Nikola Jokic scored 31 points as part of his league-leading 13th triple-double of the season and Jamal Murray also had 31 points to lead the Denver Nuggets to a 114-109 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday.

Jokic sealed Denver’s third straight win with a 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds remaining. He leads all active players with 118 triple-doubles.

Myles Turner had 22 points and Pascal Siakam added 16 with 10 rebounds in his first home game since the Pacers acquired him from Toronto last week.

Indiana lost its third in a row overall and eighth straight against Denver.

The Nuggets took a 93-81 lead into the fourth quarter, but the Pacers took the lead 103-102 on Ben Sheppard’s 3-pointer with 3:42 left.

Jokic’s layup with 1:38 to play gave Denver the lead for good and Murray’s running finger roll 22 seconds later made it 111-107.

McCollum sinks 9 3-pointers as Pelicans erupt

CJ McCollum matched his season high with 33 points and went 9 for 13 from 3-point range as the New Orleans Pelicans set a franchise scoring record in a 153-124 win over the Utah Jazz.

Zion Williamson added 17 points and a career-high 11 assists and Herb Jones scored 22 points for the Pelicans, who surpassed their previous franchise record of 149 points in a win over Sacramento in October 2018.

McCollum shot 11 of 17 from the field and New Orleans connected on half its attempts from long range (23 of 46) as part of a 57.7 percent overall shooting effort.

Brunson, Randle team up to keep Knicks hot

Jalen Brunson had 30 points and Julius Randle flirted with a second straight triple-double as the New York Knicks rallied for a 108-103 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

Donte DiVincenzo scored 11 points and OG Anunoby added 10 for the Knicks, who have won four straight and improved to 10-2 since acquiring Anunoby from Toronto.

Randle finished with 30 points, nine rebounds and seven assists after he had 18 points, 16 boards and 10 assists in Saturday’s win over the Raptors.

Mikal Bridges scored 36 points with a career-high seven 3-pointers for the Nets, who entered the fourth quarter with a nine-point lead, just two nights after squandering an 18-point advantage in a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

 

The Memphis Grizzlies got career-best scoring performances from Vince Williams Jr. and GG Jackson to overcome a slew of injured players and spoil Draymond Green's return to the Golden State Warriors' lineup in Monday's 116-107 win.

Williams amassed 24 points and seven rebounds and Jackson contributed 23 points off the bench on a night Memphis was without three of its top four scorers for the season in Ja Morant, Desmond Bane and Marcus Smart.

Both players recorded eight fourth-quarter points as the Grizzlies pulled away late to halt a two-game losing streak and hand the reeling Warriors an eighth loss in 11 games.

Green had seven points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes in his first appearance in just over a month. The former NBA Defensive Player of the Year had just completed serving an indefinite NBA suspension for striking Phoenix Suns centre Jusuf Nurkic in the face on Dec. 12.

The Warriors owned a 91-90 lead following Stephen Curry's go-ahead 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter, but Memphis responded with a 16-5 run to break the game open. 

Jackson, who finished 5 of 8 from 3-point range, had two triples during the surge, which Luke Kennard capped with a 3-pointer to give the Grizzlies a 106-96 advantage with 7:20 left.

Golden State never got closer than seven points behind the rest of the way.

Curry led the Warriors with 26 points and Jonathan Kuminga delivered 20 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.

Mavericks down rival Pelicans behind big games from Irving, Hardaway

Kyrie Irving and Tim Hardaway Jr. each eclipsed the 40-point mark while rallying the Dallas Mavericks to a 125-120 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, a win that created a two-way tie atop the Southwest Division between the teams.

The Mavericks overcame a 10-point deficit late in the third quarter and another absence from superstar Luka Dončić to avenge Saturday’s 118-110 home loss to the Pelicans.

Irving and Hardaway more than made up for Doncic missing a third straight game with a sprained ankle. Irving scored 24 of his 42 points in the second half, while Hardaway had 11 of his season-high 41 points during a fourth quarter in which Dallas outscored New Orleans by a 33-21 margin.

The Pelicans held a 111-104 lead with seven minutes left before Dallas took control with a 17-4 run. Hardaway hit back-to-back 3-pointers during the pivotal spurt, the second of which gave the Mavericks a 112-111 edge with 4:16 remaining.

Jalen Green’s 3-pointer with 1:27 left to play extended Dallas’ advantage to 121-115, though New Orleans answered with five straight points to cut its deficit to one with 17.7 seconds remaining.

Irving then hit two free throws on the ensuing possession, and after the Pelicans’ Brandon Ingram missed a potential game-tying 3-point attempt, Maxi Kleber made two foul shots to seal the win and pull Dallas even with New Orleans in the standings.

Zion Williamson led the Pelicans with 30 points and CJ McCollum had 23 in the loss, though Ingram went just 3 of 14 from the field while finishing with 12 points.

Jazz extend winning streak with rout of Pacers

Lauri Markkanen put up 32 points and 10 rebounds as the resurgent Utah Jazz continued their recent winning ways with a 132-105 rout of the short-handed Indiana Pacers.

The Jazz cruised to their sixth consecutive victory behind the hot shooting of Markkanen and Collin Sexton, who went 11 of 17 from the field while scoring a season-high 30 points to go along with five assists. Markkanen made 10 of 15 field goal attempts and was a perfect 10 for 10 from the foul line.

After getting off to a 7-16 start, Utah has won 15 of its last 19 games to move up to ninth place in the Western Conference.

The Pacers lost their second in a row while playing a fourth straight game without star point guard Tyrese Haliburton, out with a hamstring injury. Indiana was also without two other key contributors in guard Bruce Brown and 3-point specialist Aaron Nesmith due to injuries.

Indiana's depleted lineup proved to be no match, as the Jazz took a 33-26 lead after one quarter and increased it to 64-50 at half-time behind 17 points from Sexton and 15 from Markkanen.

Utah maintained a double-digit advantage the rest of the way, with its lead swelling to 29 points in the final stages.

Buddy Hield and Andrew Nembhard each had 14 points to lead Indiana.

 

LeBron James said it had been a "rough" New Year's weekend after playing through illness as the Los Angeles Lakers suffered their second defeat in as many days on Sunday.

James played through flu-like symptoms as the Lakers suffered a contentious 108-106 defeat to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday, being denied a potential game-tying three-pointer with 3.3 seconds remaining.

On New Year's Eve, the New Orleans Pelicans dropped Los Angeles to 17-17 with a comprehensive 129-109 success at Smoothie King Center, Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram posting 26 points apiece.

James scored a game-high 34 and former Pelican Anthony Davis had 20 points and 10 rebounds as the Lakers suffered a seventh loss in nine games, leaving the league's all-time leading scorer to reflect on a difficult few days.

"We have to figure it out and get better, for sure," James said. "We're not a team that likes to play from behind. We've been in that position a lot this year.

"The flight last night did not help, obviously. We didn't get to the hotel last night until 3:45 a.m., so, it was a rough day trying to recalibrate and get ready for the game. 

"But I'm happy I was able to go out and just try to make some plays happen for my team."

A raucous New Orleans crowd was on its feet when Jose Alvarado made steals from both James and Davis during the second quarter, with his team up by 19 points at that stage.

The 25-year-old was delighted to give himself a highlight-reel moment against one of the all-time greats, saying: "LeBron, he's one of the greatest players to ever play this game and for me to be on the court, for me to get steals, for me to do anything… that's pretty amazing.

"When I get back to watch videos when I grow old, and they say that he is the best player to play this game, at least I got a video of him, with me getting a steal."

The Detroit Pistons etched their name into the history books Tuesday, setting the NBA single-season record with their 27th straight loss, 118-112 to the Brooklyn Nets.

Cam Johnson scored 24 points and Mikal Bridges added 21 for the Nets, who handed the Pistons their 26th consecutive loss on Saturday.

Cade Cunningham poured in 37 of his 41 points in the second half and shot 15 of 21, but Detroit broke a tie with the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers and 2013-14 Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers hold the overall mark at 28 straight losses, a skid that started in 2014-15 and carried over into 2015-16.

The Pistons’ next chance to end the streak is Thursday at league-leading Boston.

Cunnigham made a pair of layups to draw the Pistons within 112-110 with less than a minute remaining, but Dorian Finney-Smith sank a baseline 3-point to put the Nets up 115-110 with 38 seconds left.

Alec Burks then missed a 3-pointer and Bridges hit two free throws for a 117-110 advantage.

Grizzlies win in OT, improve to 4-0 since Morant’s return

Ja Morant scored 31 points and the Memphis Grizzlies rallied for a 116-115 win in overtime against the New Orleans Pelicans to improve to 4-0 since he made his season debut a week earlier.

Desmond Bane scored 27 points, including a key 3-pointer in the final minute of regulation and the clinching free throw with 4 seconds left in overtime.

Jaren Jackson Jr. added 19 points, redeeming his missed free throw at the end of regulation with a pair of baskets late in OT that gave Memphis the lead for good.

Morant has averaged 28.8 points in four games since he returned from his 25-game NBA suspension after the Grizzlies were 6-19 in his absence.

Zion Williamson had 23 points and 11 rebounds for the Pelicans, who also lost a double-digit, second-half lead to Memphis in the previous meeting.

Kings’ Fox scores 43 in loss to Trail Blazers

De’Aaron Fox had 43 points but it wasn’t enough as Anfernee Simons scored 29 to lift the Portland Trail Blazers to a 130-113 win over the Sacramento Kings.  

Duop Reath added a career-high 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds off the bench for the Blazers, who got 19 points from Malcolm Brogdon and 17 and 11 assists from rookie Scoot Henderson.

Fox was 16 of 26 from the field and 7 of 15 from long range while adding eight rebounds and four assists. Domantas Sabonis scored 34 points, but no other Sacramento player was in double figures.

Zion Williamson delivered a season-high 36 points as the New Orleans Pelicans cooled off the NBA-leading Minnesota Timberwolves with a 121-107 victory on Monday.

CJ McCollum scored nine of his 23 points in the fourth quarter to help the Pelicans pull away and bounce back from Thursday's 44-point blowout loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA In-Season Tournament semifinals.

Minnesota entered the matchup with a league-best 17-4 record and had won six consecutive games but played without leading scorer Anthony Edwards due to a hip pointer.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Mike Conley and Naz Reid all had 17 points for the Timberwolves, with Towns adding 12 rebounds. 

Minnesota never led in the second half, however, as the Pelicans ended the second quarter on a 12-3 run to take a 59-52 half-time lead.

New Orleans held a 90-86 advantage after three quarters, then opened the fourth on a 9-0 spurt capped by a McCollum 3-pointer to gain further separation.

The Pelicans also received 20 points from Brandon Ingram and 14 points and 13 rebounds from Jonas Valanciunas.

Bucks bounce back with overtime win over Bulls

Giannis Antetokounmpo compiled 32 points, 12 rebounds and six assists and the Milwaukee Bucks dominated the early stages of overtime to come through with a 133-129 win over the Chicago Bulls.

After Chicago rallied from a 14-point first-half deficit to force overtime on DeMar DeRozan's jumper with 3.7 seconds left in regulation, the Bucks opened the extra session with an 8-1 run to build a 126-119 lead and never trailed thereafter.

Brook Lopez and Malik Beasley each had 19 points to help Milwaukee rebound from Thursday's loss to the Indiana Pacers in the NBA In-Season Tournament semfinals.

The Bulls had a four-game winning streak halted despite a monster performance from DeRozan, who put up 41 points and 11 assists. Coby White finished with a season-high 33 points in the loss.

Nuggets hold off Hawks to end three-game skid

Jamal Murray scored 29 points on 12-of-15 shooting and added nine rebounds to help the Denver Nuggets get back on track with a 129-122 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

The reigning NBA champions withstood a career-high 40 points from Atlanta's Bogdan Bogdanović and a fourth-quarter comeback attempt by the Hawks to stop a three-game losing streak. Nikola Jokić contributed 25 points and nine assists for Denver, while rookie Julian Strawther hit six 3-pointers while producing a career-high 22 points off the bench.

Bogdanovic had 13 of his points in the fourth quarter with Atlanta's leading scorer, Trae Young, out of the game after being ejected when arguing a no-foul call late in the third.

The Hawks trailed 100-86 at the time of Young's departure and were down by 20 points with under 10 minutes left before rallying late, as Bogdanovic led a 16-5 run that cut the Nuggets' lead to 126-122 with 30.5 seconds left.

Jokic hit two free throws on the ensuing possession, however, and Bogdanovic missed a pair of 3-point tries in the final seconds as the Hawks' bid came up short.

Young had 19 points and nine assists before exiting.

 

LeBron James quipped he was not too old to put his body on the line for the $500,000 per player cash prize that goes to the NBA's in-season tournament winners.

James' comment came after he played a starring role in the Los Angeles Lakers' 133-89 demolition of the New Orleans Pelicans in Thursday's semi-final.

Just over three weeks away from his 39th birthday, James finished with 30 points, eight assists and five rebounds at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

He also got in the way of a Zion Williamson charge in the first quarter. Asked if he was too old to be risking a serious injury, James smiled: "Listen man, not for that 500, I ain't."

Each player on the winning side of the inaugural final, in which the Lakers will take on the Indiana Pacers, will receive a $500,000 bonus.

James was weighing up retirement after last season, but is thrilled to still be on the court.

"If you decide to retire, or whatever the case may be, you're not a part of it anymore, so it wouldn't be me leaving it on the table because I would have never had the table set," James told ESPN.

"But I'm happy that I'm here; this is a pretty cool moment, and let's see if we can capitalise on it. It's been good. It's been dope.

"We've got to finish our breakfast on Saturday. That's the most important thing."

Lakers coach Darvin Ham, meanwhile, believes the NBA's in-season tournament has injected fresh life into the early stages of the season.

"This time of the year you tend to, you don't want to admit it, but teams tend to sleepwalk through some of these games," Ham said.

"So for the league to infuse this tournament at this point and time of the year, I thought it was brilliant.

"Now being here in Vegas, it's definitely a really thick electricity that's happening that's reverberating all the way through the arena, through the teams. Everybody is excited to try to give it their best shot.

"We are just trying to build a rhythm and be the best team we can be and put our best foot forward on a daily basis. The tournament just happens to align with what we got going on in general."

It was another tough game for Pelicans talisman Williamson, who finished with only 13 points.

"I got to be better," Williamson said. "I got to be more aggressive in finding my shot. I got to do more things to get my team going. I think I was too laid back tonight."

Zion Williamson believes there is great potential in the ranks of the New Orleans Pelicans after they bounced back to defeat the Sacramento Kings in the NBA's in-season tournament.

The Pelicans teed up a semi-final tie with either the Los Angeles Lakers or the Phoenix Suns in Las Vegas, after rallying from a 15-point first-quarter deficit to win 127-117 on Tuesday.

Brandon Ingram finished with 30 points, eight rebounds and six assists in the comeback victory, while Herb Jones added 23 points for the Pelicans, who trailed by a 32-17 score less than eight minutes in before embarking on a 22-4 run to take a three-point lead early in the second quarter.

New Orleans extended the margin to 69-61 at halftime and never trailed in the final two quarters while building a lead as big as 15 points in the third. Ingram had 17 of his points in the second half, while Jonas Valanciunas posted 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting along with 11 rebounds for the Pelicans.

"This team can be so great," Williamson said. "We have a lot of potential, but we have a lot of growth to do.

"But overall, we can do something really special if everybody stays locked in. We can do something really special."

Williamson only had 10 points, but he believes it is crucial that others step up to the plate when he is not at his best.

"With the shooters we've added, it definitely does take pressure off of me," Williamson said.

"I didn't play too well, but we were still up 13, 18, late in the game. This just shows how locked in everybody is. Coach always talks about staying ready. Our guys stayed ready."

For coach Willie Green, the level of trust shown by his players was the most pleasing aspect of the win.

"The biggest thing I saw in that game was trust," Green said.

"Our guys just stuck together. They stuck together in the huddle, and they continued to make the right play over and over and over again.

When you see a team that has 29 assists and only 14 turnovers, that's a team that's continuing to trust. We want to continue to build on that."

The Pelicans' win was marred, however, by news of a fan dying after a medical emergency at Golden 1 Center.

"During the first quarter of the Kings vs. Pelicans game, a guest had a medical emergency," a Kings statement read.

"EMS immediately responded and administered CPR. Tragically, these efforts were unsuccessful and the guest passed away. The organization offers its deepest condolences to the guest's family and loved ones."

Willie Green believes Zion Williamson is "starting to find his rhythm" after his 33 points led the New Orleans Pelicans to a 124-114 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.

Williamson went 11 of 12 from the field as the Pelicans moved to 10-9, taking advantage of the absence of reigning MVP Joel Embiid and ensuring the 76ers fell to 12-6.

Pelicans head coach Green is delighted with the play of Williamson, who has now scored at least 26 points and managed five assists in his last six games, saying: "He was great. He attacked the basket. Getting to the paint was something we were big on.

"He's been knocking off some rust. You can see he's getting better and better as we progress. He's starting to find his rhythm.

We're putting him in different situations and he's thriving, so it's fun to see."

With Embiid out through illness, Philadelphia struggled without their key man, and 76ers head coach Nick Nurse was frustrated with his team's display after the game.

"We cannot use that [Embiid's absence] as an excuse, and we won't," Nurse told reporters. "What put us in a big hole is we didn't go out and execute our defensive schemes the way we wanted to from the start of the game."

Miles Bridges' 3-pointer with 6.6 seconds left in overtime capped a stunning rally by the Charlotte Hornets, who snapped the Boston Celtics' six-game winning streak with a 121-118 victory on Monday.

The Hornets trailed by 11 points with six minutes remaining in regulation and overcame a 45-point night from Boston star Jayson Tatum to end a run of six consecutive home losses. LaMelo Ball led the comeback with 36 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, while former Celtic Gordon Hayward scored six of his 20 points in overtime.

Bridges added 14 points and 15 rebounds in his third game back from a suspension for a domestic violence arrest that caused him to miss the entire 2022-23 season and the first 10 games of this one.

The Celtics appeared on the way towards another victory before Charlotte scored the final nine points of the fourth quarter. Ball hit a key 3-pointer during the late run and forced overtime with a driving layup with 7.2 seconds remaining.

Tatum's 3-pointer with 57.6 seconds left in regulation put Boston back up by a 116-114 score, but Ball fed Hayward for a dunk on the ensuing possession and after the Celtics' Jaylen Brown missed a 3-pointer, Bridges buried a 25-foot jumper with time winding down to give Charlotte a 119-116 lead.

Payton Pritchard went 5 of 8 from 3-point range and recorded 21 points off the bench for Boston, while Tatum added 13 rebounds and six assists.

Curry extends 3-point record as Warriors halt six-game skid

Stephen Curry made five more 3-pointers and collected 32 points to get the Golden State Warriors back on track with a 121-116 win over the Houston Rockets.

Curry, the NBA's all-time leader in 3-point field goals made, finished 5 of 9 from beyond the arc to become the first in league history with 13 consecutive games with four or more triples to begin a season. 

Klay Thompson broke out of a shooting slump with 20 points to help the Warriors end a six-game losing streak. Chris Paul added 15 points and 12 assists, while Dario Saric contributed 18 points off the bench. 

Thompson, who ended 5 of 11 from 3-point range, had 12 first-half points as Golden State built a 63-53 lead at intermission. Curry scored 16 of his points in the fourth quarter to allow the Warriors to stay in front the rest of the way.

The Rockets lost for the third straight time following a six-game winning streak despite Alperen Sengun's 30 points and 13 rebounds. Fred VanVleet dished out 14 assists for Houston but went just 3 of 13 from the field while being held to 10 points.

Pelicans snap Kings' winning streak with 36-point blowout

Brandon Ingram scored 31 points and Zion Williamson had 26 as the New Orleans Pelicans cooled off the Sacramento Kings with a 129-93 rout.

The Pelicans shot 54 per cent from the field and led by as many as 41 points in ending Sacramento's six-game winning streak. Ingram made all five of his 3-point attempts and shot 11 of 18 overall, while Williamson converted 12 of his 16 field goal tries and added five assists and three steals.

Williamson racked up 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting during a dominant first half as the Pelicans took a 66-53 lead into the break. New Orleans then broke the game open by outscoring the Kings by a 34-16 margin in the third quarter, with Ingram delivering 18 points for the period.

Sacramento shot just 24.4 per cent from 3-point range, including a 2-of-12 performance from leading scorer De'Aaron Fox. 

Harrison Barnes led the Kings with 16 points. Fox ended with a season-low 14 after coming into the contest averaging 31.9 per game. 

Zion Williamson scored 10 of his 16 points in the first quarter and Brandon Ingram had 18 to lead the New Orleans Pelicans a 104-92 preseason victory over the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night.

Williamson finished the opening quarter with 10 points, four steals, two assists and a rebound and shot 6 of 8 in 16 minutes overall before exiting for good.

Franz Wagner led the Magic with 19 points and brother Moritz Wagner added 16. The brothers combined to shoot 15 of 21 while the rest of the team shot 20 of 63.

 

 

Elsewhere in the NBA, Jayson Tatum poured in 28 points with five of his team’s 23 3-pointers and Kristaps Porzingis had 20 points in the Boston Celtics’ 123-110 win over the New York Knicks.

Jaylen Brown scored 17 points for Boston, which connected on 23 of 52 from long range.

Quentin Grimes paced the Knicks with 22 points, including 7 of 12 on 3-pointers. 

In Oklahoma City, Josh Giddey scored 19 points and Chet Holmgren had 18 to propel the hot-shooting Thunder to a 124-101 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Giddey was 9 of 12 from the field and Holmgren was 7 of 8 as part of the Thunder’s 56.5 percent (48 of 85) shooting effort that included 18 of 39 from 3-point range.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 18 points and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes, while Damian Lillard scored just five points on 2-of-11 shooting in his second game with Milwaukee.

Zion Williamson made his first appearance in an NBA game since January with 12 points in 16 minutes in the New Orleans’ Pelicans’ 122-105 loss to the Orlando Magic.

Williamson sat out the final four months of the season after he injured his right hamstring in Philadelphia last Jan. 2.

The Pelicans star missed his first two shots before throwing down a crowd-pleasing, two-handed dunk. He later added a 13-foot running floater, a short turnaround, and a layup to go with four free throws.

Williamson added five rebounds and five assists in the preseason opener for both teams.

Wendell Carter Jr. had 18 points in 19 minutes for Orlando and Paolo Banchero scored 12 points, highlighted by his driving, one-handed dunk between Williamson and New Orleans center Jonas Valanciunas.

 

Zion Williamson is waiting to "feel like Zion" before he returns for the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Pelicans have qualified for the play-in tournament despite being without superstar Williamson since January 2.

A hamstring injury has kept the former first overall pick on the sideline, with setbacks frustrating both the player and his team.

His return date is still unknown on the eve of Wednesday's nine-10 game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, with the Pelicans still two wins from the playoffs.

But Williamson was at least back at practice and appearing before reporters on Tuesday to say: "Physically, I'm fine.

"Now, it's just a matter of when I feel like Zion. I know the atmosphere I'd be entering based off the playoff experience. So, now, it's just a matter of when I feel like Zion."

Williamson, who described the past three months as "very frustrating", said "things have got a lot better".

Yet he still could not outline exactly what was required to "feel like Zion" and get back on the court for a team who at one stage before his injury threatened to contend.

"I don't feel like there are any specific benchmarks for being Zion," Williamson said.

"It's just a matter of when I feel like myself – just feeling like myself and knowing that I can go out there and have a big impact for my team."

"It's a little bit of a mental battle, because you know when I re-aggravated back in February, it was tough.

"So, when I go to make certain moves, there is that hesitation. Sometimes there's not and sometimes there is.

"And I understand the magnitude of these games coming up, and I don't want to be out there hesitating or doing something that may affect my team in a bad way."

The NBA regular season has come to a close, which means the postseason is on the horizon to excite fans with its unpredictability and drama.

First, though, the play-in format returns for its third season and promises to once again add all sorts of further intrigue to the playoff picture.

The mini tournament takes place over April 11-14, with the teams that finished seventh and eighth playing 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 first round of the playoffs, while the eighth seed will take on the Milwaukee Bucks. In the West, the seventh seed will go up against the Memphis Grizzlies, and the eighth seed will be paired with the Denver Nuggets.

Stats Perform previews the eight teams looking to secure their place in the 2023 NBA playoffs.

Eastern Conference

Tuesday, April 11 – Miami Heat (7th) vs Atlanta Hawks (8th) 

One of these teams has made the Eastern Conference Finals in each of the last three seasons, although that trend appears unlikely to continue this year.

After starting the season 2-5, the Heat soon recovered some sort of form without threatening to repeat the performances that saw them clinch the top seed in the East the previous year. They at least strung together a solid run over December and January, going 19-11, to boost their playoff hopes.

The Heat will be favourites in this matchup, having gone 4-1 in April and 3-1 against the Hawks this season, including winning back-to-back games in Miami in early March.

The trio of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro will be key, with all three scoring over 20 points per game in the regular season.

Opponents Atlanta went 7-3 to start the season, but their form dipped towards the end of 2022, before picking up again in January.

Trae Young, the star of their 2021 run, will be hoping to lead his team back to the playoffs, having averaged 26.2 points and 10.2 assists in the regular season, and the Heat's ability to stop him could be the key in this one.

The loser will host the winner of...

Wednesday, April 12 – Toronto Raptors (9th) vs Chicago Bulls (10th)

The Raptors have done well to reach this stage after a poor first half to the campaign, starting 16-23, but an improvement in 2023 saw them end level with the Hawks with an even .500 record.

Pascal Siakam averaged 24.2 points from his 71 games in the regular season, while Fred VanVleet (19.3) will also be required to lend a hand.

Chicago, who ended with a 40-42 record, will look to the pairing of Zach LaVine (24.8) and DeMar DeRozan (24.5) for inspiration after a promising end to the regular season on an 11-6 run.

The Raptors were 2-1 against the Bulls this season, including winning their most recent meeting in Toronto in late February on the back of a fourth-quarter fightback.

This promises to be another intriguing encounter.

Western Conference:

Tuesday, April 11 – Los Angeles Lakers (7th) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (8th)

This has been a fascinating season for the Lakers, who looked down and out but recovered to such an extent they ended up disappointed they had to settle for a play-in spot.

LeBron James and co. started 0-5 and then 2-10 as the word "crisis" was tossed about by all and sundry.

However, a subsequent run of 8-2 propelled them into a season few could have imagined in early November, while they also finished the year strongly on a 9-2 run.

James (28.9 points) and Anthony Davis (25.9) have each had injury issues, playing just 55 and 56 games respectively, but they have crucially found form and fitness at this crucial stage in the season.

 

The Timberwolves also have talent but come into this with a bit of a cloud over them after the fracas between big-trade flop Rudy Gobert and Kyle Anderson in their final game against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Minnesota started 2-0 against the Lakers this season, but Davis had 38 points and 17 rebounds in a big win when the teams met less than two weeks ago.

The loser will host the winner of...

Wednesday, April 12 – New Orleans Pelicans (9th) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (10th)

The biggest story around this one centres on who will not be there, as Zion Williamson continues to sit on the sideline with a hamstring injury.

The Pelicans' star man averaged 26.0 points this season but played only 29 games and none since January 2.

Updates from New Orleans have remained vague, although Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin has spoken of a "best possible outcome" that would "maybe" see Williamson in practice around the first round. Again, "if everything lined up perfectly".

That means Brandon Ingram will be required to carry the scoring burden for now, a task he warmed up for in fine style with a 42-point return against the Timberwolves on Sunday.

The Thunder will look to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to lead them into the postseason, with the 24-year-old averaging 31.4 points this year, the fourth-most in the league.

New Orleans were 3-1 against OKC this season, but the Thunder won their last game in March with Gilgeous-Alexander scoring 35 – albeit the Pelicans were without Ingram as well as Williamson.

The New Orleans Pelicans are still unable to give a timeline for Zion Williamson's return from injury with the playoffs fast approaching.

Williamson has not played for the Pelicans since injuring his right hamstring against the Philadelphia 76ers on January 2.

The 22-year-old withdrew from February's All-Star game after failing to recover from the injury, before then aggravating the damage to prolong his time on the sidelines.

Providing another update-of-sorts on Williamson on Thursday, Pelicans vice-president of basketball operations David Griffin confirmed there is still no return date set, even with the team having now clinched a play-in berth.

"After further evaluation, it has been determined that Zion Williamson will continue his rehabilitation and conditioning regimen," Griffin said. 

"We will continue to monitor his progression and updates will be provided as warranted."

Injury-plagued Williamson has struggled to remain fit since being taken with the first overall pick by New Orleans in 2019, missing the entire 2021-22 season with a broken foot.

He has played just 29 times this season, averaging 26.0 points and 7.0 rebounds.

Barring a late rally, the Pelicans will have to go through next week's play-in tournament to make the postseason, which begins on April 15.

Zion Williamson has been cleared to return to on-court activities but will need at least two weeks to get up to speed.

The New Orleans Pelicans announced Williamson's return to fitness on Wednesday – a significant boost for a team whose season has gone off the rails.

At the time of Williamson's hamstring strain in January, the Pels were third in the Western Conference, just a game behind the first-placed Denver Nuggets.

Since then, however, New Orleans are 12-23, slipping to 12th place on the outside even of the play-in race.

Williamson has not been the only Pelican to miss time with injury, but Brandon Ingram's return has not improved the team's fortunes.

With the Pels set to re-evaluate Williamson in two weeks' time, he is on course to miss a minimum of seven more games.

New Orleans only have 10 games remaining.

A return in the final week of the regular season could be just the boost the Pels need, but they could also very realistically be out of postseason contention by then.

This has been another season wrecked by injury for Williamson, the former first overall pick.

He played only 24 games in his rookie season and 61 the following year before missing the entire 2021-22 campaign with a foot fracture.

The Pels still handed Williamson a five-year rookie extension worth up to $231million, with $193m guaranteed.

Although he continued to miss games on occasion, the initial signs were encouraging as Williamson averaged 26.0 points through 29 games.

But the hamstring injury derailed his and the Pels' season, with time running out to set it back on track.

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