The Miami Heat were without coach Erik Spoelstra for their game with the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday. 

Miami confirmed prior to tip-off that Spoelstra would not be in attendance at FTX Arena due to personal reasons. 

Assistant coach Chris Quinn was handed the reins of the Heat, who sat top of the Eastern Conference with eight games to play. 

Miami have lost their past three games, opening the door for the Philadelphia 76ers to displace them as the top seed in the closing stretch of the regular season. 

The Nets sat eighth in the East and looked set to be heading for the play-in tournament. 

Kevin Durant says it is an "exciting time" for Brooklyn Nets fans as Kyrie Irving prepares to make a long-awaited appearance at Barclays Center on Sunday.

Irving has not been able to play at home this season after he opted against taking a coronavirus vaccine.

The seven-time NBA All-Star will be back in action at Barclays Center against the Charlotte Hornets this weekend, though, after New York City Mayor Eric Adams lifted the mandate for unvaccinated athletes and performers.

Durant welcomed that decision and says having Irving available for all games has given Brooklyn a major lift.

The forward said on Friday: "It's a long time coming. It's an exciting time for Brooklyn Nets fans and New York fans to see one of our own back on the floor at home.

"It means a lot to our team, happy to have him back, and look forward to finishing the season strong. I'm glad this is all behind us."

The Nets (38-35) are eighth in the Eastern Conference in a season that has not gone to plan.

But Durant has no interest in dwelling on the past as they look to build momentum with Irving set for a happy homecoming.

"There's no crying over spilled milk. It is what it is," Durant said. "But I'm not naive to the fact that the Mets and the Yankees, they have a lot of power in our city.

"I'm sure once they all helped and had conversations with whoever they needed to talk to, it was able to push it over the top.

"So, sports is a huge factor in a lot of these major cities, and I'm glad we can get things done for everybody to move forward. I know New York City fans are excited about it."

Kyrie Irving has been cleared to play home games for the Brooklyn Nets after changes to New York's vaccine mandate were officially announced on Thursday.

It means Irving will be eligible to take to the court when the Nets host the Charlotte Hornets at Barclays Center on Sunday.

New York City mayor Eric Adams recently removed restrictions requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter establishments including bars, restaurants and sports arenas, but the mandate for private sector employees remained in place.

As a result, Irving – who is unvaccinated – was only able to attend home games as a spectator.

However, at a media conference at Citi Field on Thursday, Adams confirmed the mandate for athletes and performers had been lifted.

"This is about putting New York athletes on a level playing field," he said. "We were treating our performers differently because they live and play in New York City."

Adams did reiterate his previous stance that athletes, including Irving, should reconsider their stance on vaccination.

"Kyrie, you should get vaccinated," he said. "This does not change my message that everyone should get vaccinated."

Irving, who has played just 20 games this season, scored 43 points in Brooklyn's 132-120 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving delivered big performances, but the Memphis Grizzlies were unstoppable in the first half on the way to a 132-120 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

Irving finished with 43 points (15-of-27 shooting, six-of-11 from three) and eight assists, while Durant posted figures of 35 points (12-of-28 shooting, 10-of-10 from the free-throw line) with 11 rebounds, eight assists, two blocks and two steals.

But the Grizzlies would not be denied in front of their home fans, clicking on all cylinders early to jump out to a 76-62 half-time lead.

It was yet another stunning showing without MVP candidate Ja Morant who missed again through injury, with seven Grizzlies scoring double figures to pick up the slack.

Desmond Bane (eight-of-17 shooting) and De'Anthony Melton (eight-of-13 shooting) led the way with 23 points each, while Jaren Jackson Jr swatted away four shots as he continued his charge for Defensive Player of the Year.

With the win, the Grizzlies moved to 50-23 for the year, and an incredible 15-2 in games Morant has missed.

 

Warriors 'punk' the Heat

A day after Draymond Green said his Golden State Warriors were being "punked" in recent losses, they responded in style, beating the Miami Heat 118-104 without Green and injured star Stephen Curry.

In a game where Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler had to be physically separated from coach Erik Spoelstra during a time-out, the Miami defence simply could not get stops in the second half as tempers flared.

Jordan Poole shone yet again for the Warriors, scoring 30 points on 10-of-18 shooting, going three-of-seven from long range, while rookie Jonathan Kuminga, All-Star Andrew Wiggins and bench player Damion Lee chipped in with 22 points each.


Ayton and the Suns shine in Minnesota, Davion dominates

A 42-point fourth quarter capped off a terrific 125-116 comeback win for the Phoenix Suns on the road against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Trailing 64-51 at the halfway stage and by five at three-quarter time, the Suns got 11 points from centre Deandre Ayton down the stretch to cap off a big 35-point (15-of-24 shooting), 14-rebound performance.

Devin Booker controlled the contest for the Suns, scoring 28 points on only 15 field goal attempts, going 13-of-16 from the free throw line while also dishing out seven assists.

Meanwhile, rookie top-10 pick Davion Mitchell starred in the Sacramento Kings' 110-109 away win against the Indiana Pacers, scoring 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting and collecting seven assists in arguably his best game as a professional.

Joel Embiid scored 30 points and had 10 rebounds, three steals and three blocks for the Philadelphia 76ers in their 126-121 win over a Los Angeles Lakers side who were without LeBron James.

Kyrie Irving will make his Brooklyn Nets home debut for the season on Sunday after changes to New York's vaccine mandate come into effect on Thursday, according to reports.

Irving, 29, has only played 19 games this season after deciding not to get vaccinated, but has excelled when in the line-up, averaging 27 points, five rebounds and five assists.

Despite athletes playing for New York teams requiring vaccination to play, visiting players were not subjected to the same requirements, with this move seen as 'levelling the playing field', as put by The Athletic's Shams Charania.

With the new exemption for in-town athletes and performers kicking in on Thursday, it means Irving will be eligible to suit up for the Nets' Sunday fixture against the visiting Charlotte Hornets.

It is important timing for the Nets as their positioning in the play-in tournament means they likely will need to win a home game to earn their way into the playoffs.

Brooklyn Nets' All-Star Kevin Durant has showered praise on upcoming opponent Ja Morant comparing him to Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson.

The Nets take on Morant's Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, with Durant describing the first-time All-Star as a combination of Jordan, Iverson, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose.

Morant has enjoyed a breakout year after being pick two in the 2019 NBA Draft and leading the Grizzlies to the playoffs last season.

The 22-year-old Memphis guard is averaging 27.6 points up from 19.1 points in the 2020-21 season along with 5.7 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.2 steals this season for the playoffs-bound Grizzlies who have a 49-23 record.

"He's a combination of players, I feel," Durant told reporters after the Nets' 114-106 win over the Utah Jazz on Monday.

"I think the greatest players in our game can transform into anybody at any given point, and I think Ja is on the way to that. I mean when he's playing I see like two or three or four different hall-of-famers in his game.

"From Iverson, he might make a Jordan-like lay-up, he might run down the court like a Westbrook or a D-Rose. His float game is up there with some of the best that's ever played.

"I don't wanna gas him up too much since we're playing against him, but I think the sky is the limit for him. His future is obviously bright, and he makes everybody better playing against him."

On the Grizzlies, Durant added: "When you got a future Hall of Famer at the head of the snake, it just makes everybody better."

Durant scored 37 points with nine rebounds and eight assists in Monday's win as the Nets improved to 38-34.

The Nets forward surpassed close friend Jerry West (25,192 points) into 22nd on the NBA's all-time scoring charts with his 37-point haul on Monday.

"Winning the championship with Jerry, having conversations with him, knowing the history of who he is, he helped kickstart the NBA basically, it's an honour," Durant said.

"He's a legend in the game. He's almost like the godfather of our sport. Good to see him back around our game but it's even better to pass him. He's one of the all-time great players in this league."

Durant moves to 25,213 points, with Indiana Pacers legend Reggie Miller next above him on 25,279 points.

LeBron James scored 38 points and notched up another triple-double upon his return to Cleveland, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 131-120 win over the Cavaliers on Monday.

Other than this season's All-Star Game, it was Akron-born James' only home visit. Having played 11 seasons in two stints with the Cavs, he was warmly received as he added 10 rebounds and 12 assists to those 38 points.

Russell Westbrook and D.J. Augustin added 20 points each for the Lakers, who moved three games clear of the 10th-placed San Antonio Spurs for Western Conference play-in calculations.

Meanwhile, the Cavs only just remain in sixth in the Eastern Conference at 41-31, one game clear of the Toronto Raptors in the first play-in spot.

Durant gives Jazz the business in Brooklyn

Kevin Durant was at his talismanic best, as the Brooklyn Nets won 114-106 at home to the Utah Jazz.

Durant had 37 points on 15-of-23 shooting, including four-of-seven from beyond the arc, as well as coming up with nine rebounds and eight assists.

Brooklyn look set to secure an Eastern Conference play-in spot at 38-34 in eighth, and despite 30 points for the Jazz, Donovan Mitchell couldn't stop the Nets from snapping their three-game win streak.

Maxey catches fire in Heat win

Tyrese Maxey scored 13 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, propelling the short-handed Philadelphia 76ers to a 113-106 victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat.

Without Joel Embiid and James Harden, Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz added 20 and 18 points respectively, while Maxey made critical buckets down the stretch.

In a game that was tight throughout, the 21-year-old came up big in the clutch, scoring on a drive plus the foul to give the Sixers a 106-101 lead with 2:18 remaining.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash remains optimistic that Ben Simmons will play at some point this season but has revealed the new signing has a herniated disk in his back.

Simmons is yet to debut for the Nets following his February trade from the Philadelphia 76ers, whom he fell out with over the off-season. The Australian guard has subsequently not played all season.

The former All-Star had an epidural last week to alleviate pressure in his back as he struggles to build his conditioning up to a level fit enough to see him return to action.

The Nets, who appear headed for the Play-In Tournament with a 37-34 record sitting eighth in the east, have only 11 regular-season games remaining, meaning the clock is ticking on Simmons.

"He's had this [herniated disks] a couple years ago, so he's had them throughout his career at some points," Nash told reporters prior to Sunday's game against the Utah Jazz.

"I guess there was a flare-up. I'm not sure when they recognised it was beyond a back flare-up and a herniated disc or what not, but somewhere along the line there, that was the reason for the epidural."

He added: "From what I know, he trained pretty hard for five, six months. He was in a great place. Unfortunately, I think there was a little flare-up at some point in there and it's just never quite turned the corner since.

"I think he had months of five, six days a week on court and was doing very well, so just unfortunate, but we stay the course. Hopefully a good resolution to this in the near future."

Simmons is yet to be cleared to return to practice although Nash said surgery had not yet been discussed.

"We still have high hopes that he can come back," Nash said. "He's had moments during his rehab where he's on the court doing some things and it looks like he's about to turn a corner, and then there's a little setback so I still feel optimistic that he can play for us."

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant has said Kyrie Irving is "frustrated" at still not being allowed to play home games for the team.

New York City mayor Eric Adams recently removed restrictions requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter establishments including bars, restaurants and sports arenas, but the mandate for private sector employees remains in place.

As a result, Irving – who is unvaccinated – is only able to attend home games as a spectator, which he recently did when the Nets beat the New York Knicks at Barclays Center.

After Monday's shootaround, Durant said Irving thought restrictions on him would have been lifted by now, stating: "He's frustrated in not being able to play.

"He figured this stuff would be rolled back by now, we'd be way past this. But it's the situation we're in, we've got to deal with it, he's got to deal with it. We're trusting that it'll get figured out there soon.

"I have no clue what may happen, but I'm just trusting that things will work itself out. But I'm sure he misses playing in front of a home crowd and the home crowd; vice versa, they miss him. So, hopefully we get it figured out soon."

Irving has played 19 games for the Nets this season, all on the road, averaging 27.7 points per game, and recently hit 60 in his team's win at the Orlando Magic.

 

Mayor Adams said at the time that allowing Irving to play home games "would send the wrong message" to the people of New York, despite wanting to see the Nets win an NBA championship.

Durant – who returned from a knee injury at the start of March and is averaging 29.4 points this season – added there is no judgement of Irving from him or his team-mates.

"We love Kyrie as a human being," he said. "I don't think we were ever upset at him as much as people on the outside were. We get that it may affect the outcome of some basketball games, but that's not the only reason why we love Kyrie as a person, because of what he can bring to the court.

"He made the decision [not to be vaccinated] for himself, so you've just got to respect it and move forward. We weren't coming in here every day p***ed off at him because he wasn't around."

When asked if being without Irving would have an impact on their championship aims, Durant said: "We'd be missing a huge piece of our team, but we've still got to go out there and play the game.

"We've been saying that no matter who's on the floor, you've still got to go out there and play and hoop. We'd love to have Kyrie out there, being out there, but if they aren't, the rest of the guys have just got to go play and live with the results. I think we're all comfortable with that."

Spencer Dinwiddie delivered the buzzer-beating dagger in the Dallas Mavericks' 113-111 win on the road against the Brooklyn Nets.

In a game with First Team All-NBA stars Luka Doncic and Kevin Durant going head-to-head, Dinwiddie hit the most important shot of the night as defenders rushed to trap Doncic with just seconds remaining as the Mavericks trailed 110-111.

The game only required Dinwiddie's heroics after a string of late-game shot-making saw the lead seesaw.

After a Dirk Nowitzki-esque mid-range fadeaway from Doncic to grab a 110-108 lead, Durant took matters into his own hands.

Facing a defence that was game-planned to get the ball out of Durant's hands by sending two defenders to him whenever he had the ball, the seven-foot star was unselfish throughout the game as he moved the ball to the open outlet pass and racked up 10 assists to go with his 23 points (8/20 shooting).

But with everything on the line, Durant was determined to live and die by his own shot-making, pulling up and draining a ridiculous long-three with two defenders closing in on him to nab a one-point lead, before Dindwiddie answered.

Kevin Durant says he does not need to hold new Brooklyn Nets acquisition Ben Simmons' hand after his latest setback as he bids to return to the NBA.

Simmons, who was traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Nets last month, received an epidural injection this week, further delaying any Brooklyn debut which is several weeks away at a minimum.

The 25-year-old has not played all season after sitting out the first half of the campaign with the 76ers citing mental health reasons after the fallout from their 2021 playoffs exit.

The Nets reportedly have hope he will play prior to the playoffs as he overcomes a back injury.

After Wednesday's 113-111 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Durant was asked how to keep Simmons engaged as he continues on the sidelines for even longer.

"He's a grown man. He's an All-Star. He's a veteran in this league now," Durant said.

"He's gotta keep himself engaged. I ain't ever gonna hold anybody's hand in this league. He knows that.

"He doesn’t want anybody to make sure he's being a professional. I can't wait to get him back but we don’t want to rush him.

"Hopefully he gets back soon. I know he misses it."

The Nets' latest defeat leaves them with a 36-34 record, sitting in eighth in the Eastern Conference.

Durant finished with 23 points, six rebounds and 10 assists and Andre Drummond added 14 points and 17 rebounds for the short-handed Nets.

The Mavs triumphed courtesy of a Spencer Dinwiddie's game-winning three-pointer on the final buzzer.

Dinwiddie finished with 22 points, while Luka Doncic added 37 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

"When you watch that last play, just regret, wondering what the game would have been like if I didn't go jump Luka right there, you know what I'm saying?" Durant said. "So in hindsight I wish I would have made a different decision, but it is what it is."

Brooklyn Nets' new star acquisition Ben Simmons received an epidural injection while he was away from the team during the team's trip to Orlando.

Simmons is yet to play a game this season. He was traded by the Philadelphia 76ers after making himself unavailable due to mental health reasons following the fallout from their 2021 playoffs defeat to the Atlanta Hawks, while a back injury has delayed his Nets debut.

In Wednesday's press conference, coach Steve Nash said the hope was that the injection would assist the healing process.

Nash went on to say that the team will have to wait-and-see how Simmons reacts to the treatment, and that there is no current timetable for his return to practice.

Steve Nash joked Kyrie Irving produced more career highlights in the space of 12 minutes against the Orlando Magic than the Brooklyn Nets coach managed in his entire career.

Irving scored a career-high 60 points – the most for a Nets player in their NBA history – in Tuesday's 150-108 victory in Florida.

The seven-time NBA All-Star shot 20 for 31, which included eight of 12 on 3-pointers, and made 12 of 13 free throws in his 35 minutes on the court.

Forty-one of Irving's points came in the first half as he became the second Nets player over the past 25 years, after Deron Williams in March 2012, to have 40-plus points in a half.

It was an individual display that will long live in the memory, with Brooklyn coach Nash leading the tributes for the 29-year-old.

"He's just incredible. I felt like he had my career highlight reel in the first 12 minutes of the game," Nash said. 

"It's special to watch him every night – but it's special to watch him on nights like this, where he's in total control, total command. 

"He gets wherever he wants and is able to finish amongst the trees. It's just a pleasure to see it up close and to be a part of it."

 

Irving's 60-point display came a day after the Minnesota Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns also hit that mark against the San Antonio Spurs.

It marks the first time that two players have scored 60 points on successive nights in NBA since 1962.

There have now been seven 50-point games in the NBA in March, which is tied for the most in a single month since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976.

And Nets star Kevin Durant, who added 19 points in the win over Orlando, believes the division is now as strong as ever.

"The night after Karl Towns had an incredible performance, to then have Kyrie do it the next night, the league is in an incredible place right now," Durant said.

"I'm sure in the first quarter you saw it developing. Sixteen in the first and then midway through the second all of us on the bench are still looking.

"It's just like that every game for Ky, when you look up and, like, 'Damn, he got 10, 12, 14 points already'."

Durant scored 53 points in Sunday's win over the New York Knicks, making him and Irving the first team-mates in NBA history with 50+ points in back-to-back games.

"Making history, man. making history," Irving said when that stat was put to him. "Doing it with that guy is very special. But credit goes to our group. 

"Our guys in our locker room, they really believe in us, they really rock with us, there's not a doubt in our mind that they really believe that we can do something special. 

"And not just this year, but for years to come. We have a good group. And we're all sacrificing something that's bigger than ourselves."

He added: "When you're a kid scoring a bunch of points, it means something. When you're in the best league in the world doing it against the greatest, it means a little bit more."

The Nets have now won four games in a row to improve to 36-33 for the season, placing them eighth in the Eastern Conference.

Irving will not play against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday due to New York City's mandate requiring vaccination against COVID-19, though he intends to be in attendance.

"I'll probably wear a media pass," he joked. "It's a little awkwardness. 

"But I'll show up there with my family and get a warm embrace from New York, Brooklyn, everybody that's there to support the Nets and support our organisation, support me."

Another road game, and another virtuoso performance from Kyrie Irving in the Brooklyn Nets' 150-108 win over the Orlando Magic.

Unable to play in home games due to New York's vaccine mandate, Irving made the most of Brooklyn's trip to Orlando, scoring a ridiculous 41 points (14-19 from the field) in just the first half.

In an explosive team performance, the Nets scored 48 points in the first quarter, while Irving and Kevin Durant combined for 26. Irving went on to score another 25 of his side's 38 in the second period.

Irving eventually sat with more than eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter, with his team up by 37 and his personal tally at a career-best 60 points on 20-31 shooting, 8-12 from the perimeter and 12-13 from the free-throw line.

It also sets a new franchise record for the Nets, beating Deron Williams' 57 back in 2012.

Irving's previous high-scores were 57 points and 55 points, which he scored within two months of each other in the 2014-15 season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The massive total ties the most points scored in an NBA game this season, matching Karl-Anthony Towns' mark which he set just yesterday.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said he is hopeful of Ben Simmons debuting with his new team before the playoffs, but indicated it is far from a sure thing.

With only 14 games to play before the postseason begins, Simmons still has not been cleared to practice due to a back injury that has only worsened since arriving in Brooklyn.

The Nets have shown they can win without Simmons for the time being – including a dominant performance in Philadelphia against former team-mate James Harden – but to be a serious title contender, the former first overall pick will need to play a significant role.

Currently occupying the eight-seed in the Eastern Conference, Brooklyn have an uphill battle to try to make up the four games they sit behind the six-seed Cleveland Cavaliers to avoid the play-in tournament and secure a guaranteed playoff berth.

While he has not been able to participate in team practices, Nash said the team are trying to get Simmons as involved as possible and build the necessary chemistry, and that he has "extremely high hopes that we'll see him in the regular season".

"The biggest thing we've tried to do is to have him be involved in everything," Nash said. 

"The travelling is the one caveat, where sometimes you're weighing the cost-benefit of him on aeroplanes and buses and different beds. 

"When he's with us, we want him in every meeting, in every walkthrough, in every film session, whatever it may be, so he's around the group. 

"We'd love for him to travel, be with the team all the time, but we have to weigh that scenario as well."

While Simmons is a "perfect fit" for Brooklyn's team construction and style, according to Nash, there is no way to simulate on-court repetitions alongside stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

"I think he has a pretty good understanding [of what the Nets are doing]," the coach said.  "Now, has his focus been on learning what we're doing? No, it's been on getting better. 

"We've had him around, we want him to learn, but there's a lot going on when you're desperately trying to fight to get on the court.

"I don't expect him to be totally dialled in on what we're doing, because part of that is also feel; getting out there with your team-mates, seeing how it fits. 

"I think he'll be a perfect fit for our guys – but some of that stuff is also getting out there and doing it, learning on the fly, rather than reading it off the notes."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.