The Los Angeles Lakers were without suspended superstar LeBron James and not even a Russell Westbrook triple-double could fuel the title hopefuls as they were beaten 106-100 by the New York Knicks.

James was not on the court because of a ban handed down – the first of his illustrious career – for his ejection against the Detroit Pistons, the four-time NBA champion struck Isaiah Stewart in the face and drew blood, sparking a melee.

Since James joined the Lakers in 2018, the team had been averaging 113.0 points and with a winning percentage of 64.6 when he plays heading into the matchup, while averaging 107.4 points with a 39.7 winning percentage when he does not.

In his absence, former MVP Westbrook had 31 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists but the Lakers still lost on the road against the Knicks on Tuesday.

Westbrook posted 18 points in the third quarter to tie the game after the Lakers (9-10) had fallen in a 25-point hole, however, the Knicks recovered to beat the storied franchise for the ninth time in 11 games.

Anthony Davis put a pre-game illness aside to battle for 20 points, six rebounds and three assists in 34 minutes.

Julius Randle inspired the Knicks (10-8) with 20 points, 16 rebounds and five assists, while Evan Fournier contributed a team-high 26 points.

 

 

Porzingis achieves career first as Mavs win

For the first time in his career, Kristaps Porzingis (30 points) scored 20 or more points in seven straight games after helping the Dallas Mavericks trump the Los Angeles Clippers 112-104 in over-time.

 

Denver's slide continues as Jokic sits out again

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic missed his third straight game due to a right wrist sprain and the Denver Nuggets went down 119-100 to the Portland Trail Blazers. The Nuggets have lost five consecutive games – their worst run since a five-game skid in January 2017.

The number one pick in the NBA Draft, it is safe to say Cade Cunningham's rookie season has been a baptism of fire. The first-year Pistons teenager has been criticised for his performances. In a 100-92 loss to the Miami Heat, he was just two-of-10 shooting – making one of seven three-pointers – for six points in 29 minutes, while he had four turnovers.

Luka Doncic cannot always be "superhuman", Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd insists, after the preseason MVP favourite continued a mixed start to the campaign with an "average" night against the Chicago Bulls.

Mavericks superstar Doncic, now in his fourth year in the NBA, was expecting to be among the league's leading players in 2021-22.

Dallas are a competitive 7-4 through 11 games and their point forward has 24.5 points per game, but that is a considerable drop on last year's 27.7 or his 2019-20 peak of 28.8.

And Doncic, despite a sensational game-winning buzzer-beater against the Boston Celtics last week, is not helping the Mavs in the way his team would hope.

Only eight qualifying players – seven of them on teams with .250 records or worse – have a lower plus/minus per game than Doncic's -8.7.

That was -20 in Wednesday's 117-107 defeat to the Bulls despite the 22-year-old averaging close to his first triple-double of the season with 20 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.

Doncic had four steals for only the sixth time in his career but also gave up four turnovers and is averaging 4.4 for the year, a new high.

"Luka was just average tonight," Kidd said. "We always expect him to be superhuman, but there's going to be nights in this season where he's going to be average.

"His average is really good, but he again had some great looks that didn't go down for him."

Indeed, Doncic made just six of 18 shots from the field and one of six from three-point range.

Although he is attempting more field goals than ever before (21.2 per game), his shooting is down to 43.3 per cent, including a career-low 28.6 per cent from three.

Kidd praised much-maligned team-mate Kristaps Porzingis, who "stepped up" with 22 points and 12 rebounds, but the Mavs clearly cannot afford a player, in Doncic, with a team-high 35.9 per cent usage rate to be missing both shots and passes.

"I think that's a question for him," Kidd said of Doncic's shooting woes. "When you look at the shots that he's taking, he's getting a lot of great looks.

"I think in the game of basketball, some go in, some don't. He still has to continue to be aggressive and take those looks. The ones that he's missing right now will fall for him – he just has to stay with it."

One tweak could be to get Doncic closer to the basket, with his shooting at the rim way up to 75.6 per cent. He has scored 40.1 per cent of his points in the paint this year (only marginally up on 40.0 per cent).

"His strength is being able to create on the perimeter for others and for himself, so that's something that we can definitely do, put him in the post to try to take some of the stress away from him having to work so hard," Kidd said. "That will come in due time as the season goes on."

A new generation of NBA superstars established themselves as the playoffs continued last week.

The first round concluded as a talented, young (with the exception of Chris Paul) Phoenix Suns team defeated LeBron James and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Atlanta Hawks quickly gained an upper hand against the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, too.

And although Kawhi Leonard led the Los Angeles Clippers through to round two, they also suffered at the hand of an emerging talent, as Stats Perform's NBA Heat Check shows.
 

RUNNING HOT...

Devin Booker

Booker was dominant across the board for the Suns, earning praise from James after getting the better of the reigning NBA Finals MVP.

When comparing last week's performances with regular season returns, Booker ranked third for scoring improvement, second for rebounding improvement and second for three-point makes improvement. This was a staggering show of strength.

Playing in his sixth year, it is easy to forget this was a debut postseason series for Booker, who finished with 47 points at Staples Center and will back himself to deliver again against the Denver Nuggets.

Trae Young

The biggest potential upset of the second round is already under way after the Hawks took Game 1 against the 76ers in Philly despite Joel Embiid's return to fitness.

Young – another playoff debutant – was predictably at the centre of their success, following up 36 points in Game 5 against the New York Knicks with 35 in this opener.

He had 25 in the first half on Sunday on eight-of-13 shooting as Atlanta scored 74, the most ever by a road team in a Game 1. Considering the way the Sixers battled back to make the encounter close, Young might have to be similarly outstanding again in the forthcoming meetings.

Luka Doncic

Young was traded to the Hawks as part of the deal that saw Doncic go the other way to the Dallas Mavericks on draft night in 2018. But the Slovenian will play no further part in the playoffs after Sunday's Game 7 defeat to the Clippers.

Doncic has undoubtedly proven his class in the postseason, though, even if he is yet to win a series. Already one of the league's outstanding offensive stars, his career playoff average of 33.5 points per game is the best of any player to appear in 13 or more games – surpassing Michael Jordan's 33.4.

The Mavs ace reached that mark thanks to an outstanding week that included two 40-point performances despite Dallas' eventual series defeat.

Doncic's performances through 13 career playoff games are a match for the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Only Rick Barry, Bob McAdoo and Jordan have topped his 436 total points at this stage since 1963-64. He was certainly not to blame on Sunday...
 

GOING COLD...

Kristaps Porzingis

Expensive team-mate Porzingis may well have to take some responsibility for the Mavs' failings, although he was not alone. Among the players with the largest declines in scoring over the past week from their regular season outputs, three Dallas players were in the top seven.

Josh Richardson and Jalen Brunson were also in there, but Porzingis' presence should be of the most concern.

Although the big man put up 16 points and 11 rebounds – his second-most in a postseason game – on Sunday, his failure to make a single one of his five three-point attempts left Doncic short of help.

Enes Kanter

Doncic was not the only superstar left high and dry as he exited the first round. Damian Lillard did all he could to try to carry the Portland Trail Blazers past the Nuggets last week, averaging 41.5 points, but could not advance alone.

CJ McCollum underwhelmed, despite contributing 20.7 points across the series, yet it was the absence of effective defense that meant Nikola Jokic was always able to match Lillard.

Jusuf Nurkic had a combined plus/minus of 45 but fouled out of three of the six games, meaning poor Kanter had to guard Jokic on occasion and ended the series with a -34 plus/minus across only 56 minutes.

The Dallas Mavericks will be sweating on the fitness of center/power forward Kristaps Porzingis after he exited Thursday's 115-105 win over the Detroit Pistons early with a knee injury.

The Latvian left the court in the third quarter complaining of soreness in his right knee and did not return, although he was seen walking normally post-game.

Porzingis, who was playing his first game back after an ankle sprain, had 11 points from 21 minutes until that point.

The Mavericks will be concerned, given Porzingis was forced to sit out the final three games of last season's first round playoffs exit to the Los Angeles Clippers with a right knee injury.

Porzingis underwent surgery on the lateral meniscus in his right knee, delaying his start to this season.

"We'll hope for the best," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said.

"We'll hope that it's not any kind of a serious issue and go from there."

The Mavericks are currently sixth in the Western Conference with a 35-27 record.

The Milwaukee Bucks lost again without Giannis Antetokounmpo on Thursday, but coach Mike Budenholzer believes the two-time MVP's absence can benefit his team.

The Bucks completed a six-game road trip against the Dallas Mavericks, going down 116-101 at American Airlines Center.

Antetokounmpo featured in the first three of those games, yet he missed the next three after scoring a season-high 47 points against the Portland Trail Blazers.

The 'Greek Freak' leads Milwaukee in points (28.8), assists (6.2) and rebounds (11.4) per game, while also contributing 1.3 blocks and 1.1 steals.

Knee soreness is impacting Antetokounmpo's bid for a third straight MVP triumph, but it is also hindering the Bucks. The team are 29-16 when their superstar plays but just 3-3 without him.

Milwaukee were not helped against the Mavs by poor shooting displays from Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, their second and third men.

Middleton was an alarming 6-for-27 from the field for 14 points – 22.2 per cent, his second-worst outing of the year – as Holiday, who signed a lucrative contract extension last week, was 6-for-16 for 13 points.

Budenholzer acknowledged both players must perform better as he suggested the Bucks needed to adapt to playing when Antetokounmpo is not on the floor.

The 26-year-old forward played just 30.4 minutes per game last season when Milwaukee led the East, but he has been relied on for 34.0 minutes in 2020-21.

"The guys are getting more opportunities," Budenholzer said. "There's a little bit more of a load on both Jrue and Khris. I think they're learning to take that.

"We didn't make enough shots tonight; Khris, Jrue didn't make enough shots. We're getting better. We'll learn from these things.

"Playing without Giannis, he can't play 48 minutes, so I think there's going to be good stretches for us when Giannis doesn't play and we'll grow from these experiences playing without him."

While the Bucks struggled without their big name, Dallas got 27 points, nine assists and nine rebounds from Luka Doncic.

But the Slovenian also earned his 12th technical foul of the season. That tally has steadily increased over his NBA career – five in his rookie year, nine last year – and he is now just four shy of a one-game suspension.

"He's aware," coach Rick Carlisle said. "My level of concern is there. But look, he's an emotional competitor. It all comes from the right place.

"He's smart, he knows where the count is. If he's going to get his 16th, he'll get it in a situation where it's time for a day of rest anyway. I'm not really that worried about it."

It was a big win for the Mavs, who returned to winning ways after a shock defeat to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday ended a run of five successive victories since Doncic returned from a short lay-off due to illness.

"This was a playoff-type game [against the Bucks], playoff-calibre in terms of intensity and competitiveness and the talent on the floor," Carlisle said. "We did a much, much better job, top to bottom, than we did last night."

Dallas also got 26 points, 17 rebounds and two blocks out of Kristaps Porzingis. Eleven of his points came in the fourth quarter on 4-for-4 shooting after failing to attempt a single field goal in the final 12 minutes against the Rockets.

Porzingis said of his relationship with Doncic: "We're trying to play together and help each other. We want to win – at the end, we all want to win here.

"We have to keep playing, keep playing together, playing well and helping each other."

The Milwaukee Bucks dropped their second game without Giannis Antetokounmpo going down 116-101 to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA on Thursday night.

Mavs center Kristaps Porzingis dominated with 26 points including four three-pointers, along with 17 rebounds, with Slovenian guard Luka Doncic top scoring with 27 points.

The Bucks were without two-time MVP Giannis due to knee soreness, missing his third straight game as Milwaukee slipped to 32-19.

Milwaukee produced a 14-0 run in the third with Donte DiVincenzo scoring 22 points and Bobby Portis pulling down 14 rebounds but Dallas dominated the last quarter to take out the win.

The Los Angeles Lakers dropped another game without LeBron James and Anthony Davis as Jimmy Butler dazzled for the Miami Heat in a 110-104 victory.

Butler scored 28 points, with seven rebounds and five assists for Miami who trailed at the main break.

The Lakers have lost six of their past 10 matches with a 32-20 record and are fifth in the West.

 

Clippers blanket Suns, Jazz blow away Blazers

In a crucial clash in the West, the Los Angeles Clippers finished strong to edge the in-form Phoenix Suns 113-103 led by Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.

George had 33 points including seven three-pointers, seven rebounds and three assists, while Leonard scored 27 points, with five rebounds and five assists.

New Clippers recruit Rajon Rondo added 15 points and nine assists off the bench too, as they improved to 35-18, with the Suns 36-15 after their eight-game winning run ended.

Donovan Mitchell scored 37 points as the ladder leading Utah Jazz blew away the Portland Trail Blazers with a 40-19 third quarter to win 122-103.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert had 20 rebounds along with his 18 points while Damian Lillard scored 23 points and had five rebounds and six assists for the Blazers.

The Chicago Bulls were too good for the undermanned Toronto Raptors 122-113 with Deadline Day additions Nikola Vucevic and Daniel Theis starring.

 

New Heat recruit hurt

Heat guard Victor Oladipo played 25 minutes and scored 18 points in their win over the Lakers but he went off late with an apparent left knee injury which will have Miami sweating on their new recruit.

 

 

Kawhi dunks on Suns

The commentators were left staggered when Leonard drove into the key and produced a massive right-hand dunk in the third of the Clippers win over the Suns.

 

Thursday's results

Chicago Bulls 122-113 Toronto Raptors
Miami Heat 110-104 Los Angeles Lakers
Cleveland Cavaliers 129-102 Oklahoma City Thunder
Dallas Mavericks 116-101 Milwaukee Bucks
Los Angeles Clippers 113-103 Phoenix Suns
Detroit Pistons 113-101 Sacramento Kings
Utah Jazz 122-103 Portland Trail Blazers

 

76ers in The Big Easy

Joel Embiid's Philadelphia 76ers (35-16) go to Zion Williamson's New Orleans Pelicans (22-29) looking to re-claim top spot in the East.

The deadline is closed. Trade season is over in the NBA, with the buyout market now the focus for contending teams as they look to add to their rosters.

Meanwhile, amid the constant rumours and rumblings off the court, the 2020-21 season has continued at a pace, with the playoff battle heating up.

The Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings have all been helped over the past week by the form of key players, as they aim to make sure they squeeze into a postseason spot in the ever-competitive Western Conference.

But whose production has dipped during the games staged between March 22 and 28? Time to take a look at the numbers, provided by Stats Perform, to find out...


RUNNING HOT…

Kristaps Porzingis

Porzingis set season highs for minutes played (37) and shots attempted (28) against the Indiana Pacers, scoring 31 points, though the Dallas Mavericks still slipped to defeat at home. The Latvian had also recorded 29 points in his team's previous outing, while he averaged 13.50 rebounds (up from 8.58 entering the week) across the two games.

While he did not feature on Saturday - the Mavs opted to rest him against the New Orleans Pelicans, rather than put him out on the court in the second game of a back-to-back run – Porzingis has undoubtedly become a bigger factor at both ends of the court for Dallas since the resumption of the regular season after the All-Star break.

Zion Williamson

Like Shaquille O'Neal, but with skills comparable to a point guard. That was Mavs coach Rick Carlisle's assessment after he had watched Williamson dominate down the stretch against his Dallas team. The first overall pick in the 2019 draft either scored or assisted on the final 14 points for the Pelicans, who sensibly turned the offense over to their All-Star with the result on the line.

Williamson had posted a career-high 39 points while going 16-for-19 from the field in a defeat to the Denver Nuggets beforehand, too. It was his fifth game this season with at least 15 field goals attempted and an 80 per cent success rate, the most by any NBA player since Charles Barkley also had five in the 1988-89 campaign.

De'Aaron Fox

Fox is on an impressive scoring run, managing 147 points in his past four outings for the Sacramento Kings, an average of 36.75 per game. The guard had 44 – a new career best, no less – in a big win over the Golden State Warriors, helping streaking Sacramento close the gap to their opponents in the West standings.

There was also a demonstration of his passing skills – albeit perhaps more usually seen on a football field than the basketball court – when Fox aired the ball out to set up Harrison Barnes' dramatic game-winning shot against the Cleveland Cavaliers. "QB1," Fox tweeted about the assist... is it too late for him to enter the NFL Draft?


GOING COLD…

Lauri Markkanen

The Bulls did trade a big man before the deadline – but it was not Markkanen who they moved. Despite the rumours the Finn could be involved in a deal, instead it was Wendell Carter who was part of the package that led to center Nikola Vucevic arriving in Chicago.

So what next for Markkanen? He had averaged 18.19 points per game heading into the previous week, but his production dipped to 11.67. His issues with outside shooting did not help, making just two of his 13 three-point attempts as the Bulls suffered three straight defeats. Even with those recent struggles, though, he is making a career-high 38.2 per cent from deep in 2020-21.

Damian Lillard

Lillard scored 22 points in each of his three outings over the past week, while the six-time All-Star sat out Portland's road win over the Orlando Magic due to a knee issue. His dip in points is, in part, down to some struggles from long range. Lillard has averaged just 2.33 three-pointers made during the recent stretch, down from his 4.29 successful attempts from beyond the arc beforehand.

Still, there has been a slight rise in terms of his assists, including 11 against the Toronto Raptors upon his return to action on Sunday. The Trail Blazers won, too, improving to 7-3 through their past 10 outings.

Bradley Beal

Make no mistake, Beal is having an outstanding season for the Washington Wizards, averaging 31.3 points despite a downturn in his long-range production (33.8 per cent, compared to 37.7 per cent for his career).

Yet the 27-year-old has cooled off a touch. He managed a combined total of 48 points in successive games against the New York Knicks this past week, while his outing against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday was cut short at 17 points and six assists due to a hip injury. It meant his average for the week still sat at a respectable 21.67, though comfortably below his usual lofty standards.

Luka Doncic was happy to indulge in the feel-good factor after his stunning display in the Dallas Mavericks' win over the San Antonio Spurs.

Doncic put up his his eighth triple-double of the NBA season as the Mavericks were victorious for the fourth match running, downing the Spurs 115-104.

In a contest pitting seventh versus eighth in the West, the Slovenian posted 22 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists to complete his 33rd career triple-double.

The 22-year-old is now level with Bob Cousy in 11th on the all-time triple-doubles list.

He had defender Dejounte Murray tied up in knots at times and enjoyed getting the better of a quality opponent.

"It's a great feeling but I think he was doing an amazing job on me," said Doncic. 

"I think he's a really good defender but when you do a move, you feel good about it."

With Kristaps Porzingis regaining full fitness after knee surgery and top-scoring on 28 points, Doncic feels the best is yet to come from his Latvian team-mate.

"We are all progressing as a team," he said. 

"KP has been way better, he's getting the confidence after his injury. I think he's still going to build on his confidence and is going to be way better."

Those were sentiments echoed by the man himself, with Porzingis feeling good about his recovery.

"I feel like I'm getting there. I still have to keep working," he said.

"After surgery, the leg is not feeling the same, so you have to keep working on that strength and make sure it's strong and stable and you feel confident.

"It's non-stop work, but I'm feeling better with each game and looking forward to the second part of the season."

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban insisted trade rumours claiming the NBA franchise are shopping star Kristaps Porzingis are "not accurate".

The trade deadline is March 25 and speculation over Porzingis has intensified amid reports the Mavericks have gauged the Golden State Warriors' interest.

Dallas acquired Porzingis in a trade with the New York Knicks in 2019, pairing him with Luka Doncic but the Latvian big man has struggled for form and fitness.

Cuban, however, denied the reports regarding 2018 All-Star Porzingis – who was the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

"It's not accurate," Cuban told The Dallas Morning News. "We have not discussed him in a trade at all. Has not happened."

Prior to Tuesday's clash with the Boston Celtics, Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle added: "I know Mark's denied it. I'm denying it."

Porzingis is averaging 20.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game for the Mavericks (14-15) this season.

The 25-year-old returned from a knee injury in January, which he sustained in October.

"He's had to play his way into shape, and it just hasn't quite been the same," said Carlisle.

"It's not an excuse thing in my mind. These are just the true facts of what's happened."

Rick Carlisle praised Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis' "tremendous" chemistry after the Dallas Mavericks won a fourth straight game.

Doncic (46 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds) and Porzingis (36 points and seven rebounds) led the Mavericks past the New Orleans Pelicans 143-130 on Friday.

It marked the first time in NBA history a pair of foreign-born team-mates each had 35-plus points in a game, as per Stats Perform.

Carlisle hailed the pair after the Mavericks improved to 13-14 to sit 11th in the Western Conference.

"They're both great offensive players, they're both very unique, they fit together extremely well, their games complement one another extremely well," the Mavericks head coach told a news conference.

"The chemistry was tremendous. Balls were being delivered on time, on target, people stepping into shots in rhythm. It was great stuff to watch."

Despite their win, the Mavericks gave up 130 points to Zion Williamson (36) and the Pelicans.

While Carlisle knows what his offense is capable of, he is eager to see the defense improve.

"This is why I keep talking about defense and I know some of our guys are talking about defense. This kind of shot-making is great, is it always sustainable? Of course not. Not every team can keep up this kind of pace, but we'll certainly try.

"This is the reason you've got to have a defense that'll hold up on nights maybe when you don't have it going quite like this. With the way we can space the floor, the way we can penetrate the ball, the way we can shoot the ball, all those kinds of things, we're going to create our share of problems for teams with our offense.

"We've just got to keep working on the basics – transition, protecting the rim, closing out, contesting and rebounding, those are the main things."

Dallas Mavericks duo Luka Doncic and Rick Carlisle were delighted to see Kristaps Porzingis back in action after the Latvian made his first appearance of the NBA season on Wednesday. 

Having undergone knee surgery in October, Porzingis had missed Dallas' first nine games as he continued his recovery.

A potential return on Monday was then scuppered when the clash with the New Orleans Pelicans was postponed in accordance with the league's health and safety protocols amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

However, the former first-round pick by the New York Knicks was finally able to take the court again against the Charlotte Hornets, contributing 16 points during his 21 minutes in a 104-93 triumph. 

"He' an amazing player," Doncic - who led the way with 34 points - said, according to Dallas' official website. 

"He's got to get back into rhythm, and I think for the first game he played amazing. He's going to keep improving and we're going to need him a lot."

Mavs coach Carlisle admitted Porzingis' return – admittedly on a restriction in terms of minutes – makes a huge difference to the team, including helping to alleviate some of the pressure on the shoulders of Doncic. 

"When both of those guys are out there, it's a game-changer for us because you've got two guys that can both play on the inside and really space the floor on the outside," Carlisle said.  

"They can both put the ball on the floor and make plays. 

"You get two franchise players, it's important to have them on the floor together and available to play. You look at every team in this league, if they're without one of their cornerstone guys it's going to be a lot tougher job. 

"I think everybody feels a lot better now that KP is back in the mix."

The game was also notable for Carlisle in terms of a personal milestone, as he reached 800 victories in his coaching career.

Porzingis himself accepted he had been a little too eager to make an impact during his comeback, knowing his involvement in the game was always going to be limited. 

"What I think didn’t help me was knowing that I had the minutes restrictions," Porzingis said. "I was trying to do as much as I could in those minutes that I had. 

"Sometimes you don't make the best decisions when you really want to be aggressive, but it's okay. I wanted to be aggressive for the time I was going to be out there, and most importantly [it was the] first game and first win for me."

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