The NBA has fined the Dallas Mavericks $750,000 for violating the league's resting policy in a 115-112 defeat to the Chicago Bulls last week.

Kyrie Irving, Josh Green, Tim Hardaway Jr, Maxi Kleber and Christian Wood were omitted for the game last Friday, while Luka Doncic only played the first quarter at American Airlines Center.

A loss at the hands of the Bulls ensured Dallas missed out on the play-in tournament but retained their number 10 slot in the 2023 NBA Draft lottery, still owing the New York Knicks a top-10 protected pick as part of a 2019 trade to acquire Kristaps Porzingis.

Mavs coach Jason Kidd called the selection an "organisational decision", adding: "It's not so much waving the white flag. It's [that] decisions sometimes are hard in this business. We're trying to build a championship team. With this decision, this is maybe a step back. But hopefully it leads to going forward."

The NBA on Friday announced the franchise will pay for "conduct detrimental to the league".

A statement released by the league said: "The Mavericks violated the league's player resting policy and demonstrated through actions and public statements the organisation's desire to lose the game in order to improve the chances of keeping its first-round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. 

"The league did not find that the players who participated in the game were not playing to win."

Joe Dumars, the NBA executive vice president and head of basketball operations, said: "The Dallas Mavericks' decision to restrict key players from fully participating in an elimination game last Friday against Chicago undermined the integrity of our sport. The Mavericks’ actions failed our fans and our league."

Dallas Mavericks general manager Nico Harrison is confident about re-signing Kyrie Irving despite the side's disappointing late-season slide that saw them miss the playoffs.

The Mavs endured a 7-18 run to end the season, missing the play-in tournament altogether with an 11th-place finish in the Western Conference.

That came after they traded in Irving in February to become a championship contender. The All-Star guard quickly asserted he would not discuss a contract extension publicly following the trade.

Irving is eligible to sign for as much as $272 million over five years at the Mavs, or around $202m for years at another franchise, leading to questions about his future.

Harrison met with Irving on Monday for his exit interview after the Mavs' season ended on Sunday.

"I think the things that he said along the way about how he feels here, how he feels appreciated, how he feels accepted and allowed to be himself - those are the things that he said kind of consistently," Harrison said.

"That's what gives me the optimism that he wants to be here."

The Mavs struggled for synergy in their backcourt with Irving alongside Luka Doncic following the trade, leading to talk that the star-studded pairing is not worth persisting with.

"I think the two work together," Harrison said. "I think Luka and Kai work together.

"I think when we have that talented of a player - that talented of two players - I think they work together.

"I really think it's the players around them… kind of knowing their role with having those two guys out on the floor at the same time. I think that's the thing that we need to work on."

Harrison was also bullish about Doncic's long-term future, with the Slovenian offering assurance after Sunday's game saying he is happy in Dallas.

"Well, I take his words for it," Harrison said. "He says he wants to be here.

"He's under contract, so I don't go to sleep at night worried about, 'is Luka going to be a Maverick?' Because he is a Maverick, and he's under contract.

"Obviously, if that changes, then we'll have to reevaluate it. But I think our job really to keep Luka happy, if you will, is surrounding him by the right players to help him win. And I think Luka's a talent that deserves that."

Dallas Mavericks' All-Star guard Luka Doncic moved to dispel speculation about his long-term future with the franchise, insisting he is happy where he is.

Reports emerged suggesting Doncic could evaluate his future with the Mavericks after they missed the 2022-23 playoffs with their first losing season (38-44) since the Slovenian's rookie year with Dallas.

That came despite the March trade for Kyrie Irving in an effort to make them championship contenders, yet they struggled with a miserable 7-18 run end to the season.

Doncic previously acknowledged publicly that he has been frustrated by their slide, but claimed that was natural given their poor results.

The guard signed a $207million contract extension in August 2021 keeping him tied with the Mavs until 2027, but players have opted out of long-term deals in the past.

Dallas owner Mark Cuban said this week that the Mavs had to "earn" Doncic's loyalty for him to spend his entire career with them.

The Slovenian cooled the concerns after the Mavs' season ended with a 138-117 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

"I'm happy here, so there's nothing to worry [about]," Doncic told reporters.

"I saw the report. I don’t know who, somebody said I was going to request a trade. It was funny as I didn’t know it was true. I didn’t say it."

Doncic said he hoped for offseason personnel changes to bolster the Mavs line-up, although he declined to comment on any specific player targets. He also endorsed Irving as his backcourt partner despite their struggles since his arrival.

"Something's got to change, for sure," Doncic said. "I mean, last year we went to Western Conference finals. We were having fun. I always talk about the chemistry we had. It was great. But something's got to change for sure."

On Irving, Doncic added: "I think it's a great fit. Obviously people are going to say no [and] look at the results we are having, but like I said, chemistry and relationships takes time. I wish he can still be here."

The Mavs are under NBA investigation after resting a series of key players for their penultimate game against the Chicago Bulls which they lost 115-112, ending their hopes of making the play-in tournament.

Finishing 11th in the West and missing the play-in meant the Mavs finished with the 10th-best lottery odds, which is important as Dallas owe the New York Knicks a top-10-protected pick, prompting the investigation.

"I didn't like that decision," Doncic said. "That's it."

The NBA is investigating the Dallas Mavericks' team selection from their 115-112 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Friday.

The defeat ensured Dallas miss out on the play-in tournament but retain their number 10 slot in the 2023 draft lottery, still owing the New York Knicks a top-10 protected pick as part of a 2019 trade to acquire Kristaps Porzingis.

The Mavericks left out Kyrie Irving, Josh Green, Tim Hardaway Jr, Maxi Kleber and Christian Wood, while Luka Doncic only played the first quarter at American Airlines Center.

Mavs coach Jason Kidd had called it an "organisational decision", later adding: "It's not so much waving the white flag. It's [that] decisions sometimes are hard in this business. We're trying to build a championship team. With this decision, this is maybe a step back. But hopefully it leads to going forward."

Owner Mark Cuban had previously denied his team would deliberately tank, saying on Wednesday: "The guys don't want to do that. Players aren't going to do that. Players don't do that."

However, multiple reports on Saturday said the league would be looking into the matter, citing a statement from NBA spokesperson Mike Bass on Saturday.

"The NBA commenced an investigation today into the facts and circumstances surrounding the Dallas Mavericks' roster decisions and game conduct with respect to last night's Chicago Bulls-Mavericks game, including the motivations behind those actions," Bass said.

Kidd has already confirmed his star players will also not feature in Dallas' final game of the season against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday.

The Dallas Mavericks entered play Friday facing a must-win game to stay in contention for a play-in spot, but decided as an organisation to give up on their playoff dreams this season.

Facing elimination, the Mavericks decided to sit All-Star Kyrie Irving and four other regulars against the Chicago Bulls in a game with draft implications. They ended up going down 115-112 in a game where superstar Luka Doncic only played the first quarter before sitting out the rest of the way.

Dallas needed to win their final two regular-season games and have the Oklahoma City Thunder lose to the Memphis Grizzlies in their final game for the Mavericks to get the 10th seed in the Western Conference.

Despite being alive for the playoffs, the Mavs chose to instead prioritise their potential assets in June's NBA Draft. They had traded their 2023 first-round pick to the New York Knicks back in 2019 as part of the package for Kristaps Porzingis, and placed a top-10 protection on the pick.

It means if their pick this year lands in the top 10, Dallas will get to keep the pick, but if it is 11th or lower it will get sent to New York.

The decision to punt on the rest of this season boils down to the fact that the Mavericks were tied with the Bulls for the 10th-worst record in the NBA at 38-42, but with Friday's loss they greatly improved their chances of landing in the top 10.

Speaking to the media prior to the game, head coach Jason Kidd emphasised that this was not a decision by himself or the players.

"We were fighting for our lives, and understanding this is a situation we're in," he said. "But the organisation has made the decision to change [course].

"So, you know, we have to go by that and that's something that happens. So the guys that are playing, we got to go out there and put our best foot forward, and we talked about that this afternoon.”

When asked if he agreed with the decision, Kidd said: "Those are my bosses – so yes."

Dallas reached the Western Conference Finals last season and appeared primed to make another deep run after pulling off a blockbuster trade for Irving in February, but the team has wilted down the stretch.

The Mavs are just 5-11 when Irving and Doncic play together, and the team are 9-16 since Irving’s debut.

Despite giving their best effort to lose, Dallas led Chicago 91-85 after three quarters as the Bulls rested Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Beverley, having already locked up the East's 10th seed.

The NBA announced Thursday it has denied a protest issued by the Dallas Mavericks over a disputed basket that occurred during the team's two-point loss to the Golden State Warriors on March 22.

The league said in a statement that game officials incorrectly handled a confusing sequence that led to a Warriors' basket late in the third quarter of Golden State’s eventual 127-125 victory, but determined the Mavericks were not denied a fair chance to win the game.

The incident in question occurred following a timeout called by the Mavericks in which they believed they had possession when play was to resume. Official Andy Nagy at first pointed in the Warriors' direction to indicate Golden State would have possession, then pointed to the Mavericks' bench to award the timeout.

Dallas lined up on its offensive end following the timeout, which led to the Warriors’ inbounding the ball to Kevon Looney for an uncontested dunk that gave Golden State a 90-87 lead.

The game's public address announcer also erroneously stated that the Mavericks would have possession after the timeout.

Dallas did regain the lead twice in the fourth quarter and held a 119-118 advantage with under 3 1/2 minutes left in the game, which factored into the NBA's decision to deny the protest.

"The incident occurred with nearly 14 minutes remaining in the game, and Dallas thereafter took the lead twice in the final four minutes," the league said. "Under these circumstances, Dallas was not able to show – as required under the standard for NBA game protests – that it was deprived of a fair opportunity to win the game, and the protest failed on that basis alone.

"Although the game officials could have taken steps to better manage this particular situation, that did not provide a basis for the extraordinary remedy of upholding a game protest."

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban announced shortly after the game he planned to issue a protest while also heavily criticising the officials in a social media post.

"Worst officiating non call mistake possibly in the history of the NBA," Cuban tweeted. "All they had to do was tell us (it was the Warriors' ball) and they didn’t."

The NBA said Dallas acknowledged that the officials signalled Golden State possession in its formal filing of the protest.

The decision to uphold the final result could have a major impact on the Western Conference playoff race. The Warriors currently are one game ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans for the No. 6 seed, which would allow Golden State to avoid the play-in tournament.

Dallas is presently tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the 10th and final spot for the play-in tournament with two games remaining in the regular season.

Kyrie Irving led the Dallas Mavericks' second-half rally from a 13 point third-quarter deficit to boost their play-in hopes with a 123-119 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday.

Irving scored 25 of his 31 points in the second half as the Mavs claimed an important win to improve to 38-42, having trailed 71-60 at half-time at American Airlines Center.

The win sees the Mavs draw level with the 10th-placed Oklahoma City Thunder in the fourth and final play-in tournament spot in the West with two games to play. OKC have the tiebreaker edge.

Dallas play the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs in their final two games, while the Thunder take on the Utah Jazz and the Memphis Grizzlies.

Mavs point guard Irving shot 12-of-23 from the field with six-of-10 from beyond the arc along with four rebounds, eight assists and two steals.

Luka Doncic was outstanding on Dallas' backcourt too, with 29 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, while Tim Hardaway Jr scored 24 points including five triples.

Irving led Dallas' third-quarter 12-0 run, flipping the game on its head, ending their own three-game losing skid.

De'Aaron Fox scored 28 points with eight assists for the Kings, with Domantas Sabonis recording a triple-double with 19 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. All five Kings starter scored double-digit points.

Sacramento also had a season-high 22 offensive rebounds, recording 30-14 second chance points.

Clippers claim crunch win over Lakers

The Los Angeles Clippers claimed a critical 125-118 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the race to avoid the play-in tournament, while extending their recent winning run in the Battle of LA to 11-0.

Norman Powell scored a team-high 27 points off the bench, while Kawhi Leonard added 25 points and seven rebounds. The Lakers, playing the second game of a back-to-back, had LeBron James score 33 points with eight rebounds and seven assists.

The Clippers snapped their two-game losing run and ended the Lakers' four-game winning streak, improving to a 42-38 record to sit fifth ahead of the Golden State Warriors (42-38).

The Lakers are 41-39 in seventh alongside the New Orleans Pelicans (41-39), who won 138-131 over the Memphis Grizzlies despite Jaren Jackson Jr's 40 points, nine rebounds and four blocks.

Bucks and Celtics clinch No.1 and No.2 seeds

The Milwaukee Bucks were without Giannis Antetokounmpo and lost Khris Middleton midgame both due to knee soreness but triumphed 105-92 over the Chicago Bulls to secure the East's number one seed.

The Bucks flexed their muscle without the star duo with Bobby Portis scoring 27 points with 13 rebounds, Brook Lopez adding 26 points and seven rebounds and Jrue Holiday contributing 20 points with eight rebounds and 15 assists.

Milwaukee have locked in top spot with a 58-22 record, while the Boston Celtics won 97-93 over the Toronto Raptors to confirm the East's number two seed with a 55-25 record.

Malcolm Brogdon came off the bench to score 29 points from 35 minutes, while Jaylen Brown managed 25 points and 11 rebounds with Jayson Tatum out with a bruised left hip.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban says re-signing Kyrie Irving is the franchise's top offseason priority while he launched a stunning rebuke at Jalen Brunson's trade to the New York Knicks.

The Mavs are in danger of missing the play-in tournament altogether, heading into Wednesday's slate of games in 11th in the Western Conference with a 37-42 record.

Dallas traded in All-Star Irving to play alongside Luka Doncic in February but the side have gone 8-16 since that move, sliding out of contention. The Mavs are 4-11 when Irving and Doncic have played together on the backcourt.

Irving is eligible to leave in the offseason in free agency and Cuban is eager to ensure he stays with the Mavs, having traded away Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith and a several of future Draft pick for him only months ago.

Cuban, however, would not be drawn on whether Irving was a max contract player.

"We want him to stay and I think we have a good shot," Cuban said. "I think he's happy here. He tells me he's happy here.

"I think he's a good guy. Everything I thought I knew about Kyrie because of everything I read was 100 per cent wrong."

The Mavs owner was also confident Doncic would stick with the franchise and spend his entire career in Dallas although he acknowledged "we have to earn that".

Doncic is averaging 28.4 points on 45.7 per cent shooting and a career-high 35.3 per cent from beyond the arc with 9.1 rebounds and 8.7 assists this season.

Cuban was also pressed on guard Brunson, who left the Mavs in July last year for the New York Knicks in a free agency move on a four-year, $104million deal. Doncic admitted earlier this week that the Mavs miss his presence "a lot".

Brunson has since played a key role as the Knicks have clinched a playoffs spot, with career-highs in 24.0 points on 41.6 per cent three-point shooting with 6.2 assists this season.

The Mavs owner blamed the involvement of Brunson's father Rick - who was hired as a Knicks assistant in June last year - in negotiations before Jalen left in a move that attracted an NBA investigation which determined the Knicks had violated tampering rules.

"Things went south when the parents got involved," Cuban said.

Cuban also took responsibility for the Mavs' slide but remained hopeful of a run into the playoffs.

"It's absolutely my fault for not recognising that," Cuban said when asked about their defensive issues. "[But] I haven't heard the fat lady sing yet."

Luka Doncic accepted responsibility for a Dallas Mavericks defense this season that their Slovenian star believes "anybody can score on".

There was plenty of positivity coming into the season after a surprise run to the Western Conference Finals in 2022, but things have failed to go according to plan.

But while the Mavericks sit 11th in the West with a 37-42 record – one game behind the 38-41 Oklahoma City Thunder in the race for the final play-in tournament spot – they still own the sixth-best offense in the league this season.

Scoring at a rate of 116.0 points per 100 possessions, the Mavericks trail only the New York Knicks (116.8), Denver Nuggets (117.1), Philadelphia 76ers (117.1), Boston Celtics (117.3) and Sacramento Kings (119.0) for the league's best offensive units.

But they also sit 23rd in defense, giving up 115.9 points per 100 possessions, although their stellar offensive play had been enough to keep their head above water prior to the All-Star break.

Since the break – and the trade for Kyrie Irving, where they sent away key rotation pieces Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie – the Mavs have gone 6-13, and while their offense has actually gotten even more efficient (117.5 points per 100 possessions), their defense has cratered even further (118.0).

Doncic called it "a very disappointing season", and pointed to the current group's lack of chemistry – particularly on the defensive end – as one of the main reasons for their late-season collapse.

"I think you don't see that chemistry we had before – I mean, especially last year," he said. "I think that chemistry was at the top, everybody. But chemistry builds not just not right away. It's a long process.

"I don't think the offense is a problem, and I always said this. It's our defensive end. I think anybody can score on us. Whoever it is, anybody can score on us."

But the former Rookie of the Year and three-time All-NBA First Team selection was not looking to point fingers. Doncic highlighted his own packed schedule over the past three years as he spent his offseasons playing for Slovenia internationally, and admitted his defense has reflected his level of fatigue.

"I've been playing basketball for three straight years," he said. "Four weeks in between it was free. 

"Sometimes it's really hard for me to play really hard on both ends. But obviously, the defensive end I gotta be way better. But that's not an excuse.

"I'm still young, age-wise, but it's a lot of basketball. But I've got to be way better. I'm the leader of this team – the one to blame is me."

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."

Jimmy Butler said the win is all that matters as the Miami Heat boosted their playoffs standing, while simultaneously damaging the Dallas Mavericks' own postseason hopes.

The Heat entered Saturday's contest with a three-game losing streak, but fought for a 129-122 victory at the FTX Arena.

That was despite the slumping Mavericks shooting at 61 per cent, marking only the second time the franchise has ever lost when shooting at least 60 per cent including the playoffs (30-2 all time).

Butler led the way with 35 points and 12 assists, while Cody Zeller (20 points), Kevin Love, Max Strus (both 18) and Tyler Herro (15) all contributed.

The Heat are seventh in the East, have a three-game buffer over the Atlanta Hawks for the final play-in spot, and are only a game back of the Brooklyn Nets in sixth to avoid the play-in altogether – although, due to a superior head-to-head record, the Nets only need to go 3-2 at the end of the season to hold on.

After the game Butler, said: "A win is a win. 

"I don't like the fact that they shot 61 per cent, but I do like the fact that we finally won a game."

Head coach Erik Spoelstra added: "I wouldn't necessarily have drawn it up this way."

The Mavericks, like the Heat, made the Conference Finals last season but find themselves in a real battle just to make the postseason this time around.

Defeat leaves them 11th in the West, one game back of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Luka Doncic was once again impressive with 42 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, with Tim Hardaway Jr (31) and Kyrie Irving (23) adding heftily to the tally.

But head coach Jason Kidd was not impressed with his team's performance at the other end of the court.

"Our defense was non-existent. Couldn't get stops," he said.

Hardaway Jr tried to rally his teammates, saying: "[We've] just got to play hard, play with desperation and anything can happen. Anything can happen."

Luka Doncic scored 42 points with 10 rebounds but it was not enough for the Dallas Mavericks who suffered their sixth loss from their past seven games 129-122 to the Miami Heat on Saturday.

The win was much needed for Miami, who improved to 41-37 to be seventh in the East, with Jimmy Butler top scoring with 35 points and 12 assists at FTX Arena.

The Heat snapped their three-game skid but it left the Mavs' perilous playoff hopes worse off, falling to a 37-41 record, remaining 11th in the West.

Dallas are a game back from Oklahoma City (38-40) in the race for the final play-in spot, with the Thunder owning the head-to-head tiebreaker too.

Doncic tried his best with 42 points on 17-of-25 shooting with two triples along with 10 rebounds, eight assists and two steals. That was the Slovenian's 14th 40-point game this season.

Kyrie Irving added 23 points and eight assists, while Tim Hardaway Jr drained six three-pointers in his 31 points with six rebound and seven assists.

Yet all that was not enough for Dallas who shot at 61 per cent as a team, after Miami piled on 44 first-quarter points, leaving the Mavs to lament their defense. Miami's 76 first-half points was the third most in franchise history.

Center Cody Zeller offered good support to Butler with 20 points and eight rebounds, while Kevin Love and Max Strus both added 18 points and Tyler Herro contributed 15.

Ingram stars as Pels continue playoffs push

The New Orleans Pelicans moved above the Los Angeles Lakers and into the seven spot in the Western Conference with a crucial 122-114 over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Kawhi Leonard scored 40 points for the Clippers, who fall to sixth in the West, but Brandon Ingram maintained his fine form with a game-winning display.

Ingram scored 36 points on 13-of-23 shooting with four rebounds and eight assists, while Jonas Valanciunas added 23 points with 12 rebounds.

Leonard shot 15-of-28 from the field with four-of-eight from beyond the arc with eight rebounds and four assists, while Russell Westbrook contributed 24 points with nine assists.

The Pels have won seven of their past eight games to shoot into playoffs contention in the West with a 40-38 record, while the Clippers are 41-38.

Gregg Popovich is among those to have been entered into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, it was announced on Saturday.

The San Antonio Spurs coach has won five NBA titles and more games than anyone else in the history of the league, with 1,363 regular season victories and a further 170 in the postseason.

Headliners joining Popovich in the class of 2023 are Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade, as well as two players who played under 'Pop' in San Antonio, Tony Parker and Pau Gasol, and his former assistant and San Antonio Stars player Becky Hammon.

Popovich is coming towards the end of his 27th season with the Spurs, sitting in 14th place in the Western Conference with a record of 19-58.

In better days though, Parker won four championships with Pop at the Spurs, while Gasol makes it more for his success with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he won two titles.

Dallas Mavericks legend Nowitzki won the 2011 championship and is sixth in the NBA's all-time scoring list, while 13-time All Star Wade won three titles during his 13 years with the Miami Heat.

Hammon – a six-time WNBA All Star – worked under Popovich in San Antonio between 2014 and 2022 before becoming head coach of the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA.

Joel Embiid believes it would be a nonsense if his MVP hopes are affected by him missing this week's big showdown with Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets.

Philadelphia 76ers superstar Embiid is leading the way in the NBA with a 33.2-point scoring average per game, beating last season's career high of 30.6.

He is also averaging a healthy 10.2 rebounds, albeit that is his lowest season mark since 2016-17.

However, Embiid sat out Monday's clash with the Nuggets due a calf injury, and Jokic led Denver to a 116-111 victory, scoring 25 points alongside 17 rebounds and 12 assists.

The triple-double made Jokic just the third player in NBA history to produce 10 games of at least 20 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in the same season, sparking debate over whether it could be a key moment in the MVP race.

After that game, Jokic said the absent Embiid would be "remembered as one of the most dominant players in the league".

Whether Embiid can deny Jokic a third straight MVP award remains to be seen, and recency bias may help to tilt it the way of the Nuggets star, who is averaging 24.9 points, 11.9 rebounds and 9.9 assists.

Embiid's message was a simple one – "I don't care" – as he prioritises team success over individual glory.

The Nuggets head the Western Conference, with Philadelphia third in the East, so both main contenders for the MVP have done a lot of winning this season and will hope to do plenty more in the playoffs.

Embiid said: "If one game is going to hurt anybody's chances, then I guess everybody should be out of it. We all have bad games. Guys miss matchups.

"That's not the first time, and it's not really a matchup about me and Nikola. He's a great player, amazing player. He's one of the best players in the league, and I'm a huge fan.

"So not playing against him was a huge bummer. But there's a bigger goal in sight, and that's to make sure we're healthy for the playoffs."

Embiid had a standout game against the Nuggets on January 28, outshining Jokic with 47 points and 18 rebounds in a Sixers win, so he is adamant there was no desire to duck another clash with Denver's talisman.

He added on Wednesday, after returning to score 25 points in Philadelphia's 116-108 win over the Dallas Mavericks: "I've got nothing to prove. The last matchup, we won, and I had whatever I had.

"To go out there and say that I'm scared after what I did the last time is kind of stupid. But, like I said, I don't care if I win it or not. I'm just focused on trying to win a championship, and whatever happens, happens."

Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers supported Embiid's stance, saying ahead of Wednesday's game: "Joel's body of work speaks for itself. You're not judged for one game. You're judged for the entire season of work and your team's record and how you perform, and he's been dominant all year."

Looking at whether missing out last time out could harm Embiid's MVP prospects, Rivers said it might have an impact, but he is baffled as to why that would be the case.

"Will that hurt him? I doubt it. But it could," Rivers said. "I don't know what people use for criteria. It seems like it changes weekly, what the real criteria is.

"Before, it was a bunch of numbers. Now, it's wins. I'm like, 'Well, it wasn't wins last year'. You know what I’m saying? It just feels like, every year, it keeps changing."

Jokic took MVP honours last season when the Nuggets finished sixth in the Western Conference.

The Dallas Mavericks' playoff hopes suffered another setback after James Harden inspired the Philadelphia 76ers' fourth-quarter charge on Wednesday.

The Mavs, who had lost seven of their previous 10 games coming into the contest, led 91-89 at three-quarter time at Wells Fargo Center before the home side rallied to triumph 116-108, clinching their 50th win of the season.

Harden provided the assists for all of Philadelphia's points during a 10-0 run that flipped the contest, condemning the Mavs to a 37-40 record and leaving them in danger of missing the playoffs and play-in tournament in the Western Conference. Dallas failed to score in the final 3:18 of the game.

Joel Embiid returned from a one-game, calf-injury-enforced absence to boost his MVP aspirations with 25 points and nine rebounds, while Harden had 15 points and 12 assists.

Harden's partnership with Embiid was on full show, with the pair holding the NBA's best single-season record over the past 25 years for assists by one player to another, averaging 4.8 per game, ahead of Sacramento Kings duo Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins (4.0 in the 2015-16 season).

For the Mavs, Luka Doncic had 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, while Kyrie Irving added 23 points.

Philadelphia's 50th win from their 76th game of the campaign marks the fewest amount of games required to reach that mark in franchise history since 2001.

The 50-26 76ers are third in the East, behind the Milwaukee Bucks (55-21) and the Boston Celtics (52-24).

The Bucks routed the Indiana Pacers 149-136 led by Jrue Holiday's career-high 51 points and a Giannis Antetokounmpo triple-double.

Kings end NBA's longest playoff drought

Sacramento ended their 17-year playoffs wait, the longest drought in NBA history, thanks to a 120-80 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Kings pulled away with a lopsided 70-34 second half, led by Domantas Sabonis (15 points and 12 rebounds) and De'Aaron Fox (18 points and six assists), while Keegan Murray passed Donovan Mitchell for the most threes made by a rookie (188) in his 13 points.

Sacramento clinching their playoff spot came amid a chaotic night in the West, with Jalen Williams' buzzer-beating tip-in earning the 10th-placed Oklahoma City Thunder a 107-106 win over the Detroit Pistons. OKC occupy the final play-in spot.

Russell Westbrook scored 36 points as the fifth-placed Los Angeles Clippers ended the second-placed Memphis Grizzlies' seven-game winning streak with a 141-132 victory, while the taunts continued as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Chicago Bulls 121-110.

Durant returns as Suns firm up fourth seed

Kevin Durant made his long-awaited home debut as he returned from a 10-game absence due to a sprained ankle, but he was rusty as the Phoenix Suns overcame the Minnesota Timberwolves 107-100.

Durant shot five-of-18 from the field for 16 points with eight rebounds and four assists. Devin Booker top-scored for the Suns with 29 points on eight-of-18 shooting from the field.

The 2014 MVP Durant shot two-of-four from three-point range, both in the fourth quarter, holding off the Timberwolves who drew level in the final period, with the win helping the Suns improve to 41-35 to sit fourth in the West.

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