The Phoenix Suns advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2009-10 after sweeping Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets 4-0 in the NBA playoffs.

Suns duo Devin Booker and Chris Paul flexed their muscles in a 125-118 victory over the Nuggets in Game 4 as MVP Jokic was ejected on Sunday.

Jokic (22 points and 11 rebounds), who earned his first MVP accolade on Tuesday, was assessed a flagrant two foul after his foul on Phoenix's Cameron Payne in the third quarter.

That made life difficult for the third-seeded Nuggets – already missing star Jamal Murray due to injury – as the Suns rolled into the Conference Finals for the first time in more than a decade.

Paul produced a vintage performance with a game-high 37 points, while Booker put up 34 points and 11 rebounds for the second-seeded Suns, who are the only team to knock out both the previous season's conference finalists in the opening two rounds since the NBA playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984 per Stats Perform.

The Eastern Conference semi-final matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets is deadlocked at 2-2 after Giannis Antetokounmpo starred.

Antetokounmpo posted a double-double to lead the Bucks past the second-seeded Nets 107-96 in Game 4.

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo had a game-high 34 points and 12 rebounds as the Bucks topped the Nets, who lost All-Star Kyrie Irving to injury.

Irving – who had 11 points, five rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes of action – twisted his right ankle after coming down on Antetokounmpo's foot, having scored from close range in the second quarter.

The seven-time All-Star received treatment on the court before walking to the locker room. The Nets later ruled him out for the remainder of the contest as the third-ranked Bucks took advantage.

Kevin Durant led the way for the Nets with 28 points but was stifled by the Bucks' physical defensive play.

 

76ers at Hawks

The top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers visit the Atlanta Hawks for Game 4 on Monday, leading the Eastern Conference semi-final series 2-1. Utah Jazz – the top seed in the west – are also in action against the Los Angeles Clippers in their Western Conference second-round Game 4.

The Phoenix Suns moved 3-0 up in their Conference semi-final series with a 116-102 victory over the Denver Nuggets despite MVP Nikola Jokic's triple-double on Friday.

Veteran Suns guard Chris Paul was exceptional with 27 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals to spark Monty Williams' side.

Young shooting guard Devin Booker scored a team-high 28 points, while center Deandre Ayton had 15 rebounds along with his 10 points.

Jae Crowder shot four-from-six beyond the arc, adding 14 points for the Suns, who opened up a 10-point lead at quarter-time and were never headed.

Denver center Jokic finished with 32 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists, while Monte Morris came off the bench to add 21 points. But they lacked support with Jamal Murray out with long-term injury.

Michael Porter Jr was below his best with 15 points for the game, shooting at 38.3 per cent from the field.

The Suns are one win away from securing their spot in the Western Conference finals where they will face either the Utah Jazz or the Los Angeles Clippers.

Joel Embiid starred as the Philadelphia 76ers claimed a 2-1 lead in their Conference semi-final series with a road win over the Atlanta Hawks 127-111.

Embiid finished with 27 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, helping the Sixers run away with the game in the third quarter when they outscored the Hawks by 15.

Atlanta's Trae Young scored 28 points and had eight assists but was quelled by the Philadelphia defence led by Ben Simmons, with the Hawks guard shooting at 52.9 per cent from the field.

Simmons scored 18 points, with four rebounds, one steal and seven assists - including a spectacular lobbed pass for an Embiid dunk - while Tobias Harris added 22 points shooting at 62.5 per cent from the field, with eight rebounds and five assists.

The 76ers led by five points at half-time but blew away the Hawks with a 34-19 third quarter and controlled the better part of the second half.

The NBA is a star-driven league, but the Phoenix Suns have found a different formula that works in the playoffs. 

The Suns' balanced attack drove another dominant win on Wednesday, a 123-98 triumph over the Denver Nuggets that gave Phoenix a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference semi-final series. 

Phoenix had six players score in double figures, with Devin Booker leading the way at a modest 18 points followed by Chris Paul (17), Mikal Bridges (16) and Deandre Ayton (15). 

"I think it's an unselfish group. They're willing to make plays for one another. We share the ball – that's part of our DNA," Suns head coach Monty Williams told reporters. 

"We don't have the experience that a lot of the playoff teams have, but we've had this year to gel and we've had a lot of close games at home and on the road, so that helps."

Wednesday's game was not close, as Phoenix took the lead early in the first quarter and never looked back, pulling away from Denver in the second half. 

After a 51-21 regular season, the Suns have learned they do not have to rely on one or two players for their scoring, and that helps ease the pressure on everyone. 

"It's a natural chemistry," said veteran point guard Chris Paul, who had 15 assists and no turnovers. 

"I really haven't been on a team like this where everybody shoots it the way that they do, so you don't have to try to find a certain guy."

The 36-year-old floor leader is a big reason for that peace of mind, his coach noted. 

"He manages games better than anybody that I've ever been around," Williams said. 

"Once he gets an idea of the offence and the guys he's playing with, he has the ability to use his talents to make everybody else better, and then he knows when to take over in moments.

"Guys have to make shots, but Chris is one of the rare guards that can put passes right where they need to be so guys are more effective when they catch the ball. And his ability to take care of the ball, even when he has it a lot, is not something I take for granted.

"That's why he's been successful everywhere he's been." 

Coming off their first playoff series win since 2010, the Suns are full of confidence as they head to Denver.

The plan for Friday's Game 3? More of the same, they hope. 

"We've got so many great shooters on our team, and guys that can not only shoot it but put it on the floor," Paul said. "We just played the way we've been playing all season long and that's as a team."

Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic showed MVP form once again, but the Phoenix Suns used a balanced attack to take a 123-98 victory and a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference semi-final series. 

Jokic scored the first basket of the game Wednesday, but that was the only lead the Nuggets held as Phoenix took control and never let go in what became an easy win as their home crowd chanted "Suns in four" late in the game. 

Chris Paul controlled the game for the Suns, scoring 17 points and dishing out 15 assists without a turnover in his 30 minutes of play -- the third time he has had at least 15 assists with no turnovers in a playoff game.

The 36-year-old Paul now has 72 assists and just 10 turnovers in eight playoff games this season. 

Devin Booker added 18 points and 10 rebounds for Phoenix, while Deandre Ayton had 15 points and 10 rebounds. 

Jokic left the game late in the third quarter with the Nuggets trailing by 20 and did not return, finishing with 24 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in 29 minutes. 

Denver did not give him much help, as the rest of their starting lineup made just nine of 32 shots from the field (28.1 per cent). 

Michael Porter Jr. was the only other starter to reach double figures, scoring 11 on three of 13 shooting -- including two of nine from three-point range. 

The Nuggets made only 14 of 43 (32.6 per cent) from beyond the arc overall, compared to 18 of 38 (47.4 per cent) for Phoenix. 

Game 3 of the series is Friday in Denver.

Nets at Bucks

The Brooklyn Nets look for a 3-0 lead on the Bucks as their Eastern Conference semi-final series shifts to Milwaukee on Thursday.  

Chris Paul compared the Phoenix Suns to a wrestling tag team after they beat the Denver Nuggets 122-105 in their NBA playoffs semi-final opener.

In front of what Paul described as "crazy" home support, the Suns bossed the second half 65-47 to take first blood in the Western Conference last-four series.

Paul (21 points and 11 assists) and Deandre Ayton (20 points and 10 rebounds) fuelled the second-seeded Suns, who saw all of their starters finish with double-digit points – Devin Booker (21), Mikal Bridges (23) and Jae Crowder (14) making priceless contributions.

With the likes of Cameron Payne and Torrey Craig coming off the bench – the latter having nine points and eight rebounds in under 18 minutes on court – there are good grounds for optimism in the Suns ranks.

Paul said the key to the Suns second-half surge, after slipping 70-60 behind at one point, was "just playing with pace", and a vibrant home atmosphere, with Olympic swimming great Michael Phelps among the crowd.

"They got a nice little lead on us there in the third quarter," he said. "This crowd is crazy. It's crazy. To have the fans in there, the energy, there's nothing like it.

"I told the guys this is why we fought so hard during the regular season to get home-court advantage. I think we truly have that with our fanbase here."

For Denver, MVP favourite Nikola Jokic was limited to 22 points on 10-for-23 shooting, nine rebounds and three assists on the road.

Paul said the Suns have real character as a unit.

"It's fun to be on the team," he said. "It's almost like wrestling and you're tagging in.

"You go out of the game and there's no drop-off, there's just another unit coming in and keeping pressure on you.

"I think that's the benefit of having the team like we have."

The second game in the series takes place on Wednesday, again at the Phoenix Suns Arena.

While Paul praised others, Booker hailed Paul's contribution.

"We felt that energy. We felt that passion behind it," Booker said.

"He just made plays. Not only his scoring ability but getting everybody else involved. That's been the story of the season for us, following him in that regard."

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks had no answers as Kevin Durant guided the Brooklyn Nets to a brutal 125-186 victory in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Harden sat out due to hamstring tightness, but the star-studded Nets still made light work of the Bucks in Monday's blow-out win for a commanding 2-0 lead in the NBA playoffs.

Durant put on a show against two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo and the visiting Bucks, posting 32 points in three quarters while Kyrie Irving added 22 points.

The second-seeded Nets – who defeated Milwaukee in three consecutive home games for the first time since 2006-09 – led by as much as 49 points in their most lopsided postseason victory in franchise history.

Brooklyn, eyeing a maiden championship, became the first team since the 1987 Los Angeles Lakers to score at least 115 points in each of their last six playoff games.

The Nets – who set a franchise postseason record with 21 three-pointers – became the first team in playoff history to have an MVP winner (Harden) miss the game and yet still win by 35-plus points, according to Stats Perform.

Antetokounmpo had a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds for Milwaukee, but the Bucks superstar was far from efficient.

Milwaukee's Antetokounmpo was eight-for-15 shooting, while he missed all three of his attempts from beyond the arc and had three turnovers.

Khris Middleton finished with 17 points, however, he was seven-for-20 shooting from the field, having made only three of his eight three-pointers.

In the west, the Phoenix Suns opened their semi-final matchup with a 122-105 win at home to the Denver Nuggets.

Chris Paul (21 points and 11 assists) and Deandre Ayton (20 points and 10 rebounds) fuelled the second-seeded Suns, who saw all of their starters finish with double-digit points – Devin Booker (21), Mikal Bridges (23) and Jae Crowder (14).

The Suns took control in the second half, outscoring the third-ranked Nuggets 65-47 in Game 1.

MVP favourite and Nuggets star Nikola Jokic was limited to just 22 points on 10-for-23 shooting, nine rebounds and three assists on the road.

 

Clippers at Jazz

The Los Angeles Clippers and top-ranked Utah Jazz will open their Western Conference second-round series on Tuesday. In the east, the Philadelphia 76ers will be looking to bounce back in Game 2 at home to the Atlanta Hawks.

A new generation of NBA superstars established themselves as the playoffs continued last week.

The first round concluded as a talented, young (with the exception of Chris Paul) Phoenix Suns team defeated LeBron James and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Atlanta Hawks quickly gained an upper hand against the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, too.

And although Kawhi Leonard led the Los Angeles Clippers through to round two, they also suffered at the hand of an emerging talent, as Stats Perform's NBA Heat Check shows.
 

RUNNING HOT...

Devin Booker

Booker was dominant across the board for the Suns, earning praise from James after getting the better of the reigning NBA Finals MVP.

When comparing last week's performances with regular season returns, Booker ranked third for scoring improvement, second for rebounding improvement and second for three-point makes improvement. This was a staggering show of strength.

Playing in his sixth year, it is easy to forget this was a debut postseason series for Booker, who finished with 47 points at Staples Center and will back himself to deliver again against the Denver Nuggets.

Trae Young

The biggest potential upset of the second round is already under way after the Hawks took Game 1 against the 76ers in Philly despite Joel Embiid's return to fitness.

Young – another playoff debutant – was predictably at the centre of their success, following up 36 points in Game 5 against the New York Knicks with 35 in this opener.

He had 25 in the first half on Sunday on eight-of-13 shooting as Atlanta scored 74, the most ever by a road team in a Game 1. Considering the way the Sixers battled back to make the encounter close, Young might have to be similarly outstanding again in the forthcoming meetings.

Luka Doncic

Young was traded to the Hawks as part of the deal that saw Doncic go the other way to the Dallas Mavericks on draft night in 2018. But the Slovenian will play no further part in the playoffs after Sunday's Game 7 defeat to the Clippers.

Doncic has undoubtedly proven his class in the postseason, though, even if he is yet to win a series. Already one of the league's outstanding offensive stars, his career playoff average of 33.5 points per game is the best of any player to appear in 13 or more games – surpassing Michael Jordan's 33.4.

The Mavs ace reached that mark thanks to an outstanding week that included two 40-point performances despite Dallas' eventual series defeat.

Doncic's performances through 13 career playoff games are a match for the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Only Rick Barry, Bob McAdoo and Jordan have topped his 436 total points at this stage since 1963-64. He was certainly not to blame on Sunday...
 

GOING COLD...

Kristaps Porzingis

Expensive team-mate Porzingis may well have to take some responsibility for the Mavs' failings, although he was not alone. Among the players with the largest declines in scoring over the past week from their regular season outputs, three Dallas players were in the top seven.

Josh Richardson and Jalen Brunson were also in there, but Porzingis' presence should be of the most concern.

Although the big man put up 16 points and 11 rebounds – his second-most in a postseason game – on Sunday, his failure to make a single one of his five three-point attempts left Doncic short of help.

Enes Kanter

Doncic was not the only superstar left high and dry as he exited the first round. Damian Lillard did all he could to try to carry the Portland Trail Blazers past the Nuggets last week, averaging 41.5 points, but could not advance alone.

CJ McCollum underwhelmed, despite contributing 20.7 points across the series, yet it was the absence of effective defense that meant Nikola Jokic was always able to match Lillard.

Jusuf Nurkic had a combined plus/minus of 45 but fouled out of three of the six games, meaning poor Kanter had to guard Jokic on occasion and ended the series with a -34 plus/minus across only 56 minutes.

The Los Angeles Lakers will strive to keep the core of their roster together for next season after fluffing their lines in this year's playoffs. 

Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka pledged the team would come back ready to fight for the championship after suffering a 4-2 series loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Thursday's 113-100 home defeat sealed the Lakers' fate, with their hopes dealt a blow when Anthony Davis' comeback from a groin injury lasted only five minutes.

The Lakers were 8-2 in home games when facing playoff elimination since 2000 but the Suns blew them away with a 36-14 opening quarter on the road.

Phoenix carried a 60-41 advantage into half-time and while LeBron James tried to spark a Lakers rally with 29 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two blocks, it was not enough.

However, far from going back to the drawing board, the 17-time NBA champions want next season to be business as usual, with a largely familiar-looking roster to call upon.

"I think when you fall short of the goal that you set, it has to drive you," said Pelinka.

"It has to be the fuel that drives your passion, and I think us falling short as a team, that in some sense is going to be part of our motivation and putting in the work to getting back at it, and start training camp next year with a strong roster.

"I'm convinced that, again, without some of the unforeseen circumstances this year, the challenges that we had to face, that we'd be a championship-calibre team.

"So the goal is to try to keep that core group together."

The franchise already has over $100 million earmarked for James, Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma next season, but Pelinka is confident that other star talents will be retained.

"Jeanie [Buss] and the ownership group has empowered the front office to do one thing and that's to smartly build a roster to win championships," he said.

"I think next year, of course, hopefully, with all of our fans being able to come back and be a part of the building, we owe them the work to start the process of retooling and have a championship-calibre team that can do special things next year.

"That's the driving passion and there's alignment there between Jeanie, the front office, the coaches. That will always be the goal.

"We have an insatiable desire and passion to bring banner number 18 here."

LeBron James paid tribute to the improvement and maturity shown by Devin Booker after he was beaten in a first-round playoff series for the first time in his NBA career.

The Los Angeles Lakers saw their hopes of repeating as NBA champions ended as they lost 113-100 in Game 6 to the Phoenix Suns, who progress with a 4-2 triumph.

Anthony Davis had to leave the court after only five minutes of his return from a groin injury as Booker produced a stunning performance to finish with 47 points for the Suns.

By the end of the first quarter, Booker had 22 points and had converted all six of his three-pointers, eventually finishing 8-of-10 from behind the arc.

His 47 points, recorded in 46 minutes, were the most to eliminate a defending champion team on their home court in NBA postseason history. 

The surging Suns also won Game 5 by 30 points and led this one by 29 in the first half before James - who had 29 points, nine rebounds and seven assists - helped to make the score more respectable.

But his amazing 14-0 steak in the first round of the playoffs was brought to an emphatic halt and all the plaudits went to Booker.

"I love everything about D-Book," said James. "I've had numerous conversations with him in the past. He continues to make the jump.

"When you want to be great in this league, and as Kobe told him, if you want to be legendary in this game you've got to continue to improve, not only your game but you as a man.

"You have to improve everything, both on and off the floor. And all the conversations we have had over the years, I can tell he's soaked them up and is using them to his advantage.

"Everyone sees what he's able to do on the floor right now, but I think his maturity, him as a young man, is what I'm most impressed about. So I love everything about Book."

Getting himself and the rest of the Lakers team back to full fitness was a bigger concern to James than the end of his playoff streak.

Reflecting on the Lakers' exit, he added: "The season started so fast after leaving the bubble, obviously. 

"I was talking to [Wes Matthews] in the locker room just a few minutes ago, and I said the one thing that bothers me more than anything - we never really got an opportunity to see our full team at full strength, either because of injury or COVID.

"We could never fully get into a rhythm and never really kinda see the full potential of what we're capable of. Listen, as I tell you all throughout the season, every season is different, every challenge is different.

"But they [the Suns] were excellent throughout the series, all of them. Much respect.

"To be able to put myself where I can even have accomplishments – to either be broken or to be able to continue it – it's all though the grace of the man above and me just putting a lot of hard work in, having great team-mates, having great coaching staff, things of that nature.

"So records – if that's a record – they’re always meant to be broken.

"So in that fashion it doesn’t matter to me in so far as not making it out of the first round, what matters to me is getting this team back healthy.

"Me not being able to be at my full strength throughout this series, that’s my main focus. But time to readjust and think about what the off-season has in store."

Past discussions between Booker and late Lakers great Kobe Bryant - also referenced by James - were firmly on the mind of the Suns' star guard after his impressive display.

"Honestly, I was thinking about Kobe and the conversations we had," Booker said.

"About what we went through, and the postseason, and being legendary and taking the steps to get there.

"Seeing that 8 and 24 up there, with the lighting Staples has, it's like it was shining down on you. I know he was here and I know he was proud."

Devin Booker put on a show as the Phoenix Suns eliminated LeBron James and NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers from the playoffs en route to the Western Conference semi-finals.

The sun set on the Lakers' season and their title defence in the opening round after Booker's playoff career-high 47 points and 11 rebounds guided Phoenix to a 113-100 win in Game 6 on Thursday.

Booker's monster double-double – which included eight three-pointers – sealed a 4-2 series victory for the second-seeded Suns in the Western Conference as they moved through to the semi-finals.

Suns All-Star Booker became the first Phoenix player with a 40/10 playoff game since Amar'e Stoudemire in 2010, though he is the first to do it with five-plus threes.

The Lakers welcomed the Suns to Staples Center for the must-win showdown in Los Angeles, where star Anthony Davis had been cleared to return from a groin injury.

According to Stats Perform, the Lakers were 8-2 in home games when facing playoff elimination since 2000 but their hopes were dealt a blow when Davis' comeback lasted just five minutes.

The Suns – who were 8-1 in potential series-clinching games since 2000, with their only loss coming against the Clippers in Game 6 in 2006 – blew away the Lakers with a 36-14 opening quarter on the road.

Phoenix carried a 60-41 advantage into half-time and while James tried to spark a Lakers rally with 29 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two blocks, it was not enough.

A four-time NBA champion and MVP, it is the first time James has been eliminated in the opening round of the postseason in his illustrious 15-year playoff career.

Next up for the Suns are the Denver Nuggets, who claimed their series 4-2 following a 126-115 victory against the Portland Trail Blazers.

MVP favourite Nikola Jokic fuelled the third-seeded Nuggets with 36 points in Portland, where Michael Porter Jr. had 22 of his 26 points in the opening quarter.

The Nuggets reached the Western Conference semis for the third consecutive season, while Damian Lillard put up 28 points and 13 assists for the Trail Blazers – who led by 14 points in the third quarter but could not hold on.

 

Clippers at Mavericks

Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks can secure a semi-final date with the top-ranked Utah Jazz in the Western Conference by beating the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday. The Mavericks lead the series 3-2.

Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis has returned from a groin injury for Game 6 of the Western Conference first-round series against the Phoenix Suns.

Davis was hoping to be available for Thursday's must-win showdown, with reigning NBA champions the Lakers trailing the Suns 3-2 and facing elimination.

A groin injury had sidelined Davis since half-time of Game 4 as the Lakers were routed 115-85 at the hands of the second-seeded Suns in Game 5.

But Davis has been cleared to make his way back into the starting five at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Davis had back-to-back 34-point double-doubles in Games 2 and 3.

The Lakers are 26-15 (63.4) when Davis has played this season and 19-18 (51.4) in the games he has missed (including the play-in and playoff games), according to Stats Perform.

According to Stats Perform, the Suns are 8-1 in potential series-clinching games since 2000, with their only loss coming against the Clippers in Game 6 in 2006, and Phoenix won the next game. Meanwhile, the Lakers are 8-2 in home games when facing playoff elimination since 2000.

Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis is hoping to be available for the must-win showdown with the Phoenix Suns in the NBA playoffs, though the team's medical staff will decide his Game 6 status.

Davis has been sidelined since half-time of Game 4 due to a groin injury as defending champions the Lakers face first-round elimination at the hands of the Suns.

In the absence of Davis – who was dealing with a knee injury following Game 3 – the Lakers fell 3-2 behind in the Western Conference series following a 115-85 rout against the second-seeded Suns in Game 5.

Looking ahead to Thursday's crucial clash at Staples Center, Davis told reporters: "Hopefully all the rehab and treatment that I'm doing pays off and the doctors clear me to go. That's what we want.

"So, getting more treatment tonight, tomorrow [Thursday] and kind of talk to the doctors before the game -- before and after I shoot -- and hopefully everything comes back good where they clear me.

"That's what we're hoping for."

"It's tough," Davis said. "Especially [Tuesday] night, watching the game and not being able to help the team on the floor.

"It's the toughest part, knowing that I couldn't contribute. My body just wouldn't allow me to."

Davis added: "The groin happened because of the tightness in the knee from the hyperextension. I was feeling the knee kind of the whole game.

"Even the first couple plays, was feeling it. And just went up to try to lay the ball up, and as soon as I went up, I just felt it from my knee just shoot up into my groin. That was kind of the end of it."

"I just wasn't able to really move," Davis continued. "And every move that we make, it starts with the groin. Any other injury, the knee and all that, you can kind of finagle a way to move, but the groin is a tough place. So I just wasn't able to do it last night."

Davis, who had back-to-back 34-point double-doubles in Games 2 and 3, added: "There's still a Game 6. You don't win with three wins.

"We've still got a game tomorrow, which is Game 6. Whether we win by 30 or lose by 30, there's still another game.

"And same way for tomorrow -- you get tomorrow and there's a Game 7. You don't win three games in a playoff series and win a series."

The Los Angeles Lakers face the prospect of a first-round playoff exit as they head into a must-win Game 6 of their series against the Phoenix Suns.

Back-to-back defeats have left the defending champions with no more wiggle room if they hope to have a chance of making the last four in the Western Conference.

The Lakers progressing past this point seemed highly likely when they went 2-1 up. However, since then they have slipped up at home and then suffered a blow-out loss on the road.

LeBron James did not hang around to watch the end of Tuesday's 115-85 loss in Phoenix, heading to the locker room late during the fourth quarter.

James scored 24 points but the absence of the injured Anthony Davis left the four-time MVP fighting a lone hand, albeit the contest looked over by half-time with the Suns well clear after holding their opponents to just 10 points in the second quarter.

The final margin of victory marked the first time in NBA history that the reigning champions had lost by 30 or more points in the opening round.

The only concern for Phoenix was Chris Paul's  shoulder, the point guard aggravating the injury he suffered back in Game 1. They will hope he is fit to feature on Thursday, though the second seeds in the West have two opportunities to close the series out.

As for the Lakers, they will hope Davis' groin issue is cleared up to a point that he can at least be involved at the Staples Center.

James, however, is focusing on the prospect of being without his team-mate once more, making sure he is ready for the worst-case scenario of knowing he will once more have to carry the majority of the offensive workload without the eight-time All-Star in the line-up.

"My mindset is that he's not going be able to play in Game 6. That's my mindset," James told the media after Game 5. "And if something changes, then we go from there. But I'm preparing as if he's not."

Something needs to change for the Lakers, or else their 2020-21 season is over far earlier than they hoped.

TOP PERFORMERS

Devin Booker - Phoenix Suns

After two quiet games by his usual standards, Booker burst back into life with 30 points in Game 5. The shooting guard is at a lowly 28.2 per cent success rate from three-point range in the series but is still averaging 26.2 points per outing. With Paul potentially out or at best still not fully fit, Booker's role becomes even more crucial.

Dennis Schroder - Los Angeles Lakers

James needs help or else the Lakers' hopes of a repeat are over. Schroder went 0-for-9 shooting last time out, as well as failing to have an attempt from the free-throw line. After 58 points combined through the first three meetings with the Suns, he has managed eight points in the past two.

KEY BATTLE - A case for the defense, perhaps?

The Lakers finished the regular season with the best defense in the NBA. That honour came despite both Davis and James missing considerable time, while several members of the supporting cast also sat out games due to injuries and the NBA's health and safety protocols during the coronavirus pandemic.

While the recent lack of offense is obviously a concern for Vogel and his staff, so too will be the manner in which Phoenix were allowed to score with ease to pull clear in the first half on Tuesday.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Lakers hold a 40-27 lead in playoffs in meetings with the Suns. Still, the only number that concerns Phoenix is one, as that is how many wins they now require to seal a place in round two.

The Phoenix Suns are hopeful but unsure about Chris Paul's availability for Game 6 after he injured his shoulder again in Tuesday's 115-85 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Suns took a 3-2 series lead over the Lakers with a victory that was soured by Paul's injury, which leaves his availability for Game 6 on Thursday in doubt.

The 36-year-old went down in pain, clutching his right shoulder halfway through the third quarter after a minor collision with Laker Wesley Matthews.

Paul left the court and did not return to action, although he sat on the bench in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, with coach Monty Williams revealing he said he still had strength in the shoulder which has troubled him all series.

Williams preferred not to offer any official update, instead stating the Suns medical staff will assess Paul on Wednesday.

"He went in the back and got some treatment," Williams said. "When I talked with him when he came back out, he said he still had his strength.

"He seems to be okay but we want to wait until tomorrow after he wakes up and our medical team can make an assessment."

Paul, who played almost 23 minutes and scored nine points to go with six assists, said that the injury felt "very uncomfortable", leaving him "helpless".

"It scared me," Paul said during his post-match video conference. "It was just a very uncomfortable feeling. I felt helpless. When it happened, I was looking up and didn’t know what happened with Wes.

"But after I'd seen it I came back out on the court and I told Wes it was a clean play and it was unfortunate my neck and arm snapped again like it did."

The Lakers were missing their own star, with forward Anthony Davis absent due to a left groin strain.

Four-time NBA MVP LeBron James said he was preparing for Game 6 without Davis being available.

"My mindset is as if AD won't be in the game in Game 6, if something changes we go from there," James said post-match. "I'm preparing as if he's not."

The Phoenix Suns moved 3-2 ahead in their NBA first round playoffs series against the Los Angeles Lakers with a 115-85 victory but star guard Chris Paul went down after re-injuring his shoulder.

Devin Booker top scored for the Suns with 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists as the Suns move within one win of knocking out the reigning champions.

The Suns, however, will be sweating on Paul's fitness ahead of Game 6 after going down clutching his sore right shoulder, having played 23 minutes, with nine points and six assists.

Phoenix blew the game open with a remarkable 32-10 second quarter, opening up a 32-point half-time lead which the Lakers, who were without Anthony Davis, never threatened in the second half.

LeBron James top scored with 24 points including six three-pointers along with five rebounds and seven assists, while Andre Drummond had seven points and 13 rebounds.

The series returns to Los Angeles for Game 6, before the final match in Arizona if required.

 

Nugs win in double over-time, Nets progress

Nikola Jokic and Damian Lillard traded blows as the Denver Nuggets edged the Portland Trail Blazers 147-140 in a double over-time thriller.

Jokic finished with 38 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, while Michael Porter Jr had 26 points, including a clutch late three-pointer along with 12 rebounds and three assists.

Lillard remarkably scored 55 points for the defeated Blazers, along with six rebounds and 10 assists, although he may regret passing to CJ McCollum with nine seconds left at 143-140 down. McCollum mis-controlled and stepped out of play, forcing the decisive turnover.

In a back-and-forth encounter, McCollum had earlier drained a three-pointer to send the game into over-time.

The Brooklyn Nets finished the job in their first round series against the Boston Celtics with James Harden starring in a 123-109 win which completed a 4-1 victory.

Harden produced a triple-double, scoring 34 points with 10 rebounds and 10 assists for the Nets.

Kyrie Irving added 25 points, while Kevin Durant contributed 24, including four three-pointers shooting at 66 per cent from beyond the arc.

The Nets will next face the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

 

Wayward Tatum's radar off

Jayson Tatum was a lone hand for the Celtics, managing 32 points, although he shot poorly, albeit regularly under intense heat, at 12-from-27 from the field and 36.4 per cent from beyond the arc.

 

History-making haul in losing cause

Lillard's 55 points came in a losing cause, making history as the third most in a defeat in NBA playoffs history behind Michael Jordan's 63 against the Celtics in 1986 and Donovan Mitchell's 57 against the Nuggets in 2020. He also had a record 12 threes.

 

Tuesday's results

Brooklyn Nets 123-109 Boston Celtics
Denver Nuggets 147-140 (OT) Portland Trail Blazers
Phoenix Suns 115-85 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Hawks at Knicks

The New York Knicks will look to stay alive as their first round playoffs series returns to Madison Square Garden against the Atlanta Hawks trailing 3-1.

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