Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James may be the most recognisable figure in the NBA, but the Memphis Grizzlies' Dillon Brooks is enjoying showing his rival no respect.

The Grizzlies beat the Lakers 103-93 on Wednesday in Game 2 of their first-round playoff to tie the series, with Brooks and James competing at close proximity.

Brooks exchanged heated words with James in the third quarter after his fourth foul allowed the NBA's all-time leading scorer to sink a couple of baskets to reduce the Grizzlies' lead to 14.

James apparently called Brooks "dumb" for his antagonistic approach, which the 27-year-old snapped back at.

Brooks, who is regarded as one of the NBA's fieriest wing defenders, suggested James' behaviour showed he was wilting under pressure a little earlier than expected.

Speaking of his confrontation with the 38-year-old James, Brooks said: "I don't care – he's old. You know what I mean? I was waiting for that.

"I was expecting him to do that Game 4, Game 5. He wanted to say something when I got my fourth foul.

"He should have been saying that earlier on. But I poke bears. I don't respect no one until they come and give me 40."

James has never posted 40 points in 13 games against Brooks, reaching 28 on Wednesday as the Lakers fell well short.

But more opportunities will arrive as the series progresses, and Brooks – who managed just 23 minutes on court due to his persistent fouling – is seemingly looking forward to more tussles.

"I said, 'Oh, finally you want to talk,' then we started to get into a conversation," Brooks continued.

"I just let him know that, 'You can't take me one-on-one. You haven't.' You go look at the film; he doesn't really take me one-on-one until that moment.

"Then when he got subbed out, he was tired. So I did my job."

There was a cutting tone to much of what Brooks said about James, though some of his comments were undercut with a hint of respect.

"He's not at the same level that he was when he was on Cleveland winning championships, Miami," Brooks added.

"I wish I got to see that. It would have been a harder task, but I'm playing with what I've got.

"Just wear and tear on him throughout a seven-game series and see if he can take it. See if he wants to play the one-on-one battle or if he wants to be out on the sidelines shooting the basketball."

The Grizzlies and Lakers will contest Game 3 of the series on Saturday at the Crypto.com Arena.

The Milwaukee Bucks found a way to victory without Giannis Antetokounmpo by draining 25 three-pointers in their 138-122 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 2 on Wednesday.

The Bucks squared up their first-round playoff series, scoring 81 first-half points and tying the NBA record for three-point baskets in a postseason game. Milwaukee led 118-85 at three-quarter time, even without Antetokounmpo due to lower back bruising.

Brook Lopez top scored for the Bucks with 25 points on 12-of-17 shooting, but Pat Connaughton shot six-of-10 from beyond the arc for 22 points to led Milwaukee's long-range assault, with Joe Inglis making five-of-six from three-point range.

Jrue Holiday scored four triples in his 24 points with 11 assists, while Grayson Allen made four-of-eight from three-point range in a 16-point haul.

The Bucks shot at 51 per cent from three-point range as a team, having only managed 11-of-45 from beyond the arc in Game 1.

Jimmy Butler managed 25 points on eight-of-12 shooting from the field, but the Heat missed Tyler Herro out with a broken right hand, with his replacement Duncan Robinson scoring 14 points.

The series moves to Miami at 1-1 with Games 3 and 4 on Saturday and Monday.

Nuggets hold off Wolves for gritty win

The Denver Nuggets withstood an almighty Minnesota Timberwolves' rally to go 2-0 up in their first-round playoff series with a 122-113 victory.

The Nuggets led by as many as 21 points in the second quarter, shooting at 61 per cent in the first half, before the Timberwolves stormed back into the game, fuelled by a 14-0 run, taking the lead with 2:31 left in the third on a Kyle Anderson dunk.

Anthony Edwards was outstanding with 41 points on 14-of-23 shooting with six-of-10 three-pointers, but the Timberwolves ran out of gas.

Jamal Murray top scored for Denver with 40 points on 13-of-22 shooting with five assists, while Nikola Jokic had 27 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

Grizz triumph despite Ja absence

The Memphis Grizzlies overcame the absence of All-Star Ja Morant to right hand soreness to square their series with the Los Angeles Lakers with a 103-93 victory.

The Grizzlies raced to a 30-19 quarter-time lead and never looked back as Xavier Tillman scored a career-high 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting with 13 rebounds and three assists.

Recently crowned Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr had 18 points with nine rebounds, one steal and three blocks, while Desmond Bane added 17 points.

Lakers star LeBron James scored a game-high 28 points on 12-of-23 shooting with 12 rebounds and three assists, while Anthony Davis was kept to 13 points (four-of-14) with eight rebounds and five blocks.

Nikola Jokic recorded a double-double while Jamal Murray top scored as the Denver Nuggets re-discovered their form with a dominant 109-80 blowout of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.

The Western Conference top seed Nuggets had gone 7-8 in their final 15 regular-season games, but snapped back into form in Game 1 of their first round playoffs series at Ball Arena.

Denver pulled away with a 32-14 third quarter, highlighted by five three-pointers.

Murray top scored with 24 points, making four-of-10 from three-point range, with eight rebounds and eight assists, while Michael Porter Jr also made four triples in his 18 points with 11 rebounds.

Porter Jr's game was capped by a hammer jam late in the first half as the Nuggets started to pull clear.

Jokic scored 13 points on six-of-12 shooting with 14 rebounds, including five offensive rebounds, and six assists.

Despite his modest stats, the Serbian center was influential in the first half with a no-look pass for Bruce Brown's three-pointer along with a classy spin to glide past Rudy Gobert in the lane.

The Timberwolves were no match for the top seed with Karl-Anthony Towns, who was the 2016 NBA Rookie of the Year in Jokic's rookie season, struggling for 11 points on five-of-15 shooting.

Former NBA Draft top overall pick Anthony Edwards only managed 18 points with five assists, while veteran point guard Mike Conley had eight points, four rebounds and three assists.

Clutch Kawhi leads Clippers past Suns

Kawhi Leonard came up clutch with two late three-pointers among his 38 points while Russell Westbrook made a critical block as the Los Angeles Clippers won 115-110 over the Phoenix Suns.

The Clippers put together three straight three-pointers in three plays in the final three minutes, including two from Leonard before kicking out a pass to Eric Gordon to make it 109-103 with 1:33 left.

With Suns cut it back to one point but Westbrook blocked Devin Booker with before making two free-throws to seal the win. Westbrook shot three-of-19 but never stopped, finishing with 10 rebounds including five in offense and eight assists.

Leonard went 13-of-24 from the field with three triples along with five rebounds and five assists, while Gordon added 19 with Paul George still out injured. Kevin Durant top scored for Phoenix with 27 points and 11 assists while Booker had 26 points and Chris Paul added 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

Lakers down Grizzlies, Heat shock Bucks

The Los Angeles Lakers claimed an early road win 128-112 over the Memphis Grizzlies with Ja Morant suffering a fourth-quarter hand injury to throw their first round series wide open.

Rui Hachimura scored a playoff career-best 29 points with 21 in the second half as the Lakers rallied back from a 65-59 half-time deficit, pulling clear late after Morant exited with 5:48 remaining at 105-101.

Morant was kept to 18 points with six rebounds, while Jaren Jackson Jr had 31 points with five rebounds and two blocks.

LeBron James had 21 points and 11 rebounds with two steals and three blocks, while Anthony Davis contributed 22 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks. Lakers guard Austin Reaves added 23 points.

Eastern Conference eight seed Miami Heat pulled off an upset 130-117 road win over the Milwaukee Bucks who lost Giannis Antetokounmpo to a lower back contusion before half-time. The Heat lost Tyler Herro to a broken hand but Jimmy Butler stepped up with 35 points and 11 assists.

LeBron James spoke about the trust he has in his supporting cast after Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura starred in the Los Angeles Lakers' Game 1 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday.

The Lakers put together a 69-47 second half to run away with a 128-112 victory, and Hachimura led the team in scoring with 29 points on 11-of-14 shooting off the bench. The trade deadline acquisition hit five of his six three-point attempts, while adding six rebounds in his 30 minutes of action. 

Meanwhile, breakout second-year talent Austin Reaves continued his strong form from the end of the regular season with 23 points (eight-of-13 shooting), four assists, a steal and a block, marking his fourth 20-point game from his past five outings.

Anthony Davis was an absolute game-changer on the defensive end, swatting seven shots to go with his three steals, 22 points (10-of-17) and 12 rebounds, but James made sure to credit the lesser-known Lakers for the decisive start to the series.

"It was our supporting cast that won us the game tonight," James said after putting up 21 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals of his own. "We trust [Reaves] with the ball in his hands – early in the game and late in the game. 

"We got something going in the fourth quarter, and after every stop… we went back to AR and put the ball in his hands.

"He was able to hit a pull-up two, able to hit a three when he had a soft switch, and then hit another pull-up two to put us up eight and close the game for us offensively.

"[Hachimura's performance] speaks for itself, he was huge, he hit timely shots. They made runs – in the third quarter he had two threes in a row – then they made another run in the fourth quarter, and he hit another three off an AR pump-fake, drive, behind-the-back pass.

"He was just on-time, on-target all night tonight, and we needed that. Especially coming off the bench, with how strong [Memphis'] bench is, but we were able to counter that with Rui's big game."

Reaves called playing playoff basketball for the Lakers a dream come true, saying: "You dream about being on a stage like this – I got hot late and I had fun."

Meanwhile, the Grizzlies were not willing to read too much into Hachimura's heroics, with Desmond Bane sharing that the plan was to leave him open, and it may remain the plan.

"That was our game plan going in," he said. "Make him hit shots, and he did, tip your cap. It's probably the best game he's had in his career. It's a seven-game series – let's see if he can do it again Wednesday."

Hachimura understands that is the case, and said of his role: "The way they guard me, they're going to be in the paint, so I got to be ready to shoot those kind of shots."

Game 2 will remain in Memphis on Wednesday, before the series heads to Los Angeles for Game 3 and Game 4.

The 2023 NBA playoffs are here and promise to be as thrilling as ever.

There are narratives all over the place ready to be written, with the Golden State Warriors trying to retain their championship, the Los Angeles Lakers coming from 2-10 to potentially win it all, and the Boston Celtics looking to make up for last season's Finals heartbreak.

Between now and the start of the Finals in June, who knows how many shock results, big performances and memorable moments basketball fans will be treated to.

The final two places will be decided on Friday with the last two play-in games determining who will face top seeds the Milwaukee Bucks and the Denver Nuggets, while the first round gets underway straight away on Saturday.

Stats Perform takes a look at the six confirmed series so far, starting with arguably the most intriguing of them all.

Western Conference:

Phoenix Suns (4) v Los Angeles Clippers (5)

After an outstanding 2021-22 campaign in which they finished as the top seed in the West with a record of 64-18, the Suns began this season with a 6-1 run.

However, by the end of their first game of 2023, Phoenix had already lost as many as they did in the entirety of the previous regular season and only managed a record of 45-37 in the end to finish as a fourth seed.

Adding Kevin Durant in February gave them a much-needed boost, though, and his link-up with Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, DeAndre Ayton and Chris Paul feels like it could lead to something special in the postseason. Durant is 8-0 as a Net.

They will be up against a Clippers team who have had stumbles during the season but went 11-5 heading into the playoffs.

Kawhi Leonard's return from injury in November was huge for Ty Lue's team, with he and Paul George both averaging 23.8 points per game for the season.

The teams split their four meetings during the regular season, albeit including a Clippers victory in their final game when the Suns rested their starters.

Sacramento Kings (3) v Golden State Warriors (6)

It feels like the Kings quietly went about their business this season, amassing 48 wins, more than half of which (25) came on the road.

That could not really be further removed from the Warriors' experience, which saw only 11 of their 44 victories come as the away team.

However, after starting 7-29 on the road this season, Golden State won four of their final five. That included a 56-point victory at the Portland Trail Blazers on April 9, tied for the second-largest road win by any team in NBA history (Pacers at Thunder in May 2021 – 57).

De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis will lead the way for Sacramento, but a certain Stephen Curry will be expected to shine again in the postseason as he has done so often in the past.

Since 2013-14, Curry has gone 27-2 against the Kings, the second-best record by any player against a single opponent (min. 20 games) during that span (Norman Powell, 19-1 vs Nets). Curry has averaged 26.7 points, 7.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds over those games.

Golden State were 3-1 against the Kings this season, with Curry (25 points) and Klay Thompson (29) doing much of the damage in their victory in the penultimate game of the campaign against shorthanded opponents.

Memphis Grizzlies (2) v Los Angeles Lakers (7)

As LeBron James recently said, the Lakers were given just a 0.3 per cent chance of making the playoffs by analysts when they started the year 2-10.

As it turned out, they nearly reached the postseason without even needing the play-in tournament, but a fairly routine win against the Minnesota Timberwolves got them to the dance.

James has been outstanding again this season, averaging 28.9 points, and will be eager to produce fireworks now that he and the Lakers are back in the postseason.

On the other side, Ja Morant seems to have put recent problems behind him and looks ready to lead the Grizzlies.

His 26.2 points have been ably supported by Desmond Bane (21.5) and Jaren Jackson Jr. (18.6), though they will miss the presence of the injured Steven Adams, who averaged 11.5 rebounds this season.

The Lakers went 2-1 against the Grizzlies this season, although the home team won on each occasion.

Eastern Conference:

Cleveland Cavaliers (4) v New York Knicks (5)

It was a strong year for Cleveland, winning 51 games in the regular season, although they had a losing record on the road (20-21).

Donovan Mitchell (28.3 points) has been sensational for the Cavaliers, who could hold a significant advantage throughout the playoffs as they boasted a perfect 7-0 record for games that went into overtime during the season.

The Knicks are looking for their first playoff series win in 10 years in what is only their second postseason appearance in that time.

Coach Tom Thibodeau has Julius Randle (25.1) and Jalen Brunson (24.0) to thank for guiding his team to a comfortable playoff place, with Randle also averaging 10.0 rebounds.

New York's starters are averaging 86.5 points this season, the most by any starting unit (Cleveland rank fifth at 83.5). That accounts for 74.6 per cent of the team's scoring, which is the highest rate by a Knicks squad since 2010-11 (74.7).

The Knicks were 3-1 against the Cavs this season, including their last one at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse just two weeks ago.

Philadelphia 76ers (3) v Brooklyn Nets (6)

Ever since he went to Philadelphia, it has felt like James Harden has been the story heading into any clashes between these two.

It feels like there is so much more to it now, though, especially since the Nets also lost Durant and Kyrie Irving.

No longer a team of stars, the Nets are reinventing themselves as just a team, and it will be interesting to see how they manage the postseason. The Nets finished the season 10-4 in games decided by three or fewer points, tied with the Knicks for the best record in the league (min. 10 one-possession games).

Harden and Tyrese Maxey have provided capable support to Joel Embiid, who has been his usual impressive self, with an average of 33.1 points, the most in the entire league.

The Sixers certainly have the momentum going into this series, winning all four of their meetings this season, including in the final game. It was the first time one of the teams swept the season series since Philadelphia won all four matchups against the New Jersey Nets in 2010-11.

Boston Celtics (2) v Atlanta Hawks (7)

Few expected the Celtics to make the Finals last year, and even fewer thought they would take a 2-1 lead against the Warriors.

It all went south from there, though, ultimately losing 4-2, but their response this season has been impressive again.

Boston started 21-5, and although that levelled out towards the middle of the regular season, they put together some more impressive runs to finish 57-25.

Jayson Tatum's average of 30.1 made him briefly a contender for MVP, while Jaylen Brown (26.6) and Marcus Smart are expected to be fit again during the first round.

Trae Young led the Hawks through their play-in clash with the Miami Heat, and he and they will now need to step up again.

Young has scored 30 or more points in four straight road games against the Celtics. Since the NBA-ABA merger, just four players have scored 30-plus points in five straight games in Boston (including playoffs): Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan, Curry and James.

The Celtics won all three regular season meetings, including in their final games before the postseason, although both fielded weakened teams.

LeBron James was quick to point out how the Los Angeles Lakers were written off earlier in the season after clinching their playoff spot with Tuesday's 108-102 overtime win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

James scored 30 points with 10 rebounds and six assists as the Lakers rallied from a 15-point deficit to beat the short-handed Timberwolves in the NBA play-in tournament to secure a first-round series with the second seed Memphis Grizzlies.

The Lakers have endured a tumultuous campaign, having started slowly, but rallied to become the first team in nearly two decades to start 2-10 and finish with a winning record (43-39), before now clinching their playoff spot.

They revived their season with a series of trade deadlines moves, including flipping Russell Westbrook out and bringing in Rui Hachimura, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt and D'Angelo Russell. Since Westbrook exited, the Lakers have gone 19-9.

"When we were 2-10, the analytics said we had a 0.3 chance of making the postseason," four-time NBA champion James told reporters after Tuesday's win. "All you ask for is a chance.

"For us to turn around our season and give ourselves an opportunity to compete for the Larry O'Brien Trophy is all you can ask for.

"Even through ups and downs we've been very resilient. We've been able to stick with the game and find the way to gut out a win, even with slow starts or not finishing the game how we'd like to... Tonight was another instance of that versus a very, very good team."

No team has progressed past the playoffs first round after qualifying from the play-in tournament since it was introduced in 2021, but James remained hopeful of a Lakers' run.

"That's the only reason I play still, to try and put myself in a position to make championship runs," he said. "And give team-mates that have never been on a championship run something they haven’t experienced before.

"It hasn’t changed for me since about 2006 or 2007. That's been my mindset every year, how can I make a championship run? I've been successful in four of those. I've been on a lot and I want to continue those."

The Lakers should have clinched victory in regulation time after James drove to the bucket, drawing defenders before kicking out an assist to Denis Schroder for a go-ahead three-pointer with 1.4 seconds left.

But Anthony Davis gifted the Wolves three free-throws after a foul on Mike Conley, before the Lakers triumphed in OT.

"It's unfortunate that AD had a brain fart and messed his game-winner up," James told NBA on TNT with a laugh alongside Schroder.

"This is what our sport is all about, getting to April and having an opportunity to play in the postseason. We've been battle-tested all year, especially since the break, we've played some really good basketball."

LeBron James led the way as the Los Angeles Lakers rallied from a 15-point deficit to clinch their playoffs spot with a 108-102 overtime win over the short-handed Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday.

James finished with 30 points on 12-of-21 shooting with 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks, including sinking a crucial three-pointer to tie the game up 95-95 with 2:03 left in regulation time.

The four-time MVP drove to the basket and kicked out a pass to Denis Schroder to drain a potential game-winning three-pointer to put the Lakers up by three with 1.4 seconds left, only for Anthony Davis to foul Mike Conley on an ambitious three-point attempt.

The Timberwolves veteran guard showed composure to hit all three free-throws, sending the game to overtime but Minnesota were undone by four OT turnovers, totalling for 24 for the game. The Wolves also scored only 16 points after leading 86-79 at three-quarter time.

The Lakers, who were 25-30 at the trade deadline before shuffling their roster and storming into the play-in tournament, secure the seven seed and will face the Memphis Grizzlies in the playoffs first round.

Minnesota, who were missing the suspended Rudy Gobert and injured Jaden McDaniels, will take on the winner of the New Orleans Pelicans-Oklahoma City Thunder play-in game for the right to take the eight seed.

Veteran LA guard Schroder was excellent off the bench with 21 points from 32 minutes including shooting three-of-four from beyond the arc. Davis added 24 points with 15 rebounds and three blocks.

Conley was exceptional for the Timberwolves with 23 points, making six-of-eight from three-point range with four rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Karl-Anthony Towns scored 24 points with 11 rebounds and three blocks in Gobert's absence after the French center swung a punch at teammate Kyle Anderson during at timeout in their final regular season game, leading to a team-imposed suspension.

Anthony Edwards had a game to forget, shooting three-of-17 from the field and none-of-nine from three-point range for nine points with eight rebounds.

Hawks upset Heat to clinch seven seed

Quin Snyder's Atlanta Hawks clinched the Eastern Conference's seven seed and will face the Boston Celtics in the playoffs first round after overcoming the Miami Heat 116-105.

Hawks center Clint Capela was outstanding in the paint with 21 rebounds, including eight offensive rebounds, along with two blocks.

Trae Young scored a team-high 25 points on eight-of-18 shooting from the field, despite making only one-of-eight from three-point range, while Dejounte Murray added 18 points with three triples.

Atlanta opened up a 24-point second-quarter lead which was trimmed to 65-50 by half-time, but never relented despite the Heat closing within five in the third.

Kyle Lowry top scored for the Heat with 33 points with six-of-nine from beyond the arc along with four rebounds and five assists.

Tyler Herro added 26 points, while Jimmy Butler scored 21 points with four rebounds, nine assists, two steals and a block.

Atlanta got the edge in the key with 63-39 rebounds, including 22-6 on the offensive glass with 26-6 second-chance points led by Capela.

The Heat will take on the winner of Wednesday's Toronto Raptors-Chicago Bulls' play-in tournament game for the right to the East's eight seed.

The NBA regular season has come to a close, which means the postseason is on the horizon to excite fans with its unpredictability and drama.

First, though, the play-in format returns for its third season and promises to once again add all sorts of further intrigue to the playoff picture.

The mini tournament takes place over April 11-14, with the teams that finished seventh and eighth playing one another to determine the seventh playoff seed from their respective conference, while the loser of that game gets a chance to secure the eighth seed when they host the winner of a game between the ninth and 10th seeds.

Therefore, the teams that finish seventh or eighth only need to win one game to advance to the playoffs, while those in ninth and 10th must win two.

Whoever clinches the seventh seed in the East will face the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, while the eighth seed will take on the Milwaukee Bucks. In the West, the seventh seed will go up against the Memphis Grizzlies, and the eighth seed will be paired with the Denver Nuggets.

Stats Perform previews the eight teams looking to secure their place in the 2023 NBA playoffs.

Eastern Conference

Tuesday, April 11 – Miami Heat (7th) vs Atlanta Hawks (8th) 

One of these teams has made the Eastern Conference Finals in each of the last three seasons, although that trend appears unlikely to continue this year.

After starting the season 2-5, the Heat soon recovered some sort of form without threatening to repeat the performances that saw them clinch the top seed in the East the previous year. They at least strung together a solid run over December and January, going 19-11, to boost their playoff hopes.

The Heat will be favourites in this matchup, having gone 4-1 in April and 3-1 against the Hawks this season, including winning back-to-back games in Miami in early March.

The trio of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro will be key, with all three scoring over 20 points per game in the regular season.

Opponents Atlanta went 7-3 to start the season, but their form dipped towards the end of 2022, before picking up again in January.

Trae Young, the star of their 2021 run, will be hoping to lead his team back to the playoffs, having averaged 26.2 points and 10.2 assists in the regular season, and the Heat's ability to stop him could be the key in this one.

The loser will host the winner of...

Wednesday, April 12 – Toronto Raptors (9th) vs Chicago Bulls (10th)

The Raptors have done well to reach this stage after a poor first half to the campaign, starting 16-23, but an improvement in 2023 saw them end level with the Hawks with an even .500 record.

Pascal Siakam averaged 24.2 points from his 71 games in the regular season, while Fred VanVleet (19.3) will also be required to lend a hand.

Chicago, who ended with a 40-42 record, will look to the pairing of Zach LaVine (24.8) and DeMar DeRozan (24.5) for inspiration after a promising end to the regular season on an 11-6 run.

The Raptors were 2-1 against the Bulls this season, including winning their most recent meeting in Toronto in late February on the back of a fourth-quarter fightback.

This promises to be another intriguing encounter.

Western Conference:

Tuesday, April 11 – Los Angeles Lakers (7th) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (8th)

This has been a fascinating season for the Lakers, who looked down and out but recovered to such an extent they ended up disappointed they had to settle for a play-in spot.

LeBron James and co. started 0-5 and then 2-10 as the word "crisis" was tossed about by all and sundry.

However, a subsequent run of 8-2 propelled them into a season few could have imagined in early November, while they also finished the year strongly on a 9-2 run.

James (28.9 points) and Anthony Davis (25.9) have each had injury issues, playing just 55 and 56 games respectively, but they have crucially found form and fitness at this crucial stage in the season.

 

The Timberwolves also have talent but come into this with a bit of a cloud over them after the fracas between big-trade flop Rudy Gobert and Kyle Anderson in their final game against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Minnesota started 2-0 against the Lakers this season, but Davis had 38 points and 17 rebounds in a big win when the teams met less than two weeks ago.

The loser will host the winner of...

Wednesday, April 12 – New Orleans Pelicans (9th) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (10th)

The biggest story around this one centres on who will not be there, as Zion Williamson continues to sit on the sideline with a hamstring injury.

The Pelicans' star man averaged 26.0 points this season but played only 29 games and none since January 2.

Updates from New Orleans have remained vague, although Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin has spoken of a "best possible outcome" that would "maybe" see Williamson in practice around the first round. Again, "if everything lined up perfectly".

That means Brandon Ingram will be required to carry the scoring burden for now, a task he warmed up for in fine style with a 42-point return against the Timberwolves on Sunday.

The Thunder will look to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to lead them into the postseason, with the 24-year-old averaging 31.4 points this year, the fourth-most in the league.

New Orleans were 3-1 against OKC this season, but the Thunder won their last game in March with Gilgeous-Alexander scoring 35 – albeit the Pelicans were without Ingram as well as Williamson.

LeBron James implored the Los Angeles Lakers to "stay on edge" for their play-in tournament game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday.

The Lakers fell short of their goal of making the playoffs after a poor start to the season, despite Sunday's 128-117 win over the Utah Jazz.

James' side had rallied back from their early-season troubles to finish seventh in the West with a 43-39 record, but are in the box seat to make the playoffs via the play-in with home court advantage.

"For us, it's just good that we don't need to travel. We've travelled a lot lately," James told reporters.

"It's good that we get to stay here, but we shouldn't be comfortable. We have to stay on edge and get ready for the game."

The Lakers, who were NBA champions in 2020, missed the playoffs altogether in 2022 after being eliminated in the first round in 2021. The NBA playoffs proper commence on Saturday.

"Obviously it's different because usually in the postseason you have multiple days of prep for a team, but you literally have one day to prep," James said. "You're kind of locked in on everything that needs to be done."

The short turnaround may not suit the Lakers, who have seen veterans James and Anthony Davis miss plenty of games this season with injury.

"Be efficient with how we spend our non-game days," Lakers head coach Darvin Ham said. "Make sure they're getting the proper treatment between now and Tuesday.

"But they're aware, man. These stakes are high and a lot of times, I don't want to call it pressure, but the challenges of guys knowing what's at stake can weigh on them a little bit. But here we are, we know what's in front of us."

The Lakers' play-in opponents, Minnesota, have their own issues after Rudy Gobert attempted to punch teammate Kyle Anderson during a second-quarter timeout in their 113-109 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Gobert was dismissed by the team for the rest of the game and could have a suspension imposed on him by the Wolves.

The Wolves center apologised on Twitter, when he wrote: "Emotions got the best of me today. I should not have reacted the way i did regardless of what was said. I wanna apologize to the fans, the organisation and particularly to Kyle, who is someone that i truly love and respect as a teammate."

Jaden McDaniels also hurt his hand punching a wall in frustration during the game, with sources claiming an X-ray has revealed a season-ending fracture.

The Los Angeles Clippers secured the five seed in the Western Conference after rallying from a 10-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Phoenix Suns 119-114 on Sunday.

Norman Powell, Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook scored 29, 25 and 25 points respectively for the Clippers, who held off the Golden State Warriors for the five seed, meaning LA will take on the Suns again in the playoffs first round.

Leonard scored the Clippers' final eight points of the game among 12 in the fourth quarter, shooting 11-of-21 from the field, with 15 rebounds and six assists.

Powell continued his fine form off the bench, shooting 12-of-22 for his 29 points with five rebounds, while Westbrook made two three-pointers in his 25 points with seven rebounds and nine assists.

Phoenix sat starters Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Deandre Ayton for the game.

Despite that, the Suns put up a good fight, with guard Saben Lee having 25 points with 10 assists, shooting three-of-eight from beyond the arc.

Warriors hit NBA record, LeBron lifts Lakers

Stephen Curry made five three-pointers and shot nine-of-15 for 26 points as the Golden State Warriors routed the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 157-101.

The Warriors could have jumped the Clippers into the five seed if LA lost, but the reigning champions will settle for the six seed, meaning they will take on the Sacramento Kings in the first round.

Curry only played 22 minutes along with Klay Thompson, who scored 20 points, with Golden State piling on an NBA record 55 first-quarter points. Jordan Poole added 21 points including four-of-five triples in 17 minutes and Moses Moody contributed 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting in 29 minutes.

That meant the Los Angeles Lakers finished seventh in the West despite LeBron James scoring eight three-pointers among 36 points in a 128-117 win over the Utah Jazz.

The Lakers will face the Minnesota Timberwolves in the play-in tournament, with the winner to face the Memphis Grizzlies in the playoffs first round.

Wolves win amid Gobert and McDaniels drama

The Timberwolves jumped the New Orleans Pelicans in the play-in seeding for eighth with a 113-108 victory, but it was a game full of drama with Rudy Gobert throwing a punch at teammate Kyle Anderson during a timeout.

Gobert was dismissed for the rest of the game after the second-quarter incident, while top perimeter defender Jaden McDaniels broke his right hand after hitting a wall in frustration.

Despite all that, Anthony Edwards led the Wolves to victory with 26 points, 13 rebounds, four steals and four blocks, while Karl-Anthony Towns had 30 points with eight rebounds.

Brandon Ingram scored 42 points for the Pelicans, who could have finished as high as fifth, but will instead face the Oklahoma City Thunder in a play-in tournament elimination game.

LeBron James feels "it is pretty cool" the Los Angeles Lakers will finish with a winning record this season after a dismal start.

The Lakers are not assured of making the playoffs, seventh in the Western Conference and set for the play-in tournament as things stand, but they are 42-39 and will finish above .500.

This comes after the Lakers started 0-5 and then 2-10, records James recalled after Friday's 121-107 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

"I was just telling AD [Anthony Davis] – I was like, 'man, can you believe that we're going to finish this season above .500? After everything that's gone on this season?'" James said.

"We've turned this thing around. And it's the regular season, obviously – there's a lot more basketball to be played – but to know that we're going to finish a few games above .500? It's pretty cool."

Darvin Ham is in his first year as a head coach and has had to cope without James for 27 games and Davis for 26.

But he is slightly more reluctant to yet reflect on a job well done, adding: "Our work is not done by a long shot.

"It'll be great at some point to think back, but hopefully I'll be thinking about this first year after we're holding the trophy or something.

"In the short form, it's a lot to be proud of. And in the long form, we've got more work to do."

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson produced a vintage performance to carry the Golden State Warriors to a 119-97 road victory against the Sacramento Kings on Friday.

One of the few teams still with plenty to play for in the final games, the Warriors needed a win to avoid falling into the play-in tournament placings, as they would get leapfrogged by the 42-39 New Orleans Pelicans if they finish with an equal record.

But with Kings stars Domantas Sabonis and De'Aaron Fox both out resting – with Sacramento (48-33) locked into the Western Conference's third seed – the Warriors took full advantage.

In a terrific defensive outing, Golden State did not allow a single Sacramento starter to score more than Harrison Barnes' 13 points, while Curry and Thompson combined for 54 points and shot eight-of-15 from three-point range.

Thompson top-scored with 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting (five-of-eight from deep), while Curry chipped in 25 (eight-of-14 shooting, three-of-seven from deep), seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block.

Donte DiVincenzo continued to excel when given an opportunity, with the 26-year-old backup guard putting together 18 points (seven-of-10 shooting), nine assists and six rebounds. 

He vastly outplayed fellow rotation guard and sixth man Jordan Poole, who shot a poor zero-of-10 from the floor, and the two will likely be competing for minutes in the playoffs.

The victory means the Warriors can secure their spot in the playoffs by finishing the season with a win against the tanking Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, avoiding the play-in tournament in the process.

Reaves, Beasley lead important Lakers win

The Los Angeles Lakers (42-39) are only a half-game behind local rivals the Los Angeles Clippers (42-38) after a crucial 121-107 triumph at home against the undermanned Phoenix Suns.

With Phoenix resting Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton, the full-strength Lakers made sure to capitalise, although it was neck-and-neck until the fourth quarter.

Both LeBron James (six-of-19 from the field) and Anthony Davis (four-of-12) had poor shooting nights, combining for just 30 points, but role players Austin Reaves and Malik Beasley came to the rescue.

Reaves was arguably the Lakers' best player, scoring 22 points on nine-of-13 shooting with five assists, while Beasley came off the bench to hit seven-of-14 shots, including four-of-10 from long range for 21 important points.

The Lakers will finish their regular season at home against the Utah Jazz on Sunday, and they can steal the sixth seed if the Clippers lose their final two games against Portland and Phoenix.

76ers ruin Trae's big night

Trae Young put up a ridiculous stat line of 27 points and 20 assists, but it was not enough as his Atlanta Hawks went down 136-131 to the Philadelphia 76ers in overtime.

Young's 20 assists broke his previous career-high by two, and he shot an efficient seven-of-14 from the field, but his nine turnovers were costly. It is the eighth time in Young's career he has committed at least nine turnovers in a game.

While the Hawks were at full strength, the 76ers rode a career-high 16 assists from bench guard Shake Milton in a rare start, with stars Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey out of action.

Jalen McDaniels enjoyed his best game in a Philly jersey with 24 points (eight-of-17 shooting), 11 rebounds and three steals, and Georges Niang also added 24 points (nine-of-13) in a starting role.

LeBron James is open-minded about the Los Angeles Lakers' end to the NBA regular season after their 11th straight defeat against the Los Angeles Clippers.

James was part of a strong Lakers team that lost 125-118 to their LA rivals on Wednesday, leaving them narrowly behind the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors as they look to sneak into the top six of the Western Conference and avoid the Play-In tournament.

The 38-year-old still managed a game-high 33 points, as well as eight rebounds and seven assists to his name, but it was not enough as the Lakers once again came up short against the Clippers.

"It's one of the toughest games we've had this year," James said. "Coming off the road trip... this was one of those scheduling conflicts in the season."

The Lakers have two remaining games, both at home, against the Phoenix Suns and the Utah Jazz, still hoping to make the top six in the west.

 

James added: "Wherever we end up, that's where we end up. It's been like four or five seasons in one for us. We don't have the luxury of saying: 'This is what we need to do. This is where we're going to be.' We need to still continue to play good basketball.

"We'll see. Wherever we fall, we'll be ready to go."

Wednesday's game was their fourth on the road in eight days, but Lakers coach Darvin Ham refused to use that as an excuse for a performance that at times looked tired, especially in the first half when the Clippers outscored their opponents by 19 points before James inspired a recovery.

"The circumstances weren't used as a crutch," Ham said. "They were just real. The real NBA schedule. Everybody goes through it at some point in their schedule in each and every year."

Kyrie Irving led the Dallas Mavericks' second-half rally from a 13 point third-quarter deficit to boost their play-in hopes with a 123-119 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday.

Irving scored 25 of his 31 points in the second half as the Mavs claimed an important win to improve to 38-42, having trailed 71-60 at half-time at American Airlines Center.

The win sees the Mavs draw level with the 10th-placed Oklahoma City Thunder in the fourth and final play-in tournament spot in the West with two games to play. OKC have the tiebreaker edge.

Dallas play the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs in their final two games, while the Thunder take on the Utah Jazz and the Memphis Grizzlies.

Mavs point guard Irving shot 12-of-23 from the field with six-of-10 from beyond the arc along with four rebounds, eight assists and two steals.

Luka Doncic was outstanding on Dallas' backcourt too, with 29 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, while Tim Hardaway Jr scored 24 points including five triples.

Irving led Dallas' third-quarter 12-0 run, flipping the game on its head, ending their own three-game losing skid.

De'Aaron Fox scored 28 points with eight assists for the Kings, with Domantas Sabonis recording a triple-double with 19 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. All five Kings starter scored double-digit points.

Sacramento also had a season-high 22 offensive rebounds, recording 30-14 second chance points.

Clippers claim crunch win over Lakers

The Los Angeles Clippers claimed a critical 125-118 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the race to avoid the play-in tournament, while extending their recent winning run in the Battle of LA to 11-0.

Norman Powell scored a team-high 27 points off the bench, while Kawhi Leonard added 25 points and seven rebounds. The Lakers, playing the second game of a back-to-back, had LeBron James score 33 points with eight rebounds and seven assists.

The Clippers snapped their two-game losing run and ended the Lakers' four-game winning streak, improving to a 42-38 record to sit fifth ahead of the Golden State Warriors (42-38).

The Lakers are 41-39 in seventh alongside the New Orleans Pelicans (41-39), who won 138-131 over the Memphis Grizzlies despite Jaren Jackson Jr's 40 points, nine rebounds and four blocks.

Bucks and Celtics clinch No.1 and No.2 seeds

The Milwaukee Bucks were without Giannis Antetokounmpo and lost Khris Middleton midgame both due to knee soreness but triumphed 105-92 over the Chicago Bulls to secure the East's number one seed.

The Bucks flexed their muscle without the star duo with Bobby Portis scoring 27 points with 13 rebounds, Brook Lopez adding 26 points and seven rebounds and Jrue Holiday contributing 20 points with eight rebounds and 15 assists.

Milwaukee have locked in top spot with a 58-22 record, while the Boston Celtics won 97-93 over the Toronto Raptors to confirm the East's number two seed with a 55-25 record.

Malcolm Brogdon came off the bench to score 29 points from 35 minutes, while Jaylen Brown managed 25 points and 11 rebounds with Jayson Tatum out with a bruised left hip.

The Los Angeles Lakers needed LeBron James to drag them through against the Utah Jazz, but he might not be available to face the Los Angeles Clippers.

A 135-133 overtime win in Salt Lake City on Tuesday ensured the Lakers guaranteed their spot in the play-in tournament in the Western Conference.

Yet with three games remaining of the regular season, the seventh-placed Lakers could still force their way into the playoffs without having to compete in the play-in round. They face the Clippers on Wednesday, with their city rivals sitting a place above them while holding an identical 41-38 record. 

James was crucial against the Jazz, scoring 37 points and playing 38 minutes – the most he has managed since returning from a foot injury that kept him out for four weeks. 

However, that strain might limit James' availability for Wednesday.

"The extra five minutes definitely didn't help. It definitely didn't help but we needed to get the win," James told reporters, before explaining his process of deeming whether or not he would be able to feature against the Clippers.

"How my foot feels when I wake up and I step out of bed," he added.

"That's been the most important since I've injured it five weeks ago. The next day after either rehab or training or treatment, whatever. It's always that."

Anthony Davis was unusually slack with his shooting, managing just seven-of-16 from the field and seven-of-12 from the free throw line for 21 points, though he still contributed 14 rebounds and six assists.

Davis has not played in back-to-back games since returning from a right foot issue earlier in 2023, and like James, he was unsure on whether he would face the Clippers.

"I haven't played in a back-to-back in a long time," Davis said.

"So, I mean, we'll all get on a phone call or something tomorrow morning and go from there."

Coach Darvin Ham confirmed no decision had yet been taken.

"We have our short-term business that we need to take care of and our long-term business that we need to take care of," Ham said.

"We prioritise a player's health, first and foremost. Regardless of what the stakes are or the implications of with a win or a loss or all of that.

"We need our players to know that we care about their health, first and foremost.

"If we see that they won't have any issues, in terms of their health, and we're not putting them at risk, then we'll proceed.

"If there's any kind of question marks, we'll walk through them, talk through them, and go from there."

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