yelled McCollum, who finished on 29 points. Morant had been Memphis' top performer on 35 points and eight assists.

The Portland Trail Blazers dramatically set up a Western Conference play-in showdown against the Memphis Grizzlies as the red-hot Phoenix Suns missed out on the NBA playoffs.

Portland clinched the eighth seed in the west thanks to a nail-biting 134-133 win over the Brooklyn Nets in Orlando, Florida on Thursday.

The Suns improved to 8-0 at Walt Disney World Resort with a 128-102 victory against the Dallas Mavericks, and needed a Nets win to secure a play-in spot.

However, Damian Lillard's heroics of 42 points and 12 assists ensured the Trail Blazers clinched a play-in date against the Grizzlies – who trumped the Milwaukee Bucks 119-106 earlier in the day.

The Trail Blazers finished with a 35-39 record, ahead of the Grizzlies (34-39). Portland will only have to beat Memphis once in order to secure a playoff berth against the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers, while the Grizzlies require two wins against the Trail Blazers.

Phoenix (34-39) are the first team in NBA history to end the regular season on an eight-plus game winning streak and still miss the playoffs. The last team to do that in any of the four major sports were NHL's the Philadelphia Flyers in 1992-93, per STATS.

 

LeBron ends regular season as assist king

The Lakers lost 136-122 to the Sacramento Kings but LeBron James was still crowned the assist king in 2019-20. James had 17 points in 15 minutes, all in the first half. The three-time NBA champion and four-time MVP ends the regular season averaging a league-best 10.2 assists per game, ahead of the Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young (9.3). The 35-year-old also reached double figures in points in his 995th consecutive game.

Lillard has 154 points across his past three games, the second most by any player in a three-game span this season – behind himself in January (158). Per STATS, the last player with 150-plus points in two separate three-game spans in a season was Wilt Chamberlain in 1964-65.

Devin Booker put up 27 points as the Suns stayed unbeaten since the NBA's restart following the coronavirus pandemic, but it was not enough.

Dillon Brooks' 31 points led the way for the Grizzlies, while he was aided by team-mates Jonas Valanciunas (26 points, 19 rebounds, 12 assists) and Ja Morant (12 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists).

Jusuf Nurkic scored 22 points and 10 rebounds, while CJ McCollum had 25 points for the Trail Blazers. Caris LeVert finished with 37 points for the Nets.

 

Spurs' record-tying playoff streak over

The Spurs will not feature in the NBA playoffs for the first time in 23 years. San Antonio's absence from the postseason for the first time since 1996-97 was confirmed prior to their 118-112 loss to the Utah Jazz.

 

Dame from the arc

Lillard continues to prove his worth for the Blazers. Instrumental to Portland's play-in berth, Lillard highlighted his quality with a flurry of threes.

 

Thursday's results

Washington Wizards 96-90 Boston Celtics
Sacramento Kings 136-122 Los Angeles Lakers
Memphis Grizzlies 119-106 Milwaukee Bucks
Phoenix Suns 128-102 Dallas Mavericks
Utah Jazz 118-112 San Antonio Spurs
Portland Trail Blazers 134-133 Brooklyn Nets
Orlando Magic 133-127 New Orleans Pelicans

 

Regular season concludes

Friday will see teams play their final regular-season games before the playoffs start on August 17. The Denver Nuggets face the Toronto Raptors, the Miami Heat meet the Indiana Pacers, the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the Los Angeles Clippers and the Houston Rockets play the Philadelphia 76ers.

LeBron James outlined the importance of Kyle Kuzma to the Los Angeles Lakers in their bid to be crowned NBA champions this year. 

Despite James and Anthony Davis being on the floor, Kuzma was the hero for the Lakers on Monday, hitting a three-pointer inside the final second that clinched a 124-121 win over the Denver Nuggets. 

Kuzma finished with 25 points and said after his game-winner: "Jesus could be in front of me and I'd probably still shoot".

Such confidence could be crucial in the coming weeks, with James making clear how the Lakers will need more than just himself and Davis to prevail in the playoffs.

"In order for us to win a championship, he [Kuzma] has to be our third best player," James told the media.

"If I'm struggling or AD is struggling, he has to be our second best player on any given night.  

"We can't win a championship if 'Kuz' doesn't play well."

The Lakers have already wrapped up the number one seed in the Western Conference, yet James insisted there is still work to do in the Orlando bubble to be ready for what is to come.

Asked during his post-game media call where, on a scale of one to 10, he ranked the Lakers in terms of being playoff ready, he replied: "I don't know, I don't think we're a 10. We shouldn't be a 10, because there is different type of preparation that goes into a playoff game.  

"You spend hours and hours on teams, because you know you're going to be locked into them for at least four games. 

"During the regular season, or throughout these eight games, you really only have a day, sometimes not even a full day, to lock in on a team and start preparing for the next one. 

"For me personally, as far as mentally, I don't feel like I'm in playoff mode. Physically, I'm getting there. I feel like I'm getting better and better, my game has improved and I'm getting more and more comfortable with the bubble. 

"As far as the mental side of it, I don't think I'm there and I'm not sure our team is – but we will be.

"It's a different type of mindset you have to be in, but you don't want to jump into it before you're actually there."

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma said "Jesus could be in front of me and I'd probably still shoot" after nailing the game winner over the Denver Nuggets' Bol Bol.

Kuzma made a three-pointer with 0.4 seconds remaining as the Lakers topped the Nuggets 124-121 in Orlando, Florida on Monday.

Towering Nuggets center Bol Bol contested Kuzma as time expired at Walt Disney World Resort, where the latter was the hero.

Speaking afterwards, the Lakers' Kuzma – who finished with 25 points – was full of confidence as he joked.

"I think Jesus could be in front of me and I'd probably still shoot. It don't really matter to me," Kuzma said.

"I got an open look, it was a play that we kind of ran in practice a few times prior to the restart. Coach had faith in me, he just called my number and it paid off."

Kuzma added: "I'm starting on most teams in this league and everyone knows it. It just so happens I'm playing behind the two best players in the NBA [LeBron James and Anthony Davis]."

Kyle Kuzma was the hero as the Los Angeles Lakers trumped the Denver Nuggets 124-121 in the NBA on Monday.

Kuzma nailed a three-pointer with 0.4 seconds remaining to see the Lakers past Western Conference rivals the Nuggets at Walt Disney World Resort.

The Lakers forward finished with 25 points in Orlando, while LeBron James put up a double-double of 29 points and 12 assists as Anthony Davis contributed 27 points.

The Milwaukee Bucks were missing key players, but the Eastern Conference's top seed still made unwanted NBA history.

In the absence of reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee went down 114-106 to defending champions the Toronto Raptors, who were also without Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet.

With the loss, the Bucks – who went 52-8 in their first 60 games of the season – fell to 3-8 from their past 13 outings.

The Bucks became the first team in NBA history to have as many or more losses over their final 13 games as they did the entire season prior to that, per STATS.

 

 

Booker stars again as Suns stay perfect

The Phoenix Suns improved to 6-0 inside the Orlando bubble since the league's restart after defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder 128-101. Devin Booker led the way again with 35 points, including 14-for-14 from the free throw line.

Jimmy Butler (19 points and 11 rebounds) posted a double-double in his return from a foot injury as the Miami Heat closed in on the Eastern Conference fourth seed by topping the Indiana Pacers 114-92.

 

O'Neale headlines Jazz's woes

Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale was scoreless in a 122-114 loss at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks. O'Neale was 0 of four from the field, while he missed all three of his attempts from beyond the arc in 14 minutes. Jordan Clarkson (18) was the only Jazz starter to shoot double-digit points.

It was a tough outing for the Thunder, who were held to just 17 points in the third quarter against the Suns. Oklahoma City managed just 37 points in the second half.

 

CP3 the architect

Chris Paul provided the lob for Thunder team-mate Darius Bazley to dunk emphatically.

 

Monday's results

Phoenix Suns 128-101 Oklahoma City Thunder
Dallas Mavericks 122-114 Utah Jazz
Toronto Raptors 114-106 Milwaukee Bucks
Miami Heat 114-92 Indiana Pacers
Los Angeles Lakers 124-121 Denver Nuggets

 

Suns face 76ers

The Suns will look to stay hot when they take on the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday. The 76ers will be without All-Star pair Joel Embiid (ankle) and Ben Simmons (knee).

TJ Warren overshadowed LeBron James' return as the Los Angeles Lakers slumped to a third successive NBA loss, while Luka Doncic dazzled on Saturday.

Back after a groin injury, Lakers star James had 31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in 35 minutes but could not stop the Indiana Pacers and their thriving small forward from claiming a 116-111 victory.

Warren, a revelation since entering the NBA bubble, continued his incredible scoring run with 39 points on 15-of-22 shooting.

In the final minute, he hit a floater, a pull-up jumper and a clutch three-pointer over Anthony Davis to earn the Pacers a fourth win from five games at Walt Disney World Resort.

All-Star guard Doncic and reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo did not disappoint in their duel, sharing 70 points between them as the Dallas Mavericks outlasted the Milwaukee Bucks 136-132 in overtime.

Doncic did the business for Dallas, delivering a decisive triple-double with 36 points, 19 assists and 14 rebounds.

 

Pain for Mitchell, better for Booker

Donovan Mitchell's nerveless 35-point performance was not enough to help the Utah Jazz avoid a 134-132 defeat to the Denver Nuggets in double overtime, a thrilling game that included 30 points and 11 rebounds from Nikola Jokic.

Devin Booker's 35 points proved more valuable for the Phoenix Suns, who beat the Miami Heat 119-112 to stay undefeated since the restart.

 

Lillard's let down

After trading taunts with the Los Angeles Clippers, Damian Lillard let his opponents have the last laugh when he wasted two clutch free throws and missed a three-point attempt late in the Portland Trail Blazers' 122-117 loss.

 

Doncic's delicious dime

The Mavericks' main man went between the legs for one of his 19 assists.

Saturday's results

Los Angeles Clippers 122-117 Portland Trail Blazers
Denver Nuggets 134-132 Utah Jazz (2OT)
Indiana Pacers 116-111 Los Angeles Lakers
Phoenix Suns 119-112 Miami Heat
Dallas Mavericks 136-132 Milwaukee Bucks (OT)

 

Trail Blazers face 76ers

Lillard and the Trail Blazers (32-39), ranked ninth in the Western Conference, know they cannot afford any errors when they face the Philadelphia 76ers (42-27) on Sunday.

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.

LeBron James says the basketball community "couldn't care less" if president Donald Trump refuses to watch the NBA because players take a knee during the national anthem.

Trump on Wednesday told Fox News he thinks it is "disgraceful" that players do not stand for the Star-Spangled Banner before matches.

Players have repeatedly stated they take a knee to protest against police brutality and social injustice and have no intention of causing insult to the flag, military or nation.

Yet Trump said: "I think it's disgraceful. We work with [the NBA]. We work very hard trying to get them open. I was pushing them to get open. And then I see everyone kneeling during the anthem. It's not acceptable to me.

"When I see them kneeling, I just turn off the game. I have no interest in the game. When I see people kneeling during the playing and disrespecting our flag and disrespecting our national anthem, what I do, personally, is turn off the game."

Trump also said he has done more for the black community than any other president, with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln.

That comment brought a smile from James, who replied when asked about that particular statement: "Trying to make me laugh right now? I appreciate it."

Los Angeles Lakers star James said it will be no loss to the basketball world if Trump is not watching and hopes Americans do their talking in the November elections.

"I really don't think the basketball community are sad about losing his viewership," he added after the Lakers were beaten 105-86 by the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday.

"That's all I really want to say because I already know where this could go and where it could lead to for me. I'm not going to get into it, but I think our game is in a beautiful position.

"We have fans all over the world and our fans not only love the way we play the game. We try to give it back to them with our commitment to the game, but also respect what else we bring to the game with knowledge of what's right and what's wrong.

"I hope everyone – no matter their race, colour, size – would see what leadership we have at the top of our country and understand that November is right around the corner and it's a big moment for us as Americans.

"We talk about 'we want better, we want change', and we will have an opportunity to do that.

"But the game will go on with his eyes on [or] without his eyes on it. I can speak for everyone who loves the game of basketball: we couldn't care less."

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