The Golden State Warriors almost blew a five-point lead in the final minute as Harrison Barnes missed a buzzer-beater as the reigning champions levelled their first round series with the Sacramento Kings after a 126-125 Game 4 win on Sunday.

The Warriors led 126-121 heading into the final 60 seconds but gifted the Kings an avenue back in after Stephen Curry called for a timeout when they had none left at Chase Center.

Malik Monk scored the subsequent free-throw before De'Aaron Fox's three-pointer cut the margin to one point.

Curry then missed a pullup shot with 14 seconds left but the Kings could not capitalise with the final possession after a timeout, when a double-teamed Fox found Barnes open before his attempt rimmed out.

Reigning NBA Finals MVP Curry finished with 32 points on 11-of-22 shooting with five-of-11 from beyond the arc, along with five rebounds and four assists.

Klay Thompson had 26 points with four three-pointers and Jordan Poole added 22 points, while Draymond Green returned from a one-game ban off the bench with a strong display, holding the Kings to five-of-15 as primary defender.

Clutch Player of the Year Fox did everything but hit the final shot, scoring 38 points on 14-of-31 shooting with four three-pointers.

Keegan Murray added 23 points with five-of-seven three-point shooting and Domantas Sabonis was down on his usual output with 14 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.

The Warriors squared the series up at 2-2 ahead of Game 5 in Sacramento on Wednesday. Golden State are 35-8 at home across the regular and postseason but are 11-32 on the road.

Tatum and Brown led Celtics triumph

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown scored 31 points each as the Boston Celtics pulled 3-1 clear in their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks with a 129-121 road win.

The Celtics led nearly the entire game, holding off a 68-point Hawks' second half, with Tatum and Brown combining for Boston's final 16 points to round out the win.

Tatum's 31 points came on eight-of-20 shooting from the field including four-of-13 three-pointers, with seven rebounds and three blocks. Brown scored 12-of-22 from the field with three triples.

Trae Young had a strong game for Atlanta with 35 points and 15 assists, while De'Andre Hunter added 27 points and Dejounte Murray scored 23 with nine rebounds.

Knicks pull clear, Timberwolves avoid sweep in OT

The New York Knicks took a 3-1 lead in their first round series with the Cleveland Cavaliers after Jalen Brunson scored 29 points at a loud Madison Square Garden to lead them to a 102-93 win.

Donovan Mitchell had a poor game, managing only 11 points on five-of-18 shooting, with Darius Garland stepping up for 23 points and 10 assists.

But the Knicks were too strong, with R.J. Barrett supporting Brunson with 26 points, while Josh Hart had 19 points and seven rebounds. Brunson shot five three-pointers, while Julius Randle sat out the fourth quarter, scoring on seven points fo the game.

The Minnesota Timberwolves staved off elimination and avoided a first-ever franchise sweep with a 114-108 overtime win over the Denver Nuggets, with Anthony Edwards delivering a clutch three-pointer to cap his 34 points. Denver center Nikola Jokic scored 43 points with 11 rebounds.

Atlanta Hawks coach Quin Snyder applauded Trae Young for finding his "rhythm" after a wretched run to inspire Friday's win over the Boston Celtics.

The Hawks won their Eastern Conference first-round Game 3 clash 130-122 to prevent Boston going 3-0 ahead, which would have left them needing just one more win for a series sweep.

Young had previously shot a combined of 14-of-40 (35 per cent) from the field across the first two games of the series.

But on Friday he scored a team-high 32 points on 12-of-22 shooting, adding nine assists, six rebounds, two blocks and a steal, while his All-Star backcourt teammate Dejounte Murray chipped in 25 points (11-of-21 shooting), six rebounds and five assists.

Although it was arguably the Hawks' bench who got them over the line – with Onyeka Okongwu, Saddiq Bey, Jalen Johnson and Bogdan Bogdanovic combining to shoot 16-of-22 (72.7 per cent) from the field for 44 points – much of the post-game focus was on Young and Murray, who finally seemed to flourish together.

Young in particular has had a difficult time of it, especially in the playoffs – for Snyder, there was an element of just sitting back and letting things unfold as the two-time All-Star and Murray took matters into their own hands.

"First of all, [it was] kind of figuring out what they were thinking together playing off each other," Snyder said when asked about Young and Murray's on-court chatter.

"At one point, I was like, I should just be quiet. Usually when that's happening, as a coach, if you feel that and you respect those guys and they are communicating like that and if they're on the same page, people will play off of them. That's what happened us.

"That's when we're going to be playing our best basketball."

That certainly seemed the case on Friday, with the hard work appearing to pay off for Young.

"Those two guys, over the course of the game, not just with the other guys on the team, but with one another, were connecting and pushing one another," Snyder added.

"You could tell [Young] found a rhythm, and it was good to see that because he's been working on it. He's been watching [film] and trying to figure out how he can attack somebody.

"The message, as much as anything for him and the whole group, is just to stay aggressive and trying to make the right play.

"[Young] got a little down when he turned it over one time and he was shaking his head, and I just said, 'Let’s get to the next play.' I don't want him thinking about what just happened. Every mistake can make you better if you just process it the right way. You can tell he found his rhythm tonight."

Murray was in no doubt about it being his and Young's best performance as a duo.

"Absolutely. I don't want to talk about Boston a lot but I look at Jayson [Tatum] and Jaylen [Brown] a lot, two guys who were going through it a lot, just to get to the level they're at. Great things don't happen overnight. Great things take time."

Young seemingly disagreed to an extent but acknowledged there being a timeliness to his and Murray's link-up.

"You don't want to live in the moment too much," he said. "I mean, we won a game in the playoffs, it's big, but we've had some really good games together.

"I don't consider this our best game together. It's definitely one of them, but it came at the right time and we needed it."

The Hawks can level the series with a win in Game 4 on Sunday.

Trae Young answered his critics in the Atlanta Hawks' crucial 130-122 Game 3 victory at home against the Boston Celtics on Friday.

After shooting a combined 14-of-40 (35 per cent) from the field across the first two games of the series, Young scored a team-high 32 points on 12-of-22 shooting in Game 3, adding nine assists, six rebounds, two blocks and a steal.

His All-Star backcourt mate Dejounte Murray chipped in 25 points (11-of-21 shooting), six rebounds and five assists, but it was the Hawks' bench who really carried the home team over the line.

The combination of Onyeka Okongwu, Saddiq Bey, Jalen Johnson and Bogdan Bogdanovic combined to shoot 16-of-22 (72.7 per cent) from the field for 44 points, 18 rebounds, eight assists, four blocks and two steals.

Boston pulled the margin back to 100-99 early in the fourth quarter, but 15 points from Young in the period was enough to fend off the challenge.

Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 29 points (nine-of-22), 10 rebounds and five assists, and last year's Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart added 24 points (nine-of-19), eight assists and three steals.

Atlanta will have a chance to tie things up at home in Game 4, before the series heads back to Boston for Game 5.

Jokic toys with the Timberwolves defense

Reigning back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic was at his playmaking best, putting together a triple-double as the Denver Nuggets defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 120-111 to take a 3-0 lead in the series.

Jokic – who set the single-season record for assists per game by a center (9.8) this season – posted 20 points (nine-of-13), 12 assists and 11 rebounds in a comprehensive effort against three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.

After serious injuries in recent years prevented Michael Porter Jr from making an impact in the playoffs, the 24-year-old led the Nuggets in scoring with 25 points (10-of-17 shooting) and nine rebounds, playing a team-high 40 minutes in an indication that his troublesome back is finally at full strength.

Anthony Edwards tried his heart out for the Wolves, scoring a game-high 36 points (10-of-22 shooting) with seven rebounds, five assists and a game-high three steals.

Knicks defense shuts down the Cavs

The New York Knicks became the first team this season to hold their opponent under 80 points with their gritty 99-79 triumph at home over the Cleveland Cavaliers, taking a 2-1 series lead.

Incredibly, the Cavaliers could only score 32 points in the first half, as Darius Garland finished shooting four-of-21 from the field for his 10 points, while Caris LeVert was seven-of-17 for his 17 points.

Jalen Brunson led the Knicks in scoring with 21 points on 10-of-18 shooting, while five different New York players finished with at least two steals each, headlined by Obi Toppin's four off the bench in just 15 minutes.

The Cavaliers ended up shooting 38.8 per cent from the field, 21.2 per cent from long range and 58.8 per cent at the free throw line in a forgettable outing.

Trae Young is confident he will return to his best after being showered with "overrated" chants by opposition supporters in the Atlanta Hawks' Game 2 defeat to the Boston Celtics.

The Hawks fell 119-106 at TD Garden on Tuesday to go 2-0 down in the series ahead of back-to-back home games.

Young averaged 26.2 points during the regular season – only nine players performed better – but he fell short of that with 16 points in Atlanta's latest loss.

The 24-year-old point guard also struggled in the postseason last year as he averaged just 15 points against the Miami Heat in a five-game first-round defeat.

Celtics fans took aim at Young as he lined up for a free throw attempt during the fourth quarter, but the two-time NBA All-Star will not let the criticism get the better of him.

"I didn't play my best today, and I know I will going forward. I'm not worried," he said. 

"I could be better. I didn't shoot the ball really well. I had some turnovers where I was just driving, and [the ball] left my hands. I'm gonna be better at home.

"The last two years we've played the number one and number two seeds. Everybody knows the defenses are keyed towards me, and it's up to me to make the right decisions."

Young shot just 9-of-22 from the field and had nearly as many turnovers (five) as assists (six), as his disappointing run of postseason performances continued.

"I know Trae," Celtics head coach Quin Snyder said. "He'll be the first one watching the tape on the plane, trying to figure out ways where he can play better.

"I think we have a lot of guys that are gonna do that, and certainly I'm gonna do it, too."

The Cleveland Cavaliers played some role reversal with their star backcourt on Tuesday as Darius Garland led the scoring charge to defeat the New York Knicks 107-90.

The Game 2 victory tied the series at 1-1 after the Knicks took the opener on the road, but following his 38-point performance in Game 1, Cavaliers All-Star Donovan Mitchell assumed point guard responsibilities.

Mitchell dished a career-high 13 assists to go with 17 points as he went six-of-11 from the field, setting up Garland to shoulder the scoring workload.

After 17 points in Game 1, Garland posted a game-high 32 on eight-of-17 shooting, draining six-of-10 from long range, and he also chipped in seven assists in a masterful offensive showing.

Evan Mobley, who was third in Defensive Player of the Year voting, blocked two shots and snatched two steals to go with his 13 points and 13 rebounds, while his interior partner Jarrett Allen racked up three steals and three blocks as they controlled the paint throughout.

For the Knicks, who found themselves down 59-39 at half-time and could not claw their way out, Jalen Brunson shot a disappointing five-of-17 from the field for his 20 points, although he added six assists and four steals.

Julius Randle was not much better, finishing with 22 points on eight-of-20 shooting with eight rebounds and six turnovers, and the Knicks shot seven-of-29 (24.1 per cent) from three-point range.

After splitting the first two games, the Knicks will head to Madison Square Garden for Games 3 and 4 with home court advantage now in their favour.

Boston's White knight delivers

Complimentary guard Derrick White gave the Boston Celtics a match-winning cameo in their 119-106 Game 2 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

White, who was one of only 10 players this season to play all 82 games in the regular season, put together a terrific game with 26 points (11-of-16 shooting), seven rebounds, three blocks and a steal after starting and playing 34 minutes.

His hot-shooting night saw him usurp Jaylen Brown for the evening in shot attempts as the Celtics' second All-Star chipped in 18 points (seven-of-14), three steals and two blocks, while First Team All-NBA candidate Jayson Tatum led the way with 29 points (12-of-22), 10 rebounds and six assists.

Dejounte Murray was strong for the Hawks with 29 points (11-of-24), six rebounds, six assists and four steals, finishing with a dead-even plus/minus in his 40 minutes, but Trae Young was minus 15 and Atlanta were torched when he was left on the floor without Murray.

While the Celtics will take a 2-0 lead to Atlanta for Games 3 and 4, the Hawks can put all the pressure back on Boston by holding serve at home.

Booker shines for the Suns

Devin Booker stepped up and helped his Phoenix Suns tie their series at 1-1 with a 123-109 triumph over the visiting Los Angeles Clippers.

Booker put up a game-high 38 points on 14-of-22 shooting, playing 45 out of a possible 48 minutes while also leading the Suns with nine assists.

Kevin Durant was excellent in support with 25 points (10-of-19), six rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal, while Deandre Ayton added 14 points with 13 rebounds and Chris Paul chipped in eight assists to go with his 16 points.

It was another ubiquitous performance from two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard as he embarks on his quest to join LeBron James as the only Finals MVP-winner with three different teams.

He had a team-high 31 points (11-of-20), a team-high seven assists and a team-high three steals, while Russell Westbrook posted 28 points (nine-of-16), five rebounds and five assists, but they did not have enough help.

The series will head to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4.

Jaylen Brown credited the adrenaline of the game after somehow managing to top-score despite having a hand injury as the Boston Celtics started their NBA playoff first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks with a win.

Brown cut his right hand last week when he smashed a glass vase at his home, but he was able to play on Saturday.

Despite having had stitches following the injury, Brown's cut split open again against the Hawks, and he had to leave the court at TD Garden after just eight minutes to have his bandage changed.

However, he returned to ultimately play 37 minutes and score 29 points as the Celtics won 112-99, with 45 points in the second quarter.

Brown insisted the laceration between his fingers was "fine now", although he is still working out the best way to manage the issue.

"I think it's going to be alright," he said. "It's a constant adjustment, making sure I have a good grip on the ball.

"There's not a lot of padding on it, so it's just a different feel shooting the ball. [The pain] is fine. Especially with the adrenaline of the game, you kind of just get going."

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, who scored 25 points, said of his team-mate: "He came out aggressive. He looked like he looked fine and played really well."

Stephen Curry missed a clean three-point attempt on the buzzer as the Sacramento Kings claimed their first playoff win in almost 17 years with a 126-123 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Saturday.

De'Aaron Fox came alight with 15 final-quarter points for the Kings in a back-and-forth encounter, finishing with 38 on 13-of-27 shooting from the field with four three-pointers.

Curry almost sent Game 1 of their first round playoffs to overtime when he received Draymond Green's inbound pass with 2.9 seconds left, only for his shot to rim out.

Andrew Wiggins had missed a wide-open three-point attempt for the lead with 10.1 seconds left, before Malik Monk made two free-throws to open up the decisive three-point lead.

Curry finished with 30 points on 11-of-20 shooting with six three-pointers made, along with six rebounds and two assists.

Klay Thompson made five-of-14 from beyond the arc, managing 21 points, while Draymond Green had nine rebounds and 11 assists.

Kings center Domantas Sabonis had a double-double with 12 points and 16 rebounds, while Monk finished with an outstanding 32 points in 29 minutes off the bench, making a perfect 14-of-14 from the line.

Brunson repels Cavs and Mitchell rally

Jalen Brunson helped the New York Knicks steady after a late Cleveland Cavaliers rally to grab a 101-97 road win in Game 1 despite Donovan Mitchell's best efforts.

The Cavs claimed the lead with 2:12 remaining in the final period from Jarrett Allen tip-in capping a stunning 9-0 run, before a clutch Josh Hart triple followed by Brunson step-back jump shot.

Brunson finished with a team-high 27 points, while Julius Randle returned from injury with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Mitchell threw everything at the Knicks, scoring 38 points on 14-of-30 shooting with five rebounds, eight assists and three steals.

The Cavs guard scored 10 points in a row for the Knicks during their fourth-quarter charge, where Quentin Grimes' free-throws with 4.1 seconds left sealed the deal.

Celtics first-half flurry sets up win

The Boston Celtics blew away the Atlanta Hawks with 74 first-half points before easing to a 112-99 victory led by Jaylen Brown with 29 points despite a sore hand.

Jayson Tatum scored 21 of his 25 points in the first half where the Celtics led by as much as 32 points, while Derrick White contributed 25 points and 11 rebounds.

The Hawks' shooting letting them down, finishing with five-of-29 from three-point range with Trae Young managing only 16 points on five-of-18 shooting. Dejounte Murray top scored for Atlanta with 24 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

James Harden scored 23 points including seven triples with 13 assists as the Philadelphia 76ers scored a playoffs franchise-record 21 three-pointers in their 121-101 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

The 2023 NBA playoffs are here and promise to be as thrilling as ever.

There are narratives all over the place ready to be written, with the Golden State Warriors trying to retain their championship, the Los Angeles Lakers coming from 2-10 to potentially win it all, and the Boston Celtics looking to make up for last season's Finals heartbreak.

Between now and the start of the Finals in June, who knows how many shock results, big performances and memorable moments basketball fans will be treated to.

The final two places will be decided on Friday with the last two play-in games determining who will face top seeds the Milwaukee Bucks and the Denver Nuggets, while the first round gets underway straight away on Saturday.

Stats Perform takes a look at the six confirmed series so far, starting with arguably the most intriguing of them all.

Western Conference:

Phoenix Suns (4) v Los Angeles Clippers (5)

After an outstanding 2021-22 campaign in which they finished as the top seed in the West with a record of 64-18, the Suns began this season with a 6-1 run.

However, by the end of their first game of 2023, Phoenix had already lost as many as they did in the entirety of the previous regular season and only managed a record of 45-37 in the end to finish as a fourth seed.

Adding Kevin Durant in February gave them a much-needed boost, though, and his link-up with Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, DeAndre Ayton and Chris Paul feels like it could lead to something special in the postseason. Durant is 8-0 as a Net.

They will be up against a Clippers team who have had stumbles during the season but went 11-5 heading into the playoffs.

Kawhi Leonard's return from injury in November was huge for Ty Lue's team, with he and Paul George both averaging 23.8 points per game for the season.

The teams split their four meetings during the regular season, albeit including a Clippers victory in their final game when the Suns rested their starters.

Sacramento Kings (3) v Golden State Warriors (6)

It feels like the Kings quietly went about their business this season, amassing 48 wins, more than half of which (25) came on the road.

That could not really be further removed from the Warriors' experience, which saw only 11 of their 44 victories come as the away team.

However, after starting 7-29 on the road this season, Golden State won four of their final five. That included a 56-point victory at the Portland Trail Blazers on April 9, tied for the second-largest road win by any team in NBA history (Pacers at Thunder in May 2021 – 57).

De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis will lead the way for Sacramento, but a certain Stephen Curry will be expected to shine again in the postseason as he has done so often in the past.

Since 2013-14, Curry has gone 27-2 against the Kings, the second-best record by any player against a single opponent (min. 20 games) during that span (Norman Powell, 19-1 vs Nets). Curry has averaged 26.7 points, 7.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds over those games.

Golden State were 3-1 against the Kings this season, with Curry (25 points) and Klay Thompson (29) doing much of the damage in their victory in the penultimate game of the campaign against shorthanded opponents.

Memphis Grizzlies (2) v Los Angeles Lakers (7)

As LeBron James recently said, the Lakers were given just a 0.3 per cent chance of making the playoffs by analysts when they started the year 2-10.

As it turned out, they nearly reached the postseason without even needing the play-in tournament, but a fairly routine win against the Minnesota Timberwolves got them to the dance.

James has been outstanding again this season, averaging 28.9 points, and will be eager to produce fireworks now that he and the Lakers are back in the postseason.

On the other side, Ja Morant seems to have put recent problems behind him and looks ready to lead the Grizzlies.

His 26.2 points have been ably supported by Desmond Bane (21.5) and Jaren Jackson Jr. (18.6), though they will miss the presence of the injured Steven Adams, who averaged 11.5 rebounds this season.

The Lakers went 2-1 against the Grizzlies this season, although the home team won on each occasion.

Eastern Conference:

Cleveland Cavaliers (4) v New York Knicks (5)

It was a strong year for Cleveland, winning 51 games in the regular season, although they had a losing record on the road (20-21).

Donovan Mitchell (28.3 points) has been sensational for the Cavaliers, who could hold a significant advantage throughout the playoffs as they boasted a perfect 7-0 record for games that went into overtime during the season.

The Knicks are looking for their first playoff series win in 10 years in what is only their second postseason appearance in that time.

Coach Tom Thibodeau has Julius Randle (25.1) and Jalen Brunson (24.0) to thank for guiding his team to a comfortable playoff place, with Randle also averaging 10.0 rebounds.

New York's starters are averaging 86.5 points this season, the most by any starting unit (Cleveland rank fifth at 83.5). That accounts for 74.6 per cent of the team's scoring, which is the highest rate by a Knicks squad since 2010-11 (74.7).

The Knicks were 3-1 against the Cavs this season, including their last one at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse just two weeks ago.

Philadelphia 76ers (3) v Brooklyn Nets (6)

Ever since he went to Philadelphia, it has felt like James Harden has been the story heading into any clashes between these two.

It feels like there is so much more to it now, though, especially since the Nets also lost Durant and Kyrie Irving.

No longer a team of stars, the Nets are reinventing themselves as just a team, and it will be interesting to see how they manage the postseason. The Nets finished the season 10-4 in games decided by three or fewer points, tied with the Knicks for the best record in the league (min. 10 one-possession games).

Harden and Tyrese Maxey have provided capable support to Joel Embiid, who has been his usual impressive self, with an average of 33.1 points, the most in the entire league.

The Sixers certainly have the momentum going into this series, winning all four of their meetings this season, including in the final game. It was the first time one of the teams swept the season series since Philadelphia won all four matchups against the New Jersey Nets in 2010-11.

Boston Celtics (2) v Atlanta Hawks (7)

Few expected the Celtics to make the Finals last year, and even fewer thought they would take a 2-1 lead against the Warriors.

It all went south from there, though, ultimately losing 4-2, but their response this season has been impressive again.

Boston started 21-5, and although that levelled out towards the middle of the regular season, they put together some more impressive runs to finish 57-25.

Jayson Tatum's average of 30.1 made him briefly a contender for MVP, while Jaylen Brown (26.6) and Marcus Smart are expected to be fit again during the first round.

Trae Young led the Hawks through their play-in clash with the Miami Heat, and he and they will now need to step up again.

Young has scored 30 or more points in four straight road games against the Celtics. Since the NBA-ABA merger, just four players have scored 30-plus points in five straight games in Boston (including playoffs): Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan, Curry and James.

The Celtics won all three regular season meetings, including in their final games before the postseason, although both fielded weakened teams.

Jimmy Butler admitted the Miami Heat will have to improve markedly when they face either the Toronto Raptors or the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference eighth-seed game on Friday in the NBA play-in tournament.

The Heat were beaten 116-105 by the Atlanta Hawks in the seventh seed clash on Tuesday at Kaseya Center.

A slow start from Miami saw them trail by 15 points at half-time, and they were unable to make up that deficit in the second as Atlanta eased to victory to book their place in the playoffs.

Butler scored 21 points with nine assists, but just four rebounds, and he lamented his and his teammates' inability to retrieve the ball all game, with the Hawks making 63 overall to the Heat's 39.

"We have to stay confident," Butler said. "We have to know we are capable of winning, if we start out the right way and if we rebound, obviously.

"But it's just, I don't know, shots don't go in, we foul, that's never the recipe for success with us. So come Friday, we've got to play legit the exact opposite that we played tonight.

"Rebounding was just horrendous. We didn't put body on body and they got all the rebounds, all the second-chance points. And that was the game."

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra concurred, adding: "There's probably been a little bit more than a half-dozen times, maybe eight to 10 times, where we have not rebounded where it has just been absolutely crippling, in terms of how it's hurt us.

"We definitely have to get to the film and go back to all the fundamentals. We knew coming into this game, this game would be decided [by] ball in the air, ball on the floor, and it certainly was."

 

Hawks center Clint Capela made an impressive 21 rebounds in the game, and Heat guard Tyler Herro – who scored 26 points – thought bad luck came into play, but admitted that could not be used as an excuse.

"The ball was bouncing their way, literally, the whole game," Herro said. "But that's not any type of excuse to why we couldn't rebound the ball.

"They beat the hell out of us on the glass, so it wasn't even close. So we can point fingers, do whatever, at the end of the day they beat the hell out of us on the boards and that's what it is."

Trae Young starred for the Hawks, scoring 25 points with seven assists and eight rebounds, and he anticipates a tough encounter with the second seed Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.

"Obviously, Boston is a really good team," Young said. "But I haven't really looked too far ahead. I mean, obviously I watched them all year. They've been playing really well. But I was really focused on tonight and making sure we won."

Young also referenced Butler's comments from earlier in the week when he said he thought the Heat would get the win, adding: "I know Jimmy guaranteed a dub, so I was really focused on making sure that didn't happen."

Butler praised Young after the game, saying: "He's a hell of a player. He makes all the right reads. Obviously, he's a big time shot-maker, and he even got eight rebounds, so I don't think we took too much away [from] them tonight."

LeBron James led the way as the Los Angeles Lakers rallied from a 15-point deficit to clinch their playoffs spot with a 108-102 overtime win over the short-handed Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday.

James finished with 30 points on 12-of-21 shooting with 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks, including sinking a crucial three-pointer to tie the game up 95-95 with 2:03 left in regulation time.

The four-time MVP drove to the basket and kicked out a pass to Denis Schroder to drain a potential game-winning three-pointer to put the Lakers up by three with 1.4 seconds left, only for Anthony Davis to foul Mike Conley on an ambitious three-point attempt.

The Timberwolves veteran guard showed composure to hit all three free-throws, sending the game to overtime but Minnesota were undone by four OT turnovers, totalling for 24 for the game. The Wolves also scored only 16 points after leading 86-79 at three-quarter time.

The Lakers, who were 25-30 at the trade deadline before shuffling their roster and storming into the play-in tournament, secure the seven seed and will face the Memphis Grizzlies in the playoffs first round.

Minnesota, who were missing the suspended Rudy Gobert and injured Jaden McDaniels, will take on the winner of the New Orleans Pelicans-Oklahoma City Thunder play-in game for the right to take the eight seed.

Veteran LA guard Schroder was excellent off the bench with 21 points from 32 minutes including shooting three-of-four from beyond the arc. Davis added 24 points with 15 rebounds and three blocks.

Conley was exceptional for the Timberwolves with 23 points, making six-of-eight from three-point range with four rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Karl-Anthony Towns scored 24 points with 11 rebounds and three blocks in Gobert's absence after the French center swung a punch at teammate Kyle Anderson during at timeout in their final regular season game, leading to a team-imposed suspension.

Anthony Edwards had a game to forget, shooting three-of-17 from the field and none-of-nine from three-point range for nine points with eight rebounds.

Hawks upset Heat to clinch seven seed

Quin Snyder's Atlanta Hawks clinched the Eastern Conference's seven seed and will face the Boston Celtics in the playoffs first round after overcoming the Miami Heat 116-105.

Hawks center Clint Capela was outstanding in the paint with 21 rebounds, including eight offensive rebounds, along with two blocks.

Trae Young scored a team-high 25 points on eight-of-18 shooting from the field, despite making only one-of-eight from three-point range, while Dejounte Murray added 18 points with three triples.

Atlanta opened up a 24-point second-quarter lead which was trimmed to 65-50 by half-time, but never relented despite the Heat closing within five in the third.

Kyle Lowry top scored for the Heat with 33 points with six-of-nine from beyond the arc along with four rebounds and five assists.

Tyler Herro added 26 points, while Jimmy Butler scored 21 points with four rebounds, nine assists, two steals and a block.

Atlanta got the edge in the key with 63-39 rebounds, including 22-6 on the offensive glass with 26-6 second-chance points led by Capela.

The Heat will take on the winner of Wednesday's Toronto Raptors-Chicago Bulls' play-in tournament game for the right to the East's eight seed.

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.

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson produced a vintage performance to carry the Golden State Warriors to a 119-97 road victory against the Sacramento Kings on Friday.

One of the few teams still with plenty to play for in the final games, the Warriors needed a win to avoid falling into the play-in tournament placings, as they would get leapfrogged by the 42-39 New Orleans Pelicans if they finish with an equal record.

But with Kings stars Domantas Sabonis and De'Aaron Fox both out resting – with Sacramento (48-33) locked into the Western Conference's third seed – the Warriors took full advantage.

In a terrific defensive outing, Golden State did not allow a single Sacramento starter to score more than Harrison Barnes' 13 points, while Curry and Thompson combined for 54 points and shot eight-of-15 from three-point range.

Thompson top-scored with 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting (five-of-eight from deep), while Curry chipped in 25 (eight-of-14 shooting, three-of-seven from deep), seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block.

Donte DiVincenzo continued to excel when given an opportunity, with the 26-year-old backup guard putting together 18 points (seven-of-10 shooting), nine assists and six rebounds. 

He vastly outplayed fellow rotation guard and sixth man Jordan Poole, who shot a poor zero-of-10 from the floor, and the two will likely be competing for minutes in the playoffs.

The victory means the Warriors can secure their spot in the playoffs by finishing the season with a win against the tanking Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, avoiding the play-in tournament in the process.

Reaves, Beasley lead important Lakers win

The Los Angeles Lakers (42-39) are only a half-game behind local rivals the Los Angeles Clippers (42-38) after a crucial 121-107 triumph at home against the undermanned Phoenix Suns.

With Phoenix resting Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton, the full-strength Lakers made sure to capitalise, although it was neck-and-neck until the fourth quarter.

Both LeBron James (six-of-19 from the field) and Anthony Davis (four-of-12) had poor shooting nights, combining for just 30 points, but role players Austin Reaves and Malik Beasley came to the rescue.

Reaves was arguably the Lakers' best player, scoring 22 points on nine-of-13 shooting with five assists, while Beasley came off the bench to hit seven-of-14 shots, including four-of-10 from long range for 21 important points.

The Lakers will finish their regular season at home against the Utah Jazz on Sunday, and they can steal the sixth seed if the Clippers lose their final two games against Portland and Phoenix.

76ers ruin Trae's big night

Trae Young put up a ridiculous stat line of 27 points and 20 assists, but it was not enough as his Atlanta Hawks went down 136-131 to the Philadelphia 76ers in overtime.

Young's 20 assists broke his previous career-high by two, and he shot an efficient seven-of-14 from the field, but his nine turnovers were costly. It is the eighth time in Young's career he has committed at least nine turnovers in a game.

While the Hawks were at full strength, the 76ers rode a career-high 16 assists from bench guard Shake Milton in a rare start, with stars Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey out of action.

Jalen McDaniels enjoyed his best game in a Philly jersey with 24 points (eight-of-17 shooting), 11 rebounds and three steals, and Georges Niang also added 24 points (nine-of-13) in a starting role.

Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving concedes his side's downward spiral since his trade has been "emotionally draining" but says there is still a glimmer of hope for their playoff aspirations.

The Mavs slumped to their third straight loss with Sunday's 132-130 overtime defeat against the Atlanta Hawks, also leaving them with one win from their past eight games.

The result means the Mavs sit 11th in the Western Conference with a 37-42 record, outside the final play-in tournament spot, occupied by the Oklahoma City Thunder (38-41).

OKC suffered a 128-118 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday to keep the Mavs in contention but the clock is ticking for a franchise who had championship designs when they traded in Irving in February to play alongside MVP contender Luka Doncic.

The Mavs are a lowly 7-12 with Irving since the trade and the All-Star guard said their struggles had been "emotionally draining".

"We've just been losing tough ones, emotionally draining, but at the same time we're professionals," Irving told reporters.

"I think the fun part of it is we still have a glimmer of hope, a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel of where we can still sneak in.

“But at the same time, I’m at peace with just our effort, with spurts throughout the games. We’ve just got to be able to finish better as a team."

Mavs head coach Jason Kidd, who is under pressure to keep his job, said the team were now playing "catch-up" given their play-in predicament with three games left.

"We know the situation we're in," Kidd said. "We're playing catch-up. We've got to find a way to win and right now we're coming up short when we need to win games. Unfortunately we're not winning right now."

Irving was almost the hero against the Hawks, attempting to steal the ball off Trae Young at 130-130 in the final seconds of OT, only for the referee to call a foul.

Kidd and Irving argued the call as Young hit both of the game-winning free-throws, with the coach calling it a "wild ending".

Irving added: "I know those refs will look back on it and won't be too happy with that call. But it could’ve gone either way. I thought I was great position but that foul cost us game practically."

The Golden State Warriors played an inspired second half to recover from a 20-point deficit and defeat the visiting New Orleans Pelicans 120-109 on Tuesday.

As usual, the Warriors were led by reigning NBA Finals MVP Stephen Curry with a game-high 39 points on 14-of-25 shooting, hitting eight-of-15 three-point attempts while adding eight rebounds, eight assists and three steals.

It was a rough start for Golden State as they found themselves trailing 63-43 late in the second quarter, but some early shenanigans between Draymond Green and the entire Pelicans team seemed to spur some life into the Warriors defense after the break.

In typical Warriors fashion, they exploded in the third quarter in front of their home fans, putting together a 39-26 period to cut the lead to four going into the last.

They ratcheted up the defense even further down the stretch, holding the visitors to just 20 points while piling on 35 of their own as Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole all drained deep triples to blow the roof off Chase Center.

Despite the loss, it was another strong showing from Pelicans centrepiece Brandon Ingram. After his first career triple-double on Thursday and a career-high 13 assists on Saturday, Ingram again looked every bit of an All-NBA initiator with a team-high 26 points (nine-of-22), eight rebounds and seven assists.

A loss for the Warriors would have seen them drop to 39-38 and potentially swap spots with the eighth-seeded Pelicans, but they instead improved to 40-37 and leapfrogged the sixth-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves (39-37) in the process.

Mitchell's 44 not enough for Cleveland

Donovan Mitchell dropped 44 points on the road but it was not enough as the Cleveland Cavaliers fell 120-118 to the Atlanta Hawks.

Mitchell shot 15-of-33 with five rebounds and five assists, while Darius Garland added 27 points (10-of-22) and Evan Mobley chipped in 20 points (10-of-13), 15 rebounds, four assists and four blocks – but the Hawks had all the answers.

Atlanta had seven players score double figures, led by Dejounte Murray's 29 (11-of-22). Trae Young ran the show with 10 assists on an off-shooting night (four-of-15 for 16 points), and the Hawks' bench delivered in a big way.

Backup center Onyeka Okongwu had a wildly efficient 20 minutes with 21 points (five-of-five from the field and 11-of-12 free throws), nine rebounds and three blocks, and trade deadline acquisition Saddiq Bey had 11 points, 10 rebounds and three assists.

Hornets win a shootout in Oklahoma City

The Oklahoma City Thunder received 30-point efforts from Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams and Isaiah Joe – but still lost 137-134 to the surprisingly in-form Charlotte Hornets.

Giddey had one of the best statistical games of his career with 31 points (14-of-22), 10 rebounds and nine assists; rookie Williams had 31 points (11-of-16), four assists and four steals; and Joe hit six-of-11 threes and 11-of-18 overall for his 33 points.

But P.J. Washington was not going to let the Hornets lose, scoring a career-high 43 points on 16-of-24 shooting as he added six rebounds and five assists in an eye-opening performance from the well-rounded six-foot-seven 24-year-old.

It was a standout showing off the bench for the spectacularly bouncy 22-year-old second-year center Kai Jones, collecting the first double-double of his career with 12 points (five-of-five) and 14 rebounds in 22 minutes.

The loss for the Thunder means they slipped to 37-39, still inside the play-in tournament placings, but now tied with the 11th-ranked Dallas Mavericks.

LeBron James returned from a month-long absence with a team-high 19 points and eight rebounds but the Los Angeles Lakers' three-game winning streak was halted by a 118-108 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Sunday.

James had missed 13 games, having not played since February 26 due to what he called a torn tendon in his foot, and started on the bench for the second time in his 20-year NBA career, entering the game midway through the first quarter.

But the four-time NBA MVP's return could not inspire the Lakers past the Bulls at Crypto.com Arena, with Zach LaVine scoring a game-high 32 points for the road team. The Lakers went 8-5 during James' absence.

The Bulls led 91-78 at three-quarter time and kept the Lakers at arm's length throughout the final period, with James only managing five points in the final quarter.

James shot six-of-11 from the field, missing both of his three-point attempts, with three assists along and five turnovers.

Lakers' power forward Anthony Davis scored 15 points with nine rebounds and five assists, while Bulls All-Star DeMar DeRozan had 17 points with 10 assists.

James was on the wrong end of a taunt from ex-Laker Patrick Beverley, who slapped the floor with the "too small" gesture, after making a two-point attempt with 1:12 left.

The loss drops the Lakers below .500 with a 37-38 record to sit ninth in the Western Conference, while the Bulls have won seven of their past nine games to shoot into playoff contention in the East, placed 10th with a 36-38 record.

Doncic faces ban as Mavs lose again

Luka Doncic dropped 40 points with 14 rebounds but the Dallas Mavericks' playoff hopes suffered another blow with their fourth successive defeat, going down 110-104 to the lowly Charlotte Hornets.

To make matters worse for Dallas, Doncic faces a one-game ban after he received his 16th technical foul of the season after using a profanity directed at an official following a correct no-call.

Doncic will miss Dallas' game against the Indiana Pacers on Monday if the decision is not rescinded, which seems unlikely.

Kyrie Irving only managed 18 points on five-of-15 shooting for the Mavs, who are 11th in the Western Conference with a 36-39 record, having lost seven of their past nine games.

Morant leads Grizzlies to sixth straight win

Ja Morant started for the first time since returning from suspension and scored 27 points to help the streaking Memphis Grizzlies beat the Atlanta Hawks 123-119 for their sixth straight win.

Morant scored a team-high 27 points on nine-of-17 shooting, with Desmond Bane adding 25 points, including three triples, and Jaren Jackson Jr built on his Defensive Player of the Year case as he racked up five blocks and three steals to go with 15 points and eight rebounds.

After being ejected on Saturday, Hawks guard Trae Young had 28 points on seven-of-14 shooting with 10 assists.

Memphis' sixth straight win, and second in a row on the road, improved their record to 47-27 to sit second in the West.

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