Frank Vogel felt the depleted Los Angeles Lakers' 126-101 victory over the Brooklyn Nets was one of their best of the year.

LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma were among the Lakers' absentees at the Barclays Center on Saturday, but they came out on top against a Nets side who occupy second place in the NBA Eastern Conference.

Lakers guard Dennis Schroder and the Nets' seven-time All-Star Kyrie Irving were ejected after clashing in the third quarter.

The defending champions went on to improve to 33-20, Andre Drummond weighing in with a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds, with Talen Horton-Tucker laying on a career-high 11 assists.

Lakers coach Vogel said: "When you see guys out and you see a great opponent like the Nets, you can be a little bit overwhelmed and not sure if you're going to have a chance to win it.

"But you want to have a go-after-these-guys mindset. And we knew coming in that if we were able to prevail short-handed against this opponent that it would feel good and it would be one of the best wins of the year. So, we're happy about that."

Vogel added: "Like I said all along, all season long, when we play scrappy on the defensive end, we always have a chance. I'm super proud of our group."

Drummond was impressed with the character shown by his team-mates in a big victory on the road.

"I learned a lot from today's game: that we have a lot of guys in this locker room that are very tough," he said.

"Despite who is on the other side of the court, they're going to come out and play. No matter how many minutes guys play, they're going to play to the best of their ability. And we have fun doing it. We had a lot of fun tonight playing and getting this win."

Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Joel Embiid believes he is still in consideration for the NBA's MVP, insisting he has been the best player all season when fit.

Embiid was reportedly the frontrunner for the league's Most Valuable Player award before missing 10 games with a knee injury.

The four-time All-Star scored 24 points in his return against the Minnesota Timberwolves on April 3, and he followed that up with 35 points in a win over the Boston Celtics.

Embiid struggled in Friday's loss against the New Orleans Pelicans – posting 14 points on just five-for-15 shooting – but he was close to his best with 27 points and nine rebounds as the 76ers took down the Oklahoma City Thunder 117-93 on Saturday.

"When it comes to the MVP stuff, I feel like I'm still right there," Embiid said post-game.

"When I'm on the floor, I feel like I've been the best all season, just doing my thing.

"Just dominating with the help of my team-mates and the coaches putting me in the right positions to succeed."

Embiid finishing 10-of-17 from the field, making seven of nine free-throws to lift the 76ers on the road against the Thunder.

The 76ers big man had 21 points in the first half – his 12th 20-point first half of the season – matching Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic for the most in the NBA.

Embiid is now one of three players with at least 20 20-point halves (first or second), joining Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors superstars Stephen Curry.

"To get 21 by half-time, I was shocked by that," said 76ers head coach Doc Rivers. "I didn't see that 21 which tells you how efficient he was being.

"I thought he did a great job of facilitating tonight as well. The brace bothers him, there's no doubt about that. He's gonna have to wear it for a couple more weeks I think, hopefully, less, but he's getting through it, and he's doing the best that he can."

In 2020-21, Embiid is averaging 29.4 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game for the 76ers – who are top of the Eastern Conference alongside the Brooklyn Nets.

On wearing a knee brace, Embiid added: "It just feels like every shot that I take, I just have a hitch and it's not a full motion or it's not as smooth as it was in the past, even though the makes, when I make him. I just got to get used to it and get back to where I was before.

"When you have a brace cutting that blood flow and blood circulation on your legs, my legs get tired fast. It's an adjustment, but it's there to protect me so I just got to keep doing it."

Kyrie Irving's ejection proved costly as the high-flying Brooklyn Nets were humbled 126-101 by reigning NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers.

Nets star Irving (18 points) and Lakers guard Dennis Schroder (19 points) were both ejected in the third quarter at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the pair were jawing with each other before the officials stepped in.

Leading 66-62 at the time, the injury-hit Lakers surged clear – using a 15-2 burst to extend their advantage to 88-71 away to the Nets, who had their nine-game home winning streak snapped.

In the absence of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma, Lakers recruit Andre Drummond had 20 points and 11 rebounds, while Talen Horton-Tucker (14 points and 11 assists) also put up a double-double.

Nets star Kevin Durant posted 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists in his second game back following a 23-game absence.

The Utah Jazz extended their franchise-record home winning streak to 24 games after topping the Sacramento Kings 128-112.

Donovan Mitchell led the way with a season-high 42 points – the All-Star tallying his 18th 30-point game of the season.

Mitchell became the fourth Jazz player to score 35-plus points in three consecutive games, joining Karl Malone, Adrian Dantley and Pete Maravich.

Mike Conley (26 points) and Joe Ingles (20) made contributions for the Jazz, while Kings pair De'Aaron Fox (30 points) and Richaun Holmes (25 points and 10 rebounds) impressed.

 

Curry sizzles, Trent has game to remember

Stephen Curry scored 23 of his 38 points in the third quarter to lead the Golden State Warriors past the Houston Rockets 125-109. Curry had his sixth consecutive 30-point game, the longest streak of his career. The two-time MVP is the first Warrior to score at least 30 points in six straight games since Ricky Barry in 1974.

The Toronto Raptors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 135-115 behind Gary Trent Jr., who went off for a new career-high 44 points on 17-for-19 shooting. He joined Chris Bosh (40 points on 14-16 field goals made in 2008) as the only Raptors players to have 40-plus points on 80 per cent shooting or better in a game. Trent's 89.5 field goal percentage marked the second highest figure for any player with 44-plus points in a game during the shot-clock era (1954-55), trailing only Mike Woodson (48 points on 91.7 field goal percentage) in 1983.

The Phoenix Suns maintained their solid form by easing past the Washington Wizards 134-106. Phoenix have won 17 of their last 21 games after Devin Booker posted 27 points and Deandre Ayton had 14 points and 10 rebounds. The Suns only tallied three turnovers against the Wizards to tie the franchise record. Wizards star Russell Westbrook (17 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds) recorded his NBA-leading 22nd triple-double of the season.

Enes Kanter's 24 points and franchise-record 30 rebounds fuelled the Portland Trail Blazers' 118-103 win over the lowly Detroit Pistons. Team-mate Damian Lillard had 27 points and 10 assists.

 

Porter struggles

Kevin Porter Jr. was four-for-13 shooting from the field, while he made just one of six three-point attempts for nine points in 33 minutes as the Rockets went down to the Warriors.

Detroit's Cory Joseph finished with just four points after going two-of-seven from the field.

 

Korkmaz enjoys career night

Furkan Korkmaz put on a show at both ends of the floor as the Philadelphia 76ers returned to the top of the east alongside the Nets following a 117-93 win at the Oklahoma City Thunder. Korkmaz put up a season-high 20 points and a career-high five steals.

 

Saturday's results

Utah Jazz 128-112 Sacramento Kings
Toronto Raptors 135-115 Cleveland Cavaliers
Los Angeles Lakers 126-101 Brooklyn Nets
Philadelphia 76ers 117-93 Oklahoma City Thunder
Golden State Warriors 125-109 Houston Rockets
Phoenix Suns 134-106 Washington Wizards
Portland Trail Blazers 118-103 Detroit Pistons

 

Celtics at Nuggets

On Sunday, the Boston Celtics (27-26) will face the streaking Denver Nuggets (34-18), who have won eight straight games.

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant said he is no longer motivated by titles, with the former NBA MVP focused on development and further improvement.

Durant has won it all in his illustrious basketball career – two championships and two NBA Finals MVP awards, to go with his 2014 Most Valuable Player gong and 11 All-Star selections.

The 32-year-old arrived in Brooklyn in 2019, having claimed both of his NBA titles with the Golden State Warriors.

Having battled Achilles and hamstring injuries during his time with the star-studded Nets – who are eyeing their maiden championship – Durant said he is not driven by silverware.

"I wasn't expecting to be a happy human being from a title," Durant told ESPN. "I was just expecting like, you know, the ending of a movie -- once you worked so hard and everybody tells you like, 'Yo, this is what you need to be working for, is this gold ball and these rings'.

"And I'm just like, 'All right, cool, let me lock in on that.' And I locked in on wanting to achieve that, but I also realised it's a lot of stuff that factors in it that's out of my control.

"And once I won a championship [with Golden State], I realised that, like, my view on this game is really about development. Like, how good can I be? It's not about, you know, let's go get this championship.

"I appreciate that stuff and I want to win to experience that stuff, but it's not the end-all, be-all of why I play the game."

Durant added: "I've been around, been out of the game for two years and having anxiety about like, 'What am I doing when I get back?

"Being out with an Achilles has you thinking about the game differently. And my goal is to be out there, you know. Who knows what's gonna happen when I'm out there.

"I just want to be available. And I think that's all I really want out of this, to be available for as long as I can. And we'll see what happens between the lines."

Durant is averaging 28.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists for the Nets this season, while he is boasting a career-best three-point percentage (44.3).

The Nets (36-16) are a game ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers (35-17) atop the Eastern Conference.

Zion Williamson hailed the influence of Pelicans assistant coach Teresa Weatherspoon after he had a standout night against the Philadelphia 76ers.

The 20-year-old had a career-best 15 rebounds plus 37 points and eight assists as New Orleans turned to him in Lonzo Ball's absence, Williamson driving the team to a 101-94 win.

The 2019 number one draft pick and former Duke Blue Devils star said the Pelicans showed impressive resolve to bounce back from a mauling by the Brooklyn Nets in their previous game.

Usually a power forward, Williamson was deployed as a point guard throughout on Friday night, saying that thanks to stepfather Lee Anderson's training the role felt "normal", adding: "It was just having the opportunity to go and show it."

He gave much of the credit for his surge in form to Weatherspoon as he remarked on what differences he noticed in his game over the past couple of months.

"I would definitely say my confidence and going deeper into my arsenal. That's really a shout-out to two people, my stepfather and coach Teresa Weatherspoon," Williamson said.

"It's just the small things and she's like, 'Z, you do this, take your time and be you'. It's those small things that give me all the confidence I need to go out there and be me."

Williamson produced a pull-up jumper in his repertoire, saying: "I have it in my bag. Coach K [Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski] said I want to be a perfectionist. All that means is I want to get the closest and easiest shot.

"T-Spoon [Weatherspoon] was the reason I shot that. She said, 'Z, just give me one, if you don't like it, you don't have to shoot it again'.

"When I shot it, it felt good. I liked the result to be honest. She tells me every game but tonight she was like, 'Z, just give me one'. I tried it and it worked."

Weatherspoon, 55, is a former WNBA star who has been a full-time assistant with the Pelicans since last November.

Although he missed out on a first career NBA triple-double, Williamson said what was most important was the team's reaction to their 139-111 thrashing by Brooklyn.

"I think when it comes to games like that, it's the character you show bouncing back in the next game that really defines you," Williamson said.

"As a team we bounced back great and got the win.

"I wasn't really watching [the triple-double possibility], but after every timeout everybody was like, 'Z, just get two more [assists]'.

"But in my mind I was like, 'Let's win the game'."

Zion Williamson underlined his status as the emerging star of the NBA with a dominant display in the New Orleans Pelicans' 101-94 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday.

The 2019 number one draft pick had a career-best 15 rebounds along with 37 points and eight assists as the Pels turned to him in Lonzo Ball's absence.

Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said: "We decided we'd play him at the point all night. He had the ball in his hands all the time and the ability to make plays.

"Had we shot decently he would have finished with double figure assists too. He played the game the way you're supposed to play the game. He was incredible tonight."

Joel Embiid was kept quiet by Steven Adams, managing only 14 points and nine rebounds for the 76ers who are behind the Brooklyn Nets in the East with a 35-17 record.

The Los Angeles Clippers blew the Houston Rockets away with a 41-10 second quarter in a 126-109 victory with Kawhi Leonard top scoring with 31 points, along with five rebounds and eight assists.

The win improves the in-form Clippers' record to 36-18 having now won four in a row and 10 of their past 12.

Paul George enjoyed leading the Los Angeles Clippers to a 113-103 win over the Phoenix Suns, who he again accused of "chirping" in a heated encounter.

The Clippers and the Suns are each in contention in the West, but Phoenix's hopes of reeling in leaders the Utah Jazz were hit by Thursday's defeat.

This was the teams' second meeting of the season and the Clippers' second win, with George influential in both.

The seven-time All-Star had a season-high 39 points back in January, after he which he claimed the game had seen "a lot of chirping and people just living in the past".

And the same phrase came up again on Thursday after 33 points on 12-for-19 shooting.

It was a third straight Clippers win against a team in the playoff places in the West, with George also scoring 39 against the Portland Trail Blazers, but the in-form forward was especially motivated for this game.

"We focused on us," George said. "I don't know what that chirp is about. We focused on us.

"I don't care what they're doing over there. I don't care who they are or what they're doing.

"I'm locked in. They can do the chirping, I let them have it tonight. I just stayed in my zone, stayed in my place, I don't know.

"I don't care what they're doing. We're focused on us over here. We're focused on getting better. Tonight was a fun matchup, and we appreciate the challenge."

Suns star Devin Booker had both a flagrant foul and a technical foul on Thursday, while Patrick Beverley (one flagrant) and Marcus Morris Sr (two technicals) were both ejected for the Clippers.

Booker and George each had technicals in the first game – one of only two for the latter all season.

Clippers coach Ty Lue said: "I don't have any concerns. I love it.

"When you are competing at a high level against one of the best teams in the league, do what you've go to do to win. And I thought our guys were physical. We competed, we fought.

"There are going to be games like this where it is going to be chippy. They are fighting for something, we are fighting for something, so it is going to happen and I am okay with it."

The Milwaukee Bucks lost again without Giannis Antetokounmpo on Thursday, but coach Mike Budenholzer believes the two-time MVP's absence can benefit his team.

The Bucks completed a six-game road trip against the Dallas Mavericks, going down 116-101 at American Airlines Center.

Antetokounmpo featured in the first three of those games, yet he missed the next three after scoring a season-high 47 points against the Portland Trail Blazers.

The 'Greek Freak' leads Milwaukee in points (28.8), assists (6.2) and rebounds (11.4) per game, while also contributing 1.3 blocks and 1.1 steals.

Knee soreness is impacting Antetokounmpo's bid for a third straight MVP triumph, but it is also hindering the Bucks. The team are 29-16 when their superstar plays but just 3-3 without him.

Milwaukee were not helped against the Mavs by poor shooting displays from Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, their second and third men.

Middleton was an alarming 6-for-27 from the field for 14 points – 22.2 per cent, his second-worst outing of the year – as Holiday, who signed a lucrative contract extension last week, was 6-for-16 for 13 points.

Budenholzer acknowledged both players must perform better as he suggested the Bucks needed to adapt to playing when Antetokounmpo is not on the floor.

The 26-year-old forward played just 30.4 minutes per game last season when Milwaukee led the East, but he has been relied on for 34.0 minutes in 2020-21.

"The guys are getting more opportunities," Budenholzer said. "There's a little bit more of a load on both Jrue and Khris. I think they're learning to take that.

"We didn't make enough shots tonight; Khris, Jrue didn't make enough shots. We're getting better. We'll learn from these things.

"Playing without Giannis, he can't play 48 minutes, so I think there's going to be good stretches for us when Giannis doesn't play and we'll grow from these experiences playing without him."

While the Bucks struggled without their big name, Dallas got 27 points, nine assists and nine rebounds from Luka Doncic.

But the Slovenian also earned his 12th technical foul of the season. That tally has steadily increased over his NBA career – five in his rookie year, nine last year – and he is now just four shy of a one-game suspension.

"He's aware," coach Rick Carlisle said. "My level of concern is there. But look, he's an emotional competitor. It all comes from the right place.

"He's smart, he knows where the count is. If he's going to get his 16th, he'll get it in a situation where it's time for a day of rest anyway. I'm not really that worried about it."

It was a big win for the Mavs, who returned to winning ways after a shock defeat to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday ended a run of five successive victories since Doncic returned from a short lay-off due to illness.

"This was a playoff-type game [against the Bucks], playoff-calibre in terms of intensity and competitiveness and the talent on the floor," Carlisle said. "We did a much, much better job, top to bottom, than we did last night."

Dallas also got 26 points, 17 rebounds and two blocks out of Kristaps Porzingis. Eleven of his points came in the fourth quarter on 4-for-4 shooting after failing to attempt a single field goal in the final 12 minutes against the Rockets.

Porzingis said of his relationship with Doncic: "We're trying to play together and help each other. We want to win – at the end, we all want to win here.

"We have to keep playing, keep playing together, playing well and helping each other."

At the onset of the season, the Atlanta Hawks were a trendy pick to be a team that could fight their way into the playoffs and be tough to eliminate in a postseason series. 

Sure, they finished mere percentage points ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the worst record in the Eastern Conference last season, but with the returning core of All-Star Trae Young, John Collins and De'Andre Hunter, plus the offseason additions of Clint Capela, Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Rajon Rondo, there was plenty of reason to believe the Hawks could capture their first playoff berth since 2017 in a top-heavy yet mostly mediocre Eastern Conference.

Injuries to Hunter, Gallinari and Bogdanovic, however, stunted Atlanta's growth, and the team sputtered over the season's first two months. And with another blown fourth-quarter lead in a loss to Southeast Division rivals the Miami Heat on February 28, the Hawks' record dropped to 14-20 as they slid into 11th place in the East, prompting team president Travis Schlenk to fire coach Lloyd Pierce less than halfway into his third season at the helm.

Schlenk believed the season could be salvaged and needed a new voice, promoting assistant Nate McMillan to interim coach.

The Hawks have responded.

They've since compiled a 13-5 record – behind only the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers among East clubs – to move into a virtual tie for the Southeast lead with the Charlotte Hornets, and into fifth place in the conference. They have also navigated around a recent injury to Collins, going 4-1 since he sprained his left ankle.

There are several reasons for Atlanta's surge, but it's no coincidence the turnaround under McMillan has coincided with the return of Bogdanovic.

Lured away from the Sacramento Kings on a four-year, $72million deal, Bogdanovic looked like a bust early, averaging 9.9 points on 38.5 per cent shooting and 36.2 per cent on three-point attempts in his first nine games, before missing the next 25 through the end of February with a sprained knee.

After working out the rust over a few games upon returning, Bogdanovic has found his shot and is thriving.

Since March 24, his 66.4 eFG (effective field goal) percentage ranks third in the NBA among the 99 players with a minimum of 75 attempts, while his 53.3 per cent shooting from beyond the arc ranks fifth among the 92 shooters with at least 35 three-point tries.

He was inserted into the starting lineup on March 26, and with Bogdanovic and Young together on the court, the Hawks have been lethal, averaging 117.1 points per 100 possessions, 49.4 per cent shooting and 45.7 per cent on three-pointers. Without them, they are averaging 102.7 points per 100 possessions, 41.7 per cent on field goals and 33.3 per cent on threes.

Bogdanovic has been especially deadly from the wing since McMillan tabbed him as a starter. Since March 26, his 21 three-pointers from the wing is just one fewer than Miami's Duncan Robinson for the league lead, while his 46.7 per cent shooting from the wing ranks fourth among the 47 players with a minimum of 25 attempts.

Young's scoring has dropped since Bogdanovic cracked the starting five (20.9 ppg since March 26 after previously averaging 25.8 ppg), but he's been distributing the ball to his teammates a little more (10.4 assists per game since March 26 after previously averaging 9.4 apg).

Since March 26, Young has assisted on 20 made baskets by Bogdanovic – the most by a guard to a single teammate – and 16 by Capela.

The Young-to-Capela show is nothing new, however, as Young has fed Capela on 99 made baskets on the season – fourth-most by any player to a teammate. Atop that list is Young’s 121 assists to Collins, and the Hawks are hopeful the two can add to this number as early as next week with Collins back practising.

Capela has had more opportunities inside with Collins sidelined, but really, he's been a beast in the paint all season.

The league's top offensive rebounder at 4.8 per game, Capela is third in the NBA in second-chance scoring at 4.6 points per game (minimum 20 games played).

His production in the interior has also increased with Bogdanovic starting, as he has been averaging 6.7 dunks and layups per game since March 26 – second in the league behind Zion Williamson's average of 10.6 per game. Prior to March 26, Capela averaged 5.5 dunks and layups per game.

Like Bogdanovic, Gallinari also got off to a sluggish start to the season and also dealt with an ailment, missing 12 games with multiple foot injuries. But also, similarly to Bogdanovic, he's found his stroke.

After averaging 11.2 points on 38.6 per cent shooting from the floor and 37.8 per cent from beyond the arc in his first 23 games, Gallinari is averaging 16.3 points on 47.6 per cent shooting – including 43.5 per cent on threes in his last 15. He's been one of the league's best at connecting on three-pointers from the wing since March 1, draining 47.1 per cent – the fourth-highest rate in the league among the 77 players with 50 or more attempts.

Gallinari hasn't been the only contributor off the bench for the Hawks over the last week.

At the trade deadline, the Hawks shipped Rondo to the Los Angeles Clippers for 16-year veteran Lou Williams to provide another scorer off the bench. The three-time Sixth Man of the Year Award winner is averaging 13.2 points and 3.4 assists in four games, rejuvenating the reserves since making his Hawks debut on April 1.

With Williams on board, Atlanta's bench ranks fifth in scoring (43.6 ppg), ninth in shooting (46.8 per cent) and second in three-point shooting (53.8 per cent) since the start of April. Prior to April, the bench ranked 27th in scoring (31.7 ppg), 30th in shooting (40.3 per cent) and 16th in three-point shooting (35.9 per cent).

While the Hawks have become healthier – despite the recent injury to Collins – and are getting more production from their bench, they are also showing a proficiency at closing out games. Instead of wilting late, they are now flourishing.

The loss to the Heat on February 28 marked the 11th setback of the season for Atlanta in a game in which they led in the fourth quarter, and only league-worst Minnesota had more through the end of February with 12. Since the beginning of March, however, the Hawks are 13-2 when holding a fourth-quarter lead, and only the Denver Nuggets (15), Brooklyn Nets (14) and Phoenix Suns (14) have more such victories.

The Hawks' recent fourth-quarter figures are startling. Their PPG average has been 27.7 since March 1 after being 27.1 previously, representing a small improvement. Yet in that same period their opponents have averaged just 24.3 fourth-quarter points compared to 29.0 in the first 34 games of the season, Atlanta's three-point percentage has switched from 34.8 per cent before March to 41.9 per cent during the games since, and their PPG differential has switched up from being minus 1.9 prior to the upturn to plus 3.4 in their subsequent outings.

That means in terms of fourth-quarter progression they have gone from being 15th in PPG in games before March to eighth since, from 29th to second in opposition PPG, from 19th to second in three-point percentage, and from 29th to first place in PPG/difference.

Atlanta have played their way into a playoff position, and now the trick is staying there. One advantage the Hawks have going for them, though, is they have a relatively easy path the rest of the way.

Through the end of February when the team fired Pierce, Atlanta had the eighth-toughest strength of schedule (.512 opponents' winning percentage). The Hawks then made their push since the beginning of March with a schedule that was the eighth easiest (.478), and now they have the sixth-easiest schedule through the rest of the season (.480).

The Milwaukee Bucks dropped their second game without Giannis Antetokounmpo going down 116-101 to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA on Thursday night.

Mavs center Kristaps Porzingis dominated with 26 points including four three-pointers, along with 17 rebounds, with Slovenian guard Luka Doncic top scoring with 27 points.

The Bucks were without two-time MVP Giannis due to knee soreness, missing his third straight game as Milwaukee slipped to 32-19.

Milwaukee produced a 14-0 run in the third with Donte DiVincenzo scoring 22 points and Bobby Portis pulling down 14 rebounds but Dallas dominated the last quarter to take out the win.

The Los Angeles Lakers dropped another game without LeBron James and Anthony Davis as Jimmy Butler dazzled for the Miami Heat in a 110-104 victory.

Butler scored 28 points, with seven rebounds and five assists for Miami who trailed at the main break.

The Lakers have lost six of their past 10 matches with a 32-20 record and are fifth in the West.

 

Clippers blanket Suns, Jazz blow away Blazers

In a crucial clash in the West, the Los Angeles Clippers finished strong to edge the in-form Phoenix Suns 113-103 led by Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.

George had 33 points including seven three-pointers, seven rebounds and three assists, while Leonard scored 27 points, with five rebounds and five assists.

New Clippers recruit Rajon Rondo added 15 points and nine assists off the bench too, as they improved to 35-18, with the Suns 36-15 after their eight-game winning run ended.

Donovan Mitchell scored 37 points as the ladder leading Utah Jazz blew away the Portland Trail Blazers with a 40-19 third quarter to win 122-103.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert had 20 rebounds along with his 18 points while Damian Lillard scored 23 points and had five rebounds and six assists for the Blazers.

The Chicago Bulls were too good for the undermanned Toronto Raptors 122-113 with Deadline Day additions Nikola Vucevic and Daniel Theis starring.

 

New Heat recruit hurt

Heat guard Victor Oladipo played 25 minutes and scored 18 points in their win over the Lakers but he went off late with an apparent left knee injury which will have Miami sweating on their new recruit.

 

 

Kawhi dunks on Suns

The commentators were left staggered when Leonard drove into the key and produced a massive right-hand dunk in the third of the Clippers win over the Suns.

 

Thursday's results

Chicago Bulls 122-113 Toronto Raptors
Miami Heat 110-104 Los Angeles Lakers
Cleveland Cavaliers 129-102 Oklahoma City Thunder
Dallas Mavericks 116-101 Milwaukee Bucks
Los Angeles Clippers 113-103 Phoenix Suns
Detroit Pistons 113-101 Sacramento Kings
Utah Jazz 122-103 Portland Trail Blazers

 

76ers in The Big Easy

Joel Embiid's Philadelphia 76ers (35-16) go to Zion Williamson's New Orleans Pelicans (22-29) looking to re-claim top spot in the East.

Giannis Antetokounmpo will miss another match for the Milwaukee Bucks after being ruled out of Thursday's game against the Dallas Mavericks with knee soreness.

The 26-year-old two-time NBA MVP has missed Milwaukee's past two games since scoring 47 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in Friday's win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

In Antetokounmpo's absence, the Bucks suffered a surprise loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday and beat the Sacramento Kings by one point on Saturday.

The Bucks confirmed his absence for Thursday's game an hour ahead of tip-off as they look to improve from 32-18.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said on Tuesday: "He was warming up tonight and just felt it a little bit. Just made the decision that tonight was not a good night, it was a night he should be out."

Antetokounmpo has had an outstanding NBA season for the Bucks, averaging 28.8 points per game with a field goal percentage of 56.5.

He also has 6.2 assists per game and 11.4 rebounds per game this season.

The Phoenix Suns defeated the Utah Jazz on Wednesday to close the gap at the top of the Western Conference, but coach Monty Williams insisted first place was not on his mind.

Williams has led a remarkable turnaround this season, with the Suns having a 34-39 record last year that was boosted significantly by an eight-game winning run in the seeding games in the 'bubble'.

However, Phoenix is 36-14 in the 2020-21 campaign and, following a 117-113 overtime defeat of the Jazz, they are breathing down Utah's necks.

"We just don't focus on any of that stuff," Williams said.

"I hear it, and I hope we do, but our goal has always been to win every game, improve every month - I've said that since I've been here. This team has to go through these types of experiences to win big.

"Being number one in the West would be a huge accomplishment for us, but it's just not our focus.

"We just want to win every game we can. If it means we're number one in the West, then great."

The Suns have not played in the postseason since 2009-10, but this game served as playoff preparation.

"We've always said we want to approach every game the same way - that way we don't have to change when we get where we want to go - but the intensity, the physicality, the officiating certainly felt like a playoff game," Williams said. "And going into overtime, it felt just like that."

Chris Paul added: "We needed a game like that, where guys had to play heavy minutes, the intensity of it, the crowd was great, just that energy. We haven't played too many games like that."

Veteran Paul played 43 minutes and contributed 29 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter and five in overtime.

He now ranks fifth in the league for clutch points (115), and Williams said: "Down the stretch, you might not find anybody better than Chris Paul."

The coach also praised the Suns' work in disrupting Utah's shooting from three-point range, where they were 11-for-44, down on a season average of 39.2 per cent.

And Deandre Ayton was singled out after finishing with 12 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end.

The Jazz, led by Defensive Player of the Year favourite Rudy Gobert, allowed a season-high 61 rebounds, while only three times have opponents managed more than 16 offensive boards against them.

"We put [Ayton] in a lot of tough positions. Not many guys his size have to do as much as he does," Williams said. "The only other guy, maybe, is Gobert, and he's Defensive Player of the Year.

"We put DA in coverages where he's got to rim-protect but we also switch out with him at times where he's got to guard smaller guys. When they make shots, it's usually a tough shot."

It was the first time in Ayton's career he reached double figures for rebounds against Gobert and the Jazz.

"Everybody's got a job on this team, man," Ayton said, adding: "Competing with Gobert, that's the Defensive Player of our league.

"Him being a presence on both ends of the floor, you're going to have to bring your 'A-game'. He's a strong, physical dude, he knows the game, and I learned a lot, too."

Devin Booker and Chris Paul helped the Phoenix Suns take down Donovan Mitchell and the NBA-leading Utah Jazz 117-113 after overtime.

Booker posted 35 points, while Paul finished with 29 points as the high-flying Suns moved to within a game of the best record in the league on Wednesday.

DeAndre Ayton finished with 18 points and 12 assists for the Suns (36-14), who won their seventh successive game after scoring the first five points in overtime and never trailed again.

Mitchell – who nailed a three-pointer with 10.4 seconds remaining to force OT – had a game-high 41 points, eight rebounds and three assists for the Jazz (38-13) in a thrilling encounter.

Jazz team-mate Rudy Gobert put up 16 points on seven-for-seven shooting and 18 rebounds in the losing effort on the road.

Kevin Durant made his long-awaited return in the Brooklyn Nets' 139-111 victory against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Durant had been sidelined since February 13 due to a hamstring strain, but the former NBA MVP returned as the star-studded Nets won midweek.

After a 23-game absence, Durant – initially named in the starting five – came off the bench and posted 17 points on five-for-five shooting in 19 minutes, making both of his three-point attempts.

Durant, who received an ovation from the home crowd at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, also collected seven rebounds and tallied five assists against the Pelicans midweek.

 

Westbrook fuels Wizards with triple

A Russell Westbrook triple-double of 23 points, 15 assists and 14 rebounds led the Washington Wizards past the Orlando Magic 131-116. It was Westbrook's 20th triple-double of the season as the Wizards snapped a four-game losing streak. Bradley Beal returned from a five-game absence and posted 26 points, while the Wizards made a season-best 19 three-pointers.

MVP candidate Nikola Jokic (25 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds) fell just short of his 13th triple-double of the season after the Denver Nuggets topped the San Antonio Spurs 106-96.

Grayson Allen's season-high 30 points helped the streaking Memphis Grizzlies beat the Atlanta Hawks 131-113. Jonas Valanciunas (19 points and 11 rebounds) set a franchise record with his 19th straight game with 10-plus rebounds.

 

Richardson struggles

It was a rough outing for Josh Richardson in the Dallas Mavericks' 102-93 loss to the lowly Houston Rockets. In 29 minutes, he was 0-for-nine shooting for one point. Richardson missed all six of his three-point attempts.

 

Grizzlies roar

The Grizzlies are hard to beat at the moment thanks to their collective effort. All five starters finished in double-digit points – Ja Morant tallying 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, including this combination with Kyle Anderson (16 points, nine rebounds, six assists and two steals).

 

Wednesday's results

Indiana Pacers 141-137 Minnesota Timberwolves
Washington Wizards 131-116 Orlando Magic
Boston Celtics 101-99 New York Knicks
Brooklyn Nets 139-111 New Orleans Pelicans
Memphis Grizzlies 131-113 Atlanta Hawks
Houston Rockets 102-93 Dallas Mavericks
Charlotte Hornets 113-102 Oklahoma City Thunder
Denver Nuggets 106-96 San Antonio Spurs
Phoenix Suns 117-113 Utah Jazz (OT)

 

Suns at Clippers

The Suns (36-14) will put their winning streak on the line when they visit Western Conference rivals the Los Angeles Clippers (34-18) on Thursday. The Clippers are third in the west, behind leaders the Jazz and second-placed Suns.

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant said he was not surprised by his perfect shooting performance after making his long-awaited return to the court.

Durant had been sidelined since February 13 due to a hamstring strain, but the former NBA MVP returned as the star-studded Nets took down the New Orleans Pelicans 139-111 on Wednesday.

After a 23-game absence, Durant – initially named in the starting five – came off the bench and posted 17 points on five-for-five shooting in 19 minutes, making both of his three-point attempts.

Durant, who received an ovation from the home crowd at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, also collected seven rebounds and tallied five assists against the Pelicans midweek.

"I expected to come out here and play the way I played," Durant said. "I wasn't trying to ease into the game."

Kyrie Irving had 24 points in the absence of fellow All-Star James Harden (hamstring) as Durant featured alongside recruits LaMarcus Aldridge (22 points) and Blake Griffin (10 points) for the first time.

"When we move our bodies and we move the basketball the way we did and we talk on defense it's fun out there. You have veteran players that know how to play and it feels like these guys can finish my sentence before I even finish," Durant said.

"So these guys know the game inside out they know me they know one another as team-mates and from playing against each other over the years so it's pretty smooth."

Durant added: "We've always been in communication about different sets and different actions when I was on the bench and practices and film room. So I felt like we were learning each other throughout that time and then finally getting on the floor we didn't have to say much.

"I feel like we know each other's games and we know exactly what to do on each play. So guys have been in constant communication no matter if it's a game or off day and I think it helps."

Nets head coach Steve Nash, whose team moved clear of the idle Philadelphia 76ers atop the Eastern Conference, said: "You could see I think that's there's lots of potential there. It's not hard to play basketball with Kevin Durant.

"I think he's gonna make guys better. He demands a lot of attention and creates a lot of space on the floor. He's a shotmaker, but he creates a lot for his team-mates as well, whether it's through passing or his presence. I think that his length also helps the group in a number of ways.

"He affects his team-mates so positively, so I think a lot of the combinations are going to improve because of him being back in the line-up."

Kevin Durant will make his first appearance in 23 games after being named in the Brooklyn Nets' starting line-up to face the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.

Nets superstar and former NBA MVP Durant has been sidelined since February 13 due to a hamstring strain, which also forced him to sit out last month's All-Star Game.

But Durant will make his long-awaited return midweek as the star-studded Nets – without James Harden (hamstring) – welcome the Pelicans to Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Durant was averaging 29.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game for the Nets in 2020-21 prior to the injury, while he was also shooting a career-high 43.4 per cent from three-point range.

The Nets and rivals Philadelphia 76ers share 35-16 records atop the Eastern Conference.

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