Anthony Davis is not giving up hope of the Los Angeles Lakers making the playoffs despite a damaging defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday.

Former Pelican Davis returned from injury, alongside LeBron James, but his 23 points and 12 rebounds could not rescue the Lakers from a 114-111 loss.

It leaves the Lakers still in 11th place and now three games back on the ninth-placed Pelicans. Crucially, the San Antonio Spurs, in the final play-in berth in 10th, have a full game advantage over LA.

The standings do not make for pretty reading for the Lakers, and Kendrick Perkins – Davis' former Pelicans team-mate – declared on Twitter after the game New Orleans had "put the Lakers out of their misery".

Davis still has belief, though, and insists it is not merely blind "hope", even if the Lakers have lost five in a row and have only five games remaining.

"Our mindset is to go 5-0 in these games and let the chips fall where they may," Davis said.

"We dropped this one, but we've got five left to try to control what we can control, and hopefully things fall in our favour.

"I think there is a lot of belief. We know what we're playing for. We know the position that we're in. We know we're playing against some top teams. So, I think we have to believe.

"I don't think it's hope. We don't play off hope and 'let's hope we win this game'. We have belief and I believe.

"We've got to go out and get it done. It's that simple. We have to win these games and we have to have that approach."

LeBron James acknowledged the Los Angeles Lakers lost a "must-win" game at home to the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday but insisted their season is not over yet.

The Lakers, who are 11th in the West, went down 114-111 to the ninth-placed Pelicans. With the San Antonio Spurs also winning in 10th, LA fell a full game outside the play-in tournament.

It was a fifth defeat in a row for the Lakers and came despite the team hurrying James and Anthony Davis back from injuries.

James scored 38 points in a mammoth 40-minute shift, yet an air ball from three-point range at the buzzer sealed the loss.

Afterwards, the four-time MVP – still in pole position for the scoring title with 30.3 points per game – was understandably disheartened.

"The big picture is that it pretty much was a must-win for us," James said, "and we didn't get the job done.

"We had great opportunities throughout the night, and we didn't make enough plays down the stretch. So that's the big picture.

"It just feels like you can't catch a break. No matter what's going on on the floor, it just feels like the ball bounces the other way, the ball doesn't always bounce in our favour, or a call doesn't go in our favour.

"It's just like when it rains, it pours for our year. It's just the way it's been going."

However, he added: "Until it says we're eliminated, it doesn't. Until that moment, we'll know what our destiny is, but right now, we don't. So we keep pushing forward."

If the season ended today, the Los Angeles Lakers would not even make the play-in tournament after a painful 114-111 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

The loss moves the Lakers' record to 31-46, and 4-16 in their past 20 games.

The Lakers built this game up as a must-win, re-inserting Anthony Davis to the line-up from a lengthy absence and LeBron James from an ankle sprain, but ultimately could not get stops down the stretch.

James was terrific, scoring 38 points on 13-23 shooting, while Davis was also strong, scoring 23 points (eight-of-17 shooting) to go with 12 rebounds and six assists. During Davis' 37 minutes on the floor, the Lakers were plus four.

But the Pelicans' duo of C.J. McCollum and Brandon Ingram would not be denied, as McCollum led the way with 32 points (12-of-23 shooting), while Ingram chipped in with an efficient 29 on 10-of-17 shooting to go with eight rebounds and seven assists.

The Lakers' five remaining games are at home against the Denver Nuggets, away at the Phoenix Suns, away at the Golden State Warriors, at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and away against the Nuggets.

The San Antonio Spurs currently lead the race for the 10 seed by one game.

 

Fill-in Grizzlies fill it up

Another game without Ja Morant, and another win for the Memphis Grizzlies as they got the better of the full-strength Phoenix Suns 122-114.

As well as Morant, Memphis was without center Steven Adams, Defensive Player of the Year candidate Jaren Jackson Jr and emerging shooting guard Desmond Bane, but in front of their home fans the replacement Grizzlies were up to the task.

Dillon Brooks top-scored for the Grizzlies with 30 points (11-of-28 shooting) and seven assists, while Devin Booker had 41 points on 17-of-28 shooting for the Suns.

Memphis are now 20-2 in games Morant has missed.

 

Celtics win a shootout, Covington goes bananas 

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both surpassed 30 points in the Boston Celtics' 128-123 win against the Indiana Pacers.

Tatum finished with 31 on 10-of-24 shooting, while Brown had 32 on 12-of-18, but the Celtics had to withstand a sharpshooting display from Tyrese Haliburton, who had 30 points on 10-of-11 shooting, including six-of-six from long range.

Meanwhile, Robert Covington played the game of his life as his Los Angeles Clippers beat an undermanned Milwaukee Bucks side 153-119.

Covington finished with 43 points, going 11-of-18 from three-point range, setting a new franchise record for threes made in a game, beating J.J. Redick and Caron Butler's previous joint-record of nine.

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel felt his team's struggles in their defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans reflected a "disjointed" season after they lost 114-111 in a "playoff game".

The Lakers were beaten despite strong performances from their two biggest stars, as LeBron James racked up 38 points and eight rebounds while Anthony Davis returned from injury with 23 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in 37 minutes.

C.J. McCollum and Brandon Ingram combined for 61 points for the Pelicans, who are now almost assured of their place in the play-in tournament.

The Lakers' play-in tournament chances took a massive hit with the loss – which moved their record to 4-16 in their past 20 games – sitting one game behind the San Antonio Spurs in the race for the 10 seed, with a difficult remaining schedule.

Speaking with post-game media, Vogel said he had no choice but to play James and Davis for extended minutes and cut down the rotation.

 "I think potentially [they were affected by fatigue down the stretch], but this was a playoff-mindset type of game, so those guys want to be in there," he said.

"We're communicating constantly throughout the game. I think both of them would say [they did not play too many minutes] – it's a playoff game, you got to be in there, you've got to compete. 

"This was a playoff game for us, so you use the roster however you see fit, given that matchup.

"C.J. McCollum and Brandon Ingram as a tandem, and with [Jonas] Valanciunas, those three guys are as good as just about any three you can put together in the league. That's why they're one of the hottest teams in the league.

"It's why we liked what Avery [Bradley] could bring to the table, and using Dwight [Howard] on Jonas as much as possible, but the guys who fell out of the rotation [including Talen Horton-Tucker and Austin Reaves] was just due to matchup."

Vogel felt the Lakers' issues scoring down the stretch were a microcosm of their campaign.

"I think it's the nature of the disjointed season that we've had – these guys haven't been on the floor in six weeks together," he said.

"We played last night – it was a tough travel situation getting in late and having to play an important game today, we just fell short. Those are the little things that are the difference between winning and losing.

"I won't look at [10th seed] San Antonio at all – obviously we'll find out what their scores look like, but our focus has to be on what we can control, and that's winning the next game."

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet heaped praise on the professionalism and locked-in nature of his squad, while Scottie Barnes looked forward to Kyle Lowry's return to Toronto this weekend after a 102-89 win against the Orlando Magic.

With the win, the Raptors moved to 11-2 from their past 13 fixtures, including wins over championship contenders such as the Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics.

All five Raptors starters finished with at least 14 points, as VanVleet and rookie Scottie Barnes led the way with 19 points each.

VanVleet also added five steals and two blocks to his stat-line, while Barnes collected eight rebounds and dished out seven assists, with no turnovers.

Speaking to post-game media, VanVleet highlighted the value of chemistry as the core of himself, Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby remain from the Raptors' 2019 championship.

"The biggest thing chemistry does is extend your winning streaks, and helps you get out of funks," he said.

"When you have problems and you can address them, and you can communicate better, there's less BS going on, less hidden agendas.

"Everybody has hidden agendas – everybody has personal goals – but when you have good chemistry you can kind of all be on the same page. 

"It's not easy all the time, everyone wants to be great in their own right, but I think we've all agreed on putting winning as the biggest picture and the number-one goal, and everything else falls under that."

A main factor of the Raptors' recent hot run has been their professionalism, with VanVleet highlighting how important it is to have a group of guys all locked in on their assignments.

"Over the last couple weeks we've been really locked into the game plans, and our attention to detail has been great," he said.

"That's one thing you look for, especially with a young team, how you can convert from walkthroughs and shoot-arounds and practices to the game.

"No plan is perfect – sometimes they're good, sometimes they're bad, but as long as we're all on the same page we give ourselves a chance, and we stick together. That's something that can go a long way."

Speaking on the court immediately after the win, star rookie Scottie Barnes looked forward to Kyle Lowry's return to Toronto on Sunday night.

"I already know it's going to be a packed house, for sure," he said.

"It's his first game back, and he did so much for the organization. He might be the best Toronto Raptor ever.

"It's going to be a memorable night for him, so we have to come ready to play."

When asked about his own personal hot-streak, which has seen Barnes become the bookmakers' second-favorite for Rookie of the Year behind Evan Mobley, he was optimistic about the best being yet to come.

"I'm just getting started really – our team is doing really good, we're ready to go to the playoffs," he said.

"I'm a winner – I've always been a winner."

If the season ended today, the Los Angeles Lakers would not even make the play-in tournament after a painful 114-111 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

The loss moves the Lakers' record to 31-46, and 4-16 in their past 20 games.

The Lakers built this game up as a must-win, re-inserting Anthony Davis to the line-up from a lengthy absence and LeBron James from an ankle sprain, but ultimately could not get stops down the stretch.

James was terrific, scoring 38 points on 13-23 shooting, while Davis was also strong, scoring 23 points (eight-of-17 shooting) to go with 12 rebounds and six assists. During Davis' 37 minutes on the floor, the Lakers were plus four.

But the Pelicans duo of C.J. McCollum and Brandon Ingram would not be denied, as McCollum led the way with 32 points (12-of-23 shooting), while Ingram chipped in with an efficient 29 on 10-of-17 shooting to go with eight rebounds and seven assists.

The Lakers' five remaining games are at home against the Denver Nuggets, away at the Phoenix Suns, away at the Golden State Warriors, at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and away against the Nuggets.

The San Antonio Spurs currently lead the race for the 10 seed by one game.

 

Fill-in Grizzlies fill it up

Another game without Ja Morant, and another win for the Memphis Grizzlies as they got the better of the full-strength Phoenix Suns 122-114.

As well as Morant, Memphis was without center Steven Adams, Defensive Player of the Year candidate Jaren Jackson Jr and emerging shooting guard Desmond Bane, but in front of their home fans the replacement Grizzlies were up to the task.

Dillon Brooks top-scored for the Grizzlies with 30 points (11-of-28 shooting) and seven assists, while Devin Booker had 41 points on 17-of-28 shooting for the Suns.

Memphis are now 20-2 in games Morant has missed.

 

Celtics win a shoot-out, Covington goes bananas 

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both surpassed 30 points in the Boston Celtics' 128-123 win against the Indiana Pacers.

Tatum finished with 31 on 10-of-24 shooting, while Brown had 32 on 12-of-18, but the Celtics had to withstand a sharpshooting display from Tyrese Haliburton, who had 30 points on 10-of-11 shooting, including six-of-six from long range.

Meanwhile, Robert Covington played the game of his life as his Los Angeles Clippers beat an undermanned Milwaukee Bucks side 153-119.

Covington finished with 43 points, going 11-of-18 from three-point range, setting a new franchise record for threes made in a game, beating J.J. Redick and Caron Butler's previous joint-record of nine.

There are just days remaining in the 2021-22 NBA regular season, but plenty is still on the line.

While the red-hot Phoenix Suns have long since secured the top seed in the Western Conference, four teams retain realistic hopes of leading the East.

Which of their superstar players are in the best shape heading into April, though?

Stats Perform's NBA Heat Check highlights the standout performers of the past month...

RUNNING HOT...

Jayson Tatum

Only the Suns (.867) had a better winning percentage in March than the Boston Celtics (.786, tied with the Memphis Grizzlies and Milwaukee Bucks) – and much of that was due to an outstanding month from three-time All-Star Tatum.

His 32.8 points per game in March ranked third behind LeBron James (34.3) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (33.3) but significantly appeared to represent a major leap, having averaged 25.7 to that point. It was the fourth-largest increase in scoring across the NBA last month.

It figures that Tatum's three-point shooting should also be up, as he made 4.2 threes per game in March, compared to 2.8 previously.

Tatum actually saw the fourth-largest decrease in rebounding, from 8.3 per game to 6.6, but the Celtics were down in this regard across the board and it did not seem to hamper them.

Jordan Poole

As the Celtics climbed in the East, the Golden State Warriors fell in the West – but Poole did more than most to keep them competitive.

Stephen Curry's absence for the second half of the month was the chief factor in the Warriors' fading form, yet Poole is increasingly proving he can be the man to fill the void when the team's superstar guard is out.

Poole was the sole player to see a greater increase in threes made than Tatum in March (2.3 per game to 4.2), while his scoring improved from 16.1 points per game to 25.4 – second only to Drew Eubanks in this regard (4.8 to 15.0).

Those are stunning statistics but remain in line with how Poole has played all season long when Curry has been out. He has started all 12 games he has played without Curry, averaging 35.7 minutes (up from 28.6), 10.7 three-point attempts (up from 6.8), 4.3 three-point makes (up from 2.4), 5.2 assists (up from 3.5) and, admittedly, 3.3 turnovers (up from 2.2).

While taking more shots, Poole's field-goal percentage decreases slightly without Curry, yet his three-point shooting and free-throw percentage are both up, perhaps showing Golden State a future beyond the two-time MVP.

Cade Cunningham

The Detroit Pistons are nowhere near the playoff picture, but March did wonders for Cunningham's Rookie of the Year hopes.

While Evan Mobley suffered an ankle sprain that makes another appearance before the end of the regular season far from certain, Cunningham averaged 22.9 points, up on 16.0. The number one overall pick is up to 17.6 for the year, leading all rookies.

GOING COLD...

D'Angelo Russell

Russell is merely the third man on the Minnesota Timberwolves, but that looked to be evidence of the team's depth of scoring options at the start of March.

Although the T-Wolves remain one of only five teams to have had three different players average 18 or more points while playing in at least 60 games, Russell's scoring has dipped significantly from 19.4 at the end of February to 18.0 now.

Having scored just 13.1 points per game in March, Russell saw the largest decrease in the league, while his fall in three-point shots made (3.0 to 1.7) was also the greatest.

The former Warrior has too often struggled for consistency this season, but his four-point performance in the face of intense Celtics defense last weekend was especially alarming.

Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant vented his frustration over perceived dirty play by the Milwaukee Bucks in Thursday's defeat but begrudgingly acknowledged they did an effective job on him.

Durant missed a three-point shot on the buzzer that would have given his Nets the win, but they ultimately went down 120-119 in overtime.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 44 points (14-of-21 shooting) for the Bucks to go with 14 rebounds and six assists, while Jrue Holiday finished with a game-high six steals.

The hotly contested matchup between two teams that played out a seven-game series in last year's playoffs featured a contentious moment late in overtime as Durant was fouled on a three-point attempt by Wesley Matthews, which was reviewed as a potential flagrant.

Speaking to post-game media, Durant made a point of it being the second time in as many games that he feels he was targeted with a dangerous foul.

"We all thought that was reckless, right?" Durant asked the media in attendance.

"I think technically, I have to be in the air and come down on his foot, and that's the flagrant… but as soon as I hit the floor, here he comes running at my leg.

"It wasn't a [basketball play] – I thought it was supposed to be a flagrant. But I didn't make the correct play to get a flagrant, I was supposed to still be in the air while he's underneath me.

"I'm hurting. That's two games in a row where players have walked up underneath me while I'm trying to make a basketball play, so my ankle hurts."

After discussion moved to the game itself, Durant got frustrated when a reporter asked if the reason the Nets lost this game had anything to do with chemistry, a subject often brought up in reference to Durant's close friend Kyrie Irving.

"It was just basketball mistakes – we're not going to play a perfect basketball game," he said.

"It always sucks when you lose, and you tend to think back on the mistakes that you made, but we try to play mistake-free basketball – everyone in this league does.

"Giannis [Antetokounmpo] had eight turnovers, Jrue [Holiday] had six. They had 14 turnovers between their two best players – I'm sure they don't want that either, but that's just the game.

"They hit one more shot than we did. I don't think it's because of a lack of chemistry, or we didn't play hard. It's just one of those games that didn't fall our way at the end."

Durant then paid some respect to the reigning champions and gave some details about the way the Bucks defended against him.

"They did a good job – they know [who I am], they know what it is," he said.

"If I get the ball out top, I'm seeing the whole team looking at me. Kyrie got the same treatment.

"Brook Lopez, he's played against me in the playoffs before. This team knows how to prepare for me.

"If I get a drive, if I get a lane, I'm hearing guys coming over to help, and they're calling for more help. It's only going to make me better as a player to see those looks.

"We shot the ball pretty well [as a team] – I think that's because we were making the right plays."

When asked if his sore ankle could force him to miss any games, Durant said no chance.

"No, I'm good," he said. "It's a little sore, you know how it goes."

Giannis Antetokounmpo saved some veiled censure for James Harden, as he surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the Milwaukee Bucks' all-time leading scorer on Thursday.

With 44 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to a big 120-119 overtime win against Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets.

Drilling a step-back three to tie the game at the end of regulation, the 27-year-old broke the Bucks franchise record in the process.

Responding to prior criticism from James Harden that he only "runs and dunks" as a consequence of his height and mobility, the Greek forward was evidently pleased to have broken the record with elite skill on the step-back triple.

"I did not know about it, but it's good," he said post-game. "It's good because I'm changing the narrative. You know, I don't want to be the guy that only dunks and runs. I can make a three," Antetokounmpo said.

For the two-time MVP, his priorities remain based in team success.

"It doesn't really matter, because at the end of the day, if you don't have a successful season and if you don't try to keep getting better, and staying humble, and staying hungry to play all the way until May and June, nobody is going to remember this," Antetokounmpo added.

"So I just want to stay humble, I want us to stay humble. I feel like the more humble I get, and the more hungry I stay, the more things I can accomplish, the more art I can create... I just gotta keep staying humble, make my teammates great, win games, and good things like tonight are going to happen."

After a hard-fought seven-game series in last year's NBA playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets added another chapter to their recent rivalry with an overtime thriller.

The Bucks ended up coming out on top 120-119 thanks to a mammoth performance from two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, finishing with 44 points on 14-of-21 shooting to go with 14 rebounds and six assists.

It was not just the raw numbers for Antetokounmpo, but the situations where he delivered, hitting a crucial step-back three to tie the game at 110-110 with less than 20 seconds remaining in regulation.

Down 118-119 with three seconds left in overtime, Antetokounmpo was fouled, and connected on both free throws to give the Bucks the lead and the win.

Jrue Holiday was crucial for the reigning champions, claiming six steals to go with his 19 points (six-of-18 shooting), eight rebounds and four assists.

Kevin Durant was terrific for the Nets, scoring 26 points on 10-of-21 from the field (three-of-six from long range) and also dishing out 11 assists, while Kyrie Irving chipped in with 25 points (nine-of-22 from the field) with five assists.


DeRozan's 50-piece leads comeback

The Chicago Bulls came back from an 11-point deficit with 4:58 remaining in regulation to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 135-130 in overtime.

After DeMar DeRozan hit three free throws in the final five seconds to tie the game and force overtime, the Clippers were forced to contest the extra period without star Paul George, who had hit his minutes restriction as he returns from a long-term elbow injury.

DeRozan went on to score 50 points on 17-of-26 shooting, while highly-regarded second-year forward Patrick Williams caught the eye coming off the bench, scoring 10 points without missing a shot while adding 12 rebounds and two blocks.

Cunningham shows class

Number one pick from this year's rookie class, Cade Cunningham, showed why he is viewed as a future star in this league as he led his Detroit Pistons to a 102-94 upset against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Cunningham was Detroit's best player, finishing with 27 points (12-of-20 shooting) to go with six assists and four steals and the Pistons out-scored the 76ers 29-15 in the final frame.

Joel Embiid was not to blame for the 76ers struggles, scoring 37 points on 11-of-19 shooting with 15 rebounds.

Manu Ginobili will become a first-ballot inductee to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, according to The Athletic.

Ginobili, who retired following the 2017-18 season, spent his entire 16-season NBA career with the San Antonio Spurs, winning championships in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014.

While he was a regular starter through his first few seasons with the Spurs – starting all 74 of his appearances during their 2005 championship season – Ginobili thrived in the 'sixth man' role after his third title.

In the highest scoring season of his career, Ginobili won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award and was named to the All-NBA Third Team in 2008, averaging 19.5 points per game while primarily coming off the bench. 

He was also twice named an All-Star, in 2005, and in 2011, when he returned to the starting line-up for one season.

After 2011, Ginobili started just 10 of the 424 games he would play over the next seven seasons, but remained an all-important piece of the historic Spurs team to conquer LeBron James' Miami Heat in 2014.

As well as his NBA achievements, the Argentinian also collected a EuroLeague championship and EuroLeague Finals MVP in 2001 playing for Italian side Virtus Bologna, before eventually heading to the States.

He was also the best player on Argentina's 2004 Olympic team, which is the only team other than the United States to win Olympic gold since 1988.

Ginobili's jersey number has been retired by both the Spurs and the Argentine national team.

Luka Doncic was hoping to "put on a show" and did not disappoint as he helped the Dallas Mavericks seal a playoff spot with a 120-112 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Doncic put 35 points on the board as well as recording 13 assists and nine rebounds, narrowly missing out on a spectacular triple-double.

Dorian Finney-Smith also benefited greatly from the Slovenian star's performance, claiming 28 points of his own.

There were a number of Slovenian fans in attendance at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, which Doncic claimed inspired his efforts in Cleveland on Wednesday.

"When all the people come to see you, you want to put on a show," he said after the win.

The Mavericks trailed 67-61 at half-time but scored 17 more points than the Cavaliers in the third quarter to put themselves in a strong position.

Caris LeVert (32 points) and Darius Garland (25 points) impressed for the hosts, but Doncic's domination secured the crucial win for Dallas, who move to 48-29 while Cleveland drop to 42-34.

Doncic has an average of 28.1 points per game this season, with only LeBron James (30.1), Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid (both 29.9) averaging a higher figure than that in the league, and he has scored more than 30 in each of his last three outings.

Mavericks coach Jason Kidd noted the presence of the Slovenian fans, and praised the 23-year-old Doncic for his impact.

"We talked about there being a large Slovenian contingent in Cleveland on the plane," Kidd said. "He wanted to put on a good show and came to work. He comes to work every night.

"He knew when to pass the ball and when to attack. Luka will have two [guys] on the ball and he trusts his team-mates to make plays."

In what could be a Western Conference Finals preview, the Phoenix Suns came up big on the road with a 107-103 win over the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday.

Between first and third in the West, there was a playoff atmosphere from the opening tip, and momentum swings throughout culminated with six lead changes in the final quarter.

Without the injured Stephen Curry, Jordan Poole put up 38 points on 11-of-21 shooting, but it was not enough as the Suns executed in the big moments.

Draymond Green tied the game with 2:21 remaining, converting a critical and-one after finishing through the contact from Jae Crowder.

The Warriors came up big defensively once again while in the bonus down the stretch, forcing a miss and foul from Devin Booker from the ensuing scramble for the rebound. Jordan Poole converted both from the line for a 101-100 lead with 39.8 seconds remaining.

Ultimately, Chris Paul managed to penetrate and collapse the defence in timely moments, adding eight assists to his 15 points, and all six of his field goals coming inside the arc.

Grizz secure second in the West

Meanwhile in the West, the Memphis Grizzlies secured the second seed on Wednesday, with a 112-11 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.

With Ja Morant still watching on from the sidelines due to knee injury, Tyus Jones put up 25 points, while adding six assists and five rebounds.

While the Grizz clinched the second seed, the end to a four-game winning streak saw San Antonio fall half a game behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the West's last play-in spot.

Heat fire up in Boston

The Miami Heat defeated on of their chief rivals for the Eastern Conference top seed, coming out with a big 106-98 road win over the Boston Celtics.

Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry combined for 47 points, while Bam Adebayo finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds to break a season-worst four-game losing streak.

Boston had their chance late trailing 102-98 but Jayson Tatum was called for an offensive foul and Marcus Smart was ejected in the fallout.

Paul George called on the inspiration of his "idol" Kobe Bryant after returning from injury to score 34 points as the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Utah Jazz at the Crypto.com Arena.

George had not played since a win at the Sacramento Kings just before Christmas, missing the last 43 games, but he became the first player in NBA history to score over 30 points on his return to action after having missed his team's previous 30 or more games.

The 31-year-old had suffered a torn ligament in his right elbow, but showed no signs of rustiness as he top-scored for the Clippers in the 121-115 win on Tuesday.

After the game, George credited the late Bryant, who experienced numerous injury layoffs during a highly-decorated career.

"Just having an idol like Kobe Bryant," George said. "He played through stuff like this and I always hold myself to a high standard.

"At the end of the day, when I'm finished I want to look at my career, say I gave everything I had. I wanted to help my guys.

"I didn't want to leave them out here hanging for the rest of the season. I felt good. So you know, it was alright to come back.

"I feel good. There's no pain."

Clippers assistant coach Brian Shaw was involved in George's rehab, giving him running drills that the player acknowledged helped his recovery and prepared him for his return.

"Unnecessary running, but it paid off," a smiling George said. "I trusted him. I've got to shout out to the get ready crew, I've got to shout out those guys for getting me ready to play. They battled. They tested me in practices. And it prepared me for this."

George sank six of his nine three-point attempts against the Jazz, as well as managing six assists and two rebounds.

Head coach Tyronn Lue was understandably pleased to see his star man back on the court, saying post-game: "I was like, 'OK, he's good, he's ready.'

"It's a big morale boost to have him back. Guys were getting worn down and tired. We needed that."

Kevin Durant was satisfied with his night's work after recording 41 points as the Brooklyn Nets eventually overcame a spirited Detroit Pistons on Tuesday at Barclays Center.

The Nets moved to 40-36 following the win, and sit in eight place in the Eastern Conference, while the Pistons have the joint-worst record in the east (20-56, along with the Orlando Magic).

Kyrie Irving added 24 in only his second home appearance of the season following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions on unvaccinated athletes in New York.

Durant was the star of the show, though, also managing 11 rebounds and five assists, while sinking four of six attempts from beyond the arc.

"I want to get better shots sometimes, but like a couple of them are like, 'I'm hot, let me risk it,'" Durant said after the win.

"I was just trying to get the best shots that I can. Sometimes it might be over a guy in the lane, but I feel like that’s open and I have to keep knocking them down."

The Nets had been 12 points behind at one point, but were able to turn things around to eventually secure victory, and Durant was quick to praise Detroit despite their undesirable record. 

"I know their record isn’t good, but they still have pros over there," he added. "They still made shots early and gained confidence as a team. This was a good test for us."

Andre Drummond put up 14 points and 13 rebounds, and expressed his belief that Brooklyn will need to be better against stronger opponents, with the playoffs not far away and the Nets hoping to sneak in.

"We can't hang our hat on the second half, we have to play a complete game," Drummond said.

"It's never going to be easy to make that turn against great teams. Not that the Pistons aren't a great team. They played a great game, but we just turned it up in the second half."

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