LOS ANGELES (AFP) – LeBron James exploded for 38 points but it was not enough to prevent the Los Angeles Lakers from sliding to a 114-104 NBA home defeat by the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday (March 2).
A testy clash between the Western Conference rivals saw Phoenix star Devin Booker ejected for two technical fouls during the second half before the Suns rallied to close out the win.
James led the scorers and chipped in six assists and five rebounds, but a Lakers offence still missing the injured Anthony Davis failed to fire consistently.
The Suns’ victory saw them leapfrog the Lakers into second place in the Western Conference with 23 wins and 11 defeats. The National Basketball Association champions are third at 24-12, with the Utah Jazz way ahead at 27-8.
Dario Saric led Phoenix’s scoring with 21 points – including 10 in the fourth quarter – while Mikal Bridges added 19.
Booker’s ejection came midway through the third quarter, with the 24-year-old tossed for arguing and appearing to bounce a ball towards an official.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, Nikola Jokic bagged the 50th regular season triple-double of his career as the Denver Nuggets halted the Milwaukee Bucks’ five-game winning streak with a 128-97 drubbing.
The Serbian star dominated a one-sided encounter at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum, as Denver never looked back after taking the lead midway through the first quarter before romping to victory.
Jokic’s ninth triple of the season comprised 37 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, while Jamal Murray added 24 points for the visitors.
The Nuggets improved to 20-15 with the win, while the Bucks fell to 21-14 following the loss to remain third in the Eastern Conference behind the Philadelphia 76ers (23-12) and Brooklyn Nets (23-13).
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks’ scorers with 27 points, but the home side were always struggling to get in the game after conceding a 37-23 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Celtics drive on
In other games, Kemba Walker scored 25 points as the Boston Celtics rolled to a third straight win with a 117-112 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
His tally included six three-pointers as the Celtics’ all-round offensive game subdued a Clippers team jolted by the sudden withdrawal of Kawhi Leonard shortly before tip-off at the TD Garden.
Paul George led the scorers for Los Angeles with 32 points while Reggie Jackson – a late replacement for Leonard – added 25 for the visitors.
Six Celtics players finished with double-digit points tallies, including Jaylen Brown with 18, while Jayson Tatum and Payton Pritchard added 14 apiece.
The Clippers suffered a blow earlier on Tuesday when Leonard was ruled out after complaining of back spasms.
Boston improved to 18-17 with the victory, leaving them in fourth place in the Eastern Conference table. The Clippers fell to 24-13 with the loss and remain fourth in the West.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens expressed satisfaction at the way his team responded, after a rocky spell preceding their current winning streak when they lost three games on the bounce.
“The team have stayed together when they easily could have been pulled apart by the noise,” he said. “You have to be able to resist that at this level when you’re going through the roller coaster of the season.”
Hawks bounce back
In Miami, a late burst of scoring from Trae Young gave interim Atlanta Hawks coach Nate McMillan a winning debut over the Miami Heat, 24 hours after the dismissal of Lloyd Pierce on Monday.
Pierce was sacked in the wake of Atlanta’s 109-99 loss to Miami on Sunday, but his unsettled squad responded with a battling 94-80 win over last season’s NBA Finals runners-up.
Young was pivotal in the win, rattling off 13 consecutive points in the fourth quarter to guide Atlanta to victory.
“The fourth quarter is when I gotta make plays,” he said. “Tonight I just wanted to close the game out and get a win for us… Everybody had a hell of a game. It was a great team win for us.”
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