Anthony Davis scored 42 points as the Los Angeles Lakers clinched top seeding in the Western Conference on Monday with a 116-108 defeat of the Utah Jazz.
Stung by defeat to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday, the Lakers roared back in impressive fashion to overpower a talented Utah line-up.
The win sealed top spot in the West for the Lakers for the first time since 2010, when the late Kobe Bryant would go on to lead the team to the NBA Finals crown.
On Monday, Davis stamped his class on the contest with a hefty points tally as well as coming up with 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals.
LeBron James finished with 22 points and nine assists as the Lakers finally pulled away from a stubborn Utah side.
“All the stuff we’ve been through this season, to clinch No.1 in the West means a lot but we’re not finished,” Davis said.
“It’s just one of the milestones of many to get to where we want to be.”
Davis’s points haul included 23 in the first half alone.
It was the 20th time Davis has scored 20 points or more in the first half as a Laker, the first player from the franchise to achieve that feat since Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January.
“To be in a category with him means a lot,” Davis said. “I know he’s looking down on us, cheering us on.”
Elsewhere on Monday, Fred VanVleet scored a career-high 36 points as the Toronto Raptors dug deep to defeat the Miami Heat 107-103 in their Eastern Conference clash.
VanVleet led the scoring for the Raptors with a haul that included seven three-pointers from 12 attempts as Toronto improved to 48-18 to remain in second place in the East.
VanVleet also made a big contribution defensively for the Raptors, forcing a deflection of a Jimmy Butler pass later on that denied Miami an opportunity for a game-tying score. VanVleet finished with four turnovers.
It was an all-round display that left Raptors coach Nick Nurse purring with pleasure after the victory.
“What makes his defense unique is that he doesn’t look very fast out there, but his lateral side-to-side speed and the way he can move his feet is incredible, it’s deceiving,” Nurse said of VanVleet.
VanVleet was backed offensively by Cameroon’s Pascal Siakam, who finished with 22 points and three assists.
Kyle Lowry had 14 points, while Serge Ibaka also made double figures with 15 points for the defending NBA champions.
Goran Dragic led the Miami scorers with 25 points, while Kelly Olynyk had 17 off the bench. Butler and Jae Crowder both finished with 16 points apiece for Miami.
Elsewhere on Monday, Nikola Jokic had a triple-double as the Denver Nuggets overpowered the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 121-113 overtime victory.
Jokic finished with 30 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a stellar performance for Denver, who improved to 44-23 with the win.
The Nuggets remain third in the Western Conference standings behind the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers.
Michael Porter led the Denver scoring with a career-high 37 points, while Paul Millsap and Monte Morris had 17 points each.
Oklahoma City’s scoring was led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with 24 points, Chris Paul (23) and Danilo Gallinari (20).
‘We needed it’
Jokic, who dominated overtime to help Denver close out the win, said the victory was reward for the hard work the Nuggets have put in behind the scenes since being sequestered inside the NBA’s “bubble.”
“We needed it,” Jokic said. “For the guys that are here, this is I think their 24th day, 27th day that they are here, they are working.
“This is my third week, so the guys are putting the work in, it has kind of paid off a little bit. But, of course, this is our goal to win the game.”
Nuggets coach Michael Malone echoed Jokic’s remarks.
“I think it’s valuable and important for us to get a win, a division win, against a good team,” Malone said.
“We’ve been down here for like 28 days, I don’t even know what the exact number is.
“Days are just kind of, days and days, I don’t know what day it is anymore.”
The NBA restarted its season last week after a four-month hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The relaunched season is taking place with 22 teams based inside a secured zone at Disney World in Orlando.
In other early action on Monday, the Indiana Pacers defeated the Washington Wizards 111-100, thanks to a 34-point double-double from TJ Warren.