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).

The Boston Celtics secured the second seed in the Eastern Conference following their 139-110 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night, the regular-season finale for both teams.

With the second seed in the Western Conference already secured, Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins rested a number of starters including Ja Morant, Steven Adams, Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr. Desmond Bane and Brandon Clarke were listed as questionable and while not ruled out, finished with DNPs.

Although the Celtics had a full complement in a game they needed to win, the weakened opposition did not cause tunnel vision, as they shared the ball to come up with 34 assists as a team.

Jayson Tatum came up with three of his own, along with 31 points on 11-of-14 shooting and nine rebounds to lead the way for the Celtics.

In an odd statistical quirk given the situation, the Grizz's John Konchar claimed the first triple-double of his career, finishing with 17 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.

Dubs find their groove to clinch third seed

The Golden State Warriors clinched the third seed in the Western Conference with their 128-107 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Klay Thompson made seven three-pointers and scored 41 points for the Warriors, who have impressively managed to close out the season without Stephen Curry on a five-game winning streak.

While Jordan Poole's 22 points off seven-of-16 shooting lightened the load, Jonathan Kuminga again scored a critical 18 points off the bench and gave the team important balance.

Doncic strains calf in Mavs win

Luka Doncic strained his left calf in the Dallas Mavericks' 130-120 win over the San Antonio Spurs, putting the Slovenian star's status in question for the playoffs.

The two-time All-Star would not have been eligible for what was ultimately a meaningless game – following the Warriors win - if the NBA did not rescind his 16th technical foul of the season, which he earned in the previous game against the Portland Trailblazers.

Doncic led Dallas with 26 points, nine assists and eight rebounds but sat the second half, with his ability to play against the Utah Jazz in the playoffs now in doubt.

Joel Embiid made his closing statement for the MVP award and all but wrapped up the NBA scoring title in the Philadelphia 76ers' 133-120 win over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.

Embiid put up monster numbers of 41 points, 20 rebounds and four assists, while going 14-of-17 from the floor and 11-of-15 from the free-throw line. It was the first time this NBA season that a player scored 40 points or more and had 20 or more rebounds in a game.

The 28-year-old is currently the league's scoring leader, averaging an astounding 30.6 points per game, just ahead of LeBron James' 30.3 and Kevin Durant's 30.1 points per game.

James Harden had 22 points and 14 assists for Philadelphia, who had a healthy spread of scorers with Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey both scoring 18 points, and Danny Green adding 15.

The Sixers remain in the hunt for the Eastern Conference's third seed with the win, moving to the same record as the Boston Celtics at 50-31, while the Milwaukee Bucks are second at 51-30.

A win over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday combined with a Boston loss to the Memphis Grizzlies would move the Sixers into the third seed.

Morant makes timely return for Grizzlies

Ja Morant returned to action after a nine-game absence on Saturday night, as the Memphis Grizzlies secured a comfortable 141-114 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Morant finished with 21 points off seven-of-14 shooting, along with nine assists and four rebounds, while Jaren Jackson Jr. contributed a solid 12 points, nine rebounds and four blocks.

The Grizzlies are set to finish second in the Western Conference, to face the winner of the 7-8 matchup in the play-in between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers.

Warriors continue winning run

The Golden State Warriors claimed their fourth consecutive victory despite an off shooting night from Jordan Poole, defeating the San Antonio Spurs on the road 100-94.

With Stephen Curry yet to return from injury and Klay Thompson rested, Poole had to take on more offensive responsibility and went three-of-19 from the floor in win.

A combined 30 points at nine-of-14 shooting off the bench from Jonathan Kuminga and Nemanja Bjelica was able to counteract it, along with 12 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists from Draymond Green.

All-Star guard Ja Morant was content with his return ahead of the playoffs after missing the past three weeks with knee soreness.

Morant had not played since March 18 for the Memphis Grizzlies but returned with 21 points, four rebounds and nine assists in a 141-114 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

The 56-25 Grizzlies are locked into the second seed in the Western Conference, with Morant's return coming with the playoffs around the corner.

"[I] felt like I needed a game or two to get my legs back under me," Morant told reporters.

"Get the game-type feel, nothing compares to a game, whether its practice or whatever. Just wanted to be ready to go.

"Obviously been in and out of the line-up, my teammates were playing a lot of basketball without me. I was just going out there to adapt."

Despite his All-Star status, the Grizzlies have a remarkable 20-4 record without Morant this season.

The 22-year-old point guard said it was important he developed synergy with his teammates, likely with two games fielding their preferred starting line-up ahead of the playoffs of Morant, Dillon Brooks, Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr and Steven Adams.

Morant has only played 12 games alongside Brooks this season, while he has had limited opportunities alongside Steven Adams who moved to Memphis from the Pelicans in the off-season.

"One hundred per cent," Morant said about the significance of developing connection among the starting five. "Obviously I've played with Dillon since I've been here and most of the other guys I've played with before, so I know their game.

"Being out there at the same time as Steveo [Adams] to get that chemistry, it's basically the starting line-up I felt like we did a very good job tonight."

Morant continued: "Tonight I felt like we looked damn good. Look at that third quarter [55-33 points]. Obviously there's some stuff we've still got to correct."

The 2019 NBA Draft second pick added that he had no preference on second seed Memphis' playoffs opponents, with the side to face either the Los Angeles Clippers or Minnesota Timberwolves via the play-in tournament.

"I really don’t care who we play," he said. "I'm focused on us getting better and being ready to play. No matter who it is, we go out in the games the same way."

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.

Anthony Davis is not giving up hope of the Los Angeles Lakers making the playoffs despite a damaging defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday.

Former Pelican Davis returned from injury, alongside LeBron James, but his 23 points and 12 rebounds could not rescue the Lakers from a 114-111 loss.

It leaves the Lakers still in 11th place and now three games back on the ninth-placed Pelicans. Crucially, the San Antonio Spurs, in the final play-in berth in 10th, have a full game advantage over LA.

The standings do not make for pretty reading for the Lakers, and Kendrick Perkins – Davis' former Pelicans team-mate – declared on Twitter after the game New Orleans had "put the Lakers out of their misery".

Davis still has belief, though, and insists it is not merely blind "hope", even if the Lakers have lost five in a row and have only five games remaining.

"Our mindset is to go 5-0 in these games and let the chips fall where they may," Davis said.

"We dropped this one, but we've got five left to try to control what we can control, and hopefully things fall in our favour.

"I think there is a lot of belief. We know what we're playing for. We know the position that we're in. We know we're playing against some top teams. So, I think we have to believe.

"I don't think it's hope. We don't play off hope and 'let's hope we win this game'. We have belief and I believe.

"We've got to go out and get it done. It's that simple. We have to win these games and we have to have that approach."

LeBron James acknowledged the Los Angeles Lakers lost a "must-win" game at home to the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday but insisted their season is not over yet.

The Lakers, who are 11th in the West, went down 114-111 to the ninth-placed Pelicans. With the San Antonio Spurs also winning in 10th, LA fell a full game outside the play-in tournament.

It was a fifth defeat in a row for the Lakers and came despite the team hurrying James and Anthony Davis back from injuries.

James scored 38 points in a mammoth 40-minute shift, yet an air ball from three-point range at the buzzer sealed the loss.

Afterwards, the four-time MVP – still in pole position for the scoring title with 30.3 points per game – was understandably disheartened.

"The big picture is that it pretty much was a must-win for us," James said, "and we didn't get the job done.

"We had great opportunities throughout the night, and we didn't make enough plays down the stretch. So that's the big picture.

"It just feels like you can't catch a break. No matter what's going on on the floor, it just feels like the ball bounces the other way, the ball doesn't always bounce in our favour, or a call doesn't go in our favour.

"It's just like when it rains, it pours for our year. It's just the way it's been going."

However, he added: "Until it says we're eliminated, it doesn't. Until that moment, we'll know what our destiny is, but right now, we don't. So we keep pushing forward."

If the season ended today, the Los Angeles Lakers would not even make the play-in tournament after a painful 114-111 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

The loss moves the Lakers' record to 31-46, and 4-16 in their past 20 games.

The Lakers built this game up as a must-win, re-inserting Anthony Davis to the line-up from a lengthy absence and LeBron James from an ankle sprain, but ultimately could not get stops down the stretch.

James was terrific, scoring 38 points on 13-23 shooting, while Davis was also strong, scoring 23 points (eight-of-17 shooting) to go with 12 rebounds and six assists. During Davis' 37 minutes on the floor, the Lakers were plus four.

But the Pelicans' duo of C.J. McCollum and Brandon Ingram would not be denied, as McCollum led the way with 32 points (12-of-23 shooting), while Ingram chipped in with an efficient 29 on 10-of-17 shooting to go with eight rebounds and seven assists.

The Lakers' five remaining games are at home against the Denver Nuggets, away at the Phoenix Suns, away at the Golden State Warriors, at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and away against the Nuggets.

The San Antonio Spurs currently lead the race for the 10 seed by one game.

 

Fill-in Grizzlies fill it up

Another game without Ja Morant, and another win for the Memphis Grizzlies as they got the better of the full-strength Phoenix Suns 122-114.

As well as Morant, Memphis was without center Steven Adams, Defensive Player of the Year candidate Jaren Jackson Jr and emerging shooting guard Desmond Bane, but in front of their home fans the replacement Grizzlies were up to the task.

Dillon Brooks top-scored for the Grizzlies with 30 points (11-of-28 shooting) and seven assists, while Devin Booker had 41 points on 17-of-28 shooting for the Suns.

Memphis are now 20-2 in games Morant has missed.

 

Celtics win a shootout, Covington goes bananas 

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both surpassed 30 points in the Boston Celtics' 128-123 win against the Indiana Pacers.

Tatum finished with 31 on 10-of-24 shooting, while Brown had 32 on 12-of-18, but the Celtics had to withstand a sharpshooting display from Tyrese Haliburton, who had 30 points on 10-of-11 shooting, including six-of-six from long range.

Meanwhile, Robert Covington played the game of his life as his Los Angeles Clippers beat an undermanned Milwaukee Bucks side 153-119.

Covington finished with 43 points, going 11-of-18 from three-point range, setting a new franchise record for threes made in a game, beating J.J. Redick and Caron Butler's previous joint-record of nine.

If the season ended today, the Los Angeles Lakers would not even make the play-in tournament after a painful 114-111 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

The loss moves the Lakers' record to 31-46, and 4-16 in their past 20 games.

The Lakers built this game up as a must-win, re-inserting Anthony Davis to the line-up from a lengthy absence and LeBron James from an ankle sprain, but ultimately could not get stops down the stretch.

James was terrific, scoring 38 points on 13-23 shooting, while Davis was also strong, scoring 23 points (eight-of-17 shooting) to go with 12 rebounds and six assists. During Davis' 37 minutes on the floor, the Lakers were plus four.

But the Pelicans duo of C.J. McCollum and Brandon Ingram would not be denied, as McCollum led the way with 32 points (12-of-23 shooting), while Ingram chipped in with an efficient 29 on 10-of-17 shooting to go with eight rebounds and seven assists.

The Lakers' five remaining games are at home against the Denver Nuggets, away at the Phoenix Suns, away at the Golden State Warriors, at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and away against the Nuggets.

The San Antonio Spurs currently lead the race for the 10 seed by one game.

 

Fill-in Grizzlies fill it up

Another game without Ja Morant, and another win for the Memphis Grizzlies as they got the better of the full-strength Phoenix Suns 122-114.

As well as Morant, Memphis was without center Steven Adams, Defensive Player of the Year candidate Jaren Jackson Jr and emerging shooting guard Desmond Bane, but in front of their home fans the replacement Grizzlies were up to the task.

Dillon Brooks top-scored for the Grizzlies with 30 points (11-of-28 shooting) and seven assists, while Devin Booker had 41 points on 17-of-28 shooting for the Suns.

Memphis are now 20-2 in games Morant has missed.

 

Celtics win a shoot-out, Covington goes bananas 

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both surpassed 30 points in the Boston Celtics' 128-123 win against the Indiana Pacers.

Tatum finished with 31 on 10-of-24 shooting, while Brown had 32 on 12-of-18, but the Celtics had to withstand a sharpshooting display from Tyrese Haliburton, who had 30 points on 10-of-11 shooting, including six-of-six from long range.

Meanwhile, Robert Covington played the game of his life as his Los Angeles Clippers beat an undermanned Milwaukee Bucks side 153-119.

Covington finished with 43 points, going 11-of-18 from three-point range, setting a new franchise record for threes made in a game, beating J.J. Redick and Caron Butler's previous joint-record of nine.

After scoring 11 points in the first quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers' 116-108 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, LeBron James suffered an ankle injury early in the second term that he called "horrible".

James ended up staying in the game, and went on to score 39 points on 14-of-27 shooting, but he admitted after the game that it was more serious than he hoped.

After scoring 69 points in the first half, the Lakers were a different side after the break, scoring just 39 points over the final two quarters while the Pelicans scored 41 in the third quarter alone.

Speaking to post-game media, James said he would have "probably not" finished the game if he did not feel it was a crucial fixture for his side.

"I have no idea how I finished the game after watching the replay, it was pretty nasty," he said.

"I lost all explosiveness… a lot of my game was on the perimeter after that. It's horrible right now.

"From the time that I turned my ankle I felt a sharp pain run up my leg and get hot, and I've been there with ankle sprains before, but I didn't want to come out of the game.

"I understood how big of a game it was for us."

James was blunt when describing how it felt to come up short in a game that was built up as a near must-win internally.

"It feels like sh** – excuse my language, but that's what it feels like," he said.

"I came in with the mindset understanding that it was a playoff-type atmosphere with playoff implications.

"We also have a lot of guys in our ball club who haven't played in playoff games as well… [New Orleans] have guys who have been in the postseason.

"It feels like a wasted opportunity."

Also speaking with post-game media, head coach Frank Vogel preached urgency as the playoffs rapidly approach.

"Time's running out on us – we came out with the proper urgency for this game, but weren't able to close it," he said.

"It's over, this game is over, and we have to turn the page to the next one.

"It's not good – it hurts, this was a big game – but we have to regroup and find a way to beat Dallas and get some wins down the stretch here."

On James' injury, Vogel said it was a brave effort to stick it out until the end.

"It's tough – it has been that kind of season, and [James] was in an incredible groove when it happened," he said.

"Credit to him for toughing it out – you could see that he was limited on it somewhat the rest of the way, but he battled through it."

After some results fell their way, the new Eastern Conference one seed Philadelphia 76ers went head-to-head with the Western Conference one seed Phoenix Suns in a potential NBA Finals preview.

Unfortunately for the 76ers, their time on top was short-lived as the Suns' 114-104 home win sent the away side toppling down to fourth in the Eastern Conference standings.

MVP favourite Joel Embiid was enormous for the 76ers, scoring 37 points on 14-of-27 shooting to go with 15 rebounds, three steals and two blocks, but it was not enough to beat a Phoenix team that has now won 61 games this season – one short of their franchise record of 62 set in 1992-93 and 2004-05.

For the Suns, Devin Booker was the star, scoring an efficient 35 points on 13-of-22 shooting (three-of-five from long range), while Chris Paul dished out 14 assists to go with his 19 points.

As a team, Phoenix shot over 51 per cent from the field, and 48 per cent from three-point range.

 

Boston takes the one seed – for now

As Philadelphia fell from the top spot, the Boston Celtics took the opportunity to assume the position atop the Eastern Conference musical chairs, beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 134-112.

Boston's two centrepieces were both at the top of their game, with Jayson Tatum scoring 34 points on 12-of-21 shooting and dishing six assists, while Jaylen Brown had 31 points on 12-of-20 shooting with his 10 rebounds.

Boston, Philadelphia, the Miami Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks are all separated by just a half-game in a four-way race for the one seed and home-court advantage throughout the Eastern playoffs.

 

Lakers lose again despite LeBron heroics

As has become a theme this season, a terrific LeBron James performance was not enough to carry the Los Angeles Lakers to victory, going down 116-108 to the New Orleans Pelicans.

James had 39 points on 14-of-27 shooting, including seven-of-13 from long range, to go with nine rebounds and five assists in the loss.

In his first game back from a 10-match absence due to injury, Brandon Ingram was the man for the Pelicans, scoring 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting with seven rebounds and five assists, while rookie sensation Herb Jones claimed six steals.

DeMar DeRozan sat out the Chicago Bulls' 126-109 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday due to a groin strain which they feared may turn into "something bigger".

The loss meant the Bulls have suffered their fifth loss from their past six games, sliding to a 42-31 record and hanging on to fifth spot in the Eastern Conference.

DeRozan had been feeling some tightness in his groin recently, with a modest return of 21 points, four rebounds and two assists in Tuesday's 126-98 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks before sitting out against the Pelicans.

"DeMar knows his body better than anybody else," Bulls head coach Billy Donovan told reporters before Thursday's game.

"I think he felt like, 'Okay, this could get into something else a little bit more significant if I don't take care of this.'

"We just don't want it to turn into something bigger."

Donovan said the Bulls would know more on DeRozan's status on Friday ahead of their next game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday.

Devin Booker put on a show with 49 points as Chris Paul returned from a broken wrist as the Phoenix Suns clinched top spot in the Western Conference with a 140-130 win over the Denver Nuggets.

Booker's 49 points was a season-high, while 36-year-old Paul returned for the first time since February 20 with 17 points, including 15 in the first half, and 13 assists as the Suns secured their sixth straight win.

Three-time All-Star Booker shot 16-of-25 from the field and also had 10 assists, with Mikal Bridges contributing 22 points from eight-of-nine shooting.

The win means the Suns have secured the NBA's best record for the third time in franchise history, following on from 1992-93 and 2004-05.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic had 28 points with six rebounds and six assists for the Nuggets, who are 43-31 and holding on to sixth spot in the Western Conference.

 

Grizzlies and Bucks win without stars

The Memphis Grizzlies won again without Ja Morant with a 133-103 victory over the Indiana Pacers. Desmond Bane scored 30 points with five assists and five rebounds as the Grizzlies improved to 16-2 without Morant.

The Milwaukee Bucks triumphed without Khris Middleton (wrist) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) with Jrue Holiday starring with 24 points and 10 assists in a 114-102 win over the Washington Wizards.

Pascal Siakam equalled his season-high 35 points as the Toronto Raptors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 117-104 in a crucial game in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

 

DeRozan out as Bulls slide continues

The Chicago Bulls slipped to their fifth defeat from their past six games, going down 126-109 to the New Orleans Pelicans. The Bulls are fifth in the east with a 42-31 record, just ahead of the Cavs and Raptors (both 41-32).

The Bulls, who were without DeMar DeRozan due to a left groin issue, were dominated 40-24 by the Pels in the fourth quarter, led by Devonte' Graham (30 points including five three-pointers) and Jonas Valanciunas (16 points and 19 rebounds).

Zach LaVine was Chicago's best with 39 points in DeRozan's absence, going 12-of-23 from the field, while Coby White added 23 points off the bench including five triples.

Another road game, and another virtuoso performance from Kyrie Irving in the Brooklyn Nets' 150-108 win over the Orlando Magic.

Unable to play in home games due to New York's vaccine mandate, Irving made the most of Brooklyn's trip to Orlando, scoring a ridiculous 41 points (14-19 from the field) in just the first half.

In an explosive team performance, the Nets scored 48 points in the first quarter, while Irving and Kevin Durant combined for 26. Irving went on to score another 25 of his side's 38 in the second period.

Irving eventually sat with more than eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter, with his team up by 37 and his personal tally at a career-best 60 points on 20-31 shooting, 8-12 from the perimeter and 12-13 from the free-throw line.

It also sets a new franchise record for the Nets, beating Deron Williams' 57 back in 2012.

Irving's previous high-scores were 57 points and 55 points, which he scored within two months of each other in the 2014-15 season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The massive total ties the most points scored in an NBA game this season, matching Karl-Anthony Towns' mark which he set just yesterday.

The Phoenix Suns became the first team to secure a playoff spot with an impressive 111-90 defeat of the Miami Heat on Wednesday.

Devin Booker returned from a four-game absence to put up 23 points, nine assists and eight rebounds as the leaders of the West toppled the top side in the East.

The Suns, who are 53-13 for the season, have now beaten all other 29 teams in the same season for the first time since 2006-07.

"I told the guys it was one of the best defensive performances I've ever seen," said Suns coach Monty Williams after watching his team concede just 35 points in the second half. "I've been around for a little bit."

Duncan Robinson was top scorer for Miami with 22, who led by 11 in the early stages before falling to just their third defeat in 15 games.

"They were first to the ball a lot," said Robinson. "They were the aggressor. Unacceptable."

 

The Milwaukee Bucks are now two games behind the Heat at the top of the Eastern Conference after beating the Atlanta Hawks 124-115, with Giannis Antetokounmpo's double-double of 43 points and 12 rebounds firing them to a sixth-straight win.

Antetokounmpo finished 15-of-22 from the field to take his tally to 82 points in the space of 24 hours after his 39 in Tuesday's victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

"The things he does are not normal," said team-mate Bobby Portis. "It's fun to be his team-mate and fun to play alongside him."

Rockets stun Lakers in overtime

The Los Angeles Lakers lost for the ninth time in a row on the road, going down 139-130 in overtime against the Houston Rockets.

A triple-double from LeBron James and 30 points from Russell Westbrook were not enough as rookie Jalen Green hit a career-high 32 points for the Rockets.

"We have a really small margin of error this season and teams are making us pay," said James, whose run of consecutive 25-point games ended at 23. "I missed a lot of shots that I know I'm capable of making, have made throughout the course of the season and my career."

The Los Angeles Clippers snapped their two-game losing streak, beating the Washington Wizards 115-109, while the Utah Jazz improved to 41-24 with a comfortable 123-85 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Bulls back on track, Beasley sets record

The Chicago Bulls ended a run of five consecutive losses, DeMar DeRozan scoring 36 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter, in a 114-108 win over the Detroit Pistons.

It was a day to remember for Malik Beasley, who set a franchise record for three-pointers in the Minnesota Timberwolves' win at home over the Thunder.

Beasley landed 11 of his 17 attempts from beyond the arc as Minnesota, seventh in the West, made it six wins in a row.

The Boston Celtics continued their recent good form with a 115-101 win at the Charlotte Hornets, while the New York Knicks pulled off a fifth-straight road win over the Dallas Mavericks, Julius Randle scoring 26 points in a 107-77 blowout.

Gregg Popovich will have to wait for his NBA record 1,336th regular-season win as coach, the San Antonio Spurs falling 119-104 at home to the Toronto Raptors.

There were also wins for the Orlando Magic, who topped the New Orleans Pelicans 108-102, and the Denver Nuggets, who beat the Sacramento Kings 106-100 thanks to a 38-point double-double from Nikola Jokic.

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