The Golden State Warriors won a potential Western Conference Finals preview on Christmas Day and will look to mark the New Year by prevailing in another on the road at the Utah Jazz.

Golden State are tied for the best record in the NBA at 27-7 and the Warriors beat the team level with them, the Phoenix Suns, in Arizona on their previous away trip.

Since then, the Warriors have paid the price for a slow start in a narrow home defeat to the Denver Nuggets and seen a return clash in Colorado postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak within their opponents' camp.

That at least gave the Warriors the chance for extra rest ahead of a meeting with the red-hot Jazz, who are third in the conference with a 25-9 record and riding a five-game winning streak.

They maintained their winning run without star point guard Donovan Mitchell, who has missed the previous two games with a strained back, Rudy Gobert leading Utah to a 120-105 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers last time out.

Utah will hope Mitchell returns to set up a compelling matchup with the NBA's three-point king Stephen Curry, who became the first man to reach 3,000 career three-pointers in that defeat to the Nuggets.

Curry will predictably shoulder the scoring burden for the Warriors as the long-awaited return of his 'Splash Brother' Klay Thompson from a two-season-long absence grows closer.

With Draymond Green and Jordan Poole both in the NBA's coronavirus protocol, it may have to be a one-man show in Salt Lake City if the Warriors are to prevail, Golden State having scored under 90 points for the first time this season in the loss to Denver.



Golden State Warriors – Andrew Wiggins

Minus Curry's chief facilitator in Green and emerging young guard Poole, the primary support for the Warriors' main man must come from Wiggins.

The former number one overall pick has finally found a home with the Warriors and leads the team with an effective field goal percentage of 56.6.

Utah Jazz – Rudy Gobert

The man known as the Stifle Tower is enjoying a magnificent season.

France international Gobert leads the league in rebounds per game (14.9) and field goal percentage (71.6), while he is second for blocks per game (2.3). However, given Curry's tendency for feasting on centers, the Jazz will surely try to avoid getting him isolated on the Golden State star.

KEY BATTLE – Can Mitchell master Chef Curry?

Mitchell has been sensational when on the court this season. He is averaging 25.4 points per game while his plus-minus per game of 7.6 is the eighth-best in the NBA.

However, both those numbers are inferior to Curry, who is second in the league with 27.7 points and leads the NBA with an average plus-minus of 11.7.

Few players can claim to have come anywhere close to matching Curry's overall influence this campaign. Mitchell's ability to do so on New Year's Day could have a huge bearing on who eventually claims the one seed in the West.


The Warriors have won their past two games against the Jazz, though both of those triumphs came at home. Golden State's most recent win in the Beehive state came back in October 2018. 

James Harden felt "carelessness" on rebounds proved costly for the Brooklyn Nets as they were beaten by the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.

Despite the return from COVID-19 protocols of Kevin Durant, who put up 33 points, the Eastern Conference Leaders lost 110-102 at Barclays Center.

The Nets responded to falling behind in a high-scoring first quarter to lead by seven points in the third, Harden assisting Durant for two three-point jumpers in the space of 23 seconds.

However, Philadelphia mounted a late comeback before easing to a win that saw them improve to 19-16 for the season.

Harden tied Durant as top scorer for the Nets as he recorded a triple-double of 33 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists. It was his sixth of the season, a tally surpassed only by the Los Angeles Lakers' Russell Westbrook (eight).

Still, he was frustrated that they let their third-quarter lead slip by giving up too many opportunities.


"They've got more than enough talent to have a really good game after a really good first quarter," he said.

"We climbed back into the game, did a really good job locking down defensively and just doing what we were supposed to do. Obviously, 16 points in that second quarter, we got a chance in that third quarter, went up by eight or something, but we allowed them to get offensive rebounds and more shots in general.

"The rebounds were] a little bit of carelessness, a little bit of decision-making. I had a couple I wish I could have got back. That's the game right there. You talk about it in training camp, not allowing the opposing team to get so many more shots than us. Tonight was a case of that."

Next up for the Nets is a home game with the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday before they head to the Indiana Pacers next Wednesday, when Kryie Irving could make his first appearance of the season.

Irving, who was back on the practice court this week, is unvaccinated against COVID-19 and so is only able to play in road games due to New York City regulations.

Harden said of his team-mate: "He looked like Kyrie: elite. The same Kyrie. We're happy to have him back and we've got to get him on the court."

Title-winning NBA head coach Doc Rivers is "feeling good" despite entering the league's health and safety protocols on Thursday.

Dan Burke, who will step in as the Philadelphia 76ers acting coach in Rivers' absence, said the 60-year-old was in good health and spirits while isolating.

Rivers is one of seven NBA head coaches who has entered protocols, amid the rising COVID-19 surge around the league.

"He says he feels good. He's not the least bit worried," Burke told reporters about Rivers.

"If there's anybody who just takes things in stride and keeps it real and keeps it relative, it's Doc. That's the lead we've got to follow."

On Thursday, the 76ers are due to play the Eastern Conference-leading Brooklyn Nets who will be bolstered by the return of Kevin Durant after clearing protocols.

Rivers, who guided the Boston Celtics to the 2008 NBA title, has helped the 76ers to an 18-16 record this season.

Draymond Green has questioned the NBA as he felt the Denver Nuggets will gain an advantage after the cancellation of their clash with the Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors were set to face Denver in the second of a two-game showdown on Friday, but a coronavirus outbreak within Michael Malone's camp has forced the game to be called off.

The Nuggets were left without the necessary eight players for the clash to go ahead, while coach Malone entered the league's health and safety protocols on Thursday along with other staff members, including two assistant coaches, according to reports.

On the same day, forwards Jeff Green and Zeke Nnaji and guard Bones Hyland had also entered protocols, with injuries to several Nuggets players leaving them short-handed.

But Warriors forward Green, who was absent due to protocols for Tuesday's 89-86 loss to the Nuggets, was left frustrated by the postponement as he thinks his side will be disadvantaged by the decision.

"How do you continue to cancel games when you've implemented rules to prevent this from happening?" Green posted to Twitter. "Is that not a competitive advantage for other teams?

"The guys we didn't have due to the protocol list played no role in Tuesday's loss? Pick a side but don't straddle the fence.

"So when the game is rescheduled (which will probably take a day away from our "break"), we will play them at full strength... But they got to sneak a win when we weren't at full strength, only two days ago??? Let's make it make some sense here."

It is the 11th game to be postponed this season for coronavirus-related issues, though Green is worried about the scheduling issues it may cause.

The Golden State star added: "Not to mention, this will more than likely add a back to back to our schedule, which is also advantage Denver."

In Malone's absence, assistant coach David Adelman will reportedly serve as acting head coach for the Nuggets.

Malone is the seventh NBA coach to enter the protocols, joining Doc Rivers (Philadelphia), Frank Vogel (Lakers), Monty Williams (Phoenix), Billy Donovan (Chicago), Chauncey Billups (Portland) and Mark Daigneault (Oklahoma City).

The Warriors are next due to be in action against the Utah Jazz on Sunday when Denver face the Houston Rockets.

LeBron James applauded Ja Morant's performance as he led the Memphis Grizzlies to a 104-99 home win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers were ahead in the third quarter, but a dazzling display from Morant – including a late flourish – saw the Grizzlies come back from behind to claim victory.

The 22-year-old scored 41 points in total, the second time he has broken the 40-point barrier in two games against the Lakers this season.

James, who managed to equal a career-high record of eight three-pointers in the defeat, claimed the quality of Morant's shooting made him nearly unstoppable, with the Grizzlies star recording six for seven from beyond the arc.

"When you shoot the ball as well as he did tonight from the perimeter, with his speed and his athleticism, it's going be hard to contain a guy like that because he's doing the whole three levels of scoring," James said after the game.

"You can't, there's nothing you can do. He has you at his beck [and call]."

Lakers guard Malik Monk agreed with his team-mate, adding that the free throws his side gave away helped Morant find his range.

"We started fouling, man, and he went to the free throw line and started seeing the ball go in, and he got his rhythm that way," Monk said.

"And when a guy gets it going like that, there's not much you can do."

Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins credited Morant with leading by example and spurring the side on to victory from a losing position late on.

"What an unbelievable night by [Morant], the tone he was setting throughout the game," Jenkins said.

"When he got going, it just kind of fuelled everyone else, and we kind of just broke loose there in that third quarter."

Kyrie Irving admitted it has been tough to watch the Brooklyn Nets from the sidelines as he marked his return to the practice court on Wednesday.

Irving returned to Nets' practice for the first time since preseason after the franchise decided in October to make him unavailable due to New York City's vaccine mandate and his unvaccinated status.

The Nets reversed that decision a fortnight ago when they announced the 29-year-old would return on a part-time basis for away games, despite remaining unvaccinated, with the side short on numbers following a surge of players in the NBA's health and safety protocols.

Irving's return to the practice court was delayed by him entering protocols a day after the Nets' announcement earlier this month, but he has now been cleared.

"I'm incredibly grateful just to be back in the building," Irving told reporters speaking for the first time publicly since mid-October. "Welcomed back with open arms [from] my teammates, the whole organisation.

"I'm not going to lie, it has been relatively tough to watch from the sidelines with everything going on in the world. I know everybody is feeling it. Just praying for everybody to be healthy during these times."

Irving will only be permitted to play away games and head coach Steve Nash said he would need a couple of weeks to get into NBA-ready condition.

"If I get the opportunity to get on the court and play with my teammates, even if it is just on the road for away games, I am grateful for the opportunity," Irving said.

"I've missed so much time. It's my first day back around the block with the guys and it felt like it's been a long time.

"It's only been, what, three months or so, but it has felt like the days have been slowly crossed off the calendar while I am sitting at home. When I thought about [returning to practice] last night, I could barely sleep.

"I understood their [the Nets'] decision and respected it. I really had to sit back and think and try not to become too emotionally attached to what they were deciding to do. I had to really evaluate things and see it from their perspective, meaning the organisation, my teammates.

"I really empathised, and I understood their choice to say if you are not going to be fully vaccinated, then you can't be a full [participant]."

The Nets are currently top of the Eastern Conference with a 23-9 record and play the Philadelphia 76ers at the Barclays Center on Thursday, which Irving will be unavailable for.

Five of the Nets' next six games are at home.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been dealt a major blow after it was confirmed Ricky Rubio will miss the rest of the 2021-22 season.

Rubio buckled as he planted in the lane during the fourth quarter of Tuesday's road game at the New Orleans Pelicans.

The 31-year-old, who has played a big role in the Cavaliers' strong start to the season in his first year with the team, clutched his left knee and was in clear distress. He had to be helped to his feet and to the locker room for further assessment.

Rubio was unable to put any weight on his left leg and further tests on Wednesday revealed the guard had torn his anterior cruciate ligament, ending his campaign early. 

With Darius Garland having entered the NBA's Health and Safety Protocols, Rubio started at point against the Pelicans and had 27 points while adding 13 rebounds and nine assists in what was a 104-108 defeat for Cleveland.

Rubio had enjoyed a fine start to life with the Cavs, having averaged a joint career-high 13.1 points per game through 34 appearances since his arrival from the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Cavs sit fifth in the Eastern Conference, with a 20-14 record.

Stephen Curry has not quite got to grips with the fact every three he hits will be a new record, having reached 3,000 triples on a night where the Golden State Warriors failed to handle the Denver Nuggets.

Curry broke Ray Allen's all-time record this month and on Tuesday became the first man to 3,000, though he could not inspire the Warriors to victory.

Minus Draymond Green, the Warriors' best defender and Curry's chief facilitator, Golden State slumped to a 60-36 half-time deficit.

They clawed that back to trail by just three points in the closing stages of the fourth quarter, Curry getting to the 3,000 mark with a three-pointer in the third quarter.

But they could not avoid an 89-86 loss, falling to only their seventh defeat of the season.

Asked about his latest slice of NBA history, Curry told a post-game media conference: "It was cool to reach that milestone, it's a pretty awesome accomplishment in terms of it hadn't been done in NBA history.

"It's kind of a weird thought to think that in the rest of my career I'm pretty sure every three I make will be a new record. I'm just going to enjoy it."

Curry is not setting a target number he would like to reach at the end of his remarkable career.

"You don't really put limits on what can happen," he added. "You just hoop and enjoy yourself and see what happens when it's all said and done."

The Warriors still lead the Western Conference despite the defeat, with Curry encouraged by their second-half resilience.

"It all kind of went wrong during the first half, but I love the way we fought," he said.

"Pretty sure we're not a moral victory team but 29 other teams probably would have laid down and died with that type of first-half performance, but we gave ourselves a chance to tie the game with a minute and a half left. Pretty impressive."

Four-time NBA MVP LeBron James has brushed off retirement talk after recording a triple-double to help end the Los Angeles Lakers' five-game skid on Wednesday.

The Lakers overcame the Houston Rockets 132-123 with James finishing with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists with one steal and two blocks while Russell Westbrook added 24 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

The Lakers have struggled without center Anthony Davis who succumbed to an MCL sprain in the first of their five straight defeats, when they went down 110-92 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

James, who turns 37 on Thursday, had been unable to arrest the Lakers' slide in Davis' absence but would not be draw on retirement plans.

"I know I'm on the other side of the hill compared to the hill I was on before," James said at the post-game news conference.

"I've thought about it, where I'm at and whether I'm still playing at such a high level. I've done 19 [seasons] and I'm not gonna do another 19.

"We'll see where my body takes me and my mind takes me. As long as my mind is fresh and my body stays with that, I can play the game.

"I've put in enough hours and punched enough clocks to know when that time comes I'll be OK with it."

The Lakers had endured a frustrating stretch falling below .500, having not won since December 15 when they got past the Dallas Mavericks 107-104 in over-time until breaking that against the Rockets.

"This is the pros," James told reporters after the win over the Rockets. "The hardest thing in this league is to win.

"At any level, any pro, NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, WNBA, the hardest thing to do is to win. It doesn’t matter who you're playing against or who's on the floor, everyone was drafted or signed to this level for a reason.

"Any time you can get a win in this league you don’t take it for granted."

The Brooklyn Nets can count on Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge again after they were cleared to return from NBA health and safety protocols.

Durant, who was in a rich vein of form, has sat out the Nets' previous three games, while Aldridge has not featured in the past five.

They could be back on court for Thursday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Barclays Center, the first of a run of three at home for the Nets.

Kyrie Irving has also been released from the shackles of the same COVID-19 protocols, the NBA said on its official website.

Because Irving is unvaccinated and cannot play home games due to local restrictions in New York City, his return to action must wait.

Irving has not played all season but could be in the frame to be involved in the trip to the Indiana Pacers on January 5 or at the Chicago Bulls a week later.

The Nets lead the way in the Eastern Conference with a 23-9 record, after following up a Christmas Day win over the Los Angeles Lakers by beating the Clippers on Monday.


James Harden, freshly out of protocols, played lead roles in both those wins with hauls of 36 and 39 points, and now he is set to have elite support.

Durant leads the Nets in scoring this season with an average of 29.7 points per game, alongside 7.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists. 

The Nets have had three recent games postponed due to their roster being hard hit by absentees.

Steve Nash praised a "historically great" James Harden after he joined an exclusive club with his instrumental performance for the Brooklyn Nets against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Harden, having racked up 36 points in his first game since exiting the NBA's health and safety protocols in the Nets' Christmas Day win over the Los Angeles Lakers, backed that effort up with a 39-point display versus the Clippers, which also saw him register 15 assists and eight rebounds.

His showing in the 124-108 triumph saw Harden become the 10th player in NBA history with 20,000 points, 6,000 assists and 5,000 rebounds. 

Also in that club are Kobe Bryant, Clyde Drexler, John Havlicek, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Gary Payton, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Russell Westbrook.

And Nash said of the 2018 MVP: "He's historically great. The numbers he's put up are incredible.

"He's one of the best players of his generation and it's mind-boggling to think of all the numbers he's put up and all the success he's had.

"He's one of those very, very special players not only of his generation but historically. The numbers back it up."

On his spectacular return following his time in the protocol, Nash added: "You're expecting guys to feel their way back into it. But from the jump against the Lakers, again [v the Clippers], he's just been clinical.

"Just such a great head of the snake for us. When he plays like that we are very difficult to beat."

Asked if he felt he benefited from his two-week lay-off, Harden replied: "Probably. I was starting to feel good right before then…That break, Covid, or protocol, or rest, whatever you want to call it, it could've went two ways.

"I just locked in on my body, my eating, and when I was able to start working out, my workouts. I felt good. My body felt good.

"I'm trying to make sure my body feels great so I can continue to keep going up in the regular season and preparing for the playoffs. 

"Individually I have to make sure I'm in the best shape and I'm the best James that I can be for my team-mates.

"If I'm in that form, good things will happen for my team."

James Harden scored 39 points in his second game since coming out of the NBA's COVID-19 protocols to inspire the Brooklyn Nets past the Los Angeles Clippers 124-108.

Harden returned with 36 points and a triple-double in the Nets' 122-155 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas Day and backed that up against the depleted Clippers, who were without star duo Paul George (elbow) and Kawhi Leonard (ACL).

The 2018 NBA MVP was in a dominant mood, with Kevin Durant absent in protocols, shooting 15 of 25 from the field and providing 15 assists, as well as having eight rebounds and two steals.

Patty Mills and Nicolas Claxton both contributed 18 points for the Nets, while the latter had three blocks. Marcus Morris Sr was the Clippers' best with 24 points, five rebounds and six assists.


Bulls duo combine for Hawks defeat

Trae Young returned from COVID protocols with 29 points and nine assists but it was not enough as the Atlanta Hawks lost 130-118 to the Chicago Bulls who had Zach LaVine (30 points, four rebounds, nine assists) and DeMar DeRozan (35 points, five rebounds, 10 assists) impress. LaVine and DeRozan became the first team-mates each with 20 points and five assists in a half over the last 25 seasons.

Ja Morant drained a last-gasp clutch shot to earn the Memphis Grizzlies a thrilling 114-113 win over the Phoenix Suns, who were missing center Deandre Ayton and head coach Monty Williams after entering protocols. Desmond Bane had a career-high 32 points and Morant finished with 33, grabbing the win after Devin Booker (30 points) had put the Suns ahead with five seconds left with a three-pointer.

The Utah Jazz extended their win streak to four games, even without injured Donovan Mitchell, as they defeated the San Antonio Spurs 110-104 with Jordan Clarkson (23 points, eight rebounds, five assists) starring off the bench.


In-form Celtic misses the mark

Jaylen Brown has been in hot point-scoring form lately but his shooting was down at 33.3 percent as the Boston Celtics – without Jayson Tatum who has entered COVID protocols - lost 108-103 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Brown scored 26 points but made only two of eight from beyond the arc.

Los Angeles Lakers recruit Russell Westbrook says he is sick and tired of the constant commentary on his performances for his new franchise this season.

Westbrook joined the Lakers in a major off-season move from the Washington Wizards, linking up with four-time MVP LeBron James and All-Star Anthony Davis as the 2020 NBA champions bid for another title tilt.

But the Lakers have struggled with a 16-18 record this season, including five straight defeats with Westbrook often copping the blame.

"Everybody wants me to do this but then they don't want me to do this," Westbrook said on a virtual news conference on Monday. "Honestly, I'm over the whole situation with what everyone else wants me to do and what they think I should be doing."

Westbrook has averaged 19.6 points per game this season, which is his lowest return since his second season in the NBA back in 2009-10.

The 33-year-old point guard has also averaged 7.9 rebounds and 8.1 assists per game this season, down on last season's career-best 11.5 rebounds and league-high 11.7 assists with the Wizards.

Westbrook also last season broke Oscar Robertson's record for the most triple-doubles in NBA history but has only managed six this season in 34 games.

"Honestly, I think I've been fine," Westbrook said. "The conversation has been heavily on how I'm playing and what I'm doing, but I think people are expecting me to have f---ing 25, 15 and 15, which, that is not normal.

"Everybody has to understand, like, that's not a normal thing that people do consistently."

He added: "People are saying 'let Russ be Russ,' I think nobody understands what that means. "I think people just say it - 'let Russ be Russ' - but nobody actually knows what that means but myself.

"I'm gonna lean on that and make sure I do what I'm supposed to do. And let everything else outside the locker room, whatever that may be, take care of itself."

The NBA has changed its health and safety protocols with players who test positive for COVID-19 now able to return to play in six days.

The change shifts the customary isolation period from 10 days to six, provided those players are asymptomatic and meet other testing standards.

Clubs were sent a memo by the league on Monday, coinciding with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cutting isolation restrictions for Americans who catch the coronavirus from 10 to five days.

Coronavirus numbers within the NBA has soared in recent weeks despite 97 percent of players being vaccinated.

Approximately 120 current NBA players were in protocols on Monday, with the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum recently forced out.

There is a "good chance" Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant will leave the NBA's coronavirus protocols this week, according to head coach Steve Nash.

The 11-time All-Star entered the health and safety protocols on December 18, but he could be out and ready to face the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.

Kyrie Irving, who went into protocols on the same day as Durant, is further away from a return to action.

"I think there's a good chance Kevin will be [fit for Thursday]," Nash told reporters.

"With Kyrie, I'm not so sure but it's coming. He's already been in protocols since December 18; he's got to be getting close."

Brooklyn earlier stated that Irving will re-join the NBA championship-chasing franchise for road games outside of New York and Toronto.

Irving is yet to play for the Eastern Conference-leading Nets this season due to his refusal to be vaccinated against coronavirus, which has prevented him from practising or playing with the team – New York has a mandate in place that states players must have had a COVID-19 jab.

At the start of the season, the Nets announced they would not accept Irving playing on a part-time basis and thus overlooked him for selection until he is vaccinated.

But due to injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak, Brooklyn have opted to bring Irving back.

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