Kawhi Leonard shared that he will be ready for the start of training camp, and that he would have been healthy enough to play in last season's NBA Finals had the Los Angeles Clippers made it that far.

All eyes were on the Clippers' franchise player during Monday's media day, with Leonard recently being cleared for five-on-five play more than 14 months after tearing his ACL in the 2021 playoffs.

Oddsmakers have the Clippers as the second-favourites to win the Western Conference, trailing only the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. Their success is ultimately reliant on Leonard's health, with the two-time Finals MVP with the San Antonio Spurs (2014) and Toronto Raptors (2019) trying to become the first player to ever win the award with three different teams.

Speaking about how he feels physically after such a long rehabilitation period, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year highlighted all the time he has spent in the weight room and how it has him feeling stronger than ever.

"I feel stronger, for sure," he said. "It's been, what, 14, 15 months of no basketball – well, playing in an NBA season for me, no basketball. 

"That whole 13-, 14-month process is just lifting weights and getting stronger. I definitely got a lot stronger.

"Right now I feel good in my workouts, weightlifting. I don't feel like I have a subconscious mind of not jumping off my leg, per se. I feel good. We'll just see how the season goes."

In what is a good sign for his chances of being at 100 per cent for the opening day of the season, Leonard shared that "if [the Clippers] would have made it to the Finals last year, you would have seen me playing".

Around Leonard, the Clippers have assembled arguably the deepest roster in the NBA, with running-mate Paul George being joined by a bevy of capable perimeter options, including former All-Star John Wall, starting-quality guards Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard, starter-level wings Norman Powell and Robert Covington, as well as rotation pieces Marcus Morris Sr, Nic Batum and Terance Mann.

George compared their wealth of talent to his experience with the United States national team, and said the key will be figuring out how to mesh successfully and find roles for everyone.

"I think really [we will use] that mindset of Team USA," George said. "You take the best guys, and of course everybody is good and they're all on teams, everybody is the star of their own teams. 

"But when you put us all together, it's how do I make you better now and how do I shine with this environment.

"It should be a lot of fun with this team, and there should be a lot of good nights being a Clipper fan."

Kawhi Leonard appears to be well on his way back to an NBA court after missing the entire 2021-22 season as a result of suffering a torn ACL during the 2021 playoffs.

More than a year since his last competitive game, Leonard has been cleared to participate in five-on-five drills when the Los Angeles Clippers begin training camp next week, president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank announced Thursday.  

The team, however, will ease Leonard back into the fold as he recovers from his knee reconstruction, taking a "cautious" approach.  

"He feels great," Frank said. "His plan is, look, he wants to participate in everything. And I think organisationally, we're going to be cautious. So it will be a step-by-step approach.” 

Frank would not say if Leonard will participate in preseason games.  

"When you're dealing with a major injury, you can't predict," Frank said. "I know with him, he wants to do everything, but we'll just kind of see how he feels each day. We have an outstanding medical team, and we're playing the long game with it. So we're not going to get into predictions, what he will do or he won't do. 

"We'll figure out, is that best for his body? One day it may be. The next day, we'll have to reassess. We'll rely on the feedback we get from Kawhi, obviously from the medical team. It's too early to predict. We have time before we need to get there." 

Regarded as one of the early title favourites, the Clippers’ ultimate goal is to have Leonard at full strength next spring for a postseason run. Los Angeles is tied with the Golden State Warriors for the shortest title odds in the Western Conference at 7-to-1, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.  

The other crucial piece to a potential playoff run for the Clippers is Paul George, who has been recovering from a torn ligament in his shooting elbow, but is ready to go, according to Frank.

"His elbow is 100 percent healthy," Frank said. "Paul has had an extremely purposeful, driven, and very productive off-season, in that his consistency of training has been off the charts. Plus, he continues to take more and more of an ownership and leadership role." 

Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard says he feels good as he closes in on his long-awaited return from injury ahead of the 2022-23 NBA season.

The two-time NBA Finals MVP missed the entire of the last campaign due to an ACL injury sustained in game four of the 2021 Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Utah Jazz. 

The Clippers certainly felt Leonard's absence as they missed out on the play-offs, losing to the Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans in the play-in tournament.

The small forward averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and a career-high 5.2 assists per game in the 2020-21 regular season, having averaged a personal best of 27.1 points the previous term - his first with the Clippers.

In a compilation video posted on the franchise's social media channels, which featured several clips of him in the gym, Leonard could be heard saying: "Physically, I feel good."

The 31-year-old will hope to make his return when the Clippers launch their 2022-23 campaign against the Los Angeles Lakers on October 20.

After being counted on to be 'the man' for much of his career, John Wall is excited about being on a Los Angeles Clippers team where he will not be the focal point of the offense.

Wall, who signed a two-year deal with the Clippers after being waived by the Houston Rockets, said he does not now need to be "Batman every night".

"That's the ultimate goal for me is [at] this part of my career, I don't want to have to be the Batman every night to try to win," Wall said.

"On our team that we have, I think anyone can be Batman."

The Washington Wizards selected Wall with the number one overall pick in 2010, and he led the team in scoring in five of his nine seasons in the nation's capital before being traded to the Rockets for Russell Westbrook in December 2020 after sitting out the entire 2019-20 season while recovering from heel surgery.

Wall averaged 20.6 points with the Rockets in 2020-21 but only appeared in 40 games. Last season, he did not play at all as Houston tried to figure out what to do with the five-time All-Star as they rebuilt the roster with younger players.

Wall's 40 games in 2020-21 mark his only appearances in the NBA over the past three seasons.

"My last three years, I was in the darkest place I have ever been,” he said. "I don't think a lot of people could have gotten through what I went through."

The Clippers are looking forward to the 2022-23 season with Wall on the roster and Kawhi Leonard returning after missing all of last season due to a torn ACL.

"I kind of looked at the picture of like, where can I go [where] I don't have to be the John Wall from 2016 and have to carry the load and do all those [things] and have the pressure on me," Wall said.

"I think [the Clippers were] missing a piece of having a point guard, and it's a great situation for me to be there."

Wall is expected to compete with Reggie Jackson for the starting point guard job with the Clippers, who lost both games in the play-in round last season after going 42-40.

"For me, I'm just happy to play basketball again," Wall said.

"I'm a competitor. I know a lot of people ask me, 'Are you mad if you start or not start?' I don't care. I'm a competitor, and I just want an opportunity to go out there and compete for a spot, and if I get it, I get it.

"And if I don't, we know how talented Reggie Jackson is and what he's done for this team and helping these guys out, especially when Kawhi and [Paul George] were out. Even when they were [healthy], he's a great piece. Whoever gets the spot is great."

The Los Angeles Clippers will play no part in this year's playoffs, but coach Ty Lue still believes they "can be special" next season.

The Clippers finished eighth in the West to enter the Play-In tournament, only to fall short of the postseason with consecutive defeats.

After losing 109-104 to the Minnesota Timberwolves with Paul George in the lineup, the seven-time All-Star was in health and safety protocols for Friday's make-or-break 105-101 defeat at home to the New Orleans Pelicans.

George's absence was a cruel blow for the Clippers, not that playing without him is a new experience.

Injury limited George to 31 games this year – in which he averaged a team-leading 24.3 points – but that was 31 more games than the team got out of two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who is still recovering from a partial ACL tear in last season's playoff run.

Even Norman Powell, signed in February, suffered a setback and could play only limited minutes in a bench role after returning ahead of the play-in games.

Since the Clippers signed George and Leonard ahead of the 2019-20 season, they have played together in only 104 games across the regular season and playoffs.

The Clippers have a 72-32 (.692) record in those games, versus 83-71 (.539) in the 154 when one of their superstars is missing.

For that reason, Lue can retain some optimism as they hope to have Leonard back for 2022-23.

"We get our main guys back, we can be dangerous," he said after the Pelicans game. "Health is part of it. We've got to stay healthy, continue to work.

"When you get Kawhi back, a top-five player, PG, a perennial All-Star, your team changes tremendously.

"Guys who have taken on bigger roles this year, who have never been in this position before, they can kind of fall back into their original roles.

"We could be very different with those two guys back and healthy. We can be special."

The Pelicans have themselves missed a big name this year, with former first overall pick Zion Williamson joining Leonard in sitting out the entire season to date.

In his stead, C.J. McCollum and, particularly in the play-in tournament, Brandon Ingram have stepped up to lead the Pelicans into a first-round series against title favourites the Phoenix Suns.

Ingram has averaged 18.5 points per game for his career and 22.7 in the regular season this year but 28.5 across play-in wins over the San Antonio Spurs and the Clippers.

His 30 led the team on Friday, prompting high praise from coach Willie Green.

"Brandon Ingram is the truth," Green said. "He just brought it. He had that look in his eye from the time we got on the plane. Shootaround, he's been locked in. He has been waiting for this moment, for this type of moment."

A Trae Young masterclass in the second half of the Atlanta Hawks' play-in clash against the Cleveland Cavaliers led his side to a 107-101 victory.

After only scoring six points in the first half, Young had 32 in the second, finishing with 38 points on 13-of-25 shooting (four-of-11 from deep) to go with nine assists.

It was a gutsy comeback from the Hawks, who trailed 28-14 in the first quarter and 49-61 with 30 seconds to play in the first half.

Overall, the Hawks outscored the Cavaliers 56 to 40 in the last two quarters, and after committing seven turnovers in the opening frame, cleaned things up significantly and only committed six more across the next three quarters.

Cleveland's Darius Garland had a difficult shooting night, finishing nine-of-27 from the field for his 21 points, but he showed excellent command of his side throughout, dishing nine assists, snatching three steals and finishing with a plus/minus of plus three in his 43 minutes. This means in the five minutes Garland was sitting on the bench, the Cavs were outscored by eight.

With the win, the Hawks have earned a seven-game series against the top seed of the Eastern Conference – the Miami Heat.

Pelicans survive Clippers comeback

The New Orleans Pelicans survived a massive second-half surge from the Los Angeles Clippers to fight back and win on the road 105-101. 

Through the first half, it looked like it would be smooth sailing for the Pelicans as they jumped out to a 56-42 lead with one minute to play in the second quarter.

Los Angeles were without star Paul George after it was announced he had tested positive for coronavirus and had to adhere to health and safety protocols, but they found a second wind to start the third period.

The Clippers started the second half on a 20-to-two run, flipping a 56-46 deficit to a 66-58 lead as Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris started to catch fire.

After being outscored 38-18 in the third term, the Pelicans began the final period trailing 84-74, but it would be their turn to make a run, rallying to tie the game at 88-88 with 7:35 to play.

Brandon Ingram was the star of the show, finishing with 30 points (14-of-21 shooting) with six assists and six rebounds, but the clutch long-range shooting from rookie Trey Murphy III was the catalyst for their surge down the stretch.

Murphy came off the bench and finished with a game-high plus/minus of plus 26 in his 24 minutes, hitting four-of-six threes, including three of them in the last 10 minutes.

Jackson and Morris finished with 27 points each for the Clippers, while the former also added eight assists, seven rebounds and two steals.

The win means the New Orleans Pelicans will face the Phoenix Suns in a best-of-seven series, beginning on Sunday.

 

Paul George has entered the NBA's health and safety protocols and will not feature for the Los Angeles Clippers against the New Orleans Pelicans, according to reports.

George spent three months out earlier this season due to a serious elbow injury but returned at the end of March to help the Clippers push for a playoff berth.

They did not quite seal a guaranteed postseason spot but face the Pelicans on Friday in the Western Conference's play-in game.

The Clippers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first game of the play-in tournament but get a second shot against the Pelicans. However, they will be without their talisman George.

George scored a game-high 34 points in the defeat to Minnesota yet will sit out as his teammates aim to secure a playoff game against the top-seeded Phoenix Suns.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported the news, with his colleague Ohm Youngmisuk stating that Lawrence Frank, the president of basketball operations for the Clippers, had told media that George had tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday.

George averaged 24.3 points per game for the Clippers across the regular season, more than any of his teammates.

After the loss to the Timberwolves, George told reporters: "It's win or go home.

"Obviously, [if] we don't win, we go home. I could care less who we play. The mindset is we have to win regardless. There's no pep talk, X's and O's. We've got to win. We've got to win if we want to continue our season."

George has carried a heavy burden this season in the absence of Kawhi Leonard who has not featured at all this season due to injury, though there is hope he may return for the playoffs should the Clippers progress. 

Patrick Beverley has been hit with a $30,000 fine for "inappropriate statements" and "egregious use of profanity" after the Minnesota Timberwolves guard aimed salty shots at the Clippers.

The comments from Beverley came after Tuesday's 109-104 win for the T-Wolves in the seven-eight play-in game in the West.

Anthony Edwards played a starring role with 30 points for Minnesota and was interviewed alongside Beverley after the game.

Beverley was excitable after beating his former team. He spent four years on the Clippers before joining Minnesota last August.

"I wanted this so bad," Beverley said. "I wanted this one so bad."

He said his message to the Clippers was: "Take their a** home. Long flight to LA, take y'all a** home.

"It's deeper than that for me. I gave my blood and sweat and tears to that organisation. You guys know the story. Blood, sweat and tears, to just be written off like that, 'oh, he's injury prone, he's old', this, this, that, that.

"To be able to come here, play them in a play-in, beat their a**, there's no other feeling, man, no other feeling."

Beverley also used social media to express similar emotion, with added profanities. NBA chiefs considered he overstepped the line of acceptability.

A league statement on Thursday read: "Minnesota Timberwolves guard Patrick Beverley has been fined $30,000 for inappropriate statements during a media interview and on social media, including the egregious use of profanity, it was announced today by Byron Spruell, president, league operations."

It was a second fine inside a week for Beverley, who had a $25,000 punishment imposed for improper conduct to a game official after being ejected from the Timberwolves' April 10 loss to the Chicago Bulls.

Anthony Edwards ensured the Minnesota Timberwolves did not pay the price for Karl-Anthony Towns' night to forget against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Three-time All-Star Towns fouled out of the seven-eight play-in game in the West on Tuesday.

Having made just three field goals and given up four turnovers along with his six fouls, Towns had a miserable plus/minus of -14 as he exited the fourth quarter.

But the seven-point lead the Clippers held at that point was subsequently overturned – in no small part due to the performance of former first overall pick Edwards.

The second-year wing finished with 30 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, in a 109-104 T-Wolves win.

Edwards faced the media alongside Patrick Beverley afterwards, and his team-mate interrupted when the 20-year-old was asked about his work on offense.

"No one can guard him. I've been telling him that all year," Beverley said. "I don't care who plays him. I've seen the best defensive guys. I'm one of the best defensive guys on Earth.

"No one can guard him, and I just keep preaching that, preaching that to him, and he's been doing it all season, so credit to him, credit to his hard work, credit to his patience.

"Obviously we have Karl-Anthony Towns, who we feature a lot, so credit to his patience at a young age, understanding the game, being patient, understanding when to attack.

"KAT fouled out, him and D'Lo [D'Angelo Russell] took over the game. Our young core, man, those three guys, man, we're going to be here for a while.

"So, I'm very excited. I didn't mean to interrupt his questions, but I see the boy, he puts in a lot of work, fellas... ladies, too. He puts in a lot of work.

"One of the first guys in the beginning of the year in the gym. It's time to go home, he's the last one in, he comes at night. He brings his dog in there, he's in there.

"So, you've got to give a lot of credit. This is our star and this is his moment. He deserves all of it. This is his moment. My bad."

Beverley could be forgiven for being a little excited, having beaten his former team. He spent four years on the Clippers before joining the T-Wolves this season.

"I wanted this so bad," he said. "I wanted this one so bad."

His message to the Clippers now? "Take their a** home. Long flight to LA, take y'all a** home.

"It's deeper than that for me. I gave my blood and sweat and tears to that organisation. You guys know the story. Blood, sweat and tears, to just be written off like that, 'oh, he's injury prone, he's old', this, this, that, that.

"To be able to come here, play them in a play-in, beat their a**, there's no other feeling, man, no other feeling."

Despite Beverley's apparent ill feeling towards the Clippers, former team-mate Paul George said he "loves" and "misses" his "contagious" antics.

"You need energy guys like that," George said, although Clippers coach Ty Lue was disappointed with the way Beverley was able to get under his team's skin.

"He did a good job, especially in that second half, of just defending, getting into guys, irritating guys like he always does," Lue said.

"He's a big reason why this team is successful this year. I just think the mentality he brought over here has changed the team.

"[You've] just got to be able to keep composure, you can't let it get to you. I thought at times he did. That's what he does.

"He's been with us here forever. We knew that coming into the game. We didn't handle it well, but whatever."

The Brooklyn Nets defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 115-108 in the first game of the NBA Play-In Tournament on Tuesday.

The Nets are now the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, confirming a playoff matchup with the second seed Boston Celtics.

Kyrie Irving made 10 straight attempts on the way to 34 points and 12 assists, but Kevin Durant took over in the second half with 25 points and 11 assists, as well as two steals and three blocks.

The Nets led by as much as 22 points at one stage, but it was on the back of Durant and Irving starting off hot. The Cavs managed to hang in there and cut it down to single digits with Darius Garland's free-throws and triple following Goran Dragic's flagrant foul.

Garland finished with 34 points on 13-of-24 shooting, but Caris LeVert and Lauri Markkanen experienced a poor shooting night, combining for 25 points but on nine-of-26 attempts from the floor.

The Cavs will play the winner of Wednesday's matchup between the Charlotte Hornets and the Atlanta Hawks, for a chance to take on the Miami Heat in a seven-game series.

Timberwolves win through to face Grizzlies

The Minnesota Timberwolves reached the playoffs for the second time since 2004 with a 109-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Timberwolves, who lost All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns who fouled out early in the fourth quarter, finished with a 26-11 run to secure victory, which means they will face the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs.

Anthony Edwards (30 points with five three-pointers and five rebounds) and D'Angelo Russell (29 points and six assists) starred offensively, while the relentless Patrick Beverley was excellent against his former side with 11 rebounds.

Paul George kept the Clippers in the contest with 34 points including six three-pointers with seven rebounds and five assists.

The Clippers will next face the winner of the New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs' play-in game for a shot at the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

Whatever you think about the sporting merit of the introduction of the Play-In tournament to last year's NBA season, there is no doubt it made things more interesting for the neutral.

The Golden State Warriors were surprisingly eliminated after defeats to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Memphis Grizzlies, while the Indiana Pacers were denied a playoff place by the Washington Wizards in 2021.

The format has returned for this season, and again, it promises to add all sorts of further intrigue to the playoff picture.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the mini tournament will take place from April 12-16. The teams that finished seventh and eighth play 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 playoffs, while the eighth seed will take on the Miami Heat. In the west, the seventh seed will go up against the Memphis Grizzlies, and the eighth seed will be paired with the Phoenix Suns.

With the regular season over after Sunday's final games, Stats Perform takes a look at the eight teams with one last chance to secure their place in the 2022 NBA playoffs.

Eastern Conference

Tuesday, April 12 – Brooklyn Nets (7th) vs Cleveland Cavaliers (8th) 

It has felt like a season of distractions in Brooklyn this season, be it James Harden's struggles, Kevin Durant's fitness or Kyrie Irving's vaccination status, and now the debut of Ben Simmons, which it seems may come in the playoffs, if they make it that is.

The Nets will be favourites, having won 12 of their last 17 and with Durant and Irving both in excellent form. KD is averaging 29.9 points per game (PPG), while Irving sits at 27.4.

The Cavaliers do not arrive in great form, losing eight of their last 11 games. Though they were victorious in their last outing against the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, the Bucks rested their starters, and Jrue Holiday only started to earn a foul and trigger a financial clause in his contract.

Darius Garland will be key if Cleveland are to stand a chance at Barclays Center, with the 22-year-old averaging 21.7 PPG.

Brooklyn have won three of their four meetings this season, including a 118-107 win at Barclays on Friday.

The loser will host the winner of...

Wednesday, April 13 – Atlanta Hawks (9th) vs Charlotte Hornets (10th)

All eyes will be on Trae Young as the 23-year-old looks to drag the Hawks into the playoffs, though it will take two big performances, even by his high standards.

Young averages 28.4 PPG this season, the joint-fifth highest in the league along with Luka Doncic, as well as 9.7 assists per game.

Atlanta have won seven of their last nine, including a 130-114 success at the Houston Rockets on Sunday.

For Charlotte, they will look to trio Miles Bridges, LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier for inspiration, and have had a good end to the season themselves, winning 11 of their last 15.

They also beat the Hawks last month 116-106 in Charlotte, though each team has won two apiece of their four meetings through the campaign.

Western Conference:

Tuesday, April 12 – Minnesota Timberwolves (7th) vs Los Angeles Clippers (8th)

Despite the Timberwolves going into this one with home advantage, you would have to make the Clippers the favourites based on form and previous meetings.

Minnesota have lost six of their last 10, while the visitors arrive having won five of their last six.

The form of Karl-Anthony Towns, who is averaging 24.6 PPG this season, will be key for the hosts, as will that of Anthony Edwards, who scored a career-high 49 points in the recent win over the San Antonio Spurs.

Unsurprisingly, the Clippers have been a different prospect since the return of Paul George at the end of March, having lost eight of their previous 10 games before the 31-year-old came back, and winning six of seven since, albeit George only played in five of those games.

The Clippers have won three of their four meetings in the regular season, but the Timberwolves did win their last encounter in January. It should be noted that the team from Los Angeles won both games in Minnesota, though.

The loser will host the winner of...

Wednesday, April 13 – New Orleans Pelicans (9th) vs San Antonio Spurs (10th)

No team shows just how much the introduction of the Play-In tournament keeps seasons alive for a longer period than the Pelicans, who somehow have a shot at the postseason despite a disastrous start to their campaign.

Having lost 12 of their first 13 games, they are just two wins away from booking their place in the playoffs, and come into this one having won five of their last eight. 

Coach Willie Green will need CJ McCollum in top form, with the 30-year-old impressing since arriving from Portland earlier in the season, averaging 24.3 PPG since becoming a Pelican.

San Antonio recently won seven of eight games, but a slight wobble from the Spurs in the last few, losing their last three, may have thrown them off course at precisely the wrong time.

Like the Clippers, the Spurs could still be favourites despite being the away side, as they have won three of the four meetings between the two teams this season, including the most recent one in late March (107-103 in New Orleans).

Los Angeles Clippers wing Norman Powell feels his team are a threat in this year's playoffs – and Kawhi Leonard is looking strong.

Powell returned in style from two months on the sideline, scoring 24 points off the bench in the Clippers' 113-109 home win against the Phoenix Suns.

The 2019 champion with the Toronto Raptors suffered a broken foot in an early-February matchup against the Dallas Mavericks but showed no ill effects as he scored six-of-10 field-goal attempts, including going three-of-four from long range, and nine-of-10 from the free throw line.

Despite Clippers star Leonard missing the entire season so far with his recovery from a torn ACL and co-star Paul George only playing 29 games, Los Angeles are somehow 40-40 through 80 games and locked into the Western Conference eight seed.

Speaking with ESPN, Powell said it was a successful return from injury.

"The foot has been feeling good," he said. "The medical staff wanted to give me a few test games, stay-ready games leading up to the game tonight, seeing how it would respond to the extra workload. 

"It was feeling great. Tonight it feels great... I thought it was a good first game after being out for two months."

Powell went on to speak about the threat his side poses in a postseason setting.

"I think we can be really dangerous," he said. "Paul George drives a lot of attention on the floor, and when me and him and [Marcus Morris Sr.] and Reggie [Jackson] are all on the floor, we've got so many weapons.

"I just think we have weapons at every position, and I can take the pressure off those guys if need be, being a ball-handler as well. 

"It reminds me of that 2019 [Raptors] team. We were able to do that with Pascal [Siakam], with Marc [Gasol], with Serge [Ibaka], Kawhi, Danny [Green], Kyle [Lowry], me, Fred [VanVleet]. 

"What we had, we were able to give them different lineups throughout the course of the game, whatever the game is dictating, to go big, defense, with length."

While George's return from a long-term elbow injury has already given the Clippers a punchers' chance, Powell gave an update on Leonard, who would completely change the team's expectations if he was to declare himself fit for the playoffs.

"I've just [been] asking [Leonard] how he feels, where his head is at," he said.

"He feels good. Seeing him being able to work out, put some shots up, things like that, I think his rehab is trending in the right direction. 

"As you know, and everybody else, you are not going to get too much information out of Kawhi. They keep everything [under] wraps, but I know he is feeling good and his rehab is progressing."

The Brooklyn Nets came back from a 21-point deficit to storm home in the second half, defeating the New York Knicks 

The Nets' defense struggled early on, conceding 38 points in just the second quarter on the way to trailing 67-50 at half-time.

Knicks' R.J. Barrett was the best player in the first half, and went on to finish with 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, but after his side peaked at a 71-50 lead one minute into the third period, it was all downhill from there.

Brooklyn would hold New York to just 31 points in the entire second half, snatching the lead in the fourth quarter and riding a hot shooting performance from Patty Mills in his return to form.

Mills hit five-of-seven from long range off the bench, including a deep contested step-back with the shot clock winding down late in the fourth quarter, while superstar Kevin Durant was spectacular throughout.

Durant scored 32 points on 11-of-22 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds to go with his 11 assists, while Barrett's shooting tailed off badly, finishing with figures of seven-of-27 from the field and two-of-11 from deep.

The win moves Brooklyn's record to 42-38, which is the same record as the Atlanta Hawks, but the Nets hold the tie-breaker and would finish in the eight seed if the season ended today.

 

Trae Young leads his Hawks in style

Atlanta has been arguably one of the league's most disappointing teams this year, but last season's Eastern Conference Finalists have found some form heading into the play-in tournament, beating the Washington Wizards 118-103 behind another spectacular showing from All-NBA point guard Trae Young.

Young, who in his past 10 games is averaging 29.7 points and 11.1 assists on shooting splits of 48/40/91, was again the best player on the floor against the Wizards, racking up an efficient 30 points (eight-of-17 shooting, 11-of-12 from the free throw line) to go with 11 assists.

Washington's Kristaps Porzingis also deserves a mention for his 26 points (eight-of-16 shooting) and 18 rebounds as the Wizards nearly broke even (minus three) in his 32 minutes played.

 

Celtics stifle struggling Bulls

The Boston Celtics have been the best defensive team in the NBA this season, and made life miserable for the Chicago Bulls for a 117-94 road win.

Both teams will make the playoffs, but while the Celtics have thrived in the second half of the season and look like a contender, the Bulls have stumbled, with no Chicago player scoring more than DeMar DeRozan's 16 points on six-of-16 shooting on Wednesday.

On a down night for Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown picked up the scoring load, finishing with 25 points on 10-of-21 shooting to go with four assists and four steals.

The Miami Heat moved a step closer to claiming the Eastern Conference's first seed with a 114-109 win on the road against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday.

Kyle Lowry put up 16 points and 10 assists in an emotional return to the Air Canada Centre against his old team, while Victor Oladipo scored a season-high 21 points.

Lowry had not played in Toronto since February 2020, when he was still a member of the Raptors, weeks before that season was shut down and moved to a bubble due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Heat had a healthy spread of scorers as Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo scored 18 and 16 points respectively, on the way to winning their fourth consecutive game.

Miami remain two games clear of the Boston Celtics atop the standings in the East, while both teams have only three games remaining in the regular season.

Toronto now hold an equal record with the fifth-placed Chicago Bulls, but the Bulls hold the tiebreaker. However, they remain 2.5 games clear of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the play-in spots.

Bucks no match for Luka magic 

Luka Doncic was unstoppable as his Dallas Mavericks defeated the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks 118-112.

Doncic had 32 points on nine-of-22 shooting, as well as 15 assists, eight rebounds and three steals in a game that saw both coaches cut their rotation down to nine players and extend the minutes of their stars.

Giannis Antetokounmpo top-scored for the Bucks with 28 points on 12-of-22 shooting, but was a costly 50 per cent from the free throw line, going four-of-eight.

Clippers clinch play-in double chance 

The Los Angeles Clippers secured eighth spot in the Western Conference on Sunday, defeating the New Orleans Pelicans 119-100.

Marcus Morris made four three-pointers on the way to 22 points, while the Clippers went 21-of-44 from total beyond the arc and connected on all eight attempts in the first quarter.

The Clips guaranteed the double chance in the play-in with the win, meaning if they lose to the seventh seed, they would face the winner between the ninth and 10th seed for an eventual play-off spot.

After a hard-fought seven-game series in last year's NBA playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets added another chapter to their recent rivalry with an overtime thriller.

The Bucks ended up coming out on top 120-119 thanks to a mammoth performance from two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, finishing with 44 points on 14-of-21 shooting to go with 14 rebounds and six assists.

It was not just the raw numbers for Antetokounmpo, but the situations where he delivered, hitting a crucial step-back three to tie the game at 110-110 with less than 20 seconds remaining in regulation.

Down 118-119 with three seconds left in overtime, Antetokounmpo was fouled, and connected on both free throws to give the Bucks the lead and the win.

Jrue Holiday was crucial for the reigning champions, claiming six steals to go with his 19 points (six-of-18 shooting), eight rebounds and four assists.

Kevin Durant was terrific for the Nets, scoring 26 points on 10-of-21 from the field (three-of-six from long range) and also dishing out 11 assists, while Kyrie Irving chipped in with 25 points (nine-of-22 from the field) with five assists.


DeRozan's 50-piece leads comeback

The Chicago Bulls came back from an 11-point deficit with 4:58 remaining in regulation to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 135-130 in overtime.

After DeMar DeRozan hit three free throws in the final five seconds to tie the game and force overtime, the Clippers were forced to contest the extra period without star Paul George, who had hit his minutes restriction as he returns from a long-term elbow injury.

DeRozan went on to score 50 points on 17-of-26 shooting, while highly-regarded second-year forward Patrick Williams caught the eye coming off the bench, scoring 10 points without missing a shot while adding 12 rebounds and two blocks.

Cunningham shows class

Number one pick from this year's rookie class, Cade Cunningham, showed why he is viewed as a future star in this league as he led his Detroit Pistons to a 102-94 upset against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Cunningham was Detroit's best player, finishing with 27 points (12-of-20 shooting) to go with six assists and four steals and the Pistons out-scored the 76ers 29-15 in the final frame.

Joel Embiid was not to blame for the 76ers struggles, scoring 37 points on 11-of-19 shooting with 15 rebounds.

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