Head coach Steve Clifford will not be part of the Orlando Magic's rebuild after he agreed to leave the team on Saturday.

Clifford had been the Magic's coach since May 2018, initially overseeing an upturn in form.

After six seasons without making the playoffs, Orlando had a 42-40 record in Clifford's first season to finish seventh in the Eastern Conference, losing to the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the postseason.

The Magic bowed out at the same stage of the following year's tournament to the Milwaukee Bucks and then struggled to stay competitive in 2020-21.

Clifford had the team at 15-29 approaching March's trade deadline when Orlando cashed in on their assets, having already lost one-time first overall pick Markelle Fultz to injury.

All-Star Nikola Vucevic left the team, along with Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier, prompting a late-season run in which the team went 6-22.

Clifford used 32 different starting lineups but none of them more than six times, contributing to a 21-51 record only good enough for 14th in the 15-team East.

The Magic are therefore in position for a lottery draft pick and could receive a second from the Chicago Bulls, but Clifford will not be the man overseeing the new team.

"We would like to thank Steve for his contributions to the Orlando Magic," president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said.

"We appreciate the many sacrifices he has made as our head coach and understand the timeline of our new path does not align with his goals as a head coach in our league."

Clifford reportedly had a year remaining on his contract but "mutually agreed" his exit.

The Los Angeles Lakers will strive to keep the core of their roster together for next season after fluffing their lines in this year's playoffs. 

Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka pledged the team would come back ready to fight for the championship after suffering a 4-2 series loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Thursday's 113-100 home defeat sealed the Lakers' fate, with their hopes dealt a blow when Anthony Davis' comeback from a groin injury lasted only five minutes.

The Lakers were 8-2 in home games when facing playoff elimination since 2000 but the Suns blew them away with a 36-14 opening quarter on the road.

Phoenix carried a 60-41 advantage into half-time and while LeBron James tried to spark a Lakers rally with 29 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two blocks, it was not enough.

However, far from going back to the drawing board, the 17-time NBA champions want next season to be business as usual, with a largely familiar-looking roster to call upon.

"I think when you fall short of the goal that you set, it has to drive you," said Pelinka.

"It has to be the fuel that drives your passion, and I think us falling short as a team, that in some sense is going to be part of our motivation and putting in the work to getting back at it, and start training camp next year with a strong roster.

"I'm convinced that, again, without some of the unforeseen circumstances this year, the challenges that we had to face, that we'd be a championship-calibre team.

"So the goal is to try to keep that core group together."

The franchise already has over $100 million earmarked for James, Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma next season, but Pelinka is confident that other star talents will be retained.

"Jeanie [Buss] and the ownership group has empowered the front office to do one thing and that's to smartly build a roster to win championships," he said.

"I think next year, of course, hopefully, with all of our fans being able to come back and be a part of the building, we owe them the work to start the process of retooling and have a championship-calibre team that can do special things next year.

"That's the driving passion and there's alignment there between Jeanie, the front office, the coaches. That will always be the goal.

"We have an insatiable desire and passion to bring banner number 18 here."

Los Angeles Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard said he "definitely didn't want to go home" after producing a monster performance to avoid elimination from the NBA playoffs.

Leonard matched his playoffs career high with 45 points as the Clippers topped the Dallas Mavericks 104-97 on Friday to force a deciding Game 7 in the Western Conference first-round series.

Facing a postseason exit with the Mavericks leading 3-2, Leonard came up big for the fourth-seeded Clippers in Dallas, where the two-time NBA champion erupted on 18-for-25 shooting while nailing five three-pointers.

Through six games in the playoffs this season, Leonard is averaging 32.8 points per game on 60.5 per cent shooting. According to Stats Perform, he is the first player to average 30.0-plus points per game on 60.0-plus per cent shooting over his first six games of a postseason since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1983.

As attention now turns to Sunday's decider in Los Angeles, Leonard told ESPN: "I definitely didn't want to go home.

"We have to do whatever it takes to get a win if we don't want to go home. It's on us."

For the first time in their history, the Clippers won three road games in one series, with Paul George contributing a double-double of 20 points and 13 rebounds as Reggie Jackson put up 25 points.

With the Clippers triumphing in Game 6, it marks the first time in league history that the road team have won the first six games of a postseason series with the home side playing in their true home arena.

"Just another basketball game," Leonard said as he looked ahead to Game 7. "Like we say, if we don't want to go home, pay attention to details, have faith, shooting the ball with confidence. If you do that, you can live with the results."

Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue hailed Leonard, saying: "Great players perform in big moments. It just shows you who Kawhi Leonard is."

Mavericks counterpart Luka Doncic was also full of praise after Dallas failed to book their spot in the Western Conference semi-finals.

Doncic – carrying 361 points from 11 playoff games into the contest, the highest total at that point of his career since Hall of Famer Michael Jordan (405) in 1988 – posted 29 points but he was just two-of-nine shooting from three-point range.

On Leonard, Doncic told reporters: "I mean, he destroyed us. That's what it is. He had a hell of a game. And that's what he does."

Doncic and the Mavericks remain upbeat, despite their missed opportunity on home court.

"It's all right," Doncic said. "We're still motivated. There's one more game left. I don't see why we shouldn't believe in it. There's one more game, so we all believe."

Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard said Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jason Kidd "is the guy I want" to replace Terry Stotts as head coach.

The Trail Blazers and Stotts mutually agreed to part ways on Friday, following Portland's elimination in the opening round of the NBA playoffs.

Despite Lillard's heroic efforts, the Trail Blazers were ousted by the Denver Nuggets 4-2 in the Western Conference first round on Thursday.

Stotts – who oversaw eight consecutive postseason appearances – departs as the second-winningest coach in franchise history following a 402-318 record in nine seasons.

Los Angeles Clippers assistant Chauncey Billups, ex-New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, Brooklyn Nets assistant Mike D'Antoni and Michigan's Juwan Howard are reportedly among the candidates.

But Lillard talked up Hall of Famer Kidd, who previously served as coach of the Nets and Milwaukee Bucks.

"Jason Kidd is the guy I want," Lillard, who set a new NBA record for threes made in a single playoff series with 35, told Yahoo Sports.

In a statement following Stotts' exit, Trail blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey said: "I have the utmost respect for Terry and what he has accomplished these past nine seasons.

"This was a difficult decision on both a personal and professional level but it's in the best interest of the franchise to move in another direction.

"Terry will always hold a special place in the Trail Blazer family and the Portland community. We relied on the integrity, professionalism and consistency he brought to the job every day and we wish he and Jan nothing but the best."

During the postseason matchup, Lillard tallied a playoff career-high 55 points and record 12 made threes in a Game 5 overtime defeat to the Nuggets.

Lillard also became the fourth player in NBA history to record a 50-point, 10-assist game in the postseason, joining Russell Westbrook, Sleepy Floyd and Jerry West.

Kawhi Leonard matched his playoffs career high with 45 points to keep the Los Angeles Clippers' NBA season alive with a 104-97 victory at the Dallas Mavericks.

The fourth-seeded Clippers were facing elimination on Friday, trailing Luka Doncic's Mavericks 3-2 in the Western Conference first-round series.

But Leonard came up big for the Clippers with their backs against the wall, erupting on 18-for-25 shooting and five three-pointers to level the series and force a deciding Game 7.

Leonard made only seven of 19 shots in Game 5, after going 38-for-53 (71.7 per cent) over his previous three games, however, the NBA champion was far more efficient in Game 6 as attention now turns to Sunday's decider in Los Angeles.

For the first time in their history, the Clippers won three road games in one series, with Paul George contributing a double-double of 20 points and 13 rebounds as Reggie Jackson put up 25 points.

Luka Doncic – carrying 361 points from 11 playoff games into the contest, the highest total at that point of his career since Hall of Famer Michael Jordan (405) in 1988 – posted 29 points but he was just two-of-nine shooting from three-point range, while team-mate Tim Hardaway Jr. added 23 points.

The Mavericks were 17-10 (63.0 per cent) in potential series-clinching games prior to tip-off – the third best record in NBA history (minimum 10 games), behind only the Golden State Warriors (42-23, 64.6 per cent) and Cleveland Cavaliers (25-14, 64.1 per cent), according to Stats Perform.

They made a strong start by outscoring the Clippers 28-26 in the opening quarter, though Leonard and the visitors wrestled back momentum in the second period for a 48-45 half-time advantage.

The see-sawing contest continued as the Mavericks used a 32-25 third quarter to close in on a potential Conference semi-final against the top-seeded Utah Jazz.

However, Leonard flexed his muscles in a dominant final period to avoid joining city rivals and champions the Los Angeles Lakers in exiting the postseason.

 

Bucks at Nets

The star-studded Brooklyn Nets will host Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals on Saturday.

Brooklyn Nets superstar James Harden believes this is his best chance to win an NBA championship as the star-studded franchise continue their quest against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will lead the second-seeded Nets in an Eastern Conference semi-final showdown with Giannis Antetokounmpo and third seeds the Bucks, starting Saturday.

Brooklyn's 'big three' have the Nets as favourites to win their maiden championship in a playoff campaign also featuring the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz.

Harden joined the Nets from the Houston Rockets via a blockbuster trade in January, with the former MVP's eyes on a much-coveted title.

During his time in Houston, Harden reached two Western Conference Finals as the franchise never advanced to the showpiece – Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors often standing in the way, while LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers also thwarted the Rockets in the semi-finals last season.

Now, Harden senses his best opportunity to add an NBA ring to his list of league honours.

"I ran into some very, very good teams which is one of the reasons I've been short [of winning a title]," Harden told reporters via a Zoom call on Friday.

"[But] you look at our roster, we're elite too. It's going to be a showdown but I'm more than confident going into this postseason just because of the roster and our schemes and the things that we can control and the versatility that we have."

Harden added: "Obviously, there's only a handful of teams that have an opportunity. And we're one of those teams this year.

"So, the excitement is there, but I think just the focus is the most important thing for myself. And just trying to rub that focus level and that engagement to detail into every one of my team-mates."

The Nets saw off the Boston Celtics 4-1 in the opening round but will face a stiffer test against two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee support cast, including Jrue Holiday.

With Brooklyn's Jeff Green ruled out of Game 1, Nets head coach Steve Nash said: "I think the strategy we'll probably start with is probably similar from a team-defending standpoint.

"It's also the type of thing we have to work our way through as the series goes on and have a better feel for it, have more and more of an understanding collectively, and also be able to adjust and adapt within our schemes, not just change our schemes. The team concepts will be the same regardless."

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said no decision has been made on Joel Embiid's status for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals in the NBA playoffs.

The top-seeded 76ers are set to open their second-round series against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday with doubts over the fitness of All-Star Embiid.

Embiid suffered a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee during Monday's Game 4 loss to the Washington Wizards, forcing him to sit out Wednesday's Game 5 as the 76ers won 129-112 to clinch the opening-round series 4-1.

As the 76ers continue their championship bid against the fifth-seeded Hawks, Rivers was asked about MVP finalist Embiid – who missed 10 regular-season games due to bone bruising in his left leg – on Friday.

"He went through a lot of the stuff today," said Rivers. "He didn't do a lot of live stuff obviously, we're not gonna allow that yet.

"Nothing's changed. He's got to go through his treatment, but as far as when we were doing shooting and stuff like that, he looked great.

"It's too early [to rule him out]. I don't want to say one way or the other. We'll just find that out."

It has been a stellar season for Embiid, who has averaged career highs for points (28.5), field-goal percentage (41.3), three-point percentage (37.7) and free-throw percentage (85.9).

The 27-year-old has also been averaging 10.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and a career-best 0.98 steals per game to lead the 76ers – eyeing a first NBA title since 1983 – to their first Eastern Conference championship since 2001.

Philadelphia team-mate Dwight Howard, gearing up for a reunion with former team the Hawks, added: "He looked good. His movement looked good and laterally, he was able to move around so he looked good.

"I think he should be ready to go. Now he can make sure he gets his body right and I don't want him to rush back or anything like that because we need him.

"We want to make sure we hold down the fort until he's back, but he looked great."

LeBron James has ruled himself out of competing for the United States at the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo. 

The 36-year-old Los Angeles Lakers star has represented his country at three Olympics, but he did not feature at Rio 2016. 

Earlier this year James had suggested he was considering playing for the USA in Tokyo.

However, following the Lakers' first-round playoff series defeat to the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, he said he would instead spend the next few months promoting his new movie 'Space Jam: A New Legacy', which is scheduled to open in July. 

Asked if the Olympics were a possibility for him, James said: "Nah, I think I'm gonna play for the Tune Squad [the name of the team in the film] this summer instead of the Olympics.

"I think that's what my focus is on, on trying to beat the Monstars – or the Goon Squad we call them now.

"I didn't have much success versus the Suns, so now I am gearing my attention to the Goon Squad here in July, in mid-July.

"So I'm going to let the ankle rest for about a month and then I'm going to gear up with Lola, Taz, Granny, Bugs and the rest of the crew. So, hopefully I'll see you all at the match."

Asked how the Lakers' early exit – the first time James has been on a losing side in a first-round playoff series in his NBA career – would benefit his body, he said: "It's going to work wonders for me. Obviously during the season I don't talk about rest, I don't even like to put my mind in that frame, it makes me weak.

"But in the off-season I've got an opportunity to rest. I've got like three months to recalibrate, get my ankle back to 100 per cent, where it was before that Atlanta game.

"That's the most important thing for me. Everything else feels extremely well. My ankle was the only thing that was bothering me in the latter stages of the season.

"It never fully got back to before the injury. But I'm happy I was able to go out there and at least try to help our team win."

LeBron James paid tribute to the improvement and maturity shown by Devin Booker after he was beaten in a first-round playoff series for the first time in his NBA career.

The Los Angeles Lakers saw their hopes of repeating as NBA champions ended as they lost 113-100 in Game 6 to the Phoenix Suns, who progress with a 4-2 triumph.

Anthony Davis had to leave the court after only five minutes of his return from a groin injury as Booker produced a stunning performance to finish with 47 points for the Suns.

By the end of the first quarter, Booker had 22 points and had converted all six of his three-pointers, eventually finishing 8-of-10 from behind the arc.

His 47 points, recorded in 46 minutes, were the most to eliminate a defending champion team on their home court in NBA postseason history. 

The surging Suns also won Game 5 by 30 points and led this one by 29 in the first half before James - who had 29 points, nine rebounds and seven assists - helped to make the score more respectable.

But his amazing 14-0 steak in the first round of the playoffs was brought to an emphatic halt and all the plaudits went to Booker.

"I love everything about D-Book," said James. "I've had numerous conversations with him in the past. He continues to make the jump.

"When you want to be great in this league, and as Kobe told him, if you want to be legendary in this game you've got to continue to improve, not only your game but you as a man.

"You have to improve everything, both on and off the floor. And all the conversations we have had over the years, I can tell he's soaked them up and is using them to his advantage.

"Everyone sees what he's able to do on the floor right now, but I think his maturity, him as a young man, is what I'm most impressed about. So I love everything about Book."

Getting himself and the rest of the Lakers team back to full fitness was a bigger concern to James than the end of his playoff streak.

Reflecting on the Lakers' exit, he added: "The season started so fast after leaving the bubble, obviously. 

"I was talking to [Wes Matthews] in the locker room just a few minutes ago, and I said the one thing that bothers me more than anything - we never really got an opportunity to see our full team at full strength, either because of injury or COVID.

"We could never fully get into a rhythm and never really kinda see the full potential of what we're capable of. Listen, as I tell you all throughout the season, every season is different, every challenge is different.

"But they [the Suns] were excellent throughout the series, all of them. Much respect.

"To be able to put myself where I can even have accomplishments – to either be broken or to be able to continue it – it's all though the grace of the man above and me just putting a lot of hard work in, having great team-mates, having great coaching staff, things of that nature.

"So records – if that's a record – they’re always meant to be broken.

"So in that fashion it doesn’t matter to me in so far as not making it out of the first round, what matters to me is getting this team back healthy.

"Me not being able to be at my full strength throughout this series, that’s my main focus. But time to readjust and think about what the off-season has in store."

Past discussions between Booker and late Lakers great Kobe Bryant - also referenced by James - were firmly on the mind of the Suns' star guard after his impressive display.

"Honestly, I was thinking about Kobe and the conversations we had," Booker said.

"About what we went through, and the postseason, and being legendary and taking the steps to get there.

"Seeing that 8 and 24 up there, with the lighting Staples has, it's like it was shining down on you. I know he was here and I know he was proud."

Damian Lillard believes Nikola Jokic can lead the Denver Nuggets to NBA glory after they eliminated the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday.

Jokic scored 36 points, provided six assists and grabbed eight rebounds as the Nuggets secured a 126-115 victory in Game 6 to win the series 4-2.

Trail Blazers star Lillard thinks the Nuggets can go all the way with Jokic at his brilliant best.

Lillard said of the Serbia center: "He's everything for them. I think if it was any year a guy like him, what he does for that team, could lead his team to a championship, it would be this year because of how open it is.

"There's no favourite. In my eyes at least, I feel like anybody can get beat and anybody can go get it done.

"That's why it's even more disappointing for me because I felt like if there's any year you can shoulder the load and go get one, it was this one. I definitely think he's capable of it."

Nuggets coach Michael Malone also lavished praise on Jokic.

He said: "That's why he's the clear-cut MVP, because you can take anybody away from our team, if we have Nikola, you could put me, Wes Unseld, Ryan Bowen, Charles Klask, whoever you want out there, we're going to find a way to compete because that's how great he is."

Malone says the Nuggets are aiming high after advancing from the first round of the playoffs.

"I just told our team this, hell of a win to come in here and win a Game 6 on the road is great. But we're not satisfied," said Malone. 

"Our goal coming into the season was not to get out of the first round. We have much bigger goals."

Devin Booker put on a show as the Phoenix Suns eliminated LeBron James and NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers from the playoffs en route to the Western Conference semi-finals.

The sun set on the Lakers' season and their title defence in the opening round after Booker's playoff career-high 47 points and 11 rebounds guided Phoenix to a 113-100 win in Game 6 on Thursday.

Booker's monster double-double – which included eight three-pointers – sealed a 4-2 series victory for the second-seeded Suns in the Western Conference as they moved through to the semi-finals.

Suns All-Star Booker became the first Phoenix player with a 40/10 playoff game since Amar'e Stoudemire in 2010, though he is the first to do it with five-plus threes.

The Lakers welcomed the Suns to Staples Center for the must-win showdown in Los Angeles, where star Anthony Davis had been cleared to return from a groin injury.

According to Stats Perform, the Lakers were 8-2 in home games when facing playoff elimination since 2000 but their hopes were dealt a blow when Davis' comeback lasted just five minutes.

The Suns – who were 8-1 in potential series-clinching games since 2000, with their only loss coming against the Clippers in Game 6 in 2006 – blew away the Lakers with a 36-14 opening quarter on the road.

Phoenix carried a 60-41 advantage into half-time and while James tried to spark a Lakers rally with 29 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two blocks, it was not enough.

A four-time NBA champion and MVP, it is the first time James has been eliminated in the opening round of the postseason in his illustrious 15-year playoff career.

Next up for the Suns are the Denver Nuggets, who claimed their series 4-2 following a 126-115 victory against the Portland Trail Blazers.

MVP favourite Nikola Jokic fuelled the third-seeded Nuggets with 36 points in Portland, where Michael Porter Jr. had 22 of his 26 points in the opening quarter.

The Nuggets reached the Western Conference semis for the third consecutive season, while Damian Lillard put up 28 points and 13 assists for the Trail Blazers – who led by 14 points in the third quarter but could not hold on.

 

Clippers at Mavericks

Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks can secure a semi-final date with the top-ranked Utah Jazz in the Western Conference by beating the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday. The Mavericks lead the series 3-2.

Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis has returned from a groin injury for Game 6 of the Western Conference first-round series against the Phoenix Suns.

Davis was hoping to be available for Thursday's must-win showdown, with reigning NBA champions the Lakers trailing the Suns 3-2 and facing elimination.

A groin injury had sidelined Davis since half-time of Game 4 as the Lakers were routed 115-85 at the hands of the second-seeded Suns in Game 5.

But Davis has been cleared to make his way back into the starting five at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Davis had back-to-back 34-point double-doubles in Games 2 and 3.

The Lakers are 26-15 (63.4) when Davis has played this season and 19-18 (51.4) in the games he has missed (including the play-in and playoff games), according to Stats Perform.

According to Stats Perform, the Suns are 8-1 in potential series-clinching games since 2000, with their only loss coming against the Clippers in Game 6 in 2006, and Phoenix won the next game. Meanwhile, the Lakers are 8-2 in home games when facing playoff elimination since 2000.

Utah Jazz All-Star Mike Conley will be a day-to-day proposition ahead of the NBA Western Conference semi-finals after scans confirmed a hamstring strain.

Conley left the court in the second quarter of the Jazz's 126-110 win over the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 5 of their NBA first-round playoffs series due right hamstring soreness on Wednesday.

Utah sealed the series 4-1 midweek and the top seeds will face either the Los Angeles Clippers or the Dallas Mavericks in the second round.

"This morning an MRI revealed a mild right hamstring strain," the Jazz said in a statement via Twitter on Thursday. "He will be re-evaluated prior to Game 1 of the Western Conference semi-finals."

Conley, 33, has enjoyed a strong season, becoming an All-Star for the first time in his career.

Conley has averaged 17.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 8.6 assists per game during the 2020-21 season.

He played a key role for the Jazz as a starter in both their Game 2 and Game 3 wins over the Grizzlies with 20 and 27 points respectively.

Few teams have ever entered the NBA playoffs with more uncertainty and intrigue than the 2020-21 Brooklyn Nets.

On the surface, it's almost unfathomable to consider a team that finished just one game back of the conference's best record could have so many questions marks, but when their three star players appeared in just eight games together in the regular season – and only one (ONE!) contest since the middle of February – it's not difficult to see why there were so many unknowns.

During the regular season, the Nets' power trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving appeared on the court together for just over three and a half hours. By comparison, the last 'Big three' Durant was a part of – the 2018-19 Golden State Warriors – he, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson played over 23 hours together during the regular season. The Warriors' threesome reached the 200-minute mark before the calendar flipped to November, so the Durant-Harden-Irving trio are essentially in early season mode – and again, they only appeared in one game together over the season's final two months.

So with all eyes on Brooklyn in their first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics, it took all of one game for the trio to find their chemistry.

The Nets got past a Celtics team playing without their second-leading scorer in Jaylen Brown in the playoff opener, though it wasn't exactly an offensive showcase. Brooklyn led by just three points five minutes into the fourth quarter before Durant, Harden and Irving scored 19 of the team's final 22 points to lead the Nets to a 104-93 win.

After passing their first test, the offense aced their last four in dispatching the Celtics in five games, with Boston needing an exceptional 50-point performance from Jayson Tatum in Game 3 to avoid being swept.

In the final four games of the series, the Nets averaged 143.3 points per 100 possessions when Durant, Irving and Harden were together on the court – a total of 105 minutes, 56 seconds. As a team, Brooklyn shot 56.8 per cent from the field and 52.1 from three-point range to go with an eFG percentage of 67.2 and a 28.7 assist rate when the three played together.

This came after their Game 1 tuneup as Brooklyn had an offensive rating of 113.4 in the 23 minutes 48 seconds the three were together on the court, shot 48.7 per cent from the floor, made five of 20 three-point attempts, had a 55.1 eFG percentage and 19.6 assist rate.

The offense has been playing on another level since then, averaging 128.3 points and a coveted 50-40-90 shooting percentage slash line – 51.6 per cent from the field, 47.4 from three-point range and 91.7 on free throws.

They are the first team since the advent of the three-pointer in the 1979-80 season to score at least 115 points, hit at least 15 3-point shots and make at least 20 free throws in four straight games. That's including the regular season, not just four straight games in a single playoff series or four games in a row in a single postseason – all games.

The Nets held an offensive clinic in a 141-126 Game 4 win on Sunday, shooting 57.8 per cent while making 17 of 27 shots from beyond the arc (59.3 per cent) and 29 of 30 foul shots (96.7). In the process, Durant scored 42 and made all 11 of his free throw attempts while Irving added 39 and converted all 11 of his foul shots, making them the first pair of team-mates in NBA history to score 35 or more points while going 10 of 10 or better from the free-throw line in a game – regular or postseason.

All Harden did in that one was dish out 18 assists – his most for any game, regular or postseason – and score 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting.

In the five games against Boston, Durant averaged 32.6 points, Harden 27.8 and Irving 24.8. Their combined average of 85.2 points is the most by any trio in any playoff series all-time – one more than Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Rudy LaRusso averaged for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1962 Western Division Finals.

With Durant, Harden and Irving together, Brooklyn is able to create scoring opportunities by spacing the floor, which is paying dividends for Harden.

In the last four playoff games, Harden made 51.5 per cent of the jump shots (17 of 33) he took from 15 feet or more from the hoop – the fifth highest rate in the league among the 35 players with a minimum of 25 such shots since May 25. He made just 37.1 per cent of such shots during the regular season to rank 125th out of 192 players with a minimum of 200 attempts..

The jump shot, meanwhile, has long been a friend of Durant, and he has been knocking down his jumpers at an astounding clip since Game 1.

Among those with a minimum of 25 jump shots attempted from 15 feet or more from the hoop since May 25, Durant leads all shooters by connecting on 61.4 per cent of his shots (27 of 44). His 6.8 made jump shots from 15 or more feet out are only just behind the Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic at 7.0 for tops in the league since May 25. This came after Durant shot 46.9 per cent on these same jumpers and averaged 4.1 makes per game during the regular season.

With Harden proving to be a more efficient scorer away from the basket, defences now must respect his jump shot. The problem is, he's still as dangerous as ever to drive and either dish it out – his 17 assists to Durant are the second most by any one player to a team-mate this postseason behind Denver Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo's 18 assists to Nickola Jokic – or finish at the rim.

Harden is connecting on 73.7 per cent of his 19 layup attempts this postseason after converting 58.4 per cent of them in the regular season. Like Harden, Irving is also successfully finishing at the hoop, making 60.9 per cent of his 23 layup attempts.

Brooklyn's Big three has quickly established a cohesiveness on the court and looks every bit of the offensive juggernaut many envisioned was possible when the team acquired Harden back in January.

One criticism against the Nets all season has been their defense – or lack thereof. The counterpoint to that is that it doesn't matter how many points you give up as long as you score more. And with Durant, Harden, Irving and the Brooklyn offense firing on all cylinders, the Nets certainly have the capability to pile up more points than anyone.

This theory will be put to the test Saturday when Brooklyn open their Eastern Conference semi-final series against the Milwaukee Bucks – the only team to outscore the Nets in the regular season with a 120.1 scoring average.

Few teams have ever entered the NBA playoffs with more uncertainty and intrigue than the 2020-21 Brooklyn Nets.

On the surface, it's almost unfathomable to consider a team that finished just one game back of the conference's best record could have so many questions marks, but when its three star players appeared in just eight games together in the regular season – and only one (ONE!) contest since the middle of February – it's not difficult to see why there were so many unknowns.

During the regular season, the Nets' power trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving appeared on the court together for just over three and a half hours. By comparison, the last 'Big 3' Durant was a part of – the 2018-19 Golden State Warriors – he, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson played over 23 hours together during the regular season. The Warriors' threesome reached the 200-minute mark before the calendar flipped to November, so the Durant-Harden-Irving trio are essentially in early season mode – and again, they only appeared in one game together over the season's final two months.

So with all eyes on Brooklyn in its first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics, it took all of one game for the trio to find their chemistry.

The Nets got past a Celtics team playing without its second-leading scorer in Jaylen Brown in the playoff opener, though it wasn't exactly an offensive showcase. Brooklyn led by just three points five minutes into the fourth quarter before Durant, Harden and Irving scored 19 of the team's final 22 points to lead the Nets to a 104-93 win.

After passing their first test, the offense aced its last four in dispatching the Celtics in five games, with Boston needing an exceptional 50-point performance from Jayson Tatum in Game 3 to avoid being swept.

In the final four games of the series, the Nets averaged 143.3 points per 100 possessions when Durant, Irving and Harden were together on the court – a total of 105 minutes, 56 seconds. As a team, Brooklyn shot 56.8 per cent from the field and 52.1 from 3-point range to go with an eFG percentage of 67.2 and a 28.7 assist rate when the three played together.

This came after their Game 1 tuneup as Brooklyn had an offensive rating of 113.4 in the 23 minutes 48 seconds the three were together on the court, shot 48.7 per cent from the floor, made five of 20 3-point attempts, had a 55.1 eFG percentage and 19.6 assist rate.

The offense has been playing on another level since then, averaging 128.3 points and a coveted 50-40-90 shooting percentage slash line – 51.6 per cent from the field, 47.4 from 3-point range and 91.7 on free throws.

They are the first team since the advent of the 3-pointer in the 1979-80 season to score at least 115 points, hit at least 15 3-point shots and make at least 20 free throws in four straight games. That's including the regular season, not just four straight games in a single playoff series or four games in a row in a single postseason – all games.

The Nets held an offensive clinic in a 141-126 Game 4 win on Sunday, shooting 57.8 per cent while making 17 of 27 shots from beyond the arc (59.3 per cent) and 29 of 30 foul shots (96.7). In the process, Durant scored 42 and made all 11 of his free throw attempts while Irving added 39 and converted all 11 of his foul shots, making them the first pair of team-mates in NBA history to score 35 or more points while going 10 of 10 or better from the free-throw line in a game – regular or postseason.

All Harden did in that one was dish out 18 assists – his most for any game, regular or postseason – and score 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting.

In the five games against Boston, Durant averaged 32.6 points, Harden 27.8 and Irving 24.8. Their combined average of 85.2 points is the most by any trio in any playoff series all-time – one more than Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Rudy LaRusso averaged for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1962 Western Division Finals.

With Durant, Harden and Irving together, Brooklyn is able to create scoring opportunities by spacing the floor, which is paying dividends for Harden.

In the last four playoff games, Harden made 51.5 per cent of the jump shots (17 of 33) he took from 15 feet or more from the hoop – the fifth highest rate in the league among the 35 players with a minimum of 25 such shots since May 25. He made just 37.1 per cent of such shots during the regular season to rank 125th out of 192 players with a minimum of 200 attempts..

The jump shot, meanwhile, has long been a friend of Durant, and he has been knocking down his jumpers at an astounding clip since Game 1.

Among those with a minimum of 25 jump shots attempted from 15 feet or more from the hoop since May 25, Durant leads all shooters by connecting on 61.4 per cent of his shots (27 of 44). His 6.8 made jump shots from 15 or more feet out are only just behind the Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic at 7.0 for tops in the league since May 25. This came after Durant shot 46.9 per cent on these same jumpers and averaged 4.1 makes per game during the regular season.

With Harden proving to be a more efficient scorer away from the basket, defences now must respect his jump shot. The problem is, he's still as dangerous as ever to drive and either dish it out – his 17 assists to Durant are the second most by any one player to a team-mate this postseason behind Denver Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo's 18 assists to Nickola Jokic – or finish at the rim.

Harden is connecting on 73.7 per cent of his 19 layup attempts this postseason after converting 58.4 per cent of them in the regular season. Like Harden, Irving is also successfully finishing at the hoop, making 60.9 per cent of his 23 layup attempts.

Brooklyn's Big 3 has quickly established a cohesiveness on the court and looks every bit of the offensive juggernaut many envisioned was possible when the team acquired Harden back in January.

One criticism against the Nets all season has been their defense – or lack thereof. The counterpoint to that is that it doesn't matter how many points you give up as long as you score more. And with Durant, Harden, Irving and the Brooklyn offense firing on all cylinders, the Nets certainly have the capability to pile up more points than anyone.

This theory will be put to the test Saturday when Brooklyn opens its Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Milwaukee Bucks – the only team to outscore the Nets in the regular season with a 120.1 scoring average.

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