Erik Spoelstra returned to the Miami Heat ahead of their game against the Sacramento Kings on Monday. 

Head coach Spoelstra missed Saturday's 110-95 loss to the Brooklyn Nets for personal reasons, with assistant coach Chris Quinn filling in. 

However, Miami confirmed that the 60-year-old was back with the team for the meeting with the Kings at FTX Arena. 

Ahead of Monday's game, the Heat (47-28) had the second-best record in the Eastern Conference but sat below the Boston Celtics. The Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers were half a game back in a tight top four. 

Kyrie Irving believes his return to home games for the Brooklyn Nets transcends his status as a basketball player.

The unvaccinated Irving made his season debut in January, when a COVID-19 outbreak forced the Nets to field him on a part-time basis, having initially chosen not to.

New York City vaccine mandates still barred the 30-year-old from playing the Barclays Center, but last week's easing of those mandates allowed for a return to action on his home floor.

Following the 119-110 loss to the Charlotte Hornets, Irving wanted to bring matters into perspective.

"I was just trying to ground myself as much as possible today and just prepare for the warm reception from a lot of supporters of the organisation, of me, just the journey thus far," he said post-game.

"So I don't take it for granted what happened tonight, it was historic. I'm grateful I got a chance to be out there with my brothers and just leave it all out there."

Irving received a hearty reception from the home crowd as he was introduced in the starting lineup, in what was the Nets' second game of a back-to-back.

The former All-Star struggled to find rhythm despite his 16 points and 11 assists, going six-of-22 from the field and making one out of nine attempts from the perimeter.

But Irving spoke afterwards about how his stance against the vaccine meant his return was not simply about him or the game of basketball.

"Tonight my presence out there was just bigger than the basketball game," Irving said. "I was just representing a lot of individuals that are out there in a similar situation as me.

"And now that I can play, I think we should be opened up for everybody.

"I made it very clear it was never just about me. I think for my legacy, that's to be written by all those that I impact and all those that impact me, and it's far bigger than just a basketball game.

"But when I'm in this locker room, I get a chance to perform with a bunch of guys that are selfless and are sacrificing just as much as I am. It makes it worthwhile."

The Miami Heat's slide continued on Saturday, with a disappointing 110-95 home defeat against the Brooklyn Nets making it four losses on the trot.

Miami entered the week multiple games clear of the chasing pack, but after the loss against the Nets, the Philadelphia 76ers usurped the Heat as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The race for home-court advantage throughout the Eastern playoffs is far from over, as the top four teams, including the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics, are only separated by a half-game.

Things were ugly early for the Heat, with its once-feared defence giving up 40 points in just the second quarter to hand the Nets a 67-46 half-time lead, which was never threatened.

Kevin Durant led a balanced offensive performance from the Nets, finishing with a team-high 23 points on seven-of-14 shooting, while seven of his teammates scored at least eight points each.

The win was Brooklyn's seventh from their past nine games, with Kyrie Irving set to make his home debut the next time out against the Charlotte Hornets.

No Morant, no problem

The Memphis Grizzlies passed another real test when the Milwaukee Bucks came to town, sending the reigning champions home with their tails between their legs after a 127-102 result.

In one of the more unlikely storylines of this season, the Grizzlies are now 17-2 in games where their best player and MVP candidate Ja Morant has not played.

Emerging franchise centrepiece Desmond Bane rose to the occasion, scoring 20 points on nine-of-19 shooting to go with five assists, while Defensive Player of the Year candidate Jaren Jackson Jr blocked two shots and snatched one steal to go with his 16 points and six rebounds.

Kings rookie continues to break out, Bulls finally beat a good team

With De'Aaron Fox missing yet again, Sacramento Kings rookie Davion Mitchell had his third consecutive game with at least 22 points and seven assists in his side's 114-110 overtime win against the Orlando Magic.

Mitchell's line of 22 points (10-of-23 from the field) with seven rebounds and nine assists comes after games of 25 points and seven assists against the Indiana Pacers, and 28 points with nine assists against the Phoenix Suns.

Meanwhile, after entering the game with a sputtering record of 3-10 in their past 13 games, the Chicago Bulls collected a much-needed 98-94 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Since February 12, Chicago have only beaten two teams who currently occupy playoff spots – the Cavaliers, and the Toronto Raptors.

Kevin Durant said his Brooklyn Nets were expecting a tough, physical performance from the Miami Heat on Saturday night, but they had all the answers in the 110-95 win.

Brooklyn used a 40-point second quarter to open up a 67-46 half-time lead, extending the margin to 37 points when Seth Curry's three-pointer made it 94-57 with 4:02 to play in the third period.

Durant scored a team-high 23 points on seven-of-14 shooting, while seven of his teammates scored at least eight points each in one of the Nets' most balanced offensive performances of the season.

Speaking at a post-game news conference, Durant said the key to playing well in Miami is being prepared to bring the physicality.

"[Miami] has been struggling lately – they'd lost their last three – so we assumed they'd come out with a lot of firepower," he said.

"They did – we were down 15-7 early – but we weathered the storm. We took their punch and were able to keep going. 

"[Miami] is a physical basketball team, so if you match their physicality you can make it an even game, and we have a lot of shot-makers on our team.

"They normally blitz a lot of teams [in Miami] by just being more physical, and getting out in transition and knocking down threes, but they had to take the ball out of the basket a lot and play against a set defense."

Kevin Durant said his Brooklyn Nets were expecting a tough, physical performance from the Miami Heat on Saturday night, but they had all the answers in the 110-95 win.

Brooklyn used a 40-point second quarter to open up a 67-46 half-time lead, extending the margin to 37 points when Seth Curry's three-pointer made it 94-57 with 4:02 to play in the third period.

Durant scored a team-high 23 points on seven-of-14 shooting, while seven of his teammates scored at least eight points each in one of the Nets' most balanced offensive performances of the season.

Speaking at a post-game news conderence, Durant said the key to playing well in Miami is being prepared to bring the physicality.

"[Miami] has been struggling lately – they'd lost their last three – so we assumed they'd come out with a lot of firepower," he said.

"They did – we were down 15-7 early – but we weathered the storm. We took their punch and were able to keep going. 

"[Miami] is a physical basketball team, so if you match their physicality you can make it an even game, and we have a lot of shot-makers on our team.

"They normally blitz a lot of teams [in Miami] by just being more physical, and getting out in transition and knocking down threes, but they had to take the ball out of the basket a lot and play against a set defense."

The Miami Heat's slide continued on Saturday night, with a disappointing 110-95 home defeat against the Brooklyn Nets making it four losses on the trot.

Miami entered the week multiple games clear of the chasing pack, but after the loss against the Nets, the Philadelphia 76ers usurped the Heat as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The race for home-court advantage throughout the Eastern playoffs is far from over, as the top four teams, including the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics, are only separated by a half-game.

Things were ugly early for the Heat, with its once-feared defence giving up 40 points in just the second quarter to hand the Nets a 67-46 half-time lead, which was never threatened.

Kevin Durant led a balanced offensive performance from the Nets, finishing with a team-high 23 points on seven-of-14 shooting, while seven of his teammates scored at least eight points each.

The win was Brooklyn's seventh from their past nine games, with Kyrie Irving set to make his home debut the next time out against the Charlotte Hornets.

No Morant, no problem

The Memphis Grizzlies passed another real test when the Milwaukee Bucks came to town, sending the reigning champions home with their tails between their legs after a 127-102 result.

In one of the more unlikely storylines of this season, the Grizzlies are now 17-2 in games where their best player and MVP candidate Ja Morant has not played.

Emerging franchise centrepiece Desmond Bane rose to the occasion, scoring 20 points on nine-of-19 shooting to go with five assists, while Defensive Player of the Year candidate Jaren Jackson Jr blocked two shots and snatched one steal to go with his 16 points and six rebounds.

Kings rookie continues to break out, Bulls finally beat a good team

With De'Aaron Fox missing yet again, Sacramento Kings rookie Davion Mitchell had his third consecutive game with at least 22 points and seven assists in his side's 114-110 overtime win against the Orlando Magic.

Mitchell's line of 22 points (10-of-23 from the field) with seven rebounds and nine assists comes after games of 25 points and seven assists against the Indiana Pacers, and 28 points with nine assists against the Phoenix Suns.

Meanwhile, after entering the game with a sputtering record of 3-10 in their past 13 games, the Chicago Bulls collected a much-needed 98-94 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Since February 12, Chicago have only beaten two teams who currently occupy playoff spots – the Cavaliers, and the Toronto Raptors.

The Miami Heat were without coach Erik Spoelstra for their game with the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday. 

Miami confirmed prior to tip-off that Spoelstra would not be in attendance at FTX Arena due to personal reasons. 

Assistant coach Chris Quinn was handed the reins of the Heat, who sat top of the Eastern Conference with eight games to play. 

Miami have lost their past three games, opening the door for the Philadelphia 76ers to displace them as the top seed in the closing stretch of the regular season. 

The Nets sat eighth in the East and looked set to be heading for the play-in tournament. 

Kevin Durant says it is an "exciting time" for Brooklyn Nets fans as Kyrie Irving prepares to make a long-awaited appearance at Barclays Center on Sunday.

Irving has not been able to play at home this season after he opted against taking a coronavirus vaccine.

The seven-time NBA All-Star will be back in action at Barclays Center against the Charlotte Hornets this weekend, though, after New York City Mayor Eric Adams lifted the mandate for unvaccinated athletes and performers.

Durant welcomed that decision and says having Irving available for all games has given Brooklyn a major lift.

The forward said on Friday: "It's a long time coming. It's an exciting time for Brooklyn Nets fans and New York fans to see one of our own back on the floor at home.

"It means a lot to our team, happy to have him back, and look forward to finishing the season strong. I'm glad this is all behind us."

The Nets (38-35) are eighth in the Eastern Conference in a season that has not gone to plan.

But Durant has no interest in dwelling on the past as they look to build momentum with Irving set for a happy homecoming.

"There's no crying over spilled milk. It is what it is," Durant said. "But I'm not naive to the fact that the Mets and the Yankees, they have a lot of power in our city.

"I'm sure once they all helped and had conversations with whoever they needed to talk to, it was able to push it over the top.

"So, sports is a huge factor in a lot of these major cities, and I'm glad we can get things done for everybody to move forward. I know New York City fans are excited about it."

Kyrie Irving has been cleared to play home games for the Brooklyn Nets after changes to New York's vaccine mandate were officially announced on Thursday.

It means Irving will be eligible to take to the court when the Nets host the Charlotte Hornets at Barclays Center on Sunday.

New York City mayor Eric Adams recently removed restrictions requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter establishments including bars, restaurants and sports arenas, but the mandate for private sector employees remained in place.

As a result, Irving – who is unvaccinated – was only able to attend home games as a spectator.

However, at a media conference at Citi Field on Thursday, Adams confirmed the mandate for athletes and performers had been lifted.

"This is about putting New York athletes on a level playing field," he said. "We were treating our performers differently because they live and play in New York City."

Adams did reiterate his previous stance that athletes, including Irving, should reconsider their stance on vaccination.

"Kyrie, you should get vaccinated," he said. "This does not change my message that everyone should get vaccinated."

Irving, who has played just 20 games this season, scored 43 points in Brooklyn's 132-120 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving delivered big performances, but the Memphis Grizzlies were unstoppable in the first half on the way to a 132-120 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

Irving finished with 43 points (15-of-27 shooting, six-of-11 from three) and eight assists, while Durant posted figures of 35 points (12-of-28 shooting, 10-of-10 from the free-throw line) with 11 rebounds, eight assists, two blocks and two steals.

But the Grizzlies would not be denied in front of their home fans, clicking on all cylinders early to jump out to a 76-62 half-time lead.

It was yet another stunning showing without MVP candidate Ja Morant who missed again through injury, with seven Grizzlies scoring double figures to pick up the slack.

Desmond Bane (eight-of-17 shooting) and De'Anthony Melton (eight-of-13 shooting) led the way with 23 points each, while Jaren Jackson Jr swatted away four shots as he continued his charge for Defensive Player of the Year.

With the win, the Grizzlies moved to 50-23 for the year, and an incredible 15-2 in games Morant has missed.

 

Warriors 'punk' the Heat

A day after Draymond Green said his Golden State Warriors were being "punked" in recent losses, they responded in style, beating the Miami Heat 118-104 without Green and injured star Stephen Curry.

In a game where Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler had to be physically separated from coach Erik Spoelstra during a time-out, the Miami defence simply could not get stops in the second half as tempers flared.

Jordan Poole shone yet again for the Warriors, scoring 30 points on 10-of-18 shooting, going three-of-seven from long range, while rookie Jonathan Kuminga, All-Star Andrew Wiggins and bench player Damion Lee chipped in with 22 points each.


Ayton and the Suns shine in Minnesota, Davion dominates

A 42-point fourth quarter capped off a terrific 125-116 comeback win for the Phoenix Suns on the road against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Trailing 64-51 at the halfway stage and by five at three-quarter time, the Suns got 11 points from centre Deandre Ayton down the stretch to cap off a big 35-point (15-of-24 shooting), 14-rebound performance.

Devin Booker controlled the contest for the Suns, scoring 28 points on only 15 field goal attempts, going 13-of-16 from the free throw line while also dishing out seven assists.

Meanwhile, rookie top-10 pick Davion Mitchell starred in the Sacramento Kings' 110-109 away win against the Indiana Pacers, scoring 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting and collecting seven assists in arguably his best game as a professional.

Joel Embiid scored 30 points and had 10 rebounds, three steals and three blocks for the Philadelphia 76ers in their 126-121 win over a Los Angeles Lakers side who were without LeBron James.

Kyrie Irving will make his Brooklyn Nets home debut for the season on Sunday after changes to New York's vaccine mandate come into effect on Thursday, according to reports.

Irving, 29, has only played 19 games this season after deciding not to get vaccinated, but has excelled when in the line-up, averaging 27 points, five rebounds and five assists.

Despite athletes playing for New York teams requiring vaccination to play, visiting players were not subjected to the same requirements, with this move seen as 'levelling the playing field', as put by The Athletic's Shams Charania.

With the new exemption for in-town athletes and performers kicking in on Thursday, it means Irving will be eligible to suit up for the Nets' Sunday fixture against the visiting Charlotte Hornets.

It is important timing for the Nets as their positioning in the play-in tournament means they likely will need to win a home game to earn their way into the playoffs.

Brooklyn Nets' All-Star Kevin Durant has showered praise on upcoming opponent Ja Morant comparing him to Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson.

The Nets take on Morant's Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, with Durant describing the first-time All-Star as a combination of Jordan, Iverson, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose.

Morant has enjoyed a breakout year after being pick two in the 2019 NBA Draft and leading the Grizzlies to the playoffs last season.

The 22-year-old Memphis guard is averaging 27.6 points up from 19.1 points in the 2020-21 season along with 5.7 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.2 steals this season for the playoffs-bound Grizzlies who have a 49-23 record.

"He's a combination of players, I feel," Durant told reporters after the Nets' 114-106 win over the Utah Jazz on Monday.

"I think the greatest players in our game can transform into anybody at any given point, and I think Ja is on the way to that. I mean when he's playing I see like two or three or four different hall-of-famers in his game.

"From Iverson, he might make a Jordan-like lay-up, he might run down the court like a Westbrook or a D-Rose. His float game is up there with some of the best that's ever played.

"I don't wanna gas him up too much since we're playing against him, but I think the sky is the limit for him. His future is obviously bright, and he makes everybody better playing against him."

On the Grizzlies, Durant added: "When you got a future Hall of Famer at the head of the snake, it just makes everybody better."

Durant scored 37 points with nine rebounds and eight assists in Monday's win as the Nets improved to 38-34.

The Nets forward surpassed close friend Jerry West (25,192 points) into 22nd on the NBA's all-time scoring charts with his 37-point haul on Monday.

"Winning the championship with Jerry, having conversations with him, knowing the history of who he is, he helped kickstart the NBA basically, it's an honour," Durant said.

"He's a legend in the game. He's almost like the godfather of our sport. Good to see him back around our game but it's even better to pass him. He's one of the all-time great players in this league."

Durant moves to 25,213 points, with Indiana Pacers legend Reggie Miller next above him on 25,279 points.

LeBron James scored 38 points and notched up another triple-double upon his return to Cleveland, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 131-120 win over the Cavaliers on Monday.

Other than this season's All-Star Game, it was Akron-born James' only home visit. Having played 11 seasons in two stints with the Cavs, he was warmly received as he added 10 rebounds and 12 assists to those 38 points.

Russell Westbrook and D.J. Augustin added 20 points each for the Lakers, who moved three games clear of the 10th-placed San Antonio Spurs for Western Conference play-in calculations.

Meanwhile, the Cavs only just remain in sixth in the Eastern Conference at 41-31, one game clear of the Toronto Raptors in the first play-in spot.

Durant gives Jazz the business in Brooklyn

Kevin Durant was at his talismanic best, as the Brooklyn Nets won 114-106 at home to the Utah Jazz.

Durant had 37 points on 15-of-23 shooting, including four-of-seven from beyond the arc, as well as coming up with nine rebounds and eight assists.

Brooklyn look set to secure an Eastern Conference play-in spot at 38-34 in eighth, and despite 30 points for the Jazz, Donovan Mitchell couldn't stop the Nets from snapping their three-game win streak.

Maxey catches fire in Heat win

Tyrese Maxey scored 13 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, propelling the short-handed Philadelphia 76ers to a 113-106 victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat.

Without Joel Embiid and James Harden, Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz added 20 and 18 points respectively, while Maxey made critical buckets down the stretch.

In a game that was tight throughout, the 21-year-old came up big in the clutch, scoring on a drive plus the foul to give the Sixers a 106-101 lead with 2:18 remaining.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash remains optimistic that Ben Simmons will play at some point this season but has revealed the new signing has a herniated disk in his back.

Simmons is yet to debut for the Nets following his February trade from the Philadelphia 76ers, whom he fell out with over the off-season. The Australian guard has subsequently not played all season.

The former All-Star had an epidural last week to alleviate pressure in his back as he struggles to build his conditioning up to a level fit enough to see him return to action.

The Nets, who appear headed for the Play-In Tournament with a 37-34 record sitting eighth in the east, have only 11 regular-season games remaining, meaning the clock is ticking on Simmons.

"He's had this [herniated disks] a couple years ago, so he's had them throughout his career at some points," Nash told reporters prior to Sunday's game against the Utah Jazz.

"I guess there was a flare-up. I'm not sure when they recognised it was beyond a back flare-up and a herniated disc or what not, but somewhere along the line there, that was the reason for the epidural."

He added: "From what I know, he trained pretty hard for five, six months. He was in a great place. Unfortunately, I think there was a little flare-up at some point in there and it's just never quite turned the corner since.

"I think he had months of five, six days a week on court and was doing very well, so just unfortunate, but we stay the course. Hopefully a good resolution to this in the near future."

Simmons is yet to be cleared to return to practice although Nash said surgery had not yet been discussed.

"We still have high hopes that he can come back," Nash said. "He's had moments during his rehab where he's on the court doing some things and it looks like he's about to turn a corner, and then there's a little setback so I still feel optimistic that he can play for us."

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant has said Kyrie Irving is "frustrated" at still not being allowed to play home games for the team.

New York City mayor Eric Adams recently removed restrictions requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter establishments including bars, restaurants and sports arenas, but the mandate for private sector employees remains in place.

As a result, Irving – who is unvaccinated – is only able to attend home games as a spectator, which he recently did when the Nets beat the New York Knicks at Barclays Center.

After Monday's shootaround, Durant said Irving thought restrictions on him would have been lifted by now, stating: "He's frustrated in not being able to play.

"He figured this stuff would be rolled back by now, we'd be way past this. But it's the situation we're in, we've got to deal with it, he's got to deal with it. We're trusting that it'll get figured out there soon.

"I have no clue what may happen, but I'm just trusting that things will work itself out. But I'm sure he misses playing in front of a home crowd and the home crowd; vice versa, they miss him. So, hopefully we get it figured out soon."

Irving has played 19 games for the Nets this season, all on the road, averaging 27.7 points per game, and recently hit 60 in his team's win at the Orlando Magic.

 

Mayor Adams said at the time that allowing Irving to play home games "would send the wrong message" to the people of New York, despite wanting to see the Nets win an NBA championship.

Durant – who returned from a knee injury at the start of March and is averaging 29.4 points this season – added there is no judgement of Irving from him or his team-mates.

"We love Kyrie as a human being," he said. "I don't think we were ever upset at him as much as people on the outside were. We get that it may affect the outcome of some basketball games, but that's not the only reason why we love Kyrie as a person, because of what he can bring to the court.

"He made the decision [not to be vaccinated] for himself, so you've just got to respect it and move forward. We weren't coming in here every day p***ed off at him because he wasn't around."

When asked if being without Irving would have an impact on their championship aims, Durant said: "We'd be missing a huge piece of our team, but we've still got to go out there and play the game.

"We've been saying that no matter who's on the floor, you've still got to go out there and play and hoop. We'd love to have Kyrie out there, being out there, but if they aren't, the rest of the guys have just got to go play and live with the results. I think we're all comfortable with that."

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