Memphis Grizzlies superstar Ja Morant has been crowned the NBA's 2021-22 Most Improved Player.

Morant, 22, was the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year, but this year made a leap in his ability to score the ball, and guided his team to the second seed in the Western Conference with a 56-26 record.

After averaging 19 points per game at under 45 per cent shooting in 2020-21, Morant raised that figure to 27 points per game with career-best efficiency at 49 per cent from the field and 34 per cent from long range.

He also posted career-highs in three-point makes and attempts, rebounds per game and steals per game, with a small drop in assists.

The Grizzlies are currently tied at 2-2 in their first round series against the Minnesota Timberwolves, with Game 5 set to take place back in Memphis.

To win the award, Morant beat out fellow finalists Dejounte Murray from the San Antonio Spurs, and the Cleveland Cavaliers' Darius Garland.

Trae Young knew he just needed to stay aggressive in the second half of the Atlanta Hawks' 107-101 play-in win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, and said he expects a fun series against the Miami Heat.

It was a tale of two halves for the Hawks' All-NBA point guard, as he struggled with six points in the first, before exploding with 32 after half-time.

Bogdan Bogdanovic was crucial off the bench for Atlanta, hitting six-of-eight shots for 19 points and three steals in his 29 minutes, while Onyeka Okongwu invigorated his side after Clint Capela went down with an injury, finishing with a plus/minus of plus 21 while Capela was minus 21.

Speaking to post-game media, Young said he was always looking to score, despite how tough the Cavaliers were making it for him early.

"Early in the game, they were making some reads and making some switches, and I was trying to get my teammates involved," he said. 

"I missed a couple shots, but I needed to stay aggressive, and that's all I did in the second half. We just took care of business.

"The team we beat tonight definitely deserved a playoff spot, but this year it's so tough. They weren't able to make it. It's just a testament to our team that we kept fighting."

Young then touched on the upcoming series against the Heat, saying he is looking forward to the playoff atmosphere when they head to Miami on Sunday.

"I mean, [Miami have] been clicking on all cylinders, especially recently, [and] they've got a little bit more rest than we have, so we got to be ready to bring it," he said.

"We know the crowd is going to be crazy, and the environment is gonna be fun, so [we have] got to be ready to be locked in and take care of business."

Hawks coach Nate McMillan was inspired by his team's fight, and his point guard.

"This team is built for moments like this," he said.

"Trae has a great deal of confidence in his game, his ability and he continued to believe. I didn't see any panic in his play. 

"He came out in the second half [and] remained aggressive. Those shots started to fall, the same shots that he was taking in the first half, they started to fall in the second half."

A Trae Young masterclass in the second half of the Atlanta Hawks' play-in clash against the Cleveland Cavaliers led his side to a 107-101 victory.

After only scoring six points in the first half, Young had 32 in the second, finishing with 38 points on 13-of-25 shooting (four-of-11 from deep) to go with nine assists.

It was a gutsy comeback from the Hawks, who trailed 28-14 in the first quarter and 49-61 with 30 seconds to play in the first half.

Overall, the Hawks outscored the Cavaliers 56 to 40 in the last two quarters, and after committing seven turnovers in the opening frame, cleaned things up significantly and only committed six more across the next three quarters.

Cleveland's Darius Garland had a difficult shooting night, finishing nine-of-27 from the field for his 21 points, but he showed excellent command of his side throughout, dishing nine assists, snatching three steals and finishing with a plus/minus of plus three in his 43 minutes. This means in the five minutes Garland was sitting on the bench, the Cavs were outscored by eight.

With the win, the Hawks have earned a seven-game series against the top seed of the Eastern Conference – the Miami Heat.

Pelicans survive Clippers comeback

The New Orleans Pelicans survived a massive second-half surge from the Los Angeles Clippers to fight back and win on the road 105-101. 

Through the first half, it looked like it would be smooth sailing for the Pelicans as they jumped out to a 56-42 lead with one minute to play in the second quarter.

Los Angeles were without star Paul George after it was announced he had tested positive for coronavirus and had to adhere to health and safety protocols, but they found a second wind to start the third period.

The Clippers started the second half on a 20-to-two run, flipping a 56-46 deficit to a 66-58 lead as Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris started to catch fire.

After being outscored 38-18 in the third term, the Pelicans began the final period trailing 84-74, but it would be their turn to make a run, rallying to tie the game at 88-88 with 7:35 to play.

Brandon Ingram was the star of the show, finishing with 30 points (14-of-21 shooting) with six assists and six rebounds, but the clutch long-range shooting from rookie Trey Murphy III was the catalyst for their surge down the stretch.

Murphy came off the bench and finished with a game-high plus/minus of plus 26 in his 24 minutes, hitting four-of-six threes, including three of them in the last 10 minutes.

Jackson and Morris finished with 27 points each for the Clippers, while the former also added eight assists, seven rebounds and two steals.

The win means the New Orleans Pelicans will face the Phoenix Suns in a best-of-seven series, beginning on Sunday.

 

Despite Trae Young shooting three-for-13 from the field in the first half of the Atlanta Hawks' win against the Charlotte Hornets, head coach Nate McMillan loved what he saw from his superstar point guard.

With the 132-103 blowout win, the Hawks earned a chance to play against the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference eighth seed on Friday.

Young's shot was not falling early, but his team still put up 60 points in the first half as De'Andre Hunter, Clint Capela and Danilo Gallinari shouldered more of an offensive load.

Speaking to post-game media, McMillan said he was proud of the way Young navigated his early struggles before going on to finish with 24 points and 11 assists.

"I thought [Young] did a really solid job of getting off the ball when [the Pelicans] put two on him, and he got his teammates involved," he said.

"I thought later in the game they went away from that, and he was able to get loose and get some looks at the basket.

"But a real solid job by Trae running the team, managing those guys on the offensive end of the floor, and really getting us organized and attacking."

McMillan admitted his assistant coaches were imploring him to pull the Hawks stars late in the fourth quarter, with a big lead and the win almost assured, and looked forward to the matchup against the Cavs.

"The coaches were yelling at me, screaming at me to get the [starters] out, so that we could get them a rest in," he said. "But it's time to play – it's game time – and we should be ready when we go to Cleveland.

"We don't know if [Jarrett Allen] will be back on Friday – but the size-factor – they do a good job of taking advantage of their size, and their ability to pound you in the paint with post-ups, rebounding and a lot of length.

"[Darius] Garland is an All-Star, playing great basketball for them, so they're a really good team. We'll have our work cut out for us on Friday."

The Brooklyn Nets defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 115-108 in the first game of the NBA Play-In Tournament on Tuesday.

The Nets are now the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, confirming a playoff matchup with the second seed Boston Celtics.

Kyrie Irving made 10 straight attempts on the way to 34 points and 12 assists, but Kevin Durant took over in the second half with 25 points and 11 assists, as well as two steals and three blocks.

The Nets led by as much as 22 points at one stage, but it was on the back of Durant and Irving starting off hot. The Cavs managed to hang in there and cut it down to single digits with Darius Garland's free-throws and triple following Goran Dragic's flagrant foul.

Garland finished with 34 points on 13-of-24 shooting, but Caris LeVert and Lauri Markkanen experienced a poor shooting night, combining for 25 points but on nine-of-26 attempts from the floor.

The Cavs will play the winner of Wednesday's matchup between the Charlotte Hornets and the Atlanta Hawks, for a chance to take on the Miami Heat in a seven-game series.

Timberwolves win through to face Grizzlies

The Minnesota Timberwolves reached the playoffs for the second time since 2004 with a 109-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Timberwolves, who lost All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns who fouled out early in the fourth quarter, finished with a 26-11 run to secure victory, which means they will face the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs.

Anthony Edwards (30 points with five three-pointers and five rebounds) and D'Angelo Russell (29 points and six assists) starred offensively, while the relentless Patrick Beverley was excellent against his former side with 11 rebounds.

Paul George kept the Clippers in the contest with 34 points including six three-pointers with seven rebounds and five assists.

The Clippers will next face the winner of the New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs' play-in game for a shot at the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

Once again, the Los Angeles Lakers were unable to get the job done on a night where LeBron James made history.

With James expected to pass Karl Malone for second place on the all-time regular season scoring list, the Lakers suffered a fourth-quarter collapse to lose 127-119 against the Washington Wizards.

James trailed the Utah Jazz Hall of Famer by 20 points coming into the night, passing him with 5:20 left in the second quarter on his way to 38 points (16-of-29 from the field, four-of-10 from three) with 10 rebounds and six assists.

The 37-year-old now is behind only former Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time NBA scoring list with 38,387 points. James now has 36,947 career points.

The Lakers led 97-83 with two minutes remaining in the third quarter, before getting out-scored 44-22 the rest of the way.

James Harden continued his impressive start to life with the Philadelphia 76ers by dazzling in Wednesday's 123-108 victory against the New York Knicks on his home debut.

The 10-time NBA All-Star starred with 26 points, nine assists and nine rebounds to make it three wins from three since arriving from the Brooklyn Nets last month.

Joel Embiid led the scoring with 27 points, while Tyrese Maxey added 25 as the 76ers won for a fourth game in a row and improved to 38-23 for the season.

Doc Rivers' side now sit two games back of the Miami Heat for the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings after the latter lost 120-119 to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Heat led by 14 points with six minutes to play but could not see out a fifth victory in a row, with Jrue Holiday's driving layup with 1.9 seconds to go completing the comeback.

Defending NBA champions Milwaukee had Giannis Antetokounmpo to thank for the much-needed win, the two-time MVP registering 28 points, 17 rebounds and five assists.

 


Suns reach milestone mark

The Phoenix Suns became the first team to reach 50 wins this season by easing to a 120-90 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at Footprint Center.

Cam Johnson scored 20 points and Deandre Ayton added 18 as the Suns made light work of being without Chris Paul and Devin Booker, the latter entering the league's health and safety protocols.

Portland briefly put up a fight and were ahead early in the second quarter, but the hosts rallied to lead 63-48 at half-time and pulled further ahead to keep a two-game lead over the Chicago Bulls atop the Eastern Conference.


Pelicans show unity with Ukraine

The New Orleans Pelicans wore yellow socks for their 125-95 win over the Sacramento Kings in a show of solidarity with Ukraine after the country was invaded by Russia.

"It's a big mess," said Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas, who had 17 points and 14 rebounds. "We're just trying to bring more attention. The enemy is still out there. Innocent people are still dying. 

"The whole world is talking about sanctions, support, prayers – but something else has to be done because the war is still going on. It's been a tough seven days."
 
Elsewhere on Wednesday, injury-depleted Oklahoma City Thunder pulled off a surprise 119-107 win over the Denver Nuggets, while Donovan Mitchell scored 37 points as the Utah Jazz held off the Houston Rockets 132-127.

The Cleveland Cavaliers lost for a fifth time in six games with a 119-98 loss to the Charlotte Hornets, despite the return of Darius Garland from injury, and the Indiana Pacers beat the Orlando Magic 122-114 thanks to Malcolm Brogdon's 31 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

Russell Westbrook played no part as the Los Angeles Lakers fell to a 107-105 defeat against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday.

A day after hinting at his unhappiness at coach Frank Vogel, and with lingering doubts over his future ahead of Thursday's trade deadline, Westbrook watched from the bench.

It is the first game the nine-time All-Star has missed all season, though Vogel could at least still call upon the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis from the beginning.

James scored 30 points for the Lakers, who led 54-47 at half-time, only for the depleted Trail Blazers to slowly turn things around before rallying in the fourth quarter.

Anfernee Simons led the scoring for Portland with 29 points, while Jusuf Nurkic added 19 points and 12 rebounds as the hosts held on to snap a six-game losing streak.

 


Bogdanovic and Mitchell inspire Jazz to victory

The Golden State Warriors' nine-game winning streak was ended in emphatic style as they fell to a 111-85 defeat to the Utah Jazz.

Without the injured Rudy Gobert for an eighth game, the Jazz were inspired to victory by 23-point Bojan Bogdanovic and Donovan Mitchell, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds.

The Warriors, without Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and James Wiseman, finished with a shooting percentage of 36 per cent in what was their heaviest defeat of the season.

DeRozan stars again

Five-time NBA All-Star DeMar DeRozan was serenaded by "MVP!" chants after scoring 36 points in the Chicago Bulls' 121-109 victory over the out-of-form Charlotte Hornets.

DeRozan hit 30 points for a fourth game running, during which time he has averaged 37.5 points, while Nikola Vucevic finished with 18 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, Darius Garland's 27 points on his return from a back injury helped the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 105-92 win against the San Antonio Spurs.

The Toronto Raptors beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 117-98 for their seventh straight win and the Sacramento Kings were 132-119 victors against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Darius Garland and Fred VanVleet have both been selected to the NBA All-Star Game for the first time as Eastern Conference reserves.

After the 2022 captains and starters were announced a week earlier, the rest of the pool of players was filled out on Thursday.

Garland, having led the Cleveland Cavaliers into fifth place in the East, was a popular pick.

Charles Barkley said on TNT: "I like it when they earn it. They don't just get the fan vote, like a lifetime achievement award. This kid deserves to be at the All-Star Game."

Third-year point guard Garland becomes the first Cav to be recognised since LeBron James left the team, rewarded for averaging 19.8 points and 8.2 assists this season.

He is not the only new face, however, as VanVleet also made the cut in a career year. The 2019 champion is leading the Toronto Raptors in scoring with his 21.5 points.

Fellow pick in the East James Harden is far more familiar with this stage, included for a 10th consecutive season. Only James (18) is on a longer active streak.

Jimmy Butler, Zach LaVine, Khris Middleton and Jayson Tatum all also return.

LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges, Tyler Herro and Jarrett Allen were among the players to narrowly miss out in a hugely talented Eastern Conference.

In the West, Chris Paul makes his 12th appearance, and Luka Doncic is also included.

Paul is joined by Phoenix Suns team-mate Devin Booker, while Draymond Green boosts the number of Golden State Warriors to three, alongside starters Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins.

Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and Karl-Anthony Towns complete the roster.

Injured Warriors forward Green, speaking in his role as a pundit, said he hoped the San Antonio Spurs' Dejounte Murray would be called up in his place.

Earlier on Thursday, the NBA unveiled new designs for the trophies to be handed out across All-Star Weekend – including the Kobe Bryant Trophy, awarded to the All-Star Game MVP.

Chris Paul inspired the Phoenix Suns to a 115-109 victory over the Utah Jazz as the NBA leaders matched their best start to a season in franchise history.

Devin Booker top-scored for the Suns with 33 points, but it was Paul's season-high 27 that got his side out of a hole against a shorthanded Jazz.

The visitors led 87-85 at the end of the first quarter at Footprint Center and moved to 95-91 early in the second quarter as they went in search of just a third win in 10 games.

But point guard Paul stepped up for the Suns by making his first five shots in the fourth quarter, including a couple of 3-pointers, as the hosts responded with 14-2 to take the win.

Monty Williams' side are now 37-9 for the season, equalling their franchise record from 2006-07, ahead of facing the same opponents again on Wednesday.

 


Cavs hold off Knicks thanks to Garland

Darius Garland tied LeBron James' streak of 10-or-more assists in five straight games for a Cleveland Cavaliers player over the past decade in a tense 95-93 win over the New York Knicks.

The 21-year-old point guard recorded 12 assists in total and added a critical late 3-pointer as the Cavs held off a late charge from the Knicks, who trailed 86-71 with 9:41 left in Ohio.

Kevin Love led the scoring with 20 points, nine of those coming in just over a minute in the third quarter, as the Cavs went 10 games over .500 for the first time since the days of James in 2018.


Pelicans power past Pacers

Elsewhere in Monday's action, the New Orleans Pelicans trailed for a large portion of the game but had enough in the tank to beat the Indiana Pacers 117-113.

Josh Hart played through the pain barrier to inspire the Pelicans with 22 points and 10 rebounds, adding to Devonte' Graham's 22 points.

The Chicago Bulls put a poor run of six defeats from seven games behind them by beating Oklahoma City Thunder 111-110 in a tense encounter.

Nikola Vucevic's 26 points and 15 rebounds were nearly not enough as the Thunder, who trailed by 28 points, missed a 3-pointer through Shai Gilgeous-Alexander late on to level the contest.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic recorded another triple-double as the Los Angeles Lakers slumped below .500 again following a 133-96 humiliation at the hands of the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Nuggets center Jokic finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists and brought up his triple-double in the third quarter, as Denver piled on 73 first-half points before restricting the Lakers to only 36 points in the second half.

LeBron James scored 25 points with nine rebounds and two blocks for the Lakers, while Russell Westbrook had 19 points, five rebounds and three assists.

The defeat means the Lakers, who are still without Anthony Davis due to injury, move to a 21-22 record after losing three games in a row.

Bones Hyland was brilliant off the bench for Denver, who improve to 22-19, with a career-high 27 points including six triples and 10 rebounds.

 

Durant injured as Nets win

Kevin Durant limped out with a knee sprain as James Harden had 27 points, eight rebounds and 15 assists while Patty Mills scored 21 points as the Brooklyn Nets won 120-105 over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Pascal Siakam over-shadowed Giannis Antetokounmpo with a triple-double with 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists as the Toronto Raptors won 103-96 over the Milwaukee Bucks. Antetokounmpo scored 30 points with six rebounds and four assists.

Jayson Tatum had 23 points with 12 rebounds as the Boston Celtics won 114-112 to condemn the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls to three straight losses, while Darius Garland had 27 points and a career-high 18 assists in the Cleveland Cavaliers' comeback 107-102 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

 

Butler struggles as Heat go cold

Jimmy Butler struggled from the field, making one of 11 for his eight points as the Miami Heat's four-game winning streak was ended by the in-form Philadelphia 76ers 109-98. Joel Embiid had 32 points with 12 rebounds for the 76ers.

Darius Garland missed a buzzer-beating winner as the Utah Jazz extended their winning streak to four games with a thrilling 109-108 NBA victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday.

Garland's potential game-winner from three-point range hit the rim, with both Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley unable to tip in the rebound with 2.9 seconds remaining.

Donovan Mitchell starred for the in-form Jazz, who improved to 16-7 for the season, posting 35 points – including four three-pointers – and six assists.

It was All-Star Mitchell's third consecutive game with 30 or more points for the Jazz, who are hot on the heels of the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference.

Utah had led by 15 points at one stage but needed a Mike Conley three-pointer followed by a Rudy Gobert dunk (six points and 20 rebounds) to re-claim the advantage late in the game before Garland had the chance to snatch victory on the buzzer.

The result saw Cleveland's winning streak stopped at four games, despite Garland's 31-point display.

 

Bridges' Hornets edge Hawks, Rockets soar

The Charlotte Hornets overcame the absence of LaMelo Ball (COVID protocols) to win 130-127 against the Atlanta Hawks, despite Trae Young's exceptional 25 points and 15 assists. Miles Bridges scored 32 points with four assists and three steals for the Hornets. He has six 30-point games this season having only managed three in his first three campaigns combined. Bridges is averaging 20.4 points and 7.3 rebounds – one of only 14 players to be averaging 20/7 this term.

Brandon Ingram put up 40 points, but it was not enough for the New Orleans Pelicans, who went down 118-108 to the streaking Houston Rockets. Houston have won six consecutive games to improve to 6-16.

 

Beal silenced by Raptors

Bradley Beal was shut down, managing just 14 points as the Washington Wizards lost to the Toronto Raptors 102-90. Beal went four of 12 from the field. It was the third game in a row that Beal has scored less than 20 points.

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