Kevin Durant says the Brooklyn Nets are just going to keep building after their big three played together for the first time since February 13 in Saturday's 105-91 win over the Chicago Bulls.

Durant along with Kyrie Irving and James Harden finally hit the court together following a series of injuries, with the NBA playoffs around the corner.

It was only the eighth time the trio have played together since Harden joined the team in January, with Brooklyn improving to a 6-2 record with all three in the side.

Prior to Saturday's game, Durant, Irving and Harden had only played 186 minutes together and while there was some rustiness, they all contributed.

Durant had 12 points, nine rebounds and six assists, while Irving added 22 points with Harden managing only five points, five rebounds and seven assists.

"It's been a long season full of ups and down when it comes to lineups, and having all our guys on the same page," Durant said post-game.

"It's good to get everybody healthy, it's good to get some minutes with everybody. We're going to keep building from here."

Nets coach Steve Nash added that cohesion among the trio would take time but he was happy with a step forward.

"It's not like 'what do I expect?' They've just got to be out there and feel each other, play together, and hopefully that little bit of time today will help move that process forward more quickly than not having that time today," Nash said.

"It wasn't a great game, we weren't very sharp, but we got the job done and we move on to tomorrow, one last game. We can hopefully have a good performance and be ready for the nice week of practice."

The 47-24 Nets, who are destined for the second spot in the East pending the Milwaukee Bucks' final two results, take on the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday in their final game ahead of the playoffs.

"Yeah we'll consider it," Nash said, when asked if he will play the big three again.

"It's just a matter of how they come through, how do they feel in the morning and are they available. But if we need that win tomorrow, we're not averse to those guys playing again tomorrow as well."

Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving are set to play together against the Chicago Bulls, according to Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash.

The Nets built a 'Big Three' in 2020-21 after Harden arrived from the Houston Rockets in a blockbuster trade in January, but the trio have only played seven games together this season.

Injuries have hampered the star-studded Nets, with former MVP Harden only returning from a hamstring strain on Wednesday following an 18-game absence.

Not since February have Durant, Harden and Irving shared the court together but that is expected to change on Saturday.

"If everything stays the same," Nash told reporters following Friday's practice, with Brooklyn (46-24) preparing for the final two regular-season games of the season ahead of the playoffs. "Those three will play tomorrow."

Durant, Harden and Irving won five of the seven games they played together between January 20 and February 13.

The Nets – looking to lock up the second seed in the Eastern Conference in pursuit of a maiden NBA championship – have outscored their opponents by 39 points in the trio's 186 minutes together.

"I just expect them to play hard, play together, and experience some moments together on the floor," said Nash. "It's been few and far between.

"I don't necessarily have any expectations other than it gives us an opportunity to jell and play together and feel what it's like to be out there again."

Durant is averaging 27.5 points – his highest number since 2015-16 – 7.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game this season, while he boasts career highs in field-goal percentage (54.2) and three-point percentage (45.9).

Harden is averaging 25.1 points, 10.9 assists and a career-high 8.0 rebounds, while Irving has been averaging 27.2 points, 6.2 assists and 4.8 rebounds in 2020-21.

Nets team-mate Jeff Green added: "I'm just happy they are on the floor. We're getting to finally try to create a rhythm with all guys healthy. We'll see what happens from there.

"We have a long week to prepare for whomever we play. For those guys, it will be good. For us, it will be good to get a look and see where we are at when everybody is healthy."

The Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks both secured spots in the NBA's postseason on Wednesday.

Trae Young fuelled the rallying Hawks to a 120-116 win over Russell Westbrook's Washington Wizards midweek.

Young posted 33 points and John Collins hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 24.4 seconds remaining as the Hawks (39-31) – fourth in the Eastern Conference – clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2017.

The Knicks (38-31), who are sixth in the east, were not in action but they still reached the playoffs thanks to some help from elsewhere.

For the first time since 2012-13, playoff basketball will return to Madison Square Garden after the Boston Celtics were upstaged 102-94 by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Celtics (35-35) were consigned to a play-in berth following a fourth straight defeat.

The play-in tournament will include teams with the seventh through to the 10th-highest winning percentages in each conference, taking place between May 18-21, in pursuit of the playoffs.

 

Westbrook joins exclusive club

After making history for the most triple-doubles in the NBA on Tuesday, Westbrook was at it again. The Wizards star scored 34 points and dished out 15 assists. He has recorded 15-plus assists in six consecutive games. Westbrook is the fifth player in league history to record 15-plus assists in six or more straight games, joining John Stockton, Isaiah Thomas, Magic Johnson and Kevin Porter.

James Harden returned from an 18-game absence to help the Brooklyn Nets beat the San Antonio Spurs 128-116. Back following a hamstring strain, Harden put up 18 points and 11 assists off the bench in Brooklyn.

Double-doubles from Talen Horton-Tucker (23 points and 10 assists), Andre Drummond (20 points and 10 rebounds) and Kyle Kuzma (19 points and 10 rebounds) helped defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers outlast the lowly Houston Rockets 124-122. The result ensured the Lakers – playing without LeBron James and Anthony Davis – stayed within a game of sixth place in the Western Conference.

Luka Doncic's 33 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in a near-triple-double display inspired the Dallas Mavericks to a 125-107 win at home to the New Orleans Pelicans, staying sixth in the west.

The usual suspects – Damian Lillard (30 points), CJ McCollum (26 points) and Jusuf Nurkic (11 points and 15 rebounds) – starred as the Portland Trail Blazers upstaged the NBA-leading Utah Jazz 105-98.

 

Jazz lose again

The NBA-leading Jazz suffered another defeat. Usually efficient from three-point range, Utah were just 30 per cent from beyond the arc, making 12 of 40 shots. Bojan Bogdanovic missed all five of his attempts, while he was five-for-14 shooting throughout the clash.

The Pelicans were eliminated from playoff contention after going down to the Mavs.

Durant had 14 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Nets but he was far from his best. The former MVP was four-for-10 shooting in 29 minutes, missing all four of his three-point shots.

 

Kuzma comes up big

With the Lakers trailing 122-121, Kuzma drove to the rim and made the game-winning shot 6.9 seconds from the end in Los Angeles, where the franchise unveiled their 2020 championship banner.

 

Wednesday's results

Los Angeles Lakers 124-122 Houston Rockets
Atlanta Hawks 120-116 Washington Wizards
Brooklyn Nets 128-116 San Antonio Spurs
Cleveland Cavaliers 102-94 Boston Celtics
Dallas Mavericks 125-107 New Orleans Pelicans
Portland Trail Blazers 105-98 Utah Jazz

 

76ers at Heat

Eastern Conference leaders the Philadelphia 76ers (47-22) can clinch the number one seed with victory at the Miami Heat (38-31) on Thursday.

Brooklyn Nets superstar James Harden was left unsurprised by how quickly he adjusted on his return to the NBA, saying "not to brag or anything, but I'm really good at this game".

Harden made his long-awaited comeback from a hamstring injury that sidelined him since April 5, the former MVP posting a double-double as the Nets beat the San Antonio Spurs 128-116 on Wednesday.

Coming off the bench, Harden finished with 18 points on two-for-eight shooting, 11 assists, two steals and two blocks in 26 minutes against the Spurs midweek.

"Not really," Harden replied when asked whether he was surprised by his performance. "Not to brag or anything, but I'm really good at this game. I study the game, I'm very unselfish.

"I take the game and I play it the right way every single night. I don't try to do anything I can't do or anything that doesn't benefit our team. That mindset keeps me in a really good place."

Harden returned from the longest injury lay-off of his stellar career, having missed 18 games for the star-studded Nets, who are eyeing their maiden NBA championship.

It was the first time Harden came off the bench in an NBA game since the 2011-12 season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, winning the Six Man of the Year Award that campaign.

"That sixth man role, I've mastered that as well. You know, I've got an award for that role. That role is easy, coming out and impacting the game. Doing whatever it takes to win -- whether its offensively or defensively," Harden said as the Nets moved to 46-24 for the season to remain second behind the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference.

"But that's my role no matter what. Especially on this team -- not necessarily scoring all the time when I don't need to. Communicating, being the leader on the floor, making sure guys are in their right positions defensively. And these last few games, we've been better."

After the Nets improved to 28-7 when Harden plays, the nine-time All-Star said: "I know I can score the basketball, but I take pride in getting guys involved and letting guys be involved in the offense. That way, defensively, they'll all be locked in and it's a lot easier.

"I want everybody to get their shots whether they're close to the rim or three-point shots or whatever the case may be, or just get an opportunity to get a shot. That's something I've been doing throughout the course of my career, especially when I was in Houston. Obviously, Kevin [Durant] and Ky [Kyrie Irving] get their shots however they want. But my job is to get everybody else on this roster easy opportunities.

"When I was sitting out, I had multiple conversations with Steve [Nash] on our offense and kind of putting myself in position to be successful and that means getting guys better shots. It's something that we still continue to work on and these next two days that we have between games and the week after our last regular-season game is very vital to our success in the sense of offensively and defensively getting on the same page."

Brooklyn Nets superstar James Harden will make his long-awaited return against the San Antonio Spurs, the NBA franchise announced.

Harden has not played since April 5 due to a hamstring injury, though the former MVP had been "very confident" that he would return before the playoffs.

After missing more than a month of action, Harden will suit up to face the Spurs at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Wednesday.

The Nets, however, will not be with their 'big three' after star Kyrie Irving was ruled out with a facial contusion.

Harden – who arrived from the Houston Rockets in a blockbuster trade in January – is averaging 25.2 points, 10.9 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game this season.

Harden's assists per game – second only to Washington Wizards star Russell Westbrook (11.6) in 2020-21 – is his best mark since averaging 11.2 in 2015-16, while he only averaged more rebounds in 2016-17 (8.1).

The star-studded Nets (45-24) – eyeing their maiden championship – are second in the Eastern Conference, two games behind the Philadelphia 76ers (47-22) following back-to-back victories.

The Los Angeles Lakers kept alive their aspirations to avoid the Play-In Tournament with a 101-91 over-time victory over the New York Knicks on Tuesday.

With LeBron James still absent with an ankle problem, the Lakers were pushed all the way by the in-form Knicks who had the chance to win the match in normal time when Julius Randle missed a good two-point look on the buzzer.

With James and Dennis Schroder unavailable and Alex Caruso exiting early with foot soreness, Talen Horton-Tucker played a key role with 13 points and 10 assists, including a vital over-time three-pointer after a costly turnover moments earlier.

In a team effort, Anthony Davis finished with 20 points, four assists and six rebounds, Andre Drummond had 16 points and 18 rebounds and Kyle Kuzma added 23 points off the bench.

The win improves the Lakers to 39-30, holding seventh spot in the Western Conference, behind the Dallas Mavericks (40-29) who lost to the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday.

Ja Morant (24 points) won the battle against Luka Doncic in a game where the Mavericks could have ensured they would avoid the Play-In Tournament.

 

76ers miss chance and miss Embiid

The Philadelphia 76ers missed the chance to seal top seeding in the East with a 103-94 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

Pacers center Domantas Sabonis had a busy night with 16 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists.

Joel Embiid missed for the 76ers with illness with Tobias Harris scoring 27 points in his absence as Philadelphia leave the door open at 47-22.

The 76ers are 8-11 without Embiid this season, while they are 38-11 with him in the side.

The Brooklyn Nets put together back-to-back wins to keep the pressure on the 76ers, triumphing 115-107 over the Chicago Bulls.

There was an injury scare for the Nets with Kyrie Irivng leaving the game with a facial contusion and undergoing testing for a possible concussion after a stray elbow from Nikola Vucevic early in the third.

Kevin Durant top scored for the Nets with 21 points and Bruce Brown Jr had 15 points to half-time and finished with 10 rebounds too, while Zach LaVine had a game-high 41 points for the Bulls.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 27 points, had 12 rebounds and five assists in the Milwaukee Bucks'  114-102 win over the Orlando Magic to improve their record to 43-25.

Stephen Curry was not his usual self, kept to only four points until half-time in the Golden State Warriors' 122-116 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

Curry finished with 21, while Andrew Wiggins had 38 points and Draymond Green got a triple-double as the Warriors stay in the hunt at 37-33 and eighth in the West.

The Miami Heat clinched a top six berth with a 129-121 win over the Boston Celtics with Tyler Herro starring off the bench with 24 points and 11 rebounds.

 

Thunder come crashing down

Oklahoma City Thunder have fallen away drastically this season and their 122-106 ot the Sacramento Kings made it eight consecutive defeats for Mark Daigneault's side. They have won once in their past 23, having been 20-26 at one point.

 

Jokic's defense splitting assist

Prime MVP candidate Nikola Jokic showcased his all-rounder game with an unbelievable pass for Austin Rivers in the Denver Nuggets' 117-112 win over the Charlotte Hornets. Jokic finished with six assists, along with 30 points and 11 rebounds.

 

Tuesday's results

Denver Nuggets 117-112 Charlotte Hornets
Minnesota Timberwolves 119-100 Detroit Pistons
Los Angeles Clippers 115-96 Toronto Raptors
Miami Heat 129-121 Boston Celtics
Memphis Grizzlies 133-104 Dallas Mavericks
Indiana Pacers 103-94 Philadelphia 76ers
Brooklyn Nets 115-107 Chicago Bulls
Milwaukee Bucks 114-102 Orlando Magic
Golden State Warriors 122-116 Phoenix Suns
Los Angeles Lakers 101-99 (OT) New York Knicks
Sacramento Kings 122-106 Oklahoma City Thunder

 

Spurs at Nets

The San Antonio Spurs are looking to seal their Play-In Tournament position while the Brooklyn Nets are out to reinforce their top two seeding.

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving appears to have been cleared of a concussion after being forced out of Tuesday's 115-107 win over the Chicago Bulls.

Irving went down on the back court after being collected accidentally by a stray elbow from Bulls center Nikola Vucevic.

The 29-year-old, who had played 21 minutes with 13 points, three rebounds and five assists to that point, did not return to the game.

Irving's issue would be an additional concern for Brooklyn with James Harden already sidelined with a hamstring injury, although he is close to a return.

The Nets guard suffered a facial contusion and underwent concussion tests but Nets coach Steve Nash revealed it looked like he was in the clear.

"No signs of a concussion," Nash said post-game. "He had an x-ray which was inconclusive so we’ll really just have to look again in the morning.

"Probably be rescanned and all that when we get home and we’ll take it from there."

Kevin Durant played a key role for the Nets with 21 points as they improved their record to 45-24, firming up second spot in the East, ahead of the playoffs.

Durant added about Irving: "I thought he would be alright. I know those - he mixes it up a lot with the big fellas - so he might catch an elbow here and there.

"Kyrie, he plays with such toughness and competitiveness, I knew he'd get up, but I knew he took a nice one, a nice elbow to the face.

"Hopefully he gets checked out tomorrow, sees everything is alright and we move forward."

The Nets are due to play the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.

The NBA is nearing the end of its regular season.

Soon the fight for playoff positioning will give way to the drama of the play-in round and the subsequent seven-game series that will decide the destination of the title.

In other words, it is time for the league's elite to find their best.

While several of those stars are hitting form at exactly the right time, there are others enduring worrying declines ahead of the postseason.

Here we examine the performances of those excelling going into the playoffs, and those who need to turn it around in this week's edition of Heat Check.

RUNNING HOT

Kyrie Irving - Brooklyn Nets

Irving went into last week having failed to score 30 points in three straight appearances, but he was back to his best over the past seven days.

Having previously averaged 26.7 points for the season, Irving put up 38 points per game across three outings last week, with a 45-point display against the Dallas Mavericks sandwiched by a 38-point effort in defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks and a 31-point showing versus the Denver Nuggets.

Only the game with the Nuggets ended in victory, but the Nets will be encouraged by Irving's form with the playoffs approaching. He was excellent from beyond the arc, hitting 5.67 threes per game having entered the week averaging 2.63.

Irving converted 17 of his 32 three-point attempts last week, a percentage of 53.1 that ranks 10th among players to have attempted at least 20 last week.

Russell Westbrook - Washington Wizards

Westbrook made history on Saturday as he tied Oscar Robertson's record for triple-doubles with the 181st of his career against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.

The way in which his athleticism has translated to success on the boards has been key to Westbrook's successful pursuit of Hall of Famer Robertson.

And his rebounding was nothing short of incredible over the past seven days. Having entered the week averaging 11.16 rebounds, Westbrook racked up 17.25 per game across his last three games, culminating with 19 in his record-equalling display in an overtime win over Indiana.

He'll hope for more success on the glass against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday to take him past Robertson.

Stephen Curry - Golden State Warriors

The best shooter in the game had another stunning week from beyond the arc as he continues to fuel the Warriors' push towards the playoffs.

Curry's 5.2 made threes per game was already the gold standard in the NBA this season but he was even more devastating from deep in four games last week.

Indeed, Curry averaged 8.25 threes per game, with that jump fuelled largely by him hitting 11 on Saturday as he scored 49 points in 29 minutes against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

As long as he continues his excellent form, the Warriors should have a great chance of coming through the play-in round and making it to the postseason.

GOING COLD...

Andre Drummond - Los Angeles Lakers

It was a rough week for Lakers big Drummond, who endured the largest drop-off in the NBA in both points and rebounds per game.

Drummond entered last week putting up 15.89 points per game but saw his average over four games dip to 5.75.

He failed to score double-digit points in any of those outings and was similarly ineffective on the boards.

His rebounds per game dipped from 12.37 to 6.25, Drummond having started the week by failing to record a single rebound in a game for only the third time in his career in a win over the Nuggets.

Luka Doncic - Dallas Mavericks

It is pleasing for the Mavs that they can win without Doncic delivering his best every night, as they did not get it last week.

Doncic was far from terrible, as he topped 20 points in three of his four outings, but he saw his points per game average drop from 28.64 entering the week to 21.50 in those appearances.

The Mavs won each of those contests, with Doncic contributing double-doubles in two, though he had an underwhelming 15-point game to end the week against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

So, while he may be 'going cold' relative to his usual standard in scoring, Doncic is finding ways to help Dallas build momentum ahead of the playoffs.

Kawhi Leonard - Los Angeles Clippers

Leonard has been bothered by injury issues in recent weeks, with his best form eluding the two-time NBA Finals MVP.

For the season, Leonard was averaging 25.51 points per game going into the last week, but could only manage to put up 19 over the course of three games in the past seven days.

And that average was inflated by a 29-point effort in the Clippers' loss to the New York Knicks on Sunday.

Prior to that return to something like normal service, Leonard had failed to score 20 points in each of his last four games.

Even his effort against the Knicks came on an inefficient shooting performance where he went nine for 26, indicating Leonard is some way off the standard he will need for the Clippers to contend in the playoffs.

The red-hot Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to eight games after topping the Detroit Pistons 118-104, while Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets snapped their skid.

MVP hopeful Joel Embiid posted 29 points for the 76ers, who took another step towards clinching the Eastern Conference and top seed ahead of the NBA playoffs on Saturday.

In the absence of Ben Simmons and Seth Curry, rookie Tyrese Maxey added 22 points and Dwight Howard (19 points and 14 rebounds) moved up to 10th on the all-time double-doubles list with his 743rd.

The 76ers improved to 47-21 for the season and moved three games clear of the Nets (44-24), who returned to winning ways by upstaging the Denver Nuggets 125-119.

Kevin Durant was nine-for-14 shooting for 33 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and two blocks as the rallying Nets ended their four-game losing streak to reclaim second spot ahead of the idle Milwaukee Bucks.

Nets team-mate Kyrie Irving added 31 points of his own, while MVP candidate and Nuggets star Nikola Jokic put up 29 points, seven rebounds and six assists at home.

 

Westbrook matches Hall of Famer

Washington Wizards star Russell Westbrook equalled Oscar Robertson's record after posting his 181st career triple-double. Westbrook moved level with the Hall of Famer thanks to his 33 points, 19 rebounds and 15 assists in a 133-132 overtime win against the Indiana Pacers. The former MVP became the first player in NBA history to record back-to-back games with 15-plus rebounds and 15-plus assists. Team-mate Bradley Beal had 50 points before a hamstring injury forced him to sit out OT. A Domantas Sabonis triple-double (30 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists) and Caris LeVert's double-double of 35 points and 14 rebounds were not enough for the Pacers.

The NBA-leading Utah Jazz reached 50 victories for the season behind Georges Niang's joint-career high 24 points in a 124-116 win at home to the lowly Houston Rockets.

Damian Lillard's game-high 30 points fuelled the Portland Trail Blazers' 124-102 victory against the San Antonio Spurs.

Jonas Valanciunas dominated with his 47th double-double of the season – 18 points and 21 rebounds – in the Memphis Grizzlies' 109-99 triumph over the Toronto Raptors.

 

Ellington struggles in Philly

Pistons veteran Wayne Ellington was one-for-seven shooting, while making just one of his six three-pointers for three points in 24 minutes.

 

The three-point king!

Stephen Curry put on a show in three quarters of action as the Golden State Warriors crushed the Oklahoma City Thunder 136-97. Curry posted 49 points in 29 minutes, matching his season best with 11 three-pointers, including a deep attempt from beyond the arc in the third period. Curry had his 10th 40-point game of the season and 48th of his career. His performance also marked the fourth time he has posted multiple 20-point quarters in the same game, and the first time since 2018.

 

 

Saturday's results

Washington Wizards 133-132 Indiana Pacers (OT)
Philadelphia 76ers 118-104 Detroit Pistons
Memphis Grizzlies 109-99 Toronto Raptors
Utah Jazz 124-116 Houston Rockets
Golden State Warriors 136-97 Oklahoma City Thunder
Portland Trail Blazers 124-102 San Antonio Spurs
Brooklyn Nets 125-119 Denver Nuggets

 

Suns at Lakers

The high-flying Phoenix Suns (48-19) will be looking to sizzle against struggling defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers (37-30) on Sunday. The Suns are second in the west, while the Lakers are seventh and on track to feature in the play-in tournament.

Russell Westbrook took another giant step towards an NBA record after teaming up with Bradley Beal to help the Washington Wizards push the Toronto Raptors to the verge of elimination from a spot the NBA play-in tournament with a 131-129 win in overtime. 

Westbrook posted 13 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists for his 180th career triple-double, leaving him one shy of equalling Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson's all-time record on Thursday.

Former MVP Westbrook because the first player with three consecutive 17-plus assist games since Steve Nash in 2007.

Wizards star Beal scored half of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and overtime as Washington outlasted Toronto.

Raul Neto added a career-high 25 points and Robin Lopez had a season-best 24 for the Wizards (31-36), who hold a four-game lead over the Raptors (27-40) for the final play-in spot with five games remaining for both teams. 

Pascal Siakam matched his career best with 44 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists but missed a three-point attempt at the buzzer in overtime that would have won it for Toronto. 

Siakam joined Kawhi Leonard and Vince Carter as the only players with a 40-point, 10-rebound and five-assist game in franchise history.

Fred VanVleet sent the game to OT by hitting a shot from beyond the arc with 1.3 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. He finished with 22 and Gary Trent Jr. contributed 25 for Toronto.

 

Mavs withstand big night from Kyrie

Luka Doncic finished with 24 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. had 23 of his own as the Dallas Mavericks downed the slumping Brooklyn Nets 113-109, despite 45 points from Kyrie Irving. 

The Indiana Pacers inched closer to securing a spot in the play-in tournament with a 133-126 win over the Atlanta Hawks as Caris LeVert led the way with 31 points and Domantas Sabonis added 30 on 12-for-14 shooting from the field. Trae Young's double-double of 30 points and 10 assists was not enough for the Hawks. 

Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors rolled to a 118-87 victory at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder (21-46). Curry scored 34 points. The two-time MVP has now scored at least 30 points 18 times in his last 20 games (35th time this season).

Paul George had 24 points as the Los Angeles Clippers (45-22) beat cross-town rivals and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers 118-94. 

 

LaMelo off target against Bulls

A day after his primary competitor for NBA Rookie of the Year, Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves, dropped 42 points, LaMelo Ball made only one of 10 shots from the field and scored just four points in the Charlotte Hornets' 120-99 loss to the Chicago Bulls. Ball had reached double digits in his previous three games after returning from a wrist injury. 

 

Caldwell-Pope strong to the hoop

Lakers fans did not have much to celebrate in Thursday's blowout loss to the Clippers, but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope did provide one highlight with this slam in Ivica Zubac's face.

 

Thursday's results

Chicago Bulls 120-99 Charlotte Hornets
Dallas Mavericks 113-109 Brooklyn Nets
Washington Wizards 131-129 Toronto Raptors (OT)
Detroit Pistons 111-97 Memphis Grizzlies 
Indiana Pacers 133-126 Atlanta Hawks
Golden State Warriors 118-97 Oklahoma City Thunder
Los Angeles Clippers 118-94 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Pelicans at 76ers

Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans (30-36) are just outside the cut for the play-in tournament and will face imposing opposition on Friday as they attempt to gain ground in the form of the Philadelphia 76ers (45-21), winners of six in a row. 

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said the return of superstar James Harden will "change everything" after the NBA championship hopefuls slumped to a fourth consecutive defeat.

The star-studded Nets – playing without former MVP Harden again due to a hamstring injury – fell to the Dallas Mavericks 113-109 on Thursday.

A game-high 45 points from Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant's 20 points were not enough for the Nets, who are two and a half games behind the Philadelphia 76ers in the race of the Eastern Conference top seed ahead of the playoffs.

Harden has not played since April 5 but is "very confident" he will return to action before the postseason gets underway.

Reflecting on the result, Nash – whose Nets are eyeing their maiden title – told reporters: "We're just trying to get better every day. We can't really control the injuries. We're getting healthy bodies back, we've got the most guys I think we've had all year right now that are available; so that's positive. Trying to figure out some rotations and combinations.

"Obviously, James comes back at some point and changes everything again. But we're trying to just get better. We're trying to get more familiar with what we're trying to do, trying to get better at our principles and get a better understanding between one another.

"As I said, a lot of these teams have been in the last two, three, four years in a row. We're just getting to know each other; a lot of our guys have missed a lot of season. So trying to gain that understanding, that continuity is what we're after right now. We're going through a tough stretch, we're not playing really well, we're not playing really sharp. We were right in it today, we had our chances for sure; we've had our chances in the last three games.

"So what is it that can get us over the hump? I think the first thing is for us to continue to stay strong mentally, to pick each other up, to realise we got a lot of work to do. We keep working, we don't let this take the wind out of our sails and we'll improve and get better."

While Irving starred, Durant was below his best against the Mavericks as he finished seven-for-21 shooting, having missed all four of his three-point attempts on the road.

"Kevin didn't have a great rhythm tonight, especially in the second half. He normally can get to his spots and convert. He just wasn't in a great rhythm. Some nights it's just going to happen," said Nash.

"We're all going to have poor shooting performances or nights where we don't quite have a rhythm. And then the defense, we made some mistakes. I thought the third-quarter defense was really good. In the fourth quarter, we made a few mistakes and they made a few plays, but I think there's a lot to build on. We can look at the tape, continue to build, continue to grow."

Durant added: "It's trust my work and most of the times a mentality switch on what I need to do to be more effective and more efficient. Tonight I tried shots that I shouldn't have tried. I shot over a double-team in the fourth quarter. I shot a runner going to the left, just trying to get into the game scoring-wise, and sometimes that pushes me out of the game when I try those tough ones, but it's all a learning experience.

"I'm glad it's happening now for us instead of in a couple weeks, and hopefully we build off of this and keep growing, and I hope we feel this pain, I guess, from losing, feeling like we're not where we want to be. I like this position for us, and I think it's gonna make us better as we continue to keep watching film, going through practice, going through shootarounds and then playing in games."

Brooklyn Nets superstar James Harden is "very, very confident" he will return from injury before the NBA playoffs.

Harden has not played since leaving the matchup against the New York Knicks on April 5, with the star-studded Nets slipping two games behind the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference.

Former MVP Harden – who arrived from the Houston Rockets in a blockbuster trade in January – is averaging 25.2 points, 10.9 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game this season.

Harden's assists per game – second only to Washington Wizards star Russell Westbrook (11.3) in 2020-21 – is his best mark since averaging 11.2 in 2015-16, while he only averaged more rebounds in 2016-17 (8.1).

"Very, very confident," Harden told reporters when asked about being ready for the playoffs. "I guess I have to hit the marks in the work I did today. Have a couple of those without any feeling. That's pretty much the mark. I'm very confident I'll be back before the postseason.

"The plan is to hopefully get an opportunity to play a couple games before the postseason. We're just taking one day at a time.

"So far, so good. Today was really good, and we've just got to keep building on that."

"We wanted to be patient," Harden said. "As much as I love to hoop, I want to be out there, but you've got to be smart. And for me, it was just, 'Let's knock this thing out, let's get this thing healthy so we can make a push.'"

Harden added: "At this point in my career, going to postseasons basically since I've been in Houston, I've been playing heavy minutes, just carrying the load.

"And this was an opportunity for me to keep my body right going into the postseason with a clear mind and a clear body. You've got 16 games to win. That's the ultimate goal. That's the reason why I came to Brooklyn."

The Nets boast Harden, former MVP Kevin Durant and fellow superstar Kyrie Irving but Brooklyn's big three have only played together seven times this season due to injuries and absences.

Brooklyn (43-23) have lost three consecutive games, while they own a 5-5 record in their last 10 games as Steve Nash's Nets eye their maiden championship.

Harden does not believe injuries have damaged the Nets' title charge, saying: "No, no. No. I just... no. We're sitting right now at this point [in the] second spot and we've had so many different line-ups; that right there tells you how great, good, or whatever-you-wanna-call-it this team is.

"The most important thing for us going into the postseason is health. This season has been so condensed — you see a lot of guys are going down because of the amount of games. So I think for us our mindset is, alright, if we can come to the postseason healthy, we are right there and we got a chance.

"Finish these last six games out strong, focus on the things that we need to focus on, the things we can control, and go out there and have fun and we live with the results."

Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets have each been fined $35,000 for violating league rules governing media interview access.

The NBA announced the sanction on Wednesday following Irving's repeated refusal to participate in post-game media availability.

It is not the first time Nets star and 2016 NBA champion Irving has been fined this season.

Irving and the Nets were fined $25,000 each by the NBA in December for violating the league's media access rules.

Brooklyn's Irving paid a high price for attending what reportedly was a family birthday in January.

The NBA imposed a $50,000 fine on Irving, who according to TMZ and widespread reports attended a large family birthday celebration while not wearing a mask – in contravention of the league's coronavirus protocols.

Irving was also forced to sacrifice his salary for the games he missed while quarantining, which reportedly amounted to $816,898.

In 2020-21, Irving has averaged 27.0 points, 6.3 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game, boasting a career-best field-goal percentage of 50.0.

The Nets (43-23) are second in the Eastern Conference, one-and-a-half games behind the Philadelphia 76ers (44-21).

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer praised his star trio Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday after their 124-118 win over the star-studded Brooklyn Nets.

Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday all made key contributions in Milwaukee's second victory against Brooklyn in three days – a result which clinched an NBA playoff spot and kept the Bucks in the hunt for a position among the Eastern Conference's top two.

Two-time reigning MVP and Bucks superstar Antetokounmpo led the way with 36 points and 12 rebounds but Middleton and Holiday played important roles in the 32-24 final quarter as Milwaukee rallied from six points down to prevail.

Middleton starred in the fourth quarter both offensively, to finish with 23 points and seven rebounds for the game, and defensively to limit Kevin Durant's impact.

Holiday, who joined the Bucks from the New Orleans Pelicans in November, had 23 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists, along with a key stop at the end.

"We're still trying to catch the right rhythm and find where all three of those guys are playing," Budenholzer said post-game.

"Maybe it's a stretch of one of them. The familiarity and comfort with each other is growing. It's a good thing for us."

Budenholzer was happy to have an NBA playoff spot secured, but more delighted that his side are playing well down the stretch, having now claimed back-to-back wins over a Nets team widely regarded as title favourites.

He also had special praise for Middleton's job on Durant, who still finished with 32 points.

"I thought he was good," Budenholzer said as the Bucks eye their first championship since 1971. "You've got to just keep coming.

"Great, great scorer, so you've got to make everything hard for him. we threw a lot of bodies at Durant tonight.

"Khris being able to finish a lot of those minutes in the fourth quarter was great work by him.

"What you need in the fourth quarter, is great defense and he stepped up down the other end too.

"But the team around him, it always takes the whole group."

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 36 points with 12 rebounds to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a 124-118 win over the Brooklyn Nets and secure their NBA playoff spot on Tuesday.

Milwaukee's victory moved the Bucks to 41-24, narrowing in on the Nets (43-23), who are second behind the Philadelphia 76ers (44-21) in the Eastern Conference, with the postseason fast approaching.

The triumph was also a tie-breaker win for the Bucks, who also beat the star-studded Nets 117-114 on Sunday too, in a boost in the race for seedings.

Two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo was crucial but Khris Middleton came up big in the final quarter, finishing with 23 points and Jrue Holiday (23 points and 10 assists) made a key stop late in the contest.

Nets star Kyrie Irving had a game-high 38 points, while Kevin Durant added 32 along with nine rebounds and six assists.

 

Clippers finish fast, Suns rise in overtime

The Los Angeles Clippers stormed home after a sluggish start to secure a 105-100 overtime win against the Toronto Raptors. Paul George finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

The high-flying Phoenix Suns produced a 20-4 overtime run to outlast the Cleveland Cavaliers 134-118, helping them return to the top spot in the Western Conference. Devin Booker (31 points), Chris Paul (23 points and 16 assists) and Mikal Bridges (22 points) led the Suns in Cleveland.

Lonzo Ball equalled his career high with 33 points, including a crucial late jumper to keep the New Orleans Pelicans and their postseason hopes alive via a 108-103 win over the Golden State Warriors.

Hamidou Diallo had 35 points but the Detroit Pistons still lost 102-99 to the Charlotte Hornets, who were led by rookie LaMelo Ball and his 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals.

Stephen Curry scored 37 points, including eight from beyond the arc to create history, joining Ray Allen as the only players in NBA history to make 2,800 career three-pointers. The two-time MVP also became the fastest player to reach 300 three-pointers in one season, needing only 58 games.

 

Landry's radar off

Nets shooting guard Landry Shamet normally makes an impact off the bench with his three-point shooting but he struggled against the Bucks. Shamet made one-of-six beyond the arc and one-of-eight overall in his 23 minutes on court, finishing with only three points.

 

Hardaway finds his range

Tim Hardaway Jr. was feeling it in the Dallas Mavericks' 127-113 win over the Chicago Bulls, shooting down an incredible 10 three-pointers in his 36-point display. Luka Doncic contributed 23 points and 12 rebounds in a double-double performance to help the Mavs move back above defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers into fifth in the west.

 

Tuesday's results

Charlotte Hornets 102-99 Detroit Pistons
Phoenix Suns 134-118 Cleveland Cavaliers (OT)
Milwaukee Bucks 124-118 Brooklyn Nets 
New Orleans Pelicans 108-103 Golden State Warriors
Dallas Mavericks 127-113 Miami Heat 
Sacramento Kings 103-99 Oklahoma City Thunder
Los Angeles Clippers 105-100 Toronto Raptors

 

Knicks at Nuggets

The in-form New York Knicks (37-28) make the trip to face Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets (43-22) with both sides jostling for playoffs seedings.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.