LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo stepped up their MVP campaigns with dominant performances on Sunday over a couple of teams battling for playoff spots.
Reigning league MVP Antetokounmpo poured in 41 points and grabbed 20 rebounds as Milwaukee notched another one-sided NBA victory, a 93-85 triumph over the Hornets in Charlotte.
James had a triple-double of 34 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 122-114.
The Bucks pushed their league-leading record to 52-8 with their sixth straight win since the all-star break.
Antetokounmpo said that was all that mattered as the team’s streak of 100-point regular-season games ended at 83.
“I don’t think anybody cares about that,” he said of the triple-digit scoring streak that stretched back to February 23, 2019. “We as players just come in here and try to get a win.”
In this “old-school” victory, the Bucks never trailed in the second half, although their 15 turnovers in the first three quarters helped the Hornets keep it close and Charlotte trailed by just two entering the final quarter. Charlotte is in 10th place in the Eastern Conference two spots back of a playoff position.
Antetokounmpo seized control in the waning minutes, putting the Bucks up 88-83 with a turnaround jump shot. He then pulled down an offensive rebound, drew a foul and made two free throws drove for another layup and added another free throw as he scored the Bucks’ last seven points to seal the game.
Antetokounmpo, who handed out six assists, became the first Bucks player with a 40-20-5 stat line since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1974. Remarkably, Antetokounmpo amassed the numbers in just 35 minutes on the court.
Elsewhere, the Western Conference leading Lakers bounced back from a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies by beating rising star Zion Williamson and the Pelicans in New Orleans.
James carried the team on his back as the Lakers overcame the absence of forward Anthony Davis, who missed out on facing his former team because of a sore knee.
James, who had 40 points in a 118-109 home victory against the Pelicans on Tuesday, is the clear MVP winner in some people’s eyes. “He is just amazing,” said Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry. “I am not sure what defines an MVP, but he makes everybody on his team better.”
Williamson scored a career-high 35 points, marking his 11th consecutive game with 20-plus points for the Pelicans, who are in nine place in the Western Conference one spot out of a playoff spot.
James had 11 of his 19 first-half points in the second quarter, making all five of his shots, including one three-pointer, as the Lakers led 63-61 at halftime. “It was a playoff type atmosphere,” said James. “They are competing for the eighth seed and we don’t like to lose two in a row.”
The Los Angeles Clippers, locked in battle with Denver for second place in the West, rallied in the third quarter for a 111-91 victory over the short-handed Philadelphia 76ers.
The Sixers got off to a hot start despite the injury absences of stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, leading by as many as 14 points on the way to a 39-34 first-quarter lead. They were up by two at halftime, and it was knotted at 89-89 with 4:39 left in the third when the Clippers produced an 18-5 scoring run to take control.
Kawhi Leonard scored 30 points and Paul George added 24 as the Clippers notched their fourth straight win. First-year guard Shake Milton led Philadelphia with 39 points, including seven three-pointers.
But with Simmons nursing a back injury and Embiid sidelined by a shoulder injury, the Sixers suffered another blow when guard Josh Richardson clashed heads with a teammate in the second quarter and exited the game.
Richardson suffered a bruised nose and is being checked for a possible concussion, the 76ers said.
The absence of Slovenian star Luka Doncic, who is nursing a sprained left thumb, didn’t slow the Dallas Mavericks in a 111-91 victory over the Timberwolves in Minnesota.