Stephen Curry reached 40 points or more for the third time this season as the Golden State Warriors' electric start to the season continued with a 119-93 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Friday.

Curry finished with 40 points, including nine-for-17 three-pointers, along with five assists and four rebounds as the Warriors improved to 11-1.

The two-time MVP starred with 15 points in the third quarter alone, almost outscoring the Bulls as the Warriors piled on 35-17 points. Curry also passed Ray Allen's 3,358 all-time NBA mark for the most three-pointers made in regular season and playoffs games.

The result marks the Warriors' second-best ever start in franchise history, with their only loss coming in overtime against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Golden State are one of nine teams in NBA history to start the season without a regulation-time loss in their first 12 games, the best being the 2015-16 Warriors with 24 games.

 

Harden hits season high

James Harden backed up Wednesday's triple-double with a season-high 39 points including six three-pointers for the Brooklyn Nets in a 120-112 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. Harden got a double-double, with 12 assists along with five rebounds, while Kevin Durant added 28 points. Joe Harris shot six-for-six from three-point range in the first half, becoming the first player this season to achieve the feat.

Nikola Jokic returned from his one-game ban with a triple-double as the Denver Nuggets got past the Atlanta Hawks 105-96, with 22 points, 10 assists and 19 rebounds. Luka Doncic also registered a triple-double with 32 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists as the Dallas Mavericks defeated the San Antonio Spurs 123-109.

Denis Schroder had a season-high 38 points as the Boston Celtics won 122-113 in overtime over the Milwaukee Bucks, who were without Giannis Antetokounmpo (ankle) and Khris Middleton (COVID-19).

 

LeBron-less Lakers floored

Carmelo Anthony scored one-for-12 from the field while starter Kent Bazemore finished with zero points as the Los Angeles Lakers, missing LeBron James, lost 107-83 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Emerging point guard Ja Morant had five turnovers and shot 10-for-19 from the field as the Memphis Grizzlies were beaten by the Phoenix Suns 119-94.

Anthony Davis says the injury-hit Los Angeles Lakers are "starting to realise how good of a team we are" after they beat the Miami Heat 120-117 in overtime on Wednesday.

Russell Westbrook posted a second consecutive triple-double of 25 points, 12 rebounds and 14 assists, while Davis scored 24 points and claimed 13 rebounds at Staples Center.

Malik Monk also played a big hand, finishing with a team-high 27 points - including five of the Lakers' eight points in overtime as they moved to 7-5.

Justin Reaves and Rajon Rondo (both hamstring) joined LeBron James (abdominal strain) on a lengthy Lakers injury list, but Davis says confidence is building in adversity following a second straight overtime win.

"Trying to find ways to get wins while everyone is getting back healthy," Davis said.

"The last two games have definitely been fun. Guys are having fun. Guys are starting to realise how good of a team we are."

 

Monk relished the opportunity to make a big impact after starting on the bench.

"I had this role a couple of times last year in Charlotte, the year before that when a lot of guys get hurt and I had to come in and play big minutes and facilitate and do other things that I normally don't do," he said.

"But I work on my game a lot, so I was really prepared for this moment."

Lakers coach Frank Vogel revealed that Reaves and Rondo had only suffered minor injuries and are both day-to-day.

Double-doubles from Bam Adebayo (28 points, 10 rebounds, six steals and four assists) and Kyle Lowry (18 points and 11 assists) were in vain for the Heat (7-4), who lost Jimmy Butler due to a sprained ankle.

The Los Angeles Lakers survived to outlast the high-flying Miami Heat 120-117 in overtime as Russell Westbrook led the way in the NBA.

Westbrook posted a triple-double of 25 points, 12 rebounds and 14 assists, while team-mate Anthony Davis scored 24 points and collected 13 rebounds to fuel the Lakers (7-5) in the continued absence of LeBron James on Wednesday.

The Lakers had trailed 102-93 with less than seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter before rallying to force OT.

Malik Monk, who had a team-high 27 points, scored five of the Lakers' eight points in overtime to secure victory at Staples Center.

Double-doubles from Bam Adebayo (28 points, 10 rebounds, six steals and four assists) and Kyle Lowry (18 points and 11 assists) were not enough for the Heat (7-4), who lost Jimmy Butler to injury.

 

 

Durant reaches MJ levels, Wiggins' Warriors win 10th game

The Brooklyn Nets (8-4) crushed the Orlando Magic (3-9) 123-90 behind Kevin Durant's 30 points on 11-of-12 shooting. In his 12 games this season, Durant has been averaging 29.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game, while shooting 58.5 per cent from the field and 82.9 per cent from the free-throw line. According to Stats Perform, the last player to reach all those numbers over any 12-game span was Hall of Famer Michael Jordan in 1988. James Harden had his 59th career triple-double of 17 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.

Andrew Wiggins flexed his muscles against former team the Minnesota Timberwolves, putting up 35 points to inspire the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors (10-1) to a 123-110 victory. Anthony Edwards' career-high 48 points were not enough for the Timberwolves (3-7).

Defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks (6-6) blew a 24-point lead before overcoming the New York Knicks (7-5) 112-100. Giannis Antetokounmpo (15 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists) fell short of a triple-double.

 

Reeling Pelicans lose eighth straight

The New Orleans Pelicans' season went from bad to worse on Wednesday following a 108-100 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder (4-6). New Orleans – without star pair Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram – have lost eight games in a row to be a league-worst 1-11.

Stephen Curry posted 50 points and 10 assists to guide the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors to a 127-113 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

Curry enjoyed a season-high night in terms of points as the Warriors won for the ninth time in their opening 10 games of the 2021-22 campaign on Monday.

The two-time MVP became the only NBA player in the last 25 years to have 50-plus points, 10-plus assists and a plus-minus of 30 or better in a single game, according to Stats Perform.

Curry, who had seven rebounds and nine three-pointers, also joined James Harden as the only players to put up 50-plus points, 10-plus assists in 35 minutes or fewer in the last 40 seasons.

The three-time champion became the third Warriors player in franchise history with at least 10 50-point games.

 

 

Bulls stop star-studded Nets

Kevin Durant recorded 38 points and 10 rebounds but the Brooklyn Nets still lost 118-95 at the Chicago Bulls. All of Chicago's starters – DeMar DeRozan (28), Zach Lavine (24), Nikola Vucevic (11 and 13 rebounds), Lonzo Ball (11) and Javonte Green (11) – finished with double-digit points to snap Brooklyn's five-game winning streak.

In the absence of Joel Embiid (health and safety protocol), Andre Drummond had 14 points and 25 rebounds for the Philadelphia 76ers. He became the first 76er with 25-plus rebounds in a game since Charles Barkley in 1987. Shorthanded Eastern Conference leaders the 76ers lost 103-96 to the New York Knicks, however.

Russell Westbrook (17 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds), Anthony Davis (32 points and 12 rebounds) and Carmelo Anthony (29 points on seven-of-10 three-pointers) helped the Los Angeles Lakers outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 126-123 in overtime. LaMelo Ball had a triple-double of 25 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists for the Hornets.

 

Jokic loses his head

The Denver Nuggets upstaged the high-flying Miami Heat 113-96, despite having reigning MVP Nikola Jokic ejected. Jokic registered a triple-double of 25 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists before he was tossed for violently slamming his shoulder into Markieff Morris late in the final period.

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel says it is understandable his players reacted badly to their loss away to the Portland Trail Blazers as they have high expectations of themselves.

Without the injured LeBron James and with Anthony Davis managing just seven minutes, the Lakers fell to a 105-90 defeat as their up-and-down early season form continued.

Russell Westbrook in particular struggled in Saturday's contest as he made just one of 13 shots for eight points, while turning the ball over on six occasions.

The defeat caps a poor week for the Lakers, having blown a 19-point lead to lose 107-104 to the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday.

Now 5-5 for the season and down in 10th in the Western Conference, Vogel is hopeful his side can grow stronger on the back of a tough run of results.

"We do have high expectations," Vogel said. "We're going to be a little edgy when we lose. I hope we're edgy when we lose. When we fail, failure is just fertiliser for growth. 

"That's the mindset that you have to have, and if you play the way we're playing and you win by one, maybe you're not as focused or locked in on correcting things or improving. We're just taking the silver lining in it."

Vogel confirmed Davis was replaced due to feeling unwell, but stressed the illness was not coronavirus related.

"He woke up today with a bit of a stomach bug," Vogel said. "He came back in and said his thumb felt pretty good, good enough to play, then he went and threw up in the back. 

"He still wanted to give it a go, but by the time tip-off came he had already thrown up four times. He wanted to see if getting out on the floor would change it, but wasn't able to go."

The Lakers will hope to have Davis back for the visit of the Charlotte Hornets on Monday as they attempt to get their NBA campaign back on track.

"We have a good process with our coaching staff, we have a good system in place, and the mindset is to stay positive, stay together and grow each day," Vogel said.

Joel Embiid starred as the Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to six games by topping Eastern Conference hopefuls the Chicago Bulls 114-105 in the NBA on Saturday.

Embiid – last season's MVP runner-up – posted 30 points, 15 rebounds, three assists and two blocks to fuel the in-form 76ers on the road in Chicago.

He also made four of five three-pointers as the 76ers finished 50 per cent from beyond the arc, while Furkan Korkmaz (25 points) matched a career high with seven made threes.

It was a memorable night for 76ers head coach Doc Rivers, who celebrated his 1,000th career victory – the 10th NBA coach to achieve the feat.

 

Eastern Conference leaders the 76ers (8-2) have won eight of their first 10 games for the first time since a 10-0 start in 2000-01.

 

Doncic on the buzzer

Luka Doncic hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer as the Dallas Mavericks topped the Boston Celtics 107-104. Doncic finished with 33 points.

The Denver Nuggets edged the lowly Houston Rockets 95-94 behind reigning MVP Nikola Jokic. Along with 28 points and 14 rebounds, Jokic also made the crucial block on Jae'Sean Tate's drive to the basket as time expired.

Kyle Lowry put up a triple-double of 20 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists – the 19th of his career – to key the high-flying Miami Heat's 118-115 victory at home to the Utah Jazz. Donovan Mitchell's 37 points were not enough for the Jazz.

 

Westbrook headlines Lakers' woes

Without LeBron James (abdominal strain) and Anthony Davis (two points) only managing seven minutes, Russell Westbrook struggled in the 105-90 loss away to the Portland Trail Blazers. Westbrook made just one of 13 shots for eight points, while he turned the ball over on six occasions.

Frank Vogel says the Los Angeles Lakers will show "big-picture patience" while having a "small-picture sense of urgency" after they slumped to a 107-104 defeat to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Lakers, missing LeBron James due to an abdominal strain, opened up a commanding 19-point lead in the second quarter at Staples Center on Thursday.

Oklahoma roared back to end the Lakers' three-match winning run, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scoring 11 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter as the Thunder secured only their second victory of the season.

Head coach Vogel says the Lakers will not feel sorry for themselves with the likes of James absent and will learn from their defeat to Oklahoma.

"We don't worry about stuff we can't control, we all want to win every game badly," said Vogel. "We want it to be perfect right now.

"We have big-picture patience but small-picture sense of urgency to get this right, right away and to win these games in the short term. We fell short tonight, it's disappointing but we'll get to work tomorrow and get better from it."

 

Vogel warned his players they must be consistent throughout matches after a strong first half was in vain.

"It's a long game, they are going to keep playing. Early leads don't really mean anything in the modern NBA," he added.

"You got to keep playing, we learned our lesson last week, but they made their run in the second quarter and it's a 48-minute game, you've got to play quarters."

Anthony Davis scored a game-high 29 points, claimed 18 rebounds and provided five assists as the Lakers slipped to 5-4.

Last season's NBA Finals runners-up the Phoenix Suns took down the Houston Rockets 123-111 for their third consecutive win on Thursday.

Devin Booker inspired the Suns with 27 points while Landry Shamet added 19 points off the bench in Phoenix.

Chris Paul contributed 13 assists, nine points and five steals for the Suns (4-3), who moved above .500 for the first time this season.

Paul is averaging 12.0 assists and 2.4 steals per game in 2021-22. Entering the contest, this season had marked the fifth time in the last 25 years a player has averaged at least 11.0 assists and 2.0 steals over his first six games of a season – the Suns All-Star has been responsible for four of the five, per Stats Perform.

 

Christian Wood (18 points and 15 rebounds) and Kevin Porter Jr. (20 points) starred but the lowly Rockets (1-7) dropped their fifth straight game.

 

Celtics cool red-hot Heat

The Boston Celtics (4-5) have struggled for form this season, though they made a statement with a 95-78 win over the Miami Heat (6-2). Miami – top of the Eastern Conference prior to the game – had their worst scoring performance since January 2016.

The Philadelphia 76ers (7-1) moved to the top of the east thanks to a 109-98 win at the struggling Detroit Pistons (1-7). Seth Curry produced another stellar shooting display – going nine of 14 from the field – for 23 points. MVP runner-up Joel Embiid had 19 points and nine rebounds as he collected his 3,000th career board in his 268th game – the only 76er in history to reach the mark sooner was Hall of Famer Charles Barkley (253 games).

 

Lakers streak snapped

Playing without injured superstar LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers (5-4) had their three-game winning streak ended after being stunned 107-104 by the Oklahoma City Thunder (2-6).

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James could be out of action for a week due to an abdominal strain.

James was ruled out of Thursday's NBA clash against the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder due to the injury.

The 36-year-old and four-time champion, who has already missed two of the Lakers' opening eight games of the season because of a sore right ankle, is facing more time on the sideline.

"Anytime LeBron's out and he's going to miss some time there's obviously concern," Lakers head coach Frank Vogel told reporters pre-game as his team eye a fourth consecutive victory.

"Hopefully this is something that's minimal, and hopefully he'll be back soon."

James has been averaging 24.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game this season, while shooting 46.7 per cent from the floor and 34.7 per cent from three-point range.

Against Houston on Tuesday, James (30), Anthony Davis (27) and Russell Westbrook (27) became the first trio of team-mates to score 27-plus points for the Lakers in the same game since January 20, 1995, when Cedric Ceballos (31), Elden Campbell (30) and Nick Van Exel (29) accomplished the feat, according to Stats Perform.

The Lakers (5-3) are currently averaging 113.4 points per game while giving up 112.6 a game. The last time Los Angeles both scored and gave up 112-plus points per game for a full season was 1967-68.

Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel called for the league to look into the decision to remove two points from his side's score in their win over the Houston Rockets.

After Sunday's controlled 95-85 victory at Staples Center, the Lakers were made to work harder for Tuesday's 119-117 win that moved them to 5-3 for the season.

LeBron James' second double-double of the season helped Los Angeles over the line, the four-time NBA MVP tallying 30 points and 10 assists despite continuing to struggle with an ankle issue.

Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook each put up 27 points to inspire a recovery from an 11-point deficit in the third quarter.

There was controversy in the closing minutes when officials called Vogel and Rockets coach Stephen Silas for a long discussion before it was announced the Lakers were having two points removed.

The decision was made after officials said they had incorrectly given Kent Bazemore two free throws when the Rockets were called for their fifth foul of the quarter, when it was in fact their fourth.

The Lakers' frustrations stemmed from the fact they effectively gave up a possession when the decision was made given the time that was allowed to pass.

"That's definitely something the league has got to look at," said Vogel. "I understand the mindset to get it right, but... it was their fourth foul and they gave us free throws. You're only supposed to get free throws on the fifth foul, so we shoot the free throws and play resumes, and a couple possessions later they made a mistake, so they just take the points off the board.

"Once play resumes, you can't correct that. You can't correct it. The league's got to look at that, because they can't give us that possession back. Like, if it was corrected at the time of the call, we get the ball on the side and it's our ball. Once that goes away, you just take the points away and don't give us the possession back, you can't correct that at that point.

"So, I'm very frustrated by that, the league has to look at that."

Davis, who also tallied nine rebounds and three blocks, felt the call could have cost the Lakers the win.

"So, [the officials] took the two points away. But what me, Bron and coach were explaining to the refs was we lost a possession," he said.

"We didn't take the ball out or anything. We shot free throws – take the points away, and now we just lose the possession, which could have cost the game. In a sense, nothing you can do about it, stuff like that. But good thing it didn't hurt us. Again, that's a [tough] situation."

Wednesday marks 24 years to the day since the late Kobe Bryant made his NBA debut with the Los Angeles Lakers.

While that first appearance against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the age of 18 was nothing to write home about, Bryant went on to enjoy a legendary career.

He won five NBA championships with the Lakers in the space of a decade and was selected to the All-Star Game 18 times, placing him behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (19).

Bryant tragically died in a helicopter crash last year, aged 41, but his legacy will live on for generations.

Here we look back at where it all began for one of sport's most iconic figures and pick out some other statistics from his incredible career.


STEADY IMPACT IN ROOKIE SEASON

The Charlotte Hornets drafted Bryant 13th overall in 1996 and traded him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac.

It was a move that would have a lasting impact on the sport, although it took Bryant a few seasons to really start to make his mark.

He played six minutes off the bench against the Timberwolves on his debut, failing to register a point during his short cameo; he did get a rebound, a block and a steal, though.

That appearance made him the youngest player to feature in NBA, aged 18 years and 72 days old, but he was supplanted by Jermaine O'Neal (18 years, 53 days) the following month. Andrew Bynum (18 years, six days) took the record in 2005.

 

"Rest In Peace to the late, great Kobe Bryant." pic.twitter.com/jmqQMVC2UO

— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 1, 2020 BEHIND ONLY LEBRON

Bryant steadily became more involved and made the All-Rookie second team at the end of his debut campaign.

The Philadelphia-born star scored a combined 613 points in the regular season and playoffs before turning 19, which only LeBron James (625) can better.

One record James could not take from Bryant, though, is for the youngest player in NBA history with at least 20 points in a postseason game.

Aged 18 years and 250 days, Bryant registered 22 points in Game 3 against the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference first-round series.

Bryant averaged 7.6 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 15.5 minutes on the floor during his rookie season.

To put that in some context, James averaged 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists, albeit with far more minutes (39.5).

That is still some way below the levels of Michael Jordan in his breakthrough season, with the Bulls great averaging 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists in his first year in the league.


THE SCARCELY BELIEVABLE STATS

Bryant still went on to carve out a place as one of the greatest players of all time, receiving All-NBA honours in 15 seasons, being named in the first team on 11 occasions. Only James, with 13 appearances in the first team, beats Bryant's total.

He was also named nine times to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, matching the all-time high; Kevin Garnett, Gary Payton and Jordan achieved the same total.

In the 2005-06 season, Bryant recorded his highest points-per-game average for a single campaign, with 35.4. He led the NBA in scoring in that season and in 2006-07.

In January 2006, he scored 81 points in a 122-104 victory over the Toronto Raptors – the second highest individual score in an NBA game, behind Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks in 1962.

Bryant received his lone NBA MVP award in 2008, having become the youngest player to reach 20,000 career points aged 29 years and 122 days.

In his final game, on April 13, 2016, Bryant scored 60 points for the Lakers in a 101-96 win over the Utah Jazz. A fitting farewell after a phenomenal career.

LeBron James recorded his second double-double of the season and first since opening night as the streaking Los Angeles Lakers withstood the Houston Rockets 119-117 on Tuesday.

James, who was a game-time decision again with his niggling ankle issue, scored 30 points – including two-of-four shooting from three-point – range along with 10 assists, four rebounds and two steals. The four-time NBA MVP added 14 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter.

The Lakers had led by eight points in the final quarter but escaped with the win, improving their record to 5-3 on the back of three straight victories, as Kevin Porter Jr.'s three-point attempt to steal the game on the buzzer rimmed out.

Star trio James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook scored a collective 84 points in their most productive game together after the latter arrived from the Washington Wizards in the offseason.

Davis added 27 points, nine rebounds and three assists, while former MVP Westbrook had 27 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

 

Paul third for all-time assists

Chris Paul had 18 assists along with 14 points and seven rebounds to help the Phoenix Suns overcome a 20-point deficit in their rallying 112-100 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. Paul moved past Mark Jackson and Steve Nash into third for all-time NBA assists. The Suns guard has 10,336 assists, behind only John Stockton (15,806) and Jason Kidd (12,091).

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 28 points, eight rebounds and nine assists as reigning champions the Milwaukee Bucks ended their three-game skid with a 117-89 win against the struggling Detroit Pistons.

Kyle Lowry drained six three-pointers among his 22 points and nine assists as the red-hot Miami Heat beat the Dallas Mavericks 125-110. Luka Doncic scored 33 points for the Mavs.

 

Clarkson's three-point woes

Utah Jazz point guard Jordan Clarkson shot poorly, going one of 11 from beyond the arc, scoring only two points in their 119-113 victory over the Sacramento Kings.

The new NBA season is two weeks in and narratives are already forming.

The Golden State Warriors are back, the Chicago Bulls' rebuild was a success, and several top teams – including defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks – are toiling.

Those themes may not hold for the entire regular season, but we have now seen enough to recognise some patterns – and the same is true on an individual level.

Which players have made flying starts to this campaign, and which are yet to find their feet? Stats Perform takes a look with the first 2021-22 edition of NBA Heat Check.

RUNNING HOT...

Miles Bridges

The Charlotte Hornets were already a fun watch last year thanks to LaMelo Ball, but the second-year point guard has help in 2021-22. Bridges has been one of the key men in lifting the Hornets to an exciting 5-3 start.

Playing alongside Ball, Gordon Hayward and surprise 2020-21 star Terry Rozier, Bridges leads Charlotte in scoring with 23.1 points per game. Now in year four, his previous best had seen 13.0 in his sophomore season.

Bridges' shooting from the field (47.2 per cent) and from three-point range (34.4 per cent) is actually down on last year, while he is only marginally more accurate from the foul line (88.2 per cent).

But the forward is thriving on having been given increased responsibility this season. He is back to being a regular starter, up to 35.5 minutes per game from 29.3, and attempting almost twice as many shots. Through Monday's games, only seven players in the NBA had attempted more shots from three (61).

With assists (3.4), rebounds (7.9), steals (1.8) and blocks (0.9) also on the rise, the Hornets could have a major asset if Bridges maintains these standards.

Ja Morant

If Bridges' development has represented a major shock, Morant's has not. The Memphis Grizzlies sensation was the Rookie of the Year two seasons ago and dumped the Warriors out in the play-in round last year.

Still, Morant's performances have been mightily impressive. His 28.3 points per game trail only Stephen Curry and Paul George. Having played more games than both, his 198 total points lead the league. Morant also tops the charts for field goals made (75).

After a 2-0 start, Morant had 40 in a losing effort against the Los Angeles Lakers and soon added 30 against the Warriors to return the Grizzlies to winning ways.

The 22-year-old is certainly not the finished article – only Russell Westbrook has had more turnovers than his 34 and a plus/minus of -6.1 suggests his scoring is not making up for shortcomings in other areas – but the rate of improvement indicates Memphis will be rewarded soon enough for sticking by their man.

Harrison Barnes

Barnes has seen what elite looks like, having been drafted by the Warriors in 2012 and started every game across the regular season and playoffs when they won the title three years later.

But Barnes was merely the fourth or fifth scoring option on that team and, through moves to the Dallas Mavericks and then the Sacramento Kings, has taken time to establish himself as a leading man.

This could well be the year, though. Barnes is the Kings' top scorer with 23.3 points per game, boosted by a career-high 36 against the Portland Trail Blazers on opening night.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the forward's scoring output has fallen with each passing performance since that stunning display, but he is bringing more to Sacramento than just scoring. Last year's 6.6 assists were a career high, only to be topped by a staggering 10.3 this time.

Although Barnes' Kings team-mates suggested after the Portland game they were always confident he could produce such displays, his progress at 29 has come as a surprise to everyone else.

GOING COLD...

Damian Lillard

Numerous players have explained away their below-par outputs by complaining about the NBA's new interpretation of the foul rule this season – a "change in the officiating of overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves by offensive players with the ball in an effort to draw fouls" essentially meaning fewer trips to the foul line for certain stars.

Trae Young, one of those prominently affected, named Lillard as another who was suffering more than usual.

Lillard is attempting only 3.9 free throws per game this year, in line with his career-low rookie year. His 18.6 points are below 19.0 he offered the Blazers in 2012-13. He had 28.8 last season.

But those foul calls are not Lillard's only issue, with his shooting from the field also hugely underwhelming through seven games.

The point guard is making only 34.9 per cent from the field and, having previously scored 4.1 three-point attempts per game, 23.1 per cent from beyond the arc. Those are also career lows and sources of major concern for Portland.

Dwight Howard

The Lakers made significant changes to their roster in the offseason and a number of the new recruits have not yet hit their stride.

It figures that Westbrook, now the third man in LA, should have seen his points (18.3), assists (8.7) and rebounds (8.7) take a hit along with his usage rate (28.5 per cent) after averaging a triple-double on the Washington Wizards, but Howard's slow early-season form was less predictable.

The three-time Defensive Player of the Year played a key bench role in the Lakers' title success in 2019-20, even starting seven playoff games, before joining the Philadelphia 76ers for a season.

Back at Staples Center, Howard is proving far less effective to this point. Both his points (4.3) and, most concerningly, rebounds (4.0) have reached career lows. His minutes are down from 17.3 last year to 15.2 this, but his averages per 48 only further display a decrease in performance – 23.3 rebounds becoming 12.7.

With Howard also involved in an altercation with Anthony Davis during a defeat to the Phoenix Suns, it is fair to say his Lakers return has not so far gone entirely to plan.

James Harden recorded his first triple-double of the season as the Brooklyn Nets claimed back-to-back wins for the first time this NBA campaign in a 117-91 victory over the lowly Detroit Pistons on Sunday.

Harden finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists after three quarters, while Nets team-mate Kevin Durant top-scored with 23 points but was ejected in the third quarter for shoving his elbow into Kelly Olynyk's face.

Former MVP Harden has had a slow start to 2021-22, however, he backed up his season-high 29 points against the Indiana Pacers on Friday with another impressive showing which will encourage the championship-chasing Nets (4-3) that he is getting back to his best after an injury-impacted offseason.

Harden hit four three-pointers as the superstar guard – already Brooklyn's all-time triple-double leader with 13 – joined Hall of Famer Larry Bird for second on the NBA's all-time list with 59.

 

Mitchell leads Jazz past struggling champs

Donovan Mitchell starred with 28 points, including a treble of first-quarters three-pointers as the Utah Jazz hit their first five attempts from range in a 107-95 win against slumping champions the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Bucks, who have lost three in a row.

Carmelo Anthony – who is shooting a career-high 50 per cent and 52.2 per cent from three this season – scored 23 points off the bench, while LeBron James had 15 points, seven rebounds and assists in the Los Angeles Lakers' 95-85 triumph over the Houston Rockets.

Luka Doncic led the way for the Dallas Mavericks with 23 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists in a 105-99 victory against the Sacramento Kings.

 

Dame cold in Blazers loss

All-Star Damian Lillard's shooting was wayward as the Portland Trail Blazers were downed 125-113 by the Charlotte Hornets, hitting two from 14 from three-point range for a below-standard 14-point return.

LeBron James praised Evan Mobley after facing the Cleveland Cavaliers rookie for the first time but said it was "getting more weird by the day" playing his son's former opponent.

James, back from an ankle injury, marked the 18th anniversary of his NBA debut with a game-high 26 points in the Los Angeles Lakers' 113-101 win on Friday. Mobley, who led the Cavs with 23 points, is only 20 years old.

Indeed, LeBron's previous experience of this year's third overall draft pick was seeing Mobley take on Bronny James in high school.

Mobley then spent a single season at USC but has settled quickly in his rookie year in the NBA.

Friday's performance, in his sixth game, brought his most points so far, along with six rebounds, three assists, two steals and, for the second game running, zero turnovers.

With double-figure points in every game and two double-doubles already, Mobley is averaging 15.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.7 blocks, 1.3 steals and 1.3 turnovers for the 3-3 Cavs.

James, who was a first overall pick for Cleveland in 2003, winning a single title in two spells with the team, said of Mobley: "He is going to be a damn good basketball player in this league.

"It's so crazy, because he was just playing against my son a couple of years ago. It's weird, and it's getting more weird by the day. He's playing against my son in the playoffs two years ago, and obviously we saw what he did in the tournament, just electrifying.

"They've got a good one. Cleveland has a good one. They've done a great job over the years in the draft, I'll say."

James was returning after two games out due to soreness to the same ankle he injured last year as he was restricted to a career-low 42.9 per cent of possible minutes in the regular season.

"I can definitely feel it a little bit right now, but that's just the adrenaline wearing off," he said. "It feels a lot better post-game today than it did post-game Sunday when we played Memphis."

James linked up effectively with Russell Westbrook, with three of the point guard's five assists coming from passes to the four-time MVP. They have now combined seven times for the year, with James the scorer each time.

Westbrook is having to adjust in LA. His career usage rate is 33.6 per cent (since the statistic was tracked in 2014-15), peaking with 41.7 per cent in 2016-17, but has reached a new low this year with 28.4 per cent, sharing the ball with two superstars in James and Anthony Davis.

James praised his new team-mate's early work, though, saying: "It's all about progressing and understanding the playmaker that you're playing with, understanding his vision, his awareness.

"I don't think he gets enough credit for his passing ability, being able to see plays before they happen. For me, as a receiver, it's my job to be in a position where the quarterback can just make a pass and I've got to go get it.

"Running the lane with Russ, he's usually out in front of the pack, because of his pace and his intensity, but when you run with him, you're rewarded."

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