For the second season in a row, the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks meet in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

It is the same, only different.

A year ago, when the league moved en masse to Florida to finish a season badly disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, the Mavs went up against a team expected to not only make it beyond the first round, but several more after that.

The Clippers were tested, eventually prevailing by a 4-2 scoreline. However, they fell at the next hurdle, letting slip a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference semi-finals against the Denver Nuggets. That defeat, and particularly the nature of it, has loomed over them since. Their attempts to bury the memory of such a dramatic collapse begin on Saturday against familiar foes.

Dallas ended the regular season as the fifth seeds in the West, though their 42-30 record was not a huge improvement on a year ago, when a 43-32 finish was good enough to only get seventh spot.

However, since the All-Star break, they have gone 24-14. In Luka Doncic, they have a superstar who has shown little interest in sticking to the schedule, developing at such a rate that, despite averaging 27.7 points per game in his third season, it is perhaps a little surprising he did not force himself more into the MVP conversation.

Doncic had to carry much of the burden against the Clippers a year ago. Kristaps Porzingis' impact diminished due to a knee injury that eventually forced him to miss the final three games. He had also managed to get thrown out in the opener too, having taken umbrage at the attention his young team-mate was receiving to get a second technical foul.

Still, even with a healthy Porzingis available this time around, Dallas will ride or die on the performances of Doncic, whose first playoff experience saw him finish up averaging 31.0 points and 8.7 assists.

Looking back, it seems astonishing that two teams passed up the opportunity to select the dynamic, do-it-all guard in 2018, while a third – the Atlanta Hawks – opted to trade him away to get Trae Young.

At 22, the Slovenian has scored 5,115 points through 199 regular-season games. To put that number into context, LeBron James had 5,097 to his name when he reached the milestone of 200 outings.

Indeed, since 1985-86, the only player to manage 4,000 points, 100 or more assists and hit at least 500 three-pointers though their first 200 games is Damian Lillard – and Doncic is well ahead in all three categories.

His buzzer-beating shot at the end of overtime in the fourth game against the Clippers tied the series at 2-2 in 2020, but that was as good as it got for Dallas. This time around, they hope to make sure the outcome is different.

For that to happen, though, they will have to find a way of keeping quiet a superstar coming off a career year – and whose name is not Kawhi Leonard.

Paul George admitted to finding life difficult in the bubble. "I was just in a dark place," he said after helping the Clippers edge ahead 3-2 in the Dallas series. "I'd checked out. These past couple of games it was just difficult but shout out to the people who stood behind me and were in my corner."

While averaging 18.5 points in the end, he was successful with only 20 of his 69 attempts through the opening four games against the Mavs, including going 2-of-15 from deep in the third and fourth meeting.

This season, however, he has looked far more at home, in more ways than one.

The seven-time All-Star finished the regular season averaging 23.3 points, including shooting an impressive 41.1 per cent from beyond the arc (up on his overall mark of 38.4 per cent). Under Ty Lue, the team as a whole averaged 41.1 per cent from beyond the arc, ranking them first in the entire league.

Leonard remains the number one for the Clippers – he was the only player to average at least 24.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game in the regular season – but George will be pivotal to his team's hopes of making a deep run, in the process exorcising their playoff ghosts.

Forget familiarity breeding contempt: these teams getting acquainted again in a seven-game series offers up an absorbing clash where both have a point to prove.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

SEASON     TEAM                      WL        PCT

1976-77    Los Angeles Lakers         53-29      .646

1978-79    Washington Bullets         54-28      .659

1977-78    Portland Trail Blazers     58-24      .707

2000-01    San Antonio Spurs          58-24      .707

2020-21    Utah Jazz                  52-20      .722

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Favourites: East number two Brooklyn Nets

Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Los Angeles Clippers coach Ty Lue is paying no attention to those who have accused his team of tanking their final regular-season games to avoid facing the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs, adamant he is prioritising health.

The Clippers have been beaten by the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder recently having rested star players such as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Those losses saw the Clippers drop from third to fourth in Western Conference seeding for the playoffs, leading to critics suggesting they were purposely trying to engineer a scenario whereby they did not face defending champions the Lakers in the first round.

As it happened, the Lakers ultimately finished seventh in the West to set up a play-in game against the Golden State Warriors, while the Clippers are due to meet the Dallas Mavericks first up for the second year in succession.

But Lue was defiant in his response when questioned about his selection choices on Tuesday.

"I don't give a damn what anybody else thinks on the outside," he said. "We decided to go health over anything else.

"We finally got our team healthy, and that is what we focused on. Whatever people say on the outside, I don't care.

"I don't read Twitter, have Twitter and Insta-twit, all that. I don't care about all that. I am my own man and I do what I want to do, that's how I live my life.

"If you look at our Cleveland [Cavaliers] days, none of our starters played the last two games of the season.

"We took health, and that is the most important thing to me."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Nets conquer 76ers, Jazz rally past Blazers

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

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

 

Jazz make history

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

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

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

NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 110-98 but they did not avoid the play-in tournament.

LeBron James – who appeared to tweak his ankle – posted 25 points for the streaking Lakers, who claimed their fifth consecutive victory, however they did not end the regular season high enough in the Western Conference to bypass the NBA's new play-in format involving the seventh through 10th seeds in pursuit of the playoffs.

The Lakers needed help from the Denver Nuggets but the latter lost 132-116 to the Portland Trail Blazers, leaving the Los Angeles franchise seventh in the west and set to face Stephen Curry's eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors for a playoff berth.

Andre Drummond had a double-double for the Lakers, while Anthony Davis finished with 14 points for the Lakers, who will have to win one of up to two play-in games to clinch a regular playoff position.

Portland locked up the sixth seed and their eighth straight playoff berth, meaning they will go head-to-head with the third-seeded Nuggets in the opening round.

The Utah Jazz, meanwhile, clinched the NBA's best record (50-20) for the first time in their history.

Jordan Clarkson finished with 33 points and All-Star Rudy Gobert contributed 13 points and 16 rebounds for the Jazz, who eased past the Sacramento Kings 121-99.

The Jazz edged the Phoenix Suns (51-21), who pipped the San Antonio Spurs 123-121, for top spot in the NBA – the first time they have finished with sole possession of the league's best record.

 

Curry crowned scoring champ

Curry earned his second scoring title after posting 46 points in the Warriors' 113-101 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. Curry pipped Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal to the award, having finished the regular season with a 32.0 points per game average. Two-time MVP and three-time NBA champion Curry became the first player 33 years or older to lead the league in scoring since Hall of Famer Michael Jordan in 1997-98 (35 years at end of season and averaged 28.7ppg). The 33-year-old also joined Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players with multiple scoring titles, MVPs and championships.

James Harden was absent due to injury management, but the Brooklyn Nets still secured the second seed in the Eastern Conference with a 123-109 win at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Kevin Durant put up 23 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds. Irving added 17 points as he joined an elite list of shooters. Irving finished the regular season with a 50.6 field-goal percentage, 40.2 three-point percentage and 92.2 free-throw percentage – becoming the ninth member of the 50/40/90 club. He also joined Larry Bird, Curry and Durant as the only players to average at least 25 points per game during a 50/40/90 season.

The New York Knicks secured fourth position in the east via a 96-92 win over the Boston Celtics. The Knicks – back in the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13 – will have home-court advantage for their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, who routed the Houston Rockets 124-95.

The Wizards' season appeared dead and buried following an horrendous start, having acquired Russell Westbrook to team up with Beal. But the Wizards will face the Celtics as the eighth seed in the play-in tournament thanks to their 115-110 victory against the Charlotte Hornets. Westbrook recorded 23 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists, while Beal had 20 of his 25 points after half-time.

Tyrese Maxey flexed his muscles as Eastern Conference top seed the Philadelphia 76ers rested their stars in a 128-117 victory over the Orlando Magic. In the absence of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Seth Curry and Danny Green, rookie Maxey had 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists. He became the only rookie this season with multiple 30/5/5 games – LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edward only had one such game.

Precious Achiuwa's career-high 23 points and 10 rebounds helped the shorthanded Miami Heat rout the Detroit Pistons 120-107. Tyler Herro (16 points and 11 assists) and Gabe Vincent also had double-doubles as the sixth-seeded Heat prepare to face third seed the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round in the east.

 

Houston's woeful season comes to an end

After a blockbuster trade sent wantaway superstar Harden to the Nets in January, the rebuilding Rockets crumbled. A crushing loss to the Hawks left the Rockets with a 17-55 win-loss record – their worst campaign since going 14-68 in 1982-83.

 

Sit back and enjoy!

The Nets produced a stunning piece of offense against the Cavaliers in the second quarter. After dispossessing Cleveland, Blake Griffin played a behind-the-back pass to Irving, who passed the ball ahead to Mike James. James tossed the ball off the backboard for Durant to slam down.

 

Sunday's results

New York Knicks 96-92 Boston Celtics
Indiana Pacers 125-113 Toronto Raptors
Washington Wizards 115-110 Charlotte Hornets
Phoenix Suns 123-121 San Antonio Spurs
Golden State Warriors 113-101 Memphis Grizzlies
Atlanta Hawks 124-95 Houston Rockets
Brooklyn Nets 123-109 Cleveland Cavaliers
Philadelphia 76ers 128-117 Orlando Magic
Miami Heat 120-107 Detroit Pistons
Chicago Bulls 118-112 Milwaukee Bucks
Minnesota Timberwolves 136-121 Dallas Mavericks
Los Angeles Lakers 110-98 New Orleans Pelicans
Oklahoma City Thunder 117-112 Los Angeles Clippers
Portland Trail Blazers 132-116 Denver Nuggets
Utah Jazz 121-99 Sacramento Kings

 

Play-in tournament

After a day off, the Eastern Conference play-in tournament gets underway on Tuesday. The Wizards will meet the Celtics in a seventh vs eighth battle, while the ninth-seeded Hornets face the 10th-seeded Pacers for a spot in the playoffs.

Rick Carlisle acknowledged it is "significant" for the Dallas Mavericks to have avoided the play-in tournament after securing an automatic playoff berth by beating the Toronto Raptors on Friday.

Luka Doncic had 20 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds for an 11th triple-double of the season as the Mavericks defeated the Raptors 114-110.

Toronto trailed by 19 points early in the second half but, despite an undermanned roster only using seven players in the game, pulled within three with three minutes remaining.

However, the Mavs held out and will finish either fifth or sixth in the Western Conference, securing a 17th playoff trip in 21 seasons.

It means the team have a small rest period rather than having to go through the additional process of the play-in tournament, something head coach Carlisle believes could be crucial.

"Getting a win is important," Carlisle said. "It solidified either a six or a five spot, depending on what happens on Sunday.

"And avoiding the play-in is significant. It's important. There are just too many advantages to not being in the play-in situation.

"So I'm happy for our guys. They worked hard for this."

Asked what message he gave his team as the Raptors chipped away at the lead, Carlisle replied: "I don't talk about what I say to the team in private. 

"I don't coach my team through the press. Guys are happy to win the game and to be removed from the play-in situation.

"We've got to gather ourselves for Sunday. It's a game Sunday night against a Minnesota team that's been playing very, very well in the last two weeks, so we'll have our hands full there."

The Mavericks (42-29) had a 9-14 record in early February but a 12th win from 15 outings means they are a season-high 13 games over .500. 

"That's great. Obviously, I think I remember that tough stretch when we were the 12 or 13th spot and everybody had us out of the playoffs," Doncic said.

"But now we made the playoffs and it's good. We're going to have a couple of days off, and that's what we needed."

The Philadelphia 76ers secured the top seed in the NBA's Eastern Conference after a crushing 122-97 victory over the Orlando Magic that saw their key players take an early seat on the bench. 

Seth Curry led the 76ers with 20 points in just 23 minutes of court time on Friday, while Joel Embiid had 13 points and 11 rebounds in 23 minutes and Ben Simmons added 13 points and nine assists in 26 minutes. 

Philadelphia (48-23) – Eastern Conference champions for the first time since 2000-01 – will open the playoffs against the number eight seed that emerges from next week's play-in tournament. 

Two teams will emerge from the Eastern Conference side, which will include the Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers and the Washington Wizards.

The Wizards clinched their play-in spot with a 120-105 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers as Russell Westbrook recorded yet another triple-double following 21 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds. 

Westbrook's triple-double was his 37th in 63 appearances this season, and he had at least 15 assists for the seventh consecutive game. Only John Stockton and Isiah Thomas have had seven such games in a row, with Stockton doing it three times.

 

Mavericks avoid play-in with win over Raptors

Luka Doncic tallied 20 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds and Kristaps Porzingis added 21 points and 10 rebounds as the Dallas Mavericks (42-29) held off the Toronto Raptors for a 114-110 win that clinched a spot in the Western Conference's top six.

The Denver Nuggets beat the Detroit Pistons 104-91 to draw even with the Los Angeles Clippers, who fell 122-115 to the lowly Houston Rockets. Denver (47-24) got 20 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists from MVP candidate Nikola Jokic in the win, the Nuggets' third in a row. The Clippers' loss gave the idle Phoenix Suns (49-21) the Pacific Division title. 

The NBA-leading Utah Jazz won 109-93 at the Oklahoma City Thunder behind 22 points from Bojan Bogdanovic. Utah (51-20) can clinch the top seed in the west with a win against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday or a Suns loss against the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday or Sunday. 

The Golden State Warriors downed the New Orleans Pelicans 125-122 behind Jordan Poole's 38 points for their fifth consecutive victory. The Memphis Grizzlies also won their fifth straight game, 107-106 over the Kings, while resting most of their key players. Golden State and Memphis share 38-33 records and will meet on Sunday with the number eight seed on the line as they head into the play-in tournament. 

 

Bulls miss out again

The Wizards' win ended the idle Chicago Bulls' hopes of making the play-in tournament, marking the fourth consecutive season the storied franchise will miss the playoffs. 

 

Hometown kid Harris posts career night

The Raptors played without their top seven scorers in Friday's loss to the Mavericks, but Dallas native Jalen Harris did his part in a losing effort with a career-high 31 points. 

 

Friday's results

Washington Wizards 120-105 Cleveland Cavaliers
Denver Nuggets 104-91 Detroit Pistons
Philadelphia 76ers 122-97 Orlando Magic
Utah Jazz 109-93 Oklahoma City Thunder
Dallas Mavericks 114-110 Toronto Raptors
Houston Rockets 122-115 Los Angeles Clippers
Memphis Grizzlies 107-106 Sacramento Kings
Golden State Warriors 125-122 New Orleans Pelicans

 

Lakers at Pacers

The Los Angeles Lakers need a win to pull even with the Portland Trail Blazers for the sixth spot in the Western Conference, and the reigning champions are hoping to have LeBron James back in the line-up as they face the Pacers. 

The Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks both secured spots in the NBA's postseason on Wednesday.

Trae Young fuelled the rallying Hawks to a 120-116 win over Russell Westbrook's Washington Wizards midweek.

Young posted 33 points and John Collins hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 24.4 seconds remaining as the Hawks (39-31) – fourth in the Eastern Conference – clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2017.

The Knicks (38-31), who are sixth in the east, were not in action but they still reached the playoffs thanks to some help from elsewhere.

For the first time since 2012-13, playoff basketball will return to Madison Square Garden after the Boston Celtics were upstaged 102-94 by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Celtics (35-35) were consigned to a play-in berth following a fourth straight defeat.

The play-in tournament will include teams with the seventh through to the 10th-highest winning percentages in each conference, taking place between May 18-21, in pursuit of the playoffs.

 

Westbrook joins exclusive club

After making history for the most triple-doubles in the NBA on Tuesday, Westbrook was at it again. The Wizards star scored 34 points and dished out 15 assists. He has recorded 15-plus assists in six consecutive games. Westbrook is the fifth player in league history to record 15-plus assists in six or more straight games, joining John Stockton, Isaiah Thomas, Magic Johnson and Kevin Porter.

James Harden returned from an 18-game absence to help the Brooklyn Nets beat the San Antonio Spurs 128-116. Back following a hamstring strain, Harden put up 18 points and 11 assists off the bench in Brooklyn.

Double-doubles from Talen Horton-Tucker (23 points and 10 assists), Andre Drummond (20 points and 10 rebounds) and Kyle Kuzma (19 points and 10 rebounds) helped defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers outlast the lowly Houston Rockets 124-122. The result ensured the Lakers – playing without LeBron James and Anthony Davis – stayed within a game of sixth place in the Western Conference.

Luka Doncic's 33 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in a near-triple-double display inspired the Dallas Mavericks to a 125-107 win at home to the New Orleans Pelicans, staying sixth in the west.

The usual suspects – Damian Lillard (30 points), CJ McCollum (26 points) and Jusuf Nurkic (11 points and 15 rebounds) – starred as the Portland Trail Blazers upstaged the NBA-leading Utah Jazz 105-98.

 

Jazz lose again

The NBA-leading Jazz suffered another defeat. Usually efficient from three-point range, Utah were just 30 per cent from beyond the arc, making 12 of 40 shots. Bojan Bogdanovic missed all five of his attempts, while he was five-for-14 shooting throughout the clash.

The Pelicans were eliminated from playoff contention after going down to the Mavs.

Durant had 14 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Nets but he was far from his best. The former MVP was four-for-10 shooting in 29 minutes, missing all four of his three-point shots.

 

Kuzma comes up big

With the Lakers trailing 122-121, Kuzma drove to the rim and made the game-winning shot 6.9 seconds from the end in Los Angeles, where the franchise unveiled their 2020 championship banner.

 

Wednesday's results

Los Angeles Lakers 124-122 Houston Rockets
Atlanta Hawks 120-116 Washington Wizards
Brooklyn Nets 128-116 San Antonio Spurs
Cleveland Cavaliers 102-94 Boston Celtics
Dallas Mavericks 125-107 New Orleans Pelicans
Portland Trail Blazers 105-98 Utah Jazz

 

76ers at Heat

Eastern Conference leaders the Philadelphia 76ers (47-22) can clinch the number one seed with victory at the Miami Heat (38-31) on Thursday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

76ers miss chance and miss Embiid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thunder come crashing down

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

 

Jokic's defense splitting assist

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

 

Tuesday's results

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

 

Spurs at Nets

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

The NBA is nearing the end of its regular season.

Soon the fight for playoff positioning will give way to the drama of the play-in round and the subsequent seven-game series that will decide the destination of the title.

In other words, it is time for the league's elite to find their best.

While several of those stars are hitting form at exactly the right time, there are others enduring worrying declines ahead of the postseason.

Here we examine the performances of those excelling going into the playoffs, and those who need to turn it around in this week's edition of Heat Check.

RUNNING HOT

Kyrie Irving - Brooklyn Nets

Irving went into last week having failed to score 30 points in three straight appearances, but he was back to his best over the past seven days.

Having previously averaged 26.7 points for the season, Irving put up 38 points per game across three outings last week, with a 45-point display against the Dallas Mavericks sandwiched by a 38-point effort in defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks and a 31-point showing versus the Denver Nuggets.

Only the game with the Nuggets ended in victory, but the Nets will be encouraged by Irving's form with the playoffs approaching. He was excellent from beyond the arc, hitting 5.67 threes per game having entered the week averaging 2.63.

Irving converted 17 of his 32 three-point attempts last week, a percentage of 53.1 that ranks 10th among players to have attempted at least 20 last week.

Russell Westbrook - Washington Wizards

Westbrook made history on Saturday as he tied Oscar Robertson's record for triple-doubles with the 181st of his career against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.

The way in which his athleticism has translated to success on the boards has been key to Westbrook's successful pursuit of Hall of Famer Robertson.

And his rebounding was nothing short of incredible over the past seven days. Having entered the week averaging 11.16 rebounds, Westbrook racked up 17.25 per game across his last three games, culminating with 19 in his record-equalling display in an overtime win over Indiana.

He'll hope for more success on the glass against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday to take him past Robertson.

Stephen Curry - Golden State Warriors

The best shooter in the game had another stunning week from beyond the arc as he continues to fuel the Warriors' push towards the playoffs.

Curry's 5.2 made threes per game was already the gold standard in the NBA this season but he was even more devastating from deep in four games last week.

Indeed, Curry averaged 8.25 threes per game, with that jump fuelled largely by him hitting 11 on Saturday as he scored 49 points in 29 minutes against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

As long as he continues his excellent form, the Warriors should have a great chance of coming through the play-in round and making it to the postseason.

GOING COLD...

Andre Drummond - Los Angeles Lakers

It was a rough week for Lakers big Drummond, who endured the largest drop-off in the NBA in both points and rebounds per game.

Drummond entered last week putting up 15.89 points per game but saw his average over four games dip to 5.75.

He failed to score double-digit points in any of those outings and was similarly ineffective on the boards.

His rebounds per game dipped from 12.37 to 6.25, Drummond having started the week by failing to record a single rebound in a game for only the third time in his career in a win over the Nuggets.

Luka Doncic - Dallas Mavericks

It is pleasing for the Mavs that they can win without Doncic delivering his best every night, as they did not get it last week.

Doncic was far from terrible, as he topped 20 points in three of his four outings, but he saw his points per game average drop from 28.64 entering the week to 21.50 in those appearances.

The Mavs won each of those contests, with Doncic contributing double-doubles in two, though he had an underwhelming 15-point game to end the week against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

So, while he may be 'going cold' relative to his usual standard in scoring, Doncic is finding ways to help Dallas build momentum ahead of the playoffs.

Kawhi Leonard - Los Angeles Clippers

Leonard has been bothered by injury issues in recent weeks, with his best form eluding the two-time NBA Finals MVP.

For the season, Leonard was averaging 25.51 points per game going into the last week, but could only manage to put up 19 over the course of three games in the past seven days.

And that average was inflated by a 29-point effort in the Clippers' loss to the New York Knicks on Sunday.

Prior to that return to something like normal service, Leonard had failed to score 20 points in each of his last four games.

Even his effort against the Knicks came on an inefficient shooting performance where he went nine for 26, indicating Leonard is some way off the standard he will need for the Clippers to contend in the playoffs.

Anthony Davis went off for a dominant double-double as embattled NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers upstaged the high-flying Phoenix Suns 123-110.

Eyeing back-to-back titles this season, the Lakers have instead been left battling to reach the playoffs due to injuries, which have derailed their campaign – superstar LeBron James (ankle) is sidelined while Davis already missed a large portion of the campaign.

But the Lakers issued a reminder of their quality as Davis posted 42 points and 12 rebounds to stun Western Conference rivals the Suns in Los Angeles on Sunday.

Davis also had five assists, three steals and three blocks to help the Lakers – currently seventh and in the play-in position – move back within a game of the sixth seed in the west, which guarantees a postseason berth.

It marked the seventh time in Davis' career that he had 40 points, three blocks and three steals in a game. According to Stats Perform, in the last 35 years, the only player to have more such games is Hall of Famer Michael Jordan (14).

Cameron Payne (24 points), Devin Booker (21 points) and Chris Paul (13 points and 10 assists) led the beaten Suns.

 

Rozier not enough as Lonzo wins Ball battle, Knicks snap Staples skid

A career-high 43 points from Terry Rozier was not enough as the Charlotte Hornets went down 112-110 to the New Orleans Pelicans. Eric Bledsoe's 24 points and 11 assists fuelled the shorthanded Pelicans, who kept their play-in hopes alive in the absence of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. In a battle between the Ball brothers, Hornets rookie sensation LaMelo had 22 points and five assists, while New Orleans' Lonzo finished with 12 points and six assists.

The New York Knicks ended a run of eight consecutive losses at Staples Center, where they upstaged the Los Angeles Clippers 106-100. Derrick Rose scored 25 points off the bench for the Knicks.

Jimmy Butler's 26 points and 11 assists inspired the Miami Heat's 130-124 victory at the Boston Celtics. Fellow starters Duncan Robinson (22 points), Bam Adebayo (20 points), Trevor Ariza (19 points) and Kendrick Nunn (12 points) also contributed. Evan Fournier (30 points) and Jayson Tatum (29 points) starred for the Celtics.

 

Doncic ejected in Mavs win

Luka Doncic's outing did not go according to plan. While the Dallas Mavericks went on to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-97, Doncic (15 points) was ejected early in the third period. The Mavericks star received a flagrant-two foul for striking Collin Sexton in the groin area. Mavericks team-mate Dorian Finney-Smith, meanwhile, was two-for-10 shooting – missing all six of his three-point attempts – for four points in 22 minutes.

The Orlando Magic were humbled 128-96 by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Orlando struggled from three-point range, making just nine of their 36 attempts (25 per cent).

Paul George put up 18 points for the Clippers but he was far from efficient. In 41 minutes of action, the Clippers star was eight-for-20 shooting, while he nailed just two of his nine efforts from beyond the arc. Team-mate Marcus Morris Sr. (seven points) was two-for-nine shooting, having missed all three of his three-pointers.

 

Green with authority!

Javonte Green went flying against the Detroit Pistons. In the second quarter of the Chicago Bulls' 108-96 victory, Green knocked down a thunderous slam.

 

 

Sunday's results

Miami Heat 130-124 Boston Celtics
New York Knicks 106-100 Los Angeles Clippers
New Orleans Pelicans 112-110 Charlotte Hornets
Dallas Mavericks 124-97 Cleveland Cavaliers
Minnesota Timberwolves 128-96 Orlando Magic
Chicago Bulls 108-96 Detroit Pistons
Sacramento Kings 126-98 Oklahoma City Thunder
Los Angeles Lakers 123-110 Phoenix Suns

 

Jazz at Warriors

The NBA-leading Utah Jazz (50-18) – riding a five-game winning streak – face Stephen Curry's Golden State Warriors (35-33) on the road on Monday. The Jazz top the west, while the Warriors are eighth and set to feature in the play-in tournament ahead of the playoffs.

Bojan Bogdanovic had a career night, scoring 48 points to help the Utah Jazz maintain their hold on the top spot in the Western Conference with a 127-120 win over the Denver Nuggets. 

In making 16 of 23 shots from the field, including eight of 11 three-point tries, Bogdanovic became the first player in Jazz history with at least 45 points and eight three-pointers in a game. His previous career high of 44 points came five years ago when he was with the Brooklyn Nets. 

The Jazz needed all the offense they could get from Bogdanovic, who was averaging 16.3 points per game, on a day when they learned top scorer Donovan Mitchell will miss at least one more week with an ankle injury. 

Jordan Clarkson added 21 points and eight assists off the bench for Utah, who improved to 49-18 with five games to play, while Nicola Jokic had 24 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds for Denver. 

Utah's rivals for the top spot in the west, the Phoenix Suns, kept pace at one game back with a 128-105 comeback win over the New York Knicks. Phoenix trailed by 10 early in the third quarter before outscoring the visitors 72-39 the rest of the way. 

Deandre Ayton had 26 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Suns (48-19), who also got 17 points and 11 assists from Chris Paul, while Julius Randle led the Knicks (37-30) with 24 points and 11 rebounds. 

 

Doncic crosses 5,000 points in Mavericks win

Luka Doncic became the fourth-youngest player in NBA history to reach 5,000 points, scoring 24 to lead the Dallas Mavericks past the Cleveland Cavaliers 110-90. Doncic hit the milestone at 22 years, 68 days old. Only LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony were younger when they reached 5,000 points. The win was the 833rd of Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle's career, moving him into 15th place all-time. 

Joel Embiid had his way inside against the New Orleans Pelicans, scoring 37 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in a 109-107 Philadelphia 76ers win as Zion Williamson missed the game through injury. Ben Simmons added 10 assists for Philadelphia (46-21), the 10th time in 54 appearances this season he has reached double-digit assists. 

The Milwaukee Bucks (43-24) used a balanced attack to put away the Houston Rockets 141-133, as Brook Lopez scored 24, Khris Middleton had 23, Jrue Holiday added 20 and Giannis Antetokounmpo put up 17 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. 

Nikola Vucevic posted a triple-double with 18 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists as the Chicago Bulls defeated the Boston Celtics 121-99 to keep alive their slim hopes of reaching the play-in tournament. Zach LaVine and Coby White had 25 points each to lead the scoring for Chicago (28-39), while Kemba Walker had 33 for the Celtics (35-32). 

 

Davis one-man show in Lakers loss

Anthony Davis showed no ill effects from the back spasms that forced him to leave Thursday's game in the first quarter, scoring 36 points and grabbing 12 rebounds Friday, but he did not get much help as the Los Angeles Lakers fell 106-101 to the Portland Trail Blazers. Besides Davis, only Alex Caruso (18) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (17) reached double digits on the scoresheet. 

A night after scoring 25, Kyle Kuzma had just four points for Los Angeles on two of 11 shooting, missing all six of his three-point attempts.

 

Martin leaves Brook Lopez shook

KJ Martin led the Houston Rockets with 26 points as they hung with the heavily favored Milwaukee Bucks in a 141-133 loss, highlighted by this aerial duel against Brook Lopez. 

 

Friday's results

Philadelphia 76ers 109-107 New Orleans Pelicans
Chicago Bulls 121-99 Boston Celtics
Charlotte Hornets 122-112 Orlando Magic
Miami Heat 121-112 Minnesota Timberwolves
Milwaukee Bucks 141-133 Houston Rockets
Dallas Mavericks 110-90 Cleveland Cavaliers
Utah Jazz 127-120 Denver Nuggets
Phoenix Suns 128-105 New York Knicks
Portland Trail Blazers 106-101 Los Angeles Lakers
San Antonio Spurs 113-104 Sacramento Kings

 

Spurs at Trail Blazers

In a key game for both teams, the San Antonio Spurs (32-34) are trying to hold on to a play-in tournament spot while the Portland Trail Blazers (38-29) are hoping to avoid it altogether by finishing in the top six. 

Russell Westbrook took another giant step towards an NBA record after teaming up with Bradley Beal to help the Washington Wizards push the Toronto Raptors to the verge of elimination from a spot the NBA play-in tournament with a 131-129 win in overtime. 

Westbrook posted 13 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists for his 180th career triple-double, leaving him one shy of equalling Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson's all-time record on Thursday.

Former MVP Westbrook because the first player with three consecutive 17-plus assist games since Steve Nash in 2007.

Wizards star Beal scored half of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and overtime as Washington outlasted Toronto.

Raul Neto added a career-high 25 points and Robin Lopez had a season-best 24 for the Wizards (31-36), who hold a four-game lead over the Raptors (27-40) for the final play-in spot with five games remaining for both teams. 

Pascal Siakam matched his career best with 44 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists but missed a three-point attempt at the buzzer in overtime that would have won it for Toronto. 

Siakam joined Kawhi Leonard and Vince Carter as the only players with a 40-point, 10-rebound and five-assist game in franchise history.

Fred VanVleet sent the game to OT by hitting a shot from beyond the arc with 1.3 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. He finished with 22 and Gary Trent Jr. contributed 25 for Toronto.

 

Mavs withstand big night from Kyrie

Luka Doncic finished with 24 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. had 23 of his own as the Dallas Mavericks downed the slumping Brooklyn Nets 113-109, despite 45 points from Kyrie Irving. 

The Indiana Pacers inched closer to securing a spot in the play-in tournament with a 133-126 win over the Atlanta Hawks as Caris LeVert led the way with 31 points and Domantas Sabonis added 30 on 12-for-14 shooting from the field. Trae Young's double-double of 30 points and 10 assists was not enough for the Hawks. 

Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors rolled to a 118-87 victory at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder (21-46). Curry scored 34 points. The two-time MVP has now scored at least 30 points 18 times in his last 20 games (35th time this season).

Paul George had 24 points as the Los Angeles Clippers (45-22) beat cross-town rivals and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers 118-94. 

 

LaMelo off target against Bulls

A day after his primary competitor for NBA Rookie of the Year, Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves, dropped 42 points, LaMelo Ball made only one of 10 shots from the field and scored just four points in the Charlotte Hornets' 120-99 loss to the Chicago Bulls. Ball had reached double digits in his previous three games after returning from a wrist injury. 

 

Caldwell-Pope strong to the hoop

Lakers fans did not have much to celebrate in Thursday's blowout loss to the Clippers, but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope did provide one highlight with this slam in Ivica Zubac's face.

 

Thursday's results

Chicago Bulls 120-99 Charlotte Hornets
Dallas Mavericks 113-109 Brooklyn Nets
Washington Wizards 131-129 Toronto Raptors (OT)
Detroit Pistons 111-97 Memphis Grizzlies 
Indiana Pacers 133-126 Atlanta Hawks
Golden State Warriors 118-97 Oklahoma City Thunder
Los Angeles Clippers 118-94 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Pelicans at 76ers

Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans (30-36) are just outside the cut for the play-in tournament and will face imposing opposition on Friday as they attempt to gain ground in the form of the Philadelphia 76ers (45-21), winners of six in a row. 

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said the return of superstar James Harden will "change everything" after the NBA championship hopefuls slumped to a fourth consecutive defeat.

The star-studded Nets – playing without former MVP Harden again due to a hamstring injury – fell to the Dallas Mavericks 113-109 on Thursday.

A game-high 45 points from Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant's 20 points were not enough for the Nets, who are two and a half games behind the Philadelphia 76ers in the race of the Eastern Conference top seed ahead of the playoffs.

Harden has not played since April 5 but is "very confident" he will return to action before the postseason gets underway.

Reflecting on the result, Nash – whose Nets are eyeing their maiden title – told reporters: "We're just trying to get better every day. We can't really control the injuries. We're getting healthy bodies back, we've got the most guys I think we've had all year right now that are available; so that's positive. Trying to figure out some rotations and combinations.

"Obviously, James comes back at some point and changes everything again. But we're trying to just get better. We're trying to get more familiar with what we're trying to do, trying to get better at our principles and get a better understanding between one another.

"As I said, a lot of these teams have been in the last two, three, four years in a row. We're just getting to know each other; a lot of our guys have missed a lot of season. So trying to gain that understanding, that continuity is what we're after right now. We're going through a tough stretch, we're not playing really well, we're not playing really sharp. We were right in it today, we had our chances for sure; we've had our chances in the last three games.

"So what is it that can get us over the hump? I think the first thing is for us to continue to stay strong mentally, to pick each other up, to realise we got a lot of work to do. We keep working, we don't let this take the wind out of our sails and we'll improve and get better."

While Irving starred, Durant was below his best against the Mavericks as he finished seven-for-21 shooting, having missed all four of his three-point attempts on the road.

"Kevin didn't have a great rhythm tonight, especially in the second half. He normally can get to his spots and convert. He just wasn't in a great rhythm. Some nights it's just going to happen," said Nash.

"We're all going to have poor shooting performances or nights where we don't quite have a rhythm. And then the defense, we made some mistakes. I thought the third-quarter defense was really good. In the fourth quarter, we made a few mistakes and they made a few plays, but I think there's a lot to build on. We can look at the tape, continue to build, continue to grow."

Durant added: "It's trust my work and most of the times a mentality switch on what I need to do to be more effective and more efficient. Tonight I tried shots that I shouldn't have tried. I shot over a double-team in the fourth quarter. I shot a runner going to the left, just trying to get into the game scoring-wise, and sometimes that pushes me out of the game when I try those tough ones, but it's all a learning experience.

"I'm glad it's happening now for us instead of in a couple weeks, and hopefully we build off of this and keep growing, and I hope we feel this pain, I guess, from losing, feeling like we're not where we want to be. I like this position for us, and I think it's gonna make us better as we continue to keep watching film, going through practice, going through shootarounds and then playing in games."

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 36 points with 12 rebounds to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a 124-118 win over the Brooklyn Nets and secure their NBA playoff spot on Tuesday.

Milwaukee's victory moved the Bucks to 41-24, narrowing in on the Nets (43-23), who are second behind the Philadelphia 76ers (44-21) in the Eastern Conference, with the postseason fast approaching.

The triumph was also a tie-breaker win for the Bucks, who also beat the star-studded Nets 117-114 on Sunday too, in a boost in the race for seedings.

Two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo was crucial but Khris Middleton came up big in the final quarter, finishing with 23 points and Jrue Holiday (23 points and 10 assists) made a key stop late in the contest.

Nets star Kyrie Irving had a game-high 38 points, while Kevin Durant added 32 along with nine rebounds and six assists.

 

Clippers finish fast, Suns rise in overtime

The Los Angeles Clippers stormed home after a sluggish start to secure a 105-100 overtime win against the Toronto Raptors. Paul George finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

The high-flying Phoenix Suns produced a 20-4 overtime run to outlast the Cleveland Cavaliers 134-118, helping them return to the top spot in the Western Conference. Devin Booker (31 points), Chris Paul (23 points and 16 assists) and Mikal Bridges (22 points) led the Suns in Cleveland.

Lonzo Ball equalled his career high with 33 points, including a crucial late jumper to keep the New Orleans Pelicans and their postseason hopes alive via a 108-103 win over the Golden State Warriors.

Hamidou Diallo had 35 points but the Detroit Pistons still lost 102-99 to the Charlotte Hornets, who were led by rookie LaMelo Ball and his 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals.

Stephen Curry scored 37 points, including eight from beyond the arc to create history, joining Ray Allen as the only players in NBA history to make 2,800 career three-pointers. The two-time MVP also became the fastest player to reach 300 three-pointers in one season, needing only 58 games.

 

Landry's radar off

Nets shooting guard Landry Shamet normally makes an impact off the bench with his three-point shooting but he struggled against the Bucks. Shamet made one-of-six beyond the arc and one-of-eight overall in his 23 minutes on court, finishing with only three points.

 

Hardaway finds his range

Tim Hardaway Jr. was feeling it in the Dallas Mavericks' 127-113 win over the Chicago Bulls, shooting down an incredible 10 three-pointers in his 36-point display. Luka Doncic contributed 23 points and 12 rebounds in a double-double performance to help the Mavs move back above defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers into fifth in the west.

 

Tuesday's results

Charlotte Hornets 102-99 Detroit Pistons
Phoenix Suns 134-118 Cleveland Cavaliers (OT)
Milwaukee Bucks 124-118 Brooklyn Nets 
New Orleans Pelicans 108-103 Golden State Warriors
Dallas Mavericks 127-113 Miami Heat 
Sacramento Kings 103-99 Oklahoma City Thunder
Los Angeles Clippers 105-100 Toronto Raptors

 

Knicks at Nuggets

The in-form New York Knicks (37-28) make the trip to face Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets (43-22) with both sides jostling for playoffs seedings.

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