– LeBron James scored 31 points and handed out 12 assists Saturday as
the Los Angeles Lakers rallied for a 124-115 NBA victory over the Houston

Los Angeles outscored the Rockets 32-17 in the third quarter
to turn around the game, rebounding from a Wednesday loss to the Orlando Magic
that snapped the Western Conference-leading Lakers’ nine-game winning streak.

“We want to continue to get better,” James said.
“We want to stay on an even keel throughout the season, it’s an 82-game
season, and we did that.

“We had a chance to reshape, refocus and start the
second half of the season the right way, and we did that.”

Kyle Kuzma scored 23 points, and Danny Green and Kentavious
Caldwell-Pope chipped in 20 points apiece for Los Angeles.

Russell Westbrook scored 35 points and James Harden had 34
for Houston, who dropped their third straight.

The Rockets looked determined to turn their fortunes around
in an energetic first quarter, and they led 65-59 at halftime.

But the Lakers responded after the break, pushing their lead
to as many as 16 early in the fourth quarter.

As the Lakers reasserted themselves in the West, the
Milwaukee Bucks continued to roll in the East.

Led by 29 points from reigning NBA Most Valuable Player
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks ran roughshod over the Nets in Brooklyn,
improving their league-leading record with a 117-97 victory.

-‘We were focused’ –

Antetokounmpo added 12 rebounds in the win, the Bucks’ sixth

Milwaukee led 57-42 at half-time and stretched the advantage
to 93-71 heading into the final period.

Khris Middleton added 20 points for the Bucks, who had six
players score in double figures.

Kyrie Irving led the Nets with 17 points, but Brooklyn never
really looked like stopping the Bucks, who connected on 50.6 percent of their
shots from the field, including 17 of 37 three-point attempts.

They held the Nets to 33.3 percent shooting, and never
trailed after the opening minutes.

The dominant performance came two days after the Bucks let a
double-digit lead dwindle to four points late in the fourth quarter in
close-run a win over the Boston Celtics.

“We were focused, we had the lead but we were playing
like it’s a tie game,” Antetokounmpo said of the Bucks’ determination not
to let up on the accelerator on Saturday.

“We know that Brooklyn is a team that can get hot. We
were able to be smart, move the ball, get good shots, so we were able to build
on that lead.”

At 38-6, the Bucks are 7 1/2 games ahead of the Miami Heat
in the East.

The reigning champion Toronto Raptors edged into third place
— nine games adrift — with a 122-111 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves
while the Boston Celtics slipped back to fourth with a 123-119 loss to the
Phoenix Suns.

Toronto’s Fred VanVleet scored 29 points in his return from
injury and Kyle Lowry added 28 points for the Raptors, who have won three

Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins posted the first triple-double of
his career with 18 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in defeat.

– Suns surprise Celtics –

Phoenix guard Devin Booker fell just shy of a triple-double
with 39 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists as the Suns withstood a
Celtics-record 11 three-pointers by Marcus Smart.

Deandre Ayton scored 26 points with 15 rebounds and Mikal
Bridges added 26 points for the suddenly surging Suns, who have won four of
their last five.

Smart who made half of his 22 three-point attempts, finished
with a career-high 37 points.

Elsewhere, the Los Angeles Clippers launched a six-game road
trip with a 133-130 victory over the Pelicans in New Orleans.

With forward Paul George out for a fifth straight game with
a hamstring strain, Kawhi Leonard continued his red-hot scoring pace,
delivering 39 points for the Clippers — who trailed by 10 points late in the
third quarter.

Lou Williams scored 14 of his 32 points in the final period,
when the Clippers outscored the Pelicans 31-20.


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