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.

Andre Drummond is itching to experience more of the thrills of a home-court win with the Los Angeles Lakers after helping see out an overtime victory against the Utah Jazz.

Acquired at the end of March, Drummond found out for the first time how it felt to earn a win at the Staples Center as a Lakers player, as around 1,700 fans saw Los Angeles earn a 127-115 overtime triumph over the NBA Western Conference leaders.

The Lakers had previously seen a 14-point advantage evaporate, with the Jazz taking the lead towards the end of the fourth quarter, before Dennis Schroder tied things up with three seconds to play.

Still without the injured LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Drummond finished with 27 points, eight rebounds and three assists to aid the team's cause, while the impressive Schroder had 25 points, eight assists and six rebounds.

Since joining the Lakers, Drummond is averaging 9.2 points, 1.2 assists and 9.2 rebounds and he feels the depleted Lakers – fifth in the Western Conference – are beginning to gel.

"With the fans being in the arena it was kind of a surreal moment for me because I've been on the other side," he said. 

"Seeing them win, seeing the streamers come down, to be on this end it was definitely a great feeling and something I want more of.

"I think tonight was a good game for all of us, for me personally I think it was a pretty solid game. 

"As a unit we clicked on all cylinders. We didn't allow adversity to get us out of our game, they did have a hell of a run down the stretch to tie up the game and take the lead. 

"The chemistry is getting there, we're having fun day by day doing it."

Head coach Frank Vogel was impressed by the way his Lakers side kept their cool after seeing their lead wiped out.

"We made more in-game adjustments than we have all year just to counter their attack," Lakers Vogel said. 

"To have a team storm back and take the lead and [us] not panic is definitely something we can draw on going forward. We'll have this experience to know that we’ll prevail."

The NBA ladder leading-Utah Jazz felt the absence of Donovan Mitchell as they lost 127-115 in over-time to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday.

Mitchell hurt his ankle during the week and was unavailable for the clash against the Lakers who were missing injured pair LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Lakers center Andre Drummond dominated with 27 points, eight rebounds and three assists, while Dennis Schroder had 25 points, six rebounds and eight assists too.

The Jazz could have won the match in normal time when Jordan Clarkson's buzzer beater missed with scores locked at 110-110.

The Lakers ran away with it in over-time, but had a late injury scare with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who also had 25 points, clutching his right ankle.

The result improves the Lakers to 35-22, while the Jazz remain top of the West with a 42-15 record.

Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks stumbled to a 128-115 home loss to the surging Memphis Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies kept the Bucks at arm's length the whole match led by Grayson Allen who shot 26 points including seven-from-10 beyond the arc.

A fired-up Dillon Brooks had 21 points, six rebounds and four assists for Memphis, while Giannis had 28 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in a losing side.

 

Celtics edge shootout with Curry

Jayson Tatum won an All-Star shootout against Stephen Curry as the Boston Celtics edged the in-form Golden State Warriors 119-114.

Boston forward Tatum had 44 points and 10 rebounds, while Curry played a leading role for GSW with 47 points, including 11 three-pointers as well as seven rebounds and three assists.

Tatum had outstanding assistance from Kemba Walker, particularly in a tight final quarter, with 26 points and eight rebounds as the Celtics won their sixth straight.

Russell Westbrook had another triple-double with 15 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists while Bradley Beal made 37 points in the Washington Wizards' 121-100 win over the Detroit Pistons.

The Phoenix Suns were well beaten by the San Antonio Spurs 111-85, while Nikola Vucevic had 25 points in the Chicago Bulls' 106-96 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

 

Scary sideline spell

There was a scary incident late in the Warriors' loss to Boston when youngster Juan Toscano-Anderson threw himself at a loose ball, with his momentum seeing him bundling over the scorers' fence across tables and monitors. He lay injured for several minutes before eventually walking to the locker room aided, with a towel on his head.

 

Russell makes triple-double history

In-form Wizards guard Westbrook's triple-double made history as he became the first player in NBA history to have 15 in a 20-game span. 

 

Saturday's results

Los Angeles Lakers 127-115 Utah Jazz
Washington Wizards 121-100 Detroit Pistons
Chicago Bulls 106-96 Cleveland Cavaliers
Boston Celtics 119-114 Golden State Warriors
Memphis Grizzlies 128-115 Milwaukee Bucks
San Antonio Spurs 111-85 Phoenix Suns 

 

Nets in Miami

With Kevin Durant back, the Brooklyn Nets (38-18) make the trip to face the Miami Heat (28-28), although they will likely still be without the injured James Harden.

Andre Drummond struggled to describe a gruesome toenail injury without laughing after the Los Angeles Lakers lost another star player.

LeBron James (ankle) and Anthony Davis (calf) both remain on the sidelines, meaning the signing of Drummond - bought out by the Cleveland Cavaliers - came as a big boost to the defending NBA champions.

But the center, playing for the first time since February 12, lasted just 14 minutes in a 112-97 debut defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.

Drummond was stepped on by Brook Lopez in the first quarter, he later revealed, and eventually succumbed to the injury in the second half after taking his sock off to assess the damage.

"In the first quarter when I came out, Brook stepped on my foot and I didn't really think anything of it," the two-time All-Star said.

"I came back in the second quarter and it was hurting a little bit more. After halftime, I finally took my sock off to look and my whole toenail was gone. It was all bad from there. I couldn't walk or run so I told coach to take me out."

X-rays returned negative results, meaning Drummond should avoid a lengthy lay-off, but the player was not entirely sure how to manage the injury.

He said: "What do you do for a toe? I don't know. I'm not really sure what to do. I'm just going to talk to the training staff and find out what's the best thing to do to get back as quick as possible.

"I've lost a toenail before, but this one was very painful.

"You see me looking down at it because I can't even put shoes on. I have flip-flops on right now. It's very, very painful."

Despite his limited minutes, Drummond showed what the Lakers might be able to expect when he can return to the court.

The 27-year-old had four points, two assists, a rebound and a block.

He also missed two free throws - Drummond's career percentage of 46.6 per cent is the worst of all players to attempt 1,000 or more - but felt he had a positive impact overall.

"If you saw the first couple of minutes of the game that I was out there, just the energy defensively that I brought, it kind of boosted everybody on both ends of the court," Drummond said, although his plus/minus was negative eight.

"It's just unfortunate to have this happen to me in my first game. It was a little deflating for me.

"But my head is high, I'm going to take it day by day and come back better than ever."

Coach Frank Vogel, eager not to mull on more fitness problems as the Lakers fell to 30-18, added: "We've got a 'next man up' mentality with this group.

"Obviously we were all excited to see Dre in a Lakers uniform and it didn't play out as long as we wanted."

Wednesday's meeting between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks should be one of the most mouth-watering contests of the NBA season.

But the allure of the matchup has been lost somewhat – the Lakers still without LeBron James because of an ankle injury and Anthony Davis due to a calf/Achilles issue that has kept him on the sideline since February.

As such, the Bucks, three games back of the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers, will be the favourites against a Lakers team that stands as the fourth seed in the West.

However, the Lakers have shown fight in ending a four-game losing skid with back-to-back victories and recently added a two-time All-Star center to their roster.

Here, with the help of Stats Perform data, we look at the performers and the battles that will decide this marquee game.

TOP PERFORMERS

Milwaukee Bucks - Giannis Antetokounmpo

The back-to-back MVP returned to something approaching his best in the Bucks' defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers last time out.

Coming off a nagging knee injury, Antetokounmpo dropped 32 points for Milwaukee, going 10 for 21 from the field and two of five from the three-point line.

It was his first 30-point game since the win over the Philadelphia 76ers on March 17 and served as an ominous warning to the under-strength Lakers.

Los Angeles Lakers - Montrezl Harrell

Averaging 15.2 points for the season, Harrell has stepped it up in the absence of Davis and James.

He has put up 19.5 points per game across March. James (25) is the only Laker with a better average in that regard.

The former Clippers big man has produced seven 20-point games this month and may need an eighth to propel the Lakers to another victory without their two stars.

KEY BATTLE - CAN DRUMMOND BOOST LAKERS ON BOARDS

After reaching a buyout agreement with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Drummond signed with the Lakers with an eye on helping them retain the title by any means necessary.

"For me, I'm just here to help in any capacity," Drummond said on Monday. "I'm not here to do anything besides win."

"I'm just here to help in whatever capacity it may be. I'm not here to steal nobody's shine."

The center will primarily be asked to help the Lakers on the boards. Without LeBron and Davis, their rebounding has declined this month.

For the season, they are ninth in the NBA in rebounds per game with 45.2, but that number has tailed off to 43.5 in March, tied for 17th.

Frank Vogel has confirmed Drummond will start against Milwaukee, with the Lakers surely looking for the four-time rebounding leader to help them compete on the glass against a Bucks team second in the league with 48.2 rebounds per game.

HEAD TO HEAD

Having previously won six straight against the Lakers, the Bucks head into this potential Finals preview out to avoid a third consecutive defeat to Los Angeles, having come undone at the hands of James in their 113-106 loss back in January.

Los Angeles Lakers CEO and president Jeanie Buss has told the Brooklyn Nets to "bring it on", insisting the star-studded franchise are bringing out the best in the NBA champions.

The Nets have emerged as the NBA's newest superteam after former All-Stars Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge joined Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn.

While the Nets have made moves in the Eastern Conference, Buss and the Lakers are unfazed in the west.

"It brings out the best in us," Buss, whose Lakers are fourth in the Western Conference in the absence of injured superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, told ESPN+ on Monday.

"When teams identify us as the team to beat and they gear up to go at us head-to-head, that makes us work harder.

"So, bring it on."

The Lakers added two-time All-Star Andre Drummond to the roster on Sunday after he cleared waivers.

Drummond – who has not played since February 12 – agreed to a contract buyout with the Cleveland Cavaliers last week.

"The addition of Andre Drummond, who we picked up in the buyout market, will certainly fortify a season where we've had to deal with injuries and COVID," Buss said.

"Having Marc Gasol, who is our starting center, was out for several weeks with COVID and a really tough case where he was on a minutes restriction even though he's back in the line-up."

James (ankle) and Davis (calf) remain sidelined, and Buss added: "That's what's important, is they get back healthy -- 100 percent healthy -- before they come back so that they stay healthy for the playoffs."

Los Angeles Lakers recruit Andre Drummond said he is ready to help the NBA champions in pursuit of back-to-back titles, while he highlighted the prospect of a "crazy" defensive trio alongside superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Drummond joined the Lakers on Sunday after clearing waivers, having agreed to a contract buyout with the Cleveland Cavaliers last week.

The two-time All-Star, however, has not played since February 12 after he and the Cavaliers agreed he would be shut down until a trade or buyout was completed, following the arrival of younger center Jarrett Allen.

Drummond, though, insisted he is ready to play for the Lakers.

"I'm not here to steal nobody's shine," Drummond told reporters on Monday.

"I'm here to help this team win as many games as possible."

Drummond is one of 20 players in league history to record more than 9,000 career points, 8,500 rebounds, 850 steals and 950 blocks.

He is also the NBA's all-time leader in seasons with at least 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 100 steals and 100 blocks, having accomplished the feat four times.

"It's been almost a month [and] 10-plus days since I last played. You can imagine the hunger and excitement I have to play and step on the court," he said.

"I had an incredible month of work where I'm ready to play today."

Drummond's arrival is a boost for the Lakers (30-17), who are fourth in the Western Conference as superstar duo James (ankle) and Davis (calf) are sidelined.

The Lakers have only once scored above their seasonal average of 110.7 points since James went down, missing their leading two scorers (James 25.4 points per game, Davis 22.5).

But Drummond had 17.5 points up until February 12, when Cleveland agreed he would be shut down, which would put him third on that list.

"I think our defense is going to be really crazy when those guys come back. And I'm looking forward to it," Drummond added.

"My defensive game is going to help this team out a lot with my quick feet, quick hands," he continued. "Going to be able to recover and play one through five.

"I think for me coming here, AD could slide to the four and play his true position and be very good at it without taking all the bumps and bruises I do at the five."

Frank Vogel feels NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers "got a lot better" with the signing of Andre Drummond, who will provide "a big lift" while LeBron James and Anthony Davis remain out.

The Lakers' title defence wobbled this month as James went down with a high ankle sprain, joining Davis (calf) on the sidelines at the start of a four-game losing run.

In a competitive Western Conference, a slump amid the continued absence of their All-Stars prompted concerns LA could slip into the play-in round.

But the Lakers have bounced back to win their past two games against the Cleveland Cavaliers and, on Sunday, the Orlando Magic to restore a 5.0 game gap to seventh place and the San Antonio Spurs.

They were also boosted shortly before tip-off in the Magic game as Drummond's arrival was confirmed after he cleared waivers, having agreed a buyout with the Cavs.

Drummond is one of 20 players in league history to record more than 9,000 career points, 8,500 rebounds, 850 steals and 950 blocks.

He is also the NBA's all-time leader in seasons with at least 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 100 steals and 100 blocks, having accomplished the feat four times.

Although Vogel was unsure when the center would be available, he expected a much-needed immediate impact.

"We're thrilled, we're all thrilled," the head coach said after the win over Orlando. "Andre Drummond, a player of his calibre coming to our team.

"He's one of the best centers in the league, someone that every defensive coordinator is going to have to account for, to figure out how to handle him while trying to slow down AD and Bron and our guards.

"He's going to give us a big lift in the immediate future and obviously when we get going.

"He's just one of those guys who can dominate the game on both sides of the ball. His physicality is something you have to account for."

The Lakers have only once scored above their seasonal average of 110.7 points since James went down, missing their leading two scorers (James 25.4 points per game, Davis 22.5).

But Drummond had 17.5 points up until February 12, when Cleveland agreed he would be shut down, which would put him third on that list.

"He's one of the most dominant rollers, lob catchers, post players, offensive rebounders in the game, screeners," Vogel said.

"The list is long for how he's going to contribute to our group. I do think he's going to have an impact on our group right away offensively."

Vogel revealed he had held positive discussions with Drummond, adding: "I have talked to him personally. He's really excited about this situation.

"I don't want to go too far into the nature of those conversations other than to say he's really excited, probably as excited as we are. I think our team got a lot better."

Pressed further on their talks, Vogel replied: "Private conversations. I sold him on what we are competing for, how he fits – I believe in the vision of him fitting alongside AD and LeBron.

"I'm not going to go into that [any further]. I apologise; I could be [Bill] Belichick up here and give you 'yes' and 'no'."

Drummond bolsters the five, a position where the Lakers already have Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol, two offseason recruits.

Harrell has played 25.3 minutes over 47 games, while Gasol has played 19.8 over 38.

It is not immediately clear how Drummond's 28.9 minutes will fit in, while Davis can also play the role, but Vogel believes he needs the depth.

"All I can say is we're going to need them all," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind we need all three of them for this playoff push we're about to endure with a really condensed second half of the season.

"Every playoff series is different. I think we saw the flexibility that we have as a coaching staff; from playoff series to playoff series, different guys' skillsets match different opponents.

"I really think we're going to need all three of those guys and I expect to use all three of them."

Andre Drummond has joined the Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA champions announced on Sunday.

Drummond was planning to team up with LeBron James and Anthony Davis in Los Angeles after clearing waivers.

Two-time All-Star Drummond agreed to a contract buyout on the remainder of his $27.9million deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.

"Andre Drummond gives us powerful, anchor-point skills on both ends of the court," Lakers vice-president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka said.

"We feel extremely fortunate to add a player of his calibre and magnitude to our core group at this stage of our journey to defend the NBA title."

It is a boost for the Lakers (29-17), who are fourth in the Western Conference as superstar duo James (ankle) and Davis (calf) are sidelined.

Drummond has not played since February 12 after he and the Cavaliers agreed he would be shut down until a trade or buyout was completed, following the arrival of younger center Jarrett Allen.

The 27-year-old Drummond – who has led the league in rebounding four times – has averaged 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in 25 starts this season.

Drummond is one of 20 players in league history to record more than 9,000 career points, 8,500 rebounds, 850 steals and 950 blocks.

He is also the NBA's all-time leader in seasons with at least 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 100 steals and 100 blocks, having accomplished the feat four times.

Drummond spent eight seasons with the Detroit Pistons, earning two All-Star selections, before being traded to the Cavaliers last year.

 

Andre Drummond plans to join reigning NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers after clearing waivers.

Drummond agreed to a contract buyout on the remainder of his $27.9million deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.

The two-time All-Star is now set to team up with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the injury-hit Lakers, his agent Jeff Schwartz told ESPN.

While the team are yet to announce the deal, Drummond posted a picture to Instagram with him in a Lakers jersey, captioned "Back to work" on Sunday.

Superstar duo James (ankle) and Davis (calf) are both sidelined through injury in Los Angeles, where the Lakers (29-17) are fourth in the Western Conference.

Drummond has not played since February 12 after he and the Cavaliers agreed he would be shut down until a trade or buyout was completed, following the arrival of younger center Jarrett Allen.

The 27-year-old Drummond has averaged 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in 25 starts this season.

Drummond spent eight seasons with the Detroit Pistons, earning two All-Star selections, before being traded to the Cavaliers last year.

Nikola Jokic helped the Denver Nuggets end the Utah Jazz's 11-game winning streak in the NBA with 47 points in a 128-117 victory.

The Jazz had been the league's in-form team, but Jokic's dominant double-double display snapped their streak on Sunday.

Jokic matched a career high after going 17 for 26 from the field while making all four of his three-point attempts, having scored 33 points in the opening quarter.

The MVP candidate also collected 12 rebounds as Bojan Bogdanovic led the visiting Jazz with 29 points in Denver.

Meanwhile, the lowly Washington Wizards completed an unlikely comeback against the Brooklyn Nets, who were stunned 149-146 in an insane finish.

The Wizards trailed by five points with just 10 seconds remaining but produced an incredible rally to upstage the James Harden-less Nets.

Bradley Beal nailed a deep shot from beyond the arc after Brooklyn's Kyrie Irving made a pair of free throws, before the Wizards stole the ball as the Nets tried to inbound – Russell Westbrook nailing a three-pointer to put Washington ahead.

Beal then sank two free throws to give the Wizards – who went on an 8-0 run in the final 8.1 seconds – their first win since January 11, snapping a four-game losing streak.

Twice in the past two days has a team won in regulation after trailing by five-plus points inside the final 10 seconds – the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday. It only happened twice in the previous 2,871 days – the Chicago Bulls in 2019 and Boston Celtics in 2016, per Stats Perform.

Westbrook finished with 41 points and 10 rebounds, while Wizards team-mate Beal put up 37 points at home to the Nets.

The Nets, without former MVP Harden due to a thigh contusion, were led by Kevin Durant (37 points), Joe Harris (30 points) and Irving (26 points) as they had their four-game winning run snapped.

 

Raptors roar thanks to Siakam

Pascal Siakam's 30 points and 10 rebounds led the Toronto Raptors past the Orlando Magic 115-102, ending a three-game losing streak. Kyle Lowry (12 points and 14 assists) also posted a double-double.

No Joel Embiid, no worries for the Philadelphia 76ers, who rallied to top the Indiana Pacers 119-110. Embiid sat out due to back tightness but Tobias Harris (27 points) and Ben Simmons (21 points) stepped up after the 76ers used a 37-15 final quarter to beat the Pacers. Simmons was nine-of-12 from the field in 35 minutes.

Andre Drummond joined LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler and LaMarcus Aldridge as the only active players with 9,000 career points and 8,000 career rebounds. He finished with 25 points and 22 rebounds in the Cleveland Cavaliers' 109-104 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

 

Mitchell struggles on return

Jazz star Donovan Mitchell missed two games while in concussion protocol. Back in the line-up against the Nuggets, he had 13 points in 31 minutes. Mitchell was just three-of-12 from the field, while he nailed only three of his eight three-point attempts.

It was a tough outing for Orlando's Evan Fournier, who was two for 12 from the field and just one-of-six from beyond the arc in an 11-point display.

 

Durant with authority!

The Nets lost but former MVP Durant still provided plenty of highlights, including a monstrous dunk against the Wizards.

 

Sunday's results

Philadelphia 76ers 119-110 Indiana Pacers
Toronto Raptors 115-102 Orlando Magic
Washington Wizards 149-146 Brooklyn Nets
Minnesota Timberwolves 109-104 Cleveland Cavaliers
Los Angeles Clippers 129-115 New York Knicks
Denver Nuggets 128-117 Utah Jazz

 

Lakers at Hawks

Defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers (15-6) are on the road against the Atlanta Hawks (10-9) on Monday.

An intriguing NBA season continued to take shape last week with more shock results in the East.

The Philadelphia 76ers are at the summit as the teams below them trade wins in a far more balanced conference than the Los Angeles-led West.

Therefore, the big increases and decreases in production across the NBA were centred on the East, including big displays from one Sixers star while another tailed off.

We take a look at the best and worst performers of the week with the help of Stats Perform data.

 

RUNNING HOT...

Joel Embiid

Knee and back issues, along with the Philadelphia 76ers' coronavirus crisis, have impacted Embiid's time on the floor already this season, but he is now moving through the gears. The center had scored 45 points against the Miami Heat on January 12, only to then contribute just nine against the same team two days later. But there since looks to be consistency to Embiid's play as he tallied 42, 38 and 33 points in three Sixers wins last week, recording a double-double on each occasion. This weekly average of 37.7 improved the 26-year-old's season scoring from 25.0 points per game to 27.7 and appeared to lift the big man into the early MVP conversation.

Gordon Hayward

Staying fit is always likely to be the key for Hayward, given his awful injury record. He has played in 15 of the Charlotte Hornets' 16 games so far, though, and is averaging a career-high 24.1 points for the season. That mark was boosted from 22.2 points per game over the past week as Hayward turned in a pair of big performances against the Chicago Bulls and the Orlando Magic. His 34 points in the first game were not enough for a win, but 39 points at Orlando, along with nine rebounds, helped lift the Hornets to a competitive 7-9. Hayward's big contract has been justified to this point.

Clint Capela

The Atlanta Hawks recovered to a .500 record last week and Capela had a huge impact on both ends of the floor. The former Houston Rockets center averaged 21.0 points across three Hawks wins before sitting out the defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, but scoring is just one facet of his game; Capela also contributed 20.0 rebounds per game - the biggest increase on a seasonal average across the whole league. Perhaps most notable of all, though, was the 10-block triple-double that saw Atlanta past the Minnesota Timberwolves. His 2.3 blocks per game rank third in the NBA.

Kendrick Nunn

COVID-19 protocol kept Nunn on the sidelines for a stretch earlier this month, but the second-year point guard is back in the groove - even if the Miami Heat are still struggling to rediscover their playoff form from last season. Nunn started all 67 of his regular season appearances in 2019-20, only to lose his place in the starting five for the run to the NBA Finals. He is being utilised from the bench again this year but provided a huge scoring boost last week. The 25-year-old averaged 21.5 points across the Heat's four games, his increase of 16.0 from his prior mark of 5.5 per game the biggest such improvement in the league.

GOING COLD...

Terry Rozier

While Hayward stepped up in Charlotte, it was not a vintage week for team-mate Rozier. With 42-point and 35-point games to his name this season, the former Boston Celtics point guard was way off the pace in averaging 8.5 points across two games in which he played 38 minutes on both occasions. That knocked Rozier's season average down from 19.9 to 18.5, with a clear decline in his three-point shooting the obvious cause for concern. He shot 2-of-12 from beyond the arc, making 1.0 threes per game, down from 3.4.

Andre Drummond

The Cleveland Cavaliers stole the show last week with a sweep of the Brooklyn Nets in their double-header, but Drummond did not match the standard he had set previously in a monster game against the New York Knicks. Drummond had season-highs of 33 points and 23 rebounds as the Knicks visited Cleveland, yet he then fell short of a double-double for the first time all year in the first Nets game. Sunday's trip to the Celtics then saw Drummond play just 18 minutes, scoring a meagre 11 points, and he finished the week with 9.3 rebounds per game - solid enough but well down on his prior average of 15.8.

Tyrese Maxey

The Sixers' COVID-19 issues might have slowed the team's early momentum, but rookie Maxey was flying heading into last week. Outstanding with 39 points in a seven-man rotation against the Denver Nuggets on January 9, the 20-year-old kept his place and was averaging 11.4 points per game prior to Wednesday's meeting with Boston. But Maxey did not score a single point in that win and duly lost his place for the second Celtics matchup. He finished the week with just four points from three games, shooting 2-of-9 from the field.

LaMelo Ball

Rookie seasons tend to be rollercoaster affairs and Ball is certainly finding that. He is yet to start for the Hornets this season but was steadily contributing double-figures at the turn of the year, including an outstanding triple-double against Atlanta on January 9. Last week, Ball averaged just 9.0 points and 3.0 rebounds across Charlotte's two games, although he did contribute eight assists in the win over the Magic.

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