Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis said he wanted to "make a statement" in his side's 109-102 win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday after a "terrible" Game 1 performance.

Davis led the way for the Lakers with a brilliant display at both ends of the court, contributing 34 points and seven assists, along with 10 rebounds and three blocks.

The performance came after an underwhelming return in the opening game when the Lakers were beaten 99-90, with Davis scoring 13 points and providing just two assists.

"Locked in. I know my performance the other day was terrible," Davis told ESPN. "To win a series or to win games, I can't have that performance.

"I put it on myself, as all leaders do. I wanted to make a statement this game. Come out with more energy and effort at both ends on the floor… it paid off today."

LeBron James landed a crucial three-pointer which stretched the Lakers' lead to nine points inside the final minute. He would finish with 23 points, four rebounds and nine assists as LA levelled the first round series.

Davis insisted James did not need to tell him anything about how to respond from his underwhelming display.

"We've been together for a while now," Davis said. "He don’t have to be in my ear. He saw it on my face.

"We didn’t talk much at all today. [The] first time we talked when was when we got to the arena. He just knows.

"I knew I can't have my team in that position with my performance. Since last year he's always been on me about perfection. Playing hard, playing through environments like this, it's paying off.

"It's getting to the point where I don’t need ‘Bron to tell me what I need to do. I know now. I put it on myself to be better for my team."

James added: "He responds to games like Game 1. He's not a guy who talks about it. He goes out and does it."

Game 3 will take place at the Staples Center in LA on Thursday and Davis said he expects the crowd to be "crazy exciting and loud".

Suns guard Chris Paul will hope to feature more heavily in that game after struggling with a shoulder complaint throughout Tuesday's meeting, including sitting out most of the final quarter.

"I took him out," Suns coach Monty Williams said in the post-game video conference. "It was all me looking at him holding his arm the way he was holding it.

"I couldn’t watch him run like that. He was trying to make plays, he battled, he's a warrior. I just made a decision to take him out."

He added: "He's not able to make the passes he wants. He was labouring tonight… We're hopeful it'll get better over the next 48 hours, but I don’t want to say too much."

The NBA playoffs got off to a thoroughly entertaining start over the weekend, with road wins for the lower seed in four of the eight series.

Game 1 followed hot on the heels of the similarly dramatic play-in tournament, in which Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors agonisingly lost twice to miss out on qualifying for the postseason.

Curry is a proven performer in both the regular season and the playoffs, but the same does not apply to every elite player.

Some stars seem to go missing when the season is on the line, while others thrive under pressure, as we discover in our latest NBA Heat Check – now comparing the performances of the past week to the entirety of the 2020-21 regular season.

RUNNING HOT...

Luka Doncic

For the second straight season, the Dallas Mavericks are playing the Los Angeles Clippers in round one. And for the second straight season, the series is providing Doncic with a platform to show off his extraordinary talents.

Dallas are too often a one-man show, but the Clippers struggled to contain Doncic last year as he averaged 31.0 points across a debut series that his Game 4 overtime buzzer-beating three-pointer memorably levelled.

The Mavs were beaten in Game 5 and Game 6 in 2020 to depart the tournament, yet this time they have a lead after Doncic's 31-point, triple-double effort on Saturday. Only Michael Jordan has played seven or more playoff games and averaged greater than his 31.0 points per game (33.4).

And it was again the Slovenian's accuracy from beyond the arc that hurt the Clippers, as he made five threes for the first time in the playoffs – up on his season average of 2.9.

Goran Dragic

The Miami Heat made the NBA Finals last season but were hamstrung by an injury to Dragic in Game 1 of the loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

That proved a telling blow, but Dragic is back at the fore in this year's playoffs despite a middling regular season in which he averaged 13.4 points per game.

An opening effort of 25 points helped keep Miami in contention against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1. Duncan Robinson chipped in with 24, too, shooting 53.8 per cent from three.

Dragic ranked fourth in the league last week in terms of scoring improvement (up 11.6 points on the regular season), with Robinson fifth (up 10.9). Robinson topped the list when it came to an upturn in three-point shooting, while Dragic was just behind. The pair could not be blamed for the Bucks' win.

GOING COLD...

Bam Adebayo

Adebayo certainly could be held responsible for Miami's early deficit, contributing a measly nine points on four-for-15 shooting.

The fourth-year center contributed 17.8 points per game in last year's playoffs, including 17.2 in the Milwaukee series, but he never got going on Saturday.

The decrease from Adebayo's regular season 18.7 average was the sixth-worst in the NBA and, to make matters worse for the Heat, superstar team-mate Jimmy Butler also turned in a concerning performance.

Butler finished with 17 points, yet he made only four of 22 field goal attempts while using 30.0 per cent of Miami's plays.

Chris Paul

Paul's poor game this weekend was the most understandable but also the most concerning. The veteran point guard took a blow to his shoulder in the Phoenix Suns' win over the Lakers and clearly moved uneasily thereafter.

"I heard like a crack or whatever," said Paul, whose ball handling was uncharacteristically clumsy as he was limited to seven points, down from a season average of 16.4 per outing.

It did not cost the Suns, but they will surely need Paul back fit and firing to beat the defending champions over a seven-game series.

Julius Randle

The New York Knicks would not be back in the playoffs if not for Randle's outstanding season in which he played the most minutes in the entire league (2,667) and recorded 24.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.

But his belated playoff debut at Madison Square Garden saw a significant step back as Randle's six-for-23 shooting from the field – or 26.1 per cent – allowed the Atlanta Hawks to steal a road game.

The Knicks are built on hard graft rather than superstar talent, but they cannot afford for their All-Star to misfire so drastically.

The NBA playoffs are here!

After some tense one-off play-in games, we can now look forward to thrilling back-and-forth series.

LeBron James, Kevin Durant and all the usual big names will be backed to deliver, but some of their contemporaries have previously found life a little tricky in the postseason.

For five players in particular, it may be do or die as they aim to bolster their reputations or secure their futures.

With the aid of Stats Perform data, we look at the issues this high-profile quartet have encountered in the past...
 

GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO

In consecutive seasons, Antetokounmpo won the MVP award on a Milwaukee Bucks team with the best record in the NBA. Then, in the playoffs, the 'Greak Freak' failed to inspire a suddenly one-dimensional side.

Those freakish regular season performances were back again in 2020-21, but Antetokounmpo and the Bucks might have run out of excuses if there is no evidence of postseason improvement.

Last year's approach evidently did not work. Antetokounmpo was on a strict minutes restriction across the campaign, averaging 30.4 minutes per game, but he was still unable to make the difference in the playoffs.

As in all but one of his playoff campaigns, the forward's points return was down on the rest of the season – 29.5 to 26.7 – while the Bucks superstar's shaky shooting came to the fore as he made just 58.0 per cent of his free throws, the worst rate of any of the 23 players to visit the foul line more than 50 times.

Now with additional support in the form of Jrue Holiday, Antetokounmpo simply must deliver this year – and Milwaukee start against the Miami Heat team that beat them in five in round two in 2020.
 

JAMES HARDEN

The man Antetokounmpo followed as MVP has too often had the same problem. Harden is a regular season great, but his career to date has been tarnished by playoff failings.

Although Harden had a big role from the bench as the Oklahoma City Thunder reached the 2012 NBA Finals, he averaged just 12.4 points on 37.5 per cent shooting in that 4-1 series defeat to the Heat.

The dominant scorer has never returned to that stage, subsequently joining the Houston Rockets and repeatedly finding the Golden State Warriors a step too far.

The closest Harden and the Rockets came was in 2018, up 3-2 against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals before letting big leads slip in both Game 6 and Game 7 – the latter seeing Houston's star man shoot two-of-13 from beyond the arc as his team missed a record-breaking 27 consecutive threes.

Now on the Brooklyn Nets, the 31-year-old will at least have former champions Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to turn to if he needs help, although the guard – still battling a hamstring problem – will no doubt be determined to succeed himself and alter his legacy for the better.
 

PAUL GEORGE

Without ever coming close to a title, despite losing back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals with the Indiana Pacers, George has regularly put up impressive numbers in the postseason. There have also been occasions on which he has looked lost on the big stage, however.

George's career playoff average has been kept to 20.1 by some alarming single-digit displays, notably contributing only five points in 45 minutes on two-of-16 shooting in a decisive Game 6 defeat to the Utah Jazz while with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

And despite joining a talented Los Angeles Clippers team, George's woes were only magnified in the 2020 'bubble', where he later revealed he was in a "dark place" and "checked out".

The forward shot 25 per cent or lower from the field in four of 11 games, including the Game 7 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

Back on song and playing in something approaching normal conditions, George has the opportunity to answer his critics, starting against a Dallas Mavericks team he struggled to master last year. The Clippers will need him in a competitive West.
 

CHRIS PAUL

There has generally been little wrong with the level of Paul's performance in the playoffs, his points average climbing to 20.9 from a career regular season mark of 18.3.

However, his deepest run was on Harden's 2018 Houston team as a hamstring kept him out of those painful last two defeats. For Paul, team success this year outweighs any individual achievements.

In his 16th season, he is entering a 13th postseason campaign but still waiting on a first Finals appearance more than 4,000 minutes in.

One of the great point guards of the modern NBA, Paul will be acutely aware of what a title would do for his legacy. He has helped transform the Phoenix Suns into a real force.

The Lakers in round one represent a daunting start for the Suns – especially having secured the number two seed – but fitness issues throughout the West might make this Paul's best and last chance to get to the Finals.
 

BEN SIMMONS

The Philadelphia 76ers ended the season with the best-rated defense in the East (105.1), but will that be enough in the playoffs? It might have to be.

On offense, Joel Embiid led the team by far with 28.5 points, with Simmons, the Sixers' second superstar, only able to contribute 14.3 – low even by his modest standards at that end of the floor.

Those numbers are unlikely to be able to hang with the Nets' 'big three' or a high-scoring Bucks team unless Philly come up with some significant stops.

Embiid, Simmons and Matisse Thybulle were among five 76ers players counted in the 22 best individual defensive ratings this year, but the pressure will ramp up in the postseason.

Simmons, a former first overall pick and the subject of trade rumours this year, is therefore required to become a playoff difference-maker, whether through improvement on offense or series-turning defensive contributions.

LeBron James has compared Chris Paul's basketball IQ with stars Rajon Rondo and Draymond Green ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers' playoffs series against the Phoenix Suns.

The Lakers won through their play-in game against the Golden State Warriors, earning seventh seed and the right to take on the second seed Suns, who are led by experienced point guard Paul.

Four-time NBA champion James has remarkably never faced 11-time NBA All-Star and high school friend Paul in the postseason.

Rondo and Green are widely known for their basketball intelligence and James identified Paul among those lofty standards.

"It's going to be comparable to playing against Rondo in a series, playing against Draymond in a series," James said during a video conference call on Friday.

"You have those out-of-this-world IQ type guys and fierce competitors, at the same time so it's the same thing.

"Every time I faced Rondo in the past, I knew I had to be not only on my A-game as far as my game, but also my mind as well and that's the same with Draymond, every time you go against those Warriors teams.

"I've had experiences with those two guys, so that will definitely help me in matching up with CP [Paul] because I know the competitor and I know the IQ of the basketball player that he is."

The Lakers may be the seventh seed but head into their series with the Suns as the bookmakers favourites, having been 2019-20 champions.

The Suns surprised a lot of people by ending their long playoffs wait and finishing as high as second in the Western Conference.

Suns coach Monty Williams insisted that being considered underdogs did not faze his side.

"We all hear it," Williams said on Friday. "Ultimately you got to get out there and compete for 48 minutes, and that's what we plan to do.

"Did anybody think we were going to win 51 games this year? In a shortened season? Don't think so. So why would we listen to those people now?"

On facing the reigning champions first up, he added: "Our guys aren't bitter. We're looking forward to competing against the Lakers.

"We're not upset or feel like anybody's done something to our Cheerios. We have to go play the Lakers."

As enjoyable and memorable as the NBA postseason can be, it rarely produces significant surprises.

Sure, an occasional first-round upset stands out – like MVP Dirk Nowitzki and the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks falling to the Golden State Warriors in 2007 – but almost never does an underdog hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy as season's end.

Of course, that depends on your definition of an underdog.

In each of the last 25 seasons – and in 49 of the last 51 – the team that won the NBA Finals was a top three seed in their conference. The only exception to that rule since 1970 is the 1995 Houston Rockets, who finished sixth in the Western Conference despite being the reigning NBA champions.

The 2020-21 NBA season has already been an unprecedented one, with games played in empty arenas and players being held out of games due to league virus safety protocols. And why should the oddities end when the playoffs begin?

From 2015-18, the Warriors played the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals four straight seasons, making everything beforehand feel like a waste of time. The pattern was broken in 2019 because LeBron James switched conferences, but the Warriors represented the west for the fifth straight season. Last season, James played in the Finals for the ninth time in 10 campaigns, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a title.

This season, however, is suspiciously devoid of a juggernaut. The top regular season teams are unproven in the playoffs, and the typical postseason performers must answer serious questions and navigate a difficult road to the Finals.

The Utah Jazz had the league's best record this season at 52-20, a .722 win percentage. That is the fifth-worst record by a league-leading team since the NBA-ABA merger and the worst in 20 years.

 

Lowest Win Pct by Team With NBA's Best Record in Season, Since 1976-77

SEASON     TEAM                      WL        PCT

1976-77    Los Angeles Lakers         53-29      .646

1978-79    Washington Bullets         54-28      .659

1977-78    Portland Trail Blazers     58-24      .707

2000-01    San Antonio Spurs          58-24      .707

2020-21    Utah Jazz                  52-20      .722

 

With just 10 wins separating the top-seeded Jazz and seventh-seeded Lakers, the west could deviate from seeding by quite a bit.

Even in the often-predictable east, the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics were considered preseason favorites in the conference, only to finish with the sixth and seventh seeds.

The fact is that whoever wins their conference to play in the NBA Finals – and ultimately raises the Larry O'Brien Trophy – will have a unique story about their road there. Whether it is a team who are a proven commodity that flipped the switch after a sub-par regular season or a high-seeded team that overcame past postseason failures, the 2021 NBA champions – like the 2020-21 regular season itself – will be unlike any other.

 

Honourable Mentions: West number one Dallas Mavericks, West number six Portland Trail Blazers

Both teams lack the depth to make a serious championship run but have enough star power in the backcourt to scare any opponent.

Dallas will face the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round and took two of three games this season against Los Angeles. Luka Doncic averaged 30.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 11.0 assists in those games. In nine career games against the Clippers, Doncic is attempting 9.9 free throws per game, his most against any Western Conference opponent.

The Blazers will go exactly as far as Damian Lillard takes them. When Portland made their run to the Western Conference Finals in 2019, the Blazers were 7-0 when Lillard had a plus-minus above zero and were 1-8 when he had a negative plus-minus.

 

The 'Not Your Year' Tier: West number three Denver Nuggets

The season-ending knee injury to Nuggets star guard Jamal Murray was a devastating blow to Denver's title chances and takes some fun out of a special season by Nikola Jokic.

Although Murray's injury solidified Jokic as the MVP favourite – leading the Nuggets to a 13-5 record since the injury – it is hard to envision Denver making a deep run without their star guard.

The knock on Jokic has been that he would generally rather pass than score, and Denver are 5-8 in postseason games when Jokic attempts 20 or more shots.

With Jokic scoring a career-high 26.4 points per game this season and with the continued blossoming of Michael Porter Jr., however, the Nuggets remain dangerous in the playoffs.

 

The 'Prove It' Tier: West number four Los Angeles Clippers, East number one Philadelphia 76ers, West number one Utah Jazz, East number three Milwaukee Bucks, West number two Phoenix Suns

On paper, each of these teams appear to be solid championship contenders, complete with star power and coming off an impressive regular season.

But each of these teams need to prove they can take another step forward, either because of a limited postseason history or a checkered one.

At the start of last year's playoffs, the Clippers were considered by many to be the favourites but blowing a 3-1 series lead in the second round to the Nuggets was a humbling experience. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have quietly had fantastic seasons, each averaging at least 23 points, six rebounds and five assists.

The 76ers and Bucks have been mainstays in the east playoffs for the past few seasons and are hoping that this year's vintage has the answers to take the next step.

Philadelphia, under new leadership with Doc Rivers and buoyed by the shooting of Danny Green and Seth Curry, have a scoring differential of plus-16.4 points per 100 possessions when Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are on the court together, the best mark in the history of the much-maligned duo.

Milwaukee won 11 of their last 15 games, including two wins each against Philadelphia and the Brooklyn Nets – the two teams seeded higher in the east.

A machine over the last few regular seasons, the Bucks have faltered in past playoff series as Giannis Antetokounmpo failed to score in the clutch and his team-mates shrank from the moment. The costly acquisition of Jrue Holiday should help take some of the pressure off, and Antetokounmpo is shooting 73.3 percent (11 of 15) this season in the last two minutes of a game within five points.

Utah and Phoenix are fascinating prospects after stellar regular seasons but the consensus regarding both teams is that they have already maxed out their talent before the postseason starts.

Rudy Gobert is an All-Defensive Team mainstay for good reason, but Utah have been forced to sit him in the playoffs against smaller teams or when his free-throw shooting becomes a problem.

The Jazz are expecting leading scorer Donovan Mitchell to return from a sprained right ankle, but Utah are better operating as a five-man offense than a one-man show. When Mitchell attempts 20 or fewer field goals this season, the Jazz are 27-2. When he shoots more than 20 times, the Jazz are 12-12.

The Suns are 59-21 over their last 80 games, including in last year's bubble, and have become one of the best stories in the league. Chris Paul turns every team he is on into a winner, and he has a case to receive MVP votes scoring a modest 16.4 points per game.

For all of his career accomplishments, however, Paul has famously only advanced past the second round once in his career, and he now leads a core group of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges that lacks playoff experience.

 

The 'Sleeping Giant' Tier: East number six Miami Heat, West number seven Los Angeles Lakers

Last year's finalists have endured brutal regular seasons filled with disappointment, injuries and COVID-19 protocols.

Only Duncan Robinson played all 72 games this season for Miami, and while the Heat are healthier now than during their nightmare 11-17 start, serious questions remain about the health of veterans Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic, who both missed at least 20 games this season.

The Lakers remain the betting favourites coming out of the west, despite needing a 103-100 play-in win over the Golden State Warriors to clinch a playoff berth. LeBron James and Anthony Davis missed a combined 63 games this season, and the duo only played together in 27 games.

While the health of the Lakers' superstars remains a concern, Los Angeles were 19-8 when both James and Davis played. The defending champions had a scoring differential of plus-11.4 points per 100 possession when the duo were on the court together. For as long as James and Davis are playing, the Lakers remain a juggernaut.

 

The Favourites: East number two Brooklyn Nets

Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

The Nets are the first team to ever have three players average at least 24 points (minimum 35 games). Durant, Harden and Irving are the highest-scoring trio since the early 1960s, when Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor were producing some of the best seasons in league history.

What makes Brooklyn such a strong contender, however, is that the supporting cast around their dynamic trio is a real asset.

The Nets' reserves scored 35.9 points per game this season, better than the bench of fellow contenders like the Bucks, Trail Blazers, Heat and Nuggets.

First-year head coach Steve Nash has consistently been able to field a competitive squad during a tumultuous year. As evidence of the change and adversity the Nets faced this season, they have used 38 different starting line-ups – only the lowly Rockets used more.

With veteran big men like DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, the Nets can counter size but are also versatile enough to play small, with Jeff Green defending opposing centers.

The high-profile names make Brooklyn feel like an inevitability, but there is still plenty of uncertainty with this newly constructed super-team.

Durant, Harden and Irving have only played 202 minutes together, less than six percent of Brooklyn's season. The trio appear to blend well, scoring a torrid 117.8 points per 100 possessions, but any group of stars will face challenges in their first playoff test.

The race for top spot in the Western Conference is hotting up with only 10 games of the season remaining.

The Utah Jazz looked certain to secure the first seed earlier in the campaign, but damaging injuries and the form of the Phoenix Suns have closed the gap.

Utah could yet pull clear again but surely must win on Friday when they visit Phoenix.

The Suns are just a single game back and coming off a win over the Los Angeles Clippers that secured a playoff spot and should make second place the floor of their ambitions.

The Jazz also enjoyed a big victory on Wednesday, though, and are unlikely to go down without a fight.

 

TOP PERFORMERS

Jordan Clarkson – Utah Jazz

With 17.5 points over 58 games, but only one start, Clarkson is a shoo-in for Sixth Man of the Year.

When Donovan Mitchell, the team's leading scorer, went down injured this month, Clarkson was installed into the starting five in the next game. Although he played 46 minutes and tallied 27 points, the Jazz lost.

The 28-year-old point guard has since returned to the bench and, despite quiet nights in surprise consecutive defeats to the Minnesota Timberwolves, put up 23 points in a record-breaking midweek win at the Sacramento Kings.

The 154-105 victory made Utah the first road team to score as many as 154 points while winning by as many as 49.

With 988 bench points this year, Clarkson is set to pass 1,000 against the Suns – only Thurl Bailey, in three seasons, has previously reached that mark with the Jazz.

Chris Paul – Phoenix Suns

Veteran Paul, who turns 36 next week, will certainly be capable of handling the heat in high-stakes games such as these.

The 16-year point guard, averaging 16.2 for the year, scored 28 points in the win over the Clippers. Only five times this season has he topped that tally – most recently in the previous meeting with the Jazz earlier in April.

Of Paul's 29 points on that occasion, 11 came in the fourth quarter and five in overtime.

"Down the stretch, you might not find anybody better than Chris Paul," coach Monty Williams said that night.

Paul now ranks third for clutch points in 2020-21 with 133.

 

KEY BATTLE – GOBERT HAS A POINT TO PROVE

Along with Paul's heroics and 35 points from Devin Booker, the performance of Deandre Ayton drew particular praise the last time these teams met.

The big man had 18 points and 12 rebounds as Utah allowed 61 boards – still by far a season high among their opponents.

Ayton said afterwards he had brought his "A-game" in order to match up against presumed Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.

Gobert will not want to be outfought again, and with Mitchell still out, he cannot afford to be.

 

HEAD TO HEAD

The Suns' overtime success was their second win against the Jazz this season and their third in a row, although they had lost 15 of the team's 16 matchups immediately prior to this run.

Phoenix's recent form in this series has given them a narrow 95-93 all-time lead.

Chris Paul scored 28 points as the Phoenix Suns ended their decade-long NBA playoff drought with a 109-101 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.

Paul posted 25 points in the second half, finishing with three rebounds and 10 assists as the Suns (44-18) returned to the postseason for the first time since 2009-10.

Phoenix's playoff drought was the second longest active in the NBA, with only the Sacramento Kings waiting longer.

All-Star Paul, who joined Western Conference hopefuls the Suns from the Oklahoma City Thunder last year, said: "It means a lot. It's a special team. To be reconnected with a coach [Monty Williams] who coached me 10 years ago.

"He trusted me as a 35-year-old who a couple of years ago they said was done."

The Philadelphia 76ers – second to the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference – also secured their playoff berth courtesy of a 127-83 rout of the Atlanta Hawks thanks to a team-high 20 points from Seth Curry.

The 76ers have now made the postseason for four consecutive seasons, which is their longest streak since they made five straight playoff appearances from 1999 to 2003.

 

Records fall as Jazz hit franchise best

NBA leaders the Utah Jazz scored a franchise-record 154 points as they humbled the Kings without All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley. The Jazz won 154-105, blowing their opponents apart with a 46-17 second period, which tied as a franchise-record quarter differential.

Former MVP Russell Westbrook (18 points, 18 rebounds and 14 assists) led the Washington Wizards to their 11th triumph from their past 13 games, while condemning defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers to their fourth defeat from their past five in a 116-107 win. It was Westbrook's third season with 30-plus triple-doubles, no other player in NBA history has had more than one season with 30-plus triple-doubles.

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra reached a rare feat on Wednesday as last season's NBA Finals runners-up topped the San Antonio Spurs 116-111. Spoelstra recorded his 600th career win – the 27th coach in league history to reach that amount. Dejounte Murray also became the third player in Spurs history to record four-plus triple-doubles in a season, following in the footsteps of David Robinson and Johnny Moore.

Jaylen Brown (38 points) and Jayson Tatum (35 points) became the first Boston Celtics team-mates to each record 35-plus points in a game since 2006 as the franchise defeated the Charlotte Hornets 120-111.

 

Love struggles

Kevin Love was held scoreless until the fourth quarter. While he collected 10 rebounds and tallied six assists, 2016 NBA champion Love was just two-for-11 shooting in 35 minutes, making just two of 10 of his three-point attempts.

 

You be the judge?

Zion Williamson was denied a game-tying lay-up in the dying seconds of the New Orleans Pelicans' 114-112 loss to the Denver Nuggets, although the block from MVP candidate Nikola Jokic appeared to be a missed foul.

 

Wednesday's results

Orlando Magic 109-104 Cleveland Cavaliers
Philadelphia 76ers 127-83 Atlanta Hawks
New York Knicks 113-94 Chicago Bulls
Boston Celtics 120-111 Charlotte Hornets
Washington Wizards 116-107 Los Angeles Lakers
Miami Heat 116-111 San Antonio Spurs
Portland Trail Blazers 130-109 Memphis Grizzlies
Denver Nuggets 114-112 New Orleans Pelicans
Phoenix Suns 109-101 Los Angeles Clippers
Utah Jazz 154-105 Sacramento Kings

 

Nets at Pacers

The star-studded Nets (42-20) are getting their troops back and they make the trip to face the Indiana Pacers (29-32) on Thursday.

Joel Embiid almost pulled off a miracle on the buzzer as the Philadelphia 76ers went down 116-113 to the Phoenix Suns in the NBA on Wednesday night.

The 76ers, top of the East, hosted the Suns, second in the West, and Phoenix appeared home when up by six points with 13 seconds to play.

But Philadelphia stayed alive after Furkan Korkmaz's three-pointer, before Chris Paul missed a free-throw, with Embiid grabbing rebound and firing off a long-range shot immediately which came remarkably close only to rim out.

Earlier, Embiid had scored 38 points and collected 17 rebounds for the 76ers, while Suns guard Paul had 28 points and eight assists.

The Suns improve to 41-16 while the 76ers are 39-18 but remain top in the Eastern Conference after the Brooklyn Nets lost 114-103 to the Toronto Raptors.

Still missing their star pair Kevin Durant and James Harden, the Nets relied on Kyrie Irving with 28 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

However, the Raptors all contributed led by Pascal Siakam with 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists, as they reeled in a 36-23 quarter-time deficit to win by 11.

 

Curry streak ends, Knicks streak extends

Stephen Curry's 11-game streak of 30-plus points came to an end at the hands of the Washington Wizards who won over the Golden State Warriors 118-114.

Russell Westbrook produced another triple-double with 14 points, 10 assists and an outstanding 20 rebounds, while Bradley Beal had 29 points. Curry could only manage 18 points for GSW.

On the topic of streaks, the New York Knicks extended their winning run to seven games with a 137-127 triumph over the Atlanta Hawks after Bogdan Bogdanovic forced over-time with a clutch three.

Julius Randle was exceptional with 40 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, including six three-pointers, while the Hawks lost Trae Young to a sprained left ankle.

The Utah Jazz reinforced top spot in the Western Conference with a comfortable 112-89 win over the Houston Rockets with Rudy Gobert having 19 points and 18 rebounds.

The Los Angeles Clippers kept up the pressure with a 117-105 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, with shooting guard Luke Kennard adding 28 points and seven rebounds.

 

 

Curry covered at every turn

Curry was not afforded any time or space against the Washington Wizards and subsequently shot two-from-14 beyond the arc.

 

OMG from OG

Up by two in the third, OG Anunoby made a big statement for the Toronto Raptors with a block down one end and then a monster right-hand dunk over Joe Harris after Fred VanVleet's assist down the other in the same play.

 

Wednesday's results:

Toronto Raptors 114-103 Brooklyn Nets
Indiana Pacers 122-116 Oklahoma City Thunder
Washington Wizards 118-114 Golden State Warriors
Phoenix Suns 116-113 Philadelphia 76ers
Cleveland Cavaliers 121-105 Chicago Bulls
Utah Jazz 112-89 Houston Rockets
New York Knicks 137-127 Atlanta Hawks
Miami Heat 107-87 San Antonio Spurs
Dallas Mavericks 127-107 Detroit Pistons
Denver Nuggets 106-105 Portland Trail Blazers
Sacramento Kings 128-125 Minnesota Timberwolves
Los Angeles Clippers 117-105 Memphis Grizzlies

 

76ers at Bucks

Joel Embiid's Philadelphia 76ers (39-18) will look to bounce back from Wednesday's loss to the Phoenix Suns when they travel to Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks (35-22) in a bumper East clash.

Stephen Curry lit up the Philadelphia 76ers with 49 points as the Golden State Warriors upstaged the Eastern Conference leaders 107-96.

Curry maintained his red-hot form in a red-breaking display in Philadelphia, where the two-time NBA MVP nailed 10 three-pointers to sink the 76ers on Monday.

The Warriors superstar became the first player to make 70-plus threes in a 10-game span on a memorable outing on the road.

Curry has more games with 40-plus points and 10-plus threes over the last eight days (four) than any other NBA player has had over their entire career, per Stats Perform.

Curry became the first player in NBA history aged 33 or older with 11 consecutive 30-plus point games, surpassing Kobe Bryant (10 straight in 2012).

After scoring 47 and 49 points, Curry is also the first player aged 33 or older with back-to-back 45-plus games since Hall of Famer Michael Jordan (51 and 45 in 2001).

Joel Embiid put up 28 points and 13 rebounds in the absence of fellow All-Star Ben Simmons, but the 76ers still had their four-game winning streak snapped.

 

Nuggets prevail in double OT thanks to Jokic

MVP favourite Nikola Jokic put on a show. He had 47 points – including the go-ahead three-pointer late in the second period of overtime – 15 rebounds and eight assists as the Denver Nuggets survived to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 139-137 after double OT.

Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 33 points but the Milwaukee Bucks suffered an agonising 128-127 overtime loss to the in-form Phoenix Suns. Suns starters Devin Booker (24 points), Deandre Ayton (20 points and 13 rebounds) and Mikal Bridges (21 points) all impressed.

The NBA-leading Utah Jazz defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 111-97 behind Joe Ingles' 21 points on eight-of-11 shooting, while All-Star duo Mike Conley (14 points and 10 assists) and Rudy Gobert (14 points and 10 rebounds) contributed double-doubles.

Russell Westbrook had his 26th triple-double of the season – 13 points, 17 assists and 11 rebounds – as the Washington Wizards celebrated their fifth consecutive victory by downing the Oklahoma City Thunder 119-107.

A season-high 30 points from Kendrick Nunn fuelled the Miami Heat's 113-91 win over the Houston Rockets.

 

Bradley struggles

Avery Bradley has found it tough since arriving in Houston as part of the deal that sent Victor Oladipo to the Heat. He missed all three of his field-goal attempts – including two from beyond the arc – as he finished scoreless after 22 minutes.

George Hill made his debut for the 76ers. Acquired in a trade last month, Hill was one-for-five shooting for two points in 18 minutes. Philadelphia team-mate Shake Milton, usually a reliable scorer, finished with just five points on one-for-seven shooting off the bench.

The Thunder extended their season-worst losing streak to 11 games after going down to the Wizards in Washington.

 

CP3 – the playmaker!

Chris Paul was at his brilliant best again as the high-flying Suns edged the Bucks. Paul posted 22 points and 13 assists as the Suns star passed Magic Johnson for fifth on the all-time assists list.

 

Monday's results

Utah Jazz 111-97 Los Angeles Lakers
Detroit Pistons 109-105 Cleveland Cavaliers
Chicago Bulls 102-96 Boston Celtics
Golden State Warriors 107-96 Philadelphia 76ers
San Antonio Spurs 109-94 Indiana Pacers
Miami Heat 113-91 Houston Rockets
Washington Wizards 119-107 Oklahoma City Thunder
Phoenix Suns 129-127 Milwaukee Bucks (OT)
Denver Nuggets 139-137 Memphis Grizzlies (Double OT)

 

Nets at Pelicans

The Brooklyn Nets (38-19) will be without superstar pair Kevin Durant (thigh) and James Harden (hamstring) for Tuesday's trip to the New Orleans Pelicans (25-32).

Stephen Curry has been lighting it up in the NBA of late.

The two-time NBA MVP is seemingly trying to make up for lost time after injury wiped out the vast majority of his 2019-20 season. 

However, Curry is not the only player in prime form. As the regular season hurtles towards a conclusion, Stats Perform data highlights who is on fire and who needs to find a spark around the league.

Time to dip into the numbers with the latest edition of Heat Check...

RUNNING HOT...

Stephen Curry

To say Curry is on a hot streak is an understatement. In four games between April 12-17, the guard scored 175 points for the Golden State Warriors. That astonishing scoring run saw him hit 10 or more three-point attempts in three of those outings; no other player in NBA history has had three or more such games in an entire season, let alone a week.

Luguentz Dort

Dort was averaging 12.62 points heading into the week. The second-year guard then upped that number with 42 against the Utah Jazz and while he sat out a game against the Warriors, he followed up with a combined tally of 55 when facing the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors. Despite his scoring heroics, the Oklahoma City Thunder lost all three.

Landry Shamet

The Brooklyn Nets have been hampered by injuries this season, with James Harden sidelined in recent times. However, Shamet has stepped up to help fill the void, managing a career-high 30 points on Sunday against the Miami Heat, including tying a franchise record with seven successful three-point attempts having come off the bench. 

GOING COLD...

Lonzo Ball

Ball's decreased production should come as no surprise, considering he is easing his way back into action following a hip injury. He played just under 20 minutes against the Washington Wizards and while his involvement was greater against the New York Knicks, 2017's second overall pick managed nine points from 19 shot attempts across both games.

Tyler Herro

A low-key week for Herro, who failed to reach double digits for points in outings against the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Nets. The shooting guard - such a key figure in the Heat's run to the NBA Finals in the 2019-20 season - landed two of his 11 attempts from beyond the arc in those games. Surprisingly for someone based in Miami, Herro has gone cold.

Chris Paul

The veteran point guard has been outstanding for the Phoenix Suns, who remain in the running to finish the regular season as the top seeds in the West. However, the bigger picture means minutes must be managed, with Paul seeing a drop in his workload. While buckets have been in short supply - he averaged 8.25 points per game across last week - there were still 26 assists.

The Phoenix Suns defeated the Utah Jazz on Wednesday to close the gap at the top of the Western Conference, but coach Monty Williams insisted first place was not on his mind.

Williams has led a remarkable turnaround this season, with the Suns having a 34-39 record last year that was boosted significantly by an eight-game winning run in the seeding games in the 'bubble'.

However, Phoenix is 36-14 in the 2020-21 campaign and, following a 117-113 overtime defeat of the Jazz, they are breathing down Utah's necks.

"We just don't focus on any of that stuff," Williams said.

"I hear it, and I hope we do, but our goal has always been to win every game, improve every month - I've said that since I've been here. This team has to go through these types of experiences to win big.

"Being number one in the West would be a huge accomplishment for us, but it's just not our focus.

"We just want to win every game we can. If it means we're number one in the West, then great."

The Suns have not played in the postseason since 2009-10, but this game served as playoff preparation.

"We've always said we want to approach every game the same way - that way we don't have to change when we get where we want to go - but the intensity, the physicality, the officiating certainly felt like a playoff game," Williams said. "And going into overtime, it felt just like that."

Chris Paul added: "We needed a game like that, where guys had to play heavy minutes, the intensity of it, the crowd was great, just that energy. We haven't played too many games like that."

Veteran Paul played 43 minutes and contributed 29 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter and five in overtime.

He now ranks fifth in the league for clutch points (115), and Williams said: "Down the stretch, you might not find anybody better than Chris Paul."

The coach also praised the Suns' work in disrupting Utah's shooting from three-point range, where they were 11-for-44, down on a season average of 39.2 per cent.

And Deandre Ayton was singled out after finishing with 12 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end.

The Jazz, led by Defensive Player of the Year favourite Rudy Gobert, allowed a season-high 61 rebounds, while only three times have opponents managed more than 16 offensive boards against them.

"We put [Ayton] in a lot of tough positions. Not many guys his size have to do as much as he does," Williams said. "The only other guy, maybe, is Gobert, and he's Defensive Player of the Year.

"We put DA in coverages where he's got to rim-protect but we also switch out with him at times where he's got to guard smaller guys. When they make shots, it's usually a tough shot."

It was the first time in Ayton's career he reached double figures for rebounds against Gobert and the Jazz.

"Everybody's got a job on this team, man," Ayton said, adding: "Competing with Gobert, that's the Defensive Player of our league.

"Him being a presence on both ends of the floor, you're going to have to bring your 'A-game'. He's a strong, physical dude, he knows the game, and I learned a lot, too."

It's been some time since the Phoenix Suns finished a season above .500, and even longer since they last appeared in the playoffs. While both droughts will end this season, the question remains whether they are a legitimate title contender in a stacked Western Conference. 

Ask around as to which teams are most likely to win a championship and the Lakers, Clippers, Nets and maybe the Jazz, Bucks and 76ers would garner the most responses. That is somewhat curious since only Utah and Philadelphia currently have better records than Phoenix, who are an NBA-best 21-6 since January 28. 

The Suns showed signs of what they could become when they went 8-0 in the seeding games in the NBA 'bubble' last season, though they still missed out on the play-in in the West. The biggest reason behind that success was the otherworldly play of Devin Booker, who averaged 30.5 points on 50.3 per cent from the field with 6.0 assists and 4.9 rebounds. 

Sensing the Suns were on the verge of reversing their recent fortunes, general manager James Jones made the offseason move to acquire Chris Paul from Oklahoma City in the hopes of building on that success. Paul, an 11-time All-Star who recently became the sixth player to reach 10,000 assists, has accumulated all kinds of accolades during his 16-year career but, most importantly, is still playing at a very high level.  

Paul has twice helped guide a team to their most wins in a season in franchise history, doing so with the Hornets/Pelicans in 2007 and the Rockets in 2017-18. Though they won't reach that lofty standard in this abbreviated season, the Suns' current .674 winning percentage (29-14) would be their best since 2006-07. 

Paul's acquisition instantly made Phoenix better both on and off court and gave the franchise a measure of respect that only players of his calibre can bring. His ability to run an offense combined with Booker's continued ascent to stardom has the Suns in unfamiliar territory. 

Phoenix haven't had a winning season since going 48-34 in 2013-14 and only Sacramento (14) and New York (seven) have longer active stretches without finishing over .500. The Suns last reached the postseason in 2009-10, when current Nets coach Steve Nash was manning the point. The 10-season drought is the league's second-longest, trailing only Sacramento (14).  

Where that improvement has come from is maybe the most surprising aspect of Phoenix's success.  

Long known as a free-wheeling, offensive-minded team, the Suns are winning mainly with defense this season. Phoenix have finished 20th or worse in scoring defense in each of the last 17 seasons and ranked dead-last as recently as 2017-18.  

That’s no longer the case as Phoenix are allowing 107.4 points per game, third-best in the NBA. It's been nearly 40 years since the Suns finished a season in the top five of that category (102.0 in 1982-83, ranking third).

That's quite a turnaround from last season, when the Suns ranked 20th in the league in scoring defence, an improvement of 6.0 points.

There's no denying that strong defensive teams are geared for postseason success, and the Suns' depth should also be an advantage in the playoffs. While Booker is Phoenix's undisputed star and focus of the offense, there are plenty of other pieces capable of driving the offense.  

The Suns have seven players averaging in double figures, which is tied for the league lead (minimum 20 games played). They also have four players with at least 100 assists, a total bettered only by the Hornets, Nuggets, Kings and Bucks. 

Phoenix also have proven to be a stellar road team with a league-best 14-6 mark. That bodes well if they need to win playoff games at Utah, Los Angeles or Denver.  

After Booker and Paul, Phoenix’s third-leading scorer is DeAndre Ayton. The third-year center hasn't put up monster offensive numbers (14.7 ppg) that often are expected of a number one overall pick, but he ranks among the league leaders in rebounding (11.0) and his defensive versatility is a huge reason for the Suns' success.  

Ayton has also shown a knack for raising his play in the second half, shooting 65.1 per cent from the field after half-time - the third-best such rate among players with 150 attempts. 

Mikal Bridges (13.5), Jae Crowder (10.3), Cameron Johnson (10.3) and Dario Saric (10.0) also are scoring in double figures for the Suns. Bridges has made a huge leap this season, going from 9.1 points and 3.1 rebounds last season to 13.5 and 4.8 this season. He's also shooting 52.6 per cent from the field and ranks second on the team with 79 three-pointers.  

After Paul (10 straight playoff appearances) and Crowder (eight straight), this group does not boast extensive playoff experience and that includes coach Monty Williams. But Paul is among the game's great leaders and will be counted on heavily to guide the Suns through the postseason. 

Unlike several other top contenders, Phoenix have been extremely fortunate with injuries. The team's top six rotation players (Booker, Paul, Ayton, Bridges, Crowder and Johnson) have combined to miss only 19 games and Phoenix have used just five different starting lineups. Only Utah have used fewer (three).  

The Suns have fared well against some of the league's best teams with a 5-2 mark against the Lakers, Clippers, Jazz, Nets, Bucks and 76ers, but some of those wins have come against clubs missing top players due to injuries.  

That makes it difficult to get a read on how the Suns might perform in the postseason but considering the franchise has never won a championship in its 53-year history or even been in the playoffs for over a decade, the time for accomplishment is certainly now. 

James Harden and Kyrie Irving combined to lead the star-studded Brooklyn Nets to a 113-106 victory over the Washington Wizards as Blake Griffin made his bow.

Harden posted 26 points and eight assists, while Irving had 28 points and seven rebounds to fuel the Nets in the NBA on Sunday.

The Wizards, who trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half and 12 in the second, closed to 103-102 three minutes from the end in Brooklyn, where former All-Star Griffin debuted after his arrival from the Detroit Pistons earlier this month.

But Nicolas Claxton (16 points) stepped up with two dunks and some big plays down the stretch to lift the Nets past the Wizards.

Russell Westbrook finished with 29 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists but the Wizards still lost on the road, where team-mate Rui Hachimura added 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Elsewhere, Zion Williamson joined Shaquille O'Neal (2000-01) as the only players in the shot-clock era to score 20-plus points on 50 per cent shooting or better in 20 consecutive games in a single season.

Williamson posted 30 points on nine-of-13 shooting from the field as the New Orleans Pelicans upstaged the Denver Nuggets 113-108.

Brandon Ingram also had 30 points for the Pelicans, while MVP candidate and Nuggets star Nikola Jokic (29 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists) registered his 52nd career triple-double and 11th of the season.

 

Paul reaches milestone

Chris Paul became the sixth player in NBA history to reach 10,000 career assists, joining John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Mark Jackson and Magic Johnson. Paul finished with 11 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds in the Phoenix Suns' 111-94 victory against the Los Angeles Lakers, who were without injured stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Montrezl Harrell had 23 points and 10 rebounds for defending champions the Lakers.

The Dallas Mavericks routed the Portland Trail Blazers 132-92 behind Luka Doncic's 37 points. His 117 points across a three-game span are the second most in franchise history, only behind his 118 in a three-game period last month.

Collin Sexton scored 23 of his 36 points in the second half and Jarrett Allen (17 points and 15 rebounds) contributed a double-double as the Cleveland Cavaliers topped the slumping Toronto Raptors 116-105, condemning their opponents to an eighth consecutive loss.

The Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers earned their 15th straight win over the New York Knicks – a narrow 101-100 overtime success, dating back to December 2017. It is the longest active winning streak in the NBA by one team over another and the fourth longest run over a single opponent in franchise history.

 

Rockets can't stop the rot

The Houston Rockets suffered a franchise-record 20th consecutive defeat after going down 114-112 at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Rockets' skid is tied for the ninth-worst in NBA history and the worst since the 76ers and their record-setting 28-game losing streak across the 2014-15 and 2015-16 campaigns.

The Pistons and Miami Heat both struggled from three-point range. Detroit were just 16 per cent (four of 25) in their 100-86 loss to the Chicago Bulls, while Miami were 24.3 per cent (nine of 37) in a 109-106 overtime defeat against the Indiana Pacers.

It was a forgettable night for Damian Lillard and the Blazers. All-Star Lillard (19 points) was just seven of 16 from the field, while he missed all seven of his three-point attempts. Portland team-mate C.J. McCollum (13 points) was not much better after going six-of-15 shooting and 0-of-five from beyond the arc in 24 minutes.

 

Griffin can still dunk

Much has been made about Griffin and his lack of dunks. Not since December 2019 had Griffin dunked in the NBA amid question marks over his troublesome knee and fitness. But that changed in his debut on Sunday. Griffin, who finished with two points in 15 minutes, dunked in the final quarter.

 

Sunday's results

Indiana Pacers 109-106 Miami Heat (OT)
Oklahoma City Thunder 114-112 Houston Rockets
New Orleans Pelicans 113-108 Denver Nuggets
Boston Celtics 112-96 Orlando Magic
Brooklyn Nets 113-106 Washington Wizards
Cleveland Cavaliers 116-105 Toronto Raptors
Chicago Bulls 100-86 Detroit Pistons
Philadelphia 76ers 101-1000 New York Knicks (OT)
Phoenix Suns 111-94 Los Angeles Lakers
Dallas Mavericks 132-92 Portland Trail Blazers

 

Pacers at Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks (27-14) will look to extend their winning streak to seven games when they host the Pacers (19-22) on Monday. Indiana have won back-to-back games.

Giannis Antetokounmpo added another MVP award to his growing collection as the Milwaukee Bucks superstar guided Team LeBron to a 170-150 victory over Team Durant in Sunday's All-Star Game.

The previous three All-Star contests had pitted LeBron James against Antetokounmpo in a mouth-watering Team LeBron versus Team Giannis matchup.

But James and Antetokounmpo joined forces for this year's 70th All-Star Game as the later fuelled Team LeBron to a comprehensive win in Atlanta.

Two-time reigning NBA MVP Antetokounmpo – drafted first by Los Angeles Lakers superstar James – led Team LeBron to a fourth consecutive All-Star triumph behind his game-high 35 points on 16-for-16 shooting.

Antetokounmpo joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to go 16-for-16 or better from the field in any game (regular season, playoffs or All-Star Game), per Stats Perform. Chamberlain accomplished the feat twice in the regular season in 1966-67 (18-for-18 and 16-for-16).

Antetokounmpo's performance earned All-Star Game Kobe Bryant MVP honours for the first time in his career.

Team LeBron – without Joel Embiid as he joined Philadelphia 76ers team-mate and Team Durant's Ben Simmons in sitting out due to COVID-19 contact tracing – entered the fourth quarter requiring only 24 points to seal victory under the Elam Ending rule.

Each of the first three quarters started with the score at 0-0 and lasted the standard 12 minutes, with the game clock turned off for the final period and a final target score set.

Team LeBron's Damian Lillard sealed the victory with a three-pointer – the Portland Trail Blazers guard posting 32 points.

Stephen Curry, who won the Three-Point Contest as All-Star proceedings were condensed into one day amid the coronavirus pandemic – had 28 points for Team LeBron, including eight three-pointers in 22 minutes.

Jaylen Brown was next best for Team LeBron, while James tallied four points, four assists, two rebounds and a block in 13 minutes of action and Chris Paul posted six points and 16 assists.

Bradley Beal (26), Kyrie Irving (24 and 12 assists), James Harden (21), Jayson Tatum (21), Donovan Mitchell (15), Zach Lavine (13) and Zion Williamson (10) all had double-digit points for Team Durant.

Indiana Pacers star Domantas Sabonis upstaged Luka Doncic and Chris Paul to win the NBA Skills Challenge.

Sabonis defeated Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic in Sunday's final, ahead of the All-Star Game in Atlanta.

After losing to Miami Heat star Bam Adebayo in last year's decider, Sabonis went all the way in 2021 in a competition testing ball-handling, passing and shooting ability.

"I just wanted to come out here and have fun with," Sabonis said on TNT after the win.

Sabonis eased past New York Knicks All-Star forward Julius Randle in the opening round before stunning Mavericks star Doncic in the semi-finals in another flawless victory.

Vucevic topped veteran star Paul of the Phoenix Suns, but he was unable to stop Sabonis – who nailed a three-pointer on his fourth attempt for the title.

 

 

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