Donovan Mitchell has admitted he "came close" to heading to the New York Knicks, before eventually being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The former Utah Jazz guard and three-time All-Star was part of arguably the biggest trade of the offseason, with the Jazz receiving three unprotected first-round picks.

They include two future first-round pick swaps in guard Collin Sexton and stretch forward Lauri Markkanen, as well as Ochai Agbaji, the 14th selection from this year's NBA Draft.

Mitchell had been one of the most desirable names on the market after it became clear the Jazz were entering a rebuild following their trade of three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Despite being "excited" to be in Cleveland, Mitchell – who is from New York – told ESPN he was close to signing for the Knicks.

"Very close, I won't say more than that, I know a little bit more than most, but definitely very close," he said. "I was truly excited when I got traded [to the Cavaliers], but we were, it was, it was close [to the Knicks]."

He also disputed comments from Jazz CEO Danny Ainge, who claimed earlier in the week that Utah's players last season "didn't really believe in each other".

"I don't think we didn't believe [in each other]," Mitchell riposted. "I said at the end of the season, 'don't trade [Gobert]. Let's figure this out, let's do.' And that didn't happen.

"For [Ainge] to say that after six months around the team, I disagree. But you know, at the end of the day, that's his decision."

The 25-year-old spent five seasons in Utah, averaging 23.9 points per game, as well as 4.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are set to pull off arguably the biggest trade of the offseason by landing three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell from the Utah Jazz, according to reports.

Mitchell, 25, was one of the most desirable stars on the market after it became clear the Jazz were entering a rebuild following their trade of three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.

In return, the Jazz will receive three unprotected first-round picks. They include two future first-round pick swaps in guard Collin Sexton and stretch forward Lauri Markkanen, as well as Ochai Agbaji, who was the 14th selection from this year's NBA Draft.

It is a sizeable haul for the Jazz, who also received four future first-round picks, plus three rotation-level players from the Minnesota Timberwolves for Gobert, putting them in one of the most favourable rebuilding situations in the NBA.

For the Cavaliers, the move affirms their position as a true contender in the Eastern Conference for years to come, after emerging from this past season with a long-term core of Darius Garland, Rookie of the Year runner-up Evan Mobley and All-Star centre Jarrett Allen.

Cleveland will have one of the league's strongest six-man rotations when factoring in fifth pick from the 2020 draft Isaac Okoro – who will likely start at small forward – and potential Sixth Man of the Year Caris Levert.

Whenever people talk about the NBA, one name is rarely far away from any conversation.

LeBron James is once again the talk of basketball after reports emerged on Wednesday he had agreed a two-year extension with the Los Angeles Lakers worth an eye-watering $97.1million.

The 37-year-old had been entering the final year of a contract worth $44.5m. His new deal includes a player option for the 2024-25 season according to ESPN, citing Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul.

James' deal takes him to $532m in guaranteed career earnings, which would mean he is the highest-paid player in the history of the league, ahead of Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets.

Apart from having four NBA championships, four Finals MVPs, four NBA MVPs, 17 All-Star selections and three All-Star MVPs, what has James done to earn such a lucrative deal?

Stats Perform has taken a trip down memory lane to remind ourselves just why he is still the hottest property in the NBA.

Breakout in Cleveland

As the first pick of the 2003 NBA Draft, it was hardly surprising that James impressed from the start with the Cavaliers, averaging 20.9 points per game (PPG) in his debut season from 79 games.

It was the 2005-06 season where he really exploded, though, averaging 31.4 PPG in the regular season, which remains his highest ever for a campaign, before recording 30.8 PPG in the playoffs, where the Cavs were eliminated in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals by the Detroit Pistons.

James took Cleveland to the postseason for five straight seasons, agonisingly losing the 2007 Finals to the San Antonio Spurs, before taking the mantel again in 2009 as he put up 35.3 PPG in 14 playoff outings before Conference final heartbreak against the Orlando Magic.

He had become a superstar in his home state of Ohio, though it seemed like championship glory was always going to elude him in Cleveland and so in 2010, it was time for a decision.

LeBron brings the Heat

The television event titled 'The Decision' did not go down universally well, it is fair to say, as James dramatically revealed he was leaving the Cavs for the Miami Heat.

However, it turned out to be the catalyst for him to reach the next step as he was undoubtedly surrounded by more talent in Miami, and before long, much-deserved silverware.

Linking up superbly night after night with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, James reached the Finals every year in Florida, winning his first championship in 2012, before following it up in 2013 with another.

His numbers were ever so slightly lower at the Heat than they had been in Cleveland, though that clearly owed to having more help from the likes of Wade and Bosh.

James' first title win 2012 saw him average 30.3 PPG during the postseason, and led the way as he got some revenge on the Spurs in 2013, excelling in Game 7 to win his second championship.

 

The Cavalier returns home

In 2014, James came back to Cleveland with the desire to take his team to the promised land with him this time, and he did just that.

Just as he had in Miami, James went to the Finals every year of his second spell with the Cavaliers, and every year they played against the dominant Golden State Warriors.

After losing 4-2 in 2015, they returned to get revenge in 2016 as James starred on their way to an almost Hollywood-ending win against the Warriors, securing their first NBA championship.

They were unable to repeat the trick as the Warriors beat them in both the 2017 and 2018 Finals, but reaching four Finals in a row was still more than Cavs fans could have realistically expected.

Unfortunately for them, James was getting itchy feet again.

L.A. dreams not always what they are cracked up to be

James himself had a solid enough start to life in Los Angeles, posting 27.4 PPG for the Lakers in 2018-19, though injury issues sustained by him and several of his new team-mates led to a wobbly season, and therefore, no postseason for the first time for James since 2005.

Inevitably, he came roaring back the following year and in spite of the chaos caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, James and the Lakers returned to win the "bubble championship", the fourth title of his career with a third different team.

However, the 2020-21 campaign was one to forget as James recorded his lowest PPG for a season (25.0) since his rookie year, before the Lakers were dumped out of the playoffs in the first round by the Phoenix Suns.

Was it all over for LeBron? Not likely. He responded to that setback by scoring 1,695 points in just 56 games last season at an average of 30.3 PPG, his best regular season return since 2005-06.

James also reached a notable landmark in March, becoming the first player in NBA history to record 10,000 assists and 10,000 rebounds in a career.

 

Unfortunately for him, his team-mates were unable to match those efforts and the Lakers again failed to even make the playoffs, which could be why they were so desperate to find the funds to tie James' immediate future down.

His PPG has been higher in the playoffs than the regular season at every team he has played barring the Heat, where it was identical (26.9), proving the extent to which he is a clutch player and why it is imperative that the Lakers reach the postseason next year to make the most of the time they have left with him.

Injuries permitting, it is also practically certain he will overtake Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA's all-time leading scorer next season (currently 1,325 points behind).

Now that his new deal is agreed, you can be sure when that landmark arrives, LeBron will be wearing the same Lakers jersey Kareem did so famously.

The Cleveland Cavaliers and guard Darius Garland have agreed to a five-year, $193 million contract extension, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Saturday.  

The extension is the maximum a player can have added to his rookie contract and could be worth a reported $231m.  

The deal is the largest in franchise history.  

Garland scored 21.7 points per game last season and averaged 8.6 assists, helping to guide Cleveland to a resurgence.

With a 44-38 record, 2021-22 was the Cavs' first winning season without LeBron James since 1997-98.  

Garland, 22, is now locked into a promising young core that includes 21-year-old Evan Mobley and 24-year-old Jarrett Allen in the frontcourt.

The Cavs drafted Garland fifth overall in 2019, and the point guard was named to his first All-Star team last season.

A trading card of NBA star LeBron James has sold at auction with collectibles marketplace Goldin for $2.4million, including buyer's premium.

The unique 2020-21 Panini Flawless Triple Logoman of James includes embedded segments of the 37-year-old's game-worn jerseys from his time at the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers.

It had been anticipated that it could break the all-time record for a sports trading card, which is a Honus Wagner baseball card that was sold for $6.6m in 2021.

Panini's 2020-21 Flawless release included five Triple Logoman cards, made up of patches from three-star players, though James' was the only card that features three patches from one player.

The four other cards include patches from Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry; Draymond Green, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson; Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball and Tyrese Haliburton, and Jayson Tatum, Luka Doncic and Zion Williamson.

The NBA All-Rookie teams were unveiled on Wednesday, headlined by Rookie of the Year finalists Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley and winner Scottie Barnes in the All-Rookie First Team.

Joining the trio – who were all unanimous selections – on the First Team were Orlando Magic forward Franz Wagner and Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green.

Cunningham, Green, Mobley and Barnes were the first four picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, while Wagner was the eighth selection.

They were also the only five rookies to average at least 15 points per game this season, putting a gap between themselves and sixth-highest scorer Chris Duarte at 13.1 points per game. It is the first time since at least 1985 that all five members of the All-Rookie First Team have each averaged at least 15 points per game.

The All-Rookie Second Team was made up of first-rounders Josh Giddey (sixth selection), Duarte (13th selection) and Bones Hyland (26th), as well as a pair of second-round picks in Herb Jones (35th) and Ayo Dosunmu (38th).

Orlando will have the number one pick of the 2022 NBA Draft, followed by the Oklahoma City Thunder and then the Rockets.

Trae Young knew he just needed to stay aggressive in the second half of the Atlanta Hawks' 107-101 play-in win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, and said he expects a fun series against the Miami Heat.

It was a tale of two halves for the Hawks' All-NBA point guard, as he struggled with six points in the first, before exploding with 32 after half-time.

Bogdan Bogdanovic was crucial off the bench for Atlanta, hitting six-of-eight shots for 19 points and three steals in his 29 minutes, while Onyeka Okongwu invigorated his side after Clint Capela went down with an injury, finishing with a plus/minus of plus 21 while Capela was minus 21.

Speaking to post-game media, Young said he was always looking to score, despite how tough the Cavaliers were making it for him early.

"Early in the game, they were making some reads and making some switches, and I was trying to get my teammates involved," he said. 

"I missed a couple shots, but I needed to stay aggressive, and that's all I did in the second half. We just took care of business.

"The team we beat tonight definitely deserved a playoff spot, but this year it's so tough. They weren't able to make it. It's just a testament to our team that we kept fighting."

Young then touched on the upcoming series against the Heat, saying he is looking forward to the playoff atmosphere when they head to Miami on Sunday.

"I mean, [Miami have] been clicking on all cylinders, especially recently, [and] they've got a little bit more rest than we have, so we got to be ready to bring it," he said.

"We know the crowd is going to be crazy, and the environment is gonna be fun, so [we have] got to be ready to be locked in and take care of business."

Hawks coach Nate McMillan was inspired by his team's fight, and his point guard.

"This team is built for moments like this," he said.

"Trae has a great deal of confidence in his game, his ability and he continued to believe. I didn't see any panic in his play. 

"He came out in the second half [and] remained aggressive. Those shots started to fall, the same shots that he was taking in the first half, they started to fall in the second half."

A Trae Young masterclass in the second half of the Atlanta Hawks' play-in clash against the Cleveland Cavaliers led his side to a 107-101 victory.

After only scoring six points in the first half, Young had 32 in the second, finishing with 38 points on 13-of-25 shooting (four-of-11 from deep) to go with nine assists.

It was a gutsy comeback from the Hawks, who trailed 28-14 in the first quarter and 49-61 with 30 seconds to play in the first half.

Overall, the Hawks outscored the Cavaliers 56 to 40 in the last two quarters, and after committing seven turnovers in the opening frame, cleaned things up significantly and only committed six more across the next three quarters.

Cleveland's Darius Garland had a difficult shooting night, finishing nine-of-27 from the field for his 21 points, but he showed excellent command of his side throughout, dishing nine assists, snatching three steals and finishing with a plus/minus of plus three in his 43 minutes. This means in the five minutes Garland was sitting on the bench, the Cavs were outscored by eight.

With the win, the Hawks have earned a seven-game series against the top seed of the Eastern Conference – the Miami Heat.

Pelicans survive Clippers comeback

The New Orleans Pelicans survived a massive second-half surge from the Los Angeles Clippers to fight back and win on the road 105-101. 

Through the first half, it looked like it would be smooth sailing for the Pelicans as they jumped out to a 56-42 lead with one minute to play in the second quarter.

Los Angeles were without star Paul George after it was announced he had tested positive for coronavirus and had to adhere to health and safety protocols, but they found a second wind to start the third period.

The Clippers started the second half on a 20-to-two run, flipping a 56-46 deficit to a 66-58 lead as Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris started to catch fire.

After being outscored 38-18 in the third term, the Pelicans began the final period trailing 84-74, but it would be their turn to make a run, rallying to tie the game at 88-88 with 7:35 to play.

Brandon Ingram was the star of the show, finishing with 30 points (14-of-21 shooting) with six assists and six rebounds, but the clutch long-range shooting from rookie Trey Murphy III was the catalyst for their surge down the stretch.

Murphy came off the bench and finished with a game-high plus/minus of plus 26 in his 24 minutes, hitting four-of-six threes, including three of them in the last 10 minutes.

Jackson and Morris finished with 27 points each for the Clippers, while the former also added eight assists, seven rebounds and two steals.

The win means the New Orleans Pelicans will face the Phoenix Suns in a best-of-seven series, beginning on Sunday.

 

Jarrett Allen could be a possible inclusion for the Cleveland Cavaliers when they face the Atlanta Hawks on Friday.

The Athletic's Shams Charania reported Allen, who has been out since March due to a fractured finger, has not been ruled out for Friday despite being listed by Cleveland as questionable.

Following their 115-108 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday in their opening play-in game, the Cavaliers now face a must-win situation to keep their season alive.

The 23-year-old All-Star averaged 16.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game and held a career-best net rating of +26 before the injury, sustained in March against the Toronto Raptors, with the Cavs ending the regular season with a 7-11 record from that point.

Allen's inclusion would give Cleveland renewed flexibility with their rotation, using Lauri Markkanen and Evan Mobley in different defensive matchups on the back of Allen's rim protection.

With a win on Friday, JB Bickerstaff's side would secure a first-round playoff matchup against the Miami Heat, the Eastern Conference's first seed.

Despite Trae Young shooting three-for-13 from the field in the first half of the Atlanta Hawks' win against the Charlotte Hornets, head coach Nate McMillan loved what he saw from his superstar point guard.

With the 132-103 blowout win, the Hawks earned a chance to play against the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference eighth seed on Friday.

Young's shot was not falling early, but his team still put up 60 points in the first half as De'Andre Hunter, Clint Capela and Danilo Gallinari shouldered more of an offensive load.

Speaking to post-game media, McMillan said he was proud of the way Young navigated his early struggles before going on to finish with 24 points and 11 assists.

"I thought [Young] did a really solid job of getting off the ball when [the Pelicans] put two on him, and he got his teammates involved," he said.

"I thought later in the game they went away from that, and he was able to get loose and get some looks at the basket.

"But a real solid job by Trae running the team, managing those guys on the offensive end of the floor, and really getting us organized and attacking."

McMillan admitted his assistant coaches were imploring him to pull the Hawks stars late in the fourth quarter, with a big lead and the win almost assured, and looked forward to the matchup against the Cavs.

"The coaches were yelling at me, screaming at me to get the [starters] out, so that we could get them a rest in," he said. "But it's time to play – it's game time – and we should be ready when we go to Cleveland.

"We don't know if [Jarrett Allen] will be back on Friday – but the size-factor – they do a good job of taking advantage of their size, and their ability to pound you in the paint with post-ups, rebounding and a lot of length.

"[Darius] Garland is an All-Star, playing great basketball for them, so they're a really good team. We'll have our work cut out for us on Friday."

The Brooklyn Nets defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 115-108 in the first game of the NBA Play-In Tournament on Tuesday.

The Nets are now the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, confirming a playoff matchup with the second seed Boston Celtics.

Kyrie Irving made 10 straight attempts on the way to 34 points and 12 assists, but Kevin Durant took over in the second half with 25 points and 11 assists, as well as two steals and three blocks.

The Nets led by as much as 22 points at one stage, but it was on the back of Durant and Irving starting off hot. The Cavs managed to hang in there and cut it down to single digits with Darius Garland's free-throws and triple following Goran Dragic's flagrant foul.

Garland finished with 34 points on 13-of-24 shooting, but Caris LeVert and Lauri Markkanen experienced a poor shooting night, combining for 25 points but on nine-of-26 attempts from the floor.

The Cavs will play the winner of Wednesday's matchup between the Charlotte Hornets and the Atlanta Hawks, for a chance to take on the Miami Heat in a seven-game series.

Timberwolves win through to face Grizzlies

The Minnesota Timberwolves reached the playoffs for the second time since 2004 with a 109-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Timberwolves, who lost All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns who fouled out early in the fourth quarter, finished with a 26-11 run to secure victory, which means they will face the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs.

Anthony Edwards (30 points with five three-pointers and five rebounds) and D'Angelo Russell (29 points and six assists) starred offensively, while the relentless Patrick Beverley was excellent against his former side with 11 rebounds.

Paul George kept the Clippers in the contest with 34 points including six three-pointers with seven rebounds and five assists.

The Clippers will next face the winner of the New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs' play-in game for a shot at the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

Kevin Durant admits it will be tough to stop Jayson Tatum after the Brooklyn Nets progressed to the playoffs where they will face the Boston Celtics in a blockbuster first round series.

The Nets got past the Cleveland Cavaliers 115-108 in the play-in tournament on Tuesday to clinch the seventh seed, meaning they will face the second-seeded Celtics.

Durant scored 25 points with five rebounds and 11 assists, while ex-Celtics guard Kyrie Irving had 34 points with 12 assists.

The last time the two sides met, the Nets were beaten 126-120 by the Celtics on March 7 with Tatum scoring 54 points.

Tatum is seventh overall this season for points per game, averaging 26.9 shooting at 45.3 per cent from the field and 35.3 from three-point range.

"That's a tough question," Durant told reporters, when asked how to stop Tatum. "He's one of those players you've got to play hard and see what happens.

"He's just so talented, skilled and efficient at what he does. We've just got to play hard and I expect us to."

Irving added that keeping Tatum quiet would go a long way towards winning the series.

"It starts with really slowing JT down," Irving said. "He has a great feel playing against us. Everyone else around is very complementary to that attack."

Durant added: "[It's about] staying disciplined, playing together and playing with passion. I don’t have the schemes or the strategy to break it down to you. That's what every team needs to bring to win in the postseason."

The Celtics are one of the form teams in the NBA, going 35-12 since the turn of the year to finish the regular season with a 51-31 record.

Nets head coach Steve Nash said: "I'm really impressed with the Celtics, the job Ime [Udoka] has done. They've been able to build on that continuity.

"That group has been together for quite a while. They've made some tweaks and adjustments that have really improved their team both ends of the floor.  

"It'll be a great challenge for us. For a new group to go and play a team like that that's terrific at both ends is going to be something that hopefully brings the best out of us."

Whatever you think about the sporting merit of the introduction of the Play-In tournament to last year's NBA season, there is no doubt it made things more interesting for the neutral.

The Golden State Warriors were surprisingly eliminated after defeats to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Memphis Grizzlies, while the Indiana Pacers were denied a playoff place by the Washington Wizards in 2021.

The format has returned for this season, and again, it promises to add all sorts of further intrigue to the playoff picture.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the mini tournament will take place from April 12-16. The teams that finished seventh and eighth play 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 playoffs, while the eighth seed will take on the Miami Heat. In the west, the seventh seed will go up against the Memphis Grizzlies, and the eighth seed will be paired with the Phoenix Suns.

With the regular season over after Sunday's final games, Stats Perform takes a look at the eight teams with one last chance to secure their place in the 2022 NBA playoffs.

Eastern Conference

Tuesday, April 12 – Brooklyn Nets (7th) vs Cleveland Cavaliers (8th) 

It has felt like a season of distractions in Brooklyn this season, be it James Harden's struggles, Kevin Durant's fitness or Kyrie Irving's vaccination status, and now the debut of Ben Simmons, which it seems may come in the playoffs, if they make it that is.

The Nets will be favourites, having won 12 of their last 17 and with Durant and Irving both in excellent form. KD is averaging 29.9 points per game (PPG), while Irving sits at 27.4.

The Cavaliers do not arrive in great form, losing eight of their last 11 games. Though they were victorious in their last outing against the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, the Bucks rested their starters, and Jrue Holiday only started to earn a foul and trigger a financial clause in his contract.

Darius Garland will be key if Cleveland are to stand a chance at Barclays Center, with the 22-year-old averaging 21.7 PPG.

Brooklyn have won three of their four meetings this season, including a 118-107 win at Barclays on Friday.

The loser will host the winner of...

Wednesday, April 13 – Atlanta Hawks (9th) vs Charlotte Hornets (10th)

All eyes will be on Trae Young as the 23-year-old looks to drag the Hawks into the playoffs, though it will take two big performances, even by his high standards.

Young averages 28.4 PPG this season, the joint-fifth highest in the league along with Luka Doncic, as well as 9.7 assists per game.

Atlanta have won seven of their last nine, including a 130-114 success at the Houston Rockets on Sunday.

For Charlotte, they will look to trio Miles Bridges, LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier for inspiration, and have had a good end to the season themselves, winning 11 of their last 15.

They also beat the Hawks last month 116-106 in Charlotte, though each team has won two apiece of their four meetings through the campaign.

Western Conference:

Tuesday, April 12 – Minnesota Timberwolves (7th) vs Los Angeles Clippers (8th)

Despite the Timberwolves going into this one with home advantage, you would have to make the Clippers the favourites based on form and previous meetings.

Minnesota have lost six of their last 10, while the visitors arrive having won five of their last six.

The form of Karl-Anthony Towns, who is averaging 24.6 PPG this season, will be key for the hosts, as will that of Anthony Edwards, who scored a career-high 49 points in the recent win over the San Antonio Spurs.

Unsurprisingly, the Clippers have been a different prospect since the return of Paul George at the end of March, having lost eight of their previous 10 games before the 31-year-old came back, and winning six of seven since, albeit George only played in five of those games.

The Clippers have won three of their four meetings in the regular season, but the Timberwolves did win their last encounter in January. It should be noted that the team from Los Angeles won both games in Minnesota, though.

The loser will host the winner of...

Wednesday, April 13 – New Orleans Pelicans (9th) vs San Antonio Spurs (10th)

No team shows just how much the introduction of the Play-In tournament keeps seasons alive for a longer period than the Pelicans, who somehow have a shot at the postseason despite a disastrous start to their campaign.

Having lost 12 of their first 13 games, they are just two wins away from booking their place in the playoffs, and come into this one having won five of their last eight. 

Coach Willie Green will need CJ McCollum in top form, with the 30-year-old impressing since arriving from Portland earlier in the season, averaging 24.3 PPG since becoming a Pelican.

San Antonio recently won seven of eight games, but a slight wobble from the Spurs in the last few, losing their last three, may have thrown them off course at precisely the wrong time.

Like the Clippers, the Spurs could still be favourites despite being the away side, as they have won three of the four meetings between the two teams this season, including the most recent one in late March (107-103 in New Orleans).

The Brooklyn Nets showed how they plan to approach their playoff rotation in a 118-107 home win against the Cleveland Cavaliers to leapfrog into the seven seed with one more game to play. 

In a game considered a must-win for the Nets to avoid the much more difficult Play-In Tournament setup for teams who finish ninth and 10th, Brooklyn cut their rotation down to eight players while Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Bruce Brown all played at least 39 minutes.

Seth Curry and Andre Drummond filled out the starting five, while Kessler Edwards, Patty Mills and Nic Claxton came off the bench, with LaMarcus Aldrige, Blake Griffin and rookie Cam Thomas out of the mix.

Durant went on to finish with a game-high 36 points on 11-of-20 shooting (four-of-six from long range, 10-of-10 from the free throw line) to go with five assists, five rebounds, two steals and a block, while Brown had 10 rebounds, eight assists and four blocks to go with his 18 points (six-of-12 shooting).

With the win, Brooklyn is now in position to host their first Play-In Tournament game – likely against the Cavaliers – with the winner entering the playoffs as the seven seed, while the loser gets another chance to play for the eight seed.

Most Improved Player contender Darius Garland was spectacular for the Cavs, scoring 31 points on 12-of-24 shooting, but the loss means his side has now lost eight of their past 10, and have been sputtering without injured center Jarrett Allen.

Overall, the Cavaliers are 43-38 this season, but just 8-17 in games Allen has missed.

No stoppin' Obi Toppin

It was a career night for New York Knicks cult figure Obi Toppin as he scored a career-high 35 points in his side's 114-92 away win against the Washington Wizards.

In only his eighth start of the season, the former first-round pick shot 14-of-22 from the field, including six-of-nine from deep, while fellow fan-favorite Immanuel Quickley was terrific off the bench, scoring 23 points (nine-of-18 shooting) with 10 assists.

 

Siakam shines, Heat hang on

Pascal Siakam seems destined to receive All-NBA honors this season after another great performance lifted his Toronto Raptors to a 117-115 win against the Houston Rockets.

In his past 10 games, Siakam is averaging 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists while shooting 53 per cent from the field, and improved those numbers with 29 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists against the Rockets.

Meanwhile, the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks played their shortened playoff rotations, and Trae Young's 35 points and eight assists was not enough as the top-seeded Heat prevailed 113-109 at home.

Joel Embiid declared "I don't know what I have to do" to be named NBA MVP after his latest masterclass against the Cleveland Cavaliers clinched the Philadelphia 76ers' playoff spot.

Embiid scored 44 points, claimed 17 rebounds and made five blocks in a 112-108 victory for Philadelphia on Sunday.

The 28-year-old is a strong contender to win the MVP award, but Denver Nuggets Nikola Jokic is the favourite to be selected as the best player in the league.

Sixers coach Doc Rivers believes Embiid, who is averaging 30.2 points and 11.6 rebounds per game as well as 4.2 assists a game, deserves to land the prestigious gong

The Cameroonian does not believe he can do any more to take the MVP award.

He said after dismantling the Cavs: "If it happens, great. If it doesn't, I don't know what I have to do.

"I'll feel like they hate me. I feel like the standard for guys in Philly or for me is different than everyone else."

James Harden, the 2018 MVP, doffed his cap to his team-mate Embiid after another inspirational display.

"I get to witness his greatness every night," Harden said. "Obviously, his offensive numbers tonight are self-explanatory.

"Defensively, he was very active blocking shots, changing shots and clogging the paint up was key."

The Sixers are fourth in the Eastern Conference at 48-30 and bound for the playoffs after back-to-back wins.

 

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