Joel Embiid confessed he thought his season was done after returning from a 10-game injury lay-off in the Philadelphia 76ers' 122-113 beating of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Last month, Embiid crumbled to the floor after his leg buckled during the third quarter of the 76ers' beating of the Washington Wizards.

Fortunately for Embiid and Philadelphia the issue was not as bad as he first feared and he has been recovering from bone bruising to his left knee.

The team rallied in his absence by going 7-3 in that timeframe and Embiid reflected on that night in Washington.

"When I got hurt, and was laying on the floor in Washington, honestly, I thought I was done," Embiid said.

"I thought my season was done. The pain, how bad it was hurting, I just knew that it was something worse than we saw after.

"I was just crying and asking myself, 'Why me? Why does it always happen to me? When everything seems to be going well with the team and myself, something always has to happen'."

There were positives to take for Embiid, who finished with 24 points, eight rebounds and two assists in the win.

But there was, as perhaps you would expect, a little rust. By the end of the contest, he had four turnovers, was six for 14 from the field and missed with each of his four three-point attempts.

Embiid said part of the problem was the knee brace he was wearing and is confident his rhythm will return in time.

"Defensively, it's easy. I've got to just be myself. Block shots and protect the paint, not let anything get in there," he added. 

"But offensively, I'm going to kind of blame the brace I was wearing. It just felt like I just didn't have the rhythm all game. It felt like I had an itch on my shot, every single shot. It wasn't smooth.

"I had no rhythm. I hate the brace and that was part of it.

"I just have to get used to it, play with it and hope it keeps getting better. But offensively, I had way too many turnovers."

The 76ers and the Brooklyn Nets are neck and neck with 34-15 records in the Eastern Conference.

The Utah Jazz enjoyed a record-breaking performance as the NBA leaders crushed the lowly Orlando Magic 137-91.

Utah set an NBA record for three-pointers in a half – 18 in the first – en route to a ninth consecutive victory on Saturday.

Donovan Mitchell (22 points) made six-of-seven shots from three-point range for the Jazz, who finished with 26 threes in total.

The Jazz have now hit 25-plus threes on four occasions this season – only the 2018-19 Houston Rockets have achieved the feat in league history.

Joe Ingles (17 points) contributed five threes, while Bojan Bogdanovic (17 points) was four-of-six from beyond the arc in Utah, where the Jazz extended their franchise-best home winning streak to 22.

"This is one of those nights for us where we played really well, and we played the right way," said Jazz head coach Quin Snyder. "We played a team that is going through a transition. That said, we were happy with the way we played and continue to emphasize our identity as a team."

In Philadelphia, All-Star and MVP candidate Joel Embiid returned from a 10-game absence to help the 76ers past the Minnesota Timberwolves 122-113.

Embiid had been sidelined since last month due to bone bruising in his left knee but made his long-awaited comeback against the Timberwolves, posting 24 points and eight rebounds.

Sixers team-mate Tobias Harris top-scored with 32 points as Philadelphia moved level with the idle Brooklyn Nets atop the Eastern Conference.

Karl-Anthony Towns' monster display of 39 points and 14 rebounds were not enough for the Timberwolves, who also had 27 points from Anthony Edwards.

 

Holiday fuels Giannis-less Bucks

With two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo absent due to left knee soreness, Jrue Holiday starred with a double-double of 33 points (a season high) and 11 assists to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a 129-128 win at the Sacramento Kings. Milwaukee team-mate Donte DiVincenzo (12 points and 14 rebounds) also had a double-double.

Russell Westbrook's 26 points and 14 rebounds were not enough as the Washington Wizards were swept aside by the Dallas Mavericks 109-87.

The Miami Heat topped the Cleveland Cavaliers behind double-doubles from Bam Adebayo (18 points and 11 rebounds) and Jimmy Butler (15 points and 11 assists).

All-Star Julius Randle posted 20 of his 29 points in the first quarter to inspire the New York Knicks' 125-81 rout of the Detroit Pistons. The Knicks, who snapped a three-game skid, recorded their largest margin of victory since 1996.

 

Horror show for Thunder

It was a forgettable game for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were humbled 133-85 by the Portland Trail Blazers. The Thunder shot at just 35.3 per cent away to the Trail Blazers. Theo Maledon was one-of-12 shooting from the field, making just one of his seven three-point attempts for seven points in 22 minutes. Thunder team-mate Aleksej Pokusevski was three-of-13 from the field.

It was a similar story for Terrence Ross and the Magic. Ross was two of 11 from the field in 26 minutes off the bench.

 

Turner tames Spurs

Myles Turner was an immovable force during the closing stages, his defense thwarting the San Antonio Spurs as the Indiana Pacers prevailed 139-133 in overtime.

 

Saturday's results

Dallas Mavericks 109-87 Washington Wizards
New York Knicks 125-81 Detroit Pistons
Miami Heat 115-101 Cleveland Cavaliers
Philadelphia 76ers 122-113 Minnesota Timberwolves
Indiana Pacers 139-133 San Antonio Spurs (OT)
Utah Jazz 137-91 Orlando Magic
Portland Trail Blazers 133-85 Oklahoma City Thunder
Milwaukee Bucks 129-128 Sacramento Kings

 

Lakers at Clippers

Bragging rights will be on the line when injury-hit defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers (31-18) face neighbours the Los Angeles Clippers (32-18) – who have dropped two straight games – on Sunday.

Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Joel Embiid has been named in the starting five to face the Minnesota Timberwolves in his long-awaited return from a knee injury.

An NBA MVP candidate before suffering bone bruising in his left knee, Embiid has not played since the March 13 win over the Washington Wizards.

But Embiid will make his way back on to the court in Saturday's visit of the lowly Timberwolves (12-37), with the 76ers (33-15) only a half-game behind the Brooklyn Nets (34-15) in the Eastern Conference.

Embiid, who posted 23 points before exiting against Washington, is averaging a career-high 29.9 points per game in 2020-21.

The 27-year-old Embiid has also been averaging career highs in field-goal percentage (52.5) and three-point percentage (42.2).

Embiid scored 37 points in the previous meeting between the 76ers and Timberwolves this season on January 29 – Philadelphia winning 118-94.

The Brooklyn Nets have made it 20 wins from their past 23 matches with a 111-89 victory over the Charlotte Hornets without injured star pair Kevin Durant and James Harden on Thursday.

LaMarcus Aldridge impressed in his Nets debut, as Brooklyn blew away the Hornets, who were without the injured LaMelo Ball, in the first quarter with a 32-11 start.

Kyrie Irving had 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists but it was Jeff Green who top scored with 21 points including five three-pointers.

The Nets may have been missing James Harden due to hamstring tightness but improved to a 34-15 record to sit top of the Eastern Conference.

The Philadephia 76ers are still right behind them, having overcome the Cleveland Cavaliers 114-94 on Thursday.

The 76ers were also without their star man Joel Embiid, who has now missed 10 games, but they shot 40 per cent from three-point range.

Shake Mitton was the leading exponent with five threes in his match-high 27 points as the 76ers tied with the Nets for most road wins in the East with 14.

 

Curry on fire, another Westbrook triple-double

Stephen Curry scored 36 points and had 11 rebounds in his second game back but it was not enough as the Golden State Warriors lost 116-109 to the Miami Heat.

The Heat, who had Victor Oladipo debut with six points and five assists, end their four-game home losing streak.

The Los Angeles Clippers suffered their second straight defeat, going down to the Denver Nuggets 101-94 with guard Jamal Murray impressing again with 23 points and eight rebounds.

Center Nikola Jokic scored 14 points along with seven rebounds and seven assists for Denver as the Clippers were always playing catch-up after a 20-31 opening quarter.

Kawhi Leonard was a lone hand with 24 points, 12 rebounds and four assists as the Clippers slipped to a 32-18.

The Orlando Magic got past the New Orleans Pelicans 115-110 in over-time, along with the Atlanta Hawks 134-129 against the San Antonio Spurs in OT.

Russell Westbrook got another triple-double as the Washington Wizards lost 120-91 to the Detroit Pistons.

 

Wayward Clippers

It was not a good night for the Clippers, losing back-to-back games and shooting less than 30 per cent from three-point range, including two-from-seven from guard Paul George, while Reggie Jackson went at 20 per cent from beyond the arc.

 

Aldridge's delightful debut

After missing the last two games with a sore foot since his recruitment from the San Antonio Spurs, veteran LaMarcus Aldridge did a bit of everything on his Brooklyn debut with 11 points, nine rebounds, two steals and six assists.

 

Thursday's results:

Philadelphia 76ers 114-94 Cleveland Cavaliers
Detroit Pistons 120-91 Washington Wizards
Brooklyn Nets 111-89 Charlotte Hornets
Orlando Magic 115-110 New Orleans Pelicans
Miami Heat 116-109 Golden State Warriors
Atlanta Hawks 134-129 San Antonio Spurs
Denver Nuggets 101-94 Los Angeles Clippers

 

Bucks in Portland

Damian Lillard's Portland Trail Blazers (29-18) play host to the Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks (30-17) in the highlight Friday fixture.

Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers says Joel Embiid is "close" to a playing return after more than a fortnight on the sidelines with bone bruising in his knee.

Embiid, 27, has not played for the 76ers since their March 13 win over the Washington Wizards, when he went down injured.

The 76ers have remained top of the Eastern Conference in his absence but lost their second straight game on Tuesday, going down 104-95 to the Denver Nuggets.

"Whenever Joel comes back, we’re going to go back to our normal rotation, but I have no idea," Rivers said.

"He’s close. I can tell you that. He’s working every day, I get reports back daily, and he looks good. He’s doing well."

Given Philadelphia's position on the standings, the franchise is focusing on ensuring the Cameroonian forward is fully fit for the play-offs.

"He has to clear certain medical steps," Rivers said. "I don’t even know what those are, but he has to.

"Then the other thought with us, and the way I’ve always tried to do it, if you can come back and just keep playing, then you’re healthy, but if you can come back and play one game or two games and then have to sit, then you’re not ready yet. If you know what I’m saying.

"We want to make sure when Joel comes back, he’s back. Not in and out and I think that’s very important."

Russell Westbrook produced his third consecutive triple-double but it was not enough to inspire the Washington Wizards to victory as they went down 114-104 to the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday.

Westbrook, who made NBA history with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 21 assists on Monday, was outstanding again with Bradley Beal out for the Wizards with 22 points, 15 rebounds and 14 assists.

However, despite LaMelo Ball's absence, the Hornets got the edge after a strong first half which left the Wizards playing catch-up.

Gordon Hayward stepped up for Charlotte with 15 first-quarter points, to finish with 26 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, while Terry Rozier (27 points) was clutch at the business end.

76ers and Clippers downed

Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia 76ers lost their second straight game as they were humbled 104-95 by the Denver Nuggets.

The 76ers are starting to feel the effects of missing Joel Embiid with a knee injury, as MVP candidate Nikola Jokic scored 21 points and had 10 rebounds for Denver.

Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr had 27 points, 12 rebounds and four assists while Jamal Murray scored 30 points.

The Phoenix Suns moved into second in the Western Conference with a 32-14 record after a 117-110 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

Dario Saric scored 20 points off the bench for the Suns, while Deandre Ayton had 14 rebounds along with his 13 points.

The Los Angeles Clippers let slip a three-quarter-time lead to lose 103-96 to the lowly Orlando Magic.

Clippers collapse

The Clippers actually led 51-37 at half-time and by as many as 16 points against the Magic before an awful second-half showing as they were outscored 66-45.

 

Air Russ

There is lots of love for Westbrook right now and he produced a nice play, driving past two into the key and slamming over Hornets center Bismack Biyombo.

 

 

 

Doc Rivers has backed his old team the Los Angeles Clippers to battle it out with the LA Lakers to take the honours in the Western Conference.

The Clippers spoiled Rivers' return as they downed his Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers 122-112 on Saturday.

It was Rivers' first meeting with the Clippers since he was fired in the offseason, having let slip a 3-1 series lead in the second round of the playoffs against the Denver Nuggets.

But it was not a warm welcome on the court, where the 76ers had their four-game winning run brought to a grinding halt.

Kawhi Leonard put up 19 of his 28 points in a dazzling first half, with Paul George contributing 24.

It left Rivers in no doubt as to who the leading contenders are in the West, with the Clippers and the Lakers getting the nod ahead of the Utah Jazz – who currently lead the way in the standings – the Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers.

"I thought Denver had a great trade deadline – they did great moves," Rivers said. "Utah is playing unbelievable basketball, so they are going to be right there. Portland, I thought improved their team as well.

"But I still think it's the Lakers and the Clippers."

With Ty Lue now at the helm, Rivers acknowledged there are many differences to the team he coached, but pointed out that the Clippers had a solid platform to build on following his departure.

"They're a different team," Rivers said. "They don't have a lot of the same guys, [but] they run a lot of the same stuff that I run.

"Going through [their plays at] shootaround today, I thought we were going through our shootaround at times. But I wouldn't have changed much offensively, either. I mean, they were pretty darn good last year.

"The difference is they've had a chance to practice together, you know? And you can see that. I think they've given the ball to PG [George] more, which I think has helped him. So they've made some good changes.

"The biggest change I see also is defensively. I think they are a better defensive team. It's funny, the numbers don't exactly say that, but when I watch them, I think they're going to be a better defensive team, one of the better defensive teams when the playoffs start."

Terance Mann had a season-high 23 points for the Clippers on 10-of-12 shooting from the field, while he made both of his three-point attempts.

The 76ers had a six-game road winning run ended, despite a game-high 29 points from Tobias Harris.

The Los Angeles Clippers spoiled Doc Rivers' return as they topped the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers 122-112 in the NBA.

Rivers reunited with the Clippers for the first time since being fired and joining the 76ers in the offseason, having led the Los Angeles franchise to six playoff appearances.

But Rivers did not have much to celebrate after the 76ers had their four-game winning streak snapped on Saturday.

Kawhi Leonard posted 28 points – 19 in the first half – and Clippers team-mate Paul George added 24 of his own in Los Angeles.

Terance Mann had a season-high 23 points for the Clippers on 10-of-12 shooting from the field, while he made both of his three-point attempts.

The 76ers had a six-game road winning run ended, despite a game-high 29 points from Tobias Harris.

 

Mitchell sparks Jazz

Donovan Mitchell put up 35 points as the NBA-leading Utah Jazz defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 126-110. Mitchell was efficient in Utah, where he was 12-of-17 shooting from the field, to go with his five three-pointers from seven attempts in 28 minutes. All-Star team-mate Rudy Gobert (16 points and 14 rebounds) contributed a double-double.

Gregg Popovich became the third coach in NBA history to reach 1,300 regular-season wins following the San Antonio Spurs' 120-104 victory against the Chicago Bulls. Only Don Nelson (1,335) and Lenny Wilkens (1,332) have had 1,300 wins or more. All-Star Nikola Vucevic had 21 points and nine rebounds in his debut for the Bulls after being traded by the lowly Orlando Magic.

Zion Williamson's 38 points led the New Orleans Pelicans past the Dallas Mavericks 112-103. Tim Hardaway Jr. had 30 points off the bench for the beaten Mavericks.

Russell Westbrook's triple-double of 19 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists fuelled a 106-92 win for the Washington Wizards against the Detroit Pistons.

The Milwaukee Bucks were upstaged 102-96 by the New York Knicks despite double-doubles from two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (23 points and 10 rebounds), Jordan Nwora (21 points and 10 rebounds) and Brook Lopez (12 points and 10 rebounds).

 

Awful Richardson

The Mavericks went down to the Pelicans and Josh Richardson struggled. The shooting guard finished one-of-11 from the field. Richardson missed all four of his attempts from beyond the arc for a measly four points in 34 minutes.

Mike Scott – in the starting five for the 76ers – finished with just three points in Los Angeles. He was one-of-six from the field, making just one three-pointer in 29 minutes.

 

Barnes calls game!

With the Sacramento Kings trailing 98-97, Harrison Barnes nailed a buzzer-beating three after catching a full-court pass to sink the Cleveland Cavaliers. De'Aaron Fox's 36 points set the tone for the Kings, who edged the Cavaliers 100-98.

 

Saturday's results

Washington Wizards 106-92 Detroit Pistons
New York Knicks 102-96 Milwaukee Bucks
Houston Rockets 129-107 Minnesota Timberwolves
San Antonio Spurs 120-104 Chicago Bulls
New Orleans Pelicans 112-103 Dallas Mavericks
Boston Celtics 111-94 Oklahoma City Thunder
Utah Jazz 126-110 Memphis Grizzlies
Los Angeles Clippers 122-112 Philadelphia 76ers
Sacramento Kings 100-98 Cleveland Cavaliers

 

Suns at Hornets

The high-flying Phoenix Suns (30-14) – second in the west – will visit the in-form Charlotte Hornets (23-21) on Sunday. Charlotte have won three straight games to sit fourth in the Eastern Conference.

Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers did little to disguise his irritation after Dwight Howard was ejected on his return to the Staples Center.

Howard and fellow former Los Angeles Laker Danny Green were presented with their 2020 championship rings before Thursday's encounter, which the Sixers won 109-101.

That was little thanks to Howard, who was dismissed by referee Jane Fitzgerald between the first and second quarters after intentionally walking into the Lakers' Montrezl Harrell.

Howard and Harrell had already been called for double technical fouls and the former's punishment as the altercation resumed meant an automatic disqualification

"Clowns. Guys just joking around. It's ridiculous on both parts. I didn't like, it, bottom line," Rivers said in an immediate reaction on the court and victory over the slumping Lakers did not soften his view too much.

"I just thought it was a very selfish play," he said, per ESPN.

"You got one tech, you can't get another one. We just have to have better discipline.

"I get it. I know there's a lot of emotion. But we had one center on our team, and he got thrown out.

"I was not very happy with that one. I know it's an emotional game. But he's a veteran. We got to have better discipline."

Harrell joined the Lakers in the immediate aftermath of Howard's surprise switch to Philadelphia.

Although the source of their bad blood remains unclear, Harrell was unrepentant afterwards, having theatrically waved Howard off the court as he remonstrated with Fitzgerald.

"I'm not backing down from nobody, man. I don't take that lightly. I don't take none of that disrespect," he said.

"You're not gonna push me all around the court and just feel like you're gonna big-boy me and just attack me or whatever.

"It's not in my blood, it will never be in my blood. I don't care what nobody feels about it, I don't care who don't like me. It is what it is."

The Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers heaped further misery on the short-handed Los Angeles Lakers following a 109-101 win in the NBA on Thursday.

Defending champions the Lakers lost their fourth consecutive game in the absence of injured stars LeBron James (ankle) and Anthony Davis (calf) as the 76ers stayed hot.

Danny Green haunted his former team in Los Angeles to guide the in-form 76ers to their fourth successive victory.

Green and Dwight Howard – who tasted success with the Lakers last season before both joined the 76ers – received their championship rings pre-game at Staples Center.

Green hit eight of 12 three-pointers – more than any Lakers player has made this season – for a game-high 28 points, while Howard was ejected at the end of the opening quarter.

Kyle Kuzma (25 points) and Dennis Schroder (20 points and 11 assists) led the slumping the Lakers, who suffered their sixth straight home defeat to the 76ers.

 

Fox has night to remember

De'Aaron Fox posted a career-high 44 points to lead the Sacramento Kings to a crushing 141-119 win against the Golden State Warriors. He was 16-of-22 from the field, to go with seven assists and three steals against the Stephen Curry-less Warriors. Tyrese Haliburton added 21 points with a career-high six three-pointers as Richaun Holmes contributed a double-double of 25 points and 11 rebounds.

Paul George's double-double (24 points and 13 rebounds) helped the Los Angeles Clippers top the San Antonio Spurs 98-85 in the absence of injured star Kawhi Leonard (foot). Ivica Zubac (10 points and 13 rebounds) and Terance Mann (10 points and 12 rebounds) also had double-doubles, while Reggie Jackson top-scored with 28 points.

The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Miami Heat 125-122 behind C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard. McCollum put up 35 points, while Lillard had 22 of his own away to the Heat. Enes Kanter also finished with 18 points and 16 rebounds as veteran Carmelo Anthony scored 20 points off the bench.

 

Westbrook struggles from the field

Russell Westbrook might have finished just shy of a triple-double (13 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists) but he was far from his best shooting. The former MVP was just three-of-15 from the field. Westbrook also missed all five of his attempts from beyond the arc, while tallying eight turnovers as the New York Knicks stormed back to trump the Washington Wizards 106-102.

 

The windmill!

There was not much to celebrate for the Warriors on Thursday. But Juan Toscano-Anderson's slam after stealing the ball provided a highlight on the road in Sacramento.

 

Thursday's results

Philadelphia 76ers 109-101 Los Angeles Lakers
Portland Trail Blazers 125-122 Miami Heat
New York Knicks 106-102 Washington Wizards
Los Angeles Clippers 98-85 San Antonio Spurs
Sacramento Kings 141-119 Golden State Warriors

 

Nets at Pistons

The Brooklyn Nets (30-15) will look to keep pace with the 76ers in the east when they visit the lowly Detroit Pistons (12-31) on Friday.

Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said he is feeling "very good" about the team's championship chances after the Eastern Conference leaders acquired George Hill.

The 76ers were active on Thursday's NBA trade deadline, dealing for veteran guard Hill from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a three-team deal.

Ignas Brazdeikis also arrived from the New York Knicks as the 76ers sent Tony Bradley and two second-round picks (2025 and 2026) to Oklahoma City and Terrance Ferguson, Vincent Poirier, the rights to Emir Preldzic, a 2021 second-round pick and the Miami Heat's 2024 second-round pick to New York.

The 76ers have not won the NBA Finals since 1983, but Doc Rivers' Philadelphia top the Eastern Conference this season in their pursuit of a drought-ending championship.

"I think we feel very good about the roster we have and about our chances to win the championship," Morey told the media after acquiring Hill.

"I think Doc had some comments recently about looking for a two-way guard and it was one of very few needs for us, and that’s what we got with George. A veteran two-way guard who can shoot at a very high level, who can defend at a high level."

Hill – in his 13th NBA season – has appeared in 14 games (all starts) with the Thunder in 2020-21, averaging 11.8 points, 2.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 26.3 minutes per game.

The 34-year-old has shot 50.8 per cent from the field, 38.6 per cent from three-point range since joining the Thunder from the Milwaukee Bucks at the start of the season.

Hill has a career average of 11.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 27.7 minutes per contest as he prepares to join forces with All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in Philadelphia.

However, Hill – who has also played for the San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, Utah Jazz, Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Cavaliers – has been sidelined since January after undergoing a surgical procedure on his right thumb.

"I don't want to give a timeline, it's not long," Morey said. "He had an issue where he chose to have surgery on it so that it'll never be an issue again.

"Once he's back, it's something that will never bother him again. So we're very optimistic about him for the future."

The 76ers, meanwhile, were reportedly in the mix to deal for Toronto Raptors star Kyle Lowry on Thursday.

Lowry was linked with the 76ers, Heat and champions the Los Angeles Lakers before Toronto opted to retain the franchise favourite.

Asked about NBA champion Lowry, Morey told reporters: "I can't specifically address a player on another team. Obviously at the trade deadline you have lots of options that were out there.

"All I can say is we're very excited about the option we ended up with. I think we did the deal about two hours before the deadline and we took an option that we thought really upgraded our team this year on both ends and at the same time kept all our optionality in the future."

Perhaps the biggest development at the NBA's trade deadline on Thursday saw a big player staying put as Kyle Lowry remained with the Toronto Raptors.

Veteran point guard Lowry, on an expiring contract, was seen as a potentially key pick-up for either the Philadelphia 76ers, the Los Angeles Lakers or the Miami Heat as they chase the title.

But the Raptors did not get a deal that appealed to them and will allow their greatest ever player to reach free agency.

There were significant moves elsewhere, though, as teams seized the last opportunity to agree trades.
 

ONE OUT IN TORONTO

Toronto, playing the season in Tampa, may have held on to Lowry, but they do not appear in contention this year at 18-26 and did deal Norman Powell.

The Portland Trail Blazers brought in the wing, one of the league's best three-point shooters in 2020-21, as Gary Trent Jr and Rodney Hood moved in the opposite direction.

Rather than one of the Raptors' shooters, the Heat will rely on Victor Oladipo, recruited from the Houston Rockets, over the coming months.

Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and a draft swap was enough to do a deal with the Rockets.

Nemanja Bjelica also went to Miami from the Sacramento Kings for Maurice Harkless and Chris Silva.

And the Heat are said to be favourites for LaMarcus Aldridge after he was bought out by the San Antonio Spurs. Andre Drummond, another potential buyout, was not traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

THREE GO IN ORLANDO

As Toronto resisted the urge to take whatever they could get, the Orlando Magic did the opposite and cashed in.

All-Star Nikola Vucevic was a surprising early exit on Thursday as he went to the Chicago Bulls, along with Al-Farouq Aminu, in return for Otto Porter Jr, Wendell Carter Jr and two first-round picks.

Chicago added Daniel Theis from the Boston Celtics, but Lonzo Ball stayed put at the New Orleans Pelicans, while it was far from Orlando's only outgoing.

Evan Fournier headed to the Celtics, and the Denver Nuggets won the race for Aaron Gordon. His signing, along with Gary Clark, cost the Nuggets a first-round pick as well as Gary Harris and RJ Hampton.

Denver also added JaVale McGee in a deal with the Cavs.

RONDO RETURNS TO LA

Rajon Rondo, a team-mate of McGee's on the title-winning Lakers last season, has moved back to LA to join the Los Angeles Clippers.

Rondo played a big role in the playoffs for the Lakers and his signing cost the Clippers three-time Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, sent to the Atlanta Hawks.

Western Conference rivals the Dallas Mavericks got two shooters from the Pelicans in the form of JJ Redick and Nicolo Melli, parting with James Johnson, Wes Iwundu and a second-round pick.

The Sixers landed George Hill in a three-team trade involving the Oklahoma City Thunder and the New York Knicks, while the Charlotte Hornets brought in Brad Wanamaker.

The Philadelphia 76ers' trip to the Los Angeles Lakers is not quite the blockbuster clash it might have been, but Thursday's game should prove no less intriguing.

Rather than seeing MVP candidates Joel Embiid and LeBron James battle it out at Staples Center, the Sixers and the Lakers will attempt to show how they can cope without their leading men.

Embiid has been on the sidelines since March 12, over which time Philly have gone 5-1, but they crucially have the benefit of Ben Simmons, their second All-Star now fit and firing.

LA do not have the same luxury, as Anthony Davis is also out, with the team beaten by the Atlanta Hawks as James went down and again in his absence in Tuesday's game with the New Orleans Pelicans.

This could still be an NBA Finals preview, though, and the matchup will undoubtedly draw plenty of interested eyes...
 

TOP PERFORMERS

Los Angeles Lakers - Dennis Schroder

Schroder was a Sixth Man of the Year contender last year - missing out to now team-mate Montrezl Harrell - but now finds himself as the most important player in the champions' team with both James and Davis out.

The point guard has started all but four of LA's games this season, his absence coinciding with a four-game losing streak.

Defeat on Thursday would mean another stretch of four straight defeats and it will be up to Schroder to ensure that does not happen.

Coach Frank Vogel talked up Schroder's importance after the Hawks game and his 15 points against the Pelicans maintained his seasonal average at the same mark, third-most for the Lakers behind their big two.

Philadelphia 76ers - Ben Simmons

As the only remaining All-Star in this clash between two of the league's top teams, Simmons will be expected to make the difference.

The former first overall pick has previously been tasked with guarding James but should be freed in the absence of superstar opponents, perhaps able to focus his efforts instead on scoring and creating shots for others.

In a strange quirk, Simmons' four best scoring games this season have come in defeats. Fifth on that list, however, is the win against the Golden State Warriors last time out when he put up 22.

One of his four triple-doubles this season came in the previous game against the Lakers.
 

KEY BATTLE - CAN LAKERS HALT HARRIS?

That sole other matchup between the teams this season was settled by Tobias Harris' 15-footer with three seconds remaining as he switched onto the more diminutive Alex Caruso.

Harris' 10-for-16 shooting in that game was vital and the Lakers, without their best defender in Davis, must more effectively guard the forward.

While Simmons is the star name in this encounter, Harris is second only to Embiid on the Sixers with a career-high 20.8 points per game this year.

The Lakers will at least know to pay attention to Harris in 'clutch' moments, his two points in February among 71 this season that have him 18th in the league in such situations.
 

HEAD TO HEAD

The Lakers have the slight edge in the teams' all-time regular season record with 146 wins to the Sixers' 138 going back to their respective beginnings in Minneapolis and Syracuse.

Philly's dramatic 107-106 success earlier this year was their fifth meeting with LA since James moved to the Western Conference outfit, in which time the Sixers are 4-1 - albeit the four-time MVP missed the first defeat.

Embiid has only faced the Lakers six times, with a 4-2 record. LA are 4-3 in the seven Philly's main man has missed in his time in the league.

James Harden believes Brooklyn Nets have found good chemistry on the court despite the absence of key men Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash said Durant will not be risked for road games against Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons this week but is the final phase of rehabilitation.

Durant has been sidelined by a hamstring strain since mid-February and was absent from the team that topped the Portland Trail Blazers 116-112 on Tuesday.

The 32-year-old averages 29 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists from 19 games, but Nash said he will be absent again for the trips to Utah and Detroit on Wednesday and Friday respectively.

Harden led the way for the Nets against the Trail Blazers with a double-double as they go toe-to-toe with Philadelphia 76ers the Eastern Conference.

He posted 25 points and a career high-tying 17 assists to fuel the Nets in Portland as they won without Durant and fellow superstar Irving, who was absent for personal reasons.

Harden claimed the Nets have clicked into gear ahead of meeting with the Jazz on Wednesday.

"The team chemistry, it's there. It's right where we need it to be," the 31-year-old told NBA.com

"Obviously missing Kevin and Kyrie, I think everyone else has a sense of what their roles are, and they're doing it to the best of their ability every single night. 

"I'm really proud of the guys. In order to be a special team like we're more than capable of being, we've got to have a sense of urgency every possession.

"Our sense of urgency in the way we play and our effort and our intensity on the defensive end, has to be there no matter what."

On the Jazz's recent improvements Harden added: "I think they're healthy. They're healthy and they finally have clicked.

"I think that loss in the playoffs in the bubble last year got to them a little bit and so they have a fully healthy team that's well coached and everybody knows their role and they have a great system and it works for them."

The Nets (30-14) remain within a game of the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers (31-13) who held on to beat the Golden State Warriors 108-98 on Tuesday.

Behind Tobias Harris' 25 points and 13 rebounds and Ben Simmons' 22 points, the 76ers earned their fifth consecutive road victory – the team's longest winning streak away from home since winning seven straight in 2018.

76ers coach Doc Rivers was pleased with the natural rhythm to the way in which Harris performed as he turns his attention to Thursday's game with the LA Lakers.

Rivers said: ''What I liked about his game, he didn't force it, he kind of just let the game come to him. And he made plays, not just with his shot but with the pass.

''As a group, we've won nine out of 10 games, the guys are playing good basketball - no need to talk about it."

The Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers continue to go toe-to-toe in the Eastern Conference after both championship hopefuls won in the NBA on Tuesday.

James Harden led the way with a double-double as the star-studded Nets topped the Portland Trail Blazers 116-112.

In the absence of fellow superstars Kyrie Irving (personal matter) and Kevin Durant (hamstring), Harden posted 25 points and a career high-tying 17 assists to fuel the short-handed Nets in Portland.

Jeff Green finished with 20 points – 15 in the first half – Nicolas Claxton put up 16 of his own, while Blake Griffin had eight points, five rebounds and two steals in his second Nets appearance.

Enes Kanter scored 19 points and collected 19 rebounds for the Trail Blazers, who also had 22 points from All-Star Damian Lillard.

The Nets (30-14) remain within a game of the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers (31-13) after they held on to beat the Golden State Warriors 108-98.

Behind Tobias Harris' 25 points and 13 rebounds and Ben Simmons' 22 points, the 76ers earned their fifth consecutive road victory – the team's longest winning streak away from home since winning seven straight in 2018.

The Warriors – without star Stephen Curry (back) – threatened to complete a stunning comeback, having been outscored 35-17 at the end of the opening quarter, while they trailed by more than 20 points before half-time.

 

Zion makes history

Zion Williamson helped the New Orleans Pelicans top the slumping Los Angeles Lakers 128-111. The 20-year-old's 27 points and nine rebounds saw him become the first NBA player younger than 21 to score at least 20 points in 21 consecutive games. Pelicans team-mate Brandon Ingram posted a season-high 36 points.

MVP candidate Nikola Jokic had his 12th triple-double of the season as the Denver Nuggets beat the Orlando Magic 110-99. Jokic posted 28 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists for a franchise-best 53rd career triple-double. Only Washington's Russell Westbrook (14) has more triple-doubles this season.

It is almost impossible to replace Joel Embiid, but Tony Bradley stepped up in a big way for the 76ers. The 23-year-old was flawless against the Warriors, going eight-of-eight for 18 points and 11 rebounds. Bradley became the first 76ers player not to miss a shot in a game on a minimum eight attempts since Dikembe Mutombo in 2002.

All-Star Julius Randle finished with 37 points to lead the New York Knicks past the lowly Washington Wizards 131-113.

 

Lakers feeling absence of star duo

The Lakers – who came out of the All-Star break on a 4-0 run – are now 0-3 since LeBron James suffered an ankle injury, with fellow star Anthony Davis (calf) also sidelined.

Tyler Herro headlined the Miami Heat's woes after last season's NBA Finals participants lost 110-100 at home to the Phoenix Suns. Herro was three-of-11 from the field, while he was just one-of-six from three-point range for seven points in 26 minutes.

 

Robinson throws it down!

New York's Mitchell Robinson got up high for a powerful dunk in the second quarter against the Wizards.

 

Tuesday's results

Denver Nuggets 110-99 Orlando Magic
New York Knicks 131-113 Washington Wizards
New Orleans Pelicans 128-111 Los Angeles Lakers
Phoenix Suns 110-100 Miami Heat
Brooklyn Nets 116-112 Portland Trail Blazers
Philadelphia 76ers 108-98 Golden State Warriors

 

Nets at Jazz

It is back-to-back outings for the high-flying Nets (30-14), who travel to the NBA-leading Utah Jazz (31-11) on Wednesday.

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