The Philadelphia 76ers got back to winning ways as Doc Rivers hailed the returning Ben Simmons and his defensive combination with Matisse Thybulle.

After losing four in a row, Philadelphia were more like their old selves in a 121-90 drubbing of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday.

Simmons missed the string of losses due to what he described as "a viral thing", but he returned with six-of-eight shooting, four assists, three rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

Rivers is convinced Simmons and Thybulle have a big role to play in paving the way for success this season.

"I don't think I've ever had that," Rivers said of the wing defence strength.

"I've had an incredibly great defensive team... but not at those positions. It's pretty awesome to watch. Those two guys, their closing ability on shots is excellent, absolutely remarkable to watch."

Simmons looked as good as new, according to Rivers.

"He had great energy, great pace. It was Ben being Ben," said the coach. "We lose a lot of pace when he's not on the floor, that's for sure."

As for Simmons, the 24-year-old All-Star welcomed his coach's words, saying: "That means a lot. [Thybulle] has got a high IQ on the floor and it's tough for teams to score when there's two guys like that on the floor."

Simmons added: "I'm just glad to be back. I missed being with the fellas. The energy was great tonight."

The Sixers sit second in the Eastern Conference, one game behind the Brooklyn Nets.

"It's going to be on us to take care of business down the stretch," Simmons said. "We've got a lot of games that are going to be all-important at this stage.

"We're looking forward to the challenge and obviously we need to get in the playoffs. I'm glad I'm back now and we have a few games left to really get that first seeding and I think we can do it.

"If everyone's healthy and able to play, I think we're able to get that. Looking forward, we've got to take control and get that first seeding."

The NBA-leading Utah Jazz were upstaged by the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves for the second time in three nights, beaten 105-104 on Monday.

Utah, who lost 101-96 to the Timberwolves on Saturday, led 104-103 with 6.4 seconds remaining on the road in Minneapolis.

But the Timberwolves rallied, Ricky Rubio finding D'Angelo Russell for the layup before Jazz All-Star Mike Conley (26 points) lost the ball in a scramble on the final possession as time expired.

With the win, the Timberwolves claimed a series sweep of the Jazz – going 3-0 this season. It is the first time in NBA history a team with a win percentage below .300 swept a series of at least three games against a team with a win percentage of at least .700.

Russell posted 27 points behind a season-high seven three-pointers, star team-mate Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds, while Anthony Edwards added 14 points for the Timberwolves (18-44) – who have the joint-second fewest victories this season.

The Jazz (44-17) are now only one game clear of the red-hot Phoenix Suns (43-18) in the Western Conference.

Phoenix closed in on Utah after snapping the New York Knicks' nine-game winning streak via a 118-110 victory.

Devin Booker fuelled the Suns by scoring 33 points, while Chris Paul (20) and Mikal Bridges (21) contributed on the road.

 

Spurs survive shoot-out as Westbrook closes in on record

DeMar DeRozan's 37 points and 10 assists helped the San Antonio Spurs to a 146-143 overtime win at the Washington Wizards, who lost for the first time in eight games. Not even Bradley Beal's game-high 45 points nor Russell Westbrook's league-leading 29th triple-double (22 points, 13 rebounds and 14 assists) could extend Washington's streak. Westbrook now has 175 career triple-doubles, seven away from breaking Oscar Robertson's record for the most in history.

Zion Williamson showcased his efficiency as the New Orleans Pelicans upset the Los Angeles Clippers 120-103. Williamson had 23 points on eight-of-11 shooting, including a three-pointer and five assists.

The Philadelphia 76ers snapped a four-game skid thanks to their 121-90 rout of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Philadelphia had an NBA-season high 22 steals at home to the struggling Thunder, who suffered a franchise-worst tying 14th consecutive defeat. The 76ers went 0-4 in Ben Simmons' absence but the All-Star returned to have 12 points on six-of-eight shooting, four assists, three rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

Double-doubles from Dennis Schroder (21 points and 10 assists) and Andre Drummond (3 points and 11 rebounds) guided defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers past the Orlando Magic 114-103. Anthony Davis had 18 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks for the Lakers.

Michael Porter Jr. put up 31 points as the short-handed Denver Nuggets defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 120-96. MVP candidate Nikola Jokic tallied his league-leading 53rd double-double of 24 points and 15 rebounds.

 

Hawks struggle from beyond the arc

It was a forgettable outing for the Atlanta Hawks, who were beaten 100-86 by the lowly Detroit Pistons. Atlanta were particularly awful from three-point range, where they shot just 14.8 per cent after making only four of their 27 attempts.

The Toronto Raptors topped the Cleveland Cavaliers 112-96, but it was not the best of games from star Fred VanVleet. In 32 minutes, VanVleet was just three-of-10 shooting, making only one of five three-point attempts for eight points.

On a miserable night for the Clippers, Paul George headlined their woes. The All-Star was three-for-11 shooting, while making just one of his six three-point attempts for nine points.

 

Bol Bol with authority!

One of the tallest players in the NBA, Nuggets big man Bol Bol showcased his quick hands and feet en route to the basket as he finished emphatically against the Grizzlies.

 

Monday's results

Detroit Pistons 100-86 Atlanta Hawks
Los Angeles Lakers 114-103 Orlando Magic
Philadelphia 76ers 121-90 Oklahoma City Thunder
San Antonio Spurs 146-143 Washington Wizards (OT)
Phoenix Suns 118-110 New York Knicks
Toronto Raptors 112-96 Cleveland Cavaliers
Chicago Bulls 110-102 Miami Heat
Minnesota Timberwolves 105-104 Utah Jazz
New Orleans Pelicans 120-103 Los Angeles Clippers
Denver Nuggets 120-96 Memphis Grizzlies
Sacramento Kings 113-106 Dallas Mavericks

 

Nets at Raptors

Kevin Durant and the Eastern Conference-leading Brooklyn Nets (41-20) are on the road against the Raptors (26-35) on Tuesday.

There is light at the end of the NBA tunnel. A difficult regular season played out amid the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic is drawing towards a conclusion.

However, there is still plenty to play for in the closing weeks. For some teams it is about jostling for position as a play-off seed, while others are just frantically trying to make it into the postseason.

For those who have found the pace too tough, there comes the chance to give players opportunities to prove their worth. A strong finish can make all the difference to your career prospects.

Following a busy week that has seen some big names return to action, Stats Perform highlights those who have starred – as well as a few who have struggled – between April 19-25.


RUNNING HOT...

Paul George 

With team-mate Kawhi Leonard sidelined due to a foot injury, George has picked up the slack. The seven-time All-Star sat out a win for the Los Angeles Clippers over the Memphis Grizzlies, but scored 33 points against both the Portland Trail Blazers and the Houston Rockets last week.

He also recorded double-digit rebound totals in those outings, helping the Clippers remain firmly in the hunt to finish as the top seeds in the Western Conference. For the season, George is averaging career highs in points per game (24.0), rebounds (6.5) and assists (5.4). He is also shooting 89.1 per cent from the free-throw line.

OG Anunoby

A see-saw season for the Toronto Raptors still may yet wind up with a postseason appearance, though the 2019 champions have some work to do if they are to get inside the top 10 in the East.

Anunoby looks to be set for a strong finish to his campaign, having scored 52 points in his previous two outings following a short spell out of action - the London-born forward had averaged 14.78ppg going into the week. His six three-pointers made against the New York Knicks was a career high, though the landmark came in a losing cause.

Oshae Brissett

Brissett has seized the opportunity to impress for the Indiana Pacers while making four consecutive starts. He reached double figures for points in all of them, including posting a career-high 23 against the Oklahoma City Thunder to celebrate signing a long-term deal with the franchise.

The second-year prospect out of Syracuse played a total of 135 minutes in his rookie season with the Raptors, but nearly matched that number in a week that saw the Pacers win three out of four. Brissett also contributed when it came to rebounds, averaging 9.25 per outing.

GOING COLD...

Anthony Davis

Davis admitted it felt like the Lakers were "starting from zero" after the second outing on his return from an Achilles issue. Prior to his two-month absence, he was averaging 22.5 points per game, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in the season.

However, unsurprisingly considering the amount of time spent off the court, the eight-time All-Star has struggled upon his return (albeit on a minutes restriction). Having shot 2-for-10 from the floor in the first of back-to-back meetings with the Dallas Mavericks, Davis followed up by going 5-for-19 in the second game between the teams.

Gary Trent Jr.

After a ridiculously hot start to life with Toronto following his involvement in a deadline-day trade, Trent Jr. has cooled off in recent outings. That is in part due to a drop in his minutes following the return of some of the regular starters for the Raptors, including back-court duo Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.

The former Portland Trail Blazer still had 23 points against Oklahoma, but then dipped to a combined total of nine in limited action against the Brooklyn Nets and the Knicks. The three-point shooting is also a reason for a dip in points, as he made just one of his nine attempts from the beyond the arc during the past week.

Tobias Harris

Harris' drop in production in recent times has had less to do with him going cold and more to do with injury management. A bothersome right knee kept him out of games against the Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns, both of which the Philadelphia 76ers lost.

His return in a double-header against the Milwaukee Bucks - one of Philadelphia's major rivals in the East - failed to help his team get back to winning ways. Harris had 18 points in the opening game but then just nine in the second, the first time he had recorded a single-digit outing in a game since February 25.

Kevin Durant returned from injury and the Eastern Conference-leading Brooklyn Nets beat the Phoenix Suns 128-119.

Durant made his comeback on Sunday following a three-game absence due to a thigh contusion, the former NBA MVP posting 33 points off the bench.

Nets superstar Durant was 12-for-21 shooting, including two-for-three from three-point range, while tallying six rebounds, four assists and two steals in 28 minutes.

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

Devin Booker's 36 points and a Deandre Ayton double-double of 20 points and 13 rebounds were not enough for the high-flying Suns (42-18) in Brooklyn.

 

Wizards extend streak

The Washington Wizards claimed their eighth successive victory after topping the Cleveland Cavaliers 119-110. Bradley Beal scored 33 points, while Russell Westbrook added 14 points, 11 assists and five rebounds as the former MVP's triple-double run ended at four games. Washington are in the midst of their longest streak since December 2001, during Hall of Famer Michael Jordan's time with the franchise.

Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 31 points and 14 rebounds, but the Milwaukee Bucks still lost 111-104 to the Atlanta Hawks. Bogdan Bogdanovic led the Hawks with 32 points, however, Lou Williams fuelled Atlanta down the stretch by scoring four three-pointers in the final seven minutes.

Double-doubles from Terry Rozier (21 points and 11 assists), P.J. Washington (22 points and 12 rebounds) and Cody Martin (13 points and 10 rebounds) inspired the Charlotte Hornets to a 125-104 victory at home to the Boston Celtics.

Stephen Curry's 37 points, seven rebounds and four assists helped the Golden State Warriors hold off the Sacramento Kings 117-113. Curry has scored at least 30 points for the 13th time in 14 games, his 30th 30-point display of the season.

 

Magic's season goes from bad to worse

Rookie Devin Cannady suffered a gruesome ankle injury as the short-handed and struggling Orlando Magic tasted a fifth consecutive defeat – beaten 131-112 by the Indiana Pacers. Cannady sustained an open fracture of his right ankle in the opening quarter after landing awkwardly.

Robert Covington was far from his best in the Portland Trail Blazers' 120-113 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. In 38 minutes, Covington missed all seven of his field goals, including 0-for-four from three-point range, as he finished with two points.

 

Curry goes deep

Another game, another long-range three. Curry nailed a three-point from just inside half court against the Kings in the opening quarter.

 

Sunday's results

Charlotte Hornets 125-104 Boston Celtics
Brooklyn Nets 128-119 Phoenix Suns
Memphis Grizzlies 120-113 Portland Trail Blazers
Washington Wizards 119-110 Cleveland Cavaliers
Atlanta Hawks 111-104 Milwaukee Bucks
Indiana Pacers 131-112 Orlando Magic
Golden State Warriors 117-113 Sacramento Kings

 

Thunder at 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers (39-21) – second in the east – will look to arrest a four-game slump when they host the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder (20-40) on Monday.

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.

Julius Randle is proud of the way he has followed Kobe Bryant's example with his work ethic to help lead the New York Knicks to fourth in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks beat the Toronto Raptors 120-103 on Saturday to stretch their winning run to nine in a row.

The team have had seven straight losing seasons, missing the playoffs every year since 2012-13, but are now 34-27 and firmly back in contention to make the postseason.

As all season, Randle was the Knicks' standout performer against the Raptors, scoring 31 points to improve his average for the year to 24.0. He also has 10.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game in 2020-21.

This form earned All-Star recognition and could yet see Randle selected to an All-NBA team.

Such a turnaround could hardly have been expected for a player who had averaged 16.1 points per game for his career since he was selected seventh overall in 2014 by Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers superstar's late-career industry rubbed off on Randle, though, with the forward improving this year under Tom Thibodeau, who compared Randle to Knicks great Patrick Ewing.

"That's amazing," Randle said of Thibodeau's comments. "I've actually asked him to talk about that before. He gave me an insight because he saw it first-hand.

"I'm proud of myself for my work ethic. The greats have done it before.

"The guy that I idolised the most and looked up to - which is Kobe - his work ethic was top notch. Nobody was better at putting the time in.

"So, like I say, I'm proud of myself for my work ethic in terms of how I prepare myself to get ready for a season, how I prepare myself to get ready for games."

Thibodeau said: "It always starts with your best players. If they work like that, it sets the tone for the team.

"[Randle] is relentless. It's not an accident that he's having the type of season that he’s having.

"His commitment, I could see it from the first day I met him, just looking at the type of conditioning he had, how committed he was to turning this thing around.

"I can recall back in the '90s, when I first arrived here as an assistant, the thing that blew me away was Patrick Ewing, every morning in the offseason, he was the first guy in the building, worked like crazy, got himself ready, and the rest of the team did the same.

"I think that's leadership. It's not what you say, it's what you do. When you see an example like that, it gives you confidence and gives the team confidence."

This is now the Knicks' longest sequence of wins since 13 straight across March and April 2013, yet Randle is not content.

"We're peaking, but we can still get a lot better," he said.

"Offensively we're playing well, but defensively, for a full 48 minutes, I feel like we can be a lot better."

Anthony Davis feels he is "starting from zero" with his Los Angeles Lakers team-mates following injury, meaning the defending NBA champions must "figure it out on the fly".

Davis missed more than two months with a strained Achilles, finally returning this week for a double-header against the Dallas Mavericks.

The Lakers are still without LeBron James, though, and Davis does not yet look back to himself.

The forward averaged 26.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks last season as the Lakers won the title.

Prior to his injury this year, he had 22.5 points per game, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks, while his shooting from the field improved from 50.3 per cent in 2019-20 to 53.3.

But across two games - both starts - since returning on Thursday, Davis has just 21 points, seven rebounds and a single block in total.

Although he played less than 17 minutes in his first game back, his accuracy from the field has been most concerning, shooting 24.1 per cent having made just seven of his 29 attempts.

The Lakers lost both games to fall to 35-25 in fifth in the Western Conference, now just 1.5 games ahead of the Mavs.

The situation could have been even worse had the Portland Trail Blazers - 2.5 games back in seventh, a dreaded play-in place - not lost four straight.

"It's like you're starting over with the guys and just trying to find a connection with these guys again," Davis said after Saturday's 108-93 defeat.

"They're trying to find a connection with me. So, it's like we're starting from zero, which is tough so late in the season."

He added: "You've got to try to figure it out on the fly, which we're going to have to do."

James, who had 25.4 points, 7.9 assists and 7.9 rebounds and was in MVP contention before he went down, has been out since March 20 with a high ankle sprain.

Dennis Schroder, the team's third-best scorer with 15.6 points, said: "We're going to talk about it.

"I think when Bron comes back, we're going to have a conversation as a team. Because our chemistry off the court is great. But on the court, we've just got to turn it up some more."

DeMar DeRozan out-dueled Zion Williamson down the stretch to give the San Antonio Spurs a 110-108 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. 

DeRozan scored nine of his 32 points in the final three minutes, bringing the visitors back from a late five-point deficit on Saturday. 

The Spurs star made all 12 of his free-throw attempts as San Antonio collectively went 27 of 32 (84.4 per cent) from the line. New Orleans, meanwhile, made only 17 of 32 (53.1 per cent). 

Williamson's ninth point of the 33 he would score gave him 2,000 for his career in just 79 games, which is 10th-fastest in NBA history. That marks the fewest games a player has needed to reach 2,000 points since Michael Jordan did it in his 73rd NBA game in 1985.

Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram added 24 points each for the Pelicans, but they could not overcome all of the missed free throws. 

  

Randle, Knicks win ninth in a row

Julius Randle had 31 points as the New York Knicks rolled past the Toronto Raptors 120-103 for their ninth consecutive win -- the longest streak for New York since they won 13 in a row in 2013. 

Bam Adebayo scored 20 points and added 10 assists as the Miami Heat defeated the Chicago Bulls to move within a half game of the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. 

Rookie Anthony Edwards' 23 points and nine rebounds helped the Minnesota Timberwolves hand the Utah Jazz a rare loss in Salt Lake City, 101-96. Utah are now 26-4 at home this season. 

 

Sixers struggle to score

Playing without Joel Embiid, who missed the game with right shoulder soreness, the Philadelphia 76ers had only one starter score in double figures in a 132-94 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Philadelphia made just 31 of 82 from the field (37.8 per cent) as Shake Milton and Tyrese Maxey led the scoring off the bench with 15 points each. Seth Curry paced the starters with 13 points. 

 

Luka gets the roll

The Dallas Mavericks trailed the Los Angeles Lakers by as many as 17 points on Saturday but stormed back in the fourth quarter thanks in part to Luka Doncic doing what Luka Doncic does.

 

Saturday's results

Milwaukee Bucks 132-94 Philadelphia 76ers
New York Knicks 120-103 Toronto Raptors
Indiana Pacers 115-109 Detroit Pistons
Miami Heat 106-101 Chicago Bulls
San Antonio Spurs 110-108 New Orleans Pelicans
Dallas Mavericks 108-93 Los Angeles Lakers
Minnesota Timberwolves 101-96 Utah Jazz
Denver Nuggets 129-116 Houston Rockets

 

Suns at Nets

An appealing match-up of guards is on tap Sunday as Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns (42-17) visit Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets (40-20). 

Stephen Curry further strengthened his case to be the NBA MVP as he propelled the Golden State Warriors to victory over the Denver Nuggets on Friday, with coach Steve Kerr clearly in no doubt he deserves the award.

Curry is not regarded as a frontrunner to win the Maurice Podoloff Trophy for the third time in his glittering career, with Nuggets center Nikola Jokic and Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid seen as the favourites.

However, Curry continues to make an increasingly compelling argument. Since returning on March 29 from a tailbone contusion that forced him to miss five games, Curry is averaging 37.7 points per game, comfortably the most in the league, with Embiid (30.1) a distant second.

Just once in his previous 13 games has Curry failed to reach 30 points. He has four 40-point games in that span, including a 49-point performance that inspired the Warriors to a win over Embiid's Sixers, as well as a 53-point effort in a victory against Jokic and the Nuggets on April 12.

That display versus Denver saw him rattle home 10 three-pointers. He has hit double-digit threes in four games since April 12, a tally that on its own would be third on the all-time list behind Warriors team-mate Klay Thompson (5) and himself (21).

Curry went four of nine from beyond the arc as he produced a decidedly more modest 32-point game in this latest 118-97 win over the Nuggets.

And Kerr kept it short and sweet when asked if Curry should be the league's MVP. "Yes," he replied with a smile at his post-game media conference.

Curry did not score a point in the first quarter and battled through an ankle injury to find his stroke and delight the 2,000 fans allowed into Chase Center for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic forced spectators out of arenas back in 2020.

"He just felt something in his ankle but the training staff said he was ok to continue. He looked hobbled but then he was fine. I thought he played a great game," Kerr added.

"It took him a while to get into the game, the beauty of Steph is that he's always so poised, no matter what the circumstances and he's always going to find a way to get himself going."

Curry, meanwhile, lavished praise on Draymond Green, who supplied a career-high 19 assists.

"When he gets in a groove like that where he's getting everybody involved, and having a Draymond-type night where scoring's not really the difference-maker, it's the way that he does the intangibles," Curry said.

"And then makes everybody better by getting the ball on time, can finish off plays. He's the smartest basketball player I've played with, and it shows in moments and games like tonight where he just finds a way to impact winning in his own way."

The subject of MVP chants during the game, Curry also had kind words for the supporters who relished their opportunity to watch the action in person once more.

"It was really nice for sure," Curry added. "Considering what we've all been through the last 409 days. That was awesome.

"Even pulling up, driving around the arena when I got here three hours early, you see all the ushers outside waiting to get in, understanding that they're excited to get back to work.

"Just a little bit different of a buzz inside and outside the arena. I know you got to take it slow and obviously keep everybody safe but ramp up how many people can get in the building and slowly but surely get back to a full, packed house where that energy is second to none.

"Us on the floor, we live off of that. You try to bring it when it's an empty arena. You do your best, but it makes such a difference with fans."

Golden State Warriors fans were on hand to witness another stellar Stephen Curry performance as the two-time NBA MVP helped take down Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets 118-97.

The Warriors welcomed fans back to Chase Center for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began – 1,935 supporters in attendance 409 days later.

Those fortunate to be in the building on Friday saw Curry post 32 points on 11-for-18 shooting, with four three-pointers and eight rebounds.

Warriors superstar Curry finished with his 29th 30-point game of the season, his 12th 30-point effort in the last 13 games.

Draymond Green tied his career high with 19 assists and 12 rebounds, his 12th double-double of the season as Kelly Oubre Jr. added 23 points off the bench.

The visiting Nuggets were led by Michael Porter Jr. (26 points), while MVP candidate Jokic managed just 19 points, six rebounds and six assists.

 

Another Westbrook triple-double, another Wizards win

Russell Westbrook put up his fourth consecutive triple-double as the streaking Washington Wizards topped the Oklahoma City Thunder 129-109. In his return to Oklahoma City, former MVP Westbrook had 37 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists to guide the Wizards to a seventh straight victory. Westbrook has nine triple-doubles in his last 10 games and 20 in his past 30. Wizards team-mate Bradley Beal contributed 33 points.

Paul George's 33 points and 14 rebounds guided the Los Angeles Clippers past the lowly Houston Rockets 109-104. John Wall posted 27 points and 13 assists for the Rockets in Houston.

Ja Morant became the third player in NBA history to score 33-plus points while shooting 60-plus per cent from the field and 13-plus assists without committing a turnover, joining Baron Davis (2008) and John Stockton (1989). Morant's 33 points and 13 assists – the first player in franchise history to reach those numbers in the same game – helped the Memphis Grizzlies edge the Portland Trail Blazers 130-128. Jusuf Nurkic's double-double of 26 points and 17 rebounds was not enough for the Trail Blazers.

Jayson Tatum tallied 38 points and 10 rebounds, but the Boston Celtics still lost 109-104 to the injury-hit Brooklyn Nets, who moved top of the Eastern Conference.

 

Scoreless Iguodala

A three-time NBA champion, Andre Iguodala was scoreless in the Miami Heat's 118-103 defeat at the Atlanta Hawks. In 23 minutes, he was 0-for-four shooting, while missing all three of his attempts from beyond the arc.

The Clippers won but not before a woeful third quarter – scoring a season-low 11 points. The Clippers were five of 22 from the field and 0-for-six three-point shooting in the penultimate period against the Rockets.

 

Mike making plays

Mike James signed a 10-day contract with the Nets, having starred in Europe. The 30-year-old, who spent some time playing for the Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans previously, impressed against the Celtics with the pass-fake and sky-hook shot.

 

Friday's results

Atlanta Hawks 118-103 Miami Heat
Brooklyn Nets 109-104 Boston Celtics
Charlotte Hornets 108-102 Cleveland Cavaliers
Los Angeles Clippers 109-104 Houston Rockets
Washington Wizards 129-109 Oklahoma City Thunder
Golden State Warriors 118-97 Denver Nuggets
Memphis Grizzlies 130-128 Portland Trail Blazers

 

76ers at Bucks

The Philadelphia 76ers (39-20) will look to arrest a three-game losing streak and reclaim top spot in the east when they face Giannis Antetokounmpo (36-22) and the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.

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."

Milwaukee Bucks star Jrue Holiday labelled Stephen Curry an "alien" as the Golden State Warriors superstar continues to dazzle in the NBA.

Curry had scored at least 30 points in his previous 11 outings – the longest run by any player aged 33 or over in NBA history – before the two-time MVP's streak came to an end against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday.

Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant previously held the record for successive games with at least 30 points by a player 33 or older, managing 10 in a row in 2012.

Curry's streak started with 32 points against the Chicago Bulls on March 30. Across the 11 games the three-time champion hit 78 three-pointers, also an NBA record.

"He's an alien. I don't understand. I don't understand," 2013 All-Star Holiday said on "The Old Man and the Three" podcast before Friday's clash between the Warriors and Denver Nuggets.

"I fouled him on a half-court shot when we played them [on April 6].

"I'm pretty sure he didn't even look at the rim, and he still almost made it. And they didn't call the foul.

"I'm like what is wrong with you? What do you take [laughter]? Can I get some of it please because you're insane dude."

"He's putting this in the little kids' heads, like this is OK to try," continued Holiday. "No, it's not OK to try. Only he can do this."

Dallas Mavericks veteran JJ Redick, who hosts the podcast, added: "He's on a different planet right now."

"He's tapped into something -- some transcendent level of consciousness or something," he said.

The Milwaukee Bucks have been the regular season pacesetters in the NBA's Eastern Conference in recent seasons, but they sit third heading into the closing stages of the 2020-21 campaign.

It is the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets who instead lead the way, tied with 39-20 records - 2.5 games clear of Milwaukee.

Yet the Sixers had first place outright prior to Thursday's game against the Bucks in which they failed to recover from a tough first quarter.

Philly do not have to wait long for revenge, though, with the two teams meeting once more at Fiserv Forum on Saturday.

MVP challenges are on the line as well as seedings in the East as two potential title contenders get prepared to go again.

TOP PERFORMERS

Joel Embiid - Philadelphia 76ers

Embiid was the MVP favourite until a knee injury at the start of March that forced him to miss almost a month of action.

He was averaging 29.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game and the 76ers had a 24-7 record with him on the floor. They were 2-5 in the seven games Embiid missed prior to his extended lay-off.

The center returned earlier this month, seemingly with enough time to wrestle the top individual award back from Nikola Jokic, and he has since averaged 30.1 points, missing only a single game.

But the Sixers have now lost three in a row and Embiid's hopes appear to be fading after he was outshone by the reigning MVP.

Giannis Antetokounmpo - Milwaukee Bucks

It does not appear there will be a third MVP win in a row for Antetokounmpo after his momentum was checked by sitting six straight games.

But the 'Greek Freak' was back to his best against the 76ers, scoring a game-high 27 points, and can focus instead on a first title triumph in the postseason.

And Antetokounmpo feels playing a fellow challenger again on Saturday "prepares you for the playoffs".

"Playing teams back to back is awesome," he said.

"On Saturday, they're going to come out and they're going to play harder, they're going to try to execute. We've got to do the same. We've got to do exactly the same."

KEY BATTLE - SLOW START CAN SINK SIXERS

For the 76ers, "playing harder" will have to start from the tip-off. Their 14-point first-quarter deficit proved too significant against such a talented team.

As the Sixers missed one of the best defensive players in the league in Ben Simmons due to illness, Milwaukee firmly had the upper hand early on.

Philadelphia had no answer as they allowed 40 points, their second-worst mark in a first quarter this year. This came as the Bucks shot at 73.7 per cent from the field through 12 minutes, the best rate among the Sixers' 2020-21 opponents.

Jrue Holiday, a star on both ends, had seven of his 12 points in the first three minutes alone.

"That first quarter, they get every shot they wanted," Doc Rivers said. "We didn't offer any resistance."

HEAD TO HEAD

Thursday's game was the teams' second this season and the second Milwaukee victory after they won in overtime in March, again led by Antetokounmpo (32 points, 15 rebounds).

Antetokounmpo has averaged 20.8 points for his career but 22.6 against the 76ers, against whom he boasts a 19-5 record and posted a career-high 52 in 2019.

The Bucks have a 113-102 lead over Philadelphia all-time in the regular season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo felt the Milwaukee Bucks were "locked in" from the start after recording a fourth successive win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Bucks scored 77 points in the first half before holding off a 76ers fightback to triumph 124-117 in a battle between two of the leading contenders in the Eastern Conference.

Antetokounmpo led the way with 27 points, though the two-time NBA MVP had plenty of help from his colleagues. Khris Middleton had 24 points while Bobby Portis contributed 23 off the bench.

Milwaukee landed 20 of their 40 three-point attempts as a team, though Antetokounmpo was just as impressed with their efforts when not in possession of the ball.

"Guys were finding open guys, getting downhill, knocking down shots. Everybody set the tone from the start," Antetokounmpo told the media.

"From the start, you could see that everyone was locked in. Defensively also, we really seemed locked in.

"Offensively, we found one another and knocked down shots."

Joel Embiid had 24 points for the 76ers, though he landed just nine of his 21 shot attempts - including going 0-for-4 from three-point range.

Antetokounmpo praised the work done by Milwaukee center Brook Lopez when going up against Embiid, with the Bucks happy to let the MVP candidate take jump shots rather than work closer to the basket.

"Embiid is a great player, he's been playing well all season long," Antetokounmpo said.

"You've got to live with that jump shot. You don't want to send him to the free-throw line and you don't want him to get downhill, with his right hook, and get an easy lay-up.

"The gameplan was good - he was going to shoot his jump shot all night. If he makes it all night? Great. But if you don't make it, it's good for us.

"Brook did a great job on him, but he [Embiid] is a great player too."

Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers felt his team - still without Ben Simmons due to an unspecified illness - paid the price for a slow start, insisting his team were "soft" defensively to allow Milwaukee to open up a commanding lead.

The 76ers hit back as they held their opponents to just 16 points in the fourth quarter, though in the end the gap proved just too big.

"Everybody seemed fatigued, not just Joel, I would love to say Joel played better than most of our guys tonight," Rivers said.

"I just felt like we were late on everything. We were soft tonight defensively. That first quarter, they get every shot they wanted. We didn't offer any resistance."

Anthony Davis still needs to "get his legs under him" and there will be some "rust" as he works his way back to full fitness, says Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel.

Davis made his long-awaited return from injury as the Lakers went down to the Dallas Mavericks 115-110 on Thursday, scoring four points, grabbing four rebounds, providing one assist and blocking one shot in 17 minutes.

Davis had been absent since February 14 due to tendinosis and a calf strain in his right leg, missing 30 games for the defending NBA champions.

The Lakers were outscored by 13 points during Davis' time on court and he went just two-for-10 shooting, but Vogel said it will take some time for him to get up to full speed.

"He still needs to get his legs under him, as to be expected," Vogel said.

"You can't simulate NBA action on a practice court, so that's what tonight is going to be about. That's what the next few games are going to be about.

"So we anticipate him having some rust and working out some timing while getting his legs back under him. But this is an important first step for sure."

For his part, Davis was excited to be back playing, even if it was a source of frustration having to take a watching brief in the second half.

"I think it was 15-20 [minutes] was the number, it's just tough when you haven't played in two months, you're not going to get close to that 20 mark," he said.

"I felt good out there, I was able to do some things to give the team a little juice. I came out with a good start, it's just tough when you're able to play and then you have got to watch the whole second half and not be able to contribute on the floor. But I think I felt fine for the most part.

"I didn't think about it [the injury] one time tonight, honestly I just went out there and played. I think you kind of limit what you do if you go out there thinking about your injury.

"I just went out there and played, not think about it, and have some fun. I was just excited to be out there with the guys. I had no limits to any moves. That was a good sign for me."

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