Anthony Davis responded after his poor Game 1 by leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 109-102 win over the Phoenix Suns to square their NBA playoffs first round series on Tuesday.

Davis was self-critical after their Game 1 loss, stating "this is on me", and responded with a double-double with 34 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and seven assists.

LeBron James was brilliant with 23 points, including a final quarter threein the final minute which was the nail in the coffin. James also had nine assists and four rebounds.

The Lakers led by seven at the final change but Phoenix came hard at them, albeit largely without Chris Paul who played limited minutes in the last quarter due to a shoulder issue which hampered him all game.

But the reigning champions rallied, with a Davis block followed by a three-pointer pressing them ahead in the final minutes.

For the Lakers, Dennis Schroder had 24 points, while Andre Drummond had 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Paul only managed six points from 23 minutes in a major worry for the Suns moving forward, while Devin Booker impressed with 31 points.

 

KD gets it done, Mavs down Clippers

Kevin Durant got it done at both ends as the Brooklyn Nets claimed a 2-0 series lead against the Boston Celtics with a 130-108 win.

Durant was dominant with a game-high 26 points as well as five assists, eight rebounds and four blocks for the Nets who led by 24 points at half-time.

Joe Harris shot a playoffs career-high seven three-pointers among his 25 points, including 22 in the first half, while James Harden added an impressive 20 points, five rebounds and seven assists for the Nets.

Blake Griffin made two big dunks for the Nets, having not attempted one in his final 25 games for the Detroit Pistons before his move.

Luka Doncic and Kawhi Leonard traded blows with massive individual performances but the Dallas Mavericks claimed a 2-0 lead in their series against the Los Angeles Clippers with a 127-121 win on the road.

Doncic scored 39 points with seven rebounds and seven assists, with able assistance from Tim Hardaway Jr who made six three-pointers among his 28 points, with Dallas moving ahead in a 30-19 third quarter.

Leonard had 41 points, six rebounds, two steals and four assists, while Paul George scored 28 points with 12 rebounds and six assists for the Clippers, who face an uphill task to turn around the series in Texas.

 

CP3 and Tatum injuries

Injuries to both Paul and Celtics forward Jason Tatum denied spectators the best contest possible, with the former barely entering the court in the last with his shoulder issue which remains an issue for the rest of the series. Tatum left the game in the third quarter after a poke to the eye from Durant. He only managed nine points from 21 minutes, shooting at 25 per cent from the field.

 

Harden's three-point playoffs feat

Harden went past Reggie Miller into sixth on the all-time NBA playoffs three-pointers made list, scoring four-from-eight beyond the arc in the Nets' win over the Celtics. The 31-year-old has 321 playoffs three-pointers, behind Stephen Curry (470), LeBron James (417), Ray Allen (385), Klay Thompson (374) and Manu Ginobili (324).

 

Tuesday's results

Brooklyn Nets 130-108 Boston Celtics
Los Angeles Lakers 109-102 Phoenix Suns
Dallas Mavericks 127-121 Los Angeles Clippers

 

Grizzlies at Jazz

Western Conference top seed Utah Jazz will look to square their series against the Memphis Grizzlies after their upset defeat in Game 1.

James Harden said the Brooklyn Nets took "a huge step" by shaking off sketchy offensive form to overcome the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of their playoff series.

Brookyln's big three scraped together sufficient points to make it comfortable enough in the end, the home team grabbing a 104-93 win, having trailed 53-47 at halftime.

Kevin Durant had 32 points and 12 rebounds, Kyrie Irving added 29 points and Harden weighed in with 21 as the Nets proved too strong for a Celtics side who had 22 points on six-of-20 shooting from Jayson Tatum.

Harden said: "We just engaged. Everybody that steps on the floor is engaged and pretty much knows what they have to do. So everybody had each other's back.

"No matter what happens offensively, defensively is where we show some improvement and tonight was a huge step for us."

With fans back in Barclays Center, Harden suggested their presence may have been a slight distraction, as might the pressure of starting a playoffs tilt.

But ultimately he settled on it being the players' failure to convert opportunities as the reason the Nets took so long to get going.

"We just didn't make shots. I'm sure if we made shots it would be a different conversation," he said.

Asked about Tatum, Harden said: "He's going to be better in Game 2 and we will too."

Durant reached a similar conclusion to Harden.

"We couldn't make shots, I felt like," Durant said. "When we tried to bust the game open seven or eight points, we got open threes we didn't make. We got our scorers in position, but I know I missed a lot of bunnies that felt good leaving my hand.

"But we stuck with our defense. We didn't let that get in the way of what we wanted to do out there. We helped each other and boxed out well. We've got to keep that same effort going into Game 2."

From 82-79 up, the Nets went on a scoring surge and pulled 99-82 ahead in the fourth quarter, before easing to victory.

Irving, prominent in that dominant run, said: "I just think we needed a little separation, just to settle in for the rest of the game. Fourth quarter, we've had the tendency of taking our foot off the gas pedal, of stopping attacking the rim or settling for jump shots or just not swinging the ball around and making easy plays for one another.

"Obviously we know we have all-world one-on-one players, but we make it a little easy when teams can just load up and our one-on-one game isn't working. You can see anything can happen at the end of the game. Kemba [Walker] hits two big threes, we get a flagrant foul. Anything can happen, especially against the Celtics.

"That lucky Irishman is always around the Celtics, so we've just got to be aware of anything against the Celtics. And I think we did a good job of kind of withstanding their runs down the stretch."

A strong second half sent the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers to a 123-109 victory over the third-seeded Denver Nuggets as the NBA playoffs began Saturday. 

Portland outscored Denver 65-48 after the break as Damian Lillard had 34 points and 13 assists for the visitors, who made 18 of 19 free throw attempts to just four of eight for the Nuggets. 

CJ McCollum added 21 points and Carmelo Anthony scored 18 in just 22 minutes off the bench for Portland, who beat the Los Angeles Lakers in their playoff opener last season only to lose the next four to the eventual champions. 

Their efforts overcame a 34-point, 15-rebound game from Nikola Jokic and 25 points from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter made all 11 of his two-point field goal attempts Saturday but was just one of 10 from three-point range. 

Game 2 is Monday in Denver. 

 

Brooklyn's big three carry Nets

Big games from the big three carried the Brooklyn Nets to a 104-93 series-opening win over the Boston Celtics. Kevin Durant had 32 points and 12 rebounds while Kyrie Irving added 29 points and James Harden 21 as the Nets stifled the Celtics, who got 22 points on just six of 20 shooting from Jayson Tatum in a losing effort. 

Luka Doncic had his third triple-double in seven career playoff games, scoring 31 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists as the Dallas Mavericks pulled out a 113-103 road win at the Los Angeles Clippers to open their series. Tim Hardaway Jr added 21 points on eight of 13 shooting for the fifth-seeded Mavericks, while Kawhi Leonard had 26 points and Paul George 23 to lead the Clippers. 

 

Butler cannot find the range

Jimmy Butler came close to recording a triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in the Miami Heat's 109-107 overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, but the five-time All-Star made only four of 22 shots from the field. 

 

Middleton gives Bucks win

Khris Middleton's contested jumper with 0.5 seconds remaining in overtime gave the Bucks the Game 1 win at home. Middleton's 27 points led the Bucks, with Giannis Antetokounmpo adding 26 points and 18 rebounds. 

 

Saturday's results

Milwaukee Bucks 109-107 Miami Heat (OT)
Dallas Mavericks 113-103 Los Angeles Clippers
Brooklyn Nets 104-93 Boston Celtics
Portland Trail Blazers 123-109 Denver Nuggets

 

Lakers face Suns

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers got the win they needed in the play-in tournament and they will open the playoffs proper with Game 1 of their best-of-seven series against the second-seeded Suns in Phoenix. 

As enjoyable and memorable as the NBA postseason can be, it rarely produces significant surprises.

Sure, an occasional first-round upset stands out – like MVP Dirk Nowitzki and the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks falling to the Golden State Warriors in 2007 – but almost never does an underdog hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy as season's end.

Of course, that depends on your definition of an underdog.

In each of the last 25 seasons – and in 49 of the last 51 – the team that won the NBA Finals was a top three seed in their conference. The only exception to that rule since 1970 is the 1995 Houston Rockets, who finished sixth in the Western Conference despite being the reigning NBA champions.

The 2020-21 NBA season has already been an unprecedented one, with games played in empty arenas and players being held out of games due to league virus safety protocols. And why should the oddities end when the playoffs begin?

From 2015-18, the Warriors played the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals four straight seasons, making everything beforehand feel like a waste of time. The pattern was broken in 2019 because LeBron James switched conferences, but the Warriors represented the west for the fifth straight season. Last season, James played in the Finals for the ninth time in 10 campaigns, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a title.

This season, however, is suspiciously devoid of a juggernaut. The top regular season teams are unproven in the playoffs, and the typical postseason performers must answer serious questions and navigate a difficult road to the Finals.

The Utah Jazz had the league's best record this season at 52-20, a .722 win percentage. That is the fifth-worst record by a league-leading team since the NBA-ABA merger and the worst in 20 years.

 

Lowest Win Pct by Team With NBA's Best Record in Season, Since 1976-77

SEASON     TEAM                      WL        PCT

1976-77    Los Angeles Lakers         53-29      .646

1978-79    Washington Bullets         54-28      .659

1977-78    Portland Trail Blazers     58-24      .707

2000-01    San Antonio Spurs          58-24      .707

2020-21    Utah Jazz                  52-20      .722

 

With just 10 wins separating the top-seeded Jazz and seventh-seeded Lakers, the west could deviate from seeding by quite a bit.

Even in the often-predictable east, the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics were considered preseason favorites in the conference, only to finish with the sixth and seventh seeds.

The fact is that whoever wins their conference to play in the NBA Finals – and ultimately raises the Larry O'Brien Trophy – will have a unique story about their road there. Whether it is a team who are a proven commodity that flipped the switch after a sub-par regular season or a high-seeded team that overcame past postseason failures, the 2021 NBA champions – like the 2020-21 regular season itself – will be unlike any other.

 

Honourable Mentions: West number one Dallas Mavericks, West number six Portland Trail Blazers

Both teams lack the depth to make a serious championship run but have enough star power in the backcourt to scare any opponent.

Dallas will face the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round and took two of three games this season against Los Angeles. Luka Doncic averaged 30.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 11.0 assists in those games. In nine career games against the Clippers, Doncic is attempting 9.9 free throws per game, his most against any Western Conference opponent.

The Blazers will go exactly as far as Damian Lillard takes them. When Portland made their run to the Western Conference Finals in 2019, the Blazers were 7-0 when Lillard had a plus-minus above zero and were 1-8 when he had a negative plus-minus.

 

The 'Not Your Year' Tier: West number three Denver Nuggets

The season-ending knee injury to Nuggets star guard Jamal Murray was a devastating blow to Denver's title chances and takes some fun out of a special season by Nikola Jokic.

Although Murray's injury solidified Jokic as the MVP favourite – leading the Nuggets to a 13-5 record since the injury – it is hard to envision Denver making a deep run without their star guard.

The knock on Jokic has been that he would generally rather pass than score, and Denver are 5-8 in postseason games when Jokic attempts 20 or more shots.

With Jokic scoring a career-high 26.4 points per game this season and with the continued blossoming of Michael Porter Jr., however, the Nuggets remain dangerous in the playoffs.

 

The 'Prove It' Tier: West number four Los Angeles Clippers, East number one Philadelphia 76ers, West number one Utah Jazz, East number three Milwaukee Bucks, West number two Phoenix Suns

On paper, each of these teams appear to be solid championship contenders, complete with star power and coming off an impressive regular season.

But each of these teams need to prove they can take another step forward, either because of a limited postseason history or a checkered one.

At the start of last year's playoffs, the Clippers were considered by many to be the favourites but blowing a 3-1 series lead in the second round to the Nuggets was a humbling experience. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have quietly had fantastic seasons, each averaging at least 23 points, six rebounds and five assists.

The 76ers and Bucks have been mainstays in the east playoffs for the past few seasons and are hoping that this year's vintage has the answers to take the next step.

Philadelphia, under new leadership with Doc Rivers and buoyed by the shooting of Danny Green and Seth Curry, have a scoring differential of plus-16.4 points per 100 possessions when Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are on the court together, the best mark in the history of the much-maligned duo.

Milwaukee won 11 of their last 15 games, including two wins each against Philadelphia and the Brooklyn Nets – the two teams seeded higher in the east.

A machine over the last few regular seasons, the Bucks have faltered in past playoff series as Giannis Antetokounmpo failed to score in the clutch and his team-mates shrank from the moment. The costly acquisition of Jrue Holiday should help take some of the pressure off, and Antetokounmpo is shooting 73.3 percent (11 of 15) this season in the last two minutes of a game within five points.

Utah and Phoenix are fascinating prospects after stellar regular seasons but the consensus regarding both teams is that they have already maxed out their talent before the postseason starts.

Rudy Gobert is an All-Defensive Team mainstay for good reason, but Utah have been forced to sit him in the playoffs against smaller teams or when his free-throw shooting becomes a problem.

The Jazz are expecting leading scorer Donovan Mitchell to return from a sprained right ankle, but Utah are better operating as a five-man offense than a one-man show. When Mitchell attempts 20 or fewer field goals this season, the Jazz are 27-2. When he shoots more than 20 times, the Jazz are 12-12.

The Suns are 59-21 over their last 80 games, including in last year's bubble, and have become one of the best stories in the league. Chris Paul turns every team he is on into a winner, and he has a case to receive MVP votes scoring a modest 16.4 points per game.

For all of his career accomplishments, however, Paul has famously only advanced past the second round once in his career, and he now leads a core group of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges that lacks playoff experience.

 

The 'Sleeping Giant' Tier: East number six Miami Heat, West number seven Los Angeles Lakers

Last year's finalists have endured brutal regular seasons filled with disappointment, injuries and COVID-19 protocols.

Only Duncan Robinson played all 72 games this season for Miami, and while the Heat are healthier now than during their nightmare 11-17 start, serious questions remain about the health of veterans Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic, who both missed at least 20 games this season.

The Lakers remain the betting favourites coming out of the west, despite needing a 103-100 play-in win over the Golden State Warriors to clinch a playoff berth. LeBron James and Anthony Davis missed a combined 63 games this season, and the duo only played together in 27 games.

While the health of the Lakers' superstars remains a concern, Los Angeles were 19-8 when both James and Davis played. The defending champions had a scoring differential of plus-11.4 points per 100 possession when the duo were on the court together. For as long as James and Davis are playing, the Lakers remain a juggernaut.

 

The Favourites: East number two Brooklyn Nets

Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

The Nets are the first team to ever have three players average at least 24 points (minimum 35 games). Durant, Harden and Irving are the highest-scoring trio since the early 1960s, when Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor were producing some of the best seasons in league history.

What makes Brooklyn such a strong contender, however, is that the supporting cast around their dynamic trio is a real asset.

The Nets' reserves scored 35.9 points per game this season, better than the bench of fellow contenders like the Bucks, Trail Blazers, Heat and Nuggets.

First-year head coach Steve Nash has consistently been able to field a competitive squad during a tumultuous year. As evidence of the change and adversity the Nets faced this season, they have used 38 different starting line-ups – only the lowly Rockets used more.

With veteran big men like DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, the Nets can counter size but are also versatile enough to play small, with Jeff Green defending opposing centers.

The high-profile names make Brooklyn feel like an inevitability, but there is still plenty of uncertainty with this newly constructed super-team.

Durant, Harden and Irving have only played 202 minutes together, less than six percent of Brooklyn's season. The trio appear to blend well, scoring a torrid 117.8 points per 100 possessions, but any group of stars will face challenges in their first playoff test.

It is that time of year again – the NBA playoffs.

Although this season has a different feel due to the new play-in tournament, it's crunch time as LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers eye back-to-back championships.

The Utah Jazz claimed the best record in the league for the first time in their history, while Eastern Conference top seed the Philadelphia 76ers and the star-studded Brooklyn Nets loom large.

With the play-in tournament due to get under way to determine the final eight teams from each conference set to feature in the playoffs, the Stats Perform AI team have been crunching the numbers to find a worthy winner of the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

The Stats Perform model takes proprietary data and creates an offensive and defensive rating for each team.

Those ratings are paired with the team's opponent and adjusted for each team's pace. In addition, the home team get a slight boost for home-court advantage.

The model uses this information to calculate a projected score for both teams. The winners receive a victory in the race for the Larry O'Brien Trophy – this was done for every game in the playoffs.

So, here are the AI-generated results in the event that the play-in winners are the Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards.

 

Suns sizzle as Lakers crash out, Heat stun Bucks in sweep

Much has been made about the Phoenix Suns this season. Led by All-Star Devin Booker and star veteran Chris Paul, the franchise returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10. Second behind the Jazz in the Western Conference, the Suns ease past the Lakers 4-1. Winning the opening three games 120-93, 90-88 and 105-104, Phoenix never look back as they end the Lakers' quest to land consecutive championships for the first time since 2009-10.

The Milwaukee Bucks loaded up heavily in the offseason, bringing in Jrue Holiday to aid two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in his quest for a title and the franchise's first since 1971. But after trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and semi-finals, the third-seeded Bucks are sensationally swept 4-0 by last season's runners-up the Miami Heat.

Eastern Conference top seed for the first time since 2001, the Joel Embiid-led 76ers flex their muscles 4-2 against the Wizards but it is not easy. Dropping consecutive games to Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook and Washington, Doc Rivers' Philadelphia rally past the Wizards 112-109, 91-99 and 110-104 to bounce back from last season's first-round sweep at the hands of the Celtics.

Boasting a three-headed monster in Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, the second-seeded Nets dig deep against the Celtics 4-3 in the east. With all eyes on the star-studded Nets big three following an injury-interrupted regular season, Brooklyn lose two of the opening three matchups but reel off back-to-back victories to set the tone before progressing beyond the first round for the first time since 2013-14 thanks to a 110-91 Game 7 triumph.

Looking to put last season's playoff capitulation behind them, having sensationally surrendered a 3-1 lead at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals, Kawhi Leonard's Los Angeles Clippers make light work of Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks 4-1. A 128-106 rout in Game 1 ignites the Clippers, while the third-seeded Nuggets – spearheaded by MVP favourite Nikola Jokic – are upstaged by the Portland Trail Blazers 4-3. Following in the footsteps of the Clippers, Denver cough up a commanding 3-0 lead as Damian Lillard's Trail Blazers complete a stunning comeback.

The New York Knicks and their fans have been waiting since 2013 to play postseason basketball. Their playoff return does not disappoint as the fourth seed – spearheaded by All-Star Julius Randle – make the most of their home-court advantage against the Atlanta Hawks to come out 4-3 winners. Trae Young's Hawks race out to a 3-1 lead but the Knicks are not to be denied.

 

Trail Blazers continue giant-slaying run, Clippers bow out to Jazz as 76ers roll on

Ranked sixth heading into the playoffs, the Trail Blazers defy their seeding by producing another shock performance, this time outlasting the highly fancied Suns in seven games. Western Conference finalists in 2018-19, Portland humble Phoenix 129-96, 117-86 and 126-92 in Games 1, 3 and 4 to seize the momentum and while the Suns storm back to force a series decider, Lillard, CJ McCollum and the Trail Blazers step up to the plate.

Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert experienced consecutive first-round exits in 2018-19 and 2019-20, but featuring in their first Conference semi-final since 2018, the Jazz prove too hot for the fourth-ranked Clippers and take a 4-2 series win. Utah, who beat Los Angeles in two of the three regular-season contests, win the opening three games of the second-round series and never look back as pressure mounts on Leonard, Paul George and the championship-chasing Clippers.

The standout teams in the east, the 76ers and Nets barely raise a sweat en route to the Conference Finals. In pursuit of a first championship since 1983, the 76ers sweep the Knicks 4-0, while the Nets end Miami's hopes with their own devastating 4-0 success.

 

Nets conquer 76ers, Jazz rally past Blazers

A matchup many predicted when the 76ers appointed head coach Rivers and the Nets landed former MVP Harden in a blockbuster trade with the Houston Rockets in January. Philadelphia's cast of Embiid, fellow All-Star Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, sharp-shooter Seth Curry and Danny Green come up against Durant, Harden, Irving and Blake Griffin, and it is Brooklyn who prevail in a thriller. The Nets and 76ers split the opening six games before a deciding seventh game. With a championship berth on the line, Steve Nash's Nets edge the 76ers 112-109 as question marks again emerge over whether the Philadelphia franchise can succeed with both Embiid and Simmons.

Not since 1997-98 had the Jazz secured a spot in the Finals, having enjoyed back-to-back appearances in the midst of Karl Malone's greatness, but Utah end that drought against Portland. The Jazz overturn 1-0 and 3-2 deficits to finally end the Trail Blazers' fairytale run as Portland fall agonisingly short of their first Finals appearance since 1992.

 

Jazz make history

The last five head coaches to win a title in their first year were Nick Nurse (Toronto Raptors, 2019), Tyronn Lue (Cleveland Cavaliers, 2016), Steve Kerr (Warriors, 2015), Pat Riley (Lakers, 1982) and Paul Westhead (Lakers, 1980). Rookie and two-time MVP Nash has been looking to join that list with a Nets side eyeing their maiden championship – having faced a long wait since joining the league in 1976-77.

Despite a frightening array of talent, the Nets go down 4-1 in the Finals as the Jazz make history, headlined by a resounding 121-102 win in Game 5.

After consecutive Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998, the Jazz finally break through for their first NBA title thanks to coach Quin Snyder, Mitchell, Gobert, Mike Conley and Co.

Kevin Durant led the tributes for Kyrie Irving after the Brooklyn Nets guard helped his side to victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers to join an elite list of shooters.

Irving shot 8-of-10 from the field in Sunday's 123-109 win, was 1-of-2 from three-point range and a perfect 6-of-6 at the free throw line as the Nets secured the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

In doing so, the 29-year-old finished the regular season with a 50.6 field-goal percentage, 40.2 three-point percentage and 92.2 free-throw percentage, making him the ninth member of the 50/40/90 club.

He also joined Larry Bird, Stephen Curry and Durant as the only players to average at least 25 points per game during a 50/40/90 season.

Durant put up 23 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds against the Cavaliers, but he was more impressed by the achievement of Irving - one that he can see his team-mate repeating in the future.

"It's been a phenomenal season from Ky," Durant said in his post-game interview. "He's a guy who can get it from anywhere on the floor at any time at that size is remarkable. 

"Point guards that get 50/40/90 is just so much more impressive to me. I'm very happy for Kyrie, and I'm sure this won't be his last time."

Irving's coach Steven Nash, himself a four-time member of the 50-40-90 club, echoed the views of Durant.

"Kyrie has been incredible this year," he said. "So efficient, such a talented player who just makes incredible shots every night. 

"So, to be able to make those shots to create the space to take those shots, to convert at such an efficient rate, is incredible. He's a remarkable player and it's a remarkable accomplishment. I'm really proud that I can see it first hand."

The Nets were again without James Harden due to injury management, while Joe Harris missed a third straight game with a left gluteal strain. 

Nash is unsure if Harris will be available for his side's first-round playoff series against either the Boston Celtics or Washington Wizards, but Harden is expected to be available.

"I think James will be fine, but Joe might need a few days - I'm not really sure," Nash said. "I think it's about monitoring the situation. But there's a case where he may not practice the whole week - that's OK.

"He's played a lot of minutes this year and we want him to heal up as best he possibly can and kind of not have to chase this thing through the playoffs and have it linger. 

"So, if we can resolve it I'd rather he resolves it than practice this week. He can follow along and rehab and that would make me happy. But if he's able to practice I'm sure he will."

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."

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 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.

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."

Kevin Durant acknowledged a lack of continuity within the Brooklyn Nets after they suffered consecutive defeats to Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks.

The Nets lost to the Bucks for the second time in three days after tasting a 124-118 defeat in Milwaukee on Tuesday.

Two-time reigning NBA MVP Antetokounmpo fuelled the win with 36 points as the Bucks clinched a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

Durant put up 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists for the slumping Nets.

Despite boasting three superstars in Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, the Nets were once again without the latter due to a hamstring injury. Brooklyn's trio have only played seven games together since Harden's blockbuster trade from the Houston Rockets in January.

"That is a huge factor. Continuity is a big thing in this league," former MVP Durant said post-game when asked about Brooklyn not having the Bucks' history together and continuity.

"We got veterans on this team that played in different situations that know pretty much every terminology that goes on in this league and every kind of set that we run on both sides.

"That's in our advantage as well, having that veteran leadership but we still are a connected group. I feel like we've been together for years, too, so we gotta continue to keep building on that."

The Nets have lost three straight games to slip one-and-a-half games behind Eastern Conference leaders the Philadelphia 76ers ahead of the postseason.

Brooklyn – eyeing their maiden championship – have not progressed beyond the Conference semi-finals since reaching the 2003 NBA Finals, though they have suffered back-to-back first-round exits in 2019 and 2020.

The Bucks, meanwhile, made it through to the 2018-19 Conference Finals before falling to eventual champions the Toronto Raptors, while they went down to the Miami Heat in last season's Conference semi-finals.

"I think it's a great experience for us to recognise where we are. We've got a gap to make up here," Nets head coach Steve Nash said about the two games against the Bucks.

"We understand that's a team that's been running the same offense, been playing together, same schemes on defense for years now.

"Gone deep into the playoffs, and that's something that we don't have, so how can we make up that gap. That's kind of our life in a nutshell heading home here. We're trying to get everyone back to full health and we're gonna try to overcome a lack of common experiences.

"That is our challenge as much as anything. While we do that, can we be more physical, can we be more connected, can we handle and control some of the controllables that can help us hang in some of these games and win some of these games while we’re trying to put the pieces together."

After going toe to toe just over 48 hours earlier, two Eastern Conference heavyweights prepare to face each other again when the Milwaukee Bucks host the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday.

The brilliance of Giannis Antetokounmpo helped the Bucks prevail in the first of two back-to-back meetings between teams with serious title aspirations.

Aided by landing four of his attempts from beyond the arc, the two-time NBA MVP scored 49 points to see Milwaukee come out on top.

The result moved them closer to the second-placed Nets in the standings, though both trail the Philadelphia 76ers. The trio know that finishing as top seed will leave the other two rivals to potentially fight it out on the path to the Conference Finals.

With the playoffs looming, there is a balance to be struck over clocking up more minutes in the regular season and saving energy for what is to come down the line.

Still, while there are no concerns over suffering a knockout this time around, both the Bucks and Nets will want to land a telling blow on their opponents before a potential postseason reunion.

 

TOP PERFORMERS

Giannis Antetokounmpo

A third MVP award appears unlikely, yet the Greek is averaging 28.4 points per game (he finished at 27.7 in 2018-19, but rose to 29.5 last season), as well as 11.1 rebounds and 5.9 assists.

His performance against the Nets, which included scoring his team's first 16 points in the third quarter, was even more impressive considering he had missed the previous game due to a sprained right ankle.

Kevin Durant

Like Antetokounmpo, Durant returned from a layoff to shine on Sunday. He finished the game with a team-high 42 points, boosting his average for the season to 28.1ppg.

Hamstring tightness was behind the decision to sit him against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday, having previously scored 42 in a win over the Indiana Pacers. Injuries have hampered his availability during the campaign, but Durant has excelled when on the court for Brooklyn.

KEY BATTLE

Antetokounmpo and Durant will be preparing for round two as the headline acts for their respective franchises, though both can lean on help from stellar supporting casts.

However, missed shots – and what happens in the aftermath – could be crucial to deciding the outcome. The Bucks lead the East in terms of defensive rebounds, while the Nets sit second on the list. Milwaukee, though, is superior on the boards on offense when compared to their opponents, potentially offering key second-chance opportunities.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Bucks may have come out on top at the weekend but the Nets triumphed earlier in the year when the teams met in Brooklyn, James Harden - who remains sidelined - leading the way with 34 points in a 125-123 triumph for the home team.

Durant also played in that game – contributing 30 points, including landing eight of his nine free-throw attempts – but Kyrie Irving was absent.

The Los Angeles Lakers slumped to their sixth loss in seven games with LeBron James finishing their 121-114 defeat to the Toronto Raptors injured in the locker room on Sunday.

James left the court in the fourth quarter due to a sore right ankle, the same ankle which sidelined the Lakers superstar for 20 games until his return against the Sacramento Kings on Friday.

The four-time MVP played 28 minutes, scoring 19 points with seven rebounds and six assists but he could not inspire reigning NBA champions the Lakers to reverse their worrying form ahead of the playoffs.

Toronto forward Pascal Siakam was exceptional with a season-high 39 points, 13 rebounds and four assists, while veteran guard Kyle Lowry also had a double-double with 37 points, including three three-pointers, and 11 assists.

The result means the Lakers slip to 36-28 and sixth spot in the Western Conference, while the Raptors are 27-38.

 

Giannis comes out on top against KD

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 49 points as the Milwaukee Bucks overcame the star-studded Brooklyn Nets 117-114 in their heavyweight Eastern Conference meeting. Making his return after a minor ankle issue, two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo also had eight rebounds and four assists, while Khris Middleton contributed 26 points and 11 rebounds in a key supporting role. Durant did his best to lift the Nets with 42 points and 10 rebounds.

Joel Embiid had his 14th game with 30 or more points and 10 rebounds, with only Antetokounmpo having more this season, as the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers won 113-111 in overtime against the San Antonio Spurs. MVP hopeful Embiid finished with 34 points and 12 rebounds after OT, with Seth Curry adding 22 points.

Devin Booker had 32 points to lead the high-flying Phoenix Suns to a 123-120 victory over the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder.

The New York Knicks kept up their hot run with 122-97 win against the Houston Rockets, fuelled by All-Star Julius Randle's 31 points in three quarters.

C.J. McCollum (33 points), Damian Lillard (26 points and 13 assists) and Jusuf Nurkic (14 points and 11 rebounds) combined to lead the Portland Trail Blazers past the Boston Celtics 129-119. Jayson Tatum's 33 points were not enough for the Celtics. Per Stats Perform, the Trail Blazers are the first team in NBA history to have four consecutive home losses immediately followed by four straight road victories.

 

From hero to zero

Dorian Finney-Smith nailed the game-winner for the Dallas Mavericks against the Washington Wizards on Saturday. But he was struggled in the 111-99 loss to the Sacramento Kings. Finney-Smith was one-for-seven shooting in 35 minutes, missing all five of his three-point attempts for just three points.

 

Timely tip from Simmons

Ben Simmons tipped home in the nick of time after Embiid's attempted buzzer-beating shot missed in the 76ers' win over the Spurs.

 

Sunday's results

Milwaukee Bucks 117-114 Brooklyn Nets
Portland Trail Blazers 129-119 Boston Celtics
New York Knicks 122-97 Houston Rockets
Philadelphia 76ers 113-111 San Antonio Spurs (OT)
Phoenix Suns 123-120 Oklahoma City Thunder
Sacramento Kings 111-99 Dallas Mavericks
Miami Heat 121-111 Charlotte Hornets
Toronto Raptors 121-114 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Nuggets at Lakers

The Lakers (36-28) have a big test to get back on track in the Western Conference against Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets (43-21) with playoffs seedings up for grabs.

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant said he and his team-mates are focused in pursuit of the Eastern Conference top seed as head coach Steve Nash awaits the return of former MVP James Harden.

Durant posted 42 points and 10 rebounds while matching a career high with seven three-pointers, but the star-studded Nets still lost on Sunday, upstaged 117-114 by Eastern Conference rivals the Milwaukee Bucks, who were fuelled by Giannis Antetokounmpo's 49 points.

The Nets – eyeing their maiden NBA championship – dropped down to second in the east, behind the Philadelphia 76ers but the two title contenders are set to continue going head-to-head for the number one seed ahead of the playoffs.

After falling short against two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in Milwaukee, two-time champion Durant – who scored 42 points in back-to-back games – told reporters: "Every day you wake up, it should be about your craft. I think that's how everybody approaches this thing.

"We try to take it a day at a time, a possession at a time. We can't control what's going to happen at the end of the season or what other teams are going to do.

"I think we've just got to take advantage of each one and that's what we're doing. Guys are locked in. We're talking the game when we're at practice, on the bus, we talk about it on the plane.

"So I think that helps as well. We're staying locked in mentally too when we do it."

The Nets were once again without superstar Harden, who remains sidelined due to a hamstring injury.

Harden has not played since leaving the matchup against the New York Knicks on April 5, missing 16 of the Nets' last 17 games.

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

The Nets and Bucks will clash again on Tuesday, and coach Nash said: "I'm not so much worried about what they know. For us, we have the luxury of talent. We have great players. We don't have the luxury of time. That's OK. We understand that and we'll work around that.

"James will give us a totally different dimension, but we don't sit here and say, 'well, wait 'til James gets back'. We try to solve the puzzle now. James will give us obviously something great to build on, but we can look at all the things that we did wrong today and there were a lot of things where I thought we just weren't sharp tonight. We clean some of those things up, I think we give ourselves a better chance."

Giannis Antetokounmpo lavished his admiration and praise on Kevin Durant, labelling the Brooklyn Nets superstar a "once in a generation talent".

The pair squared off in the Milwaukee Bucks' 117-114 win over the Nets on Sunday, with two-time reigning NBA MVP Antetokounmpo posting 49 points, with eight rebounds and four assists.

Durant – a former MVP – returned fire with 42 points of his own for the Nets, along with 10 rebounds as Antetokounmpo hailed the two-time champion.

"You have to appreciate players like that, because you don't see them often," said Antetokounmpo, who is six years younger than Durant.

"It's one of a generation talent, and, personally, I try to steal as much as I can from his game and as much as I'm capable of doing, because there’s some stuff that only he can do.

"But he's a great player to watch and growing up I always looked up to him."

Antetokounmpo continued: "What he does is unbelievable. Being 6'11, being able to shoot over everybody and the way he can handle the ball and get to his spot to rise up is unbelievable."

Antetokounmpo and Durant both may have scored in the 40s on Sunday, but the former insisted the game plan was not to go head-to-head against a player he calls "one of the game's greatest scorers".

"I was not going back and forth with KD," Antetokounmpo said. "There's nobody in this world who can go back and forth with KD.

"He's one of the greatest scorers to ever play this game. That's not the game plan you want to go against. You've got to do it as a unit."

The game also marked Antetokounmpo's return from a minor ankle injury picked up against the Houston Rockets on Thursday, although he said he played through pain.

"It felt good," he said. "Obviously I stepped on Kelly Olynyk's foot and in the moment I was in a lot of pain.

"My personality and how I am, you've got to grow your toughness and play through pain. I could still play the game and keep going, even though I couldn't step on it at all the first time.

"The team wanted me to take a break and get healthy and not have something keep lingering and lingering.

"Today I felt good. I couldn't speed up as much as I wanted to. I had dominance and I was able to get to my spots. I didn't feel as much pain."

Eastern Conference rivals the Nets (43-22) and Bucks (40-24), who are likely to face off in the playoffs, will meet again on Tuesday.

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