James Harden might not return to the court before the NBA playoffs after suffering a setback in his return from a hamstring injury. 

The Brooklyn Nets said the former MVP will remain sidelined indefinitely following an undisclosed issue during an on-court rehab session on Monday. 

Harden has played only four minutes since leaving a March 31 game against his former team, the Houston Rockets, with the initial injury. 

He sat out the Nets' next two games, then returned for a brief appearance on April 5 against the New York Knicks before missing the last six games. 

"We're back to square one... he will be back when he's back," Nets head coach Steve Nash told reporters. "It might be the playoffs. It might be sooner."

The NBA playoffs begin May 22. Brooklyn (38-19) were second in the Eastern Conference entering Tuesday's game against the New Orleans Pelicans. 

Harden is averaging 25.2 points, 10.9 assists and 8.0 rebounds in 42 games between Houston and Brooklyn this season. 

 

Kevin Durant will sit out the Brooklyn Nets' clash with the New Orleans Pelicans due to a left thigh contusion.

Durant played just four minutes before exiting in Brooklyn's buzzer-beating 109-107 loss at the Miami Heat on Sunday.

Nets superstar Durant missed 23 games because of a hamstring injury before returning on April 7.

In total, former MVP Durant has missed 24 of Brooklyn's 57 games this season and will now watch from the sidelines for Tuesday's matchup with the Pelicans.

Durant has been averaging 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game this season.

The star-studded Nets will also be without James Harden against Zion Williamson and the Pelicans in New Orleans.

Harden – another former MVP in Brooklyn – has not played since April 5 due to a hamstring strain, missing six successive games.

The All-Star guard, who is one of the frontrunners for MVP honours this season, has been averaging 25.2 points, 10.9 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game in 2020-21 after arriving from the Houston Rockets via January's blockbuster trade.

The Nets (38-19) are second in the Eastern Conference, behind the Philadelphia 76ers.

Stephen Curry has been lighting it up in the NBA of late.

The two-time NBA MVP is seemingly trying to make up for lost time after injury wiped out the vast majority of his 2019-20 season. 

However, Curry is not the only player in prime form. As the regular season hurtles towards a conclusion, Stats Perform data highlights who is on fire and who needs to find a spark around the league.

Time to dip into the numbers with the latest edition of Heat Check...

RUNNING HOT...

Stephen Curry

To say Curry is on a hot streak is an understatement. In four games between April 12-17, the guard scored 175 points for the Golden State Warriors. That astonishing scoring run saw him hit 10 or more three-point attempts in three of those outings; no other player in NBA history has had three or more such games in an entire season, let alone a week.

Luguentz Dort

Dort was averaging 12.62 points heading into the week. The second-year guard then upped that number with 42 against the Utah Jazz and while he sat out a game against the Warriors, he followed up with a combined tally of 55 when facing the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors. Despite his scoring heroics, the Oklahoma City Thunder lost all three.

Landry Shamet

The Brooklyn Nets have been hampered by injuries this season, with James Harden sidelined in recent times. However, Shamet has stepped up to help fill the void, managing a career-high 30 points on Sunday against the Miami Heat, including tying a franchise record with seven successful three-point attempts having come off the bench. 

GOING COLD...

Lonzo Ball

Ball's decreased production should come as no surprise, considering he is easing his way back into action following a hip injury. He played just under 20 minutes against the Washington Wizards and while his involvement was greater against the New York Knicks, 2017's second overall pick managed nine points from 19 shot attempts across both games.

Tyler Herro

A low-key week for Herro, who failed to reach double digits for points in outings against the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Nets. The shooting guard - such a key figure in the Heat's run to the NBA Finals in the 2019-20 season - landed two of his 11 attempts from beyond the arc in those games. Surprisingly for someone based in Miami, Herro has gone cold.

Chris Paul

The veteran point guard has been outstanding for the Phoenix Suns, who remain in the running to finish the regular season as the top seeds in the West. However, the bigger picture means minutes must be managed, with Paul seeing a drop in his workload. While buckets have been in short supply - he averaged 8.25 points per game across last week - there were still 26 assists.

Bam Adebayo was backed to "hit another level" after his buzzer-beater snatched a 109-107 victory for the Miami Heat over the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday.

Adebayo stepped up to inspire the Heat at the AmericanAirlines Arena to a thrilling win in the absence of Jimmy Butler, who was ruled out with a sprained ankle.

The 23-year-old centre settled a pulsating contest when he took a pass from Goran Dragic with time almost up and was on target with a baseline jumper from around 12 yards out.

Adebayo finished with 21 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and two steals in a brilliant all-round performance against a 38-19 Nets side occupying second place in the Eastern Conference.

Dragic said of Adebayo: "He has great potential. I still feel he's not done yet. He's going to hit another level."

The Heat are seventh in the Eastern Conference and Adebayo believes they can put a run together following such a dramatic win.

He said: "A season can turn around after a game. Crazier things have happened in this league."

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra says Adebayo's all-round contribution should be recognised.

He said: "It's just not about scoring. That's the hard thing in this league, that the main thing people look at is how many points people score.

"Bam has so many things that he does for us that are important for us to be successful."

The Nets also lost Kevin Durant in the opening quarter due to a left thigh contusion.

Julius Randle produced another inspiring performance as the streaking New York Knicks topped the New Orleans Pelicans 122-112 in overtime.

Knicks All-Star Randle posted 33 points and 10 assists to lead the New York franchise to their sixth successive NBA win on Sunday.

Randle recorded his fourth consecutive game with at least 30 points, becoming the first Knicks player since Carmelo Anthony in 2014 to accomplish the feat.

Reggie Bullock nailed a three-pointer for the Knicks with 2.3 seconds remaining in regulation before the home team outscored Zion Williamson's Pelicans 19-9 in OT at Madison Square Garden.

Derrick Rose scored a season-high 23 points for the Knicks, who are in the midst of their longest winning streak since 2013-14 as they eye their first playoff appearance since 2013.

Williamson's 34 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals were not enough for the visiting Pelicans.

Meanwhile, Kevin Durant suffered a left thigh contusion in the Brooklyn Nets' 109-107 loss away to the Miami Heat.

Durant – who only returned from a 23-game injury absence this month – left the game in the opening quarter, having gone three-for-three shooting to finish with eight points in four minutes.

Bam Adebayo (21 points and 15 rebounds) lifted the Heat with his buzzer-beating jump shot.

 

Hawks soar past Pacers

Clint Capela (25 points and 24 rebounds) and Trae Young (34 points and 11 assists) helped the Atlanta Hawks power to a 129-117 victory against the Indiana Pacers. Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter contributed 23 points each for the Hawks, who have won eight of 10 games and are 17-6 under interim head coach Nate McMillan.

Kawhi Leonard returned from a four-game absence, tallying 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in the Los Angeles Clippers' 124-105 success at home to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Chris Boucher put up 31 points and 11 rebounds for the Toronto Raptors, who downed the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder 112-106 for a third consecutive win. Oklahoma City's Aleksej Pokusevski (six) became the first Thunder rookie with five-plus blocks in a game since Serge Ibaka in 2010.

The Charlotte Hornets snapped a four-game skid behind Terry Rozier as his 34 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds saw off the Portland Trail Blazers 109-101.

De'Aaron Fox's 30 points and 12 assists guided the Sacramento Kings to a 121-107 win over the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas All-Star Luka Doncic finished with a game-high 37 points.

 

Thunder continue to be silenced

The Thunder are now in the midst of a season-worst losing streak of 10 games after losing to the Raptors.

Josh Richardson struggled again for the Mavericks. He was just three-for-nine shooting, while making only one of his five three-point attempts for seven pints. Mavericks team-mate Tim Hardaway Jr. (eight points) finishing two-for-10 shooting.

 

Bridges goes bang!

Miles Bridges is becoming known for his slam dunks. The Hornets star produced another memorable dunk in the second quarter.

 

Sunday's results

Atlanta Hawks 129-117 Indiana Pacers
New York Knicks 122-112 New Orleans Pelicans (OT)
Miami Heat 109-107 Brooklyn Nets
Charlotte Hornets 109-101 Portland Trail Blazers
Houston Rockets 114-110 Orlando Magic
Toronto Raptors 112-106 Oklahoma City Thunder
Los Angeles Clippers 124-105 Minnesota Timberwolves
Sacramento Kings 121-107 Dallas Mavericks

 

Warriors at 76ers

Red-hot Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors (28-29) visit the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers (39-17) on Monday. The 76ers have won four straight games.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said the NBA title hopefuls are waiting to discover the severity of Kevin Durant's latest injury after the superstar was ruled out early in the loss to the Miami Heat.

The Nets endured a forgettable trip to Miami, suffering a buzzer-beating 109-107 defeat against the Heat, having seen Durant exit in the opening quarter due to a left thigh contusion on Sunday.

Durant missed 23 games because of a hamstring injury before returning this month and the Nets – eyeing their maiden championship – are hoping they are not without the former MVP for another sustained period.

"He's sore but we don't know how severe," first-year coach Nash told reporters post-game.

"We'll see tomorrow how he wakes up and go from there but right now nothing’s been determined."

Durant was hurt during the first quarter, appearing to tangle legs with Trevor Ariza on a drive to the basket during the first quarter.

The 11-time All-Star had played for just four minutes, going three-for-three shooting – including two successful attempts from beyond the arc – to finish with eight points.

Durant was out for nearly two months of the season due to a hamstring injury, making his return against the New Orleans Pelicans on April 7 with 17 points in just under 19 minutes.

The two-time NBA champion did not dress for the defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers (39-17) on Thursday, a result that means they hold the tie-breaker over the Nets (38-19) in the Eastern Conference, but was back in action on Saturday, scoring 25 in the victory over the Charlotte Hornets.

"The timing of everything this year has just been a tell-tale sign of what life is right now in terms of the uncertainty of a lot going on," said Nets star Kyrie Irving, who posted 20 points in the continued absence of superstar James Harden (hamstring).

"Anything could happen at any moment, so we don't want to take anything for granted. But anytime one of our team-mates goes down, anytime something like that happens, it's definitely going to take a hit for us. And he's just gotten back. We just pray that it's not too serious and he's able to recover, but it definitely has a hit on our continuity at times. But we're not making any excuses for each other.

"We're all professionals, the guys that are getting minutes right now, we need them. So it's going to turn eventually, but we've just got to find that continuity, that connectivity from the start of the game to the end."

Joel Embiid dominated as the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers held off the Los Angeles Clippers 106-03 in a blockbuster NBA showdown.

Embiid posted 36 points and 14 rebounds as the 76ers extended their winning streak to four games, while snapping the Clippers' seven-game run on Friday.

After being outscored 20-3 early in the opening quarter, the Kawhi Leonard-less Clippers rallied to take the lead during the closing stages of the final period in Philadelphia.

But the 76ers (39-17) scored seven straight points to move clear 99-94 and they never relinquished the lead, despite the Clippers' efforts.

MVP hopeful Embiid – averaging 34.5 points and 11.0 rebounds over his last four games – became the first 76ers player with at least 36 points and seven rebounds in three consecutive games since Charles Barkley in 1990, while he is the first Philadelphia player with at least 35 points in three straight games since Allen Iverson in 2006.

Having topped Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, it is just the third time in franchise history the 76ers have claimed back-to-back wins against teams 20-plus over .500 after 1966 and 1983.

Paul George put up 37 points and nine rebounds for the Clippers (39-19), who also had a season-high 18 points from Patrick Patterson.

George joined Bob McAdoo, World B. Free and Leonard as the only players in Clippers history to have five straight games with 30-plus points.

The NBA-leading Utah Jazz (42-14) rallied to beat the Indiana Pacers 119-111 after All-Star Donovan Mitchell exited due to an ankle injury.

Mitchell suffered a sprained ankle in the second half, having scored 22 points before leaving in the third quarter.

All-Star team-mates Rudy Gobert (13 points and 23 rebounds) and Mike Conley (10 points and 10 assists) both had double-doubles, while Bojan Bogdanovic put up 24 points.

 

Randle dazzles to fuel Knicks

Julius Randle's 44 points and 10 rebounds led the New York Knicks past former team the Dallas Mavericks 117-109. Randle became the first Knicks player since Bernard King in 1985 to record 40-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and five-plus assists in a regular-season game. He also became the first Knicks player since Carmelo Anthony in 2013-14 to register multiple 40-point games in a single season.

The San Antonio Spurs lost 107-106 to the Portland Trail Blazers but Dejounte Murray starred with 13 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists for his third triple-double of the season. The last Spurs player with that many triple-doubles in a season was David Robinson in 1993-94.

MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic finished with 29 points and 16 rebounds as the Denver Nuggets crushed the lowly Houston Rockets 128-99.

Russell Westbrook inspired the Washington Wizards' 117-115 overtime victory against the New Orleans Pelicans after scoring 10 of their 12 points in the additional period. Former MVP Westbrook tallied 36 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists – finishing just short of a seventh consecutive triple-double. The league's leading scorer Bradley Beal added 30 points.

A Kevin Durant double-double of 25 points and 11 assists guided the Nets to a 130-115 win at home to the Charlotte Hornets. Miles Bridges put up a career-high 33 points for the Hornets.

Jimmy Butler's 30 points and 10 rebounds were not enough after the Miami Heat were upstaged 119-111 by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

 

Houston humbled

It was a tough outing for the Rockets in Houston. Kevin Porter Jr. headlined their woes after he finished one-for-nine shooting for four points in 32 minutes. He missed all three of his attempts from beyond the arc.

The Orlando Magic lost again, beaten 113-102 by the Toronto Raptors. Orlando's Gary Harris was scoreless from the field. He was 0-for-seven from the field, while failing to make both of his three-point shots.

 

No-el!

New York's Nerlens Noel made an emphatic block to deny Dorian Finney-Smith.

 

Friday's results

Utah Jazz 119-111 Indiana Pacers
Detroit Pistons 110-104 Oklahoma City Thunder
Philadelphia 76ers 106-103 Los Angeles Clippers
Washington Wizards 117-115 New Orleans Pelicans (OT)
Brooklyn Nets 130-115 Charlotte Hornets
Toronto Raptors 113-102 Orlando Magic
Memphis Grizzlies 126-115 Chicago Bulls
Denver Nuggets 128-99 Houston Rockets
Minnesota Timberwolves 119-111 Miami Heat
Portland Trail Blazers 107-106 San Antonio Spurs
New York Knicks 117-109 Dallas Mavericks

 

Jazz at Lakers

Defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers (34-22) will host the high-flying Jazz in a Western Conference showdown at Staples Center on Saturday.

Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks said former NBA MVP James Harden is "progressing well" from a hamstring strain.

Harden has missed five consecutive games since exiting Brooklyn's win over the New York Knicks on April 5.

The All-Star guard – one of the frontrunners for MVP honours this season having been averaging 25.2 points, 10.9 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game – sat out Friday's 130-115 victory against the Charlotte Hornets.

Marks provided an update on Harden, telling reporters: "I can tell you that James is progressing well. He's looking forward to having at least one or two more play days -- which means he'll play four on four, five on five with the group in practice.

"And hopefully, if things go smoothly like that, he'll be out and joining the guys in a game. But he's progressed well, he's met his markers up to this point and we'll just continue to progress him along.

"Hopefully, it's not too much longer. But at this point, I can't put a timetable on if it's two days, five days or so forth."

Nets head coach Steve Nash was also asked about Harden after star-studded Brooklyn improved to 38-18 behind Kevin Durant's 25 points and 11 assists.

Steve Nash added: "I haven't seen James. So he worked out [Thursday]. We had an off day. He worked out when we were on the road.

"But I think he was going to work out this evening. So I haven't seen him. all I can go off is what I heard and I know, speaking to James and speaking to people who were on the court with him -- he is improving and he is on the right track and hopefully won't be long before he's back.

"But there are still markers. And you know there's James -- he wants to play tonight -- and there's performance that wants to lean on science and be safe.

"There are two kind of despaired opinions and that's what we're here for is to try to find the middle ground and make sure he returns safely but also as soon as he possibly can."

The Nets are set for a three-game road trip against the Miami Heat (Sunday), New Orleans Pelicans (Tuesday) and Toronto Raptors (Wednesday).

"I mean, again, I hope I'm not speaking out of term," Nash said. "But I think typically, at this stage of the rehab, it's about high-intensity play. So can get out there and play one on one, three on three, four on four, five on five and can he do it consistently over two or three times in a row?

"Not necessarily back-to-back days, but two or three bouts of high-intensity play in a row and you recover, do it again and prove that he can meet the demands and intensity and have no ill effects the next day or the next performance. So that's kind of the way it works, in a very general way."

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich described LaMarcus Aldridge as a "consummate professional" after the veteran retired due to a health issue.

Aldridge played while dealing with an irregular heartbeat in the Brooklyn Nets' 126-101 defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers last Saturday, a problem that became worse after the game.

The seven-time All-Star was listed as out with a non-COVID related illness for the Nets' next two games against the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Philadelphia 76ers.

On Thursday, the 35-year-old announced he was putting his health and family first and calling it a day.

Aldridge had only joined the Nets as a free agent in March and averaged 12.8 points in five games after agreeing a contract buyout with the Spurs.

He was signed by the Spurs ahead of the 2015-16 season, helping San Antonio reach the Western Conference Finals in 2017 where they were swept by the Golden State Warriors.

"LaMarcus Aldridge enjoyed a wonderful NBA career. He was a consummate professional with a unique skill set and a deep respect for the game," Popovich said in a Spurs statement.

"We're grateful for his contributions, both on and off the court, during his time here in San Antonio.

"I'm proud of him for making this difficult decision and we wish him and his family all of the best in the future."

Selected second overall by the Chicago Bulls in the 2006 draft, Aldridge spent the majority of his career with the Portland Trail Blazers, scoring 12,562 points to sit third on the franchise's all-time list.

Aldridge played in 1,029 NBA games and finishes up averaging 19.4 points and 8.2 rebounds.

LaMarcus Aldridge has announced his immediate retirement after experiencing a health scare in what turned out to be his final NBA game.

Aldridge revealed that he played against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday while dealing with an irregular heartbeat – an issue that became worse following the 126-101 defeat for the Brooklyn Nets.

The seven-time All-Star was listed as out due to a non-COVID-related illness for the Nets' next two outings in the regular season, against the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Now the full extent of the issue has been revealed by the 35-year-old in a statement posted on social media, during which he made clear the time has come to put his health – and also his family – first.

"Today, I write this letter with a heavy heart. My last game, I played while dealing with an irregular heartbeat. Later on that night, my rhythm got even worse, which really worried me even more," Aldridge explained.

"The next morning, I told the team what was going on and they were great getting me to the hospital and getting me checked out. Though I’m better now, what I felt with my heart that night was still one of the scariest things I’ve experienced.

"With that being said, I've made the difficult decision to retire from the NBA. For 15 years, I've put basketball first, and now it is time to put my health and family first."

Aldridge had only joined the Nets at the end of March as a free agent, averaging 12.8 points in five games after agreeing a contract buyout with the San Antonio Spurs.

However, the second overall pick by the Chicago Bulls in the 2006 draft spent the majority of his career with the Portland Trail Blazers, scoring 12,562 points to sit third on the franchise's all-time list.

Signed by the Spurs ahead of the 2015-16 season, Aldridge helped San Antonio reach the Western Conference Finals in 2017, though they were swept by the Golden State Warriors in that series.

"I'm thankful for everything this game has given me: the great memories, including all the ups and downs, and the friendships I've made and will keep with me forever," Aldridge continued.

"I thank Portland for drafting a skinny Texas kid and giving him a chance. The city of Portland has given me some unforgettable years.

"They will always remain in my heart. I want to thank the Spurs for letting me into the family and giving me five fun years.

"Last but not least, I want to thank Brooklyn. You wanted me for me. In a game that's changing so much, you asked me to come and just do what I do, which was good to hear. I’m sorry it didn't get to last long, but I've definitely had fun being a part of this special group.

"You never know when something will come to an end, so make sure you enjoy it every day. I can truly say I did just that."

Aldridge played in 1,029 NBA games and finishes up averaging 19.4 points and 8.2 rebounds. 

The Philadelphia 76ers held off a late charge from the short-handed Brooklyn Nets 123-117 to take over top spot in the Eastern Conference on Wednesday. 

Joel Embiid had 39 points and 13 rebounds to lead the 76ers (38-17) past the visiting Nets, while Tobias Harris added 26 points and Ben Simmons 17 on home court midweek.

In the second game of a back-to-back, Brooklyn (37-18) played without Kevin Durant, James Harden, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, though Kyrie Irving returned and scored 37 points after missing Tuesday's game for personal reasons. 

Irving (23) and Embiid (21) both cleared 20 points in the first half, with the latter achieving the feat for the NBA-best 14th time this season.

Philadelphia led by 22 points in the fourth quarter before the Brooklyn reserves rallied to cut the deficit to three, but the 76ers held on to win after putting All-Star pair Embiid and Simmons back in the game. 

In Memphis, Luka Doncic helped the Dallas Mavericks expand their seeding advantage against the Grizzlies by hitting a buzzer-beating three-pointer for a dramatic 114-113 victory. 

Doncic posted 29 points and Kristaps Porzingis added 21 of his own for the Mavericks (30-24), who are seventh in the Western Conference with the Grizzlies (27-26) just behind. 

Grayson Allen scored 23 points for Memphis but missed two free throws with 2.2 seconds remaining to open the door for Doncic to win it. 

 

Curry maintains hot shooting hand

Stephen Curry scored 42 points, highlighted by a 25-point third quarter in which he did not miss a shot from the field, as the Golden State Warriors routed the Oklahoma City Thunder 147-109. Coming off a 53-point game on Monday, Curry made all eight of his shots from the floor, six of them three-pointers, as the Warriors blew open the game with a 50-point third quarter. In all, he made 11 three-pointers, the second time in his career with successive games of at least 10 three-pointers. The two-time MVP has hit 10-plus threes in back-to-back games for the second time in his career – he is the only player to do so multiple times.

MVP candidate Nikola Jokic's 15th triple-double of the season – 17 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds – guided the Denver Nuggets past the Miami Heat 123-106.

Despite the absence of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Serge Ibaka and Patrick Beverley, the Los Angeles Clippers recorded their seventh consecutive victory by topping the Detroit Pistons 100-98.

 

Jackson makes it hurt for Pistons

The Pistons fell to 16-39, the worst record in the Eastern Conference, when their former star Reggie Jackson hit a game-winning jumper with 2.3 seconds remaining. Detroit had led by five points inside the final minute before collapsing in the closing seconds. 

 

Westbrook does it all once again

Russell Westbrook continues to do it all for the Washington Wizards, posting his sixth triple double in succession with 25 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists in a 123-111 victory over the Sacramento Kings. It is the fourth six-game streak of his career. The rest of NBA history has three combined.

 

Wednesday's results

Brooklyn Nets 123-117 Philadelphia 76ers
Milwaukee Bucks 130-105 Minnesota Timberwolves
Cleveland Cavaliers 103-90 Charlotte Hornets
Toronto Raptors 117-112 San Antonio Spurs
Los Angeles Clippers 100-98 Detroit Pistons
Orlando Magic 115-106 Chicago Bulls
New York Knicks 116-106 New Orleans Pelicans
Indiana Pacers 132-124 Houston Rockets
Golden State Warriors 147-109 Oklahoma City Thunder
Dallas Mavericks 114-113 Memphis Grizzlies
Denver Nuggets 123-106 Miami Heat
Washington Wizards 123-111 Sacramento Kings

 

Celtics at Lakers

A classic NBA rivalry is renewed as the Boston Celtics (29-26) visit defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers (34-21) on Thursday. Jayson Tatum will be looking to lead the Celtics to a fifth successive win.

The Philadelphia 76ers are back on top in the Eastern Conference and All-Star Ben Simmons said the NBA championship hopefuls intend to stay there.

Simmons scored 17 points to complement MVP candidate Joel Embiid, who led the way with 39 points and 13 rebounds in Wednesday's 123-117 victory over short-handed rivals the Brooklyn Nets.

The 76ers almost surrendered a 22-point lead before holding to improve to 38-17 at the top of the east, ahead of the star-studded Nets (37-18), who were without Kevin Durant, James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin.

"We want that one seed," Simmons told reporters post-game.

"We have a pretty tough schedule coming up with Milwaukee and the Clippers, but I believe we're more than capable of it."

76ers head coach Doc Rivers attempted to rest his two stars in the fourth quarter against a depleted Brooklyn team, but All-Star duo Simmons and Embiid had to return late and close out the win. 

"They should not have had to come back in," Rivers said. 

Philadelphia were not about to risk letting the game slip away considering the stakes.

The 76ers are now 21-5 at home and remaining on top in the east would keep them there throughout the early rounds of the playoffs. 

Embiid had his 11th game this season with 30-plus points and 10-plus rebounds. It is tied with Denver Nuggets star and fellow MVP contender Nikola Jokic for the second most in the NBA, only behind Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.

"That fourth quarter, that come back, it was just weird," Embiid said. "I will say, I felt like I sat too long and I kinda lost my rhythm. Them fronting and trapping had nothing to do with how our play in that stretch when I came back.

"We just didn't have the same physicality that we had for the first three quarters."

Should the 76ers meet the Nets in the playoffs, Philadelphia know they will see a far different team than they did Wednesday, but he is not concerned. 

"We know exactly who they are and they know exactly who we are," Rivers told reporters.

"When the playoffs start, it's a whole new beast. We'll be ready for them and I'm sure they'll be ready for us."

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said securing the Eastern Conference's number one seed would be "valuable" but not at the expense of losing players to injury as his short-handed team lost the top spot to rivals the Philadelphia 76ers.

The star-studded Nets (37-18) were without Kevin Durant, James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin for Wednesday's 123-117 defeat away to fellow NBA championship hopefuls the 76ers (38-17).

After posting 31 points in 27 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday – just his third appearance since a 23-game injury absence – the Nets opted to sit former MVP Durant and avoid back-to-back outings.

Despite missing most of their stars, though Kyrie Irving (37 points) returned, the Nets almost upstaged the 76ers in the highly anticipated showdown, rallying from 22 points down to close within 118-115 with just over one minute remaining.

"It'd be great to have the number one seed. I think it means a lot, it's valuable," Nash said afterwards. "But not at the expense of losing players or prolonging our injury situation.

"So I think we have to be very careful and make sure that our guys get to the finish line as whole as possible."

Durant has been averaging 28.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game this season.

He is also shooting a career-high 44.8 per cent from three-point range, while the two-time NBA champion (53.5) only boasted a better field-goal percentage in 2016-17 (53.7).

On Durant's absence, Nash responded to suggestions the two-time NBA champion was held out to keep Philadelphia guessing to how Brooklyn – eyeing a maiden title – might operate as a full and healthy unit in the playoffs.

"I think when you start to really try to be cute, it backfires most of the time," Nash said. "It wasn't strategic. It was, this is what this is the availability we have."

Irving – who returned from a personal issue after sitting out the Timberwolves matchup – starred for the Nets, but he watched from the sidelines as Brooklyn's reserves rallied down the stretch.

"Just played their hearts out," Irving said. "That's all you can ask coming out here to play the game that we all love. Just to go out there and compete. You know I'm sure they were chomping at the bit.

"Especially to get that win down the stretch for us and I feel like they grew as a group, we grew as a team and they learned some things out there playing against a high level playoff team that we can potentially see down the line. So it was a fun game overall."

The Brooklyn Nets will be undermanned for Wednesday's blockbuster NBA matchup with Eastern Conference rivals the Philadelphia 76ers after Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin were ruled out.

Brooklyn and Philadelphia are set to do battle in a first-place showdown midweek – the two championship hopefuls share 37-17 win-loss records atop the east.

But the Nets will be without superstar Durant (hamstring – injury management) and former All-Stars Aldridge (illness – non-covid related) and Griffin (knee – injury management) as the trio join James Harden (hamstring) on the sidelines.

The star-studded Nets, however, do welcome back Kyrie Irving after he missed Tuesday's 127-97 rout of the Minnesota Timberwolves due to personal reasons.

Former MVP Durant was in doubt for the 76ers clash after playing 27 minutes against the Timberwolves.

Durant posted 31 points on 11-for-15 shooting in his third appearance following a 23-game injury absence.

The Nets-Timberwolves matchup was initially scheduled for Monday, but it was pushed back in the aftermath of Daunte Wright being shot and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.

It meant Durant faced the prospect of back-to-back games, which the Nets opted to avoid as they eye their maiden NBA title.

Durant is averaging 28.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists for the star-studded Nets this season.

He is also shooting a career-high 44.8 per cent from three-point range, while the two-time NBA champion (53.5) only boasted a better field-goal percentage in 2016-17 (53.7).

The top two teams in the Eastern Conference do battle in Philadelphia on Wednesday as the 76ers host the Brooklyn Nets.

Philadelphia and Brooklyn are tied atop the conference going into a mouth-watering clash.

Yet the Nets will again be without their full complement of stars at Wells Fargo Center, with James Harden struggling due to a hamstring issue and Kyrie Irving having missed Tuesday's game in Minnesota for personal reasons.

But they do have Kevin Durant at their disposal for a contest in which the Nets must try to contain an MVP candidate.


TOP PERFORMERS

Joel Embiid - Philadelphia 76ers

Embiid is expected to miss out on the NBA's top individual honour, with Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets the firm favourite, but he has continued to present a strong case.

He is averaging a career-high 29.6 points per game and has been key to each of the 76ers' past four wins, scoring 24, 35, 27 and 36 points in those contests.

Kevin Durant - Brooklyn Nets

Durant has had his fair share of injury issues this season, but the Nets' sole healthy superstar carried them in a rearranged meeting with the Timberwolves on Tuesday.

The two-time NBA Finals MVP shot 11 of 15, including four of six from three-point range, to rack up 31 points. He will need similar production if the Nets are to see off the Sixers on this unanticipated back to back.

KEY BATTLE - A DUEL BEHIND THE ARC

Durant's performance was indicative of how the Nets have thrived this season. Their three-point field goal percentage of 39.0 is the third-best in the NBA.

In the Sixers, however, they are coming up against a team that has done an impressive job of stopping teams getting hot from deep. Only six teams have allowed fewer three-point makes per game than Philadelphia (11.8).

HEAD TO HEAD

The Sixers came out on top in February's meeting with the Nets, prevailing 124-108 and they have dominated this matchup in recent times.

Philadelphia have won three of the previous four meetings between the two and have not lost a home game to the Nets since December 2018.

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