Giannis Antetokounmpo drove the Milwaukee Bucks home with a triple-double as they bounced back with a 112-98 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday.

Antetokounmpo finished the game with 33 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists, including 13 points in the fourth quarter as the Bucks closed it out on a 17-4 run. The Greek forward was scoreless in the first quarter.

The Wizards, missing Bradley Beal to a wrist injury, had rallied from a 17-point deficit to be within contention in the final period but the reigning champions pulled away.

The Bucks had lost 136-100 to the Denver Nuggets in their last game and Antetokounmpo was delighted to put that behind them as they improved to 32-21.

Jrue Holiday provided good support with 22 points, five rebounds and two assists and Khris Middleton caught fire late to add 13 points and five rebounds.

 

Warriors win without All-Stars

The Golden State Warriors put aside the absence of All-Stars Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson as they beat the San Antonio Spurs 124-120. Jordan Poole starred with 31 points, six rebounds and five assists as Golden State won after a 35-16 fourth quarter rally.

The Chicago Bulls reinforced top spot in the east with a 126-115 victory over the Orlando Magic led by DeMar DeRozan with 29 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, while Zach LaVine chipped in with 26 points.

Karl-Anthony Towns (24 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists) got the better of Nikola Jokic (21 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists)) as the Minnesota Timberwolves won 130-115 over the Denver Nuggets.

 

Harden shooting cools down

James Harden returned from a hand injury but went six-of-19 from the field and four turnovers as the Brooklyn Nets went down 121-111 to the streaking Phoenix Suns. Harden had 22 points and 10 assists while Kyrie Irving hit 26 points. Devin Booker scored 35 points while Chris Paul added 20 points with 14 assists.

Two-time MVP Stephen Curry will join a long list of players on the sidelines and miss the Golden State Warriors' clash with the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday due to left toe soreness.

Curry, along with Andrew Wiggins (knee soreness), Klay Thompson (rest), Otto Porter Jr. (foot), and Nemanja Bjelica (back spasms) will all be unavailable for the game, leaving the 38-13 Warriors short-handed.

Andre Iguodala (hip) and Draymond Green (back) are also unavailable at the moment for Golden State.

Curry dropped 40 points with five rebounds and nine assists in Monday's 122-108 win over the Houston Rockets.

The Warriors listed Curry as out for Tuesday's game, amid a busy season having played 47 games with 34.8 minutes per game, averaging 26.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists.

Golden State provided a positive injury update on All-Star Green who has not played since January 10.

"Draymond Green, who has been sidelined for the last 12 games due to a lower back/disc injury, was recently re-examined," the Warriors said. "This indicated that Green is making steps in a positive direction and the injury is improving. He will be re-evaluated again prior to the All-Star break."

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic triumphed against Giannis Antetokounmpo as the Denver Nuggets routed the reigning champions Milwaukee Bucks 136-100 on Sunday.

Jokic almost recorded his 13th triple-double of the season, while he matched his season-high for assists with 13.

The Serbian had 18 points, nine rebounds and 15 assists for the Nuggets, while Aaron Gordon contributed a team-high 24 points including four triples as Denver dominated the second half 71-43 after leading by eight points at the long break.

Antetokounmpo, who won the 2019 and 2020 MVP awards, finished with 29 points but only managed seven in the second half. The Greek forward also had nine rebounds and two assists.

Khris Middleton was kept quiet offensively with nine points, five rebounds and seven assists while Jrue Holiday added 14 points, five rebounds and eight assists.

The Nuggets improve to 28-21 overall aided by a five-game win streak, including four on the road, while the Bucks slip to 31-21.

 

Suns fight back for 10 straight

The table topping-Phoenix Suns overturned a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to clinch their 10th straight win, beating the San Antonio Spurs 115-110. Devin Booker top scored with 28 points including four three-pointers, while Chris Paul was exceptional with 20 points, eight rebounds and a season-high 19 assists.

Trae Young starred with 36 points and 12 assists as the Atlanta Hawks extended their winning streak to seven games with a 129-121 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, who were without LeBron James for the third straight game with a knee soreness. Malik Monk scored 33 points for the Lakers.

Luka Doncic recorded a triple-double with 34 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists but the Dallas Mavericks lost 110-108 to the Orlando Magic, while 2021 top draft pick Cade Cunningham claimed a second career triple-double in the Detroit Pistons' 115-105 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

 

Jazz starter suffers worrying injury

Utah Jazz swingman Joe Ingles went down with an apparent knee injury in the second quarter of their 126-106 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Jazz confirmed Ingles will undergo an MRI in Salt Lake City on Monday.

The absences of LeBron James and Anthony Davis were felt as the Los Angeles Lakers suffered a second successive defeat.

Davis registered 31 points, 12 rebounds in Thursday's loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, but like James missed out through injury on Friday against the Charlotte Hornets.

That meant the onus was on Russell Westbrook to step up, and though he had 35 points, he ultimately missed a crucial, game-clinching three-pointer, having decided to go for the win rather than try for overtime.

P.J. Washington secured the rebound after Westbrook's attempt hit the rim, and added further insult with a free throw with 0.2 seconds left on the clock to seal a 117-114 win for Charlotte.

Since a four-game winning streak was snapped by the Memphis Grizzlies on January 9, Los Angeles has won just three of their nine games.

The Hornets, meanwhile, gained revenge for their overtime loss to the Lakers back in November in the only previous meeting this season, ending a six-game losing streak against Los Angeles in the process.

Suns in red-hot form

It is now nine wins in a row for the Phoenix Suns, who lead the NBA with 39 victories in 2021-22 after overcoming the Minnesota Timberwolves 134-124.

Devin Booker led the game with 29 points, while Chris Paul had a triple-double of 21 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists and Cam Johnson's tally of 23 points included crucial back-to-back three-pointers in the fourth quarter.

The Suns' record of 39-9 is the best in franchise history at this stage of a season, and have now won the 30 games in which they have led after three quarters.

While the Suns top the Western Conference, the Miami Heat continued their run at the top of the East by holding off a late push from the Los Angeles Clippers in a 121-114 success.

Miami has now won 10 of their last 12 games and snapped a six-game losing streak against the Clippers, who fought back to within four points but fell short of another comeback after their record-setting efforts against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday.

All-Star Morant sets franchise record

Ja Morant proved why he has been named an All-Star starter as he delivered a triple-double of 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a 119-109 win for the Grizzlies over the Utah Jazz.

It was the highest-scoring triple-double in franchise history and the fourth overall for Morant, who has scored at least 30 points for five straight games as Memphis moved to 34-17.

DeMar DeRozan's return to San Antonio ended in defeat for the Chicago Bulls, who went down 131-122 to the Spurs.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic recorded a triple-double in the Denver Nuggets' victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, while Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 38 points in an emphatic win for the Milwaukee Bucks over the New York Knicks.

The Phoenix Suns recorded their eighth consecutive victory as they defeated the Utah Jazz 105-97 with Devin Booker producing another 40-point game on Wednesday.

Booker had 43 points, 12 rebounds and four assists after a first-quarter scoring blitz as the Suns opened up an early 39-18 lead.

Chris Paul (21 points) added some key points down the stretch as the Jazz rallied in the last quarter.

The 25-year-old shooting guard recorded his 16th career 40-point game, moving past Amar'e Stoudemire for most in Suns franchise history, sitting ahead of Tom Chambers and Walter Davis too.

The victory means the table-topping Suns improve to 38-9 overall and 8-0 on the road this calendar year.

 

Hornets break records in Pacers rout

The Charlotte Hornets set a franchise record for single game scoring and produced the highest points total this season as they downed the Indiana Pacers 158-126. The Hornets hit 24 three-pointers, with LaMelo Ball (29 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assists) and Kelly Oubre Jr (39 points) starring.

The Cleveland Cavaliers underlined their credentials as contenders with a 115-99 win over the champions Milwaukee Bucks. The Cavs moved above the Bucks with their eighth win in their past nine games, with Kevin Love scoring 25 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 26 points and nine rebounds for the Bucks.

Ja Morant was exceptional with 41 points, five rebounds and eight assists as the Memphis Grizzlies won 118-110 over the San Antonio Spurs, while Nikola Jokic (26 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) led the Denver Nuggets past the depleted Brooklyn Nets 124-118. James Harden was out with hamstring tightness.

 

Bulls wayward but winners

The Chicago Bulls only managed seven three-pointers, shooting at 26.9 percent from beyond the arc yet they won 111-105 over the Toronto Raptors. The Bulls had lost six of seven but have steadied to win their past two, with DeMar DeRozan having 29 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

LeBron James had a double-double but it was not enough for the fast-finishing Los Angeles Lakers to overcome his former side the Miami Heat who won 113-107 on Sunday.

The Heat led by 23 points but the Lakers charged home with 37-24 points down the stretch.

James finished with 33 points, 11 rebounds and four assists for the Lakers, while Russell Westbrook had 24 points and nine rebounds.

Jimmy Butler starred for the Heat, breaking James' franchise record for triple-doubles with his 22 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists.

The Heat are top of the Eastern Conference with a 30-17 record, while the Lakers drop below .500 with a 23-24 record.

 

Embiid continues scoring streak

Joel Embiid continued his hot streak with a double-double as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the San Antonio Spurs 115-109. Embiid had 38 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, extending his 14-game run of 25 points or more.

Luka Doncic had a double-double with 37 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists as the Dallas Mavericks won 104-91 over the Memphis Grizzlies, for whom Ja Morant had 35 points and 13 rebounds, while the Golden State Warriors won 94-92 over the Utah Jazz, despite only 11 fourth-quarter points.

Jayson Tatum scored 51 points, including 48 in the first three quarters, as the Boston Celtics won 116- 87 over the Washington Wizards, while DeMar DeRozan had 41 points as the short-handed Chicago Bulls' slide continued with a 114-95 loss to the lowly Orlando Magic.

 

Harden subdued as Nets cut down

James Harden shot four-of-13 for the game as the Brooklyn Nets were downed 136-125 by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Harden only managed 13 points, while Kyrie Irving had 30 points with six rebounds and five assists.

Kyrie Irving revealed how some stern words from Brooklyn Nets team-mate James Harden provided the catalyst for his fourth-quarter blitz against the San Antonio Spurs.

The Nets moved into top spot in the Eastern Conference with a hard-fought 117-102 win over the Spurs on Friday.

While Harden put up 37 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists, Irving had only nine points heading into the final quarter and was scoreless in the third.

He put that right with a 15-point showing down the stretch and then offered an insight into what had inspired his late flurry.

"James kind of yelled at me," Irving said. "It's not a negative yell, but he yelled at me, 'Kai, get the f*****g ball!' in the third quarter after he scored [12 points] in the quarter.

"I kind of took that personal. I just wanted to come out in the fourth quarter in an aggressive mindset and just play within the flow of the offense."

It was a reaction that saw the shackles thrown off for the Nets, who are now 29-16, and Harden never doubted Irving's ability to turn it on.

"For sure, it was a breakthrough," said Harden. "He's capable of doing that at any moment and any point in the game.

"That's one of the reasons why we need him every single game, because he's able to do that, especially with everything that's going on with our team.

"But he's able and more than capable of doing things like that whenever he wants. I think he just tries to get us involved a little bit more, but he's a special talent.

"We have a decent rhythm between one another of just getting out of each other's way but also demanding each other to play at that level.

"When it's us going together and us doing it as a tandem or a duo, it opens up the space for everyone. When we're playing with the unbelievable pace like we were in the fourth quarter, I don't see too many teams that can keep up with that."

James Harden and Dejounte Murray both had triple-doubles as the Brooklyn Nets got past the San Antonio Spurs 117-102 on Friday.

Harden scored 37 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists with Kevin Durant out with a sprained left MCL as the Nets rallied from a 51-50 half-time deficit to improve to 29-16.

Kyrie Irving contributed 24 points with three rebounds and four assists for the Nets, who are top of the Eastern Conference.

Harden's triple-double was the 66th of his career, moving him to eighth on the all-time list, while Murray – who had 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists – recorded his ninth triple-double of the season and 13th of his career.

 

LeBron leads Lakers past Magic

LeBron James led the Los Angeles Lakers' second-half response as they fought back from an eight-point half-time deficit to win 116-105 over the Orlando Magic. James finished with 29 points, seven rebounds and five assists, playing the second half at center, while Russell Westbrook contributed 18 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

The Milwaukee Bucks edged the Chicago Bulls 94-90 in an important game in the Eastern Conference standings. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 30 points with 12 rebounds and three assists as the Bucks overcame Grayson Allen's ejection.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic recorded another triple-double with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists but Ja Morant overshadowed him with 38 points as the Memphis Grizzlies won 122-118 over the Denver Nuggets, while Stephen Curry had 22 points including a game-winning buzzer beater in the Golden State Warriors' 105-103 win over the Houston Rockets.

 

Sixers fluff 24-point lead

The Philadelphia 76ers blew a 24-point lead to lose 102-101 to the Los Angeles Clippers despite Joel Embiid scoring 40 points with 13 rebounds. Reggie Jackson finishing with 19 points and nine assists for the Clippers.

LeBron James scored 25 points as the Los Angeles Lakers snapped their three-game losing streak by beating the Utah Jazz on Monday.

A superb late show from Stanley Johnson, who hit 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, saw the Lakers respond to their loss to the Denver Nuggets two days ago by winning 101-95.

Utah were hoping that size mattered, with Rudy Gobert playing his second game back following a positive coronavirus test and Anthony Davis still sidelined.

Gobert came up with 19 points and 16 rebounds, his second double-double in as many days despite not attempting a shot until the second quarter, but he could not prevent Johnson's clever layup move that put the Lakers 89-87 ahead.

In reality, it was Johnson's day: having been re-signed to a 10-day contract earlier, he scored six consecutive points in the final quarter and tied the game at 83-83, making seven of his nine shots.

Russell Westbrook's 15 points also proved key, but it was his spectacular dunk over Gobert in the second quarter – called for a technical foul – that drew the biggest cheers.

 

Booker hits season-high 48 as Suns roll on

The Phoenix Suns moved to 34-9 with a fourth win in a row, defeating the San Antonio Spurs 121-107.

Devin Booker scored 48 points, his best return in a game this season, finishing 18-for-33 from the field and sinking five of 13 three-point attempts.

Double-doubles from Chris Paul and Bismack Biyombo helped the Phoenix to a dominant fourth-quarter display, outscoring the Spurs 34-16 as they made it five straight wins in San Antonio.

 

Adebayo back with a Bam, Doncic drags Mavs past Thunder

The Miami Heat edged out the Toronto Raptors 104-99 as All-Star center Bam Adebayo returned from six weeks out following thumb surgery.

Adebayo's 14 points and a triple-double from Jimmy Buttler of 19 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds helped the Heat move into a virtual tie for the lead in the Eastern Conference with the struggling Chicago Bulls.

The Dallas Mavericks made it three wins in a row, a triple-double from Luka Doncic helping them to hold off a second-half comeback from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 104-102 victory.

CJ McCollum, back from a 17-game absence caused by a collapsed lung, scored 16 points as the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Orlando Magic 98-88 – their 10th straight victory over the East's bottom side.

 

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic recorded another triple-double as the Los Angeles Lakers slumped below .500 again following a 133-96 humiliation at the hands of the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Nuggets center Jokic finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists and brought up his triple-double in the third quarter, as Denver piled on 73 first-half points before restricting the Lakers to only 36 points in the second half.

LeBron James scored 25 points with nine rebounds and two blocks for the Lakers, while Russell Westbrook had 19 points, five rebounds and three assists.

The defeat means the Lakers, who are still without Anthony Davis due to injury, move to a 21-22 record after losing three games in a row.

Bones Hyland was brilliant off the bench for Denver, who improve to 22-19, with a career-high 27 points including six triples and 10 rebounds.

 

Durant injured as Nets win

Kevin Durant limped out with a knee sprain as James Harden had 27 points, eight rebounds and 15 assists while Patty Mills scored 21 points as the Brooklyn Nets won 120-105 over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Pascal Siakam over-shadowed Giannis Antetokounmpo with a triple-double with 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists as the Toronto Raptors won 103-96 over the Milwaukee Bucks. Antetokounmpo scored 30 points with six rebounds and four assists.

Jayson Tatum had 23 points with 12 rebounds as the Boston Celtics won 114-112 to condemn the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls to three straight losses, while Darius Garland had 27 points and a career-high 18 assists in the Cleveland Cavaliers' comeback 107-102 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

 

Butler struggles as Heat go cold

Jimmy Butler struggled from the field, making one of 11 for his eight points as the Miami Heat's four-game winning streak was ended by the in-form Philadelphia 76ers 109-98. Joel Embiid had 32 points with 12 rebounds for the 76ers.

The Golden State Warriors showed off their newfound depth and flexed their muscle with a 138-96 rout over the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls on Friday.

Three Warriors scored more points than Stephen Curry, who finished with 19 points including four three-pointers in the win without Draymond Green (calf) and Klay Thompson (rest).

Top 10 draft pick Jonathan Kuminga top scored with 25 points, while Jordan Poole added 22 including five triples and Andrew Wiggins contributed 21.

Golden State piled on 78 points in the first half, leading by 31 at the main break and never looked back after the Bulls lost Zach LaVine to a knee injury early in the first quarter.

DeMar DeRozan was kept quiet with 17 points, two rebounds and seven assists, while Nikola Vucevic top scored for the Bulls with 19 points along with 14 rebounds.

Chicago, who were humbled 138-112 by the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, slip to a 27-13 record but remain top of the Eastern Conference.

 

Suns and Heat continue stellar records

Devin Booker scored 35 points including five three-pointers while Deandre Ayton had 27 points with 12 rebounds as the ladder-leading phoenix Suns won 112-94 over the Indiana Pacers. The Suns are 32-9 at the halfway mark, which is their second-best record in franchise history after 41 games.

Jimmy Butler returned from a three-game absence due to an ankle injury with 23 points, 10 assists and two steals as the Miami Heat rallied late to win 124-118 over the Atlanta Hawks. The Heat improve to 27-15 and sit second in the east.

Joel Embiid had 25 points, 13 rebounds and six assists as the Philadelphia 76ers got past the Boston Celtics 111-99. Embiid fell five points short of breaking the 76ers franchise record for 30 points or more in nine straight games.

 

Grizzlies winning run ended

The Memphis Grizzlies' 11-game winning streak came to a halt at the hands of Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks 112-85. The Grizzlies struggled from beyond the arc, making seven-of-31 (22.6 percent) from three-point range with Jaren Jackson Jr missing all six of his three-point attempts. Doncic had a triple-double with 27 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

Kyrie Irving finished with 22 points in his second game back but could not inspire the Brooklyn Nets to victory as they went down to a depleted Portland Trail Blazers 114-108 on Monday.

Anfernee Simons starred with 23 points, six rebounds and 11 assists for the Blazers who were missing Damian Lillard (abdomen).

The Nets were also without James Harden (knee), but had Kevin Durant (28 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) and Irving (22 points, eight rebounds, four assists) on court.

Durant's points return marks 19 straight games with 20 or more points, which is the second-longest streak of 20-point games in franchise history.

The defeat means the Nets are 25-14 and second in the east while the Blazers improve to 16-24.

 

Giannis cannot lift Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 26 points with 13 rebounds and eight assists but it was not enough as the Milwaukee Bucks lost their second straight game, going down 103-99 to the Charlotte Hornets. Khris Middleton had 27 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists for the Bucks.

First draft pick Cade Cunningham scored a career-high 29 points to lead the Detroit Pistons to an upset 126-116 win over the Utah Jazz, who were without Rudy Gobert again.

Joel Embiid scored 31 points with eight rebounds and six assists for the Philadelphia 76ers who beat the Houston Rockets 111-91.

 

Tatum cool as Celtics win in OT

Jayson Tatum went zero-of-seven from beyond the arc and shot at 33 percent from the field for his 24 points as the Boston Celtics edged the Indiana Pacers 101-98 in over-time. Domantas Sabonis had a triple-double for the Pacers.

Klay Thompson marked his return from a two and a half year absence with 17 points as the Golden State Warriors saw off the Cleveland Cavaliers 96-82 on Sunday.

The 31-year-old, who had missed 941 days rehabbing from a torn ACL and ruptured Achilles tendon, was 7 of 18 from the field and 3 of 8 from three-point range.

Thompson also added three rebounds, an assist and a steal in 20 minutes, earning a rousing reception as he left the court

"I was just happy to be out there doing what I love again and getting my rhythm back," Thompson said. "It feels really good... It was surreal. 

"The ovation to start the game, I just was so grateful for these fans. It was special. I'm never going to forget this night."

With his impressive comeback display, Thompson reached 12,000 career points and 1,800 made three-pointers.

Red-hot Grizzlies set franchise record 

The Memphis Grizzlies soared to new heights by beating the Los Angeles Lakers 127-119 as they won nine successive games for the first time in franchise history. 

The Lakers had won four in a row ahead of the contest but could not live with their opponents, who had previously won eight in a row in 2004, 2012, 2013 and 2015.

Desmond Bane had 23 points and Jaren Jackson Jr. added 21, though it was a breathtaking block from Ja Morant to deny Avery Bradley that stole the show.

While it was a disappointing occasion for the Lakers, LeBron James scored 35 points – 23 of those arriving in the first half – and added seven assists.

That saw James move to 9,888 career assists in NBA and pass Oscar Robertson (9,887) for the seventh-most in history.

Mavericks halt Bulls' winning run

The Chicago Bulls' own nine-game winning run came to an end with a 113-99 defeat to the Dallas Mavericks, with Luka Doncic starring for the home side.

Doncic had 22 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists for his third triple-double of the campaign, while Josh Green and Maxi Kleber had season highs of 18 points each.

Elsewhere on Sunday, Kevin Durant scored 28 points for Brooklyn Nets in their 121-119 win against the San Antonio Spurs.

Cam Thomas made a runner in the lane with a little over a second to go in overtime as the Nets, who led by 10 with four minutes to play, snapped a five game losing run at home.

There are no hard and fast rules for voters to determine the winner of the NBA's Most Improved Player Award. 

Does it go to a player who came out of nowhere to become a big-time contributor? Is it geared more toward players who take the next step on their journey to superstar status? Or is it for players who rebound from disappointing seasons for whatever reason?

The award can reasonably fit players from several different categories so as the season nears the halfway point, now is a good time to look at some of the leading contenders for a trophy that nobody is sure what it takes to win. 

MILES BRIDGES - CHARLOTTE HORNETS

The betting lines for the Most Improved Player Award have had Bridges on top for most of the season and it's not hard to see why. 

Bridges has improved every season since he was the 12th overall selection out of Michigan State in 2018, and he has taken a huge leap forward in 2021-22. 

With career highs of 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists, Bridges can affect the game in a myriad of ways. He is one of only 12 players averaging at least 19 points, seven rebounds, three assists and one steal per game this season.

Like a lot of players who ended up winning the Most Improved Player Award, Bridges has benefitted from a big increase in minutes. He has jumped from 29.3 minutes per game last season to 35.8 this year. 

While Bridges' field goal and three-point percentages are down from last season, that can be partly attributed to a change in his approach as he's attacking the rim more efficiently and shooting 40.9 percent from midrange, up from 28.6 last season.

Though he's proven capable of doing more than scoring, Bridges' ability to put up points in bunches has been a welcome sight for the playoff-hopeful Hornets. He already has six 30-point games this season after he had just three in his first 211 NBA games.

Bridges' case for the award gets even stronger with the success of the Hornets, who are in position for a playoff spot with 20 wins after winning 33 games all last season. With Bridges leading the way, Charlotte ranks second in the NBA with 115.5 points per game and features five players averaging at least 15 per game.

JORDAN POOLE - GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

Perhaps no player with a legitimate chance to win this award has come further than Poole, who struggled mightily as a rookie in 2019-20 and was even sent to the G League in January 2021 after struggling to carve out a role with the team. 

This season, though, Poole has been nothing short of a revelation for Golden State, who are vying for the league's best record and are back among the NBA's elite after a dismal 2019-20 and a mediocre season last year. 

Poole has replaced the departed Kelly Oubre in the starting lineup and been the perfect complement for Stephen Curry while the Warriors await Klay Thompson's season debut. Poole is averaging 17.7 points – nearly six more than last season - and has increased his rebounds from 1.8 to 3.3 and his assists from 1.9 to 3.4. He's done all that as his minutes have jumped from 19.4 last season to 29.9 in 2021-22 while going from a fringe rotation player to the third-scoring option behind Curry and Andrew Wiggins. 

Golden State coach Steve Kerr said that Thompson will move into the starting lineup as soon as he's ready and that will certainly have an effect on Poole. Curry's ability to create open shots for his teammates simply by existing is obvious and Poole could struggle to adapt with only so many touches to go around between the Splash Brothers and Wiggins. 

The Warriors' stellar season thus far should only help Poole's case even if he does play in the same backcourt as the possible league MVP.

TYRESE MAXEY - PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

No player has improved his scoring at a greater rate than Maxey, who is more than doubling his scoring average, rebounds and assists from his 2020-21 rookie season. After making just eight starts all last season, Maxey has helped fill the void left by Ben Simmons with 31 starts in 32 games and is a big reason why the 76ers are fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Maxey entered the league with the reputation of a scoring guard, but he has added a new dimension to his game this season and looks more like a true point guard with each performance. He has overcome some early season turnover issues and his assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.58 ranks seventh in the league, not bad for a player who is in his first full season running an offense. 

His improvement in scoring stems mainly from a more polished shot and it's proven in his percentages. 

After shooting 30.1 percent from three-point range last season, Maxey is connecting on 38.0 from deep this season and has made double figures in field goals five times after doing so just twice in all of 2020-21. 

Additionally, Maxey hasn't had a problem being Philadelphia's primary offensive weapon when Joel Embiid sits out. In the 11 games Embiid has missed this season, Maxey has averaged 22.4 points on 49.2 percent shooting compared to 13.9 points on 45.9 percent when the two are in the same lineup.

DESMOND BANE - MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

There's an argument to be made that teammate Ja Morant is as worthy of the Most Improved Player Award as Bane but the difference lies with expectations. The otherworldly Morant is ascending as most believed he would after he was the second overall pick in 2019, while Bane has had a far more dramatic leap as the 30th overall selection the following year. 

Bane was an impressive shooter in his rookie season, averaging 9.2 points and hitting on 43.2 percent from long range. He has continued the stellar shooting in his sophomore season and has developed other areas of his game. Bane is tied for seventh in the league in three-pointers made (112) and at 17.4 points per game, only Tyrese Maxey has improved his scoring from last season at a greater rate. 

Bane's evolution truly became evident from November 28-December 19 when Morant was sidelined for 12 games. 

During that span, Bane averaged 17.5 points and 5.0 rebounds while making 36 of 79 (45.6 percent) from beyond the arc as the Grizzlies won 10 of 12 without their best player. In a 108-95 win over the Lakers on December 9 and Memphis also missing second-leading scorer Dillon Brooks, Bane scored 23 points on nine-of-20 shooting, including five of 11 from downtown.

With almost no fanfare, Bane has become one of the elite shooters in the league. 

Earlier this season he became just the sixth player in NBA history to make 200 three-pointers and shoot at least 40 percent from deep in his first 100 career games. The others are Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Duncan Robinson, Voshon Lenard and Landry Shamet.

DEJOUNTE MURRAY - SAN ANTONIO SPURS

With the offseason departure of DeMar DeRozan, Murray has become the unquestioned leader of the rebuilding Spurs and he seems to finally be getting the attention he deserves as one of the best point guards in the league. 

Murray has improved his scoring in each of his five NBA seasons and is up to a career-best 18.0 this season. He's also averaging 8.4 rebounds - the most of any guard in the NBA – and ranks in the league's top five in assists (8.9), steals (2.03) and triple-doubles (6).

Whereas many of the candidates for this award have seen a huge uptick in minutes, Murray is averaging barely two more minutes per game (31.9 to 34.2). 

One area of his game that could prevent Murray from winning this award is his shooting. His 44.2 field goal percentage puts him 16th among point guards, while his 33.6 three-point percentage is ranked 23rd. He also is connecting on just 69.6 percent from the foul line.

San Antonio is currently 10th in the Western Conference and has a shot at qualifying for the play-in round of the playoffs. This award has traditionally gone to a player on a team that experiences a certain level of success so the Spurs finishing at least in the top 10 in the conference would be a big help to Murray's case. 

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