The Brooklyn Nets will be undermanned for Wednesday's blockbuster NBA matchup with Eastern Conference rivals the Philadelphia 76ers after Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin were ruled out.

Brooklyn and Philadelphia are set to do battle in a first-place showdown midweek – the two championship hopefuls share 37-17 win-loss records atop the east.

But the Nets will be without superstar Durant (hamstring – injury management) and former All-Stars Aldridge (illness – non-covid related) and Griffin (knee – injury management) as the trio join James Harden (hamstring) on the sidelines.

The star-studded Nets, however, do welcome back Kyrie Irving after he missed Tuesday's 127-97 rout of the Minnesota Timberwolves due to personal reasons.

Former MVP Durant was in doubt for the 76ers clash after playing 27 minutes against the Timberwolves.

Durant posted 31 points on 11-for-15 shooting in his third appearance following a 23-game injury absence.

The Nets-Timberwolves matchup was initially scheduled for Monday, but it was pushed back in the aftermath of Daunte Wright being shot and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.

It meant Durant faced the prospect of back-to-back games, which the Nets opted to avoid as they eye their maiden NBA title.

Durant is averaging 28.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists for the star-studded Nets this season.

He is also shooting a career-high 44.8 per cent from three-point range, while the two-time NBA champion (53.5) only boasted a better field-goal percentage in 2016-17 (53.7).

The top two teams in the Eastern Conference do battle in Philadelphia on Wednesday as the 76ers host the Brooklyn Nets.

Philadelphia and Brooklyn are tied atop the conference going into a mouth-watering clash.

Yet the Nets will again be without their full complement of stars at Wells Fargo Center, with James Harden struggling due to a hamstring issue and Kyrie Irving having missed Tuesday's game in Minnesota for personal reasons.

But they do have Kevin Durant at their disposal for a contest in which the Nets must try to contain an MVP candidate.


TOP PERFORMERS

Joel Embiid - Philadelphia 76ers

Embiid is expected to miss out on the NBA's top individual honour, with Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets the firm favourite, but he has continued to present a strong case.

He is averaging a career-high 29.6 points per game and has been key to each of the 76ers' past four wins, scoring 24, 35, 27 and 36 points in those contests.

Kevin Durant - Brooklyn Nets

Durant has had his fair share of injury issues this season, but the Nets' sole healthy superstar carried them in a rearranged meeting with the Timberwolves on Tuesday.

The two-time NBA Finals MVP shot 11 of 15, including four of six from three-point range, to rack up 31 points. He will need similar production if the Nets are to see off the Sixers on this unanticipated back to back.

KEY BATTLE - A DUEL BEHIND THE ARC

Durant's performance was indicative of how the Nets have thrived this season. Their three-point field goal percentage of 39.0 is the third-best in the NBA.

In the Sixers, however, they are coming up against a team that has done an impressive job of stopping teams getting hot from deep. Only six teams have allowed fewer three-point makes per game than Philadelphia (11.8).

HEAD TO HEAD

The Sixers came out on top in February's meeting with the Nets, prevailing 124-108 and they have dominated this matchup in recent times.

Philadelphia have won three of the previous four meetings between the two and have not lost a home game to the Nets since December 2018.

The Brooklyn Nets warmed up for Wednesday's showdown with the Philadelphia 76ers with a comfortable 30-point victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves in Tuesday's postponed game.

Kevin Durant top scored for the Nets with 31 points along with four rebounds, with guard Joe Harris adding 23 points in the 127-97 win.

Brooklyn improved to a 37-17 record, equal with the 76ers, in the absence of James Harden (hamstring) and Kyrie Irving (personal reasons).

The Utah Jazz regained some form after losing three of their past five games, triumphing 106-96 over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert put on a show with 13 points, 14 rebounds and a staggering seven blocks, while Croatian forward Bojan Bogdanovic top scored with 23.

 

No Kawhi but Clippers keep on winning

The Los Angeles Clippers extended their winning streak to six games despite missing Kawhi Leonard in a 126-115 victory over the Indiana Pacers.

Leonard was out with a sore right foot but Paul George was up to the task, with 36 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. That's the fourth straight game he's reached 30 points.

The Clippers have now won 12 of their past 14 matches and move to a 38-18 record, equating to third in the West.

The Los Angeles Lakers managed a 101-93 win over the Charlotte Hornets to move to 34-21 in the West.

With LeBron James and Anthony Davis still out injured, the Lakers relied on Kyle Kuzma with 24 points including four threes while center Andre Drummond had 12 rebounds.

The Phoenix Suns remain firm in second in the West with a 106-86 win over the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics edged the Portland Trail Blazers in a final quarter thriller 116-115 as the jostle for play-offs seedings continues.

 

Thunder crashing down

Guard Luguentz Dort may have scored a career-high 42 points but he was not able to celebrate as the Oklahoma City Thunder slumped to their seventh straight loss against the Jazz. The Thunder are now 20-34 and practically out of playoffs contention.

 

LeBron loves Kuz sledgehammer

Kyle Kuzma got LeBron James on his feet with a massive one-handed dunk on the transition late in the second in the Lakers' win.

 

Tuesday's results

Brooklyn Nets 127-97 Minnesota Timberwolves
Los Angeles Clippers 126-115 Indiana Pacers
Atlanta Hawks 108-103 Toronto Raptors
Los Angeles Lakers 101-93 Charlotte Hornets
Utah Jazz 106-96 Oklahoma City Thunder
Phoenix Suns 106-86 Miami Heat
Boston Celtics 116-115 Portland Trail Blazers

 

Nets in Philly

The top two in the East will face off when the Philadelphia 76ers host the Brooklyn Nets (both 37-17) with Joel Embiid and Kevin Durant available to play although James Harden will likely miss due to injury.

Kevin Durant played down the importance of the Eastern Conference showdown between the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers as the superstar focuses on his return to full fitness.

The Nets and 76ers will go head-to-head in a blockbuster clash pitting the east's top two teams against each other on Wednesday – Brooklyn and Philadelphia share 37-17 records atop the standings.

Brooklyn eased past the Minnesota Timberwolves 127-97 in their rescheduled game on Tuesday, with Durant posting 31 points on 11-for-15 shooting in 27 minutes as the former NBA MVP works his way back from a 23-game absence following a hamstring injury.

The Nets-Timberwolves matchup was initially scheduled for Monday, but it was pushed back in the aftermath of Duante Wright being shot and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.

It means Durant is facing the prospect of back-to-back games, with his status for the 76ers contest uncertain midweek.

"I want to play just to get back in the swing of things more so than like pinpoint that matchup," said Durant as the Nets eye their maiden championship. "You know what I'm saying?

"I think for us we want to get everybody healthy and acclimated to what we're doing out there and I think that's just as important as circling the calendar for Philly.

"They're a great team, well-coached and I'm sure a team we're going to run into here soon but for us at this point we want to continue to fine tune what we do get better at the things that make us who we are and we'll see what happens down the line."

Durant – in his first game back as the Nets played without James Harden (hamstring) and Kyrie Irving (personal) – added: "I felt good out there. I felt like my wind and legs were getting underneath me in each and every minute I'm playing.

"That's really what I wanted out of this time and we'll see how I feel in the morning and I'll talk to coach and the training staff to see where we go from there."

Durant is averaging 28.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.2 assists for the star-studded Nets this season.

He is also shooting a career-high 43.7 per cent from three-point range, while the two-time NBA champion (52.8) only boasted a better field-goal percentage in 2016-17 (53.7).

"It's a tricky balance because he needs to play a certain amount of minutes for his benefit," said Nets head coach Steve Nash. "At the same time, when the game is that out of hand, you're caught like, do we want to risk him being out there at this point in the game.

"In an ideal world he'd play close to 30 minutes, but at the same time, he's out there at the end of the game in meaningless minutes you want to be careful as well.

"We're trying to find that balance. At least he had a good game and got some minutes in his legs."

Ben Simmons insisted the Philadelphia 76ers can win the NBA title this season ahead of their Eastern Conference top-of-the-table clash with the Brooklyn Nets.

The 76ers and the star-studded Nets share 37-17 win-loss records atop the east heading into Wednesday's blockbuster match, with both franchises having strong claims for championship favouritism.

Philadelphia – swept in the first round of last season's playoffs, having reached back-to-back Eastern Conference semi-finals under former head coach Brett Brown – have not won the title since 1983, while the Nets are searching for their maiden championship.

Simmons, playing alongside fellow All-Star Joel Embiid in Philadelphia – told ESPN on Tuesday: "I think we can win it all".

Simmons and the 76ers will come up against a strong Nets side with Kevin Durant back in their ranks following a 23-game injury absence.

Brooklyn will be without former MVP James Harden with a hamstring strain but Kyrie Irving is expected back after missing Tuesday's 127-97 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves for personal reasons.

"There's one ball, there's one ball and you have to play defence still," Simmons said of the Nets.

"I take pride in defence. I know if I'm able to get stops and give guys a hard time doing their job then we're going to be able to go further.

"They have a lot of talent, but at the same time you've got to be able to play together as a team."

Australian star Simmons was forthright in pushing his credentials for this season's NBA Defensive Player of the Year award too, despite stiff opposition from Utah Jazz All-Star Rudy Gobert.

Simmons is averaging 14.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 1.6 steals per game for Doc Rivers' 76ers this season.

"I'm one of those guys who can guard one to five," the 24-year-old Simmons said.

"Obviously, there's a lot of respect for Rudy. I know what he's capable of. I know he's great down there in the paint, but he's not guarding everybody and that's just what it is.

"He guarded me in Utah… I had 42 [points] and apparently I'm not a scorer. It is what it is, but I have a lot of respect for him. At the same time, I think it's mine this year."

Miles Bridges had mouths agape across the NBA on Sunday with his thunderous dunk over Clint Capela.

The Charlotte Hornets forward ensured Hawks center Capela will be on a highlight reel for the wrong reasons for years to come, towering over the former Houston Rockets man and finishing with tremendous authority.

It is sure to have sparked widespread 'dunk of the year debates' after Anthony Edwards' similarly ridiculous effort for the Minnesota Timberwolves against the Toronto Raptors back in February.

And it also capped a superb week for Bridges, as we explain in this week's edition of Heat Check.

RUNNING HOT...

Miles Bridges - Charlotte Hornets

Not only did Bridges produce a dunk that will live long in the memory, he also enjoyed the third-largest improvement in points-per-game average for last week.

Bridges entered last week averaging just 9.96 points per game but put up 21.67 across three contests, following up a 26-point effort against the Milwaukee Bucks with 23, including that dunk, in the loss to the Hawks.

Jalen McDaniels - Charlotte Hornets

One of only two players to enjoy a bigger improvement than Bridges was team-mate McDaniels, who made the most of increased playing time.

With LaMelo Ball, Malik Monk and Gordon Hayward all on the sideline, McDaniels took advantage of the opportunity to shine.

He came into the week with an average of 4.17 points per game, but that ballooned to 16.33 in last week's games, scoring a career-high 21 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

GOING COLD...

Damian Lillard - Portland Trail Blazers

One of the most clutch shooters in the NBA, Lillard let his absurdly high standards drop over the past week.

The Blazers point guard had been averaging 29 points a game prior to last week, however, disappointing outings in losses to the Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat saw him put up 18.25 ppg across four games.

He was two for 14 from the field in scoring 11 points against the Clippers, and managed just a point more in Portland's defeat to the Heat.

Joe Harris - Brooklyn Nets

In a star-studded Nets team, Harris plays a crucial role in providing consistently impressive perimeter shooting.

But he rounded off last week with an unusually poor performance from three-point range in Brooklyn's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Harris went 0 for 4 from deep, dropping his average three-pointers made to 1.3 for the week, which he went into converting 3.24 attempts per game.

The Brooklyn Nets will be without star Kyrie Irving for Monday's NBA game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Irving is set to sit out the Timberwolves clash due to personal reasons, the Nets announced on Sunday.

The 2016 champion and seven-time All-Star missed three games last month because of a family matter, with Irving playing in 38 of Brooklyn's 53 games this season.

Irving – who was ejected from Saturday's 126-101 loss to defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers – is averaging 27.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game in 2020-21.

The star-studded Nets – already missing superstar James Harden (hamstring) – will also be without LaMarcus Aldridge against the Timberwolves.

Seven-time All-Star Aldridge is listed as out for a non-coronavirus-related illness.

The Nets and Philadelphia 76ers both share 36-17 win-loss records atop the Eastern Conference.

Frank Vogel felt the depleted Los Angeles Lakers' 126-101 victory over the Brooklyn Nets was one of their best of the year.

LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma were among the Lakers' absentees at the Barclays Center on Saturday, but they came out on top against a Nets side who occupy second place in the NBA Eastern Conference.

Lakers guard Dennis Schroder and the Nets' seven-time All-Star Kyrie Irving were ejected after clashing in the third quarter.

The defending champions went on to improve to 33-20, Andre Drummond weighing in with a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds, with Talen Horton-Tucker laying on a career-high 11 assists.

Lakers coach Vogel said: "When you see guys out and you see a great opponent like the Nets, you can be a little bit overwhelmed and not sure if you're going to have a chance to win it.

"But you want to have a go-after-these-guys mindset. And we knew coming in that if we were able to prevail short-handed against this opponent that it would feel good and it would be one of the best wins of the year. So, we're happy about that."

Vogel added: "Like I said all along, all season long, when we play scrappy on the defensive end, we always have a chance. I'm super proud of our group."

Drummond was impressed with the character shown by his team-mates in a big victory on the road.

"I learned a lot from today's game: that we have a lot of guys in this locker room that are very tough," he said.

"Despite who is on the other side of the court, they're going to come out and play. No matter how many minutes guys play, they're going to play to the best of their ability. And we have fun doing it. We had a lot of fun tonight playing and getting this win."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Curry sizzles, Trent has game to remember

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

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

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

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

 

Porter struggles

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

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

 

Korkmaz enjoys career night

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

 

Saturday's results

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

 

Celtics at Nuggets

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

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant said he is no longer motivated by titles, with the former NBA MVP focused on development and further improvement.

Durant has won it all in his illustrious basketball career – two championships and two NBA Finals MVP awards, to go with his 2014 Most Valuable Player gong and 11 All-Star selections.

The 32-year-old arrived in Brooklyn in 2019, having claimed both of his NBA titles with the Golden State Warriors.

Having battled Achilles and hamstring injuries during his time with the star-studded Nets – who are eyeing their maiden championship – Durant said he is not driven by silverware.

"I wasn't expecting to be a happy human being from a title," Durant told ESPN. "I was just expecting like, you know, the ending of a movie -- once you worked so hard and everybody tells you like, 'Yo, this is what you need to be working for, is this gold ball and these rings'.

"And I'm just like, 'All right, cool, let me lock in on that.' And I locked in on wanting to achieve that, but I also realised it's a lot of stuff that factors in it that's out of my control.

"And once I won a championship [with Golden State], I realised that, like, my view on this game is really about development. Like, how good can I be? It's not about, you know, let's go get this championship.

"I appreciate that stuff and I want to win to experience that stuff, but it's not the end-all, be-all of why I play the game."

Durant added: "I've been around, been out of the game for two years and having anxiety about like, 'What am I doing when I get back?

"Being out with an Achilles has you thinking about the game differently. And my goal is to be out there, you know. Who knows what's gonna happen when I'm out there.

"I just want to be available. And I think that's all I really want out of this, to be available for as long as I can. And we'll see what happens between the lines."

Durant is averaging 28.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists for the Nets this season, while he is boasting a career-best three-point percentage (44.3).

The Nets (36-16) are a game ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers (35-17) atop the Eastern Conference.

Devin Booker and Chris Paul helped the Phoenix Suns take down Donovan Mitchell and the NBA-leading Utah Jazz 117-113 after overtime.

Booker posted 35 points, while Paul finished with 29 points as the high-flying Suns moved to within a game of the best record in the league on Wednesday.

DeAndre Ayton finished with 18 points and 12 assists for the Suns (36-14), who won their seventh successive game after scoring the first five points in overtime and never trailed again.

Mitchell – who nailed a three-pointer with 10.4 seconds remaining to force OT – had a game-high 41 points, eight rebounds and three assists for the Jazz (38-13) in a thrilling encounter.

Jazz team-mate Rudy Gobert put up 16 points on seven-for-seven shooting and 18 rebounds in the losing effort on the road.

Kevin Durant made his long-awaited return in the Brooklyn Nets' 139-111 victory against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Durant had been sidelined since February 13 due to a hamstring strain, but the former NBA MVP returned as the star-studded Nets won midweek.

After a 23-game absence, Durant – initially named in the starting five – came off the bench and posted 17 points on five-for-five shooting in 19 minutes, making both of his three-point attempts.

Durant, who received an ovation from the home crowd at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, also collected seven rebounds and tallied five assists against the Pelicans midweek.

 

Westbrook fuels Wizards with triple

A Russell Westbrook triple-double of 23 points, 15 assists and 14 rebounds led the Washington Wizards past the Orlando Magic 131-116. It was Westbrook's 20th triple-double of the season as the Wizards snapped a four-game losing streak. Bradley Beal returned from a five-game absence and posted 26 points, while the Wizards made a season-best 19 three-pointers.

MVP candidate Nikola Jokic (25 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds) fell just short of his 13th triple-double of the season after the Denver Nuggets topped the San Antonio Spurs 106-96.

Grayson Allen's season-high 30 points helped the streaking Memphis Grizzlies beat the Atlanta Hawks 131-113. Jonas Valanciunas (19 points and 11 rebounds) set a franchise record with his 19th straight game with 10-plus rebounds.

 

Richardson struggles

It was a rough outing for Josh Richardson in the Dallas Mavericks' 102-93 loss to the lowly Houston Rockets. In 29 minutes, he was 0-for-nine shooting for one point. Richardson missed all six of his three-point attempts.

 

Grizzlies roar

The Grizzlies are hard to beat at the moment thanks to their collective effort. All five starters finished in double-digit points – Ja Morant tallying 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, including this combination with Kyle Anderson (16 points, nine rebounds, six assists and two steals).

 

Wednesday's results

Indiana Pacers 141-137 Minnesota Timberwolves
Washington Wizards 131-116 Orlando Magic
Boston Celtics 101-99 New York Knicks
Brooklyn Nets 139-111 New Orleans Pelicans
Memphis Grizzlies 131-113 Atlanta Hawks
Houston Rockets 102-93 Dallas Mavericks
Charlotte Hornets 113-102 Oklahoma City Thunder
Denver Nuggets 106-96 San Antonio Spurs
Phoenix Suns 117-113 Utah Jazz (OT)

 

Suns at Clippers

The Suns (36-14) will put their winning streak on the line when they visit Western Conference rivals the Los Angeles Clippers (34-18) on Thursday. The Clippers are third in the west, behind leaders the Jazz and second-placed Suns.

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant said he was not surprised by his perfect shooting performance after making his long-awaited return to the court.

Durant had been sidelined since February 13 due to a hamstring strain, but the former NBA MVP returned as the star-studded Nets took down the New Orleans Pelicans 139-111 on Wednesday.

After a 23-game absence, Durant – initially named in the starting five – came off the bench and posted 17 points on five-for-five shooting in 19 minutes, making both of his three-point attempts.

Durant, who received an ovation from the home crowd at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, also collected seven rebounds and tallied five assists against the Pelicans midweek.

"I expected to come out here and play the way I played," Durant said. "I wasn't trying to ease into the game."

Kyrie Irving had 24 points in the absence of fellow All-Star James Harden (hamstring) as Durant featured alongside recruits LaMarcus Aldridge (22 points) and Blake Griffin (10 points) for the first time.

"When we move our bodies and we move the basketball the way we did and we talk on defense it's fun out there. You have veteran players that know how to play and it feels like these guys can finish my sentence before I even finish," Durant said.

"So these guys know the game inside out they know me they know one another as team-mates and from playing against each other over the years so it's pretty smooth."

Durant added: "We've always been in communication about different sets and different actions when I was on the bench and practices and film room. So I felt like we were learning each other throughout that time and then finally getting on the floor we didn't have to say much.

"I feel like we know each other's games and we know exactly what to do on each play. So guys have been in constant communication no matter if it's a game or off day and I think it helps."

Nets head coach Steve Nash, whose team moved clear of the idle Philadelphia 76ers atop the Eastern Conference, said: "You could see I think that's there's lots of potential there. It's not hard to play basketball with Kevin Durant.

"I think he's gonna make guys better. He demands a lot of attention and creates a lot of space on the floor. He's a shotmaker, but he creates a lot for his team-mates as well, whether it's through passing or his presence. I think that his length also helps the group in a number of ways.

"He affects his team-mates so positively, so I think a lot of the combinations are going to improve because of him being back in the line-up."

Kevin Durant will make his first appearance in 23 games after being named in the Brooklyn Nets' starting line-up to face the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.

Nets superstar and former NBA MVP Durant has been sidelined since February 13 due to a hamstring strain, which also forced him to sit out last month's All-Star Game.

But Durant will make his long-awaited return midweek as the star-studded Nets – without James Harden (hamstring) – welcome the Pelicans to Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Durant was averaging 29.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game for the Nets in 2020-21 prior to the injury, while he was also shooting a career-high 43.4 per cent from three-point range.

The Nets and rivals Philadelphia 76ers share 35-16 records atop the Eastern Conference.

James Harden will miss over a week due to a hamstring strain, but superstar Brooklyn Nets team-mate Kevin Durant is likely to make his long-awaited NBA return against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Harden was forced out of Monday's 114-112 win over the New York Knicks after just four minutes, with an MRI revealing a strained right hamstring, the Nets announced on Tuesday.

MVP hopeful Harden – who has been averaging 25.2 points, 10.9 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game this season – will be re-evaluated by the star-studded Nets in approximately 10 days.

While Harden is set for a stint on the sidelines, fellow former MVP Durant is poised to make a comeback.

Durant has not played since February 13 but is listed as probable for Wednesday's clash with the Pelicans.

A hamstring strain has plagued Durant, who was also forced to sit out last month's All-Star Game in Atlanta.

Durant is averaging 29.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game for the Nets in 2020-21.

Steve Nash's Nets (35-16) top the Eastern Conference, ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers (34-16).

Kyrie Irving stepped up with 40 points after James Harden went off injured early in the Brooklyn Nets' 114-112 victory over the New York Knicks on Monday.

In his first game back following hamstring tightness, Harden left the court after four minutes with an issue with the same hamstring and did not return.

The Nets were already without Kevin Durant, Tyler Johnson, Landry Shamet and Blake Griffin but their star point guard lifted when his side needed him, improving Brooklyn's record to 35-16 and moving them top in the East.

Irving finished with 40 points, including five three-pointers and seven assists, while Jeff Green contributed 23 points.

The Utah Jazz's nine-game winning run was halted by Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in a 111-103 win.

Doncic went close to a triple-double, finishing with 31 points along with nine rebounds and eight assists for the Mavs.

Booker on fire, Westbrook dominates in defeat

Devin Booker dominated again with 36 points for the Phoenix Suns, who won 133-130 over the Houston Rockets to move to 35-14.

Booker has had a hot hand lately and delivered when it mattered, with 18 final-quarter points getting the Suns past the Rockets.

Chris Paul had 11 assists for Phoenix, becoming the fifth player in NBA history to reach 10 or more assists 500 times.

Russell Westbrook had another triple-double with 23 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists but the Washington Wizards lost 103-101 to the Toronto Raptors after Gary Trent Jr's buzzer-beater.

Darius Garland scored a career-high 37 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers won 125-101 over the San Antonio Spurs.

 

Harden hurt again

Brooklyn's MVP candidate Harden did not last long in his return game after hamstring tightness, failing to score before being benched and tested in the locker room for a re-injury. Nets coach Steve Nash said: "Very similar to last time. He's got an awareness that something isn't right in his hammy."

 

Trent's buzzer-beater

Trent hit a clutch three-point buzzer-beater to earn the Toronto Raptors a dramatic victory over the Washington Wizards, completing a 19-point comeback.

Monday's results

Minnesota Timberwolves 116-106 Sacramento Kings 
Detroit Pistons 132-108 Oklahoma City Thunder
Cleveland Cavaliers 125-101 San Antonio Spurs
Toronto Raptors 103-101 Washington Wizards
Dallas Mavericks 111-103 Utah Jazz
Brooklyn Nets 114-112 New York Knicks
Phoenix Suns 133-130 Houston Rockets

 

76ers at Celtics

There are a bunch of big match-ups on Tuesday but the biggest is in the East when the Boston Celtics (25-25) host the Philadelphia 76ers (34-16), who have Joel Embiid back from injury.

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