Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Joel Embiid was cleared to start Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.

Embiid has been managing a knee injury and missed the final game of the first-round series against the Washington Wizards, having bowed out after just 11 minutes in the previous encounter.

The center's return against a tricky Hawks team represents a big boost for the 76ers, though.

While Embiid has been limited to 24.0 points per game so far in the 2020-21 playoffs due to his knee complaint, he tallied 28.5 points along with 10.6 rebounds in the regular season.

The 27-year-old will be expected to improve on his 19.7 points per game across three meetings with Atlanta this year, although he was limited to 25 minutes or fewer in each clash.

Embiid was selected to start alongside Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Seth Curry and Danny Green, the Sixers' most-used starting five this season. They were 27-5 across 32 games.

James Harden's hamstring injury left Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash "heartbroken" for the star shooting guard, whose NBA playoffs participation is in doubt.

Harden missed 21 games of the regular season due to a right hamstring problem and seemed to suffer a reoccurrence of the injury just 43 seconds into Saturday's 115-107 Game 1 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Nets must now wait on the result of scans to determine the extent of the issue, though Nash was not overly positive.

"You know we got a lot thrown at us this year, so we were, in a sense, well trained for this event," Nash told reporters after the game.

"But you never want to see that for someone like James, who is such an important player and such an incredible player and cares so much.

"I'm heartbroken for him. I don't know what's going to happen. I don't know if he's playing the next game, if he's out. I have no idea. But I'm heartbroken for him that he had to miss tonight."

The Nets face the Bucks again on Monday, and Kyrie Irving knows how much harder their task will be without Harden.

"I mean, it's never easy to lose anybody, especially this time of the year where we just wanna have fun playing basketball and playing the right way and competing at a high level," said Irving, who scored 25 points and tallied a further eight assists.

"We're obviously out there for bigger reasons, so when you see the game snatched away so early from one of our brothers, we feel for him, and we just had to make a quick adjustment and just adjust from there.

"That's the best thing we can do. We just came in the huddle, made sure that everybody on the bench knew kind of the situation we were in, and like I said, we just played out from there. It went our way tonight, but obviously, we're gonna feel his loss no matter what."

Harden, 31, has averaged 24.6 points, 10.9 assists and 8.5 rebounds in his first season with the Nets since arriving from the Houston Rockets.

Kevin Durant says James Harden's fresh hamstring injury "sucks" as the Brooklyn Nets brace to lose their star guard for an extended period of time during the NBA playoffs.

Harden was forced out of Saturday's 115-107 Game 1 win over the Milwaukee Bucks after 43 seconds after re-injuring the same hamstring which kept him out of 21 games late in the regular season.

The 31-year-old former MVP was sent for scans on his right hamstring with the extent of the injury unclear at this stage, but Durant spoke like someone not expecting good news.

"It sucks. It sucks. I want him to be out there," Durant told the post-game news conference. "I know how much he cares. I know how much we wants to be in this moment. It sucks.

"I wish him a speedy recovery. We're going to keep him involved as much as possible. It's just a bad break."

The Nets rallied hard to bounce back from the early loss of Harden to overcome the Bucks, who had Giannis Antetokounmpo score 34 points.

Brooklyn's defense was a feature, applying pressure to force the Bucks to shoot at 20 per cent from beyond the arc, while Blake Griffin had 14 rebounds in a throwback game.

Offensively Durant and Irving starred with 29 and 25 points respectively, but the former admitted they had to overcome the emotional blow of Harden's injury.

"We try not to be too emotional out there but losing one of your leaders like that, the first play of the game, we had to re-group for a couple of minutes and figure out what was next," he said.

"The coaching staff did a great job of moving forward. Guys came in and tried to play extremely hard.

"We're going to be thinking about James. I'll definitely call him when I leave him. I hate that it had to happen right now."

Durant refused to look too far ahead about the prospect of a tough Conference semi-final series against the Bucks without Harden.

"I'm not even thinking like that," he said. "I'm taking it a day at a time, a second at a time. Get ready for practise tomorrow.

"We're not really thinking that far. We'll try take it a game at a time and see what happens."

Game 2 between the Nets and Bucks is on Monday.

The Brooklyn Nets overcame the early loss of James Harden to injury to win Game 1 of their Conference semi-final series against the Milwaukee Bucks 115-107 on Saturday.

Harden left the court after only 43 seconds after re-injuring his right hamstring, but Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving stepped up in his absence, along with Blake Griffin who had a throwback game.

Durant finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks while Irving had 25 points and eight assists including 20 points in the first half but it was a collective effort on both defense and offense for the Nets.

Griffin made four three-pointers, totalling 18 points and 14 rebounds, the latter being a season-high for him since joining the Nets.

In contrast, the Bucks struggled from beyond the arc, shooting six from 30 with the main culprits being Jrue Holiday with two from seven and Khris Middleton who shot none from five.

At one stage in the first half, Milwaukee missed 11 consecutive three-point attempts to leave them playing catch up.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was the Bucks' best with 34 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks and four assists.

The Nets edged ahead in the first half where the Bucks rallied to finish the second quarter with a 14-3 stretch to trail by two points at the long break.

But Durant lifted Brooklyn in the third quarter, as the Nets piled on 35 points to open up a sizeable 14-point lead at the final change.

While the Bucks struggled from range, the Nets shot 15 from 40 beyond the arc, going at 37.5 per cent led by Joe Harris who made five from nine.

The series continues on Monday at Brooklyn's Barclays Center although the Nets will be sweating on Harden's status.

The Brooklyn Nets overcame the early loss of James Harden to injury to win Game 1 of their Conference semi-final series against the Milwaukee Bucks 115-107 on Saturday.

Harden left the court after only 43 seconds after re-injuring his right hamstring, but Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving stepped up in his absence, along with Blake Griffin who had a throwback game.

Durant finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks while Irving had 25 points and eight assists including 20 points in the first half but it was a collective effort on both defense and offense for the Nets.

Griffin made four three-pointers, totalling 18 points and 14 rebounds, the latter being a season-high for him since joining the Nets.

In contrast, the Bucks struggled from beyond the arc, shooting six from 30 with the main culprits being Jrue Holiday with two from seven and Khris Middleton who shot none from five.

At one stage in the first half, Milwaukee missed 11 consecutive three-point attempts to leave them playing catch up.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was the Bucks' best with 34 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks and four assists.

The Nets edged ahead in the first half where the Bucks rallied to finish the second quarter with a 14-3 stretch to trail by two points at the long break.

But Durant lifted Brooklyn in the third quarter, as the Nets piled on 35 points to open up a sizeable 14-point lead at the final change.

While the Bucks struggled from range, the Nets shot 15 from 40 beyond the arc, going at 37.5 per cent led by Joe Harris who made five from nine.

The series continues on Monday at Brooklyn's Barclays Center although the Nets will be sweating on Harden's status.

James Harden has left the Brooklyn Nets' opening game of their Conference semi-final against the Milwaukee Bucks after re-injuring his right hamstring.

Harden was forced off the court after only 43 seconds in Saturday's clash at Brooklyn's Barclays Center.

The Nets confirmed that the 31-year-old was out for the remainder of the game with a right hamstring injury.

Harden left the arena and went for an MRI scan on the same hamstring which kept him out for 21 games late in the regular season.

The shooting guard joined the Nets in January from the Houston Rockets, linking up with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, making Brooklyn one of the NBA title favourites.

The former MVP returned from injury on May 13 against the San Antonio Spurs and played all five games in the Nets' 4-1 series win over the Boston Celtics.

Harden scored 41 points in Game 3 and a triple-double in Game 5, averaging 27.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 10.6 assists per game in the series.

Head coach Steve Clifford will not be part of the Orlando Magic's rebuild after he agreed to leave the team on Saturday.

Clifford had been the Magic's coach since May 2018, initially overseeing an upturn in form.

After six seasons without making the playoffs, Orlando had a 42-40 record in Clifford's first season to finish seventh in the Eastern Conference, losing to the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the postseason.

The Magic bowed out at the same stage of the following year's tournament to the Milwaukee Bucks and then struggled to stay competitive in 2020-21.

Clifford had the team at 15-29 approaching March's trade deadline when Orlando cashed in on their assets, having already lost one-time first overall pick Markelle Fultz to injury.

All-Star Nikola Vucevic left the team, along with Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier, prompting a late-season run in which the team went 6-22.

Clifford used 32 different starting lineups but none of them more than six times, contributing to a 21-51 record only good enough for 14th in the 15-team East.

The Magic are therefore in position for a lottery draft pick and could receive a second from the Chicago Bulls, but Clifford will not be the man overseeing the new team.

"We would like to thank Steve for his contributions to the Orlando Magic," president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said.

"We appreciate the many sacrifices he has made as our head coach and understand the timeline of our new path does not align with his goals as a head coach in our league."

Clifford reportedly had a year remaining on his contract but "mutually agreed" his exit.

The Los Angeles Lakers will strive to keep the core of their roster together for next season after fluffing their lines in this year's playoffs. 

Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka pledged the team would come back ready to fight for the championship after suffering a 4-2 series loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Thursday's 113-100 home defeat sealed the Lakers' fate, with their hopes dealt a blow when Anthony Davis' comeback from a groin injury lasted only five minutes.

The Lakers were 8-2 in home games when facing playoff elimination since 2000 but the Suns blew them away with a 36-14 opening quarter on the road.

Phoenix carried a 60-41 advantage into half-time and while LeBron James tried to spark a Lakers rally with 29 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two blocks, it was not enough.

However, far from going back to the drawing board, the 17-time NBA champions want next season to be business as usual, with a largely familiar-looking roster to call upon.

"I think when you fall short of the goal that you set, it has to drive you," said Pelinka.

"It has to be the fuel that drives your passion, and I think us falling short as a team, that in some sense is going to be part of our motivation and putting in the work to getting back at it, and start training camp next year with a strong roster.

"I'm convinced that, again, without some of the unforeseen circumstances this year, the challenges that we had to face, that we'd be a championship-calibre team.

"So the goal is to try to keep that core group together."

The franchise already has over $100 million earmarked for James, Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma next season, but Pelinka is confident that other star talents will be retained.

"Jeanie [Buss] and the ownership group has empowered the front office to do one thing and that's to smartly build a roster to win championships," he said.

"I think next year, of course, hopefully, with all of our fans being able to come back and be a part of the building, we owe them the work to start the process of retooling and have a championship-calibre team that can do special things next year.

"That's the driving passion and there's alignment there between Jeanie, the front office, the coaches. That will always be the goal.

"We have an insatiable desire and passion to bring banner number 18 here."

Los Angeles Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard said he "definitely didn't want to go home" after producing a monster performance to avoid elimination from the NBA playoffs.

Leonard matched his playoffs career high with 45 points as the Clippers topped the Dallas Mavericks 104-97 on Friday to force a deciding Game 7 in the Western Conference first-round series.

Facing a postseason exit with the Mavericks leading 3-2, Leonard came up big for the fourth-seeded Clippers in Dallas, where the two-time NBA champion erupted on 18-for-25 shooting while nailing five three-pointers.

Through six games in the playoffs this season, Leonard is averaging 32.8 points per game on 60.5 per cent shooting. According to Stats Perform, he is the first player to average 30.0-plus points per game on 60.0-plus per cent shooting over his first six games of a postseason since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1983.

As attention now turns to Sunday's decider in Los Angeles, Leonard told ESPN: "I definitely didn't want to go home.

"We have to do whatever it takes to get a win if we don't want to go home. It's on us."

For the first time in their history, the Clippers won three road games in one series, with Paul George contributing a double-double of 20 points and 13 rebounds as Reggie Jackson put up 25 points.

With the Clippers triumphing in Game 6, it marks the first time in league history that the road team have won the first six games of a postseason series with the home side playing in their true home arena.

"Just another basketball game," Leonard said as he looked ahead to Game 7. "Like we say, if we don't want to go home, pay attention to details, have faith, shooting the ball with confidence. If you do that, you can live with the results."

Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue hailed Leonard, saying: "Great players perform in big moments. It just shows you who Kawhi Leonard is."

Mavericks counterpart Luka Doncic was also full of praise after Dallas failed to book their spot in the Western Conference semi-finals.

Doncic – carrying 361 points from 11 playoff games into the contest, the highest total at that point of his career since Hall of Famer Michael Jordan (405) in 1988 – posted 29 points but he was just two-of-nine shooting from three-point range.

On Leonard, Doncic told reporters: "I mean, he destroyed us. That's what it is. He had a hell of a game. And that's what he does."

Doncic and the Mavericks remain upbeat, despite their missed opportunity on home court.

"It's all right," Doncic said. "We're still motivated. There's one more game left. I don't see why we shouldn't believe in it. There's one more game, so we all believe."

Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard said Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jason Kidd "is the guy I want" to replace Terry Stotts as head coach.

The Trail Blazers and Stotts mutually agreed to part ways on Friday, following Portland's elimination in the opening round of the NBA playoffs.

Despite Lillard's heroic efforts, the Trail Blazers were ousted by the Denver Nuggets 4-2 in the Western Conference first round on Thursday.

Stotts – who oversaw eight consecutive postseason appearances – departs as the second-winningest coach in franchise history following a 402-318 record in nine seasons.

Los Angeles Clippers assistant Chauncey Billups, ex-New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, Brooklyn Nets assistant Mike D'Antoni and Michigan's Juwan Howard are reportedly among the candidates.

But Lillard talked up Hall of Famer Kidd, who previously served as coach of the Nets and Milwaukee Bucks.

"Jason Kidd is the guy I want," Lillard, who set a new NBA record for threes made in a single playoff series with 35, told Yahoo Sports.

In a statement following Stotts' exit, Trail blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey said: "I have the utmost respect for Terry and what he has accomplished these past nine seasons.

"This was a difficult decision on both a personal and professional level but it's in the best interest of the franchise to move in another direction.

"Terry will always hold a special place in the Trail Blazer family and the Portland community. We relied on the integrity, professionalism and consistency he brought to the job every day and we wish he and Jan nothing but the best."

During the postseason matchup, Lillard tallied a playoff career-high 55 points and record 12 made threes in a Game 5 overtime defeat to the Nuggets.

Lillard also became the fourth player in NBA history to record a 50-point, 10-assist game in the postseason, joining Russell Westbrook, Sleepy Floyd and Jerry West.

Kawhi Leonard matched his playoffs career high with 45 points to keep the Los Angeles Clippers' NBA season alive with a 104-97 victory at the Dallas Mavericks.

The fourth-seeded Clippers were facing elimination on Friday, trailing Luka Doncic's Mavericks 3-2 in the Western Conference first-round series.

But Leonard came up big for the Clippers with their backs against the wall, erupting on 18-for-25 shooting and five three-pointers to level the series and force a deciding Game 7.

Leonard made only seven of 19 shots in Game 5, after going 38-for-53 (71.7 per cent) over his previous three games, however, the NBA champion was far more efficient in Game 6 as attention now turns to Sunday's decider in Los Angeles.

For the first time in their history, the Clippers won three road games in one series, with Paul George contributing a double-double of 20 points and 13 rebounds as Reggie Jackson put up 25 points.

Luka Doncic – carrying 361 points from 11 playoff games into the contest, the highest total at that point of his career since Hall of Famer Michael Jordan (405) in 1988 – posted 29 points but he was just two-of-nine shooting from three-point range, while team-mate Tim Hardaway Jr. added 23 points.

The Mavericks were 17-10 (63.0 per cent) in potential series-clinching games prior to tip-off – the third best record in NBA history (minimum 10 games), behind only the Golden State Warriors (42-23, 64.6 per cent) and Cleveland Cavaliers (25-14, 64.1 per cent), according to Stats Perform.

They made a strong start by outscoring the Clippers 28-26 in the opening quarter, though Leonard and the visitors wrestled back momentum in the second period for a 48-45 half-time advantage.

The see-sawing contest continued as the Mavericks used a 32-25 third quarter to close in on a potential Conference semi-final against the top-seeded Utah Jazz.

However, Leonard flexed his muscles in a dominant final period to avoid joining city rivals and champions the Los Angeles Lakers in exiting the postseason.

 

Bucks at Nets

The star-studded Brooklyn Nets will host Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals on Saturday.

Brooklyn Nets superstar James Harden believes this is his best chance to win an NBA championship as the star-studded franchise continue their quest against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will lead the second-seeded Nets in an Eastern Conference semi-final showdown with Giannis Antetokounmpo and third seeds the Bucks, starting Saturday.

Brooklyn's 'big three' have the Nets as favourites to win their maiden championship in a playoff campaign also featuring the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz.

Harden joined the Nets from the Houston Rockets via a blockbuster trade in January, with the former MVP's eyes on a much-coveted title.

During his time in Houston, Harden reached two Western Conference Finals as the franchise never advanced to the showpiece – Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors often standing in the way, while LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers also thwarted the Rockets in the semi-finals last season.

Now, Harden senses his best opportunity to add an NBA ring to his list of league honours.

"I ran into some very, very good teams which is one of the reasons I've been short [of winning a title]," Harden told reporters via a Zoom call on Friday.

"[But] you look at our roster, we're elite too. It's going to be a showdown but I'm more than confident going into this postseason just because of the roster and our schemes and the things that we can control and the versatility that we have."

Harden added: "Obviously, there's only a handful of teams that have an opportunity. And we're one of those teams this year.

"So, the excitement is there, but I think just the focus is the most important thing for myself. And just trying to rub that focus level and that engagement to detail into every one of my team-mates."

The Nets saw off the Boston Celtics 4-1 in the opening round but will face a stiffer test against two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee support cast, including Jrue Holiday.

With Brooklyn's Jeff Green ruled out of Game 1, Nets head coach Steve Nash said: "I think the strategy we'll probably start with is probably similar from a team-defending standpoint.

"It's also the type of thing we have to work our way through as the series goes on and have a better feel for it, have more and more of an understanding collectively, and also be able to adjust and adapt within our schemes, not just change our schemes. The team concepts will be the same regardless."

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said no decision has been made on Joel Embiid's status for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals in the NBA playoffs.

The top-seeded 76ers are set to open their second-round series against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday with doubts over the fitness of All-Star Embiid.

Embiid suffered a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee during Monday's Game 4 loss to the Washington Wizards, forcing him to sit out Wednesday's Game 5 as the 76ers won 129-112 to clinch the opening-round series 4-1.

As the 76ers continue their championship bid against the fifth-seeded Hawks, Rivers was asked about MVP finalist Embiid – who missed 10 regular-season games due to bone bruising in his left leg – on Friday.

"He went through a lot of the stuff today," said Rivers. "He didn't do a lot of live stuff obviously, we're not gonna allow that yet.

"Nothing's changed. He's got to go through his treatment, but as far as when we were doing shooting and stuff like that, he looked great.

"It's too early [to rule him out]. I don't want to say one way or the other. We'll just find that out."

It has been a stellar season for Embiid, who has averaged career highs for points (28.5), field-goal percentage (41.3), three-point percentage (37.7) and free-throw percentage (85.9).

The 27-year-old has also been averaging 10.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and a career-best 0.98 steals per game to lead the 76ers – eyeing a first NBA title since 1983 – to their first Eastern Conference championship since 2001.

Philadelphia team-mate Dwight Howard, gearing up for a reunion with former team the Hawks, added: "He looked good. His movement looked good and laterally, he was able to move around so he looked good.

"I think he should be ready to go. Now he can make sure he gets his body right and I don't want him to rush back or anything like that because we need him.

"We want to make sure we hold down the fort until he's back, but he looked great."

LeBron James has ruled himself out of competing for the United States at the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo. 

The 36-year-old Los Angeles Lakers star has represented his country at three Olympics, but he did not feature at Rio 2016. 

Earlier this year James had suggested he was considering playing for the USA in Tokyo.

However, following the Lakers' first-round playoff series defeat to the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, he said he would instead spend the next few months promoting his new movie 'Space Jam: A New Legacy', which is scheduled to open in July. 

Asked if the Olympics were a possibility for him, James said: "Nah, I think I'm gonna play for the Tune Squad [the name of the team in the film] this summer instead of the Olympics.

"I think that's what my focus is on, on trying to beat the Monstars – or the Goon Squad we call them now.

"I didn't have much success versus the Suns, so now I am gearing my attention to the Goon Squad here in July, in mid-July.

"So I'm going to let the ankle rest for about a month and then I'm going to gear up with Lola, Taz, Granny, Bugs and the rest of the crew. So, hopefully I'll see you all at the match."

Asked how the Lakers' early exit – the first time James has been on a losing side in a first-round playoff series in his NBA career – would benefit his body, he said: "It's going to work wonders for me. Obviously during the season I don't talk about rest, I don't even like to put my mind in that frame, it makes me weak.

"But in the off-season I've got an opportunity to rest. I've got like three months to recalibrate, get my ankle back to 100 per cent, where it was before that Atlanta game.

"That's the most important thing for me. Everything else feels extremely well. My ankle was the only thing that was bothering me in the latter stages of the season.

"It never fully got back to before the injury. But I'm happy I was able to go out there and at least try to help our team win."

LeBron James paid tribute to the improvement and maturity shown by Devin Booker after he was beaten in a first-round playoff series for the first time in his NBA career.

The Los Angeles Lakers saw their hopes of repeating as NBA champions ended as they lost 113-100 in Game 6 to the Phoenix Suns, who progress with a 4-2 triumph.

Anthony Davis had to leave the court after only five minutes of his return from a groin injury as Booker produced a stunning performance to finish with 47 points for the Suns.

By the end of the first quarter, Booker had 22 points and had converted all six of his three-pointers, eventually finishing 8-of-10 from behind the arc.

His 47 points, recorded in 46 minutes, were the most to eliminate a defending champion team on their home court in NBA postseason history. 

The surging Suns also won Game 5 by 30 points and led this one by 29 in the first half before James - who had 29 points, nine rebounds and seven assists - helped to make the score more respectable.

But his amazing 14-0 steak in the first round of the playoffs was brought to an emphatic halt and all the plaudits went to Booker.

"I love everything about D-Book," said James. "I've had numerous conversations with him in the past. He continues to make the jump.

"When you want to be great in this league, and as Kobe told him, if you want to be legendary in this game you've got to continue to improve, not only your game but you as a man.

"You have to improve everything, both on and off the floor. And all the conversations we have had over the years, I can tell he's soaked them up and is using them to his advantage.

"Everyone sees what he's able to do on the floor right now, but I think his maturity, him as a young man, is what I'm most impressed about. So I love everything about Book."

Getting himself and the rest of the Lakers team back to full fitness was a bigger concern to James than the end of his playoff streak.

Reflecting on the Lakers' exit, he added: "The season started so fast after leaving the bubble, obviously. 

"I was talking to [Wes Matthews] in the locker room just a few minutes ago, and I said the one thing that bothers me more than anything - we never really got an opportunity to see our full team at full strength, either because of injury or COVID.

"We could never fully get into a rhythm and never really kinda see the full potential of what we're capable of. Listen, as I tell you all throughout the season, every season is different, every challenge is different.

"But they [the Suns] were excellent throughout the series, all of them. Much respect.

"To be able to put myself where I can even have accomplishments – to either be broken or to be able to continue it – it's all though the grace of the man above and me just putting a lot of hard work in, having great team-mates, having great coaching staff, things of that nature.

"So records – if that's a record – they’re always meant to be broken.

"So in that fashion it doesn’t matter to me in so far as not making it out of the first round, what matters to me is getting this team back healthy.

"Me not being able to be at my full strength throughout this series, that’s my main focus. But time to readjust and think about what the off-season has in store."

Past discussions between Booker and late Lakers great Kobe Bryant - also referenced by James - were firmly on the mind of the Suns' star guard after his impressive display.

"Honestly, I was thinking about Kobe and the conversations we had," Booker said.

"About what we went through, and the postseason, and being legendary and taking the steps to get there.

"Seeing that 8 and 24 up there, with the lighting Staples has, it's like it was shining down on you. I know he was here and I know he was proud."

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