The star-studded Brooklyn Nets are on the cusp of the Eastern Conference semi-finals after Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden helped take down the Boston Celtics 141-126 in Game 4.

Durant, Irving and Harden led the way to silence the Celtics crowd in Boston, where the second-seeded Nets claimed a commanding 3-1 lead in the opening-round series following a franchise playoff scoring record.

A game-high 42 points from Durant, and double-doubles from Irving (39 points and 11 rebounds) and Harden (23 points and 18 assists) fuelled the Nets at TD Garden on Sunday.

Durant, Irving and Harden tied the playoffs record for most points scored by three team-mates (104), after John Havlicek (54), Jo Jo White (34), Dave Cowens (16) in 1973 and Dominique Wilkins (50), Randy Wittman (35), Spud Webb (19) in 1986.

Brooklyn duo Durant and Irving also became the first pair of team-mates in NBA history to each score 35-plus points while going 10-for-10 shooting or better from the free-throw line in the same game, according to Stats Perform.

After his mammoth 50-point haul in Game 3, Jayson Tatum followed up with 40 points, seven rebounds and five assists but it was not enough for the Celtics, who are facing elimination.

 

Clippers fightback

After dropping the opening two games, the Los Angeles Clippers are now level with the Dallas Mavericks at 2-2 in the west following their 106-81 rout. Kawhi Leonard's efficient double-double of 29 points (on 11-for-15 shooting) and 10 rebounds inspired the Clippers on the road. Paul George added 20 points as the Clippers became the first team in league history to lose the first two games of a playoff series at home and then win the next two on the road by a combined 35-plus points, per Stats Perform.

The Atlanta Hawks relied on their usual stars to get past the New York Knicks 113-96 and move within one win of the second round of the playoffs. Trae Young had 27 points and John Collins chipped in with 22 of his own as the Hawks earned a 3-1 advantage.

 

Davis injury caps Lakers loss

The Los Angeles Lakers lost 100-92 to the Phoenix Suns, who levelled the matchup in the west. Anthony Davis' injury headlined the defeat as the Suns capitalised on his second-half absence. Davis suffered a groin injury late in the second quarter and did not return for reigning champions the Lakers in Los Angeles. 

Luka Doncic was cleared to play against the Clippers, despite a neck strain. While he put up 19 points, the Mavs star was just nine-for-24 shooting in Dallas. Doncic also had little support on the court after starters Tim Hardaway Jr. (four points on one-for-eight shooting), Dorian Finney-Smith (eight points on three-for-nine shooting) and Maxi Kleber (0 points on 0-for-three shooting) struggled.

 

Caruso-LeBron combo

The Lakers lost but Alex Caruso and LeBron James still produced a highlight moment in the second quarter. Caruso lobbed the ball to James off the backboard and the latter finished emphatically. James registered 25 points and 12 rebounds.

 

Sunday's results

Atlanta Hawks 113-96 New York Knicks
Phoenix Suns 100-92 Los Angeles Lakers
Brooklyn Nets 141-126 Boston Celtics
Los Angeles Clippers 106-81 Dallas Mavericks

 

76ers at Wizards

Eastern Conference top seeds the Philadelphia 76ers can seal a 4-0 series sweep of the Washington Wizards in DC on Monday.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said he is ready to carry the load after Anthony Davis suffered a groin injury as the NBA champions lost to the Phoenix Suns.

Davis sat out the second half of the Lakers' 100-92 defeat to the Suns, who levelled the Western Conference first-round series at 2-2 on Sunday.

Lakers star Davis clutched his groin area after missing a layup during the final minute of the second quarter in Los Angeles, where he is reportedly day-to-day following the injury concern.

James posted 25 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in a losing effort for the Lakers and he insisted he is ready to lead the way should Davis miss game time.

"For me, it's putting our team in position to be successful," James said afterwards.

"It starts with my approach. It starts with my accountability and trickles down to everybody else.

"These shoulders were built for a reason and if it takes for me to put more on top of it then so be it.

"Win, lose or draw, I'm ready for the challenge."

Davis, who has been hampered by injuries this season – having missed 30 regular-season games, had six points, four rebounds and three assists in 19 minutes before hobbling out of the game.

A knee injury sustained in Game 3 already had Davis under an injury cloud.

"I thought he was labouring a little bit even before the groin injury," Lakers head coach Frank Vogel.

"He was saying that his knee was sore, but there was no way that he was not going to play. I thought he gave a heck of a run at it, trying to compete through pain."

Vogel added: "You know, he's one of the best players in the world, so you have to adjust.

"And I thought we gave great effort trying to overcome that loss, but it certainly wasn't enough."

Game 5 will be held in Phoenix on Tuesday.

"We kept on fighting back and got stops after stop after stop and still made it a game," James said. "But they played well. I tip my hat to them.

"They came in, played extremely well. And it's going to be a big-time Game 5 come Tuesday."

Anthony Davis managed to finish Game 3 for the Los Angeles Lakers despite injuring his left knee during the contest, and he has no intention of sitting out Game 4. 

Davis said Saturday there is "no chance" he will miss Sunday's matchup against the Phoenix Suns even though he has experienced swelling in the knee since hyperextending it Thursday. 

Davis and the Lakers can take a 3-1 series lead on the Suns with a win in Los Angeles. 

"There's no chance that I don't play tomorrow," Davis told reporters Saturday.

"As a player, I've wanted to be in this moment. You want to be in the playoffs and help contribute to my team's success. I want to be out there.

"So in my eyes, for me as a competitor, I think I'll be out there [Sunday]."

The Lakers listed Davis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who also hurt his knee in Game 3, as questionable, but head coach Frank Vogel said he hopes both will play. 

Davis hurt his knee in the second quarter while landing after chasing down Devin Booker for a block. 

He told reporters after that game he did not really think about his knee once he got through the opening minutes of the second half. 

Davis ended up playing 40 minutes and contributing 34 points and 11 rebounds in the 109-95 Los Angeles win. 

Now he wants to make sure the Lakers keep pushing and send the Suns to the brink of elimination. 

"It's going to be probably the biggest game of the series, I think, besides if Game 7 happens," he said.

"We're going in, want to protect home court ... We know they're going to come out and play desperate, in a sense."

Anthony Davis gave the Los Angeles Lakers an injury scare but vowed he would be ready for Game Four in the NBA playoffs series against the Phoenix Suns.

After posting 34 points and 11 rebounds in a 109-95 win on Thursday, Davis reflected on the moment in the second quarter when he made a chase-down block on Devin Booker but fell and hurt his knee.

The Lakers lead the series 2-1 and the next game comes on Sunday, with Davis optimistic he will be available to the Lakers for that one.

"We've got two days in between so I'm going to get it looked at, checked out," Davis said.

"I landed awkwardly and tried not to fall on Book, and I guess it's maybe hyperextended a little bit, but I was just keeping it warm, keeping it loose, and I just want to keep going.

"It felt fine the rest of the game, I really didn't have any problems with it. We'll see how I feel [on Friday], get some treatment Saturday and be ready for Sunday.

"I had a little discomfort but not enough to keep me out. I didn't think about it, I just kept playing, and just said in my mind that I've got two days to get it right, so leave it on the floor and fight through it. After the first couple of minutes of the third I didn't think about it, I was able to go out there and just play."

The reigning NBA champions were playing in front of a crowd of around 7,500 at Staples Center in their first home playoff game since 2013, with last year's postseason having been staged in Florida.

Booker was ejected for a two-handed push on Dennis Schroder, who was in full flight, and Davis described that incident as "a scary play", going beyond the spirit of the game.

"It was a physical game, all game guys chirping. But that's playoff basketball, guys are gonna chirp, guys are gonna talk," Davis said.

"But we can't allow plays like that to happen, just to push a guy out there with two hands, whether it was out of frustration or not.

"It's a scary play. Luckily, Dennis is all right, but sometimes it can end badly for a player. We don't want to let the chirping lead to something like that."

The Los Angeles Lakers issued a reminder of their quality as the reigning NBA champions outclassed the Phoenix Suns 109-95 to seize control in the Western Conference first-round series.

Injuries crippled the Lakers for most of the season as they slipped down to the play-in tournament and the seventh seed, but Anthony Davis and LeBron James starred at Staples Center on Thursday.

Davis posted a dominant double-double of 34 points and 11 rebounds and James put up 21 points as the Lakers claimed a 2-1 series lead following back-to-back victories against the second seeds in the playoffs.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, meanwhile, are poised to sweep the Miami Heat after easing to a 113-84 win.

Bucks superstar Antetokounmpo posted 17 points and 17 rebounds to go with five assists, while Khris Middleton (team-high 22 points) and Jrue Holiday (19 points and 12 assists) contributed en route to a commanding 3-0 series lead.

The Bucks – who are eyeing their first championship since 1971 – can seal a sweep on Saturday.

 

Jokic inspires Nuggets

MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic was at his brilliant best as the Denver Nuggets outlasted the Portland Trail Blazers 120-115 on the road. Jokic scored 36 points and collected 10 rebounds to guide the third-seeded Nuggets to a 2-1 series lead in the west. Damian Lillard's 37 points and Jusuf Nurkic's 13-point, 13-rebound double-double were not enough for the Trail Blazers.

Milwaukee's Holiday produced another impressive display against the Heat following his 15-assist performance in Game 2 as he became the first Bucks player with back-to-back 10-plus assist games in the playoffs since Sam Cassell in 2001. The 2013 All-Star was plus-37 in Game 2 and plus-42 in Game 3. According to Stats Perform, Holiday became the first NBA player to have a plus-minus of plus-37 or better in back-to-back games since Kobe Bryant in 2003.

 

Miami's shooting woes

The less said about the Heat's shooting on Thursday, the better. As a team, Miami were just 37.6 per cent from the field – making 32 of their 85 shots. From three-point range, the Heat were only 28.1 per cent (nine of 32). Goran Dragic (eight points) finished three-for-14 shooting in 29 minutes, while Duncan Robinson (two points) was one of six from the field, having missed all four three-pointers.

Chris Paul and Devin Booker were not at their usual high standards for the Suns. Paul, who hurt his shoulder in Game 2, was three-for-eight shooting for just seven points. All-Star team-mate Booker had 19 points, but it was on six-for-19 shooting from the field in 41 minutes. He only made one of four attempts from beyond the arc.

 

Rivers lights up fourth quarter

Denver's Austin Rivers was in red-hot form in the final period against the Blazers. Rivers scored 16 of his 21 points in the fourth to help the Nuggets to victory.

 

Thursday's results

Los Angeles Lakers 109-95 Phoenix Suns
Milwaukee Bucks 113-84 Miami Heat
Denver Nuggets 120-115 Portland Trail Blazers

 

Nets at Celtics

The star-studded Brooklyn Nets visit the Boston Celtics on Friday, leading the Eastern Conference first-round series 2-0.

Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis said he wanted to "make a statement" in his side's 109-102 win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday after a "terrible" Game 1 performance.

Davis led the way for the Lakers with a brilliant display at both ends of the court, contributing 34 points and seven assists, along with 10 rebounds and three blocks.

The performance came after an underwhelming return in the opening game when the Lakers were beaten 99-90, with Davis scoring 13 points and providing just two assists.

"Locked in. I know my performance the other day was terrible," Davis told ESPN. "To win a series or to win games, I can't have that performance.

"I put it on myself, as all leaders do. I wanted to make a statement this game. Come out with more energy and effort at both ends on the floor… it paid off today."

LeBron James landed a crucial three-pointer which stretched the Lakers' lead to nine points inside the final minute. He would finish with 23 points, four rebounds and nine assists as LA levelled the first round series.

Davis insisted James did not need to tell him anything about how to respond from his underwhelming display.

"We've been together for a while now," Davis said. "He don’t have to be in my ear. He saw it on my face.

"We didn’t talk much at all today. [The] first time we talked when was when we got to the arena. He just knows.

"I knew I can't have my team in that position with my performance. Since last year he's always been on me about perfection. Playing hard, playing through environments like this, it's paying off.

"It's getting to the point where I don’t need ‘Bron to tell me what I need to do. I know now. I put it on myself to be better for my team."

James added: "He responds to games like Game 1. He's not a guy who talks about it. He goes out and does it."

Game 3 will take place at the Staples Center in LA on Thursday and Davis said he expects the crowd to be "crazy exciting and loud".

Suns guard Chris Paul will hope to feature more heavily in that game after struggling with a shoulder complaint throughout Tuesday's meeting, including sitting out most of the final quarter.

"I took him out," Suns coach Monty Williams said in the post-game video conference. "It was all me looking at him holding his arm the way he was holding it.

"I couldn’t watch him run like that. He was trying to make plays, he battled, he's a warrior. I just made a decision to take him out."

He added: "He's not able to make the passes he wants. He was labouring tonight… We're hopeful it'll get better over the next 48 hours, but I don’t want to say too much."

Anthony Davis responded after his poor Game 1 by leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 109-102 win over the Phoenix Suns to square their NBA playoffs first round series on Tuesday.

Davis was self-critical after their Game 1 loss, stating "this is on me", and responded with a double-double with 34 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and seven assists.

LeBron James was brilliant with 23 points, including a final quarter threein the final minute which was the nail in the coffin. James also had nine assists and four rebounds.

The Lakers led by seven at the final change but Phoenix came hard at them, albeit largely without Chris Paul who played limited minutes in the last quarter due to a shoulder issue which hampered him all game.

But the reigning champions rallied, with a Davis block followed by a three-pointer pressing them ahead in the final minutes.

For the Lakers, Dennis Schroder had 24 points, while Andre Drummond had 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Paul only managed six points from 23 minutes in a major worry for the Suns moving forward, while Devin Booker impressed with 31 points.

 

KD gets it done, Mavs down Clippers

Kevin Durant got it done at both ends as the Brooklyn Nets claimed a 2-0 series lead against the Boston Celtics with a 130-108 win.

Durant was dominant with a game-high 26 points as well as five assists, eight rebounds and four blocks for the Nets who led by 24 points at half-time.

Joe Harris shot a playoffs career-high seven three-pointers among his 25 points, including 22 in the first half, while James Harden added an impressive 20 points, five rebounds and seven assists for the Nets.

Blake Griffin made two big dunks for the Nets, having not attempted one in his final 25 games for the Detroit Pistons before his move.

Luka Doncic and Kawhi Leonard traded blows with massive individual performances but the Dallas Mavericks claimed a 2-0 lead in their series against the Los Angeles Clippers with a 127-121 win on the road.

Doncic scored 39 points with seven rebounds and seven assists, with able assistance from Tim Hardaway Jr who made six three-pointers among his 28 points, with Dallas moving ahead in a 30-19 third quarter.

Leonard had 41 points, six rebounds, two steals and four assists, while Paul George scored 28 points with 12 rebounds and six assists for the Clippers, who face an uphill task to turn around the series in Texas.

 

CP3 and Tatum injuries

Injuries to both Paul and Celtics forward Jason Tatum denied spectators the best contest possible, with the former barely entering the court in the last with his shoulder issue which remains an issue for the rest of the series. Tatum left the game in the third quarter after a poke to the eye from Durant. He only managed nine points from 21 minutes, shooting at 25 per cent from the field.

 

Harden's three-point playoffs feat

Harden went past Reggie Miller into sixth on the all-time NBA playoffs three-pointers made list, scoring four-from-eight beyond the arc in the Nets' win over the Celtics. The 31-year-old has 321 playoffs three-pointers, behind Stephen Curry (470), LeBron James (417), Ray Allen (385), Klay Thompson (374) and Manu Ginobili (324).

 

Tuesday's results

Brooklyn Nets 130-108 Boston Celtics
Los Angeles Lakers 109-102 Phoenix Suns
Dallas Mavericks 127-121 Los Angeles Clippers

 

Grizzlies at Jazz

Western Conference top seed Utah Jazz will look to square their series against the Memphis Grizzlies after their upset defeat in Game 1.

Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis shouldered the blame for the NBA champions' Game 1 loss to the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference first round.

Davis was far from his best as LeBron James and the Lakers went down 99-90 to the second-seeded Suns in Phoenix on Sunday.

Lakers big man Davis was five-for-16 shooting in a team-high 39 minutes of action as he recorded just 13 points against the Suns, while missing both of his attempts from three-point range.

As a team, the Lakers were just 26.9 per cent from beyond the arc after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made just one of his seven shots.

Afterwards, Davis scrutinised his performance as the Lakers – ranked seventh in the west – look to bounce back on Tuesday.

"There's no way we're winning a game, let alone the series, with me playing the way I played," Davis said.

"This is on me. I take whatever responsibility, for sure. I'll be ready for Game 2."

"I kind of got lost in the offense. But I still have to be assertive to get the ball," Davis added. "That's on me. I still have to find ways to make plays on that end of the floor offensively.

"It's on me. I'm not too worried about my performance. I know I'll be better. I know we'll be better in Game 2."

Superstar Lakers team-mate James, who finished with 18 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, added: "It's always AD being AD.

"Any time he comes to the press room and tells you we can't win without him or with him playing the way he played, he always responds. I'm looking forward to that."

"I love when AD puts that pressure on himself," James said. "We're a better team when he's aggressive and we're a better team when he demands the ball."

Davis had posted 42 points against the Suns in the absence of James on May 9, but Phoenix nullified his impact on Sunday.

"Phoenix brought a lot more attention obviously because of that game," Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said. "They did a great job. Give them credit.

"They did a good job limiting his touches and bringing double teams when he did get it and making things difficult for him. But there are ways we can be better to take advantage of that."

Vogel continued: "There's plenty we can do. I'm not going to get into details on what our adjustments are going to look like. But certainly we can do a better job in taking advantage of the attention that he's drawn."

As enjoyable and memorable as the NBA postseason can be, it rarely produces significant surprises.

Sure, an occasional first-round upset stands out – like MVP Dirk Nowitzki and the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks falling to the Golden State Warriors in 2007 – but almost never does an underdog hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy as season's end.

Of course, that depends on your definition of an underdog.

In each of the last 25 seasons – and in 49 of the last 51 – the team that won the NBA Finals was a top three seed in their conference. The only exception to that rule since 1970 is the 1995 Houston Rockets, who finished sixth in the Western Conference despite being the reigning NBA champions.

The 2020-21 NBA season has already been an unprecedented one, with games played in empty arenas and players being held out of games due to league virus safety protocols. And why should the oddities end when the playoffs begin?

From 2015-18, the Warriors played the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals four straight seasons, making everything beforehand feel like a waste of time. The pattern was broken in 2019 because LeBron James switched conferences, but the Warriors represented the west for the fifth straight season. Last season, James played in the Finals for the ninth time in 10 campaigns, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a title.

This season, however, is suspiciously devoid of a juggernaut. The top regular season teams are unproven in the playoffs, and the typical postseason performers must answer serious questions and navigate a difficult road to the Finals.

The Utah Jazz had the league's best record this season at 52-20, a .722 win percentage. That is the fifth-worst record by a league-leading team since the NBA-ABA merger and the worst in 20 years.

 

Lowest Win Pct by Team With NBA's Best Record in Season, Since 1976-77

SEASON     TEAM                      WL        PCT

1976-77    Los Angeles Lakers         53-29      .646

1978-79    Washington Bullets         54-28      .659

1977-78    Portland Trail Blazers     58-24      .707

2000-01    San Antonio Spurs          58-24      .707

2020-21    Utah Jazz                  52-20      .722

 

With just 10 wins separating the top-seeded Jazz and seventh-seeded Lakers, the west could deviate from seeding by quite a bit.

Even in the often-predictable east, the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics were considered preseason favorites in the conference, only to finish with the sixth and seventh seeds.

The fact is that whoever wins their conference to play in the NBA Finals – and ultimately raises the Larry O'Brien Trophy – will have a unique story about their road there. Whether it is a team who are a proven commodity that flipped the switch after a sub-par regular season or a high-seeded team that overcame past postseason failures, the 2021 NBA champions – like the 2020-21 regular season itself – will be unlike any other.

 

Honourable Mentions: West number one Dallas Mavericks, West number six Portland Trail Blazers

Both teams lack the depth to make a serious championship run but have enough star power in the backcourt to scare any opponent.

Dallas will face the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round and took two of three games this season against Los Angeles. Luka Doncic averaged 30.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 11.0 assists in those games. In nine career games against the Clippers, Doncic is attempting 9.9 free throws per game, his most against any Western Conference opponent.

The Blazers will go exactly as far as Damian Lillard takes them. When Portland made their run to the Western Conference Finals in 2019, the Blazers were 7-0 when Lillard had a plus-minus above zero and were 1-8 when he had a negative plus-minus.

 

The 'Not Your Year' Tier: West number three Denver Nuggets

The season-ending knee injury to Nuggets star guard Jamal Murray was a devastating blow to Denver's title chances and takes some fun out of a special season by Nikola Jokic.

Although Murray's injury solidified Jokic as the MVP favourite – leading the Nuggets to a 13-5 record since the injury – it is hard to envision Denver making a deep run without their star guard.

The knock on Jokic has been that he would generally rather pass than score, and Denver are 5-8 in postseason games when Jokic attempts 20 or more shots.

With Jokic scoring a career-high 26.4 points per game this season and with the continued blossoming of Michael Porter Jr., however, the Nuggets remain dangerous in the playoffs.

 

The 'Prove It' Tier: West number four Los Angeles Clippers, East number one Philadelphia 76ers, West number one Utah Jazz, East number three Milwaukee Bucks, West number two Phoenix Suns

On paper, each of these teams appear to be solid championship contenders, complete with star power and coming off an impressive regular season.

But each of these teams need to prove they can take another step forward, either because of a limited postseason history or a checkered one.

At the start of last year's playoffs, the Clippers were considered by many to be the favourites but blowing a 3-1 series lead in the second round to the Nuggets was a humbling experience. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have quietly had fantastic seasons, each averaging at least 23 points, six rebounds and five assists.

The 76ers and Bucks have been mainstays in the east playoffs for the past few seasons and are hoping that this year's vintage has the answers to take the next step.

Philadelphia, under new leadership with Doc Rivers and buoyed by the shooting of Danny Green and Seth Curry, have a scoring differential of plus-16.4 points per 100 possessions when Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are on the court together, the best mark in the history of the much-maligned duo.

Milwaukee won 11 of their last 15 games, including two wins each against Philadelphia and the Brooklyn Nets – the two teams seeded higher in the east.

A machine over the last few regular seasons, the Bucks have faltered in past playoff series as Giannis Antetokounmpo failed to score in the clutch and his team-mates shrank from the moment. The costly acquisition of Jrue Holiday should help take some of the pressure off, and Antetokounmpo is shooting 73.3 percent (11 of 15) this season in the last two minutes of a game within five points.

Utah and Phoenix are fascinating prospects after stellar regular seasons but the consensus regarding both teams is that they have already maxed out their talent before the postseason starts.

Rudy Gobert is an All-Defensive Team mainstay for good reason, but Utah have been forced to sit him in the playoffs against smaller teams or when his free-throw shooting becomes a problem.

The Jazz are expecting leading scorer Donovan Mitchell to return from a sprained right ankle, but Utah are better operating as a five-man offense than a one-man show. When Mitchell attempts 20 or fewer field goals this season, the Jazz are 27-2. When he shoots more than 20 times, the Jazz are 12-12.

The Suns are 59-21 over their last 80 games, including in last year's bubble, and have become one of the best stories in the league. Chris Paul turns every team he is on into a winner, and he has a case to receive MVP votes scoring a modest 16.4 points per game.

For all of his career accomplishments, however, Paul has famously only advanced past the second round once in his career, and he now leads a core group of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges that lacks playoff experience.

 

The 'Sleeping Giant' Tier: East number six Miami Heat, West number seven Los Angeles Lakers

Last year's finalists have endured brutal regular seasons filled with disappointment, injuries and COVID-19 protocols.

Only Duncan Robinson played all 72 games this season for Miami, and while the Heat are healthier now than during their nightmare 11-17 start, serious questions remain about the health of veterans Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic, who both missed at least 20 games this season.

The Lakers remain the betting favourites coming out of the west, despite needing a 103-100 play-in win over the Golden State Warriors to clinch a playoff berth. LeBron James and Anthony Davis missed a combined 63 games this season, and the duo only played together in 27 games.

While the health of the Lakers' superstars remains a concern, Los Angeles were 19-8 when both James and Davis played. The defending champions had a scoring differential of plus-11.4 points per 100 possession when the duo were on the court together. For as long as James and Davis are playing, the Lakers remain a juggernaut.

 

The Favourites: East number two Brooklyn Nets

Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

The Nets are the first team to ever have three players average at least 24 points (minimum 35 games). Durant, Harden and Irving are the highest-scoring trio since the early 1960s, when Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor were producing some of the best seasons in league history.

What makes Brooklyn such a strong contender, however, is that the supporting cast around their dynamic trio is a real asset.

The Nets' reserves scored 35.9 points per game this season, better than the bench of fellow contenders like the Bucks, Trail Blazers, Heat and Nuggets.

First-year head coach Steve Nash has consistently been able to field a competitive squad during a tumultuous year. As evidence of the change and adversity the Nets faced this season, they have used 38 different starting line-ups – only the lowly Rockets used more.

With veteran big men like DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, the Nets can counter size but are also versatile enough to play small, with Jeff Green defending opposing centers.

The high-profile names make Brooklyn feel like an inevitability, but there is still plenty of uncertainty with this newly constructed super-team.

Durant, Harden and Irving have only played 202 minutes together, less than six percent of Brooklyn's season. The trio appear to blend well, scoring a torrid 117.8 points per 100 possessions, but any group of stars will face challenges in their first playoff test.

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel declared LeBron James will be fit and available for Wednesday's NBA play-in game against the Golden State Warriors.

James played 27 minutes but exited Sunday's 110-98 win over the New Orleans Pelicans early with soreness in the right ankle which has kept him sidelined for most of the past two months.

The four-time MVP played back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday upon his return from injury but is available for the midweek showdown with Stephen Curry's eighth-seeded Warriors.

"He had some minor soreness but he's good to go," Vogel said following practice on Tuesday.

"He was a full participant in practice today and is good to go."

Anthony Davis also confirmed his full fitness to face the Warriors after being listed as questionable with left adductor strain tightness on Sunday.

The star forward played 30 minutes against the Pelicans in the team's regular-season finale.

"I'm fine," Davis said. "The adductor feels good, the shoulder feels good."

Defending champions the Lakers – seeded seventh in the Western Conference – may finally have a full clean bill of health, having been without James, Davis or Dennis Schroder for most of the run into the postseason.

Schroder played the final two games of the regular season along with James and Davis after being subject to the league's health and safety protocols.

The German guard subsequently missed seven games in May, impacting his conditioning.

"I'm still not, conditioning-wise, all the way back," Schroder said. "I've been out 10 days. I didn't do nothing, I was at home.

"At the end of the day, I'm going to work my way into it, but it's not going to hurt my team-mates. I'm going to give everything I have, go out there and do the same things that I do during the season and truly to get a W."

It is that time of year again – the NBA playoffs.

Although this season has a different feel due to the new play-in tournament, it's crunch time as LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers eye back-to-back championships.

The Utah Jazz claimed the best record in the league for the first time in their history, while Eastern Conference top seed the Philadelphia 76ers and the star-studded Brooklyn Nets loom large.

With the play-in tournament due to get under way to determine the final eight teams from each conference set to feature in the playoffs, the Stats Perform AI team have been crunching the numbers to find a worthy winner of the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

The Stats Perform model takes proprietary data and creates an offensive and defensive rating for each team.

Those ratings are paired with the team's opponent and adjusted for each team's pace. In addition, the home team get a slight boost for home-court advantage.

The model uses this information to calculate a projected score for both teams. The winners receive a victory in the race for the Larry O'Brien Trophy – this was done for every game in the playoffs.

So, here are the AI-generated results in the event that the play-in winners are the Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards.

 

Suns sizzle as Lakers crash out, Heat stun Bucks in sweep

Much has been made about the Phoenix Suns this season. Led by All-Star Devin Booker and star veteran Chris Paul, the franchise returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10. Second behind the Jazz in the Western Conference, the Suns ease past the Lakers 4-1. Winning the opening three games 120-93, 90-88 and 105-104, Phoenix never look back as they end the Lakers' quest to land consecutive championships for the first time since 2009-10.

The Milwaukee Bucks loaded up heavily in the offseason, bringing in Jrue Holiday to aid two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in his quest for a title and the franchise's first since 1971. But after trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and semi-finals, the third-seeded Bucks are sensationally swept 4-0 by last season's runners-up the Miami Heat.

Eastern Conference top seed for the first time since 2001, the Joel Embiid-led 76ers flex their muscles 4-2 against the Wizards but it is not easy. Dropping consecutive games to Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook and Washington, Doc Rivers' Philadelphia rally past the Wizards 112-109, 91-99 and 110-104 to bounce back from last season's first-round sweep at the hands of the Celtics.

Boasting a three-headed monster in Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, the second-seeded Nets dig deep against the Celtics 4-3 in the east. With all eyes on the star-studded Nets big three following an injury-interrupted regular season, Brooklyn lose two of the opening three matchups but reel off back-to-back victories to set the tone before progressing beyond the first round for the first time since 2013-14 thanks to a 110-91 Game 7 triumph.

Looking to put last season's playoff capitulation behind them, having sensationally surrendered a 3-1 lead at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals, Kawhi Leonard's Los Angeles Clippers make light work of Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks 4-1. A 128-106 rout in Game 1 ignites the Clippers, while the third-seeded Nuggets – spearheaded by MVP favourite Nikola Jokic – are upstaged by the Portland Trail Blazers 4-3. Following in the footsteps of the Clippers, Denver cough up a commanding 3-0 lead as Damian Lillard's Trail Blazers complete a stunning comeback.

The New York Knicks and their fans have been waiting since 2013 to play postseason basketball. Their playoff return does not disappoint as the fourth seed – spearheaded by All-Star Julius Randle – make the most of their home-court advantage against the Atlanta Hawks to come out 4-3 winners. Trae Young's Hawks race out to a 3-1 lead but the Knicks are not to be denied.

 

Trail Blazers continue giant-slaying run, Clippers bow out to Jazz as 76ers roll on

Ranked sixth heading into the playoffs, the Trail Blazers defy their seeding by producing another shock performance, this time outlasting the highly fancied Suns in seven games. Western Conference finalists in 2018-19, Portland humble Phoenix 129-96, 117-86 and 126-92 in Games 1, 3 and 4 to seize the momentum and while the Suns storm back to force a series decider, Lillard, CJ McCollum and the Trail Blazers step up to the plate.

Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert experienced consecutive first-round exits in 2018-19 and 2019-20, but featuring in their first Conference semi-final since 2018, the Jazz prove too hot for the fourth-ranked Clippers and take a 4-2 series win. Utah, who beat Los Angeles in two of the three regular-season contests, win the opening three games of the second-round series and never look back as pressure mounts on Leonard, Paul George and the championship-chasing Clippers.

The standout teams in the east, the 76ers and Nets barely raise a sweat en route to the Conference Finals. In pursuit of a first championship since 1983, the 76ers sweep the Knicks 4-0, while the Nets end Miami's hopes with their own devastating 4-0 success.

 

Nets conquer 76ers, Jazz rally past Blazers

A matchup many predicted when the 76ers appointed head coach Rivers and the Nets landed former MVP Harden in a blockbuster trade with the Houston Rockets in January. Philadelphia's cast of Embiid, fellow All-Star Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, sharp-shooter Seth Curry and Danny Green come up against Durant, Harden, Irving and Blake Griffin, and it is Brooklyn who prevail in a thriller. The Nets and 76ers split the opening six games before a deciding seventh game. With a championship berth on the line, Steve Nash's Nets edge the 76ers 112-109 as question marks again emerge over whether the Philadelphia franchise can succeed with both Embiid and Simmons.

Not since 1997-98 had the Jazz secured a spot in the Finals, having enjoyed back-to-back appearances in the midst of Karl Malone's greatness, but Utah end that drought against Portland. The Jazz overturn 1-0 and 3-2 deficits to finally end the Trail Blazers' fairytale run as Portland fall agonisingly short of their first Finals appearance since 1992.

 

Jazz make history

The last five head coaches to win a title in their first year were Nick Nurse (Toronto Raptors, 2019), Tyronn Lue (Cleveland Cavaliers, 2016), Steve Kerr (Warriors, 2015), Pat Riley (Lakers, 1982) and Paul Westhead (Lakers, 1980). Rookie and two-time MVP Nash has been looking to join that list with a Nets side eyeing their maiden championship – having faced a long wait since joining the league in 1976-77.

Despite a frightening array of talent, the Nets go down 4-1 in the Finals as the Jazz make history, headlined by a resounding 121-102 win in Game 5.

After consecutive Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998, the Jazz finally break through for their first NBA title thanks to coach Quin Snyder, Mitchell, Gobert, Mike Conley and Co.

LeBron James is to return to action on Saturday for the Los Angeles Lakers, while Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder are also set to play against the Indiana Pacers.

James has missed the previous six games for the defending NBA champions due to a high ankle sprain.

However, head coach Frank Vogel confirmed to the media that the four-time MVP will be involved against the Pacers in the Lakers' penultimate game in the regular season.

A win over Indiana, as well as in Sunday’s clash with the New Orleans Pelicans, and Los Angeles can rise to sixth in the Western Conference, provided the Portland Trail Blazers lose to the Denver Nuggets.

If they finish as the seventh seed, though, then they will have to go through the play-in tournament to have a chance of defending their title.

James initially missed 20 games earlier in the campaign with the injury to his right ankle that he suffered against the Atlanta Hawks on March 20.

He briefly made a comeback earlier this month, only to be sidelined again after feeling pain in his second outing back.

In the 2020-21 season, James has averaged 25 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.8 assists.

Davis sat out Wednesday's win over the Houston Rockets due to a groin issue but is available again, while Schroder has cleared the NBA's health and safety protocols put in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said "there's a chance" superstar LeBron James will return to face the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.

James returned from a six-week absence due to a right ankle sprain only to re-aggravate the injury after just two appearances for injury-hit NBA champions the Lakers.

There had been hopes that James would make his comeback against the New York Knicks on Tuesday or the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, but the four-time MVP missed both games.

The Lakers – who are seventh in the Western Conference and currently occupy a play-in position ahead of the playoffs – only have two regular-season matchups remaining and James is listed as questionable for the clash with the Pacers.

"We want to see how he feels in response to today's work, like always," Vogel told reporters on Friday. "But there's a chance that he plays if things go well."

James has been averaging 25.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game for the Lakers this season.

Through 43 games in 2020-21, James boasts a field-goal percentage of 51.3 – his best since 2017-18 and it is the same story regarding his three-point percentage of 36.6, which is his highest since that season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"Anytime you've had guys that have been out for extended absences and they're returning to play, it's always going to be a little bit imperfect," Vogel said.

"So the more minutes you can get those guys, the better off it's going to be for us, in terms of the readjustment period. So if we're able to do that, that would be great."

The Lakers could also be boosted by the return of fellow star Anthony Davis for the Pacers showdown.

Davis, who did not practice on Friday, sat out the 124-122 win over the lowly Rockets midweek due to groin tightness.

"I feel fine. I feel great," Davis said. "Went through some things during practice, not everything, but got some work going on, got some work in on the side. So felt great, felt great today."

Anthony Davis revealed he was dealing with groin tightness as the Los Angeles Lakers scraped past the New York Knicks for a big overtime win on Tuesday.

Davis missed more than two months with an Achilles issue but has crucially featured in all 11 games since his return last month, helping a Lakers team hit by a number of injuries.

LeBron James remained out – instead an active cheerleader on the sidelines – as the defending champions defeated the Knicks 101-99 at Staples Center.

Davis had 20 points but was clearly moving uneasily in the closing stages. He stayed in the game, though, with 43 minutes his most since early February.

"I'm hurting," he said afterwards. "There's nothing worse on my body, just my groin got tight. That was really it, I'm not sure where it came from, but my groin got a little tight.

"There was no way I was coming out of the game. It was a big game for us. The team was playing real hard, the situation that we're in, trying to battle for the six.

"It was a big game for them, trying to battle for fourth, trying to keep that fourth seed – I think they might be sixth now after the loss, I'm not sure.

"It was a huge game for us and I didn't want to come out, no matter injury, and finish the game and make sure we secure the win."

The Lakers are quickly back in action against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday and in need of another victory, still sitting seventh in the West – in an unwanted play-in place – but now just 1.0 games back from fifth.

"I'm not sure about tomorrow. I'm going to get treatment and see how I feel," Davis said. "I want to say I'm going to play, but it was really bothering me tonight.

"We'll see how I feel tomorrow and then later on in the day.

"There's a very strong possibility that I fight through it and play since the next day's an off day, but also I don't want to have it lagging and then I'm out for a couple of games. We'll see how I feel."

Regardless of Davis' status, there is the possibility James returns against the Rockets.

Having won back-to-back games for the first time since late March, the Lakers could now have some momentum heading into the postseason.

"It's good. It's a confidence booster for us," Davis said. "We've been playing well as of late.

"If [James] comes back tomorrow, we can get him back acclimated with the team and get him back in the rhythm. If he doesn't then he doesn't, but we want him to get healthy first and foremost, get ready for the playoffs.

"I'm not sure what he's going to do – that's none of my business, I just want him to get health – but my job is just to come out here and help this team.

"If he is able to come back tomorrow, it's our job to get him back into a rhythm to get him ready for playoff mode, which we know he'll be ready for."

Talen Horton-Tucker hit the game-winning three among eight overtime points, but the Lakers only reached that stage thanks to Davis' suffocating defense.

The Knicks had the lead and the ball in the final 30 seconds of regulation, only for Davis to brilliantly stop All-Star Julius Randle (31 points) and force a shot-clock violation.

"Julius, that's my guy," said the Lakers superstar, who guarded Randle throughout the closing stages. "I played with him in New Orleans and he's definitely developed his game, with his shooting ability and off the dribble.

"That last possession, I just had to lock in defensively and make sure that he wasn't going to score to help the team.

"I feel like I made him hit the three with my contest at the end [in overtime] – he shot it a little higher than normal.

"He's been playing like this all year. I think he's an MVP candidate, he for sure should win Most Improved, what he's doing, got this team in the playoffs right now for a team who hadn't been in the playoffs for a while.

"He's playing his a** off and you can do nothing but respect him."

The Los Angeles Lakers kept alive their aspirations to avoid the Play-In Tournament with a 101-91 over-time victory over the New York Knicks on Tuesday.

With LeBron James still absent with an ankle problem, the Lakers were pushed all the way by the in-form Knicks who had the chance to win the match in normal time when Julius Randle missed a good two-point look on the buzzer.

With James and Dennis Schroder unavailable and Alex Caruso exiting early with foot soreness, Talen Horton-Tucker played a key role with 13 points and 10 assists, including a vital over-time three-pointer after a costly turnover moments earlier.

In a team effort, Anthony Davis finished with 20 points, four assists and six rebounds, Andre Drummond had 16 points and 18 rebounds and Kyle Kuzma added 23 points off the bench.

The win improves the Lakers to 39-30, holding seventh spot in the Western Conference, behind the Dallas Mavericks (40-29) who lost to the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday.

Ja Morant (24 points) won the battle against Luka Doncic in a game where the Mavericks could have ensured they would avoid the Play-In Tournament.

 

76ers miss chance and miss Embiid

The Philadelphia 76ers missed the chance to seal top seeding in the East with a 103-94 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

Pacers center Domantas Sabonis had a busy night with 16 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists.

Joel Embiid missed for the 76ers with illness with Tobias Harris scoring 27 points in his absence as Philadelphia leave the door open at 47-22.

The 76ers are 8-11 without Embiid this season, while they are 38-11 with him in the side.

The Brooklyn Nets put together back-to-back wins to keep the pressure on the 76ers, triumphing 115-107 over the Chicago Bulls.

There was an injury scare for the Nets with Kyrie Irivng leaving the game with a facial contusion and undergoing testing for a possible concussion after a stray elbow from Nikola Vucevic early in the third.

Kevin Durant top scored for the Nets with 21 points and Bruce Brown Jr had 15 points to half-time and finished with 10 rebounds too, while Zach LaVine had a game-high 41 points for the Bulls.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 27 points, had 12 rebounds and five assists in the Milwaukee Bucks'  114-102 win over the Orlando Magic to improve their record to 43-25.

Stephen Curry was not his usual self, kept to only four points until half-time in the Golden State Warriors' 122-116 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

Curry finished with 21, while Andrew Wiggins had 38 points and Draymond Green got a triple-double as the Warriors stay in the hunt at 37-33 and eighth in the West.

The Miami Heat clinched a top six berth with a 129-121 win over the Boston Celtics with Tyler Herro starring off the bench with 24 points and 11 rebounds.

 

Thunder come crashing down

Oklahoma City Thunder have fallen away drastically this season and their 122-106 ot the Sacramento Kings made it eight consecutive defeats for Mark Daigneault's side. They have won once in their past 23, having been 20-26 at one point.

 

Jokic's defense splitting assist

Prime MVP candidate Nikola Jokic showcased his all-rounder game with an unbelievable pass for Austin Rivers in the Denver Nuggets' 117-112 win over the Charlotte Hornets. Jokic finished with six assists, along with 30 points and 11 rebounds.

 

Tuesday's results

Denver Nuggets 117-112 Charlotte Hornets
Minnesota Timberwolves 119-100 Detroit Pistons
Los Angeles Clippers 115-96 Toronto Raptors
Miami Heat 129-121 Boston Celtics
Memphis Grizzlies 133-104 Dallas Mavericks
Indiana Pacers 103-94 Philadelphia 76ers
Brooklyn Nets 115-107 Chicago Bulls
Milwaukee Bucks 114-102 Orlando Magic
Golden State Warriors 122-116 Phoenix Suns
Los Angeles Lakers 101-99 (OT) New York Knicks
Sacramento Kings 122-106 Oklahoma City Thunder

 

Spurs at Nets

The San Antonio Spurs are looking to seal their Play-In Tournament position while the Brooklyn Nets are out to reinforce their top two seeding.

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