The Brooklyn Nets' stretch without injured superstar Kevin Durant has begun with a 114-107 loss at the surging Cleveland Cavaliers but it was Kyle Kuzma that produced the highlight of the night in the NBA.
Without Durant to make the big shot, snatch the key rebound or take over like he's done countless times for Brooklyn, Darius Garland strengthened his All-Star case with 22 points and 12 assists as the Cavs sealed a fifth-straight win.
Kyrie Irving scored 27 points in his fourth game of the season while James Harden added 22 for Brooklyn, who were playing their first game since Durant, the NBA's leading scorer, sprained his left knee.
He's expected to be out several weeks.
Australian guard Patty Mills added 11 points for Brooklyn, on 3-of-8 shooting from long range.
"You can't replace Kev," Irving said.
"It's impossible. We just faced that reality right now."
The Nets missed five straight shots down the stretch but were still within three points when a costly turnover by Harden led to a breakaway dunk that all but sealed the game for Cleveland.
Brooklyn, who were hoping to finally have a long stretch with Durant, Harden and Irving on the floor together, are again being forced to cope, adjust and figure out how to win.
"It's an opportunity for our team to grow," Nets coach Steve Nash said before Monday night's game.
"We have to find solutions."
In another eastern conference showdown, the Philadelphia 76ers went down 117-98 to the Washington Wizards.
Philadelphia's Joel Embiid scored a game-high 32 points but he was on the receiving end of the game's most memorable moment when Kuzma dunked over the star centre in the second quarter.
"I owed him, actually, because my rookie year I tried to dunk on him, and it didn't go so well," Kuzma said.
Elsewhere, the Atlanta Hawks finished strongly to snap a 10-game home losing streak with a 121-114 win over the Milwaukee Bucks and the Miami Heat accounted for the Toronto Raptors 104-99.
Miles Bridges scored a career-high 38 points in the Charlotte Hornets' 97-87 victory over the New York Knicks while the Boston Celtics erased an 18-point first-half deficit to get past the New Orleans Pelicans 104-92.
Nicolas Batum scored all of his season-high 32 points in the second half in the Los Angeles Clippers' 139-133 defeat of the Indiana Pacers.
The Portland Trail Blazers trumped the Orlando Magic 98-88 and the Memphis Grizzlies dominated the short-handed Chicago Bulls 119-106.
Australia's Josh Giddey had 10 points, six rebounds and five assists but his Oklahoma City Thunder went down to the Dallas Mavericks 104-102.
The Phoenix Suns defeated the San Antonio Spurs 121-107.
And in the final game, LeBron James scored 25 points and Stanley Johnson had 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a 101-95 win over the Utah Jazz.
Australian Associated Press