When Grayson Allen takes the court for the Phoenix Suns in their first play-off game this weekend, he'll be playing with a new contract.

Allen and the Suns agreed to a four-year, $70million extension on Monday, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The six-year veteran is coming off his best NBA season, averaging career highs of 13.5 points per game, 3.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 0.92 steals while starting 74 of 75 contests.

He also shot a league-leading 46.1 per cent from 3-point range and averaged a career-best 2.7 made 3-pointers per game.

He had seven games this season with at least eight made 3-pointers, and only the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry had more such games with eight.

 

The 21st overall pick of the 2018 NBA draft by the Utah Jazz, Allen joined the Suns last off-season as part of the three-team trade that saw Damian Lillard go to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Prior to being acquired by Phoenix, Allen spent one season with the Jazz, two with the Memphis Grizzlies and two in Milwaukee.

He averaged 9.7 points per game in his first five seasons before becoming an important part of Phoenix's offence in 2023-24.

In the 30 games Allen scored at least 14 points, the Suns went 22-8, compared to going 27-25 when he scored 13 or fewer.

Phoenix won 10 of its last 14 games to end the season 49-33, and finish in sixth place in the Western Conference.

The Suns will face the third-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves in a first-round play-off series, beginning on Saturday.

The Los Angeles Lakers will have Anthony Davis to call on when they face the New Orleans Pelicans in their upcoming play-in game.

After finishing eighth in the Western Conference, the Lakers will go up against the No.7 seed Pelicans on Tuesday.

While the loser will drop into a game against either the Sacramento Kings or the Golden State Warriors, the winner will go up against the Denver Nuggets in the first round.

The Lakers defeated the Pelicans 124-108 in their final regular-season game on Sunday, with an instant rematch now on the cards.

And Davis, who had to be treated for back spasms after the game, insisted he will be fit to feature.

"No doubt that I'm going to play," said Davis, who finished with 30 points and 11 rebounds.

LeBron James is heading into the playoffs in fine form.

He registered his fifth triple-double of the season, finishing with 28 points, a season-high 17 assists and 11 rebounds.

"I just read the game and I was just finding my teammates and I just tried to put the ball on time and on target for either jump shots or guys at the rim," James said.

"I just tried to be very efficient with my play."

James marked Zion Williamson on Sunday, with the 23-year-old limited to 12 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

However, James was full of praise for his opponent, adding: "He's a beast.

"I mean, it's almost impossible to stop him so I just tried to keep a body on him and just tried to keep it tough on him. He's a great player, man."

Looking towards Tuesday's matchup, James said: "Tuesday's game is going to be extremely hard, extremely difficult, extremely physical.

"I've always known that, when you play a playoff series, and I look at this like a two-game playoff series, if you win that first game, a team has multiple days to kind of sit on that feeling, or sit with that taste in their mouth of defeat.

"So they're going to be extremely ready for us and we have to come in with the same sense of urgency that we had the previous game."

Chet Holmgren and the Oklahoma City Thunder have their "eyes on the prize" as they target an NBA Championship tilt.

The Thunder clinched the No.1 seed in the Western Conference with a 135-86 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.

Oklahoma City will face either the New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings or Golden State Warriors in the first round.

But for Holmgren, the celebrations for finishing top of the West will be short-lived.

"I wouldn't say celebratory so much as just kind of recognising the fruition of all the hard work that we've been putting in," Holmgren said.

"We're not in the position we're in by accident. There was a lot of dedication and hard work that went into it.

"But we're not celebrating, because what we're trying to do, we're not there yet. So, we're still eyes on the prize, locked in."

The Thunder finished the regular season with a 57-25 record, as they edged out the Denver Nuggets and the Minnesota Timberwolves in a three-horse race for the No.1 seed.

"It's super surreal. It's fun," said Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

"Obviously, you play to win. It's [more fun] like that, but I think it goes back to us chipping away at it every day and not worrying about the past or the future.

"Just chipping away, seeing where that gets us, and us taking that mentality has allowed us to get here.

"So, yeah, it feels good, something to be proud about. We have a lot more work to do."

Reigning NBA champions the Nuggets might have finished second in the West, but they did tie a franchise record with their 57 wins.

"To tie the franchise record for wins in a season is outstanding, especially on the heels of winning a championship," coach Michael Malone said.

"That's been the mantra all year long. Not being satisfied."

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 15 points in just one half of action to lead seven Oklahoma City players in double figures as the Thunder clinched the Western Conference's No. 1 seed with a 135-86 rout of the depleted Dallas Mavericks in Sunday's regular-season finale.

The Thunder, who missed the postseason in each of the previous three seasons, earned the conference's top spot for the first time since 2012-13 after winning a tiebreaker with the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets. Both teams finished with 57–25 records, but Oklahoma City won three of the four meetings between the clubs. 

Oklahoma City rested most of its starting five for the entire second half after building an insurmountable 82-41 lead over Dallas, which held out stars Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving and two other starters with its playoff seed already known.

The Mavericks were locked into the West's No. 5 seed and will face the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers in the quarterfinals.

Oklahoma City shot 60.7 per cent in the first quarter to own a 39-22 advantage after 12 minutes, then overwhelmed Dallas' makeshift lineup in the second to put the game already out of reach.

The Thunder outscored the Mavericks by a 43-19 margin for the period, with reserve Aaron Wiggins leading the way with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting.

Wiggins finished with 14 points and Chet Holmgren had 13 along with nine rebounds before also sitting out the second half.

Brandon Williams paced Dallas with 22 points, while rookie Olivier Maxence-Prosper had 15 points and eight rebounds for the Mavericks.

 

Suns thump Timberwolves to avoid play-in round

In another of the West's pivotal games on the season's final day, the Phoenix Suns secured a spot in the quarterfinals with a 125-106 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves to set up a first-round clash between the teams.

Phoenix's win coupled with New Orleans' 124-108 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday moved the Suns ahead of the Pelicans for the West's No. 6 seed. New Orleans will now host the Lakers once again on Tuesday in the play-in round.

Minnesota entered the day tied with Oklahoma City and Denver for the West's top record, but fell to the No. 3 seed and will face the Suns in the best-of-seven quarterfinals.

Phoenix set up the rematch behind a big performance from Bradley Beal, who made all six of his 3-point attempts while tallying 36 points. The Suns also received 23 points and seven assists from Devin Booker and 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting from Grayson Allen.

Beal set the tone right from the start, as he dropped in 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the first quarter as Phoenix took a commanding 44-22 lead into the second.

The Suns maintained a double-digit advantage the rest of the way, with Minnesota never getting its deficit under 10 points over the final three quarters.

Rudy Gobert led the Timberwolves with 21 points and seven rebounds, but All-Star Anthony Edwards was held to 13 points in 35 minutes and committed five of Minnesota's 24 turnovers, which tied a single-game high for the season.

 

Knicks outlast Bulls in overtime to secure East's No. 2 seed

Jalen Brunson's 40 points and some big shots from his supporting cast catapulted the New York Knicks into the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed with a 120-119 overtime win over the Chicago Bulls.

The Knicks leapfrogged the Milwaukee Bucks in the standings after rallying from an eight-point deficit with nine minutes left in regulation and then holding off Chicago during the final stages of overtime. Brunson added eight rebounds and seven assists, while Donte DiVincenzo recorded 25 points and Bojan Bogdanovic chipped in 13 points off the bench.

Milwaukee finished one game back of New York following Sunday's 113-88 loss to Orlando, a result that enabled the Magic to avoid the play-in round. The Bucks would have won the tiebreaker with the Knicks had the teams ended with identical records.

New York appeared on the verge of defeat when down 90-82 early in the fourth quarter, but the Knicks scored 14 of the game's next 20 points to draw even.

A Bogdanovic 3-pointer with 6:48 left cut Chicago's lead to 94-93, and after DeMar DeRozan's jumper gave the Bulls some breathing room, DiVincenzo knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the game at 96-96 with five minutes to go.

Chicago took a 109-107 edge on Coby White's layup with 1:19 remaining in regulation, but Brunson answered with a short jumper on the ensuing possession and neither team could score in the final minute.

After the Bulls' Alex Caruso opened overtime with a 3-pointer, New York scored seven straight points to own a 116-112 advantage with 2:27 left.

Chicago, which entered the contest already locked into the play-in round as the East's No. 9 seed, continued to battle back before missing out on a chance to win at the end.

Caruso's layup with 14.4 seconds on the clock brought the Bulls within 120-119 before DiVincenzo turned the ball over on the next possession. Chicago then got the ball to DeRozan, who couldn't get a short jumper to fall with 2.8 seconds left as the Knicks held on.

DeRozan finished with 30 points and Nikola Vucevic had 29 along with 11 rebounds for Chicago, which also received 26 points from White.

The Bulls will host the 10th-seeded Atlanta Hawks in Wednesday's play-in round.

 

The San Antonio Spurs will be without Victor Wembanyama for their final game of the season on Sunday.

San Antonio face the Detroit Pistons in their last fixture of the 2023-24 campaign.

The Spurs have a 21-60 record on the season, and sit 14th in the Western Conference.

Wembanyama has nevertheless enjoyed a fine rookie season in the NBA, having been selected as the No.1 overall pick in last year's Draft.

The seven-foot-four French youngster will sit out against the Pistons due to an ankle injury, meaning he ends his rookie campaign with 21.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and an NBA-leading 3.6 blocks per game.

Wembanyama has played 71 times for the Spurs, who he helped to overcome the Denver Nuggets on Friday, finishing with 34 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.

After that game, the 20-year-old said: "As a growing team, a young team, it's big for us.

"We're going to need these kind of wins in the future. We're going to need any win. But big-time wins against big teams, first seeds, we're going to need those in the future.

"We've got the potential to be great. The fact that we have the chance to live this, with the fans, I can only hope it's as incredible as it can be."

Wembanyama became the first rookie to accumulate 1,500 points, 250 assists and 250 blocks across the season, while he is only the fourth player in the history of the NBA to do so, after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson.

The New York Knicks are under no illusions as to the importance of securing home-court advantage for the Eastern Conference playoffs, with Friday's win over the Brooklyn Nets keeping them in the hunt for the second seed.

The Knicks drew level with the Milwaukee Bucks at 49-32 with their 111-107 win at Madison Square Garden, boosting their chances of playing at the iconic venue through the postseason.

Jalen Brunson put up 30 points and added 11 assists as the Knicks made it four straight victories, with Josh Hart adding 16 and Mitchell Robinson tacking on 15.

The result saw New York secure a top-four seed, with the Bucks' subsequent 125-107 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder keeping their chances of finishing second in the East alive.

With the Bucks possessing the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Knicks must beat the Chicago Bulls in their season finale on Sunday and hope Milwaukee lose on the road against the Orlando Magic. If both teams lose, the Cleveland Cavaliers could yet usurp them.

Asked about the importance of playing at home, Hart said: "I heard the lights are really bright at MSG during that time, so it's really big for us."

Coach Tom Thibodeau, though, said the team cannot control anything other than their own results, saying: "We want to go through the finish line so that's the way we're looking at it. We want to improve and play our best."

With Giannis Antetokounmpo sidelined by a left calf injury and Damian Lillard missing out due to pain in his left adductor, the short-handed Bucks let the Knicks into the race with their loss at Paycom Center.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 23 points and Chet Holmgren added 22 as the Thunder eased to victory, establishing a 17-point halftime lead which they never looked likely to surrender.

Asked about Milwaukee's failure to wrap up second place, Bucks coach Doc Rivers said: "I don't have much of a reaction. We've got to run to the finish line.

"The good news is, no matter what, we'll be at home for game one. That we do know."

That result was also an important one in the race to top the Western Conference, with the Thunder now locked in a three-way tie with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets.

It's in Oklahoma City's hands going into their season finale against the Dallas Mavericks, with Mark Daigneault's team edging the three-way tiebreaker.

"I think the big exponential jumps come from small incremental steps," Daigneault said after Friday's game. "I talk all the time about stacking and we really are trying to live that out. 

"We just try to have a good day in the day that's in front of us, have a good possession in the possession that's in front of us, a good game in the game that's in front of us and just be very present in the process of improving and competing."

LeBron James said "every seed matters" for the Los Angeles Lakers after he combined with Anthony Davis to power them past the Memphis Grizzlies and go eighth in the Western Conference.

The Lakers entered Friday's game – their penultimate outing of the regular season – on a two-game losing streak and jockeying for position with the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors. 

However, James put up 37 points, nine rebounds and five assists, while Davis added 35 points as the injury-hit Grizzlies failed to hold on after going 118-117 up with one minute and six seconds left.

James sank six points in the final minute to lift Los Angeles one game clear of Sacramento and Golden State, both of whom suffered defeats later on Friday.

"Every game matters. Every seed matters. Wherever you fall, you can't play in the past," James said.

"I can't say I would much rather be where we are today than be the number one seed. That would be a lie. Seeds matter, and wherever you fall, you take that challenge."

The Lakers emerged from the Play-In Tournament to reach the Western Conference Finals last year before being dispatched by the eventual NBA champions, the Denver Nuggets.

With coach Darvin Ham plotting a route through the postseason, he left James out on the court for 41 minutes on Friday, while Davis played 43 minutes on his return from a left eye injury which kept him out of Tuesday's loss to the Warriors. 

Asked about the risks of keeping the duo out there, Ham said: "In the moment, you're not worried about that. You're worried about securing the victory you came to get. 

"Everyone knows what time it is. It's that time of the year. Everyone knows what's at stake. 

"Whatever we need, and however long we need to push guys, we've got to have it, and they understand that."

Memphis are guaranteed to end a frustrating campaign 13th in the West, and Scotty Pippen Jr. said they were simply playing for future opportunities after scoring a career-high 28 points.

"The emphasis going into the game was to play hard," Pippen said. "We knew they were playing for something, and they probably thought we were playing for nothing. 

"But a lot of guys here are playing for opportunities. That's our motivation."

Joel Embiid shook off an apparent injury to finish with 32 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists and the Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to seven with a 125-113 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday.

Embiid had 21 points, nine boards and seven assists in the first 17 minutes but appeared to land awkwardly on his left knee late in the first half. He limped to midcourt and gave up on the play.

After coach Nick Nurse called timeout, Embiid went straight to the locker room. But he returned for the second half and promptly hit a 3-pointer on his first touch of the third quarter.

Orlando, Indiana and Philadelphia are all 46-35 after the Pacers lost to Cleveland and are fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively, in the Eastern Conference.

Franz Wagner scored 24 points and Paolo Banchero added 22 for Orlando, which dropped its third straight game. The Magic can win the Southeast Division with a victory over Milwaukee on Sunday.

Spurs rally to stun Nuggets

Devonte’ Graham scored on a floater in the lane with 0.9 seconds remaining and the San Antonio Spurs rallied from a 23-point deficit for a 121-120 win over the Denver Nuggets, who may have suffered a potentially damaging loss.

The loss dropped Denver out of sole possession of first place in the Western Conference and into a tie with Minnesota and Oklahoma City. After tiebreakers, the Timberwolves are first, the Thunder and second and the Nuggets are third heading into the final day of the regular season on Sunday.

Victor Wembanyama had 34 points and 12 rebounds for the West-worst Spurs, who trailed 76-53 early in the third quarter and were still down 17 early in the fourth.

Jamal Murray scored 35 points and Nikola Jokić had 22 and 12 rebounds for the Nuggets, who close the regular season Sunday at Memphis.

Thunder handle depleted Bucks

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 23 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder boosted their chances at capturing the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference with a 125-107 win over the short-handed Milwaukee Bucks.

Chet Holmgren had 22 points and nine rebounds and Aaron Wiggins added 19 points for the Thunder, who won their fourth straight and ended the night tied for the top seed in the West after Denver lost to San Antonio and Minnesota beat Atlanta.

Milwaukee played without superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo (strained left calf) and All-Star Damian Lillard (sore left adductor) and dropped into a tie with the Knicks for the No. 2 seed in the East. The Bucks can still finish second with a win at Orlando on Sunday or a New York loss to Chicago.

Kristaps Porzingis suggested Thursday's defeat to the New York Knicks could be just what the Boston Celtics needed ahead of the playoffs.

The Celtics went down 118-109 to the Knicks, as New York hunt down the No.2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Boston have long since had their playoff berth secured, but have now lost their last two games.

Porzingis, though, is taking the positives.

"It stings to have this loss, but maybe we need this before heading into the postseason with a killer mentality," Porzingis said.

"It's not who we are. This is not the team our fans love. That wasn't on display.

"You best believe we'll show up when we have to. We know what the goal is and make no mistake about it."

Jaylen Brown chipped in with 15 points for the Celtics, and like Porzingis, recognises Boston have not been up to scratch as of late.

"We got out-toughed the last two games and haven't played to our standard," Brown said.

"The game has shifted and it's going to shift even more in the playoffs."

Jalen Brunson led the Knicks with 39 points, and New York are now just one game behind the Milwaukee Bucks in the race for the No.2 seed.

"We made shots and made the right plays," Brunson said.

"Obviously, we know they're the top dog in the East. Whenever you play against them, it's always a good measuring stick to see where you're at.

"We played pretty well, but we know what they’re capable of doing. We just had their number tonight."

Kristaps Porzingis suggested Thursday's defeat to the New York Knicks could be just what the Boston Celtics needed ahead of the playoffs.

The Celtics went down 118-109 to the Knicks, as New York hunt down the No.2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Boston have long since had their playoff berth secured, but have now lost their last two games.

Porzingis, though, is taking the positives.

"It stings to have this loss, but maybe we need this before heading into the postseason with a killer mentality," Porzingis said.

"It's not who we are. This is not the team our fans love. That wasn't on display.

"You best believe we'll show up when we have to. We know what the goal is and make no mistake about it."

Jaylen Brown chipped in with 15 points for the Celtics, and like Porzingis, recognises Boston have not been up to scratch as of late.

"We got out-toughed the last two games and haven't played to our standard," Brown said.

"The game has shifted and it's going to shift even more in the playoffs."

Jalen Brunson led the Knicks with 39 points, and New York are now just one game behind the Milwaukee Bucks in the race for the No.2 seed.

"We made shots and made the right plays," Brunson said.

"Obviously, we know they're the top dog in the East. Whenever you play against them, it's always a good measuring stick to see where you're at.

"We played pretty well, but we know what they’re capable of doing. We just had their number tonight."

 

Jalen Brunson needed only three quarters to score 39 points and the New York Knicks continued their push for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 118-109 win over the league-leading Boston Celtics on Thursday.

Brunson was 15 of 23 from the field and 6 for 11 from long range, while Donte DiVincenzo added 17 points and Josh Hart had 16 points and 16 rebounds.

New York won its third straight and pulled within a game of Milwaukee for second in the East, with each team having two games left. The Knicks would need to win both and have the Bucks lose their games at Oklahoma City and Orlando, because Milwaukee has the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The Knicks dominated on the glass, 52-36, and had 22 second-chance points compared to 12 for the Celtics.

Boston got 18 points from Jayson Tatum and lost its second in a row.

Surging Warriors handle Trail Blazers

Stephen Curry scored 22 points and Jonathan Kuminga added 22 to propel the Golden State Warriors to their ninth win in 10 games, 100-92 over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Golden State, which played without Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, has already clinched a play-in spot but can potentially improve its playoff seeding in the final two games.

With their 45th victory, the Warriors surpassed their win total from last season, when they advanced to the conference semifinals.

Deandre Ayton had 25 points and 11 rebounds and Scoot Henderson tallied 18 and 12 assists for the Trail Blazers, who have won just two of their past 15 games.

Pelicans complete season sweep of Kings

CJ McCollum and Zion Williamson scored 31 points apiece and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a five-game season sweep of the Sacramento Kings with a 135-123 win.

McCollum matched a season high with nine 3-pointers in 12 tries and added seven assists for the Pelicans, who improved to 27-14 on the road, a franchise record for wins and tied with Boston for the best mark in the NBA.

New Orleans is sixth in the Western Conference, one game ahead of Phoenix with two games remaining.

De’Aaron Fox scored 33 points as the Kings lost for the fourth time in five games and failed in a bid to avoid the play-in tournament.

The Atlanta Hawks' path to reaching the NBA play-offs has become much more difficult.

The Hawks will be without forward Jalen Johnson and centre Onyeka Okongwu for several weeks, meaning they'll miss next week's Play-In Tournament.

Johnson exited Tuesday's loss to the Miami Heat with a right ankle injury, and the Hawks announced Thursday that an MRI revealed a Grade 2 lateral sprain. He'll be re-evaluated in approximately three weeks.

Okongwu, who last played March 21 due to a left big toe sprain, underwent a non-surgical procedure on Tuesday to address inflammation. His recovery time is approximately four weeks.

Atlanta is guaranteed a spot in the Play-In Tournament, and entered play Thursday in 10th place in the Eastern Conference - 1 /2 games behind the Chicago Bulls. The two teams will meet in the Play-In Tournament, with the winner facing the loser of the game between the 7 and 8 seeds for a spot in the play-offs.

Both Johnson and Okongwu have played big parts for the Hawks this season.

Johnson started 52 of the 56 games he played in, averaging career highs of 16.0 points and 8.7 rebounds - the second highest on Atlanta behind Clint Capela's average of 10.6 boards.

Okongwu has appeared in 55 games, with averages of 10.2 points and 6.8 rebounds. In eight starts, he had averages of 16.1 points and 8.5 boards.

One bit of good news for the Hawks is Trae Young returned in Wednesday's 115-114 loss to the Charlotte Hornets after missing 23 games with a torn ligament in his left pinkie.

The three-time All-Star point guard made all five of his field-goal attempts, finishing with 14 points and 11 assists in 21 minutes in his first game since February 23.

Kyrie Irving declared the red-hot Dallas Mavericks are "just getting started" after Wednesday's 111-92 win over the Miami Heat saw them wrap up the Southwest Division title.

Irving had 25 points in support of Luka Doncic, who fell just short of his 22nd triple-double of the season by finishing with 29 points, nine rebounds and nine assists at Kaseya Center.

Dallas have hit 50 wins for the season with two games remaining, having won 16 times in their last 18 games, their only defeats in that span coming on the road against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors. 

After they pulled clear of the New Orleans Pelicans to become Southwest champions for the first time since 2020-21, Irving told his team-mates to celebrate, but also to stay focused on the bigger prizes.

"We just know that the job isn't finished and we're just getting started," Irving said after Wednesday's game. "But we do have to celebrate the small wins.

"Tonight was a step in that direction of celebrating a small win, just to get to 50 wins. Some guys in that locker room haven't experienced 50 wins. It's a total organizational effort, top to bottom."

The Mavs have won five in a row since last dropping a game against the Warriors, and they are now within one game of the Los Angeles Clippers for the Western Conference's fourth seed.

Head coach Jason Kidd said: "It sounds great. We've checked the box on one goal."

The Heat, meanwhile, saw their hopes of avoiding the Play-In Tournament take a blow as Jimmy Butler was held to just 12 points, Tyler Herro leading the hosts with 21.

Miami are now two games back of the Indiana Pacers, who occupy the Eastern Conference's sixth seed, and one behind the Philadelphia 76ers in seventh.

Head coach Erik Spoelstra is confident they will bounce back quickly, saying: "We have a great group. We have a very competitive locker room. We all want the same thing.

"Sometimes, this league can just really humble you, and that's what happened tonight."

Nikola Jokic said he is not the only player deserving of MVP honours after strengthening his case by putting up 41 points in the Denver Nuggets' crucial victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday.  

Jokic is favoured to see off competition from Luka Doncic and be crowned MVP for the third time in four seasons, and he did his hopes no harm in what was arguably the game of the year to date.

The Timberwolves entered the game top of the West due to holding the tiebreaker over the Nuggets, but the reigning NBA champions leapfrogged them with a crucial 116-107 win at Ball Arena.

Jokic added 11 rebounds and seven assists in the 20th 40-point game of his career, shooting 16-of-20 from the field as a big second half carried the Nuggets home in front of a capacity crowd.

Asked what the performance meant for his hopes of landing the league's top individual prize, Jokic said: "I think I'm playing good basketball. The team is playing good basketball,

"I think there is a lot of guys playing really good basketball in the league and a couple of guys deserve to have that award."

The 2021 and 2022 MVP instead preferred to focus on the role of Denver's closers Peyton Watson and Christian Braun, saying: "They were great. 

"P-Wat, it seemed like he was all over the place. He was just full of energy. C.B., with that sequence of two minutes, it was really amazing. 

"I was happy for those guys. They don't get enough credit for what they are doing on the floor, and they're helping us energy-wise, effort-wise. We need them."

Jokic's huge performance came despite him being guarded by the league's top defender in Rudy Gobert, leading Denver coach Michael Malone to describe the Serbian as unstoppable.

"Nikola always embraces the physicality. He never shies away from it," Malone said. "Rudy Gobert is going to be a Hall of Fame player one day. 

"Rudy Gobert is going to be regarded as one of the best defenders of his generation. It just speaks to how great Nikola is. I don't think anybody in the NBA can guard Nikola one-on-one."

Minnesota now need the Nuggets to slip up in one of their final two games, at the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies, to allow them back into the race for the top seed. 

Guard Anthony Edwards, who put up a team-high 25 points, said: "We knew what this game was going to determine.

"If we won it, we knew we were going to possibly be the number one seed. If we lost it, we knew they'd possibly be the number one seed. 

"I think we cared before but now that we lost, we can't do nothing about it."

Nikola Jokić scored 41 points on 16-of-20 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Denver Nuggets to a 116-107 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday to take a one-game lead in the race for the top seed in the Western Conference.

Jamal Murray added 20 points in 27 minutes and Michael Porter Jr. had 18 points with eight rebounds for the Nuggets, who split the four-game season series with the Wolves. Denver needs to finish ahead of Minnesota and Oklahoma City to earn the No. 1 seed for the second straight season.

The Nuggets parlayed the top seed last year into a 10-1 run at home in the playoffs on the way to their first NBA title.

Anthony Edwards scored 25 points but was a non-factor in the fourth quarter and Mike Conley added 19 for Minnesota, which had won four of five.

Denver closed the third quarter on a 9-1 run to take an 83-80 lead into the fourth. The Nuggets’ second until extended the margin to 91-87 before Jokic and Murray returned with 7 ½ minutes left, and Denver used a 10-0 spurt to pull away.

 

Mavericks clinch Southwest Division

Luka Dončić scored 29 points and Kyrie Irving had 25 as the Dallas Mavericks secured the Southwest Division title with a 111-92 win over the Miami Heat.

Doncic fell just shy of his 22nd triple-double of the season with nine rebounds and nine assists.

Derrick Jones Jr, P.J. Washington and Daniel Gafford each scored 12 points for the Mavericks, who will face the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. It will be the third opening-round matchup between those teams in the last four seasons.

Tyler Herro scored 21 points for Miami, which fell to 20-19 at home this season after going 24-17 on the road.  

 

Portis leads Bucks without Antetokounmpo

Bobby Portis collected 30 points, nine rebounds and a career-high five steals and the Milwaukee Bucks overcame Giannis Antetokounmpo’s absence for a 117-99 win over the Orlando Magic.

Damian Lillard had 29 points and eight assists and Pat Beverley had 13 points, eight rebounds and six assists for the Bucks, who played a night after Antetokounmpo suffered a strained left calf that will sideline him the final three games of the regular season.

Milwaukee is 1 ½ games ahead of the Knicks and two in front of Cleveland in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Cole Anthony scored 23 points for Orlando, which has lost two straight and three of four.

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