A new generation of NBA superstars established themselves as the playoffs continued last week.

The first round concluded as a talented, young (with the exception of Chris Paul) Phoenix Suns team defeated LeBron James and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Atlanta Hawks quickly gained an upper hand against the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, too.

And although Kawhi Leonard led the Los Angeles Clippers through to round two, they also suffered at the hand of an emerging talent, as Stats Perform's NBA Heat Check shows.
 

RUNNING HOT...

Devin Booker

Booker was dominant across the board for the Suns, earning praise from James after getting the better of the reigning NBA Finals MVP.

When comparing last week's performances with regular season returns, Booker ranked third for scoring improvement, second for rebounding improvement and second for three-point makes improvement. This was a staggering show of strength.

Playing in his sixth year, it is easy to forget this was a debut postseason series for Booker, who finished with 47 points at Staples Center and will back himself to deliver again against the Denver Nuggets.

Trae Young

The biggest potential upset of the second round is already under way after the Hawks took Game 1 against the 76ers in Philly despite Joel Embiid's return to fitness.

Young – another playoff debutant – was predictably at the centre of their success, following up 36 points in Game 5 against the New York Knicks with 35 in this opener.

He had 25 in the first half on Sunday on eight-of-13 shooting as Atlanta scored 74, the most ever by a road team in a Game 1. Considering the way the Sixers battled back to make the encounter close, Young might have to be similarly outstanding again in the forthcoming meetings.

Luka Doncic

Young was traded to the Hawks as part of the deal that saw Doncic go the other way to the Dallas Mavericks on draft night in 2018. But the Slovenian will play no further part in the playoffs after Sunday's Game 7 defeat to the Clippers.

Doncic has undoubtedly proven his class in the postseason, though, even if he is yet to win a series. Already one of the league's outstanding offensive stars, his career playoff average of 33.5 points per game is the best of any player to appear in 13 or more games – surpassing Michael Jordan's 33.4.

The Mavs ace reached that mark thanks to an outstanding week that included two 40-point performances despite Dallas' eventual series defeat.

Doncic's performances through 13 career playoff games are a match for the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Only Rick Barry, Bob McAdoo and Jordan have topped his 436 total points at this stage since 1963-64. He was certainly not to blame on Sunday...
 

GOING COLD...

Kristaps Porzingis

Expensive team-mate Porzingis may well have to take some responsibility for the Mavs' failings, although he was not alone. Among the players with the largest declines in scoring over the past week from their regular season outputs, three Dallas players were in the top seven.

Josh Richardson and Jalen Brunson were also in there, but Porzingis' presence should be of the most concern.

Although the big man put up 16 points and 11 rebounds – his second-most in a postseason game – on Sunday, his failure to make a single one of his five three-point attempts left Doncic short of help.

Enes Kanter

Doncic was not the only superstar left high and dry as he exited the first round. Damian Lillard did all he could to try to carry the Portland Trail Blazers past the Nuggets last week, averaging 41.5 points, but could not advance alone.

CJ McCollum underwhelmed, despite contributing 20.7 points across the series, yet it was the absence of effective defense that meant Nikola Jokic was always able to match Lillard.

Jusuf Nurkic had a combined plus/minus of 45 but fouled out of three of the six games, meaning poor Kanter had to guard Jokic on occasion and ended the series with a -34 plus/minus across only 56 minutes.

One down, plenty more to go. While the opening round of the NBA playoffs has already produced plenty of drama, the Miami Heat's hopes of a repeat run have been extinguished.

The 2020 finalists fell at the first hurdle this time around, swept aside by a Milwaukee Bucks team now waiting to find out who they will face next. As for the defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers are finding the going tough against the Phoenix Suns, that series one of three in the Western Conference delicately balanced at 2-2 through four games.

In the East, the picture looks somewhat clearer. Still, as the Denver Nuggets demonstrated last year in the NBA's Florida bubble, no 3-1 series lead is safe in the playoffs.

As the contests keep coming thick and fast, Stats Perform takes a brief pause to review those stepping up in the the playoffs, as well as the players who could do with finding some form again.


RUNNING HOT

Ja Morant

Having helped the Memphis Grizzlies come through the play-in tournament, Morant has continued to dazzle in the series against the Utah Jazz. After 26 points in the opener, the second-year point guard has dropped 47 and 28 in the next two meetings, albeit on neither occasion were his efforts enough to secure his team a victory.

Still, he is averaging 33.7 points per game against Utah, a huge upturn from 19.1 in the regular season. So, just how good has he been? Well, in reaching a century of points through his first three playoff games in the NBA, Morant matched a feat previously only achieved by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan.

Derrick Rose

Rose has claimed the starting point guard spot from Elfrid Payton for the New York Knicks as they go up against the Atlanta Hawks, a series the latter now leads 3-1 after a 113-96 triumph on Saturday.

Elevated off the bench, Rose has managed a combined total of 48 points in back-to-back losses on the road, during which he landed five of his nine attempts from deep. Payton, meanwhile, has scored one point in just 13 minutes of court time during the playoffs and did not get off the bench at all the past two games after averaging 10.1 points per game in the regular season.

Kawhi Leonard

"This is playoff basketball, we've just got to figure it out." Those were Leonard's words as the Los Angeles Clippers faced a 2-0 deficit as they headed to Dallas to continue their battle with the Mavericks.

It is safe to say the two-time NBA Finals MVP has done just that on his travels, helping his team fight back to level the series between the fourth and fifth seeds in the West. Across the past week, Leonard has averaged 35.7 points, aided by sinking 21 of his 23 attempts from the free-throw line, as well as contributing 24 rebounds. Playoff Kawhi means business this year.

GOING COLD

Shake Milton

Having averaged 13.0 points per outing in the regular season, Milton has endured a playoff slump for the Philadelphia 76ers as his minutes have been reduced. So far, the 24-year-old has managed nine points in a series that has seen his team hold control throughout.

Milton has managed to land only two of his 12 shot attempts, including missing all six in Game 2. In the following outing, head coach Doc Rivers opted to use Tyrese Maxey ahead of his team-mate off the bench, a move that may become a regular feature as the 76ers look set to move on to round two.

Enes Kanter

For the Portland Trail Blazers in the regular season, Kanter averaged 11.2 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. In the playoffs, however, it has been a different story for the veteran center.

After playing over 32 minutes across the first two games against the Denver Nuggets, Kanter has now figured in a little over nine in the following two. During his limited opportunities, there have been no points, two rebounds and a solitary blocked shot. Up against Nikola Jokic, the Blazers have opted to go with alternative options when starting center Jusuf Nurkic is taking a seat on the bench.

Montrezl Harrell

Make no mistake, the Lakers are locked in a battle with the Suns. Phoenix were impressive in taking Game 4 on the road on Saturday to draw level, during which the 2019-20 Sixth Man of the Year was finally called into action again by head coach Frank Vogel.

However, Harrell's appearance was fleeting. Having averaged 13.5 points during the regular season when playing just under 23 minutes per outing, he has been a non-factor in the playoffs. After not even making it onto the court in the previous two games, his brief cameo at the weekend saw him fail to muster a shot as LA lost at home. Across the past week, he has not scored a single point.

Kyrie Irving's ejection proved costly as the high-flying Brooklyn Nets were humbled 126-101 by reigning NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers.

Nets star Irving (18 points) and Lakers guard Dennis Schroder (19 points) were both ejected in the third quarter at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the pair were jawing with each other before the officials stepped in.

Leading 66-62 at the time, the injury-hit Lakers surged clear – using a 15-2 burst to extend their advantage to 88-71 away to the Nets, who had their nine-game home winning streak snapped.

In the absence of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma, Lakers recruit Andre Drummond had 20 points and 11 rebounds, while Talen Horton-Tucker (14 points and 11 assists) also put up a double-double.

Nets star Kevin Durant posted 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists in his second game back following a 23-game absence.

The Utah Jazz extended their franchise-record home winning streak to 24 games after topping the Sacramento Kings 128-112.

Donovan Mitchell led the way with a season-high 42 points – the All-Star tallying his 18th 30-point game of the season.

Mitchell became the fourth Jazz player to score 35-plus points in three consecutive games, joining Karl Malone, Adrian Dantley and Pete Maravich.

Mike Conley (26 points) and Joe Ingles (20) made contributions for the Jazz, while Kings pair De'Aaron Fox (30 points) and Richaun Holmes (25 points and 10 rebounds) impressed.

 

Curry sizzles, Trent has game to remember

Stephen Curry scored 23 of his 38 points in the third quarter to lead the Golden State Warriors past the Houston Rockets 125-109. Curry had his sixth consecutive 30-point game, the longest streak of his career. The two-time MVP is the first Warrior to score at least 30 points in six straight games since Ricky Barry in 1974.

The Toronto Raptors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 135-115 behind Gary Trent Jr., who went off for a new career-high 44 points on 17-for-19 shooting. He joined Chris Bosh (40 points on 14-16 field goals made in 2008) as the only Raptors players to have 40-plus points on 80 per cent shooting or better in a game. Trent's 89.5 field goal percentage marked the second highest figure for any player with 44-plus points in a game during the shot-clock era (1954-55), trailing only Mike Woodson (48 points on 91.7 field goal percentage) in 1983.

The Phoenix Suns maintained their solid form by easing past the Washington Wizards 134-106. Phoenix have won 17 of their last 21 games after Devin Booker posted 27 points and Deandre Ayton had 14 points and 10 rebounds. The Suns only tallied three turnovers against the Wizards to tie the franchise record. Wizards star Russell Westbrook (17 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds) recorded his NBA-leading 22nd triple-double of the season.

Enes Kanter's 24 points and franchise-record 30 rebounds fuelled the Portland Trail Blazers' 118-103 win over the lowly Detroit Pistons. Team-mate Damian Lillard had 27 points and 10 assists.

 

Porter struggles

Kevin Porter Jr. was four-for-13 shooting from the field, while he made just one of six three-point attempts for nine points in 33 minutes as the Rockets went down to the Warriors.

Detroit's Cory Joseph finished with just four points after going two-of-seven from the field.

 

Korkmaz enjoys career night

Furkan Korkmaz put on a show at both ends of the floor as the Philadelphia 76ers returned to the top of the east alongside the Nets following a 117-93 win at the Oklahoma City Thunder. Korkmaz put up a season-high 20 points and a career-high five steals.

 

Saturday's results

Utah Jazz 128-112 Sacramento Kings
Toronto Raptors 135-115 Cleveland Cavaliers
Los Angeles Lakers 126-101 Brooklyn Nets
Philadelphia 76ers 117-93 Oklahoma City Thunder
Golden State Warriors 125-109 Houston Rockets
Phoenix Suns 134-106 Washington Wizards
Portland Trail Blazers 118-103 Detroit Pistons

 

Celtics at Nuggets

On Sunday, the Boston Celtics (27-26) will face the streaking Denver Nuggets (34-18), who have won eight straight games.

LeBron James' double-double fired the Los Angeles Lakers back to winning ways, while James Harden stepped up to rally the Kyrie Irving-less Brooklyn Nets past the high-flying Phoenix Suns.

James put up 30 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists as the reigning NBA champions leaned on their defense in the 112-104 victory over the last-placed Minnesota Timberwolves.

Without the injured Anthony Davis, Dennis Schroder played the supporting role for James, posting 24 points, while the Lakers battled to claim eight steals and seven blocks in a closely fought contest.

After taking a two-point lead into the fourth quarter at Target Center, the road side pulled away in the closing stages to improve to 22-7 in second place in the Western Conference.

Harden pulled out the stops with a double-double to lead the Nets to a sensational 128-124 comeback win against the Suns, despite playing without Irving after the star guard felt tightness in his lower back.

Nets coach Steve Nash revealed Irving received treatment at half-time of Brooklyn's win against the Sacramento Kings on Monday but expects the six-time All-Star to only be sidelined in the short term.

The Nets surged, scoring 40 fourth-quarter points to turn around a 24-point deficit, with Harden (38 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds) backed up by Joe Harris (22 points) as they halted the Suns' six-game winning streak.

Jokic burns Celtics but Nuggets fall short, Zion on target for Pelicans

Nikola Jokic lit up the Boston Celtics, scoring 43 points, but the Denver Nuggets could still not make triple-digits as their three-game winning stretch was ended in a 112-99 loss.

Zion Williamson shot an efficient 31 points, sinking 13 of his 16 field-goal efforts and going four-of-four from the free-throw line, as the New Orleans Pelicans snapped a three-match losing run with a 144-113 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Meanwhile, Damian Lillard’s 31-point, 10-assist double-double led the Portland Trail Blazers past the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 115-104 win, while centre Enes Kanter pulled down 21 rebounds.

 

Bazley struggles to take his chances

The Thunder never recovered against the Blazers after falling 34-21 behind in the first quarter and forward Darius Bazley was one player that could not find his range.

Bazley shot four from 16 from the field for 14 points during his 36 minutes on court, only dropping one his seven efforts from three-point range.

 

Giannis powers up but the Raps edge the Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo proved unplayable at times, scoring 34 points in the Milwaukee Bucks' 124-113 loss against the Toronto Raptors, as he ghosted past three defenders for one of his buckets.

Tuesday's results

Boston Celtics 112-99 Denver Nuggets
Portland Trail Blazers 115-104 Oklahoma City Thunder 
Los Angeles Lakers 112-104 Minnesota Timberwolves
New Orleans Pelicans 144-113 Memphis Grizzlies 
Toronto Raptors 124-113 Milwaukee Bucks 
Brooklyn Nets 128-124 Phoenix Suns

 

Jazz at Clippers

There has been no stopping the Utah Jazz, who have won eight straight and 19 of their past 20 games to establish a lead in the Western Conference, but a tough challenge awaits when they go on the road to face the third-placed Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.

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