LeBron James is deserving of MVP consideration but the Los Angeles Lakers' 31-42 record will work against him according to head coach Frank Vogel.

The four-time MVP has had an outstanding season for the Lakers, averaging a career-high 30.0 points per game, which is also the best in the NBA this season ahead of Joel Embiid (29.8) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (29.7).

James has played 54 of the Lakers' 73 games, shooting at 52 per cent from the field while averaging 8.2 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks.

The 37-year-old, however, has single-handedly carried the Lakers, who are 10th in the Western Conference and scrapping to make the Play-In Tournament.

"He is as deserving for MVP consideration as anybody in the league," Vogel told reporters on Friday.

"I know how the voting goes - the team with the best record or top couple of records usually gets most of those considerations, so the win-loss record definitely would probably hurt him.

"But you can't tell me that anybody has played a better season than LeBron James has this year."

Embiid, whose Philadelphia 76ers are 45-27, and Nikola Jokic, whose Denver Nuggets are 43-31, are the current favourites for the MVP, with James believed to be behind the likes of Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Ja Morant, DeMar DeRozan and Devin Booker.

The 76ers center is averaging 29.8 points with 48 per cent shooting from the field along with 11.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists this season.

Reigning MVP Jokic is averaging 26.2 points at 57 per cent shooting with 13.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists and has had a league-high 18 triple-doubles.

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving delivered big performances, but the Memphis Grizzlies were unstoppable in the first half on the way to a 132-120 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

Irving finished with 43 points (15-of-27 shooting, six-of-11 from three) and eight assists, while Durant posted figures of 35 points (12-of-28 shooting, 10-of-10 from the free-throw line) with 11 rebounds, eight assists, two blocks and two steals.

But the Grizzlies would not be denied in front of their home fans, clicking on all cylinders early to jump out to a 76-62 half-time lead.

It was yet another stunning showing without MVP candidate Ja Morant who missed again through injury, with seven Grizzlies scoring double figures to pick up the slack.

Desmond Bane (eight-of-17 shooting) and De'Anthony Melton (eight-of-13 shooting) led the way with 23 points each, while Jaren Jackson Jr swatted away four shots as he continued his charge for Defensive Player of the Year.

With the win, the Grizzlies moved to 50-23 for the year, and an incredible 15-2 in games Morant has missed.

 

Warriors 'punk' the Heat

A day after Draymond Green said his Golden State Warriors were being "punked" in recent losses, they responded in style, beating the Miami Heat 118-104 without Green and injured star Stephen Curry.

In a game where Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler had to be physically separated from coach Erik Spoelstra during a time-out, the Miami defence simply could not get stops in the second half as tempers flared.

Jordan Poole shone yet again for the Warriors, scoring 30 points on 10-of-18 shooting, going three-of-seven from long range, while rookie Jonathan Kuminga, All-Star Andrew Wiggins and bench player Damion Lee chipped in with 22 points each.


Ayton and the Suns shine in Minnesota, Davion dominates

A 42-point fourth quarter capped off a terrific 125-116 comeback win for the Phoenix Suns on the road against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Trailing 64-51 at the halfway stage and by five at three-quarter time, the Suns got 11 points from centre Deandre Ayton down the stretch to cap off a big 35-point (15-of-24 shooting), 14-rebound performance.

Devin Booker controlled the contest for the Suns, scoring 28 points on only 15 field goal attempts, going 13-of-16 from the free throw line while also dishing out seven assists.

Meanwhile, rookie top-10 pick Davion Mitchell starred in the Sacramento Kings' 110-109 away win against the Indiana Pacers, scoring 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting and collecting seven assists in arguably his best game as a professional.

Joel Embiid scored 30 points and had 10 rebounds, three steals and three blocks for the Philadelphia 76ers in their 126-121 win over a Los Angeles Lakers side who were without LeBron James.

LeBron James will miss Wednesday's showcase game between his Los Angeles Lakers and the visiting Philadelphia 76ers.

The team is calling it knee soreness after he also missed a string of games in February with left-knee swelling.

James, 37, has played 54 out of a possible 72 games so far this season for the Lakers, and currently leads the league in points-per-game at 30.0, leading Joel Embiid (29.8) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (29.7).

If James were to hold off Embiid and Antetokounmpo, it would be just the second scoring title of his career after he also averaged 30.0 in the 2007-08 season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Embiid will need to score 45 points to finish the night in the lead for the scoring title.

In the four games the Lakers have won since the All-Star break, James is averaging 45 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

The Lakers are ninth in the Western Conference with a 31-41 record going into the game.

The stars will be out on Wednesday at Crypto.com Arena when the Philadelphia 76ers roll into town to take on the Los Angeles Lakers.

After sitting out the second leg of Monday's back-to-back against the Miami Heat, superstar duo Joel Embiid and James Harden should be back in the line-up for the 44-27 76ers as they jostle with the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics for the Eastern Conference two seed.

Meanwhile, the Lakers are fighting to keep their head above water, with their 31-41 record leaving them five games behind the eight seed Los Angeles Clippers as they prepare for the impending play-in tournament.

The Sixers are in the midst of a stylistic metamorphosis since the arrival of Harden at the All-Star break, completely re-shaping their offensive profile.

 

As was expected, the 76ers' free-throw rate (FTR) skyrocketed when it paired arguably the two greatest shooting-foul magnets of this generation.

Their 0.259 FTR – which means Philadelphia was shooting free throws on nearly 26 per cent of their possessions prior to Harden's arrival – was good for fourth in the NBA, with the Houston Rockets leading that category at 0.291.

While league-wide FTR is significantly up since the All-Star break, primarily due to it being artificially low to start the season as referees cracked down on players milking free throws, the 76ers have taken it to the extreme, leading the league at 0.374 following Harden's arrival – with only Philly and the New York Knicks (0.363) above third-placed Denver's 0.310.

No team has posted a FTR higher than 0.374 since Harden and Dwight Howard's 2013-14 Houston Rockets (0.386)

To say the 76ers have relied on free throws to sustain their scoring production is an understatement – since the trade, their 41.4 points in the paint per 100 possessions is the worst in the league, all while the offense revolves around a seven-foot-two behemoth in Embiid.

As has been the case with Harden's teams, specifically during his tenure in Houston, his offenses will live and die with free throws and three-pointers, with the 76ers upping their long-range attempts from 31.7 per 100 possessions to 35.6, moving from 26th in the league up to 11th.

It is irrefutable that Harden has changed this offense but, while Philadelphia's offensive efficiency has increased from 111 points per 100 possessions up to 115.4, their attack remains the 14th-best as league-wide efficiency is up across the board due to shooting fouls increasing and teams finding their rhythm.

On the other side, the Lakers are learning to live without injured centrepiece Anthony Davis, and the numbers have not been pretty on both ends.

Lacking a true interior presence since the All-Star break, the Lakers' FTR has plummeted from eighth in the league (0.251) to 26th (0.239), and their once-vaunted defense has become one of the league's worst.

As well as being 27th in overall defensive efficiency since the All-Star break, the Lakers are the league's second-worst team when it comes to allowing points in the paint.

So what happens when a movable object – the Lakers' paint defence – meets a stoppable force – Philadelphia's paint scoring?
 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS 

Philadelphia 76ers – Joel Embiid

While Harden is a former MVP, Embiid is the favourite for this year's award, and his level of play is usually the deciding factor in whether the 76ers win or lose.

In wins this season, Embiid is averaging 31.7 points and 4.6 assists on 51 per cent shooting from the field, with those numbers dropping to 25.9 points and 3.7 assists on 43 per cent shooting in losses.

Los Angeles Lakers – LeBron James

Simply put, since the All-Star break, the Lakers only win when James dominates.

In that period, the Lakers have a record of 4-9 when James plays, with the four-time champion averaging 45 points, 9.3 rebounds and seven assists in the four wins.


KEY BATTLE – Who wants to run?

A glaring weakness of both teams since the All-Star break has been transition defense, with the Lakers dead last, allowing 18.7 fastbreak points per 100 possessions.

The 76ers have not been much better, coming in at 28th, allowing 16.6 per 100 possessions.

Philadelphia have been criticised for being slow, while the Lakers have been criticised for being old, but which team is going to take advantage?

The Lakers appear more equipped to play an up-tempo style, coming in at fifth in the NBA in fastbreak points per game (14.9), and it is worth noting that no player has more fastbreak dunks this season than LeBron James' 36.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The 76ers won this season's only meeting, coming away with a 105-87 home win in a January game where Anthony Davis played, and played well for the Lakers in the critical absence of James.

Philadelphia won both meetings in the 2020-21 season, with the Lakers' last triumph coming on March 3, 2020.

LeBron James hopes former teammate Kevin Love harbours no resentment after a brutal dunk in the Los Angeles Lakers' 130-121 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

James' return to Cleveland saw him put up a triple-double of 38 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds, along with the dunk on his championship-winning teammate Love.

Attacking off an Austin Reaves dish inside, the 37-year-old launched to the basket with Love underneath, and the knee in the chest only served as a punctuation mark to what was a ferocious dunk.

Afterwards, James joked he hopes the invitation to the wedding of Love - whom he played with at the Cavs from 2014 to 2018 - is not rescinded.

"It was after the offensive rebound so I was diving down the middle, and once I got the bounce pass and put my left leg down on the ground, that's when I looked up," James said at the post-game news conference.

"To be completely honest, I hate that it had to be him. He's my guy, that's my brother and I hope I'm still invited to the wedding.

"That's not even in my all-time dunks so take it out. Kevin Love, I love you. I wish I could take those two points back and we'd still win by nine."

After last Sunday's demolition at the hands of the Phoenix Suns, the Lakers have regrouped on this road trip and if not for a fourth-quarter collapse against the Washington Wizards on Saturday, would be coming back home with a three-game win streak.

James believes performances have nevertheless been encouraging, with the Western Conference play-in on the horizon.

"For about 11 quarters, we've played some good basketball," he said. "Aside from the fourth quarter in the last game, we've played some good basketball and want to continue that trend.

"Obviously we want to defend a lot better, but this team is making a lot of shots, making a lot of plays and scoring a lot of points versus everybody.

"To come into this building, where [they] have played some exceptional basketball all year, on the last game of a road trip before we head back west, it was a big game from us."

LeBron James scored 38 points and notched up another triple-double upon his return to Cleveland, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 131-120 win over the Cavaliers on Monday.

Other than this season's All-Star Game, it was Akron-born James' only home visit. Having played 11 seasons in two stints with the Cavs, he was warmly received as he added 10 rebounds and 12 assists to those 38 points.

Russell Westbrook and D.J. Augustin added 20 points each for the Lakers, who moved three games clear of the 10th-placed San Antonio Spurs for Western Conference play-in calculations.

Meanwhile, the Cavs only just remain in sixth in the Eastern Conference at 41-31, one game clear of the Toronto Raptors in the first play-in spot.

Durant gives Jazz the business in Brooklyn

Kevin Durant was at his talismanic best, as the Brooklyn Nets won 114-106 at home to the Utah Jazz.

Durant had 37 points on 15-of-23 shooting, including four-of-seven from beyond the arc, as well as coming up with nine rebounds and eight assists.

Brooklyn look set to secure an Eastern Conference play-in spot at 38-34 in eighth, and despite 30 points for the Jazz, Donovan Mitchell couldn't stop the Nets from snapping their three-game win streak.

Maxey catches fire in Heat win

Tyrese Maxey scored 13 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, propelling the short-handed Philadelphia 76ers to a 113-106 victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat.

Without Joel Embiid and James Harden, Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz added 20 and 18 points respectively, while Maxey made critical buckets down the stretch.

In a game that was tight throughout, the 21-year-old came up big in the clutch, scoring on a drive plus the foul to give the Sixers a 106-101 lead with 2:18 remaining.

Frank Vogel was keen to take the time to acknowledge LeBron James' achievement in passing Karl Malone despite the Los Angeles Lakers' 127-119 defeat to the Washington Wizards.

With 38 points against the Wizards, James moved ahead of Malone (36,928) onto 36,947 for his career, now trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) all-time.

For James, who has played 197 games fewer than Abdul-Jabbar, this was a 31st 30-point game of the season – behind only Joel Embiid (33).

Lakers team-mate Russell Westbrook described this latest accomplishment as "an amazing feat to witness", while Carmelo Anthony said he was "still in awe" of James.

James insisted he could not "separate" his own performance from the defeat – "all I care about is wins and losses," he explained – but that was not a stance Vogel agreed with.

"It's bittersweet, but I think it's important to separate it," the coach said.

"This is a moment of time that we can't get caught up in the pain of this loss and [must] recognise what an incredible feat this is for LeBron, doing it in the fashion that he did it.

"He just attacked the game tonight. He came in and was aggressive on both sides of the ball, the second night of a back-to-back, really playing with incredible energy after playing 45 minutes last night.

"It was just a signature performance in a game where he passes one of the greats and becomes the second all-time leading scorer in the history of the game.

"It's really impressive, and I'm super happy for him. It's awesome."

For a player so focused on results, this has been a tough season for James, with the loss leaving the Lakers just half a game ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans in ninth in the West at 30-41.

This is despite James' 29.8 points per game – the third-highest mark of his career and highest since 2007-08.

"It's just an incredible game, an incredible season, and I don't know where we'd be without him," Vogel said.

Happily for the Lakers, as they look set for the play-in game, Vogel believes James is still getting better.

"This year's no different. The fact that it's later in his career and he's still doing it at this level is different," he added.

"Obviously, the way he's continuing to evolve his game with the deep shooting, with the turnaround, fadeaway jump shot that Kobe [Bryant] and Michael [Jordan] had later in his career... He's growing as a receiver. That part is special."

LeBron James will not allow himself to think about breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's all-time NBA point scoring record despite moving into second spot on Saturday.

Four-time NBA MVP James scored 38 points in the Los Angeles Lakers' 127-119 loss to the Washington Wizards on Saturday, helping him surpass Utah Jazz legend Karl Malone's mark into second spot on the all-time list.

James is now behind only former Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time NBA scoring list with 38,387 points.

The 37-year-old's 38-point haul moved him to 36,947 career points, which is 1,440 points behind Abdul-Jabbar's record.

The Lakers superstar has scored 1,580 points this season, meaning becoming the NBA's all-time top scorer is realistic in the next 12 months yet he insisted it was not a focus.

"I will not allow myself to think about it," James said at the post-game news conference. "I've always just played the game and these things have just happened organically by playing the right way.

"I hope to accomplish that at some point in my career but I won't think about it too much, pretty much until we get there hopefully."

James surpassed Malone's mark with 5:20 left in the second quarter. Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan are fourth and fifth respectively on the list.

"Just to be a part of this league for as many years as I've been a part of it, to be linked with some of the greatest to ever play this game, guys I've watched or studied, or read about, or inspired to be like, I'm just lost for words for it," James said.

"It's an honour for myself, for my friends and family to live these moments, for anyone who's shared my journey."

LeBron James will not allow himself to think about breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's all-time NBA point scoring record despite moving into second spot on Saturday.

Four-time NBA MVP James scored 38 points in the Los Angeles Lakers' 127-119 loss to the Washington Wizards on Saturday, helping him surpass Utah Jazz legend Karl Malone's mark into second spot on the all-time list.

James is now behind only former Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time NBA scoring list with 38,387 points.

The 37-year-old's 38-point haul moved him to 36,947 career points, which is 1,440 points behind Abdul-Jabbar's record.

The Lakers superstar has scored 1,580 points this season, meaning becoming the NBA's all-time top scorer is realistic in the next 12 months yet he insisted it was not a focus.

"I will not allow myself to think about it," James said at the post-game news conference. "I've always just played the game and these things have just happened organically by playing the right way.

"I hope to accomplish that at some point in my career but I won't think about it too much, pretty much until we get there hopefully."

James surpassed Malone's mark with 5:20 left in the second quarter. Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan are fourth and fifth respectively on the list.

"Just to be a part of this league for as many years as I've been a part of it, to be linked with some of the greatest to ever play this game, guys I've watched or studied, or read about, or inspired to be like, I'm just lost for words for it," James said.

"It's an honour for myself, for my friends and family to live these moments, for anyone who's shared my journey."

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.

Four-time NBA MVP LeBron James has surpassed Karl Malone as the league's all-time second leading scorer in Saturday's Los Angeles Lakers game against the Washington Wizards.

James trailed the former Utah Jazz Hall of Famer by 20 points coming into Saturday's game but passed him with 5:20 left in the second quarter.

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.

Two-time MVP Malone scored 36,928 points across his decorated 19-year NBA career. Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan are fourth and fifth respectively on the list.

James, who was under some doubt for Saturday's game due to knee soreness following Friday's over-time win over the Toronto Raptors, entered the game averaging 29.7 points per game this season.

The four-time NBA champion has not had such a productive offensive season since 2009-10 when he averaged 29.7 points for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Russell Westbrook was hailed a "big-time player" by LeBron James after sinking a clutch three-pointer to force overtime in the Los Angeles' Lakers win over the Toronto Raptors.

The much-maligned Westbrook forced a turnover off a Raptors inbound with 0.4 seconds remaining at Scotiabank Arena and drained a triple to tie the game at 116-116.

Inspired by 36-point James, who scored 19 of those points in the fourth quarter and overtime, the Lakers claimed a 128-123 victory to snap a three-game losing streak.

Westbrook has endured a frustrating first season in Los Angeles, who lost 12 of their previous 15 games, with Friday proving to be a rare highlight for the one-time MVP.

"I was actually looking at his feet when he was getting close to the three-point line," James said of Westbrook's key intervention.

"I saw him step on the three-point line and then slide his foot back before he released it. It was big-time IQ there on his part and a big-time shot by a big-time player."

 

Westbrook registered his 10th triple-double of the season with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists as the Lakers picked up a first road win in 12 attempts.

The 33-year-old now has 1,241 points for the season, which is second only to James (1,542) among Lakers players.

He has 23,098 across his career, meanwhile, and the former Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards point guard has never lost faith in his own ability.

Asked how he has managed to cope with criticism aimed his way this season, Westbrook told reporters: "I got 23,000 points... How about that?
 
"Throughout this whole process, throughout the year, ups and downs, the good and the bad, I lean so much on my faith.

"It's very important that I stay faithful and truthful to that because eventually it will all work out, and nights like tonight was the reason why I stay just true to my faith."

With his 36 points on Friday, James is 20 away from passing Karl Malone as the second-highest points scorer in NBA history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leads the way with 38,387.

Joel Embiid and James Harden scored a combined 56 points as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Dallas Mavericks 111-101 on Friday.

Going 11-for-20 from the floor, Embiid scored 21 of his 32 points in the first half, including a fadeaway three on the buzzer to give the Sixers a 58-53 lead at the interval.

Luka Doncic put up a double-double of 17 points and 10 assists but was held to 25 per cent from the floor and 20 per cent from the perimeter, in a poor shooting night.

At 43-26, the Sixers are now three games behind the Miami Heat, the Eastern Conference leaders, while the Mavericks are fifth in the Western Conference at 43-27.

Westbrook lifts Lakers to overtime win in Toronto

Russell Westbrook's three-pointer at the end of regulation propelled the Los Angeles Lakers to a 128-123 road win over the Toronto Raptors in overtime.

With 10.3 seconds remaining, the much-maligned Westbrook forced a turnover off a Raptors inbound before draining a contested triple from the wing, to tie the game at 116-116.

Both sides remain firmly placed in play-in calculations, though, with the Lakers ninth in the Western Conference at 30-40, while the Raptors are seventh in the East on 39-31.

Short-handed Hawks snap Memphis win streak

Without their two scoring leaders, the Atlanta Hawks secured an important win at home to the Memphis Grizzlies, emerging 120-105 victors.

In John Collins and Trae Young's absence, Bogdan Bogdanovic came up big with a season-high 30 points, while Delon Wright and Clint Capela also added 18 each.

Despite 29 points from Ja Morant on 11-for-23 shooting, the Grizzlies had a four-game win streak snapped, but still hold the NBA's second best record at 48-23.

Joel Embiid and James Harden scored a combined 56 points as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Dallas Mavericks 111-101 on Friday.

Going 11-for-20 from the floor, Embiid scored 21 of his 32 points in the first half, including a fadeaway three on the buzzer to give the Sixers a 58-53 lead at the interval.

Luka Doncic put up a double-double of 17 points and 10 assists but was held to 25 per cent from the floor and 20 per cent from the perimeter, in a poor shooting night.

At 43-26, the Sixers are now three games behind the Miami Heat, the Eastern Conference leaders, while the Mavericks are fifth in the Western Conference at 43-27.

Westbrook lifts Lakers to overtime win in Toronto

Russell Westbrook's three-pointer at the end of regulation propelled the Los Angeles Lakers to a 128-123 road win over the Toronto Raptors in overtime.

With 10.3 seconds remaining, the much-maligned Westbrook forced a turnover off a Raptors inbound before draining a contested triple from the wing, to tie the game at 116-116.

Both sides remain firmly placed in play-in calculations, though, with the Lakers ninth in the Western Conference at 30-40, while the Raptors are seventh in the East on 39-31.

Short-handed Hawks snap Memphis win streak

Without their two scoring leaders, the Atlanta Hawks secured an important win at home to the Memphis Grizzlies, emerging 120-105 victors.

In John Collins and Trae Young's absence, Bogdan Bogdanovic came up big with a season-high 30 points, while Delon Wright and Clint Capela also added 18 each.

Despite 29 points from Ja Morant on 11-for-23 shooting, the Grizzlies had a four-game win streak snapped, but still hold the NBA's second best record at 48-23.

Spencer Dinwiddie delivered the buzzer-beating dagger in the Dallas Mavericks' 113-111 win on the road against the Brooklyn Nets.

In a game with First Team All-NBA stars Luka Doncic and Kevin Durant going head-to-head, Dinwiddie hit the most important shot of the night as defenders rushed to trap Doncic with just seconds remaining as the Mavericks trailed 110-111.

The game only required Dinwiddie's heroics after a string of late-game shot-making saw the lead seesaw.

After a Dirk Nowitzki-esque mid-range fadeaway from Doncic to grab a 110-108 lead, Durant took matters into his own hands.

Facing a defence that was game-planned to get the ball out of Durant's hands by sending two defenders to him whenever he had the ball, the seven-foot star was unselfish throughout the game as he moved the ball to the open outlet pass and racked up 10 assists to go with his 23 points (8/20 shooting).

But with everything on the line, Durant was determined to live and die by his own shot-making, pulling up and draining a ridiculous long-three with two defenders closing in on him to nab a one-point lead, before Dindwiddie answered.

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