The Los Angeles Lakers claimed their first win of the season after outlasting Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies 121-118 in the NBA on Sunday.

LeBron James and the Lakers had lost back-to-back games to open the 2021-22 campaign but finally had something to celebrate at home to the Grizzlies.

Anthony Davis posted 22 points and eight rebounds, while team-mate James finished with 19 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Lakers (1-2).

But it was Lakers veteran Carmelo Anthony who led the way with 28 points (on 10-of-15 shooting) from the bench.

Anthony passed Moses Malone for ninth place on the all-time NBA leading scorers list.

Morant excelled with 40 points and 10 assists, but it was not enough for the Grizzlies (2-1), who lost for the first time.

 

Curry brothers star as Steph makes history

Stephen Curry was at it again to lead the Golden State Warriors to their first 3-0 start to a season since 2015 after a 119-107 victory against the Sacramento Kings. The two-time MVP put up 27 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and three steals to fuel the unbeaten Warriors. With his fifth assist, Curry became the first player in franchise history to dish out 5,000 career assists.

The Philadelphia 76ers topped the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder 115-103. Seth Curry maintained his red-hot form, going seven-of-10 from three-point range for a team-high 28 points. Curry was six of seven from beyond the arc for 23 points in the opening quarter – a new career-high for a single period. He is the fourth 76ers player with at least 20 points in a quarter since 2010, joining Joel Embiid (four times), Jodie Meeks and Lou Williams. Embiid had 22 points, nine rebounds and six assists against the Thunder.

Jalen Green enjoyed a breakout game, despite the Houston Rockets going down 107-97 to the Boston Celtics. Green became the first rookie in Rockets history with 30-plus points and eight three-pointers in a game after finishing with 30 points – including eight threes, four rebounds and three assists.

The Charlotte Hornets are off to their first 3-0 start to the season thanks to a 111-95 win over the Brooklyn Nets behind Miles Bridges' 32 points. Kevin Durant led the Nets with 38 points in Brooklyn.

 

Harden struggles from the floor in Nets loss

James Harden was far from his best against Hornets, going just six-of-16 shooting from the field for 15 points in 33 minutes, while he also finished with eight turnovers.

Evan Fournier was three-of-11 shooting from the field – making just two of seven three-pointers – as the New York Knicks were stunned 110-104 by the Orlando Magic.

Steve Nash said "it's not going to be pretty for a little while" after the Brooklyn Nets rallied past the Philadelphia 76ers 114-109 for their first win of the season.

The Nets had never led or tied the 76ers until LaMarcus Aldridge's dunk levelled Friday's NBA clash at 108-108 with 48 seconds remaining in Philadelphia.

Brooklyn, who were blown out by reigning champions the Milwaukee Bucks in their season opener, relied on superstars Kevin Durant and James Harden to eventually see off Eastern Conference rivals the 76ers.

Durant had a triple-double of 29 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists, while Harden finished with 20 points for the Nets, who closed out the contest on a 16-1 run.

"It's not going to be pretty for a little while here," said Nets head coach Nash in the continued absence of Kyrie Irving (unvaccinated).

"We just got to continue to fight, play for each other and figure out ways to compete and stay engaged while we figure out rotations and combinations and what we are all about."

 

On Durant and Harden, Nash added: "I think they are excited for their new team-mates. But it takes time to find that rhythm and combinations. And also we lost a big piece [Irving].

"It is not just the new pieces, it's the void that we are used to playing with. It is, it is a lot for us to take on at this moment in time. But hopefully in the weeks coming, we start to clear some of the debris so to speak and figure out how we can best play together."

Nets recruit Patty Mills (three-of-three shooting from beyond the arc) became the first player in NBA history to open a season 10-10 from three.

Durant recorded his 13th career triple-double and the former MVP said of playing without Irving: "We wasn't planning on having to do this, but you know, it's good for us to make adjustments.

"It's good for guys who wasn't expecting to play bigger roles to step into those roles and see who we are. This is the situation we were in, and I think a lot of guys have taken advantage of it.

"For James and myself, it feels like each game may be different and we may have to do different things than we thought coming into the season. But it's all good. It's always gonna help us get better."

Harden added: "We're the best at what we do, we'll figure it out. Me personally, I've been through a lot where I had different team-mates, different line-ups and playing small ball, so I'm used to trying to figure it out and just go with the flow and making it work. We have a really good team and we'll figure it out.

"Kevin is the same way and one of the best to ever touch a basketball. So we just got to go out there and do what we do and things will work out."

The Phoenix Suns soared to a 115-105 victory as LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers were condemned to back-to-back defeats to start the 2021-22 NBA season.

Chris Paul fuelled the Suns with 23 points and 14 rebounds in Los Angeles, where the Lakers were no match for last season's NBA Finals participants and fell to 0-2.

Paul became the first player in NBA history with 20,000 points and 10,000 assists.

Devin Booker (22 points) and Mikal Bridges (21 points) also impressed for the Suns, while double-doubles from Anthony Davis (22 points and 14 rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (15 points and 11 rebounds) were not enough for the Lakers.

James finished with 25 points in front of the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Justin Bieber at Staples Center.

The Lakers' woes were compounded by a row between team-mates Davis and Dwight Howard on the bench during the second quarter as the pair had to be separated.

 

 

Durant's Nets spoil 76ers' opener

The Philadelphia 76ers looked in control and on track for victory but they were upstaged 114-109 by Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets. Kevin Durant posted a triple-double of 29 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists as the Nets used a 16-1 run to stun the 76ers in their first home game of the season in Philadelphia. James Harden had 20 points, while LaMarcus Aldridge added 23 points off the bench on 10-of-12 shooting. Seth Curry made all four of this three-pointers to finish with 23 points, the same amount as 76ers team-mate Tobias Harris.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic showed why he was crowned the league's best player last season, scoring 32 points, collecting 16 rebounds and supplying seven assists in a 102-96 win against the San Antonio Spurs. It was his eighth 30/15/5 game, doubling the rest of the Nuggets franchise history combined.

The Chicago Bulls' new-look team improved to 2-0 thanks to a 128-112 triumph over the New Orleans Pelicans. Lonzo Ball inspired the win behind his triple-double (17 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds), while Zach LaVine (32 points) and DeMar DeRozan (26 points) also came up big.

The Utah Jazz stayed unbeaten courtesy of dominant displays from All-Star duo Donovan Mitchell (27 points) and Rudy Gobert (17 points and 20 assists) in the 110-101 road win at the Sacramento Kings.

Myles turner joined James, Harden, Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady as the only players in NBA history to score 40 points, 10 rebounds, five three-pointers and three blocks in a game. The Indiana Pacers still lost 135-134 to the Washington Wizards in overtime.

 

Celtics lose again

The Boston Celtics were booed off the court at half-time and throughout the second half in their 115-83 defeat against the Toronto Raptors. Jaylen Brown was three-for-13 shooting for nine points and five turnovers, while Marcus Smart ended the game scoreless on 0-for-six shooting in 29 minutes as the Celtics fell to 0-2.

Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid made an impassioned plea for fans to support team-mate Ben Simmons amid his continued absence.

Simmons is yet to feature for the 76ers this NBA season, sitting out Friday's clash with Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets, having been suspended for Wednesday's opener against the New Orleans Pelicans due to "conduct detrimental to the team".

The three-time All-Star has sought a trade away from the 76ers following last season's shock playoff exit to the Atlanta Hawks, while he was reportedly ejected from Tuesday's practice as head coach Doc Rivers grew frustrated with his lack of engagement.

After a meeting between Simmons, Embiid and the rest of the team, last season's MVP runner-up threw his support behind the former number one pick prior to tip-off against the Nets in Philadelphia.

"I urge you guys to continue to support us and our team-mate Ben, because he's still our brother," Embiid said as he grabbed the microphone on court.

Following the meeting, ESPN reported Simmons notified the 76ers he was not mentally ready to play and needed time to step away.

"I felt good up and down throughout and I kept saying that, things do change," Rivers told reporters pre-game.

"That still doesn't mean it's gonna work out perfect or it could, but I always believed that. I've never wavered from that. I've said that 100 times and I still stick with it."

Rivers added: "It was a productive day, but it's a start. That's the only way you can get going, you gotta start, and today was a start."

 

Simmons – an elite defender who signed a five-year, $177.2million contract extension in 2019 – and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers, who were eliminated in the semi-finals.

The 25-year-old had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs against the Hawks last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star, according to Stats Perform.

Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career-worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.

"He is part of the team," he continued. "We have certain rules, obviously, the other day, that didn't happen, but today was a good day.

"Most people, we look at problems instead of the possibilities and I think if we focus on the possibilities, just in life in general, you have a pretty good chance of going to a good place. If you focus on the problems, you're probably gonna continue to have problems."

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said while disgruntled All-Star Ben Simmons remains away from the team, he took positives from Friday's meeting.

Simmons – who has demanded a trade – was suspended for Wednesday's NBA season-opening win over the New Orleans Pelicans due to "conduct detrimental to the team" following reports he was ejected from practice after Rivers grew frustrated with his lack of engagement.

The Australian has also been ruled out of Friday's showdown with star-studded Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets at Wells Fargo Center.

Reports of a meeting between Simmons, Rivers and his team-mates emerged on Friday, with ESPN claiming the former number one pick was not mentally ready to play and needed time to step away.

Speaking afterwards and prior to tip-off against the Nets, Rivers told reporters: "I felt good up and down throughout and I kept saying that, things do change.

"That still doesn't mean it's gonna work out perfect or it could, but I always believed that. I've never wavered from that. I've said that 100 times and I still stick with it."

Rivers added: "It was a productive day, but it's a start. That's the only way you can get going, you gotta start, and today was a start."

Simmons – an elite defender who signed a five-year, $177.2million contract extension in 2019 – and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers, who were eliminated in the semi-finals.

The 25-year-old had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs against the Hawks last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star, according to Stats Perform.

 

Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career-worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.

"He is part of the team," he continued. "We have certain rules, obviously, the other day, that didn't happen, but today was a good day.

"Most people, we look at problems instead of the possibilities and I think if we focus on the possibilities, just in life in general, you have a pretty good chance of going to a good place. If you focus on the problems, you're probably gonna continue to have problems."

Including the playoffs, Philadelphia are 9-2 in their last 11 games against the Nets. Additionally, the 76ers have six straight home wins in the series, starting with Game 2 of the first round of the 2019 postseason.

Four Philadelphia players scored 20-plus points against New Orleans, with Joel Embiid and Furkan Korkmaz each having 22 and Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey finishing with 20. The 76ers had zero games last season with four 20-plus point scorers, according to Stats Perform.

Philadelphia 76ers general manager Daryl Morey says the Ben Simmons saga could be drawn out for four years as he remains unflinching in the standoff.

Simmons was suspended by the Sixers for conduct detrimental to the team before failing to appear at an individual workout on Thursday, following the side's season-opening 117-97 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Three-time NBA All-Star Simmons has demanded a trade amid criticism following last season's shock playoff exit to the Atlanta Hawks. He was absent from Philadelphia for the first two weeks of preseason work before showing up on October 11 to begin fulfilling COVID-19 protocols that would allow him to re-join the championship-chasing franchise.

The situation has not improved internally with team-mate Joel Embiid admitting he would not "baby-sit" Simmons, while head coach Doc Rivers said the predicament was not fun.

Morey added on Thursday that the Sixers would not trade Simmons as they were not satisfied what they could get in return would help them win an NBA title with their window open now. As a result, Morey said the icy situation could drag on.

"You're going to think I'm kidding, I'm not, this could be four years," Morey told the Mike Missanelli Show. "The conditions I'm pointing out to you don't change.

"People should buckle in, this is gonna go a long time because my only job is to help give us the best chance to win the title.

"Unless Ben Simmons is traded for a difference-maker, we're in the prime of Joel [Embiid]'s career. We have to get back either Ben Simmons playing well for us, who helps us win the championship, or we have to get back a difference-maker for Ben Simmons. Or this could be four years from now, and we're still like, 'Hey, we took the best shot at it we could'.

"This could be four years. This is not day-to-day. Every day, we're going to expect Ben Simmons to be back here, or we're trading him for a difference-maker.

"There's no other outcome that doesn't materially hurt our chance to win the championship in Joel Embiid's prime.

"We would want him to play and be back starting tomorrow. But if he chooses to take some other path, that's his choice."

The 76ers had the best record in the Eastern Conference regular season at 49-23 before losing to the Hawks in the Conference semifinals.

Joel Embiid praised the Philadelphia 76ers' team spirit following their 117-97 win over the New Orleans Pelicans despite the absence of wantaway star Ben Simmons.

Simmons was ejected from practice prior to the game due to issues with his conduct as the 25-year-old guard seeks a trade, but the 76ers did not miss him en route to a comfortable victory.

Embiid, who had 22 points and 12 rebounds, noted the healthy atmosphere in the rest of the squad following a team dinner ahead of the opening fixture.

“We've been practicing hard,” Embiid said. “It was good to kind of get off to a good start, get a win and kind of forget about the off-the-court stuff.

"[The spirit on the bench] - that’s us. That’s how we’ve been this whole summer. That’s the attitude everybody has had. That’s the definition of us. Being together, having fun together, doing stuff with each other. I think it goes a long way.

"It's good to just go out and kinda not talk about basketball and talk about life. That's also an evolution for me, because usually, when I used to go on the road, I'd just like to stay in my room and be on the phone and play video games."

Simmons' replacement in the team, Tyrese Maxey, managed 20 points, with seven rebounds and five assists and agreed with his team-mate, explaining that the squad's chemistry is a crucial factor in their success.

“Everybody's capable,” Maxey said. "At the end of the day, basketball's a team effort. You need an entire team to be able to win. I felt like the focus was there from shoot-around, probably even from when we got on the plane yesterday.

“The chemistry is really [good]. Guys like playing with each other, guys like being around each other. Sometimes adversity makes you stronger, makes the bond closer and we got to just keep building.”

Head coach Doc Rivers insisted that Simmons' antics have not disrupted the rest of his players, and praised their collective development as a team.

"[The players] have been normal, the only abnormal part is when they have to talk to the media afterwards and they're asked questions [about Simmons]," Rivers said.

"It's about playing basketball and growing together, and they've done a great job of that."

The Philadelphia 76ers put aside the Ben Simmons drama for 48 minutes as the championship-chasing team opened their NBA season with a 117-97 win at the New Orleans Pelicans.

Simmons was nowhere to be seen in New Orleans after the disgruntled All-Star – demanding a trade – was suspended on Tuesday for "conduct detrimental to the team" following reports he was ejected from practice by head coach Doc Rivers.

The 76ers – last season's Eastern Conference top seeds – played without Simmons on Wednesday and made light work of the Zion Williamson-less Pelicans behind Joel Embiid (22 points), Furkan Korkmaz (22 points), Tobias Harris (20 points and 12 rebounds) and new starting point guard Tyrese Maxey (20 points, seven rebounds and five) for their first season-opening road win since 2004.

Korkmaz sizzled in the fourth quarter, scoring 18 points on four-for-four shooting from three-point range – the most points in a quarter by a Sixers bench player since Lou Williams in 2011.

 

 

LaMelo leads Hornets rally, Brown has career night

LaMelo Ball put on a show as he helped the Charlotte Hornets come back to pip the Indiana Pacers 123-122. The reigning Rookie of the Year put up 31 points, including seven three-pointers – tying a career high, nine rebounds and seven assists to fuel Charlotte's rally. The Hornets used a 24-0 run – in which Ball scored 12 points – in the third period to the stun the Pacers. Chris Duarte (27 points, six three-pointers and five rebounds) became the first Pacers rookie with 25-plus points, five-plus rebounds and five-plus threes in a game since Jamaal Tinsley in 2002.

A career-high 46 points from Jaylen Brown was not enough as the Boston Celtics lost a wild showdown with the New York Knicks 138-134 after double overtime. Brown's tally was the most points ever by a Celtics player in a season opener. The Knicks withstood the Celtics thanks to Julius Randle (35 points) and debutant Evan Fournier, whose 32 points were the most by a player on debut in franchise history.

Jo Morant had 37 points – the second most on opening night in franchise history, behind only his 44-point haul last season – in the Memphis Grizzlies' 132-121 win at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Memphis posted 73 points by half-time – tying the fifth-highest first-half scoring total in their history.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic's 27 points and 13 rebounds guided the Denver Nuggets past last season's NBA Finals participants the Phoenix Suns 110-98.

CJ McCollum (34 points), Damian Lillard (20 points and 11 assists) and Jusuf Nurkic (20 points and 14 rebounds) combined for 74 points but the Portland Trail Blazers still lost 124-121 to the Sacramento Kings, who were led by Harrison Barnes' 36 points and eight three-pointers.

 

Forgettable debut for Rockets rookie

The second pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Jalen Green endured a baptism of fire midweek. The Houston Rockets rookie finished with nine points on four-of-14 shooting from the field, while he made just one of six three-pointers. His minus-37 was the worst plus-minus by a Rockets rookie in a game in the last 20 seasons – tied for the fourth worst by any Rocket in that span. The Rockets were taken down 124-106 by Minnesota Timberwolves trio Karl-Anthony Towns (30 points and 10 rebounds), Anthony Edwards (29 points) and D'Angelo Russell (22 points).

Back on home court for the first time since February 2020, the Toronto Raptors' long-awaited return to Canada ended in a disappointing 98-83 loss to the Washington Wizards. Toronto missed 19 of their first 21 three-pointers, finishing seven of 34 from beyond the card. They were just 30.9 per cent from the field overall.

Suns star Devin Booker was far from his best against the Nuggets, finishing three-of-15 shooting for 12 points in 30 minutes of action.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said the Ben Simmons drama is muting the fun of opening day for the NBA title contenders.

Simmons will not feature in Wednesday's opener against the New Orleans Pelicans – the three-time All-Star suspended by the 76ers due to "conduct detrimental to the team" following reports he was ejected from practice after Rivers grew frustrated with his lack of engagement.

76ers guard Simmons has demanded a trade amid criticism following last season's shock playoff exit to the Atlanta Hawks and was absent from Philadelphia for the first two weeks of preseason work before showing up on October 11 to begin fulfilling COVID-19 protocols that would allow him to re-join the championship-chasing franchise.

Speculation over Simmons' future is now set to intensify amid reported interest from the likes of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers.

Ahead of the 76ers' clash with the Pelicans, Rivers told reporters: "It's a predicament that we're in and that part is no fun. It really isn't.

"We get to play right now and Ben is not. I want Ben to be playing. That's his job."

Simmons – an elite defender who signed a five-year, $177.2million contract extension in 2019 – and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers, who were eliminated in the semi-finals.

 

The 25-year-old had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs against the Hawks last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star, according to Stats Perform.

Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career-worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.

"Obviously you don't want any of those things. You get a lot of texts, 'great job' and all this stuff and it's not," Rivers said. "I don't think people understand ... you want all your players to do well.

"You cheer for your players. Even when they're in a tough spot, you want it to go well for them, you do. When you're put in positions like [Tuesday], it's no fun."

Philadelphia – who finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference last season – have won five of their last six games against New Orleans, though the Pelicans claimed their last home meeting. Of those six games, five were decided by seven or fewer points.

Seth Curry shot 45.0 per cent from beyond the arc for the 76ers last season – his third consecutive campaign shooting at least 45.0 percent from three-point range, all with different teams. He is the fourth qualified player in NBA history with three straight seasons of 45.0-percent shooting from downtown, according to Stats Perform.

Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid hit out at Ben Simmons, insisting he is "not here to babysit" after his wantaway team-mate was banned by the NBA championship-chasing franchise.

The 76ers suspended disgruntled All-Star Simmons – who has demanded a trade out of Philadelphia – for their season-opening clash with the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.

It came after 76ers head coach Doc Rivers tossed Simmons from Tuesday's practice session.

Simmons sought a trade amid criticism following last season's shock playoff exit to the Atlanta Hawks and was absent from Philadelphia for the first two weeks of preseason work before showing up on October 11 to begin fulfilling COVID-19 protocols that would allow him to re-join the championship-chasing franchise.

Speculation over Simmons' future is now set to intensify amid reported interest from the likes of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers.

Embiid, however, is not interested in Simmons – who signed a five-year, $177.2million contract extension in 2019 – as the 2020-21 MVP runner-up took aim at the former number one draft pick.

"I don't care about that man honestly," Embiid told reporters. "He does whatever he wants. That's not my job. That's those guys' jobs. I'm only focused on trying to make the team better. Win some games. Play hard every night.

"I try to lead all the guys that we have here and I'm sure that I feel the same way because our chemistry has been excellent. Despite everything that's been happening in the last few months. So like I said, I don't I don't really care.

 

"But at the end of the day, our job is not to babysit somebody. We're here and we get paid to produce on the court. Go out, play hard, and win some games. That's all we get paid for. We don't get paid to come out here and try to babysit somebody. That's not our job and I'm sure my team-mates feel that way.

"Like I said, I'm not here to babysit. I'd be willing to babysit if someone wants to listen, but that's not my job. That's out of my control. I'll focus on what's here and try to win some games."

Simmons – an elite defender – and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers, who were eliminated in the semi-finals.

The 25-year-old had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs against the Hawks last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star, according to Stats Perform.

Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career-worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.

"I just thought he was a distraction today," Rivers said. "I didn't think he wanted to do what everybody else was doing and it was early, it wasn't a big deal. Just told him you should leave man and we went on with practice.

"I'm going to give like every day, every single moment, I'm going to give Ben a chance to join the team and be part of the team. He's under contract to be part of the team and so that's not going to change.

"Sometimes it happens quick and guys join back in, sometimes it doesn't. I've been in both situations and I'm fine with that. But at the end of the day, as a coach, I have to protect the team. The team first and then we get to the other part and so today, I just thought it was more important to focus on the team."

Ben Simmons will miss the Philadelphia 76ers' NBA season opener against the New Orleans Pelicans after being handed a one-game suspension.

Simmons demanded a trade amid the fallout from last season's playoff exit to the Atlanta Hawks. He was absent for the first two weeks of preseason work before showing up on October 11 to begin fulfilling COVID-19 protocols that would allow him to re-join the championship-chasing franchise.

Coach Doc Rivers told reporters on Monday he had "no idea" whether Simmons would play in the opening game of the 2021-22 season on Wednesday night, adding: "When it comes, I'll make the decision. But I'm just going to wait and see and watch. The spirit has been so good, and so we're just going to keep going."

On Tuesday, the 76ers announced Simmons was suspended for the Pelicans game due to "conduct detrimental to the team". According to reports, the three-time All Star was ejected from practice after Rivers grew frustrated with his lack of engagement.

The Australian, who has four years and $147million left on his max contract, was criticised for his shooting performance during the 2021 postseason, in which the 76ers were eliminated in the semi-finals.

The former number one draft pick had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his final four games of the playoffs against the Hawks. He is the only NBA player in the past 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star, according to Stats Perform.

Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was the same story with his scoring as he posted a career-worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason.

Free throws became a theme of his problematic playoffs. Simmons made just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 postseason. his 34.2 free-throw percentage the lowest ever such figure for players with a minimum of 70 attempts.

 

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers remains unsure if Ben Simmons will feature in the team's NBA season opener against the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.

Simmons demanded a trade amid criticism following last season's playoff exit to the Atlanta Hawks and was absent from Philadelphia for the first two weeks of preseason work before showing up on October 11 to begin fulfilling COVID-19 protocols that would allow him to re-join the championship-chasing franchise.

As the 76ers – who claimed the Eastern Conference top seed in 2020-21 – gear up for the new season, Rivers was again asked about Simmons' availability.

"I have no idea," Rivers told reporters after Simmons participated in practice on Monday. "Honestly, I haven't even thought about it much.

"When it comes, I'll make the decision. But I'm just going to wait and see and watch. The spirit has been so good, and so we’re just going to keep going."

"Just learning the new stuff, conditioning, timing, rhythm," Rivers said.

"We've been together for three weeks, so we've established a good rhythm. So the more he's been in, the more he does, especially when we're working on our offensive stuff earlier, because we've built from last year but we tweaked a lot of stuff. But it's easy to pick up, especially for him."

 

Simmons – an elite defender – and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers, who were eliminated in the semi-finals.

Former number one draft pick Simmons had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs against the Hawks last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star, according to Stats Perform.

Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career-worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.

On chemistry, Rivers added: "It'll grow. It'll come back. I'm not that concerned, right now, with it. They are interchanging, it's coming, and it just takes time.

"Chemistry is huge, and I think overall our chemistry is phenomenal right now and we want to keep it going."

The NBA and its leading stars will hope the coming regular season is exactly that: regular.

The past two have not been. In 2019-20, the season was paused for the coronavirus pandemic and resumed in Orlando, in a bubble and without crowds.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was at least able to put forward his claims for a second straight MVP honour prior to that point.

In 2020-21, a rapid turnaround from the playoffs appeared to catch some leading men out, before the brutal 72-game December-to-May calendar saw a number of top performers face spells on the sidelines.

As a result, Nikola Jokic was the clear MVP candidate, outstanding for the Denver Nuggets but crucially also one of just 11 players across the league to play in all 72 games. His 2,488 minutes trailed only New York Knicks pair Julius Randle (2,667) and RJ Barrett (2,511).

With a proper preseason to plan – and the Nuggets hurt by Jamal Murray's injury – it seems unlikely Jokic will defend his title.

But which players are most likely to follow his lead and move clear of the rest in the coming months? Stats Perform breaks down the chances of the MVP favourites.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Having claimed back-to-back MVP Awards, Antetokounmpo entered preseason last year as the favourite again and threatened for a time to contend, averaging 28.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. A six-game lay-off in April, immediately after scoring 47 points in Portland, put paid to those hopes.

However, it would have been tough for voters to justify again picking Antetokounmpo regardless. At that stage, he had won only three playoff series in his entire career. By contrast, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird – the three men previously honoured three years in a row – each celebrated at least one championship across the first two seasons of their respective runs.

It is very different now, though. Although Antetokounmpo would become only the ninth player to take the Maurice Podoloff Trophy on three occasions, there is less daunting historical precedent with the lean year in between. Crucially, too, the 'Greek Freak' is now himself a champion.

 

Antetokounmpo was the Milwaukee Bucks' Finals MVP as they won their first title in 50 years. Rather than regress in the playoffs – his points average had dipped from the regular season in four of his five prior postseason campaigns – the 26-year-old forward scaled new heights, taking more responsibility with a career-high 20.9 field goal attempts per game and being rewarded with 30.2 points.

Now embracing his strengths, taking only 3.3 shots from three-point range in the postseason and shooting 73.6 per cent at the rim, Antetokounmpo should have the confidence to kick on again.

Luka Doncic

It is Doncic, not Antetokounmpo, who has been installed as the early favourite this year. The Slovenian is only entering his fourth season, but it feels about time he truly established himself as a future great.

Doncic was one of those who acknowledged he was "not in my best shape" as the 2020-21 season promptly got under way, and the Dallas Mavericks were an underwhelming 8-12 at the end of January, although the point forward still averaged 27.4 points over that slow early period. He then weighed in with 30.3 points across 12 games in February.

Only four players bettered Doncic's 1,830 points come the end of the year, yet he could still be a little more consistent in pursuit of a regular-season award. The 22-year-old has set an astonishing standard on the biggest stage. While waiting on a first series win, his 33.5 playoff points are the most by any player to feature in at least 13 career games. Doncic's 143 points at the Tokyo Olympics led the tournament.

If Dallas can be competitive from the outset, Doncic's game is certainly a good fit for individual recognition, his 2020-21 usage rate of 36.0 per cent the highest among players with 500 or more possessions. Similarly dominant for Slovenia, his 57 assists and 196 minutes also topped the charts at the Olympics.

New coach Jason Kidd will ask "young Picasso" Doncic to share the ball around a little more this year, though, saying: "As a coach, I don't know if anybody told Picasso that he had to use all the paints. But I just want to remind Luka that he can rely on his team-mates, and his team-mates are going to be there to help him."

He added: "We know that it's easy to get the ball to Luka, but the one thing we do want to get accomplished is other guys as playmakers so come the fourth quarter Luka is fresh and is ready to deliver." Some more big moments – Luka's 93 clutch points ranked 21st last year – would certainly help Doncic's cause.

Stephen Curry

The Los Angeles Lakers' new 'big three' – we will come to the Brooklyn Nets shortly – is likely to help title hopes but hinder MVP bids. Russell Westbrook's relentless regular-season efforts, averaging 34.4 per cent usage over the past seven seasons, might take some of the shine away from LeBron James. Curry does not have that problem.

As last year, when he had the next-most first-place votes after Jokic (albeit just five to 91), the Golden State Warriors are set to be hugely reliant on Curry – at least until fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson is back from injury.

In his first full season since Kevin Durant left and Thompson went down, Curry set his stall out early with 62 points against the Portland Trail Blazers but saved his best for the end of the year, averaging 36.9 points after a tailbone injury in March to take a second scoring title. The two-time MVP could not quite do enough to carry the Warriors through the play-in round.

A young supporting cast is now another year older, however, meaning Golden State should be competitive enough to keep Curry in the limelight without having enough talent to distract from his displays.

Only Thompson's return is likely to alter the pattern of play after Curry set career highs in points (32.0), rebounds (5.5), field goal attempts (21.7), three-point attempts (12.7), foul line visits (6.3) and usage rate (34.7). He scored a league-high 24.6 per cent of the Warriors' points.

 

Kevin Durant

Durant, like James, was set to merely be the biggest star on a team of stars until the complications around Kyrie Irving's status arose. As it stands, Irving will not feature for the Nets due to his refusal to get a coronavirus vaccine that would allow him to play home games.

Of course, Brooklyn also have James Harden, who briefly flirted with the MVP picture last year prior to a hamstring injury, but Durant will be the team's go-to as long as he stays on the court.

Although Durant made only 32 starts in 35 games in 2020-21, he led the Nets in points per game (26.9) and usage rate (31.1). Irving ranked second in both categories (also 26.9 points per game, 30.5 per cent usage).

The former Warrior is now another year on from his awful Achilles injury and gave an indication in the playoffs of the player he can still be. Playing in all 12 games, unlike Harden and Irving, Durant scored an outstanding 34.3 points – a league best among those to play 10 or more games. Only a borderline call on a Durant shot in Game 7 against the Bucks ended Brooklyn's campaign.

With or without Irving, the Nets are expected to contend for the title this time. Durant was Finals MVP in his two championship triumphs in 2017 and 2018 but has only a single regular season award, back in 2013-14. If he is back to his best, as would appear to be the case, the 33-year-old could dominate the coming season from start to finish.

Joel Embiid

Should, as this list suggests, voters look for players who are capable of putting their teams on their backs, Embiid's case has only got stronger.

The big man was already the Philadelphia 76ers' key performer, evidenced by their 39-12 record with him in the team last year compared to 10-11 when he was missing. Indeed, had Embiid not been absent for such a number of games, he might well have pipped Jokic to the top individual award.

Jokic clearly had the edge as a creator, his 8.3 assists per game allowing him to tally 16 triple-doubles, Embiid actually averaged more points (28.5 to 26.4) and his prowess on defense (including 1.4 blocks per game) contributed to far superior numbers in terms of plus/minus (7.9 to 5.3) and defensive rating (103.1 to 109.2).

 

Ben Simmons, the Sixers' second man, was already underwhelming last year, and Embiid's responsibilities on both ends of the floor are set to increase due to the uncertainty surrounding his team-mate.

Even if Simmons sticks around, as is now a possibility, this is clearly Embiid's team. He felt it had not been previously, responding to reports Simmons was unhappy with the dynamic by saying: "I feel like our teams have always been built around his needs." Those claims were "disappointing" and "borderline kind of disrespectful", Embiid added.

He will certainly not be lacking motivation now to put his injury woes behind him, enjoy another outstanding season and claim the MVP award that evaded him last year.

Disgruntled Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons returned to practice for the first time since ending his holdout, but it remains unclear when he might make his NBA season debut. 

Simmons demanded a trade following last season and remained absent from Philadelphia for the first two weeks of preseason work before showing up on October 11 to begin fulfilling COVID-19 protocols that would allow him to re-join the championship-chasing franchise.

The 76ers open their 2021-22 campaign at the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday but head coach Doc Rivers said he does not know whether All-Star Simmons will be available. 

"I'm going to wait and see," Rivers told reporters. "Conditioning I would say, just watching him, I thought he was in decent shape. Still not, obviously, game shape."

The 76ers will play their home opener against Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets on Friday, and the Australian guard – scrutinised after the team's shock Eastern Conference semi-final loss to the Atlanta Hawks – figures to get an unfriendly welcome from the Philadelphia crowd whether he plays or not. 

Perhaps with that dynamic in mind, Rivers was asked whether he had thought about whether to give Simmons his season debut at home or on the road, but he demurred. 

"No – right now I'm just trying to get him back comfortable and integrated. I'm not even thinking about that," Rivers said. "That'll come at some point but there's no game plan there, I can tell you that. When he's ready, he'll play."

Simmons did not speak to reporters Sunday but team officials indicated he would later this week. 

The number one overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft has averaged 15.9 points, 8.1. rebounds and 7.7 assists in four seasons with Philadelphia and has been named to the All-Star Game the last three years. 

But the 25-year-old's struggles in the playoffs and a contract that will pay him $33million this season with three years and $114m remaining on his deal after that have made it difficult for the 76ers to find a trade partner. 

Getting Simmons back on the court could help in that endeavour, though it appears he may have to work to do to smooth things over with his team-mates. 

While guard Furkan Korkmaz told reporters he had missed Simmons and "personally I'm happy to see him back here on the court," forward Tobias Harris declined to get into specifics about an awkward reunion but added that it would not matter once games begin.

"The vibe was what it was," Harris said. "Was it perfect? No. But we're here to do a job, and that's to win basketball games. We put on our big boy pants and get on the floor and do what we do."

Simmons – an elite defender – and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers.

Former number one draft pick Simmons had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star, according to Stats Perform.

Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career-worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers is not sure if wantaway All-Star Ben Simmons will play for the NBA franchise after his surprise return.

Simmons has sought a trade from the 76ers and had been willing to sit out the entire 2021-22 season before showing up at Wells Fargo Center shortly before tip-off ahead of Monday's preseason game against rivals the Brooklyn Nets.

Reports claim Simmons had not spoken directly to team officials since late August, having missed all of training camp and preseason following a disappointing Eastern Conference semi-final loss to the Atlanta Hawks last season.

Doubts remain over the disgruntled Australian and Rivers was ambiguous regarding Simmons' playing status for the championship hopefuls.

"I don't know. He's voiced that, but we'll see how that works out," Rivers told reporters when asked about Simmons' trade status on Wednesday.

Simmons has reportedly generated interest from the likes of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Indiana Pacers, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers but the 76ers are believed to have set a high price.

It comes after Simmons was heavily scrutinised following Philadelphia's shock playoff elimination at the hands of the Hawks in 2020-21.

 

A three-time All-Star and elite defender, Simmons and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers.

Former number one draft pick Simmons had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star, according to Stats Perform.

"I'm assuming he's going to play, but who knows? I can't get in anyone's head," Rivers said with the 76ers due to meet the Detroit Pistons on Friday before opening their regular-season campaign against the New Orleans Pelicans on October 20.

Rivers added: "Whether we play him or not, that's going to depend on what we see this week.

"He's coming from behind, because he hasn't been in camp, obviously. Having said that, do you rush him and put him on the floor? That's a whole other subject.

"What we see this week is how we determine everything going forward."

Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career-worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.

Sixers team-mate Danny Green said: "We want him back. We want him with us. When he's in the building, we'll acclimate him appropriately. We just want everybody to come here, show up and do their part, do their jobs."

"I'll be able to see when he steps on the floor where his head's at. I don't feel like he needs to explain anything to me," added Seth Curry.

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