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Los Angeles Clippers talisman Kawhi Leonard (left) tussles with Brooklyn's Kyrie Irving (right) at the Barclays Center

Basketball

Irving, Harden shine as Nets outpower Clippers

LOS ANGELES, United States, Feb 3Kyrie Irving rattled in 39 points and James Harden bagged the 50th regular season triple double of his career as the Brooklyn Nets outgunned the Los Angeles Clippers 124-120 on Tuesday.

The potential NBA finals sneak preview at the Barclays Center saw the Nets’ big three of Irving, Harden and Kevin Durant combine for a total of 90 points to halt the Clippers’ three-game unbeaten streak.

Kawhi Leonard led the Clippers scoring with 33 points while Paul George added 26 and French international Nicolas Batum chipping in with 21.

Irving said the Nets had been determined to lay down a marker against the Clippers, who led the Western Conference with the league’s best record heading into the game.

“We knew they were going to come out aggressive and they’ve got two wonderful players (Leonard and George) and a great collection of guys,” Irving said.

“We know they’re in contention for meeting us down the line so we wanted to come out and make an impression. I felt like we did that. It was a total team effort and that’s what it’s going to take every single night.”

The Nets, who had blown a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in a late collapse to the Washington Wizards on Sunday, were given a scare late in the game when a 118-108 advantage shrank to a single point with five seconds remaining.

But a length-of-the court pass from Harden to Jeff Green set up a lay-up that made it 122-119, and the Nets eventually made the game safe with two closing free throws from Irving with 1.9 seconds on the clock.

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– Treat for VanVleet –

“We’ve got to get our defense in order, last few games we’ve been giving up a lot of points,” Irving said after his season-high points tally.

“So we’ve got to knuckle down on the defensive end and continue to will ourselves to win.”

Harden finished with 23 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds to bring up his half-century of triple-doubles. Durant had 28 points with nine rebounds during his 38 minutes on court.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Fred VanVleet exploded for a franchise record 54 points as the Toronto Raptors demolished the Orlando Magic 123-108.

VanVleet — whose previous best score was 36 points — looked poised to topple Klay Thompson’s single-game three-pointer record of 14 after nailing 11 threes in the opening three quarters.

But VanVleet was unable to add to his collection in the closing stages and had to content himself with beating the Raptors previous best scoring record of 52 points set by DeMar DeRozan in 2018.

“It was just my time,” VanVleet said afterwards. “I’ve been missing a lot of open ones this season, more than I usually do.

“But it was my time tonight. Sometimes you just get in that groove and find that zone and my teammates did an unbelievable job of finding me. A lot of them were just catch-and-shoots.”

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VanVleet joked that he had taken particular satisfaction from beating his friend DeRozan’s record.

“Every time I get a 30-point game, I usually get a text from DeMar telling me that I’m weak for not passing his record. I definitely had him in mind as I got close down the stretch.”

In Washington, Damian Lillard finished with 32 points to lead the Portland Trail Blazers to a 132-121 win over the Wizards. Lillard was backed by Gary Trent Jr. with 26 points while veteran Carmelo Anthony had 21.

Bradley Beal topped the Wizards scoring with 37 points with Rui Hachimura adding 24.

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