NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 110-98 but they did not avoid the play-in tournament.

LeBron James – who appeared to tweak his ankle – posted 25 points for the streaking Lakers, who claimed their fifth consecutive victory, however they did not end the regular season high enough in the Western Conference to bypass the NBA's new play-in format involving the seventh through 10th seeds in pursuit of the playoffs.

The Lakers needed help from the Denver Nuggets but the latter lost 132-116 to the Portland Trail Blazers, leaving the Los Angeles franchise seventh in the west and set to face Stephen Curry's eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors for a playoff berth.

Andre Drummond had a double-double for the Lakers, while Anthony Davis finished with 14 points for the Lakers, who will have to win one of up to two play-in games to clinch a regular playoff position.

Portland locked up the sixth seed and their eighth straight playoff berth, meaning they will go head-to-head with the third-seeded Nuggets in the opening round.

The Utah Jazz, meanwhile, clinched the NBA's best record (50-20) for the first time in their history.

Jordan Clarkson finished with 33 points and All-Star Rudy Gobert contributed 13 points and 16 rebounds for the Jazz, who eased past the Sacramento Kings 121-99.

The Jazz edged the Phoenix Suns (51-21), who pipped the San Antonio Spurs 123-121, for top spot in the NBA – the first time they have finished with sole possession of the league's best record.

 

Curry crowned scoring champ

Curry earned his second scoring title after posting 46 points in the Warriors' 113-101 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. Curry pipped Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal to the award, having finished the regular season with a 32.0 points per game average. Two-time MVP and three-time NBA champion Curry became the first player 33 years or older to lead the league in scoring since Hall of Famer Michael Jordan in 1997-98 (35 years at end of season and averaged 28.7ppg). The 33-year-old also joined Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players with multiple scoring titles, MVPs and championships.

James Harden was absent due to injury management, but the Brooklyn Nets still secured the second seed in the Eastern Conference with a 123-109 win at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Kevin Durant put up 23 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds. Irving added 17 points as he joined an elite list of shooters. Irving finished the regular season with a 50.6 field-goal percentage, 40.2 three-point percentage and 92.2 free-throw percentage – becoming the ninth member of the 50/40/90 club. He also joined Larry Bird, Curry and Durant as the only players to average at least 25 points per game during a 50/40/90 season.

The New York Knicks secured fourth position in the east via a 96-92 win over the Boston Celtics. The Knicks – back in the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13 – will have home-court advantage for their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, who routed the Houston Rockets 124-95.

The Wizards' season appeared dead and buried following an horrendous start, having acquired Russell Westbrook to team up with Beal. But the Wizards will face the Celtics as the eighth seed in the play-in tournament thanks to their 115-110 victory against the Charlotte Hornets. Westbrook recorded 23 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists, while Beal had 20 of his 25 points after half-time.

Tyrese Maxey flexed his muscles as Eastern Conference top seed the Philadelphia 76ers rested their stars in a 128-117 victory over the Orlando Magic. In the absence of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Seth Curry and Danny Green, rookie Maxey had 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists. He became the only rookie this season with multiple 30/5/5 games – LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edward only had one such game.

Precious Achiuwa's career-high 23 points and 10 rebounds helped the shorthanded Miami Heat rout the Detroit Pistons 120-107. Tyler Herro (16 points and 11 assists) and Gabe Vincent also had double-doubles as the sixth-seeded Heat prepare to face third seed the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round in the east.

 

Houston's woeful season comes to an end

After a blockbuster trade sent wantaway superstar Harden to the Nets in January, the rebuilding Rockets crumbled. A crushing loss to the Hawks left the Rockets with a 17-55 win-loss record – their worst campaign since going 14-68 in 1982-83.

 

Sit back and enjoy!

The Nets produced a stunning piece of offense against the Cavaliers in the second quarter. After dispossessing Cleveland, Blake Griffin played a behind-the-back pass to Irving, who passed the ball ahead to Mike James. James tossed the ball off the backboard for Durant to slam down.

 

Sunday's results

New York Knicks 96-92 Boston Celtics
Indiana Pacers 125-113 Toronto Raptors
Washington Wizards 115-110 Charlotte Hornets
Phoenix Suns 123-121 San Antonio Spurs
Golden State Warriors 113-101 Memphis Grizzlies
Atlanta Hawks 124-95 Houston Rockets
Brooklyn Nets 123-109 Cleveland Cavaliers
Philadelphia 76ers 128-117 Orlando Magic
Miami Heat 120-107 Detroit Pistons
Chicago Bulls 118-112 Milwaukee Bucks
Minnesota Timberwolves 136-121 Dallas Mavericks
Los Angeles Lakers 110-98 New Orleans Pelicans
Oklahoma City Thunder 117-112 Los Angeles Clippers
Portland Trail Blazers 132-116 Denver Nuggets
Utah Jazz 121-99 Sacramento Kings

 

Play-in tournament

After a day off, the Eastern Conference play-in tournament gets underway on Tuesday. The Wizards will meet the Celtics in a seventh vs eighth battle, while the ninth-seeded Hornets face the 10th-seeded Pacers for a spot in the playoffs.

Kevin Durant says the Brooklyn Nets are just going to keep building after their big three played together for the first time since February 13 in Saturday's 105-91 win over the Chicago Bulls.

Durant along with Kyrie Irving and James Harden finally hit the court together following a series of injuries, with the NBA playoffs around the corner.

It was only the eighth time the trio have played together since Harden joined the team in January, with Brooklyn improving to a 6-2 record with all three in the side.

Prior to Saturday's game, Durant, Irving and Harden had only played 186 minutes together and while there was some rustiness, they all contributed.

Durant had 12 points, nine rebounds and six assists, while Irving added 22 points with Harden managing only five points, five rebounds and seven assists.

"It's been a long season full of ups and down when it comes to lineups, and having all our guys on the same page," Durant said post-game.

"It's good to get everybody healthy, it's good to get some minutes with everybody. We're going to keep building from here."

Nets coach Steve Nash added that cohesion among the trio would take time but he was happy with a step forward.

"It's not like 'what do I expect?' They've just got to be out there and feel each other, play together, and hopefully that little bit of time today will help move that process forward more quickly than not having that time today," Nash said.

"It wasn't a great game, we weren't very sharp, but we got the job done and we move on to tomorrow, one last game. We can hopefully have a good performance and be ready for the nice week of practice."

The 47-24 Nets, who are destined for the second spot in the East pending the Milwaukee Bucks' final two results, take on the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday in their final game ahead of the playoffs.

"Yeah we'll consider it," Nash said, when asked if he will play the big three again.

"It's just a matter of how they come through, how do they feel in the morning and are they available. But if we need that win tomorrow, we're not averse to those guys playing again tomorrow as well."

Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving are set to play together against the Chicago Bulls, according to Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash.

The Nets built a 'Big Three' in 2020-21 after Harden arrived from the Houston Rockets in a blockbuster trade in January, but the trio have only played seven games together this season.

Injuries have hampered the star-studded Nets, with former MVP Harden only returning from a hamstring strain on Wednesday following an 18-game absence.

Not since February have Durant, Harden and Irving shared the court together but that is expected to change on Saturday.

"If everything stays the same," Nash told reporters following Friday's practice, with Brooklyn (46-24) preparing for the final two regular-season games of the season ahead of the playoffs. "Those three will play tomorrow."

Durant, Harden and Irving won five of the seven games they played together between January 20 and February 13.

The Nets – looking to lock up the second seed in the Eastern Conference in pursuit of a maiden NBA championship – have outscored their opponents by 39 points in the trio's 186 minutes together.

"I just expect them to play hard, play together, and experience some moments together on the floor," said Nash. "It's been few and far between.

"I don't necessarily have any expectations other than it gives us an opportunity to jell and play together and feel what it's like to be out there again."

Durant is averaging 27.5 points – his highest number since 2015-16 – 7.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game this season, while he boasts career highs in field-goal percentage (54.2) and three-point percentage (45.9).

Harden is averaging 25.1 points, 10.9 assists and a career-high 8.0 rebounds, while Irving has been averaging 27.2 points, 6.2 assists and 4.8 rebounds in 2020-21.

Nets team-mate Jeff Green added: "I'm just happy they are on the floor. We're getting to finally try to create a rhythm with all guys healthy. We'll see what happens from there.

"We have a long week to prepare for whomever we play. For those guys, it will be good. For us, it will be good to get a look and see where we are at when everybody is healthy."

Brooklyn Nets superstar James Harden will make his long-awaited return against the San Antonio Spurs, the NBA franchise announced.

Harden has not played since April 5 due to a hamstring injury, though the former MVP had been "very confident" that he would return before the playoffs.

After missing more than a month of action, Harden will suit up to face the Spurs at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Wednesday.

The Nets, however, will not be with their 'big three' after star Kyrie Irving was ruled out with a facial contusion.

Harden – who arrived from the Houston Rockets in a blockbuster trade in January – is averaging 25.2 points, 10.9 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game this season.

Harden's assists per game – second only to Washington Wizards star Russell Westbrook (11.6) in 2020-21 – is his best mark since averaging 11.2 in 2015-16, while he only averaged more rebounds in 2016-17 (8.1).

The star-studded Nets (45-24) – eyeing their maiden championship – are second in the Eastern Conference, two games behind the Philadelphia 76ers (47-22) following back-to-back victories.

The Los Angeles Lakers kept alive their aspirations to avoid the Play-In Tournament with a 101-91 over-time victory over the New York Knicks on Tuesday.

With LeBron James still absent with an ankle problem, the Lakers were pushed all the way by the in-form Knicks who had the chance to win the match in normal time when Julius Randle missed a good two-point look on the buzzer.

With James and Dennis Schroder unavailable and Alex Caruso exiting early with foot soreness, Talen Horton-Tucker played a key role with 13 points and 10 assists, including a vital over-time three-pointer after a costly turnover moments earlier.

In a team effort, Anthony Davis finished with 20 points, four assists and six rebounds, Andre Drummond had 16 points and 18 rebounds and Kyle Kuzma added 23 points off the bench.

The win improves the Lakers to 39-30, holding seventh spot in the Western Conference, behind the Dallas Mavericks (40-29) who lost to the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday.

Ja Morant (24 points) won the battle against Luka Doncic in a game where the Mavericks could have ensured they would avoid the Play-In Tournament.

 

76ers miss chance and miss Embiid

The Philadelphia 76ers missed the chance to seal top seeding in the East with a 103-94 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

Pacers center Domantas Sabonis had a busy night with 16 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists.

Joel Embiid missed for the 76ers with illness with Tobias Harris scoring 27 points in his absence as Philadelphia leave the door open at 47-22.

The 76ers are 8-11 without Embiid this season, while they are 38-11 with him in the side.

The Brooklyn Nets put together back-to-back wins to keep the pressure on the 76ers, triumphing 115-107 over the Chicago Bulls.

There was an injury scare for the Nets with Kyrie Irivng leaving the game with a facial contusion and undergoing testing for a possible concussion after a stray elbow from Nikola Vucevic early in the third.

Kevin Durant top scored for the Nets with 21 points and Bruce Brown Jr had 15 points to half-time and finished with 10 rebounds too, while Zach LaVine had a game-high 41 points for the Bulls.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 27 points, had 12 rebounds and five assists in the Milwaukee Bucks'  114-102 win over the Orlando Magic to improve their record to 43-25.

Stephen Curry was not his usual self, kept to only four points until half-time in the Golden State Warriors' 122-116 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

Curry finished with 21, while Andrew Wiggins had 38 points and Draymond Green got a triple-double as the Warriors stay in the hunt at 37-33 and eighth in the West.

The Miami Heat clinched a top six berth with a 129-121 win over the Boston Celtics with Tyler Herro starring off the bench with 24 points and 11 rebounds.

 

Thunder come crashing down

Oklahoma City Thunder have fallen away drastically this season and their 122-106 ot the Sacramento Kings made it eight consecutive defeats for Mark Daigneault's side. They have won once in their past 23, having been 20-26 at one point.

 

Jokic's defense splitting assist

Prime MVP candidate Nikola Jokic showcased his all-rounder game with an unbelievable pass for Austin Rivers in the Denver Nuggets' 117-112 win over the Charlotte Hornets. Jokic finished with six assists, along with 30 points and 11 rebounds.

 

Tuesday's results

Denver Nuggets 117-112 Charlotte Hornets
Minnesota Timberwolves 119-100 Detroit Pistons
Los Angeles Clippers 115-96 Toronto Raptors
Miami Heat 129-121 Boston Celtics
Memphis Grizzlies 133-104 Dallas Mavericks
Indiana Pacers 103-94 Philadelphia 76ers
Brooklyn Nets 115-107 Chicago Bulls
Milwaukee Bucks 114-102 Orlando Magic
Golden State Warriors 122-116 Phoenix Suns
Los Angeles Lakers 101-99 (OT) New York Knicks
Sacramento Kings 122-106 Oklahoma City Thunder

 

Spurs at Nets

The San Antonio Spurs are looking to seal their Play-In Tournament position while the Brooklyn Nets are out to reinforce their top two seeding.

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving appears to have been cleared of a concussion after being forced out of Tuesday's 115-107 win over the Chicago Bulls.

Irving went down on the back court after being collected accidentally by a stray elbow from Bulls center Nikola Vucevic.

The 29-year-old, who had played 21 minutes with 13 points, three rebounds and five assists to that point, did not return to the game.

Irving's issue would be an additional concern for Brooklyn with James Harden already sidelined with a hamstring injury, although he is close to a return.

The Nets guard suffered a facial contusion and underwent concussion tests but Nets coach Steve Nash revealed it looked like he was in the clear.

"No signs of a concussion," Nash said post-game. "He had an x-ray which was inconclusive so we’ll really just have to look again in the morning.

"Probably be rescanned and all that when we get home and we’ll take it from there."

Kevin Durant played a key role for the Nets with 21 points as they improved their record to 45-24, firming up second spot in the East, ahead of the playoffs.

Durant added about Irving: "I thought he would be alright. I know those - he mixes it up a lot with the big fellas - so he might catch an elbow here and there.

"Kyrie, he plays with such toughness and competitiveness, I knew he'd get up, but I knew he took a nice one, a nice elbow to the face.

"Hopefully he gets checked out tomorrow, sees everything is alright and we move forward."

The Nets are due to play the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.

The NBA is nearing the end of its regular season.

Soon the fight for playoff positioning will give way to the drama of the play-in round and the subsequent seven-game series that will decide the destination of the title.

In other words, it is time for the league's elite to find their best.

While several of those stars are hitting form at exactly the right time, there are others enduring worrying declines ahead of the postseason.

Here we examine the performances of those excelling going into the playoffs, and those who need to turn it around in this week's edition of Heat Check.

RUNNING HOT

Kyrie Irving - Brooklyn Nets

Irving went into last week having failed to score 30 points in three straight appearances, but he was back to his best over the past seven days.

Having previously averaged 26.7 points for the season, Irving put up 38 points per game across three outings last week, with a 45-point display against the Dallas Mavericks sandwiched by a 38-point effort in defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks and a 31-point showing versus the Denver Nuggets.

Only the game with the Nuggets ended in victory, but the Nets will be encouraged by Irving's form with the playoffs approaching. He was excellent from beyond the arc, hitting 5.67 threes per game having entered the week averaging 2.63.

Irving converted 17 of his 32 three-point attempts last week, a percentage of 53.1 that ranks 10th among players to have attempted at least 20 last week.

Russell Westbrook - Washington Wizards

Westbrook made history on Saturday as he tied Oscar Robertson's record for triple-doubles with the 181st of his career against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.

The way in which his athleticism has translated to success on the boards has been key to Westbrook's successful pursuit of Hall of Famer Robertson.

And his rebounding was nothing short of incredible over the past seven days. Having entered the week averaging 11.16 rebounds, Westbrook racked up 17.25 per game across his last three games, culminating with 19 in his record-equalling display in an overtime win over Indiana.

He'll hope for more success on the glass against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday to take him past Robertson.

Stephen Curry - Golden State Warriors

The best shooter in the game had another stunning week from beyond the arc as he continues to fuel the Warriors' push towards the playoffs.

Curry's 5.2 made threes per game was already the gold standard in the NBA this season but he was even more devastating from deep in four games last week.

Indeed, Curry averaged 8.25 threes per game, with that jump fuelled largely by him hitting 11 on Saturday as he scored 49 points in 29 minutes against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

As long as he continues his excellent form, the Warriors should have a great chance of coming through the play-in round and making it to the postseason.

GOING COLD...

Andre Drummond - Los Angeles Lakers

It was a rough week for Lakers big Drummond, who endured the largest drop-off in the NBA in both points and rebounds per game.

Drummond entered last week putting up 15.89 points per game but saw his average over four games dip to 5.75.

He failed to score double-digit points in any of those outings and was similarly ineffective on the boards.

His rebounds per game dipped from 12.37 to 6.25, Drummond having started the week by failing to record a single rebound in a game for only the third time in his career in a win over the Nuggets.

Luka Doncic - Dallas Mavericks

It is pleasing for the Mavs that they can win without Doncic delivering his best every night, as they did not get it last week.

Doncic was far from terrible, as he topped 20 points in three of his four outings, but he saw his points per game average drop from 28.64 entering the week to 21.50 in those appearances.

The Mavs won each of those contests, with Doncic contributing double-doubles in two, though he had an underwhelming 15-point game to end the week against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

So, while he may be 'going cold' relative to his usual standard in scoring, Doncic is finding ways to help Dallas build momentum ahead of the playoffs.

Kawhi Leonard - Los Angeles Clippers

Leonard has been bothered by injury issues in recent weeks, with his best form eluding the two-time NBA Finals MVP.

For the season, Leonard was averaging 25.51 points per game going into the last week, but could only manage to put up 19 over the course of three games in the past seven days.

And that average was inflated by a 29-point effort in the Clippers' loss to the New York Knicks on Sunday.

Prior to that return to something like normal service, Leonard had failed to score 20 points in each of his last four games.

Even his effort against the Knicks came on an inefficient shooting performance where he went nine for 26, indicating Leonard is some way off the standard he will need for the Clippers to contend in the playoffs.

Russell Westbrook took another giant step towards an NBA record after teaming up with Bradley Beal to help the Washington Wizards push the Toronto Raptors to the verge of elimination from a spot the NBA play-in tournament with a 131-129 win in overtime. 

Westbrook posted 13 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists for his 180th career triple-double, leaving him one shy of equalling Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson's all-time record on Thursday.

Former MVP Westbrook because the first player with three consecutive 17-plus assist games since Steve Nash in 2007.

Wizards star Beal scored half of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and overtime as Washington outlasted Toronto.

Raul Neto added a career-high 25 points and Robin Lopez had a season-best 24 for the Wizards (31-36), who hold a four-game lead over the Raptors (27-40) for the final play-in spot with five games remaining for both teams. 

Pascal Siakam matched his career best with 44 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists but missed a three-point attempt at the buzzer in overtime that would have won it for Toronto. 

Siakam joined Kawhi Leonard and Vince Carter as the only players with a 40-point, 10-rebound and five-assist game in franchise history.

Fred VanVleet sent the game to OT by hitting a shot from beyond the arc with 1.3 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. He finished with 22 and Gary Trent Jr. contributed 25 for Toronto.

 

Mavs withstand big night from Kyrie

Luka Doncic finished with 24 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. had 23 of his own as the Dallas Mavericks downed the slumping Brooklyn Nets 113-109, despite 45 points from Kyrie Irving. 

The Indiana Pacers inched closer to securing a spot in the play-in tournament with a 133-126 win over the Atlanta Hawks as Caris LeVert led the way with 31 points and Domantas Sabonis added 30 on 12-for-14 shooting from the field. Trae Young's double-double of 30 points and 10 assists was not enough for the Hawks. 

Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors rolled to a 118-87 victory at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder (21-46). Curry scored 34 points. The two-time MVP has now scored at least 30 points 18 times in his last 20 games (35th time this season).

Paul George had 24 points as the Los Angeles Clippers (45-22) beat cross-town rivals and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers 118-94. 

 

LaMelo off target against Bulls

A day after his primary competitor for NBA Rookie of the Year, Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves, dropped 42 points, LaMelo Ball made only one of 10 shots from the field and scored just four points in the Charlotte Hornets' 120-99 loss to the Chicago Bulls. Ball had reached double digits in his previous three games after returning from a wrist injury. 

 

Caldwell-Pope strong to the hoop

Lakers fans did not have much to celebrate in Thursday's blowout loss to the Clippers, but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope did provide one highlight with this slam in Ivica Zubac's face.

 

Thursday's results

Chicago Bulls 120-99 Charlotte Hornets
Dallas Mavericks 113-109 Brooklyn Nets
Washington Wizards 131-129 Toronto Raptors (OT)
Detroit Pistons 111-97 Memphis Grizzlies 
Indiana Pacers 133-126 Atlanta Hawks
Golden State Warriors 118-97 Oklahoma City Thunder
Los Angeles Clippers 118-94 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Pelicans at 76ers

Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans (30-36) are just outside the cut for the play-in tournament and will face imposing opposition on Friday as they attempt to gain ground in the form of the Philadelphia 76ers (45-21), winners of six in a row. 

Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets have each been fined $35,000 for violating league rules governing media interview access.

The NBA announced the sanction on Wednesday following Irving's repeated refusal to participate in post-game media availability.

It is not the first time Nets star and 2016 NBA champion Irving has been fined this season.

Irving and the Nets were fined $25,000 each by the NBA in December for violating the league's media access rules.

Brooklyn's Irving paid a high price for attending what reportedly was a family birthday in January.

The NBA imposed a $50,000 fine on Irving, who according to TMZ and widespread reports attended a large family birthday celebration while not wearing a mask – in contravention of the league's coronavirus protocols.

Irving was also forced to sacrifice his salary for the games he missed while quarantining, which reportedly amounted to $816,898.

In 2020-21, Irving has averaged 27.0 points, 6.3 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game, boasting a career-best field-goal percentage of 50.0.

The Nets (43-23) are second in the Eastern Conference, one-and-a-half games behind the Philadelphia 76ers (44-21).

Kevin Durant described his return as "like riding a bike" after the Brooklyn Nets superstar posted 33 points following a three-game NBA absence.

A thigh contusion had sidelined former MVP Durant, who only returned from a 23-game injury lay-off caused by a calf strain earlier this month.

Back in the line-up on Sunday, Durant starred in his 28-minute appearance off the bench as the Eastern Conference-leading Nets trumped the high-flying Phoenix Suns 128-119.

Reflecting on his return, Durant said: "It's like riding a bike. You get your footing right and just get your rhythm going, and I think my team-mates did a great job of looking for me all game, and I just wanted to resort back to that work I put in.

"The shots I work on at practice and shootaround, try to get to those as much as possible to gain my rhythm and then start to get a little more creative as the game progressed. It was a good start. Hopefully I build on this game and keep going."

Durant came off the bench for the third time this season, Nets head coach Steve Nash introducing the two-time NBA champion with eight minutes remaining in the second quarter.

He was 12-for-21 shooting, including two-for-three from three-point range, while tallying six rebounds, four assists and two steals at home to the Suns in Brooklyn.

"I just deal with it and adapt to the situation," Durant said. "Coach asked me today if I wanted to start or come off the bench, and I felt like it would be a bigger challenge for me to focus in and lock in if I came off the bench so I wanted to see how that worked.

"If I would've shot bad I probably would've been pissed I came off the bench, but I was able to knock down some shots. But it was solid exercise for me to ease back into the swing of things."

Nash added: "You think big picture. I'd rather fall behind and have Kevin in the back pocket than go up and have to say, 'OK, Kevin, you're done,' in the third quarter.

"I think that's kind of the give and take with it, and he's been on board with it, so props to Kevin to being willing to try something like this that I think gives us a chance to be as flexible as we can be under these circumstances."

"Kevin has shown his scoring doesn't seem to get affected by a long layoff, whether it was coming off the Achilles or coming off the hamstring," Nash said. "He seems to come right back and his rhythm and timing are excellent. It's very impressive, for sure."

Kyrie Irving, meanwhile, had 34 points (10-of-19 shooting) and 12 assists as the star-studded Nets – still without James Harden (hamstring) – improved to 41-20.

"It's more the norm than the extraordinary for those two," Nash said of Durant and Nash's efficiency.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash hailed Kyrie Irving's gritty display as the injury-hit NBA title hopefuls topped the Boston Celtics without superstar duo James Harden and Kevin Durant.

With Harden (hamstring) and Durant (thigh) sidelined, Irving helped the Nets move top of the Eastern Conference by defeating the Boston Celtics 109-104 on Friday.

Despite a poor shooting performance against his former team, Irving fell just short of a triple-double after posting 15 points on four-of-19 from the field while missing all six three-pointers, 11 assists, nine rebounds and four steals.

Nash, though, praised Irving after the Nets (40-20) replaced rivals the Philadelphia 76ers (39-20) atop the east.

"Ky had some steals, assists," said Nash. "It was not his typical scoring night, but it's few and far between when he doesn't score the ball at a prolific rate.

"But he definitely disrupted the basketball game defensively, and overall, he draws a lot of attention. I thought he was great in a lot of different ways than we're accustomed to and I thought his team-mates really picked him up as well."

"As a competitor I was just trying to go out there and do the little things, the small details, picking guys up or just being in the right position," added Irving. "When you don't have your legs on the offensive end, I felt like I was getting to where I wanted to go.

"A few angles, right, left, short, this that, just continuing to play, just continuing to have that mentality, next play, and I can have an impact with my team-mates on both ends of the floor, just making the right play. It's a simple game when you've got team-mates that are out there that are in the right spots and they're fulfilling their roles too."

Joe Harris top-scored for the Nets with 20 points, while Jeff Green (19), Bruce Brown (15) and Blake Griffin (13) made solid contributions for battling Brooklyn.

"I think that's why we're in the position we're in because we've had, I think, 33 different starting line-ups and we've had different rotations and different combinations on the floor and guys have had to buy into the way we want to play and play for one another," said Nash.

"So every night, it's got to be someone else who steps up and has opportunities but also fits in with what we want to do. I think that speaks for the spirit of the group and the willingness to try to pick each other up and not worry about themselves but to worry about the group.

"That's been fantastic, so it was a good performance. I thought [DeAndre Jordan] was great, I thought Bruce [Brown], although he was in foul trouble, did a lot of great things for us as usual. Right down the line, guys made plays for us."

Former MVP Durant missed his third consecutive game due to a thigh contusion and pre-game, Nash told reporters: "I think he's close. But I don't think he's there.

"I think we'll see tomorrow [Saturday] and Sunday if that's a possibility, but it may not [be]. So it may bleed back into this road trip. I wish I could give you more. That's kind of all I know is that it's close but it's not quite there."

With each team down a superstar, Paul George lifted the Los Angeles Clippers to a 113-112 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday after a last-minute rally. 

The Clippers trailed by five entering the final minute of the game, but George hit two field goals and followed with two free throws to give the visiting side the lead with 4.8 seconds left. 

George finished with 33 points and 11 rebounds as Kawhi Leonard missed the game after returning from a sore foot two days earlier. 

The Blazers played without Damian Lillard, who missed his third consecutive game with a hamstring problem.

His absence left CJ McCollum to carry the load with 28 points, but he made only 11 of 26 shots from the floor and missed what would have been the game-winning shot at the buzzer. 

 

Irving lifts Nets past Pelicans

The Nets also continue to miss key players, but they too have enough stars on hand to get by. Tuesday it was Kyrie Irving stepping up for injury-wracked Brooklyn in a 134-129 win over the Pelicans in New Orleans. 

Irving scored 32 points and had eight assists and Joe Harris contributed 24 points as seven Brooklyn players scored in double figures. 

The Nets needed plenty of scoring to overcome a big night by Zion Williamson, who made 14 of 19 from the field to finish with 33 points and added seven rebounds. 

 

Fox's shooting touch disappears

After averaging 30.5 points in Sacramento's previous eight games, De'Aaron Fox managed only 14 in 28 minutes in the Kings' 134-120 home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The point guard made just five of 17 shots from the field, a 29.4 per cent shooting effort. It was his worst offensive showing since he scored 12 points on five of 20 shooting in a loss to the Lakers on April 2.  

 

The Ant Man soars

Fans of the Timberwolves (16-43) haven't had much to cheer about this season, but at least top draft pick and Rookie of the Year contender Anthony Edwards can fill up a highlight reel on his own. The 19-year-old had a game-high 28 points in the rare Minnesota win.

 

Tuesday's results

New York Knicks 109-97 Charlotte Hornets
Atlanta Hawks 112-96 Orlando Magic
Brooklyn Nets 134-129 New Orleans Pelicans
Los Angeles Clippers 113-112 Portland Trail Blazers
Minnesota Timberwolves 134-120 Sacramento Kings 

 

Suns at 76ers

The Phoenx Suns (41-16), second in the Western Conference, travel to face the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers (39-18) in a meeting of top NBA title contenders Wednesday.

Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash has praised Kyrie Irving and his side's team effort after their win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday as doubts grow around James Harden's return.

The Nets edged past the Pelicans 134-129 on Tuesday without key pair Kevin Durant and Harden, with the latter now unlikely to return prior to the play-offs with a hamstring setback.

Brooklyn have only managed to field the 'big three' - Durant, Harden and Kyrie Irving – at the same on only seven occasions due to injuries.

But the Nets improved to 39-19, keeping the pressure on the Philadelphia 76ers at the top in the Eastern Conference.

Irving scored 32 points and had eight assists, while forward Joe Harris hit 24 points with Jeff Green contributing 15 along with nine rebounds and six assists.

Guard Landry Shamet was one of three players to have six or more assists, with eight along with 18 points.

Blake Griffin added 16 points and eight rebounds off the bench, along with Bruce Brown Jr with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

"When Ky was out of the game I thought we played very well," Nash said.

"When we're going into a game with nine men, you're a couple superstars down, you've got guys playing with more responsibility and minutes and if they don’t play well, you can find yourself in a big hole.

"They played really well. Really proud of the way the guys played. I think we started slow because it was nice, new line-up, new combination."

Nash did reserve special praise for Irving who was clutch down the final stretch with some key buckets along with a late steal off Zion Williamson in a tight game.

"He made some really difficult shots," Nash said. "There wasn’t a ton of movement on the last three possessions.

"Tip your hat to your star player who makes the shots but our guys were terrific all night."

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said the NBA title hopefuls are waiting to discover the severity of Kevin Durant's latest injury after the superstar was ruled out early in the loss to the Miami Heat.

The Nets endured a forgettable trip to Miami, suffering a buzzer-beating 109-107 defeat against the Heat, having seen Durant exit in the opening quarter due to a left thigh contusion on Sunday.

Durant missed 23 games because of a hamstring injury before returning this month and the Nets – eyeing their maiden championship – are hoping they are not without the former MVP for another sustained period.

"He's sore but we don't know how severe," first-year coach Nash told reporters post-game.

"We'll see tomorrow how he wakes up and go from there but right now nothing’s been determined."

Durant was hurt during the first quarter, appearing to tangle legs with Trevor Ariza on a drive to the basket during the first quarter.

The 11-time All-Star had played for just four minutes, going three-for-three shooting – including two successful attempts from beyond the arc – to finish with eight points.

Durant was out for nearly two months of the season due to a hamstring injury, making his return against the New Orleans Pelicans on April 7 with 17 points in just under 19 minutes.

The two-time NBA champion did not dress for the defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers (39-17) on Thursday, a result that means they hold the tie-breaker over the Nets (38-19) in the Eastern Conference, but was back in action on Saturday, scoring 25 in the victory over the Charlotte Hornets.

"The timing of everything this year has just been a tell-tale sign of what life is right now in terms of the uncertainty of a lot going on," said Nets star Kyrie Irving, who posted 20 points in the continued absence of superstar James Harden (hamstring).

"Anything could happen at any moment, so we don't want to take anything for granted. But anytime one of our team-mates goes down, anytime something like that happens, it's definitely going to take a hit for us. And he's just gotten back. We just pray that it's not too serious and he's able to recover, but it definitely has a hit on our continuity at times. But we're not making any excuses for each other.

"We're all professionals, the guys that are getting minutes right now, we need them. So it's going to turn eventually, but we've just got to find that continuity, that connectivity from the start of the game to the end."

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said securing the Eastern Conference's number one seed would be "valuable" but not at the expense of losing players to injury as his short-handed team lost the top spot to rivals the Philadelphia 76ers.

The star-studded Nets (37-18) were without Kevin Durant, James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin for Wednesday's 123-117 defeat away to fellow NBA championship hopefuls the 76ers (38-17).

After posting 31 points in 27 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday – just his third appearance since a 23-game injury absence – the Nets opted to sit former MVP Durant and avoid back-to-back outings.

Despite missing most of their stars, though Kyrie Irving (37 points) returned, the Nets almost upstaged the 76ers in the highly anticipated showdown, rallying from 22 points down to close within 118-115 with just over one minute remaining.

"It'd be great to have the number one seed. I think it means a lot, it's valuable," Nash said afterwards. "But not at the expense of losing players or prolonging our injury situation.

"So I think we have to be very careful and make sure that our guys get to the finish line as whole as possible."

Durant has been averaging 28.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game 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).

On Durant's absence, Nash responded to suggestions the two-time NBA champion was held out to keep Philadelphia guessing to how Brooklyn – eyeing a maiden title – might operate as a full and healthy unit in the playoffs.

"I think when you start to really try to be cute, it backfires most of the time," Nash said. "It wasn't strategic. It was, this is what this is the availability we have."

Irving – who returned from a personal issue after sitting out the Timberwolves matchup – starred for the Nets, but he watched from the sidelines as Brooklyn's reserves rallied down the stretch.

"Just played their hearts out," Irving said. "That's all you can ask coming out here to play the game that we all love. Just to go out there and compete. You know I'm sure they were chomping at the bit.

"Especially to get that win down the stretch for us and I feel like they grew as a group, we grew as a team and they learned some things out there playing against a high level playoff team that we can potentially see down the line. So it was a fun game overall."

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