Bradley Beal's five-year, $251million contract with the Washington Wizards includes a no-trade clause that makes the three-time All-Star guard the only player in the NBA to have a "true no trade clause", according to ESPN's Bobby Marks. 

Marks also says Beal is the 10th player in NBA history to have the clause in a deal, joining LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan, David Robinson and John Stockton. 

Beal was eligible to negotiate the clause because he has been in the league for at least eight seasons and spent at least the previous four campaigns with his current team.

He has been with the Wizards since they selected him third overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. 

Beal's 25.8 points per game since the 2016-17 season is the 10th-highest scoring average in the NBA over that span. He was limited to 40 games in 2021-22 before undergoing season-ending surgery on his left wrist. 

Thomas Bryant is once again a Los Angeles Laker after the free agent centre signed a one-year contract with the team on Wednesday. 

A second-round pick by the Utah Jazz in the 2017 NBA Draft, Bryant was then traded to the Lakers on draft night but only appeared in 15 games with Los Angeles, averaging 1.5 points and 1.1 rebounds. 

He was then waived by the Lakers following his rookie year and signed with the Washington Wizards, where he has spent the past four seasons. 

His last two years with Washington were marred by injury, however, as he appeared in a combined 37 games due to a torn ACL suffered in January 2021.  

Prior to the injury, Bryant was off to an encouraging start to the 2020-21 season, averaging 14.3 points on 64.8-per-cent shooting, along with 6.1 rebounds in starting the first 10 games for Washington. 

Bryant, who turns 25 years old on July 31, played well at times in his return last January, averaging 7.4 points and 4.0 rebounds in 27 games. 

The Lakers are hopeful after another off-season of training that he will be able to regain his prior form and provide frontcourt depth.

Bradley Beal agreed his return to the Washington Wizards for a huge five-year, $251million contract as free agency began on Thursday.

Beal had declined his $36.4m player option for the 2022-23 season, becoming an unrestricted free agent.

That move allowed Beal to seek a maximum contract extension as he re-signed with the team.

The agreement was first reported to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski by Beal's agent Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports.

Wizards president and general manager Tommy Sheppard confirmed: "The Wizards intend to enter into a player contract with Bradley Beal once the moratorium period ends."

While Washington could scarcely afford not to reward their key man, it is a huge commitment to a player who was limited to 40 games in 2021-22 due to injury.

The Wizards have won only three playoff series in Beal's 10-year NBA career. They have made the postseason just once in four seasons.

Washington Wizards standout Bradley Beal will enter the NBA’s unrestricted free agent market after officially declining his $36.4 million player option for the upcoming 2022-23 season.

Beal’s agency, Priority Sports, confirmed the decision to ESPN Thursday, the deadline for teams and players to decide on options for next season.

The move allows Beal to seek a maximum contract extension worth just over $250 million over five years if he re-signs with the Wizards, or a four-year deal for approximately $185 million if he signs with another team.

ESPN reported earlier this week that the industry expectation was for Beal to decline his option to sign a maximum extension with the Wizards, the team he has spent his entire 10-year career with.

The three-time All-Star is likely to receive a max deal despite an injury-plagued and down 2021-22 campaign in which he was limited to 40 games by a left wrist injury that required surgery. Beal finished the season shooting a career-low 30 percent from 3-point range.

Beal finished second in the league scoring race in both 2019-20 and 2020-21, and was named to the All-NBA Third Team in that latter season after averaging a career-high 31.3 points per game for a Washington team that earned the Eastern Conference’s eighth playoff seed.

Should he return to Washington, Beal would have a new backcourt partner after the Wizards acquired point guard Monte Morris from the Denver Nuggets in a four-player trade Thursday.

The Wizards also received veteran wing Will Barton from Denver while sending wing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and reserve guard Ish Smith to the Nuggets.

The Denver Nuggets and Washington Wizards are nearing completion of a trade that would send point guard Monte Morris and swingman Will Barton to Washington for guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith, according to multiple reports.

Morris, who started 74 games in place of an injured Jamal Murray last season, would fill the Wizards' primary need of a starting point guard. Washington had previously been rumoured to have interest in trading for Indiana's Malcolm Brogdon.

The 27-year-old Morris averaged career highs of 12.6 points and 4.4 assists per game in 2021-22 and is a career 39.4 percent shooter from three-point range. The five-year veteran has two seasons remaining on a three-year, $27.8million extension he signed with Denver in December 2020.

Both Caldwell-Pope and Barton are entering the final years of their respective contracts and have nearly identical salaries for 2021-22.

In Caldwell-Pope, the Nuggets get a strong wing defender and a proven outside shooter who has made 38.5 percent or more of his three-point attempts in each of the last three seasons. The 29-year-old averaged 13.2 points while starting 77 games in his lone season with Washington after being acquired from the Lakers as part of the trade that sent former NBA MVP Russell Westbrook to Los Angeles.

Barton started a career-high 71 games last season and averaged 14.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists. The 31-year-old had been the Nuggets' longest-tenured player, having spent seven-plus seasons with the franchise.

The well-travelled Smith would set an NBA record by playing with his 13th team should he suit up for the Nuggets. The 12-year veteran, who averaged 6.3 points and 3.8 assists in 65 games last season, has a non-guaranteed $4.725m salary for 2022-23.

Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is bullish about his side's prospects for the 2022-23 season with the return of Kawhi Leonard.

The Clippers reached the Conference Finals for the first time in 2021, but missed the playoffs in 2022 with Leonard absent for the entire campaign due to an ACL injury.

Leonard sustained the injury in Game 4 of the 2021 Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Utah Jazz.

Paul George was also restricted to only 31 games in the 2021-22 season with a niggling elbow injury, as they finished with a 42-40 record.

The Clippers are expected to be boosted by Leonard and George both having a clean bill of health while point guard John Wall is set to join in a free-agent deal after he reached a buy-out agreement with the Houston Rockets.

"I think the sky is the limit for our team," Ballmer said. "It'll be our effort, our energy.

"Of course, you got to have a little good luck to win the Larry O'Brien Trophy, which is what we really like.

"I think if we stay healthy next year we are going to be having a chance to talk way late into the [postseason]."

Leonard, who is a two-time NBA Finals MVP (2014 and 2019), looms large as the key to the Clippers' chances.

The 31-year-old small forward averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and a career-high 5.2 assists per game in the 2020-21 regular season. He averaged a career-high 27.1 points in his first season with the Clippers in 2019-20.

"[Leonard is] not only your best player but one of the preeminent handful of top players in the world," Ballmer said.

"I am really excited about that. Kawhi's in the gym. He's working, and we got our fingers crossed everything keeps going on schedule."

The Clippers also confirmed on Tuesday that they had signed a three-year $33 million contract extension with center Ivica Zubac.

Five-time All-Star guard John Wall plans to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers after reaching a buyout agreement with the Houston Rockets, ESPN reported on Monday.

Wall will relinquish $6.5million of the $47.4m he was owed for the upcoming season, the final one of a four-year, $171m extension he signed in 2017 while a member of the Washington Wizards. Yahoo Sports first reported that a buyout had been reached.

The 31-year-old will be joining a Clippers team that reached the Western Conference Finals in 2020-21 but were ousted in this year’s play-in, dealing with long injury absences for stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Leonard missed the entire season recovering from a torn ACL sustained in the 2021 playoffs, while a torn elbow ligament limited George to 31 games.

Wall also did not play in 2021-22 due to reported differences between the veteran and the rebuilding Rockets over his potential role, and he hasn’t played more than 41 games in a season since 2016-17 due to several injuries.

The top pick of the 2010 NBA Draft missed much of 2017-18 due to a knee injury that required surgery and sat the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season, recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered in January 2019.

Houston acquired Wall from the Wizards in December 2020 for former NBA MVP Russell Westbrook, and he averaged 20.6 points and 6.9 assists in the lone season he took the court for the Rockets despite being limited to 40 games.

It always feels somewhat presumptuous to talk about an NBA Draft in the immediate aftermath and judge who did well and who did not. Surely, we have to wait to see how things play out and whether players with immense potential are able to fulfil it?

However, what you can do is judge those who, on paper at least, seem to have struck gold and those who appeared to stumble through their Thursday evening and may well have come away disappointed with their haul.

The night started off delightfully chaotically as the Orlando Magic went against the widely predicted number one pick of Jabari Smith Jr and instead brought in Paolo Banchero.

Now the dust has settled after an interesting night, Stats Perform has taken a look at the potential winners and losers of the draft.

Winners

Houston Rockets

The Rockets could probably not believe their luck when the Magic decided to opt for Banchero. The Italian-American would have still been a fine first-round pick, but given the choice it seems like Houston would rather have taken Smith Jr, and they had the chance to do just that.

The youngster was a disruptive defender for Aubern, and clearly has sound fundamentals, a result no doubt of growing up in and around basketball, with his father Jabari Smith Sr a former NBA player himself.

Smith Jr averaged 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists while shooting 42.9 per cent from the floor and 42 per cent from the three-point line in 2021-22, and should dovetail nicely with Alperen Sengun, a first-round pick from last year.

The Rockets also took Tari Eason, a breakout star at LSU, and TyTy Washington, a high-quality and versatile option who was expected to be picked up earlier in the night.

Detroit Pistons

A very similar moment of fortune fell for the Pistons as their top choice Jaden Ivey was surprisingly still available when it came to their number five pick, with the Sacramento Kings instead taking Keegan Murray.

In two seasons at Purdue, Ivey showed himself to be a top-five prospect with a well-rounded game, though questions persist about the consistency of his shooting. He averaged 17.3 points per game last season, though, with a field goal percentage of 46.0.

Detroit were also involved in a three-way trade with the Charlotte Hornets and the New York Knicks. This ended with them procuring Jalen Duren and Kemba Walker in exchange for their 2025 first-round pick, having acquired it as part of the Jerami Grant trade to the Portland Trail Blazers earlier in the week.

Walker is expected to be bought out of his contract and become a free agent, so it looks like sound dealing to essentially trade a first-round pick to get Duren through the door, who averaged 12.0 points and 8.1 rebounds per game for the Memphis Tigers last season.

San Antonio Spurs

Nothing outrageous from the Spurs, but on the face of it, they ended the night with three solid picks.

Jeremy Sochan became the first British player to be picked in NBA Draft in over 10 years. As a freshman at Baylor, Sochan averaged 9.2 points and 6.4 rebounds in 25.1 minutes per game, making 47.4 per cent of his field goal attempts.

As that average suggests, one aspect to his game that could be improved is his shooting, but San Antonio's Chip Engelland is one of the best shooting coaches in the game and could well help the young man who was raised in Milton Keynes, England.

Malaki Branham looks a smart choice as the number 20 pick from Ohio State, with his one college season seeing him average 13.7 points on 49.8 per cent shooting, while Blake Wesley from Notre Dame also has the potential to also be a valuable arrival.

Losers

New York Knicks

After a poor season that felt like it would at least set them up for a productive draft, the Knicks appeared to overthink things at the draft, or underthink them depending on your viewpoint.

They decided to trade their number 11 pick for three future first-round picks, though none that really hold any value.

They managed to get Walker's contract out the door to the Pistons to free up some salary space, seemingly putting all their eggs in the Jalen Brunson basket, or potentially even Kyrie Irving. However, they only saved $9.2m from Walker's contract, which is not a lot considering they gave up one of their first-round picks. 

Who knows if it will pay off, but Knicks fans were almost certainly expecting more.

Washington Wizards

There was nothing particularly wrong with the picks from the Wizards, but as harsh as it may sound, they are in danger of becoming the NBA's dullest team.

A win percentage of 0.427 was down from 0.472 in 2020-21, and it felt like they might need to take a bit of a risk in the draft with their number 10 pick.

Johnny Davis is a fine player, averaging 19.7 points per game for the Wisconsin Badgers last year, the 25th highest in the college game, but someone like Duren could have been a roll of the dice for something to boost that win percentage sometime soon.

Who knows? It could be a sound strategy, but to be frank, it is a strategy that has not been working for the last few years in Washington.

Sacramento Kings

There is some sympathy with the situation the Kings were put in as the extremely obvious pick at four was Ivey, who had expressly said he did not want to go to Sacramento, so they went with Murray instead.

Murray is a fine prospect himself, and arguably a better fit than Ivey for the Kings, but the latter felt like an opportunity to at the very least have significant trade leverage.

Murray did average the fourth-highest points per game average last year with 23.5 for Iowa, while also adding 8.7 rebounds per game, so comes in as a promising addition.

Ivey will inevitably feel like the one who got away if he does what many think he will at Detroit, though, which could bring back memories of when Sacramento failed to take on Luka Doncic in 2018.

With the top three picks of the NBA Draft appearing to be Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero – likely in that order – the real fun begins with the Sacramento Kings at pick four.

The heavy favourite to be selected fourth overall is Purdue's Jaden Ivey, who projects as the top guard prospect in this year's class.

At 6ft 4in with tremendous athleticism, Ivey is a point guard that plays in a similar fashion to John Wall, although he is not the natural facilitator Wall is, leaning on his scoring and driving ability for his primary value.

Ivey was considered part of the top tier through early portions of the college basketball season until the three bigs elevated themselves further into their own conversation, but Ivey has been gaining so much steam throughout the pre-draft process that teams including the New York Knicks have reportedly been enquiring about trading up to the Kings' pick to select him.

 

Keegan Murray

After Ivey, the draft really opens up, although Iowa wing Keegan Murray will likely not fall outside of the top seven.

Murray is a 6ft 8in, highly skilled scorer who will be able to fill both forward spots in the NBA, and figures to be a player who will be able to create his own baskets in isolation situations.

He averaged 23.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game during his sophomore season, and shot a terrific 55 per cent from the field and 39.8 per cent from three-point range on 4.7 attempts per game.

Defense is the question with Murray, but he has the size and athleticism to contribute on that end, while the team that drafts him will hope he can fill a similar role to Milwaukee Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton as a low-maintenance scorer who does not need to be the centrepiece of every play to stack up points, but can also take over if needed.

 

Shaedon Sharpe

The mystery man of this year's class is 6ft 5in wing Shaedon Sharpe, who did not play a single game this past season at the college level.

Sharpe was viewed as a potential top-five pick in next year's draft, but opted to expedite his process to turn professional as soon as possible, and he will be rewarded with a top-10 pick barring any unforeseen red flags.

Strongly built, athletic, long-armed wings with the ability to aggressively hit pull-up three-pointers and defend multiple positions are probably the most valuable archetype in the game right now, and Sharpe fits the billing.

With a game that resembles Paul George, Sharpe arguably has a ceiling as high as anybody in the class, but a lot of future NBA wings look like Paul George when their only footage is against high school kids.

 

Bennedict Mathurin

Arizona wing Bennedict Mathurin also appears to be a lock for the top 10 after a dominant March Madness run that included a 30-point outburst in an overtime win in the Sweet 16, profiling as a high-level traditional shooting guard.

Clearly a score-first player, Mathurin – 6ft 6in with a 6ft 9in wingspan – will be able to defend opposing ones, twos and threes while his well-rounded offensive game should comfortably translate to an off-ball role at the next level.

Through his two seasons at Arizona, Mathurin shot 38 per cent from three on five attempts per game, including difficult, contested looks, while he also showed he can score at all three levels, and even dished seven assists with his 27 points in a key tournament win.

Maybe the safest pick outside of the top three, Mathurin will comfortably score in the teens as a rookie if he lands in a situation with minutes available. Think of him as a more athletic C.J. McCollum.

Dyson Daniels

Arguably the most unique guard in the class is Australian Dyson Daniels, who played with the G-League Ignite, and he also seems unlikely to fall out of the top 10.

Daniels was viewed as a decent prospect as a 6ft 5in combo guard who specialised in defense and lacked a jump shot – then he grew another three inches, cleaned up his jump shot and began assuming point guard responsibilities.

At 6ft 8in now with guard skills and elite defensive upside, Daniels is perhaps the hardest player in the class to find an NBA comparison for. He is so unselfish and pass-first that his play style resembles pure point guards like Tyus Jones or Monte Morris, but he is at least six inches taller and can realistically guard four positions.

Unlikely to ever become a true first option, Daniels is best served playing next to a primary scorer, making him an ideal fit with Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers if they decide to use pick seven instead of trade it.

 

Ousmane Dieng

Speaking of late risers in the draft process, teams seem to be deciding that someone with the tools of France's Ousmane Dieng may have no business falling outside of the top 10.

Dieng, a massive wing measuring at 6ft 10in, showed some extremely interesting flashes of skill this past season as an 18-year-old playing with the New Zealand Breakers in the NBL.

Playing for a professional team, he was not given nearly the kind of leash as college prospects to show what they can do, averaging 15 minutes and three points through his first nine games.

But once he found his footing, it was clear he was a serious prospect, showing off sharp ball-handling and the ability to attack off the bounce in an 11-game stretch where he averaged 24 minutes and 14 points per game, scoring at least 17 points in five contests and shooting 20-of-56 from long range (35 per cent).

A.J. Griffin

The son of former NBA player and current Toronto Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin, the only thing that can force A.J. Griffin to slide down draft boards is his injury history.

With essentially the perfect body for an NBA wing at 6ft 6in and 220 pounds with a seven-foot wingspan, Griffin is yet to turn 19 years old, and shot a blistering 44 per cent from long range on 4.4 attempts per game in his sole collegiate season.

If he can stay healthy, Griffin will be a solid starting wing at the bare minimum, with similar offensive upside to Raptors forward O.G. Anunoby and the defensive tools to guard at least three positions.

Teams will take a look at his medicals and decide if he is worth the risk, with multiple serious injuries during his high school career and more injury concerns during his one year at Duke.

The Brooklyn Nets showed how they plan to approach their playoff rotation in a 118-107 home win against the Cleveland Cavaliers to leapfrog into the seven seed with one more game to play. 

In a game considered a must-win for the Nets to avoid the much more difficult Play-In Tournament setup for teams who finish ninth and 10th, Brooklyn cut their rotation down to eight players while Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Bruce Brown all played at least 39 minutes.

Seth Curry and Andre Drummond filled out the starting five, while Kessler Edwards, Patty Mills and Nic Claxton came off the bench, with LaMarcus Aldrige, Blake Griffin and rookie Cam Thomas out of the mix.

Durant went on to finish with a game-high 36 points on 11-of-20 shooting (four-of-six from long range, 10-of-10 from the free throw line) to go with five assists, five rebounds, two steals and a block, while Brown had 10 rebounds, eight assists and four blocks to go with his 18 points (six-of-12 shooting).

With the win, Brooklyn is now in position to host their first Play-In Tournament game – likely against the Cavaliers – with the winner entering the playoffs as the seven seed, while the loser gets another chance to play for the eight seed.

Most Improved Player contender Darius Garland was spectacular for the Cavs, scoring 31 points on 12-of-24 shooting, but the loss means his side has now lost eight of their past 10, and have been sputtering without injured center Jarrett Allen.

Overall, the Cavaliers are 43-38 this season, but just 8-17 in games Allen has missed.

No stoppin' Obi Toppin

It was a career night for New York Knicks cult figure Obi Toppin as he scored a career-high 35 points in his side's 114-92 away win against the Washington Wizards.

In only his eighth start of the season, the former first-round pick shot 14-of-22 from the field, including six-of-nine from deep, while fellow fan-favorite Immanuel Quickley was terrific off the bench, scoring 23 points (nine-of-18 shooting) with 10 assists.

 

Siakam shines, Heat hang on

Pascal Siakam seems destined to receive All-NBA honors this season after another great performance lifted his Toronto Raptors to a 117-115 win against the Houston Rockets.

In his past 10 games, Siakam is averaging 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists while shooting 53 per cent from the field, and improved those numbers with 29 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists against the Rockets.

Meanwhile, the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks played their shortened playoff rotations, and Trae Young's 35 points and eight assists was not enough as the top-seeded Heat prevailed 113-109 at home.

Giannis Antetokounmpo came up with a game-winning block on Joel Embiid after scoring 40 points in the Milwaukee Bucks' crucial 118-116 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday.

Antetokounmpo rose to block Embiid's attempt to level the scores with less than two seconds left on the clock, with head coach Mike Budenholzer labelling it "special".

The Greek superstar finished with 40 points on 66 per cent shooting with 14 rebounds, six assists and three blocks.

The Bucks win is significant in the race for Eastern Conference seeds, moving Milwaukee (47-28) into second behind the Miami Heat (48-28), while the 76ers (46-29) slip to fourth.

Khris Middleton added 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and Jrue Holiday contributed 18 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists.

Embiid finished with 29 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists, while James Harden had 32 points making four-of-10 from beyond the arc, with five rebounds and nine assists.

 

George returns in Clippers comeback win

Paul George marked his first game since December 22 with 34 points including six three-pointers as the Los Angeles Clippers fought back from 25 points down to win 121-115 over the Utah Jazz who have lost five in a row. The Clippers finished the game on a 34-12 run.

Kevin Durant scored 41 points with 11 rebounds, five assists and three blocks while Kyrie Irving managed 24 points in his second home appearance as the Brooklyn Nets won 130-123 over the Detroit Pistons.

The Chicago Bulls found some form after winning only four of their past 15 games with an important 107-94 win over the Washington Wizards led by DeMar DeRozan with 32 points, seven rebounds and two steals.

 

Lakers slide continues

The Los Angeles Lakers' struggles continued with a heavy 128-110 loss to the Dallas Mavericks as Luka Doncic recorded a triple-double with 34 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. The Mavs led by as much as 37 points. The Lakers, who were without LeBron James and Anthony Davis, are 31-44 and slip to 11th out of the west's play-in spots.

James Harden scored 29 points with a season-high 15 rebounds as the Philadelphia 76ers improved to 46-27 with a 122-97 road victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.

Harden had four three-pointers in his 29 points, while he also dished off seven assists, with Joel Embiid adding 27 points with 10 rebounds as the 76ers flexed their muscle.

The 76ers set the tone with a 35-19 first quarter with Tobias Harris (12 points, two rebounds and two assists) hitting a buzzer-beating three-pointer.

Harden's 15 rebounds are the most the 2018 MVP has had in a game since December 2020 with the Houston Rockets.

The win helps the 76ers close on the Miami Heat (47-27) and Milwaukee Bucks (46-27) at the top of the Eastern Conference in the jostle for top seed ahead of the playoffs.

 

Curry-less Warriors beaten again

The Golden State Warriors lost for the fourth time in their past five games since Stephen Curry's foot injury, going down 121-110 to the Atlanta Hawks despite Klay Thompson's 37 points including nine triples. Hawks guard Trae Young starred with 33 points and 15 assists.

The Minnesota Timberwolves clinched their 11th win from their past 14 games as they got the Dallas Mavericks 116-95 led by Karl-Anthony Towns' 20 points and nine rebounds. Luka Doncic had 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists for the Mavs.

The Charlotte Hornets responded after their shock defeat to the New York Knicks with an impressive 107-101 win over the Utah Jazz, with Miles Bridges scoring 26 points and 11 rebounds, while Terry Rozier added 25 points.

 

Knicks' remarkable run downs Heat

The Miami Heat looked set to gain some breathing space on top of the Eastern Conference before the New York Knicks closed on a remarkable 38-13 run to claim a stunning 111-103 victory. Immanuel Quickley scored 20 of his 23 points in the last quarter.

Giannis Antetokounmpo missed his second game in the Milwaukee Bucks' past three as they won 114-102 over the Washington Wizards but head coach Mike Budenholzer insists there is nothing to worry about.

The reigning NBA Finals MVP missed the game with a sore right knee, leaving Jrue Holiday to star with 24 points and 10 assists as the Bucks improved to 46-27.

Antetokounmpo also missed Saturday's 138-119 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves with knee soreness.

"I don't think it's anything long-term or anything significant, but we'll see whether he travels tomorrow and make decisions on the game Saturday as we kind of see how he feels and learn more," Mike Budenholzer told reporters before Thursday's game.

Khris Middleton has missed Milwaukee's past two games with a sore left wrist but Budenholzer was bullish he would be available to face the in-form Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.

"I fully expect him to travel with us to Memphis," Budenholzer said. "I think I'd go as far as to say we're hopeful he'll play against Memphis.

"We'll see how he does in the next day or two, but as of now, I'd expect him to be on the flight and we're hopeful that he'll play."

Devin Booker put on a show with 49 points as Chris Paul returned from a broken wrist as the Phoenix Suns clinched top spot in the Western Conference with a 140-130 win over the Denver Nuggets.

Booker's 49 points was a season-high, while 36-year-old Paul returned for the first time since February 20 with 17 points, including 15 in the first half, and 13 assists as the Suns secured their sixth straight win.

Three-time All-Star Booker shot 16-of-25 from the field and also had 10 assists, with Mikal Bridges contributing 22 points from eight-of-nine shooting.

The win means the Suns have secured the NBA's best record for the third time in franchise history, following on from 1992-93 and 2004-05.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic had 28 points with six rebounds and six assists for the Nuggets, who are 43-31 and holding on to sixth spot in the Western Conference.

 

Grizzlies and Bucks win without stars

The Memphis Grizzlies won again without Ja Morant with a 133-103 victory over the Indiana Pacers. Desmond Bane scored 30 points with five assists and five rebounds as the Grizzlies improved to 16-2 without Morant.

The Milwaukee Bucks triumphed without Khris Middleton (wrist) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) with Jrue Holiday starring with 24 points and 10 assists in a 114-102 win over the Washington Wizards.

Pascal Siakam equalled his season-high 35 points as the Toronto Raptors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 117-104 in a crucial game in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

 

DeRozan out as Bulls slide continues

The Chicago Bulls slipped to their fifth defeat from their past six games, going down 126-109 to the New Orleans Pelicans. The Bulls are fifth in the east with a 42-31 record, just ahead of the Cavs and Raptors (both 41-32).

The Bulls, who were without DeMar DeRozan due to a left groin issue, were dominated 40-24 by the Pels in the fourth quarter, led by Devonte' Graham (30 points including five three-pointers) and Jonas Valanciunas (16 points and 19 rebounds).

Zach LaVine was Chicago's best with 39 points in DeRozan's absence, going 12-of-23 from the field, while Coby White added 23 points off the bench including five triples.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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