The New Orleans Pelicans will be without injured leading scorer Zion Williamson when they host the Sacramento Kings in Friday’s Western Conference play-in tournament elimination game.

Williamson starred in his NBA postseason debut Tuesday, scoring 40 points while adding 11 rebounds and five assists in over 36 minutes of action against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The two-time All-Star, though, missed the final three minutes of New Orleans’ 110-106 loss after injuring his left hamstring.

Williamson tied the game at 95 with 3:19 remaining in the fourth quarter on a driving layup, but he left shortly after and headed to the Pelicans’ locker room.

His huge performance caught the attention of Lakers superstar LeBron James.

“He's a generational player, a generational talent. He's going to continue to get better and better,” James said. “Tonight was just a small microcosm of how great he can be, his ability to get downhill, finish vs. smalls, finish vs. bigs, taller guys, shorter guys, doesn't matter.

“One thing about him, he's not afraid to compete. So, that's a great thing. He's a star.”

Williamson missed plenty of time due to various injuries in his first four seasons after New Orleans selected him No. 1 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft, but he was healthy throughout the 2023-24 campaign.

Williamson appeared in a career-high 70 contests and led the Pelicans with 22.9 points per game while averaging 5.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists.

The winner of Friday’s matchup between New Orleans and Sacramento will capture the No. 8 seed in the West and move on to play the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs.

Stephen Curry is set to make his Olympic debut for the United States at the age of 36 after being named in the 12-strong men’s basketball squad for Paris on Wednesday.

The Golden State Warriors guard joins three-time Olympic champion Kevin Durant and the NBA’s all-time leading scorer LeBron James in an experienced squad named by national team managing director Grant Hill.

Durant, 35, helped Team USA to gold at each of the last three Olympics, while Los Angeles Lakers forward James, 39, will make his first appearance since London 2012, having also won gold in Beijing in 2008 and bronze in Athens in 2004.

Besides the Phoenix Suns’ Durant, four other members of the Tokyo squad return with Miami Heat centre Bam Adebayo, Phoenix guard Devin Booker, guard Jrue Holiday and forward Jayson Tatum – both of the Boston Celtics – included.

Los Angeles Lakers centre Anthony Davis will, like James, make his first Olympic appearance since London 2012.

Making their debuts on the biggest international stage alongside Curry will be Minnesota Timberwolves swingman Anthony Edwards, Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton, Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard and Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player.

The United States have won gold at each of the last four Olympics and 16 in all, but finished a disappointing fourth at last year’s World Cup.

Curry’s Golden State coach Steve Kerr will lead the team in Paris.

The United States are due to start a training camp in Las Vegas on July 6 before a series of exhibition games that includes tilts against South Sudan and Germany on July 20 and 22 in London. Their opening game in Paris will be against Serbia on July 28.

LeBron James has warned the Los Angeles Lakers must play "mistake-free basketball" if they are to overcome the Denver Nuggets.

The Lakers defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 110-106 on Tuesday, meaning they progress to the first round of the playoffs.

A series against the reigning NBA champions awaits, starting on Saturday.

And James, who finished with 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, knows the Lakers will have to deliver a near-perfect performance.

"It's the defending champion," James said.

"They know what it takes. They know how to win. They've been extremely dominant on their home floor over the last few years.

"They've got an MVP on their team. They've got a closer on their team. They've got high-level players, high-IQ players, and they've got a hell of a coach.

"So, we have to play mistake-free basketball. Make it tough on them. They're going to try to make it tough on us, obviously.

"But if we can play as great of a game as we can play, and they're going to play as great of a game as they play, it's going come down to one or two possessions. We'll see who executes then."

It was put to Lakers coach Darvin Ham that there had been reports the Lakers might throw their game against the Pelicans in order to go up against either the Sacramento Kings or the Golden State Warriors in the other play-in game.

The Kings ultimately won, and will now face the Pelicans, with the prize a matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Western Conference's No.1 seed.

"There was a report of what?" an incredulous Ham said. "Insane asylum sources say?"

The Lakers reached the Conference Finals last year, and Anthony Davis is confident Los Angeles are coming into their best form at the opportune moment.

"I think we're clicking at the right time," Davis said.

"Guys are playing well. Guys are very confident. Guys are feeling good. And we're going to need it, especially against Denver."

D'Aaron Fox said the Sacramento Kings knew exactly was on the line when they went up against the Golden State Warriors.

The Kings came out on top 118-94 on Tuesday, progressing to a meeting with the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday as Sacramento aim to make the playoffs.

Sacramento, who were led by Keegan Murray's 32 points, lost to the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs last year.

And Fox and his teammates knew exactly how important gaining a measure of revenge was this time around.

"We knew what was on the line," said Fox, who scored 24 points for the Kings.

"This was just another obstacle in our way. We have to get over this hump.

"Obviously, losing to this team last year and obviously facing this team now, it's like, of course we have to face this team."

The Warriors, meanwhile, have now missed out on the playoffs for the third time in the past five seasons.

"I was a sophomore in high school watching them win championships [four titles between 2015 and 2022]," Fox said.

"We've been watching this team for a long time. If it is the end, it is what it is. I'm glad we're able to beat this team at this moment, but they definitely had a hell of a run."

Stephen Curry managed 22 points for the Warriors, but he admitted Golden State were second-best.

He said: "For the most part, they just took it to us the whole game. There's really no way around it."

LeBron James starred as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the New Orleans Pelicans to reach the NBA play-offs.

The 39-year-old scored 23 points in the Lakers’ 110-106 victory and also contributed nine rebounds, nine assists and three steals.

The Lakers go into the play-offs as the seventh seed and will face defending champions the Denver Nuggets in the first round.

Speaking to reporters, James said: “It was a good all-round team win. This was a long road trip, you almost forget we were in Memphis before these two games.

“Tonight was definitely a play-off game so get your mind right, get your body right, try to get as much recovery as we can before we have to go out there on Saturday.

“It’s a sprint now, we already went through the marathon. Tonight we showcased what we’re able to do both offensively and defensively. We’ve got a good group going right now, a good rotation, good plan and guys are coming in ready to go.”

James, who will compete in the play-offs for the 17th time in 21 seasons, feels his team have their work cut out against the Nuggets.

“It’s the defending champion, they know what it takes, they know how to win, they’ve been extremely dominant at home over the last few years,” he said.

“They’ve got high-level players, high IQ players, they’ve got a hell of a coach. We have to play mistake-free basketball and make it tough on them.”

LeBron James tallied 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists and the Los Angeles Lakers overcame Zion Williamson’s 40 points to clinch a playoff berth with a 110-106 win over the New Orleans Pelicans in the Western Conference play-in tournament on Tuesday night.

D’Angelo Russell added 21 points with five 3-pointers and Anthony Davis had 20 points and 15 rebounds for the Lakers, who advanced to face the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets in a rematch of last season's West finals.

Williamson shot 17 of 27 and had 11 rebounds and five assists in his postseason debut before he went to the locker room after tying the game at 95 on a driving layup with 3:19 remaining. He threw a towel to the floor in disgust as he walked into the tunnel with what coach Willie Green called “left leg soreness.”

Williamson didn’t get much help, as Brandon Ingram scored 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting and CJ McCollum was limited to nine on 4 of 15, including 1 of 9 from 3-point range.

Soon after Williamson’s injury, James hit a jumper, Davis dunked on an alley-oop, Russell drained a 3 and Davis grabbed a crucial offensive rebound, then hit two key free throws.

New Orleans will take on Sacramento on Friday for the final playoff spot in the West.

 

Kings roll to eliminate Warriors

Keegan Murray scored 32 points with eight 3-pointers and every Sacramento starter scored in double figures as the Kings cruised to a 118-94 victory to eliminate the Golden State Warriors and stay alive in the play-in tournament.

Harrison Barnes scored 17 points, Domantas Sabonis added 16, 12 rebounds and seven assists and Keon Ellis contributed 15 points as the Kings moved on to a matchup with New Orleans on Friday with a chance to return to the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

Golden State was kept out of the playoffs for the third time in five seasons, including two eliminations in the play-in tournament. The Warriors committed 16 turnovers, gave up 15 offensive rebounds and missed 23 of 33 from long range.

Stephen Curry had 22 points, but Klay Thompson didn’t score and missed all 10 shots from the field.

The Miami Heat are anticipating a "dog fight" in their play-in matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers, according to forward Caleb Martin.

The 8th-seeded Heat face the 7th-seeded Sixers - who have listed Joel Embiid as questionable - at Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday.

Defeat for the Heat would see them in a win-or-go-home contest, but victory would see them open the playoffs against the New York Knicks.

Speaking ahead of the showdown with the Sixers, Martin is quoted by the Miami Herald as saying: "Everybody knows what's at stake going into that building, including them.

"We just expect a dog fight. We went through a lot of difficult games this year, over the last couple years, to get us prepared for these types of moments.

"So we'll definitely come in with the right mentality."

An injury-ravaged Heat ended the regular season with a record of 46-36, including a run of 7-3 across their final 10 games.

The Heat hope to have Duncan Robinson back after a four-game absence through a back injury, but Terry Rozier has been ruled out.

Miami and Philadelphia split the season series, and Heat center Bam Adebayo sees no reason why his side cannot come out on top this time around.

"We've been in a lot of big games before," he said. "We've all experienced it. We've been to the Finals. We understand what's at stake."

Steve Kerr is hoping for more of the same from "sublime" Steph Curry when the Golden State Warriors face the Sacramento Kings in the play-ins.

Curry produced a career-high 50 points to guide the Warriors to a Game 7 victory in Sacramento in the sides' most recent win-or-bust showdown.

The two-time MVP became the first player in playoff history to score 20 points or more from behind the arc and in the paint in the same game.

Asked about that performance on the eve of Tuesday's do-or-die matchup with Sacramento at Golden 1 Center, Kerr told reporters: "He's one of the great clutch players in the history of the league, we know that.

"That performance did not surprise me because he's 'that guy'. What I remember about that game is that we extended a lead at the end of the third, I think we went into the fourth up by 12 or something and so we had timeouts saved up.

"And the conversation you're referring to I think I was telling him we can take a timeout anytime you want just to get a couple of minutes of rest. And we were able to control that fourth quarter, but he was so sublime."

Curry leads the NBA standings across the regular season for average 3-point field goals made (4.8) and is ninth overall in terms of average points per game (26.4).

If the Warriors are to stay on course for the playoffs, the four-time NBA champion will likely have a major part to play.

"I think he led the league in player efficiency this year and clutch minutes," Kerr added of what to expect from Curry. 

"We've seen him win championships, win Finals MVP. I mean Steph Curry is Steph Curry."

Blake Griffin has dunked in an NBA game for the last time.

The six-time All-Star announced his retirement on social media on Tuesday after a 14-year pro career.

The first overall pick of the 2009 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Clippers, Griffin missed the entire 2009-10 season with a broken patella in his left knee sustained in the preseason.

He made an immediate impact the following year, however, winning the 2010-11 Rookie of the Year Award, the 2011 Slam Dunk Contest and was named to the first of five consecutive All-Star teams while playing for the Clippers.

A three-time All-NBA Second Team selection and a two-time All-NBA Third Team pick, Griffin made his final All-Star Game appearance in 2019, with the Detroit Pistons.

The 35-year-old spent the 2023-24 season out of basketball as a free agent.

 

Griffin's best season came in 2013-14, when he finished third in MVP voting with averages of 24.1 points per game, 9.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists to help the Clippers capture the Pacific Division title.

In his final NBA season, Griffin averaged career lows of 4.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 41 games for the Boston Celtics in 2022-23.

Though injuries slowed him in recent seasons, Griffin, who also played for the Brooklyn Nets, still averaged 19.0 points per game and 8.0 rebounds in 765 career games.

One of basketball's top dunkers, Griffin may be best remembered for winning the Slam Dunk Contest by dunking the ball after jumping over a parked car on the floor at his home-court in Los Angeles.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is reportedly unlikely to play when the Milwaukee Bucks open the NBA play-offs.

The Bucks expect to be without Antetokounmpo for the start of their first-round series against the Indiana Pacers, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN on Tuesday.

The two-time league MVP will continue to go through treatment on his left calf strain, and the team remains hopeful he'll be able to take the court at some point during the series against the sixth-seeded Pacers.

Game 1 tips off Sunday in Milwaukee.

 

Antetokounmpo missed the final three games of the regular season after he strained his left calf in the third quarter of Milwaukee's 104-91 win over the NBA-best Boston Celtics on April 9.

It was a non-contact injury for Antetokounmpo, who was heading up the court when he awkwardly went down grabbing his left calf.

An MRI later confirmed it was a calf strain.

The eight-time All-Star is coming off another outstanding season, ranking second in the NBA in scoring with an average of 30.4 points per game and sixth in rebounding at 11.5 boards per game.

The Bucks lost two of the final three games of the season with Antetokounmpo injured to slip from second place in the Eastern Conference to the third seed.

On the season, the Bucks went 4-5 in games he missed and 45-28 in games he played.

Making matters even more difficult for Milwaukee is the Pacers went 4-1 against the Bucks in the 2023-24 regular season.

Caitlin Clark is living the dream after she was chosen as the first pick in the WNBA draft by the Indiana Fever.

The 22-year-old is stepping up to the professional league as the most successful college player in history, which has made her the new star of the sport.

She joins last year’s first pick Aliyah Boston – a former team-mate of hers in the United States Under-19s – at the Fever as the club try to revive their fortunes after again failing to reach the play-offs in 2023.

Clark said on the WNBA website: “I dreamed of this moment since I was in second grade, and it’s taken a lot of hard work, a lot of ups and downs, but more than anything, just trying to soak it in.

“Obviously going to an organisation that has, in my eyes, one of the best post players (Boston) in the entire world.

“My point guard eyes just light up at that. And obviously, Aliyah has been one of my team-mates before. I’m excited. I can’t wait.”

 

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Fever head coach Christie Sides said on the club’s website: “Caitlin is one of the most naturally gifted basketball players I have ever seen enter the WNBA from the college level.

“Her shooting and passing abilities captivated an entire audience of basketball fans, and her ability to make those around her better was even more evident during her collegiate career.

“We can’t wait to bring her to Indiana and incorporate her into our locker room with a group ready to get back to the postseason.”

Clark’s Fever career kicks-off in the WNBA opener against the Connecticut Sun on May 14.

Joel Embiid will be "ready to go" for the Philadelphia 76ers when they host the Miami Heat, coach Nick Nurse has confirmed.

The reigning MVP sat out the Sixers' 107-86 victory over the Brooklyn Nets in Sunday's regular-season finale at Wells Fargo Center.

Embiid returned from a two-month lay-off against the Oklahoma City Thunder two weeks ago, but his status has been questionable for every game since. 

And after missing the Nets game, concerns were raised with regards to his status ahead of Wednesday's 7-8 play-in contest with the Heat.

However, Nurse allayed any fears regarding the fitness of Embiid, who practised with the rest of his team-mates on Saturday.

"He did everything at practice yesterday," Nurse said after the Nets win. "But we decided out of caution to hold him out. He'll be ready to go."

Despite winning their final eight games, the Sixers finished seventh in the Eastern Conference and are set to contest their first play-in contest.

As a result of other results over the weekend, the Heat now stand between Philadelphia and a place in the playoffs.

"Obviously, we've had some great battles with them, and we always expect that facing them," Nurse said.

"The mindset is we're playing well and do everything we can, like we've been doing for the last month.

"We're digging in and playing our guys and doing whatever we have to do to win. We've got a good mindset, and we'll take that into Wednesday."

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."

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