Reigning back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic will miss his third game from the past four due to a tight left hamstring when the Denver Nuggets face the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.

Jokic returned with a triple-double including the game-winner in Tuesday's 98-99 win over the New Orleans Pelicans after missing two games with the same hamstring issue.

The Serbian center is averaging 25.1 points, 11.0 rebounds and 9.9 assists this season, putting him in contention to be first player to win three MVPs in a row since Larry Bird (1984-86).

Jokic's absence comes as the Western Conference-leading Nuggets (34-14) take on the Bucks (30-17), who are third in the Eastern Conference.

The Nuggets will also be without Jamal Murray (left knee), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (sprained right wrist) and Michael Porter Jr. (personal reasons) for the game.

Bobby Portis will be absent for Milwaukee due to right MCL and right ankle sprains, with the injuries to be reevaluated in two weeks.

Portis sustained the injuries in Monday's 150-130 win over the Detroit Pistons where both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton returned after injuries.

Andrew Wiggins and Stephen Curry piled on the points as the Golden State Warriors improved to a 12-11 record with a 120-101 victory over the Houston Rockets on Saturday.

Wiggins scored a season-high 36 points on 14-of-19 field shooting with a joint career-high eight three-pointers, including three in a row in the third quarter at the Chase Center.

Curry added 30 points, including eight triples, as well as providing 10 assists for Golden State, who have won five of their past six games.

Jordan Poole, who came into the starting line-up for Klay Thompson who was rested, also had 21 points with five three-pointers. Center Kevon Looney had 12 rebounds with nine points.

The Warriors shot 25-of-52 from three-point range as a team, compared to the Rockets who went at 10.7 per cent from beyond the arc, making three-of-28 attempts.

Golden State became the second team in NBA history to make 20 three-pointers in four of five games.

Gobert ejected in Timberwolves defeat

Rudy Gobert was ejected for deliberately tripping Kenrich Williams as the Minnesota Timberwolves were beaten 135-128 by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The French center was given a flagrant 2 foul and ejected in the second quarter when he tangled with Williams, appearing to sweep a leg out while on the ground, seeing his unbalanced opponent tumble.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander top scored for OKC with 33 points and six assists, while for the Timberwolves, who were already without Karl-Anthony Towns (calf), D'Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards scored 27 and 26 points respectively.

Short-handed Bucks down Hornets

The Milwaukee Bucks overcame the absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo due to left knee soreness as they moved to 16-6 with a 105-96 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.

The Bucks, who are second in the Eastern Conference, were also without Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday but Bobby Portis (20 points, eight rebounds and seven assists) stepped up.

Jordan Nwora added 17 points, while Brook Lopez (14 points including three three-pointers and six rebounds) and Jevon Carter (14 points and six assists) were strong contributors.

Lu Dort, Bobby Portis and P.J. Tucker were among the players to get paid on a busy Thursday evening of free agency action.

Dort was shown good faith by the Oklahoma City Thunder, who opted to decline his team option that would have kept him on a $1.9million deal for next season, instead choosing to sign him to a five-year, $87.5million extension.

On a roster stacked with rookie salaries, the Thunder simply need to have some bigger contracts on their books to meet the league's salary floor, and in doing so they have rewarded a player who has become a cult figure, averaging 17.2 points per game this past season while being his side's premier wing defender.

Speaking of cult figures, Portis' connection with the Milwaukee Bucks after helping to deliver the city their second NBA championship was strong enough to have him stick around for the following year on just over $4m.

That loyalty was rewarded with a new four-year, $49m deal that will keep the 27-year-old big-man in Milwaukee until after the 2026 playoffs.

The Bucks also made a second notable move, signing 34-year-old free agent Joe Ingles to a one-year, $6.5m contract. Ingles suffered a season-ending injury with the Utah Jazz this past season, but figures to fill a role as a 41 per cent career three-point shooter, who can also handle, pass and defend at six-foot-eight.

Tucker was also a member of the Bucks' 2021 championship team, and after contributing to the Miami Heat's run to the Eastern Conference Finals this past season, the 37-year-old has signed with the Philadelphia 76ers for three years and $33m.

Over the years, Tucker has evolved into one of the game's best corner three point shooters, and across the past five seasons he has started 77 playoff games, often guarding the opposition's most dangerous wing scorer.

While Tucker is getting paid to come and provide a stabilising force, the Portland Trail Blazers are paying for upside with their four-year, $100m commitment to breakout guard Anfernee Simons.

After averaging no more than 8.4 points and 1.4 assists in each of his first three campaigns, the 23-year-old shot into mainstream attention this season and he piled up numbers on a Trail Blazers team that was missing star Damian Lillard through injury.

Simons started a career-high 30 games, and put up career-high numbers across the board. He averaged 17.3 points and 3.9 assists, while shooting an impressive 40 per cent from three on an aggressive 7.8 attempts per game, emerging as one of the game's more lethal pull-up shooters from distance.

Backup point guard Tyus Jones will return to the Memphis Grizzlies on a two-year, $30m contract after a season where he became one of the league's most valuable backups.

Jones led the entire league in assist-to-turnover ratio at 6.4 – putting a gap on the rest of the field – with his brother, Tre Jones of the Spurs, in second place at 5.1.

He also shot a career-high 39 per cent from long range, and averaged 12.7 points, 6.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds without Ja Morant in the line-up, making him one of the main reasons the Grizzlies were 20-5 in the 25 games their superstar point guard missed due to injury.

After snapping the Phoenix Suns' franchise-record winning streak, the high-flying Golden State Warriors crashed back down to earth in a shock 112-107 defeat to the San Antonio Spurs.

In the second of back-to-back games, having halted Phoenix's memorable 18-game run, the league-leading Warriors (19-4) were unable to rally past the Spurs on home court in the NBA on Saturday.

The Spurs (8-13) used an 8-1 run to close out the game for their fourth consecutive victory, fuelled by Dejounte Murray's 22 points and 12 rebounds.

Stephen Curry scored 27 points for the Warriors, who had won 11 successive home games – tied for their longest home winning streak since they claimed 54 straight from January 2015 to March 2016.

 

 

Bulls battle past Nets

The Chicago Bulls went on a rampage at Barclays Center, where they overturned a double-digit deficit to trump the Eastern Conference-leading Brooklyn Nets 111-107. Zach LaVine (31 points) and DeMar DeRozan (29 points) inspired the Bulls in the Eastern Conference blockbuster. Kevin Durant led the Nets with 28 points, while James Harden had 14 points and 14 assists.

Jayson Tatum (also 10 rebounds) and Dennis Schroder scored 31 points apiece to lead the Boston Celtics to a 145-117 blowout of the Portland Trail Blazers, who were without Damian Lillard.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic put up 32 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in just 27 minutes as the Denver Nuggets beat the slumping New York Knicks 113-99.

No Giannis Antetokounmpo? No worries for defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks, who defeated the Miami Heat 124-102. Bobby Portis sparked the Bucks with 19 points, 16 rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks. He is the first Bucks player with a 15/15/2/2/2 game in under 30 minutes since 1984.

 

George unable to lift Clippers

Paul George finished with a double-double but it was a rough night for him and the Los Angeles Clippers following a 104-99 loss at the Sacramento Kings. George only made five of his shots from the floor, while turning the ball over five times on the road.

Two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo says the Milwaukee Bucks will reap the benefits of rotating their roster amid injuries later in the championship race.

The reigning champions overcame the under-manned Eastern Conference leaders the Philadelphia 76ers 118-109 on Tuesday, snapping a run of five losses in six games.

Antetokounmpo starred with 31 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and two blocks, but unheralded Grayson Allen and Bobby Portis impressed in the absence of small forward Khris Middleton (COVID-19) and center Brook Lopez (back).

Allen hit five three-pointers to finish with 25 points, while starting center Portis had 19 points and 10 rebounds across 35 minutes on court. Semi Ojeleye added 11 points and eight rebounds off the bench.

"Obviously you always want to win, you play to win," Antetokounmpo said during his post-game news conference. "Grayson and Semi today were really good.

"Semi was shooting his open shots, he was being aggressive, diving for the ball. That's good. We're going to need that.

"We need these guys feeling comfortable playing with me and Jrue [Holiday]. We're going to need everybody to win a championship and play down the stretch in May and June."

Allen, who joined the Bucks from the Memphis Grizzlies in the off-season, went eight-for-13 from the field, including shooting at 56 per cent from beyond the arc.

"Grayson did a good job getting to the right spots," Antetokounmpo said.

The Bucks finished strong with a 27-16 fourth quarter to get over the 76ers, who were without Joel Embiid. The win improves Milwaukee's record to 5-6 on the season.

"It's always good to get a win," the Greek forward said. "Sometimes it's pretty, sometimes it's ugly, but a win is a win. We're trying to build some momentum here.

"With a stop or a block or a play or a pass, just do whatever it takes to get a win. That's what my team needs me to do. That's why I showed a bit of emotion... I just wanted us to get a win."

Holiday missed his three attempts from three-point range and shot four-for-14 from the field to finish with eight points in his third game back from an ankle injury.

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said: "I thought he had some big plays defensively. His effort on the boards, he can put a body on a guy like Drummond, so Giannis and Bobby can clean stuff up. Jrue is working his way and really getting better."

The Phoenix Suns will be grateful to be back home as they attempt to respond when hosting the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Saturday.

Phoenix had headed out on the road holding a commanding 2-0 cushion after a pair of impressive wins in front of their own fans, increasing the belief that this could be the year the franchise finally secures a first ever title.

However, the trip to Milwaukee did not pan out as hoped. Back-to-back defeats have put the best-of-seven series level at 2-2, with the Bucks now aiming to stop the Suns – and their bench in particular – rising to the occasion upon a return to familiar surroundings.

"It's always tough winning on the road in this league – it's always tough winning, period. But them especially, they really, really feed off the crowd and get going," Bucks big man Bobby Portis told the media.

"All their supporting cast play well at home, so we've got to try to limit them as much as we can.

"Obviously, it's going to be a hostile environment, but that’s what we play this game for. That’s why we work so hard in the offseason, during the season. This is why we sacrifice so much – to be in this position to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy. I think everybody is locked in."

The key to the comeback for the Bucks has not just been about playing at home, though.

Phoenix had an offensive rating of 119.8 over the opening two games yet dipped to 104.6 across successive losses to a Milwaukee team determined to make a greater impact on defense.

Chris Paul had a combined 55 points in the Suns' wins but was stifled during the away trip. The veteran point guard managed just 10 points in Game 4, yet he insists experience has helped him quickly forget about such outings.

"In this league, when you play long enough – and I feel like I’ve played for at least a little while – you have to have a short memory. You can't dwell on it, win or lose," Paul said on Friday.

"You can win by 20 or lose by 20, you then start back at zero-zero and go from there. That's always been the mindset."

The Suns did lose by 20 in Game 3, before going down by just six points last time out. Their cause was not helped by shooting 30.4 per cent from deep in that most recent defeat, a statistic that needs to be a temporary blip rather than a set-in trend if they are to wrestle back the advantage, particularly when facing a Bucks team used to going the distance in these playoffs.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Phoenix Suns - Mikal Bridges 

As Portis mentioned, the Suns were able to get contributions from a number of role players during the meetings in Phoenix. Bridges certainly played his part, too, scoring 41 combined points, including 27 in Game 2 as he played for over 37 minutes.

However, he struggled to have anywhere near the same impact on the road, taking just eight shots in total as he mustered 11 points. Phoenix needs him to get more heavily involved again in the offense again, particularly when it comes to outside shooting.

Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo

Who else, right? Antetokounmpo had 26 points and 14 rebounds in Game 4, yet his biggest play was the astonishing block on Deandre Ayton as the Suns center attempted a dunk.

The Bucks finished that contest shooting at a mere 40.2 per cent, in comparison to Phoenix's average of 51.3 per cent. Taking 29 free-throws (the Suns had 19) helped mask the deficit, but Milwaukee will be aware they must do better from the field, having landed just seven of their 29 three-point attempts on Wednesday.

Bobby Portis revelled in his hero status with the Milwaukee Bucks fans after helping the franchise to the brink of the NBA Finals.

Milwaukee made light of two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo's absence with a hyperextended knee by beating the Atlanta Hawks 123-112 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

It gives the Bucks a 3-2 lead and leaves them one victory away from a shot at their first championship since 1971.

Portis joined Milwaukee last offseason and has quickly established an affinity with a fanbase who chanted his name raucously as he racked up 22 points in 36 minutes on Thursday.

"Milwaukee's a tough city. We were meeting with some people at the start of the season in January and February," Portis told reporters afterwards. "They were telling us about the city, how tough it is to live here and things like that.

"The city goes through a lot. When they see someone who works hard and gives his all… it's a blue-collar city and I'm a blue-collar player.

"When I'm making shots, whether they're going in or not, I still give my all to the team, give 100 per cent for the name on the front of the jersey.

"They love players like that and it's just fun to go out and play this game with home court advantage and get them involved.

"Giannis went down and we had to step up. I didn't play the last couple of games. I kept working and knew my time was going to come. If you do things the right way, things always come around."

There were no shortage of players stepping up in the required fashion.

Brook Lopez amassed a playoff career-high 33 points for the third-seeded Bucks, while Khris Middleton weighed in with 26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.

Jrue Holiday also managed a double-double of 25 points and 13 rebounds, and former Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards forward Portis is delighted to be in such company after being released by the New York Knicks.

"Coming here was the best decision of my career," he said. "Having good veterans like Giannis and Brook to coach me up on how to be a two-way player.

"Guys like Khris and Jrue, who are unselfish and put the ball in hole for me to shoot my shots. And having coaches like coach Bud [Mike Budenholzer] and all the coaching staff who believe in me."

Portis added: "I've finally found peace. I'm at peace with my life, at peace with myself and everything around me.

"The pandemic helped me find out more about myself. Being at home for nine or 10 months straight, watching guys on TV play in the bubble and not being able to go there really hurt. But I got a chance to really work on my game and that helped me prepare for the moment."

Bobby Portis revelled in his hero status with the Milwaukee Bucks fans after helping the franchise to the brink of the NBA Finals.

Milwaukee made light of two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo's absence with a hyperextended knee by beating the Atlanta Hawks 123-112 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

It gives the Bucks a 3-2 lead and leaves them one victory away from a shot at their first championship since 1971.

Portis joined Milwaukee last offseason and has quickly established an affinity with a fanbase who chanted his name raucously as he racked up 22 points in 36 minutes on Thursday.

"Milwaukee's a tough city. We were meeting with some people at the start of the season in January and February," Portis told reporters afterwards. "They were telling us about the city, how tough it is to live here and things like that.

"The city goes through a lot. When they see someone who works hard and gives his all… it's a blue-collar city and I'm a blue-collar player.

"When I'm making shots, whether they're going in or not, I still give my all to the team, give 100 per cent for the name on the front of the jersey.

"They love players like that and it's just fun to go out and play this game with home court advantage and get them involved.

"Giannis went down and we had to step up. I didn't play the last couple of games. I kept working and knew my time was going to come. If you do things the right way, things always come around."

There were no shortage of players stepping up in the required fashion.

Brook Lopez amassed a playoff career-high 33 points for the third-seeded Bucks, while Khris Middleton weighed in with 26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.

Jrue Holiday also managed a double-double of 25 points and 13 rebounds, and former Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards forward Portis is delighted to be in such company after being released by the New York Knicks.

"Coming here was the best decision of my career," he said. "Having good veterans like Giannis and Brook to coach me up on how to be a two-way player.

"Guys like Khris and Jrue, who are unselfish and put the ball in hole for me to shoot my shots. And having coaches like coach Bud [Mike Budenholzer] and all the coaching staff who believe in me."

Portis added: "I've finally found peace. I'm at peace with my life, at peace with myself and everything around me.

"The pandemic helped me find out more about myself. Being at home for nine or 10 months straight, watching guys on TV play in the bubble and not being able to go there really hurt. But I got a chance to really work on my game and that helped me prepare for the moment."

The Milwaukee Bucks are on the cusp of the NBA Finals after Brook Lopez spearheaded a 123-112 win over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Milwaukee – eyeing their first championship since 1971 – were without superstar and two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo due to a hyperextended knee on Thursday.

But Lopez helped pick up the slack, stepping up with a playoff career-high 33 points as the third-seeded Bucks claimed a 3-2 series lead to move within one win of the NBA Finals.

Entering the contest, the Bucks were 1-8 in Game 5 when a series was tied 2-2 since 2000, according to Stats Perform. Their lone win over that time came against Atlanta in 2010, but the Hawks came back to win the series in seven.

But Milwaukee's starters flexed their muscles in the absence of Antetokounmpo at home to the fifth-seeded Hawks.

The Bucks were 9-0 this postseason when Khris Middleton shot at least 40 percent from the floor, compared to 1-5 when he does not, prior to Game 5.

Bucks star Middleton posted 26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists to help Milwaukee move a step closer to their first NBA Finals appearance since 1973-74.

Jrue Holiday also had a double-double of 25 points and 13 rebounds as Bobby Portis contributed 22 points of his own for the Bucks, who used a 36-22 opening quarter to surge clear and never look back.

The Hawks were without star guard Trae Young (foot) once again and they were unable to see off the Bucks.

Bogdan Bogdanovic led the Hawks with 28 points, while John Collins (19), Daniel Gallinari (19) and Lou Williams (17) were the only other players to reach double-digit points.

 

Bucks at Hawks

The Bucks can close out the series away to the Hawks on Saturday as the Phoenix Suns await in the NBA Finals.

The Phoenix Suns are waiting.

A series sweep over the Denver Nuggets means Monty Williams' team are through to the Western Conference Finals, where they will meet either the Utah Jazz or the Los Angeles Clippers.

In the East, meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks are serving up a prime example of how a seven-game series can ebb and flow throughout. At 2-2 and with injuries taking a toll, it is tough to predict who will progress.

With the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks also locked in a battle in the East, it is time to take a look at those players who have seized the chance to shine across the past week in the NBA playoffs, as well as those struggling in the shade.

RUNNING HOT...

Chris Paul

Paul set an unusual record as the Suns completed a 4-0 sweep of the Nuggets on Sunday. In contributing 37 points, the 36-year-old became the oldest guard in NBA history to outscore his age in a playoff game.

It capped a memorable week for the 11-time All-Star, who averaged 25.5 points per game in the series. Since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984, Phoenix are the only team to knock out both the previous year's conference finalists in the first two rounds, having also accounted for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Donovan Mitchell

Through three games against the Clippers, Mitchell has been an offensive juggernaut for the Jazz. He has scored a combined total of 112 points to average out for the week at 37.33 per outing.

His output has been aided by getting hot from long range, the guard landing 5.67 three-point attempts per game. Yes, that is correct: Per. Game. An ankle issue could slow him down in the remainder of the series, having already missed the end of the regular season and Utah's first game in the playoffs.

Bruce Brown

With James Harden out due to a hamstring injury, Brown has taken on a greater offensive role for the ailing Nets. In three games across the past week, the 24-year-old has taken 22 shots – he had tallied 31 in the previous six playoff outings – and made his first three-pointer in the playoffs as Brooklyn won Game 2.

His production could be set to further increase if Kyrie Irving joins Harden on the sidelines, the point guard having twisted his right ankle as his team lost Game 4 in Milwaukee on Sunday.

GOING COLD...

Joe Harris

Having been pivotal at the start of the Nets-Bucks series, Harris has cooled off since the teams travelled to Milwaukee. His opening two outings saw him manage 19 and 13 points, but since then just 11 combined in back-to-back defeats.

Harris landed only one of his 11 field goal attempts in Game 3 before fouling out, while Sunday’s Game 4 performance was only marginally better. Perhaps a return to Brooklyn for Game 5 will help him find his scoring touch again.

Bobby Portis

Just like Harris on the opposing roster, Portis is in a slump. The 29-year-old has averaged just 2.0 points per game across the past week, a major drop from his regular-season average of 11.42. He is also contributing less in terms of rebounding too, dipping down to 3.0 per outing.

Fellow big Brook Lopez is another role player to see the points dry up (6.33ppg), leaving Milwaukee to lean heavily on All-Star duo Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton as they bid to make the Eastern Conference Finals.

Marcus Morris Sr and Patrick Beverley

For the second successive series, the Clippers are having to dig themselves out of an early hole. An emphatic Game 3 victory over the Jazz halved the deficit, thanks mainly to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George managing a combined total of 65 points.

The role players will need to help out too if they are to set up a clash with the Suns. Morris Sr has averaged 7.67 points across the past week, not aided by landing just one of his 16 attempts from deep. Team-mate Beverley is also struggling from long range while managing just 10 points in total in his past three games.

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