Big performances from Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez carried the Milwaukee Bucks to a 110-108 victory against the Detroit Pistons on Monday.

With their win, the Bucks are now 6-0, and the NBA's last remaining unbeaten team.

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo led the way with a game-high 31 points on 12-of-23 shooting, and he delivered in an important stretch of the game.

After the Bucks came out of halftime with a 60-52 lead, the Pistons got on a quick run, cutting the margin to one at 62-61, before Antetokounmpo scored his team's first 10 points of the third quarter to steady the ship.

He was supported well by Holiday, who scored 25 points with an efficient long-range shooting performance, finishing seven-of-15 from the field while hitting five of his 11 three-point attempts. He also added 10 assists and seven rebounds

Meanwhile, Lopez was a force in the middle of the paint, scoring 26 points (10-of-16) with nine rebounds and two blocks.

For the Pistons, Cade Cunningham was excellent with 27 points (11-of-23), seven assists and six rebounds, while the fifth overall pick from this year's NBA Draft, Jaden Ivey, had seven of his 19 points in the fourth quarter to make it a game down the stretch.

Harden narrowly misses career-high 

James Harden was one assist shy of his career-high as he dished out 17 in the Philadelphia 76ers' 118-111 win over the Washington Wizards.

His 17 assists matched his regular-season high, becoming the 10th time he has reached that figure, while he had 18 assists in a playoff game for the Brooklyn Nets against the Boston Celtics in the first round of 2021.

Against the Wizards, Harden also added 23 points (eight-of-17 shooting) and seven rebounds, with Tyrese Maxey finishing as their top-scorer with 28 on 12-of-22 shooting.

Washington's Kristaps Porzingis was the game's highest scorer with 32 points (10-of-17), nine rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Durant and the Nets get back in the win column

The Brooklyn Nets snapped a four-game losing streak when they defeated the Indiana Pacers 116-109.

Superstar duo Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving led the way as Ben Simmons missed the game with swelling in his knee.

Durant finished with a game-high 36 points on 13-of-22 shooting, while adding nine rebounds and seven assists. Irving was not far behind, posting 28 points (nine-of-19) with six rebounds, six assists and four steals.

Second-year wing Chris Duarte was impressive for the Pacers, scoring 30 points on 10-of-15 shooting, hitting five-of-10 from long range.

The Philadelphia 76ers have been stripped of a pair of second-round draft picks for holding conversations with free-agent players prior to the NBA's allotted time period, the league announced Monday.

Philadelphia will forfeit their second-round selections in the 2023 and 2024 drafts after being found to have engaged in early discussions with forwards P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr., both of whom later signed with the team.

The NBA said in a statement that the 76ers fully cooperated with the investigation.

Tucker, a 12-year veteran and defensive specialist, signed a three-year, $33million contract in July, a move made possible by star guard James Harden declining a $47m player option and re-signing with the 76ers at a lower salary to create cap flexibility.

House, a reserve averaging 2.7 points per game this season, was signed to a two-year deal worth around $8.4m.

Philadelphia are the fourth team in the past two years to lose second-round picks for a violation in player negotiation rules. The Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls were previously hit with similar penalties.

Stephen Curry scored 31 points with 11 rebounds in his annual homecoming that ended in an overtime defeat for the Golden State Warriors, losing 120-113 to the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday.

Golden State had led by four points in the final minute of regulation, before P.J. Washington hit a jumper, followed by a Dennis Smith Jr layup to tie the game.

Curry missed a tough three-point attempt to win the game at the end of regulation time, and airballed another shot in overtime. The Warriors point guard finished with three-of-13 from beyond the arc, making 10-of-22 from the field.

The Hornets, who were without LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier, were rampant in overtime, with Washington finishing the game with 31 points and Jalen McDaniels draining a crucial triple. Gordon Hayward made a strong contribution with 23 points and four assists.

Golden State shot at 29.5 per cent from three-point range, with Klay Thompson battling on one-of-seven shooting from beyond the arc in his 11 points.

Jordan Poole made four-of-11 attempts in his 24 points off the bench for the Warriors, who are 0-2 on the road this season and 3-3 overall.

Clutch Embiid lifts 76ers to back-to-back wins

Joel Embiid scored 25 points but none were better than his tiebreaking three-point shot as the Philadelphia 76ers made it back-to-back wins with a 114-109 victory over the Chicago Bulls.

Embiid drained his wide-open three-point shot to put the 76ers up 112-109 with 18.1 seconds remaining in the game as Philadelphia improved to 3-4 after their 1-4 start to the season.

The 76ers center had seven rebounds and four assists, while James Harden contributed 15 points on two-of-13 field shooting with 11 assists, while Tyrese Maxey scored 14 points after posting a career-high 44 on Friday.

Nets woes worsen with Pacers shock

The Brooklyn Nets' defensive woes continued as they fell to a fourth straight loss, going down 125-116 to the Indiana Pacers for whom rookie Bennedict Mathurin scored a career-high 32 points.

The Nets conceded another big score, averaging 124.5 points against during their four-game losing skid, with Kevin Durant contributing 26 points with five rebounds and four blocks.

Kyrie Irving, who has come under fire for appearing to show support to an antisemitic film this week, responded on the court with 35 points including five triples with six assists.

With Joel Embiid out of the line-up for the Philadelphia 76ers' trip to take on the Toronto Raptors, it was third-year guard Tyrese Maxey rising to the challenge to set a new career-high points total in the 112-90 win.

Maxey, who prior to Friday had only ever scored more than 33 points once – a 39-point effort against the Denver Nuggets as a rookie – set a new personal-best with 44 points against the Raptors.

He was incredibly efficient, hitting 15-of-20 from the field and nine-of-12 from three-point range, while also leading the 76ers with eight rebounds and chipping in four assists.

Former league MVP James Harden was happy to cede the responsibility to his less-experienced running-mate, finishing with just 11 points, four rebounds and four assists as he assumed a supporting role.

It was also a breakout performance for De'Anthony Melton, who was given his first start in a 76ers uniform after being acquired in the offseason and made his presence felt defensively, snatching five steals to go with his 13 points, six assists and five rebounds.

Speaking to the media after the game, Maxey said his big night was simply the product of the offense running smoothly.

"It was [about] getting good looks," he said. "We got to the paint, sprayed off for threes, got in transition, and once you get stops, the game becomes way easier honestly, for not just myself, but for all of us.

"We were getting to the paint and driving and kicking, creating, generating offense for everybody. That’s why I got open threes, why [Melton] got open threes, Tobias [Harris] got open threes. 

"I just know how good we can be, I know how talented we are, but we’ve got to match our talent with the energy that we play with, and defensive tenacity.

"Tonight we knew it was going to be extremely hard without Joel. That made guys step up, that made guys do things they don’t normally do."

Teammate Matisse Thybulle was thrilled to see Maxey shine, but he said it was no surprise.

"Every time he gets an opportunity, he does something big with it," he said. "You could even take it back to the COVID games we were looking at our bench, like who’s gonna be the one to step up? 

"Tyrese Maxey did – and it’s like, time after time – Tyrese is the one that steps up, shows up big and he does it, obviously, as an individual, but for the team, and we all benefit from it."

Head coach Doc Rivers also enjoyed the show, and he pointed to it as an indicator of how well the 76ers adjusted without their star center.

"I just think he’s a heck of a basketball player," he said. "We came into the game knowing Joel wasn’t gonna play… we talked to [the rest of the team] this morning about trying to find matchups and then spacing the floor and attacking.

"They are a great help-defensive team and they can’t stop it. Us getting into the paint sucked everybody in, and that’s where we got shots. I thought we were ready for that and I thought we did a good job."

After starting the season with three consecutive losses, the 76ers have now won two of their past three to take a 2-4 record into their road trip against the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night.

Giannis Antetokounmpo went up a gear in the second half while Steve Nash was ejected for the first time as a head coach as the Milwaukee Bucks downed the Brooklyn Nets 110-99 on Wednesday.

Antetokounmpo scored 34 of his 43 points in the second half – 28 of those coming in the paint - as the Bucks put the foot down with a 67-44 after half-time at Fiserv Forum. 

The Greek forward backed up his 44 points against the Houston Rockets on Saturday, meaning his 87 points in their past two games is the most across a two-game span in his 10-year NBA career.

The Nets were leading 70-66 in the third quarter when Nash was ejected after being incensed by a non-call from the officials after Antetokounmpo bumped into Patty Mills.

Kevin Durant scored 33 points on 10-of-23 shooting from the field with six rebounds and five turnovers, while Kyrie Irving added 27 points for the Nets who led by as much as 12 points.

Ben Simmons battled again with four points on two-of-seven field shooting with none-of-two from the stripe, along with four personal fouls. Simmons has nine field goals and 18 personal fouls in four games this season.

The Bucks shot at 56 per cent from the field in the second half, with Antetokounmpo supported well by Bobby Portis with 20 points and 11 rebounds.

LeBron's Lakers' winless start drags on

LeBron James' Los Angeles Lakers slumped to an 0-4 start after Nikola Jokic put in a dominant display to lead the Denver Nuggets to a 110-99 victory.

Jokic scored 31 points with 13 rebounds and nine assists for the Nugs, who were far better defensively. The Serbian led both teams outright in points, rebounds and assists for the 85th time in his career, which is the most by a center in NBA history.

James, who fell to an 0-4 start for the second time of his career and first since his 2003-04 rookie season, managed 19 points with seven rebounds and nine assists, while Anthony Davis had 22 points with 14 rebounds. Russell Westbrook was out injured.

The Lakers' NBA-worst three-point struggles continued, albeit with a slightly improved eight-of-30 (27 per cent) from beyond the arc.

Sixers' struggles continue as Trent Jr sparkles

The Philadelphia 76ers' early season struggles continued too, going down 119-109 to the Toronto Raptors, leaving them with a 1-4 record.

The Sixers' record is their fifth 1-4 or worse start through five games. Philadelphia were 1-4 in 2017-18 yet made the playoffs, but missed out on the other three occasions when they were 0-3.

Joel Embiid scored 31 points with five rebounds and Tyrese Maxey impressed with 31 points including four three-pointers. Raptors guard Gary Trent Jr bettered him with five triples, scoring 27 points, while Pascal Siakam added 20 points and 13 assists.

Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden said it is a weight off everyone's shoulders to finally get their first win of the season on the board with a 120-106 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Monday night.

After an 0-3 start following losses to the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and the San Antonio Spurs, the 76ers began to right the ship with an explosive first half.

Led by former MVP Harden with 11 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in the first two quarters, the 76ers ran out to a 64-46 halftime lead.

Back-to-back MVP runner-up Joel Embiid worked his way to the free throw line in the second half, hitting all nine of his attempts to finish with 26 points (eight-of-13 shooting), five rebounds and three blocks, while Harden posted 29 points (10-of-18 shooting) with nine rebounds and 11 assists.

Speaking to the media after the game, Harden said it's a good start, but there is still plenty of work to do if they want to be real contenders this season.

"That felt good, man," he said. "It felt like we were 0-82. It felt good, but it's a work in progress.

"As much as we want things to happen overnight, and for us to be 4-0, we're 1-3. We just have to continue to work, continue to build really good habits, and live with the results. 

"We have to hang our hats on the defensive end, and I think we had some really good spurts, and then some where we let them back in the game. We have to continue to build and continue to hang our hats on the defensive end."

Meanwhile, head coach Doc Rivers praised Embiid for his patience and playing within the structure of the offense.

"I liked his patience," he said. "This was one of those game where you haven't won a game, and they're trapping him every time – literally every time he touched it early – and he just kept moving it.

"He was in no rush, and eventually it opened up because they were tired of us making threes, so then they left Joel one-on-one – which is not going to work either.

"I just liked how he approached the game – he had great patience, he let the game come to him."

Rivers added that if the 76ers want to play faster – which they do – the Pacers are a great team to do it against.

"They play really fast – because they have to," he said. "They're very similar to San Antonio, and I've coached teams like this. When you don't have the one guy you can just give it to, you better run, if you have any chance.

"We really focused on [our pace] this morning – our goal was to get the ball across halfcourt by 20 [on the shot clock]. I don't think we accomplished that goal a lot, but we did get it up there a lot earlier.

"That allows us – especially against trapping teams, because they were switching and trapping Joel [Embiid] – having those four or five extra seconds to make the extra pass, guys get rhythm shots."

Harden also touched on that point, shouldering the blame for some of their lack of pace in the opening games as they entered this contest with the fewest possessions-per-game at 98.3, whereas the league-leading Golden State Warriors are averaging 113.4 possessions.

"It gives us more time to create a better shot," he said. "When you're walking the ball up, you're limited, so we want our pace to pick up a little more.

"The first couple games I put that on myself – just because I've played against some really good individual defensive players – but even me, when they're on me, I've got to push the ball up and push the tempo.

"That's just going to give us more opportunities on the back-end when the shot clock is winding down. Tonight was a good start, and we just need to keep improving."

Joel Embiid says he must "play better" despite an excellent solo performance in the Philadelphia 76ers' 114-105 loss to the San Antonio Spurs at home on Saturday.

The 28-year-old posted 40 points and 13 rebounds in a superb individual performance but his efforts were in vain as the Sixers slipped to a third successive loss to start the campaign.

With a talented squad expected pre-season to be among the league's strongest this term, a 0-3 return so far has been a shock to the system for the 76ers.

Embiid, who has been struggling with a foot issue following a plantar fasciitis injury sustained before the team's lead-in training camp, says he is still heading back to full fitness, but stresses he can do more in spite of that.

"Obviously, I'm not playing at my best," he stated. "We're not winning. Tonight was a start, but we got to find ways to win, so I need to play better.

"I'm still trying to work my way back. Coming into training camp, I hadn't done anything in like two months.

"So, it really slowed me down, but [I'm] still trying to work my way back. Hopefully, everything goes back to normal."

The Sixers will hope to dodge an 0-4 record when they welcome the Indiana Pacers to face them on Monday.

Joel Embiid scored 40 points but it was not enough to prevent the Philadelphia 76ers from slumping to a 0-3 start to the new NBA season after a 114-105 home loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday.

James Harden had minimal impact in the second half as Spurs small forward Doug McDermott took control with an eight-point burst, capping his 14 points, which all came in the second half.

The 76ers, who had been beaten by contenders, the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, to open their season, squandered Embiid's huge game where he shot 14-of-25 from the field and hauled down 13 rebounds with two blocks.

Harden only added 12 points on four-of-18 shooting, making one-of-six three-point attempts. The former MVP provided 12 assists with nine rebounds and two blocks, but was inconspicuous in the second half with the game up for grabs, with the Spurs defense denying him good looks.

Tyrese Maxey contributed 25 points for the 76ers, including three triples, but Philadelphia slumped to their first 0-3 start since 2016-17.

Devin Vassell (22 points with nine-of-14 field shooting, including four three-pointers) and Keldon Johnson (21 points with eight rebounds) were San Antonio's most productive offensive players.

Mitchell betters LeBron start for Cavs

Donovan Mitchell scored 32 points as he claimed his first win as a Cleveland Cavaliers player in their 128-96 victory over the Chicago Bulls in their home season opener.

Mitchell achieved a feat that not even LeBron James could, becoming the first Cavs player with back-to-back 30-point games to open a season.

The All-Star, who made a high-profile trade from the Utah Jazz to the Cavs in the off-season, landed four-of-six from beyond the arc with nine rebounds and eight assists.

Zach LaVine returned after off-season knee surgery that forced him to miss Chicago's opening two games to top score for the Bulls with 23 points.

Giannis powers Bucks past Rockets

Giannis Antetokounmpo only needed 28 minutes to put on an MVP-like display as the Milwaukee Bucks routed the Houston Rockets 125-105 in their home opener at Fiserv Forum.

Antetokounmpo scored 44 points, shooting 17-of-21 from the field with two three-pointers, along with 12 rebounds and three assists.

The Greek forward became Milwaukee's all-time free throws leader, shooting eight-of-13 from the stripe to exceed Sidney Moncrief's 3,505 record, before sitting out with 8:08 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Jayson Tatum also scored 40 points to lead the 3-0 Boston Celtics past the 0-3 Orlando Magic 126-120, while Paul George had 40 in the Los Angeles Clippers' 111-109 win over the Sacramento Kings.

Kawhi Leonard scored 14 points with seven rebounds as he returned for the first time in 16 months in the Los Angeles Clippers' thrilling 103-97 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday.

Leonard, who missed all of last season after sustaining an ACL injury in the 2021 playoffs, played 21 minutes off the bench, shooting six-of-12 from the field, including a crucial two-pointer with under two minutes left at Crypto.com Arena.

The Lakers had hit the lead in the last quarter after LeBron James' block on Paul George set up Lonnie Walker IV's jam, but the Clippers were clutch down the stretch to extend their winning streak over their rivals to eight games.

The Clippers' current eight-game winning run over the Lakers is the second-longest in franchise history, behind 11 from 2014 to 2016.

James, in his 20th season in the NBA, scored 20 points with 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks, while Anthony Davis was exceptional with 25 points including two triples and eight rebounds.

But the three-point issues that plagued the Lakers last season reared their head again, going at 20 per cent from beyond the arc as a team. The Lakers' two-game three-point percentage of 22 per cent this season is the worst by any team through two games in NBA history (minimum 60 attempts).

Russell Westbrook was a major culprit, managing only two points in 27 minutes, shooting none-of-11 from the field and none-of-six from beyond the arc.

Giannis in top form as Bucks open with 76ers win  

The Philadelphia 76ers lost for the second straight game to open the season after James Harden missed a floater off the glass on their last offensive play in a 90-88 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The 76ers were booed by their fans at Wells Fargo Center in the third quarter, before rallying with a 13-0 run in the fourth, led by Harden who had eight points during that span, finishing with 31 for the game, along with eight rebounds and nine rebounds.

But Harden, who went one-for-seven from three-point range, missed his late chance straight after Wesley Matthews' triple as the Bucks won their season opener.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was in MVP form, having 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and three blocks in the first half, finishing with 21 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists with three blocks. Joel Embiid was kept scoreless in the second half, to have only 15 points with 12 rebounds for the game.

Marcus Smart credited his own "maturity" for not escalating an altercation with Joel Embiid in which he claimed the Philadelphia 76ers center tried to break his arm.

Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Smart has had a long-standing rivalry with Embiid.

The Boston Celtics guard has been ejected eight times in his NBA career, with one of those coming against the 76ers in 2019 after he shoved Embiid to the ground when his back was turned.

Smart stayed on the court on Tuesday, although he was whistled for a technical foul – the third against the 76ers of his career – following another tussle with Embiid in a 126-117 Celtics win.

The players' arms became tangled as they battled for a rebound, before Smart angrily grabbed the ankle of Embiid, who dropped to the floor.

Embiid, who has only once been ejected from an NBA game and never against the Celtics, avoided punishment.

"I went for a rebound. Basketball play," Smart said. "I went for the steal. Basketball play. The referee blows his whistle, calls a foul.

"I stop playing, my arm's still stuck in there, and [Embiid] tries to break it. And then I'm the only one who gets a tech. Everybody saw it."

He added: "I don't have to keep talking about it. If I did that, I'm probably ejected, suspended three games, four games, fined.

"But the fact that I was the only one that got something out of that is beyond me. Especially as defending DPOY, and that's how he gets treated. It's tough.

"It's maturity. I could have cracked his head open, but I didn't. And that's the maturity we have.

"So, we move on from it. It is what it is, and we control what we can control."

The Boston Celtics left a tumultuous offseason behind them on opening night to deliver a first win for interim head coach Joe Mazzulla, as Jayson Tatum said: "We're all in this together."

Mazzulla was making his coaching bow against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday having replaced Ime Udoka for this NBA season.

Udoka, who led the Celtics to the NBA Finals in his first year as coach in 2021-22, was suspended by the team for the entire campaign for "violations of team policies" following an "improper" consensual relationship with a female staff member.

Assistant Mazzulla has temporarily stepped up to the top job, but there was no sign of the saga impacting the Celtics' play in their 126-117 victory over the highly fancied 76ers.

Tatum had 35 points and 12 rebounds in 39 minutes, as team-mate Jaylen Brown – reportedly part of trade talks for Kevin Durant earlier this year – also scored 35 points in 39 minutes.

Tatum and Brown became the first pair of team-mates to each score at least 35 points in a season opener since Los Angeles Lakers duo Wilt Chamberlain (35) and Jerry West (39) in 1969-70 – likewise against the 76ers.

Keeping both performing at a high level will be key to Mazzulla's hopes this year.

"He wouldn't have took any of the credit for tonight," Tatum said of Mazzulla. "But the thing that I like about Joe and admire about him is that he's very honest that he doesn't know everything.

"He wants us to help him out as much as he's helping us out. It's like we're in a relationship, and we're all on the same page and trying to accomplish the same thing. We're all in this together."

Mazzulla added: "I'm grateful for the relationship we have. These guys have been through a lot together, and they're great players, so it's just a matter of working together.

"So, I appreciate their trust and buy-in, but they come up with a lot of good stuff as well, and we kind of just figure it out."

The Golden State Warriors have begun their title defense in fine fashion, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 123-109 at home on the opening night of the NBA season.

With the Warriors receiving their championship rings in a ceremony before the game, they were determined to make it a night to remember, with reigning Finals MVP Stephen Curry leading the way.

Curry finished with 33 points on 10-of-22 shooting, hitting four-of-13 from long range and all nine of his free throws to lead both teams in scoring. He also chipped in seven assists, six rebounds and four steals.

Jordan Poole had 10 of his 12 points in the first half to lead the Warriors to a 59-52 halftime lead, before Klay Thompson took over to begin the third quarter, scoring his side's first seven points on three consecutive shots to ignite a 32-19 frame, blowing the game open in the process.

The Warriors' lead peaked at 91-64 late in the third quarter, before the visiting Lakers scored 38 in the fourth to trim the final score to a respectable figure.

In his 20th season, LeBron James looked as strong as ever, finishing with 31 points (12-of-25 shooting) with 14 rebounds and eight assists, while Anthony Davis had 27 points (10-of-22 shooting) with six rebounds, four steals and two blocks, although Davis posted the worst plus/minus of the game at minus 21.

Tatum, Brown combine for 70 in Celtics win

In what was officially the first game of the season, the Boston Celtics and interim head coach Joe Mazzulla collected an impressive 126-117 home win against the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Celtics had to compete with a spectacular James Harden performance, who led the 76ers with 35 points on nine-of-14 shooting, including five-of-nine from long range and 12-of-12 from the free throw line, while adding eight rebounds and seven assists.

Harden had a plus/minus of plus one in his 37 minutes, meaning the 76ers were outscored by 10 in the 11 minutes he was on the bench.

For Boston, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were almost unstoppable all night, scoring 35 points each at a combined 61 per cent from the field (27-of-44), while Tatum also grabbed 12 rebounds and Brown had two steals.

New signing Malcolm Brogdon showed no signs of needing an adjustment period, making an immediate impact off the Celtics' bench with 16 points (seven-of-11 shooting) and four assists in 24 minutes.

The new NBA season is about to get underway, with narrative everywhere across the league.

The defending champions in Golden State are many people's favourites to go again, but the Warriors have not exactly prepared perfectly after two of their stars recently came to blows during the preseason.

The Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving saga seems to have ended with hope that the pair can fire the Brooklyn Nets to glory, especially if the team's third star in the form of Ben Simmons can finally join them on the court.

Will back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic lead the Denver Nuggets to glory? Or can Luka Doncic do the same for the Dallas Mavericks? Might Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks get back to the top again?

Stats Perform's experts give their predictions on who could thrive in the regular season, who might take the MVP crown and who will go all the way and lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June 2023.

 

Liam Phillips

East first seed: Milwaukee Bucks

West first seed: Denver Nuggets

MVP: Joel Embiid

Champions: Denver Nuggets

Simply put, the Nuggets will have a terrific regular season record as long as Jokic is healthy, and he is one of the most durable superstars of his era.

Jokic has played at least 73 games in six of his seven years, and the other season he played 72 out of 72 in the shortened 2020-21 season.

The Nuggets went 48-34 this past season with their second and third-best scorers being Aaron Gordon (15.0 points per game) and Will Barton (14.7).

With ascending talents Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. returning from long-term injuries to assume those roles and give the Nuggets three elite scoring options, they could ride the best offense in the league all the way through the Finals.

Ben Spratt

East first seed: Milwaukee Bucks

West first seed: Denver Nuggets

MVP: Luka Doncic

Champions: Milwaukee Bucks

There are no shortage of potential contenders in the West, with each of the Nuggets, the Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers looking strong candidates depending on injuries or – in the case of Golden State – off-court (or, rather, practice court) issues.

In the East, however, a fit Bucks team would appear to be clear of the rest, particularly given the Boston Celtics' tumultuous offseason.

The Bucks were a disappointing 13-13 in the regular season and playoffs last year when missing Khris Middleton, who did not play the final 10 games of the postseason as the Bucks narrowly lost to the Celtics.

With his return and the omnipresent threat of Antetokounmpo, it might be difficult to bet against the 2021 champions.

Nicholas McGee

East first seed: Philadelphia 76ers

West first seed: Golden State Warriors

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Champions: Golden State Warriors

Preseason fights, Klay Thompson being restricted to limited action in the exhibition schedule, key bench players leaving in free agency. Will any of it matter? No.

The Warriors have navigated discord before during title defences and will do so again in 2022-23. Even with the likes of Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. departing, the Warriors have excellent depth with several emerging talents complementing a core that reaffirmed their championship pedigree by beating the Celtics in six games last season.

Golden State will bank on Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody taking the next step in their second seasons, while Jordan Poole has the chance to ascend to stardom once the fallout from him being punched by Draymond Green dies down.

Everything revolves around Stephen Curry, though, and there is no sign of him slowing down or his game-tilting range reducing at 34 years old.

This is a team with an insatiable appetite for proving themselves all over again, and they have all the resources to do so once more. If James Wiseman stays healthy and blossoms into an impactful starting center, it will be difficult to envisage anyone stopping them.

David Segar

East first seed: Milwaukee Bucks

West first seed: Memphis Grizzlies

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Champions: Milwaukee Bucks

As Ben said, it is difficult to see a stronger contender in the East than Milwaukee, presuming their stars can stay fit.

With Ja Morant getting better all the time and the Phoenix Suns looking like they might fall away slightly, it would not be a huge surprise to see an ever-improving Grizzlies team top the West and perhaps even make it to the NBA Finals this time.

However, it feels like Giannis is ready for another big campaign and, in a team that includes the likes of Middleton, Jrue Holiday and new arrival Joe Ingles, he should have plenty of capable support.

Only Embiid (30.6) and LeBron James (30.3) averaged more points per game than Antetokounmpo's 29.9 last year, a career high for the Greek.

Anything can happen in the NBA, but of all the big teams who could threaten, Milwaukee feel like the one with the fewest issues heading into the season, and they will want to make up for their early playoff elimination at the hands of the Celtics last time out.

 

The NBA season is finally here, with the Golden State Warriors looking to defend their title after defeating the Boston Celtics in this year's NBA Finals.

Golden State will have plenty of serious opposition in their way if they are to go back-to-back, as some powerhouses – like the Los Angeles Clippers and the Milwaukee Bucks – return to full health.

The list of contenders this year may be as deep as it has ever been, with the Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns all definitely believing they have what it takes, and young sides like the Memphis Grizzlies and the Minnesota Timberwolves going all-in with the cores they have assembled.

After one of the best rookie classes in recent memory last season, this year's draftees have plenty to live up to, so to preview the season, we will start at the top.

Who are the favourites?

Despite not making the NBA Finals this past season, any conversation about potential champions in 2022-23 begins with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.

The Bucks took the Celtics to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals, and that was while they were missing their second-best player as Khris Middleton was sidelined for the entire series after suffering a knee injury in the first round. 

There is a convincing case to be made that they would have gone back-to-back with a healthy Middleton, but instead, the Warriors were able to take care of business in the Finals and collect the fourth championship of the Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green era.

Golden State return almost their full team, and with even marginal improvement from second-year lottery picks Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga, they will be one of the deepest rosters in the league, and will have the ammunition to put together one of the better trade packages if a disgruntled star appears around the deadline.

The Celtics will likely remain one of the best defensive units in the league, and will therefore always have a chance in the playoffs, and if the Warriors are not to come out of the Western Conference, the Nuggets or the Clippers are finally healthy and poised to make some noise.

Who are the dark horses?

Despite winning the title in 2019, the Toronto Raptors will come into this season extremely under the radar in what is now a loaded Eastern Conference.

One of the biggest and most athletic teams in the league, the thing working in the Raptors' favour may also be the point working against them – they brought back almost the exact same team.

Focal points Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam are still only 28 years old, while O.G. Anunoby profiles as a potentially elite wing at 25-years-old, and 21-year-old second-year point forward Scottie Barnes is the reigning Rookie of the Year.

They were the five seed last year despite all of their starters missing significant time, and with their championship experience and natural improvement, they will be in the mix by default.

Out West, it's hard to go past the New Orleans Pelicans, who will have one of the best starting fives in the NBA.

With C.J. McCollum, Brandon Ingram and surprise packet Herb Jones on the perimeter, along with Jonas Valanciunas and the returning Zion Williamson inside, that group will be a tough out if Williamson can remain healthy.

 

Who will win Rookie of the Year?

The clear favourite to take home the honour as the best first-year player is the Orlando Magic's Paolo Banchero, who was selected first overall in June's NBA Draft.

Banchero – who at six-foot-10 and 250lbs is the same size as prime DeMarcus Cousins despite playing on the perimeter – has essentially been tasked with being the saviour of the franchise, and will have significant playmaking and scoring responsibilities from day one.

He could realistically average somewhere in the range of 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game if the franchise truly decides to put the ball in his hands and let him run the show, and he is the only player in the class that can be said about.

His biggest competition – literally – was the Oklahoma City Thunder seven-footer Chet Holmgren, who was taken second overall, but will miss the entire season after suffering a fracture in his foot in the preseason.

Third pick Jabari Smith Jr will likely be more of an off-ball player in year one, limiting his ability to rack up massive counting stats, and fifth pick Jaden Ivey will be sharing the floor with last year's top overall selection Cade Cunningham with the Detroit Pistons, where Cunningham is unquestionably the star.

Keegan Murray, the fourth overall pick by the Sacramento Kings, profiles as one of the better all-around scorers in the draft and will have the opportunity to make his mark, and Shaedon Sharpe showed some intriguing flashes in the preseason after not playing a single game of competitive basketball since graduating from high school, still earning the seventh overall pick by the Portland Trail Blazers.

 

Quick hitters:

Pelicans wing Herb Jones was never going to receive the credit he deserved last year as a 23-year-old second-round draft pick, but the rookie was quietly one of the best defensive players in the league last season.

As a rookie, he was guarding the best opposing perimeter player every night for the Pelicans, suiting up for 78 of the 82 regular season games and finishing top-10 in the league in deflections per game (3.1).

He is one of the only wings in the NBA who is tasked with carrying his side defensively, and health permitting, he will be honoured on the NBA All-Defensive teams this season.

– For those who do not play fantasy basketball, it must be a shock to hear Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton has emerged as a first-round pick, but the unbelievably efficient 22-year-old is in position to have an explosive breakout season.

After being traded to the Pacers last season, Haliburton averaged 17.5 points, 9.6 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting 50 per cent from the field, 41 per cent from three and 85 per cent from the free throw line, putting him in the top echelon of efficient guard scorers and playmakers.

With established veterans Buddy Hield and Myles Turner both reportedly on the trading block as the Pacers enter themselves into the Victor Wembanyama sweepstake, their departure would only amplify the massive season coming from the former Sacramento draft pick.

– The Cleveland Cavaliers will have their sights set on the playoffs this season after their aggressive trade for former Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell – but he may not even be the best guard on the Cavs roster.

Last season was a coming out party for point guard Darius Garland, who appears to be next up in the archetype of deep-shooting, slick-passing, small initiators. 

He shot a career-best 46 per cent from the field this past season while attempting a career-high 6.7 three-pointers per game, and he was also one of the best passers in the league, averaging 8.6 assists and forming spectacular chemistry with fellow All-Star and alley-oop partner Jarrett Allen.

Mitchell will bring a level of perimeter scoring and playoff pedigree to the Cavaliers that is desperately needed to lower the demands on Garland late in games, but it will be Garland running this team for the first 46 minutes.

Three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell admitted his preseason debut for the Cleveland Cavaliers was "definitely weird" following his blockbuster offseason trade from the Utah Jazz.

Mitchell left the Jazz after five seasons in Salt Lake City, opting against a move to the New York Knicks to join an exciting Cavs line-up where he will play in the backcourt alongside Darius Garland.

The Cavs also boast All-Star Jarrett Allen and 2021-22 Rookie of the Year runner-up Evan Mobley along with veteran Kevin Love, offering hope of their first playoffs campaign since 2017-18.

Mitchell played 19 minutes, scoring 16 points on six-for-nine shooting, including three three-pointers along with five assists, in the Cavs' 113-112 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in his first outing for his new franchise.

"Today, I just kind of sat there and had one of those moments where you sit there and look out and see everything, and it's like, 'Wow. It's really here'," Mitchell said.

"Then once you get on the court, basketball is basketball. But all the little things, it's definitely weird. A little different. But I'm excited. It's going the way I thought it would, in a good way.

"It just didn't feel real… it still didn't hit me yet."

Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff was pleased with Mitchell's initial cohesion alongside All-Star point guard Garland.

"I thought it was pretty seamless," Bickerstaff said. "The way they played together, the way the ball moved, everybody got involved.

"As long as we play in the same style we want to play, where it isn't just based on one guy, but based on the team, I think it's going to work out well for us."

The Cavs finished last season with a 44-38 record, missing the playoffs after losing in the Play-In Tournament to the Atlanta Hawks in the number eight seed game.

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