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LOS ANGELES:  LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks the ball against Jabari Smith Jr. #10, Tari Eason #17, Fred VanVleet #5, Dillon Brooks #9 and Alperen Sengun #28 of the Houston Rockets during the fourth quarter at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California. – AFP
LOS ANGELES: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks the ball against Jabari Smith Jr. #10, Tari Eason #17, Fred VanVleet #5, Dillon Brooks #9 and Alperen Sengun #28 of the Houston Rockets during the fourth quarter at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California. – AFP
Durant leads Suns to win over Jazz, Lakers edge Rockets

LOS ANGELES: Phoenix star Kevin Durant scored 39 points and thwarted Utah’s Lauri Markkanen at the final buzzer on Sunday as the Suns beat the Jazz 140-137 in an NBA double-overtime thriller. Durant added eight rebounds and 10 assists while Devin Booker scored 26 points for the Suns.

Markkanen led Utah with 38 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. Durant scored eight points in the second overtime, which the Suns led 138-135 with 43.2 seconds left. Markkanen’s layup sliced the deficit to one but Booker drained two free throws to put Phoenix up 140-137 with nine-tenths of a second left.

Markkanen had a last chance, with officials initially ruling he was fouled by Durant on a failed three-point attempt. But that call was overturned on review and the Suns had the win. Utah had trailed much of the night before Markkanen forced the first overtime with a layup with 20.3 seconds left in regulation.

Phoenix jumped to a 123-118 lead in the first extra session, but Utah clawed back and Collin Sexton forced a second overtime with a putback layup. Durant notched his 12th straight game with 25 or more points, the longest such streak in Suns history.

“I’m just trying to stay prepared on off days and before games, just trying to follow the game plan to execute as much as I can and play with a calm and free spirit,” Durant said. The Los Angeles Lakers, fueled by a season-high 37 points from superstar LeBron James, held off the Houston Rockets 105-104.

Austin Reaves, fed by James, drilled a three-pointer to put the Lakers up 103-100 with 24.2 seconds to play. But Alperen Sengun’s layup tied it up at 104-104 with four seconds left. James, fouled under the rim, made one of two free throws to clinch it.

James added six rebounds and eight assists and Anthony Davis scored 27 points with 10 rebounds. Reaves finished with 17 points off the bench—a key contribution on a night when Lakers starters Cam Reddish, Taurean Prince and D’Angelo Russell struggled offensively. The Boston Celtics also had a narrow escape, stretching their winning streak to six games with a 102-100 victory over the Grizzlies in Memphis.

A back-and-forth battle featuring 18 lead changes saw the Celtics survive when Kristaps Porzingis drove for a go-ahead dunk with one minute, one second remaining then blocked Ziaire Williams’s last-gasp attempt at the buzzer. Porzingis led the Celtics with 26 points, pulling down eight rebounds and blocking six shots.

Embiid leads Sixers

Elsewhere, the short-handed Cleveland Cavaliers shocked the NBA champion Denver Nuggets 121-109 as frustrated Nuggets star Nikola Jokic battled foul trouble and ended the game watching from the bench. Darius Garland led Cleveland with 26 points and rookie Craig Porter Jr. added a career-high 21 to help the Cavs to a third straight victory despite the absence of star guard Donovan Mitchell and top reserve Caris LeVert.

Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Jokic, shouldering a big load with star teammate Jamal Murray still sidelined by a strained hamstring, finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Reigning NBA MVP Joel Embiid needed just three quarters to score 32 points with 12 rebounds and nine assists, powering the Philadelphia 76ers to a 121-99 victory over the Nets in Brooklyn.

Tyrese Maxey scored 25 points and handed out 10 assists for the Sixers, who led 61-49 at halftime and never trailed the rest of the way. With the game in hand, Embiid sat out all of the fourth quarter. His nine assists were his season high, and he was unconcerned at missing out on a sixth career triple-double.

“I got told I was three assists away, but that’s not where my head was at,” Embiid said. “We just try to play the right way.” In Toronto, the Raptors led by as many as 40 points on the way to a 142-113 victory over the Detroit Pistons. The Raptors set a franchise record with 44 assists as they handed the Pistons an 11th straight defeat. — AFP

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