LeBron James hopes the return of the NBA can "spread a lot of love throughout the world" after he scored the winning basket in the Los Angeles Lakers' victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

James followed up his own miss by being alert to grab the decisive points in a 103-101 win with 12.8 seconds to go when the season resumed in the Orlando bubble on Thursday.

Players took a knee wearing tops in support of the Black Lives Matters movement before the first NBA action since March got under way behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Four-time NBA MVP James says NBA stars can play a major part in raising spirits all over the world.

"The game of basketball has always been bigger than just a ball and a rim, 10 guys on a field and referees. It's an opportunity to use this platform to spread a lot of positivity, a lot of love throughout the world," James said in an on-court interview.

"We understand what's going on in society right now and we are using this NBA platform as players, as coaches, as organisations to continue to stand strong on that.

"This is a good start tonight, it's good to have the NBA back and I hope our fans are proud of us tonight."

James stressed the importance of the league and players continuing to take a stand against racial inequality.

"There has been progress, but in the past when we've seen progress, we've let our foot off the gas a little bit," he said.

"We can't do that, we want to continue to keep our foot on the gas, continue to push forward, continue to spread love throughout America.

"We are dealing with a lot of racism, a lot of social injustice, a lot of police brutality, not only in my neighbourhood, not only with black people, with people of colour and it's something that we want to continue to have people's ears open to.

"We have ears now, but we cannot stop putting our foot on the gas, as we've been doing for the last few months."

Anthony Davis is focused on helping the Los Angeles Lakers build rhythm after leading the way in a 103-101 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Davis starred with 34 points as the Lakers edged their rivals on Thursday, the NBA season restarting in Florida amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While the Lakers (50-14) moved closer to clinching the number one seed in the Western Conference, Davis said the focus was on improvement.

"That four months off was definitely a tough one for us, we're just trying to get our chemistry and rhythm back, especially since a lot of guys didn't play in that preseason," he told Spectrum SportsNet.

"Especially me with the eye injury, just want to get a rhythm back with these guys.

"We're going to keep playing each game, we're not going to look forward to seeding or nothing like that, we just want to come out and keep playing."

No fans are allowed to attend games in the NBA bubble due to COVID-19, which suspended the regular season in March.

Davis noticed a slight difference, but was happy with the atmosphere.

"It's always a great battle with these two teams. It wasn't that bad," he said.

"When you're out there playing, you're locked into the game and don't hear anything else.

"It wasn't quite Staples [Center], especially the intros … but it wasn't bad.

"A lot of people had a lot of concerns just how it was going to be, but it turned out pretty well."

LeBron James scored the go-ahead basket as the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers returned to NBA action with a 103-101 victory against rivals the Los Angeles Clippers.

James' layup with 12.8 seconds remaining ensured the Lakers topped the Clippers to move a step closer to clinching the number one seed in the west in Orlando, Florida on Thursday.

The Lakers – led by Anthony Davis' 34 points and a 16-point, 11-rebound James double-double – are six-and-a-half games clear of the Clippers in the Western Conference.

Paul George top scored for the Clippers with 30 points, while Kawhi Leonard added 28 of his own.

The Lakers-Clippers showdown was the second game in a doubleheader as the NBA resumed with the Utah Jazz outlasting the New Orleans Pelicans at Walt Disney World Resort.

COVID-19 forced the 2019-20 season to be postponed in March, but the league restarted behind closed doors, with all four teams kneeling in unison during the United States national anthem.

Four-time MVP James and the Lakers dusted off some early rust to earn bragging rights against Leonard and the Clippers.

The Lakers raced out of the blocks to lead 35-23 at the end of the opening quarter, but the Clippers moved ahead by 11 points midway through the third period.

In the final quarter, George nailed a three-pointer with less than two minutes remaining to reduce the Lakers' lead to 99-98 before hitting another shot from beyond the arc to level the game at 101-apiece 29 seconds from the end.

Three-time champion James, however, came up big with the late layup and a strong defensive effort on George, who missed a buzzer-beating three.

Anthony Davis is confident he will be fit to play when the Los Angeles Lakers face the LA Clippers in their NBA restart opener in Orlando on Thursday.

Davis returned to practice on Wednesday having been sidelined due to a poke in the eye during the Lakers' scrimmage game against the Orlando Magic.

"The eye is getting better, way better than when I initially got this," Davis told reporters.

"I'm moving in the right direction. That's the plan, for me to play."

The seven-time All Star practiced in protective goggles but is hopeful he can resume competitive action without the eyewear.

"It was definitely different in practice," he said. "It felt different. I won't necessarily have to wear them tomorrow, it's just a precautionary thing.

"If I need them, they're there. I didn't want the first time of me wearing them to be in a game.

"I wanted to test them in practice. As practice went on, I got more and more used to them."

The setback of his improving eye injury aside, Davis feels refreshed as the Lakers prepare to restart their bid for championship glory.

"I think it was good for everybody," he said of the enforced, league-wide hiatus.

"I think guys did a good job of using that time wisely to take care of their bodies and making sure they came back ready."

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.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said he will not be turning off his phone during the NBA postseason amid the coronavirus pandemic.

James usually imposes a social-media blackout for the playoffs – the three-time champion staying away from Twitter and Instagram between April and June in his quest for NBA glory.

But the COVID-19 crisis has changed those plans, James determined to stay in contact with his family while he and the Lakers are based in the Orlando bubble for the league's restart.

The NBA has been postponed since March due to coronavirus, but the 2019-20 season will resume on Thursday, with the Lakers facing rivals the Los Angeles Clippers at Walt Disney Resort.

"It's definitely going to have a different mindset, different feel to it," James said on a video conference call on Tuesday.

"I won't be turning my phone off during this run. I can't afford to. I have to continue to check in with my family every single day."

James, who was averaging 25.7 points, 10.6 assists and 7.9 rebounds per game for the Western Conference-leading Lakers prior to the postponement, added: "Making sure everything is still going well, especially in the uncertainty of what 2020 has brought to all of us. So I can't afford to do that, just lose direct contact with everybody."

"The communication can always be consistent and the leadership can always be consistent, and that's one thing I've always had control over," the four-time MVP and 35-year-old continued.

"But you can't replicate actual presence when you're waking up and you're in the living room or you're in the kitchen, or you're outside playing with your kids or playing with your daughter, playing video games with your boys or working out with your boys. You can't replicate that. I'm not there.

"But [wife] Savannah is a beast at what she does: That's controlling the home and being that rock for our family. So I'm not worried about that. But you definitely, you have that miss factor when you miss your family, you miss your kids and things of that nature.

"But I thank Steve Jobs a lot and the team at Apple for having FaceTime, because that is a beautiful thing to have, especially during a time like this."

Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis could sit out Thursday's NBA return against rivals the Los Angeles Clippers due to an eye injury.

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said All-Star Davis is considered "day-to-day" after he was poked in the eye during Saturday's scrimmage against the Orlando Magic.

Davis did not participate in practice on Tuesday as the Lakers prepare for the 2019-20 season to resume via a 22-team format in Orlando, Florida after the league was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"He's day-to-day, and while he's still dealing with discomfort there is some concern that he could potentially not play Thursday," Vogel told reporters via a video conference on Tuesday.

"But we're hopeful that he does, and we'll see how that plays out. He's going to continue to be evaluated each day."

Davis left the 119-112 victory over the Magic at Walt Disney Resort, having put up nine points and 10 rebounds.

The 27-year-old was averaging 26.7 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game for the Western Conference-leading Lakers prior to the postponement.

"I don't know if I'm allowed to really get into the details of it, other than that's what they told me to report," Vogel added. "So that's all I can give you."

Giannis Antetokounmpo starred as the Milwaukee Bucks lost on Monday, while the Los Angeles Clippers also went down in a scrimmage game.

Antetokounmpo scored 30 points to go with eight rebounds in a 124-103 defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans.

JJ Redick led the Pelicans with 20 points in just over 15 minutes off the bench.

It was the Bucks' final scrimmage game before they restart their NBA season against the Boston Celtics on Friday.

Also playing their final scrimmage, the Clippers – also considered championship contenders – were edged 106-102 by the Sacramento Kings.

Paul George (19 points) was solid, while Kawhi Leonard went six-of-22 from the field for his 17 points.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers posted a 123-116 victory over the Washington Wizards.

LeBron James' remarkable consistency and the way he has silenced his detractors are the main arguments why he should be the NBA's MVP, says Los Angeles Lakers team-mate Anthony Davis.

It was decided the 2019-20 award would be decided on performances prior to the league's suspension in March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Superstar James, reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and others in the conversation will consequently not have the opportunity to enhance their claims when the season resumes at the NBA's bubble at Walt Disney Resort.

Prior to the NBA being halted, 35-year-old James was averaging 25.7 points, 10.6 assists and 7.9 rebounds per game.

Davis has had a close-up view of playing with James and thinks his team-mate has strong claims for the prize. 

"The thing's he's doing at his age [make it a good argument]," Davis told reporters of James, who is a four-time MVP. 

"He's playing probably one of his best years, we're the top team in the west, the things he's able to do on the floor, especially when everyone says he's washed and should hang it up and all these things he came back with a dominant performance.

"Then just to be in the race at his age, this part of his career, for me to see it every night, and on a consistent basis, not just three or four games here, he does it every night, he's been doing it all his career, it's a good argument for him to be MVP."

Davis is in also in the race for individual honours, with the 27-year-old among the favourites for the Defensive Player of the Year award.

Asked to assess his own chances, he said: "I don't have a case. 

"I let my team-mates decide and the fans decide, but I just go out there and play hard every night. 

"My biggest impact that I think I have is defensively. I love playing defense, I love stopping other players, making it tough on other players, so that's my case in a nutshell.

"But I'm pretty sure coach has some good things, and I'm pretty sure if you guys ask LeBron he'll have a whole list for you guys. 

"I just go out there and try to be great and lead my team on the defensive end, and the guys get better each and every night."

Giannis Antetokounmpo insists his main focus is on improving his game and lifting the NBA title with Milwaukee Bucks, rather than winning more individual honours.

The 25-year-old was named the league's Most Valuable Player last season, becoming the first Bucks player to win the accolade since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1974.

And he looks poised to make it back-to-back MVP triumphs thanks to some incredible displays before the campaign was suspended by the coronavirus pandemic in March.

The voting for the MVP and other individual regular-season awards is over ahead of the July 30 restart, with "seeding games" not being included to ensure a fair process.

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James made his claim for a fifth Maurice Podoloff Trophy by declaring he knows what he is capable of, but biggest challenger Antetokounmpo is not focused on the award.

"I know there's going to be a lot talk about the MVP award. That's not my main focus," he told a news conference on Tuesday when asked about James' comments.

"I've got to get better, win games, help my team play good basketball, try to win the big trophy - the last time we did that was 1971."

Antetokounmpo was averaging 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game when the NBA was suspended amid the COVID-19 crisis.

And the reigning MVP admits he has been working on his game during the lockdown, having previously stunned fans by claiming he did not own a basketball hoop at his home.

"Anybody out there that thought I didn't have access to a gym, they don't really know me," he said. "I just said that trying to get a little ahead of the competition."

The Bucks are in action against San Antonio Spurs on Thursday - their first action in four months - and Antetokounmpo is in line to feature after recovering from a knee injury.

"What I want to do is basically just try to get in shape and get in basketball shape," he said. "It doesn't matter how long I play. 

"If I play 10 minutes, 15 minutes, the whole game, I'm just gonna go as hard as I can because eventually when the season starts again and the play-offs start, that's what I got to do. 

"So you know, as long as I'm on the court, I'm just going to go as hard as I can."

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said he is not bothered by the decision to end the NBA's MVP race before the season resumes in Orlando.

The 2019-20 MVP will be determined based on games played up to when the league was suspended in March amid the coronavirus pandemic.

That means the likes of James and reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo will not have a chance to further stake their claims as the NBA prepares to return via a 22-team format at Walt Disney Resort on July 30.

James, however, told reporters on Monday: "I'm not disappointed because things happen. You control what you can control, and I can't control that.

"As far as the MVP race, I think that I've shown what I'm capable of doing. Not only individually but from a team's perspective, us being number one in the West."

The Lakers had played 63 of the 82-game regular season when the campaign was halted, Los Angeles boasting a Western Conference-best 49-14 record, with James leading the way.

After a difficult first season in Los Angeles, James had returned to his brilliant best for the Lakers in 2019-20 – the veteran's performances catapulting him into the mix for a fifth MVP award.

At the time of the NBA suspending the league, James had been averaging 25.7 points, 10.6 assists and 7.9 rebounds per game for the Lakers.

James, whose Lakers restart their campaign against rivals the Los Angeles Clippers on July 30, added: "There was a lot of conversation about, 'LeBron can do those things in the East, but if he ever came to the West, what could he do?'.

"So I heard all of that. To be able to have our team at the top of the Western Conference and playing the way that we were playing at that time and the way I was playing, it's definitely a good feeling."

The Los Angeles Lakers will be without Rajon Rondo for six to eight weeks after the veteran backup point guard sustained a fracture to his right thumb in practice on Sunday. 

Rondo averaged 7.1 points, 5.0 assists and 3.0 rebounds in 48 games with Los Angeles before the league was suspended on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Lakers, who were leading the Western Conference with a 49-14 record at the time, will resume their season on July 30 against the Los Angeles Clippers at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida. 

Rondo could return if the Lakers make a run in the playoffs, which are scheduled to begin on August 17. 

A first-round pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, the 34-year-old Rondo has averaged 10.2 points, 8.3 assists and 4.7 rebounds in 873 career regular-season games. He has earned four All-Star selections and been named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team twice. 

Rondo won an NBA championship with the Boston Celtics in his second season in the league in 2007-08. He has averaged 14.0 points, 9.3 assists and 6.1 rebounds in 105 career playoff games. 

The Lakers will also be without starting guard Avery Bradley for the NBA's restart after he opted out due to concerns over the coronavirus. Bradley averaged 8.6 points in 49 games this season. 

Following the lead of his fellow All-Star Los Angeles Lakers team-mate LeBron James, Anthony Davis said he will wear his last name on the back of his jersey instead of a social justice message when the NBA restarts its season in Orlando later this month.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday in a conference call following the Lakers' practice at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Davis said he chose to use his name over one of the NBA's 29 approved social justice slogans to continue to honour his family.

"I was kind of torn between the two," the seven-time All-Star said.

"I just think my last name is something that is very important to me, and social justice as well. But [I'm] just holding my family name and representing the name on the back to go through this process ... and people who have been with me through my entire career to help me get to this point."

James, one of the league's more outspoken players on the topic of racial inequality, said on Saturday that the available messages "didn't seriously resonate with my mission, with my goal".

"Everything that I do has a purpose, has a meaning," the four-time NBA MVP said. "I don't need to have something on the back of my jersey for people to understand my mission or know what I'm about and what I'm here to do."

Davis stressed his support of the social justice initiatives the NBA has planned when it returns from a hiatus of more than four months due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

"We'll have a ton of ways to represent what we stand for," he said.

Davis is averaging team-highs of 26.7 points and 9.4 rebounds per game for a Lakers team that enter the restart with a 5.5-game lead over cross-town rivals the Clippers for the best record in the Western Conference. The teams will face one another in the second game of an opening-night doubleheader when the league resumes play on July 30.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said on Saturday he will not wear a social justice message on his jersey during the NBA's season restart in Orlando, Florida.

Most NBA players have picked a social justice message to wear on the back of their jerseys starting later this month, but James is one of the few that declined to display one.

"It's no disrespect to the list that was handed out to all the players," James said on a video conference call.

"I commend anyone that decides to put something on the back of their jersey. It's just something that didn't seriously resonate with my mission, with my goal."

The NBA and Players Association agreed on several messages for jerseys, including Black Lives Matter, Say Their Names, Vote, I Can't Breathe and Equality. 

"Everything that I do has a purpose, has a meaning," James said. "I don't need to have something on the back of my jersey for people to understand my mission or know what I'm about and what I'm here to do."

James and the Lakers begin the season restart in the second game of an opening-night doubleheader against the Clippers on July 30.

The Lakers lead the Western Conference with a 49-14 record, 5.5 games ahead of the Clippers.

Dwight Howard has confirmed he will play for the Los Angeles Lakers when the NBA season resumes later this month.

The 2019-20 campaign will recommence on July 30 with a 22-team tournament in Orlando, Florida following the coronavirus-enforced break.

Last month, Lakers center Howard said the return of basketball would "only be a distraction" from the fight against social and racial injustice in the wake of protests across the world following the death of George Floyd in May.

Howard's agent admitted he was unsure if the eight-time All-Star would take part in the Orlando tournament, yet the Lakers center now intends to finish the campaign and donate the remainder of his salary to the 'Breathe Again' campaign.

"Yes, I will be joining my team in Orlando," Howard told CNN.

"I have a contractual obligation to my team-mates, to my fans, the Lakers, the organisation and everyone, but at the same time, I also have an obligation to my family and to my community.

"We will be getting a lot of work done here in Atlanta and around the nation as far as making sure people don't forget about us and what's going on in our communities."

On the importance of donating his salary, Howard added: "During my time in the bubble, I will use that time to talk about Breathe Again, and I'm going to use my salary - all the money, the paychecks that I'll be getting from going down in the bubble - to help push this Breathe Again [initiative], push our movement and just make sure that people don't forget about what's going on in our society."

The 49-14 Lakers have already confirmed their spot in the NBA post-season and have the best record in the Western Conference.

Howard, the first overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, is yet to win a championship ring.

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