The Orlando Magic have secured the number one pick in this year's NBA Draft following the lottery on Tuesday.

The Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings will pick second, third and fourth respectively, with the Detroit Pistons rounding out the top five.

The Pistons dropped below the top four despite 52.1 per cent odds of landing in one of the top four spots and having a 14 per cent chance at the top pick, with the Kings moving up into fourth.

The Magic, who also had a 14 per cent chance at the top pick, have not had the first selection since the 2004 draft, where they selected Dwight Howard.

The other two times were in 1992, selecting Shaquille O'Neal, and 1993, where the Magic traded Chris Webber for Anfernee Hardaway. O'Neal and Howard both made NBA Finals appearances with the Magic before leaving for the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Thunder's last selection at number two, meanwhile, was Kevin Durant in 2007.

The biggest losers from the lottery were the Portland Trail Blazers, who claimed the seventh pick despite a 2-21 finish to end the season after trading away CJ McCollum and Larry Nance Jr.

Kyrie Irving confirmed he will remain with the Brooklyn Nets after a disappointing first-round 4-0 sweep against the Boston Celtics.

Irving scored 20 points with five rebounds and five assists in the decisive 116-112 Game 4 loss on Monday.

The mercurial guard has a player option in his contract for the 2022-23 season, which means he can decide whether to stay for the $36million he has agreed to, or he could void the last year and enter negotiations for a long-term deal with the Nets, or any other team with cap space.

When asked in his post-game press conference, Irving said: "I don't really plan on going anywhere."

He later took it even further as he spoke about rebuilding the team through his "co-management relationship" with the Nets front office.

"I don't really plan on going anywhere – this is added motivation for our franchise to be at the top of the league for the next few years," he said.

"When I say I'm here with 'Kev' [Kevin Durant], I think that it really entails us managing this franchise together alongside [owner] Joe [Tsai] and [general manager] Sean [Marks], and just our group of family members that we have in our locker room and our organisation.

"I think we've just got to make some moves this offseason – and really talk about, and really be intentional about, what we're building.

"We'll just have fun building it, having that creative process. It's a co-management relationship, and you see that the players need to gel. You can't have these little lulls of uncertainty… [we have to] be intentional about who's in our locker room, and how we're going to be leading.

"There's no question about where I'm going, or how this is going to happen. I'm here with [Durant], but also I'm here to build a great team.

"Individually I've been recognised for my greatness, but at this point in my career I really just want to be part of a great team, and dominate that way, without focusing on any individual accolades or achievements. Just really build something special."

When discussing how he felt about the outcome of the season, Irving said he would use it as fuel, but admitted there were points in the season that he felt he was letting down his teammates.

"Just disappointment, sadness. But more importantly, on the positive side, it's motivation," he said. "It's burning in my heart right now.

"I know so many people wanted to see us fail at this juncture… and have so much to say at this point, so I'm just using that as fuel for the summer.

"I think it was just really heavy emotionally this season. We all felt it.

"I felt like I was letting the team down at a point where I wasn't able to play. We were trying to exercise every option for me to play, but I never wanted it to just be about me. I think it became a distraction at times."

Irving was unavailable for home games until late March due to his refusal to accept a COVID-19 vaccination.

He added: "We just had some drastic changes. We lost a franchise player – and we got a franchise player back – but we didn't get a chance to see him on the floor."

Irving discussed issues such as allowing outside noise to seep into the locker room and repeated calls for more mental toughness, but he made sure to support embattled All-Star Ben Simmons. Simmons did not make his Nets debut in Game 4, as had been initially anticipated, as he battles to overcome a back problem.

"There was no pressure for [Simmons] to step on the floor with us, either," Irving said. "Ben's good, we have his back, and he's going to be good for next year.

"But now we just turn the page, and look forward to what we're building as a franchise, and really get tougher.

"This is a league that's getting younger, it's getting more athletic, it's getting taller, and more competitive. These young guys are hungry out here. You see it, I could feel it, so it's added motivation when you get swept like this.

"Now we just look to the future as a team and what we can accomplish for the next few years – and I get excited about that."

The Boston Celtics have emerged as the favourites to make it through the Eastern Conference after a 116-112 win against the Brooklyn Nets confirmed a 4-0 series sweep.

In what was billed as arguably the most competitive first round series in recent memory, the Celtics were simply too good on the defensive end to let the frightening Nets offense find any rhythm or flow.

Boston's Jayson Tatum scored a team-high 29 points on nine-of-16 shooting (four-of-six from distance) before getting fouled out late in the fourth quarter, while Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart showed his offensive skills with 20 points and 11 assists.

Grant Williams did a superb job for the Celtics, coming off the bench to hit four of his six three point attempts, while also playing smothering defense on Kevin Durant and swatting away three shots.

Despite Williams' best efforts, Durant was still a force offensively, scoring a game-high 39 points on 13-of-31 shooting while adding nine assists and seven rebounds in 47 minutes.

Kyrie Irving played 45 minutes, and finished with a respectable line of 20 points, five rebounds and five assists, but he went missing for long stretches of the must-win game. Irving attempted just 13 shots, which was the same number as Seth Curry, who outscored him with 23 points.

An early storyline in the game, and ultimately one of the deciding factors, was Brooklyn's reserve center Nic Claxton missing the first 10 free throws he attempted, finishing the game one-for-11.

Raptors make things interesting

The Toronto Raptors refuse to lay down against the Philadelphia 76ers, winning Game 5 103-88 on the road to pull the series back to 3-2, with Game 6 heading back to Canada.

Toronto trailed 3-0 after three games, but have won back-to-back fixtures with their season on the line to put the pressure back on Philadelphia.

Game 5 was won on the defensive end, as the Raptors took control of the contest with a 25-14 second quarter.

Toronto forced 16 Philadelphia turnovers while only committing nine themselves, and they held the home side to 38 per cent shooting (31-of-81), with the visitors shooting 51 per cent (42-of-82).

With Fred VanVleet out of action, Pascal Siakam assumed point guard duties for Toronto, finishing with 23 points (10-of-17 shooting) with 10 rebounds and seven assists, while Precious Achiuwa added 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in 27 minutes off the bench.

Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes showed his talent in his return to the starting line up, scoring 12 points, grabbing eight rebounds, dishing four assists and snatching a game-high three steals.

For the 76ers, Joel Embiid was kept quiet by his standards with 20 points and 11 rebounds from just 15 field goal attempts as the Raptors consistently double-teamed him and forced Philadelphia's role players to hit shots.

James Harden was disappointing, with just 15 points and seven assists to go with five turnovers.

No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit.

 

Dallas' defense hits new heights

The last game of the night was also the least competitive, as the Dallas Mavericks flashed some unbelievable defensive upside in a 102-77 win against the Utah Jazz.

Prior to the game, Utah's lowest score of the season was a 124-90 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans in March, with the 77-point figure being their lowest score since November 2018 – in a 118-68 loss to the Mavericks.

Dallas now leads the series 3-2, with Game 6 to be played in Utah, and while the Mavs' defense stole the show, Luka Doncic was the best player on the floor.

Doncic had 33 points (11-of-22 shooting) in 33 minutes, with 13 rebounds and five assists, while partner-in-crime Jalen Brunson chipped in with 24 points on nine-of-20 shooting with four assists and just one turnover.

Utah only scored more than 19 points in one quarter – the last, when the game was sealed – as the Mavericks won the first three frames by margins of 24-18, 28-18 and 29-19.

It was the lowest-scoring game of Donovan Mitchell's playoff career, finishing with just nine points on four-of-15 shooting. Of Mitchell's four career playoff games with 12 points or fewer, this was the first since April 2019.

Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant believes "thinking too much" is partly to blame for his struggles in the NBA playoffs against the Boston Celtics.

The Celtics extended their series lead in the Eastern Conference first round to 3-0 after a 109-103 victory at Barclays Center, and Durant was again unable to do much about it.

Despite averaging 29.9 points per game during the regular season, Durant is averaging just 22.0 in three postseason games and only scored 16 in his latest outing on Saturday.

Bruce Brown was the highest scorer for the Nets with 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting, but he and Durant contributed to 10 of the team's 18 turnovers.

"I was just thinking too much to be honest, this whole series," Durant said after the game. "Like how I approach the game. We got another game to play, another opportunity, and I'm looking forward to that.

"I feel like the first two games I was trying to be too aggressive. A team that's loading up on me, that's trying to take me out of all my actions."

A starring role from Jayson Tatum was the difference for Boston as the 24-year-old scored 39 points, with six assists and five rebounds, while Robert Williams returned from injury to play 15 minutes and help stifle Durant and Kyrie Irving, who himself also managed just 16 points.

"Every team I've been on, you're just trying to figure out the best way to play," Durant added. "When you got good team-mates around you as well, you're trying to figure out, I try to figure out how I can be the best version of myself and also not getting in my teammates' way.

"Sometimes I think too much about it. Sometimes I need to go out there and just [have] no thoughts in my head and just play.

"I feel like I prepared myself the right way. It's a matter of the small decisions in the game that may not go in my favour. I thought I found my teammates better than I did the last two games. I just need to score more."

The Nets must win Game 4, which takes place at Barclays Center on Monday, to keep the series alive.

The Boston Celtics inched closer to sweeping the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday, claiming a 3-0 series lead with a 109-103 victory at the Barclays Center.

Jayson Tatum notched up 39 points on 13-of-29 shooting, six assists, five rebounds and six steals in the win for the Celtics, who continued to lock down Kevin Durant.

Though Durant shot 54.5 per cent from the floor, moving him to 17-of-52 for the series, he did it on 11 shots on Saturday as the flexible and intense Celtics defensive scheme continued to force the ball out of his hands. Kyrie Irving also went six-of-17 from the floor.

Bruce Brown was the highest scorer for the Nets with 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting, but he and Durant contributed to 10 of the team's 20 turnovers, from which Boston scored 25 points.

The Celtics led for the whole of the second half and whenever the Nets would threaten with a scoring run, managed to make timely buckets and secure a big road win.

Gobert gets up for Jazz win

Luka Doncic's return from injury was not enough for the Dallas Mavericks as the Utah Jazz evened up their series at 2-2, earning a 100-99 win.

Rudy Gobert gave Utah the lead with an alley-oop dunk with 11 seconds remaining in Game 4, before Spencer Dinwiddie missed a three-ball at the buzzer for the Mavs.

While Doncic had 30 points in his first game back from a strained calf, Dallas were kept to just 18 points in the fourth quarter, shooting six-of-18 from the floor.  

Siakam sizzles as Raptors avoid sweep

Pascal Siakam scored 15 of his of 34 points in the fourth quarter as the Toronto Raptors avoided a series sweep, defeating the Philadelphia 76ers 110-102.

Despite a 19-point deficit in points off turnovers, Toronto continually managed to penetrate and get on the break, holding a combined 25-point advantage for points in the paint and fast-break points.

Nursing an injured thumb, Joel Embiid shot seven-of-16 from the floor for his 21 points to go with eight rebounds, but also coughed up five turnovers.

Timberwolves level series with Grizzlies

Karl-Anthony Towns bounced back from a disappointing Game 3 to help the Minnesota Timberwolves even their playoff series with the Memphis Grizzlies, winning 119-118.

After going missing in Game 3, taking only four shots as the Grizzlies overcame a 26-point deficit, Towns was more assertive from the outset, adding 13 rebounds to 33 points.

Anthony Edwards' fingerprints were all over the game however, coming up with 24 points on seven-of-14 shooting, four rebounds, four assists, two steals and three blocks.

Kevin Durant accepts it is down to him to step up and rescue the Brooklyn Nets' playoff series after struggling once again as his side fell 2-0 down to the Boston Celtics.

The 12-time NBA All-Star went zero-of-10 from the field in the second half, which is the most field attempts without a make in any half during his career.

While Durant did manage to score 12 points in the second half, it was not enough as the Celtics overturned a 17-point deficit to prevail 114-107 on Wednesday.

He is now 13-for-40 from the field in the series, having also struggled in the Nets' 115-114 loss in Game 1.

"It's on me to just finish it and figure it out," Durant said when asked about his latest underwhelming display. 

"I'm not expecting my team-mates or the defense to give me anything. I've just got to go out there and play."

Despite being targeted by multiple players, Durant still led the scoring with 27 points at TD Garden as he finished 18-of-20 from the free throw line.

 

Rather than complain about opposition tactics, though, the 33-year-old hopes to find a solution in time for Game 3 in Brooklyn on Saturday.

"They're playing two, three guys off me sometimes on me when I'm off the ball," Durant said. "They're mucking up actions when I run off stuff.

"I see [Al] Horford leaving his man to come over and hit me sometimes. Two or three guys hit me wherever I go. And that's just the nature of the beast in the playoffs. 

"I feel like I got a couple good shots there in the fourth that just didn't go down, but I see a few of their guys around me every time I get the ball.

"So I got to be more patient, but also play fast sometimes, too."

Kyrie Irving, who added 10 points for the Nets, believes the blame should be shared on the back of successive defeats.

"We're going against the No. 1 team in defense in the league. They've proven it, so it's not going to be easy, but it can be done," he said.

"I've got to get [Durant] to his spots and make the game a lot easier, and I believe I can do that with the assistance of the coaches and having a game plan to attack this defense."

The Boston Celtics overturned a 17-point deficit to go 2-0 up over the Brooklyn Nets in their playoff series, winning 114-107 on Wednesday.

The Nets' lack of off-ball movement eventually told against the NBA's best defensive team, as Kevin Durant scored 12 points in the second half but went zero-of-10 from the open floor and the Nets went 11-of-36 collectively.

Kyrie Irving shot one-of-seven after the main break and the Nets' iso-ball provided such a net loss, the second-half collapse came despite the Nets holding advantages in team rebounding, fast-break points and points off turnovers for the game.

Derrick White was the only Celtic not to score in double digits as Ime Udoka went with the eight-man rotation. Even with the relatively low 27 assists for the team, the Celtics still had a +11 margin over the Nets in that category.

Jayson Tatum was the only player on the floor with a double-double, putting up 19 points, 10 assists and six rebounds as the Celtics protected home court.

Sixers inch closer to series sweep

The Philadelphia 76ers took a commanding 3-0 lead in their series with the Toronto Raptors, claiming a 104-101 win in overtime on the road.

After protecting home court, the Sixers also fought their way back from a 17-point deficit to take a huge step towards claiming the first-round series.

With the game tied at 101, Joel Embiid scored the game-winning basket with 0.8 seconds remaining, evading Precious Achiuwa and receiving the inbound to bury a turnaround three-pointer off the catch.

The MVP candidate finished with 33 points on 12-of-20 shooting and 12 rebounds, while James Harden and Tyrese Maxey contributed 19 points each.

It was yet another poor shooting night for Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr, combining for 36 points but off 12-of-32 shooting from the floor, with VanVleet's two-of-10 from beyond the arc particularly damaging.

Bulls split series in Milwaukee

The Chicago Bulls have managed to split the opening two games and can potentially gain home-court advantage in the series after their 114-109 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

There was a sense the Bulls could take at least one game from Milwaukee after the opener, which saw them almost claim the win despite a horrible shooting night from Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine.

After a combined 21-of-71 in Game 1, the three Bulls bounced back with a combined 33-of-62 from the floor, while Alex Caruso gave them a reference point with primary ball-handling duties.

The Bucks just could not stop DeRozan getting to his mid-range spots and the five-time All-Star finished with 41 points. Caruso did a bit of everything on both ends with nine points and 10 assists as well as two blocks and two steals.

While Giannis Antetokounmpo put up 33 points, Milwaukee ultimately could not work their way back from a poor first half that opened up an 18-point deficit.

Jayson Tatum's buzzer-beating layup gave the Boston Celtics a dramatic 115-114 victory over the Brooklyn Nets in their series opener on Sunday.

Tatum scored 16 of his 31 points in the second half, along with adding eight assists, four rebounds, two blocks and a steal. His final two points came in the frenetic final seconds, cutting towards the basket off Kevin Durant for Marcus Smart, spinning past Kyrie Irving and finishing with as time expired.

Smart particularly showed poise, forcing the closeout from Bruce Brown and Nic Claxton before dishing, along with adding 20 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals.

While Irving scored a game-high 39 points for the Nets, Durant put up 23 points but went nine-of-24 from the floor, including some open, trailing looks in transition. One miss at 102-98 would have made it a three-possession game in Brooklyn's favour midway through the fourth quarter, but a miss leading to a Jaylen Brown dunk brought it back to one.

It was also at that point where Boston were zero-for-seven for the quarter from the floor, and momentum suddenly shifted.

Giannis yields Bucks win in opener

Giannis Antetokounmpo put up 26 points and 17 rebounds as the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Chicago Bulls 93-86.

The defending NBA champions blew a 16-point lead, but recovered with a Jrue Holiday triple that triggered an 8-0 run.

The Bulls still had their chances, with Zach LaVine missing a game-tying three-pointer with 29 seconds remaining in what was a rough shooting night. LaVine and DeMar DeRozan shot a combined 12-of-44 as the team connected on only 32.3 per cent of field goal attempts.

Red-hot Robinson gives Heat opening victory

Duncan Robinson set a franchise playoff record with eight three-pointers in a catch-and-shoot clinic, leading the Miami Heat to a 115-91 win against the Atlanta Hawks in their series opener.

Robinson scored 27 points on nine-of-10 shooting for the Eastern Conference's first seed, who had three players see over 20 minutes of game time off the bench.

Trae Young had his worst-ever shooting night for the Hawks, making one field goal out of 12 attempts, as well as committing six turnovers.

CP3 takes over for Suns

Chris Paul scored 19 points in a brilliant fourth quarter, as the Phoenix Suns secured a 110-99 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

As the Pelicans cut a 23-point deficit to single digits to two possessions, the Suns needed the 36-year-old, who eventually finish with 30 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and three steals.

Despite 25 points from CJ McCollum, the Pelicans finished with the unusual statistic of a better three-point field goal percentage (39.1) than total field goal percentage (37.9).

It is looking increasingly likely that Ben Simmons will play for the Brooklyn Nets this season after reports that he is targeting a return during his side's first-round series against the Boston Celtics.

Shams Charania from The Athletic – who is also represented by Simmons' agency, Klutch Sports Group – said the Nets are hoping the return comes around April 25-29, which coincides with Game 4, Game 5 and Game 6 of the series.

Simmons is yet to play at all this season after sitting out of the early portion of the season with the Philadelphia 76ers due to mental health reasons, and has been sidelined with a back injury since arriving with the Nets via trade.

While everything is trending positively for Simmons' Nets debut to come in this year's playoffs, superstar teammate Kevin Durant said he would believe it when he sees it.

"I'm not expecting him to play," he said after practice on Thursday. 

"That's easier for me. I'm not putting any pressure on Ben to come out there and hoop. 

"So I'm not expecting him to do anything but just to get his body right and get healthy as fast as he can – in my mind, I'm preparing as if we're playing with the team we have."

Head coach Steve Nash was non-committal when asked about Simmons' chances.

"It's up to Ben's back," he said. 

"It's not up to me, any of us, other than his back… there's a chance Ben comes back, there's a chance he doesn't come back. 

"So I think for us, we got to focus on the group; support Ben and his journey to get back on the floor, but at the same time we don't have time to lose focus on the group that's playing.

"Ben's a franchise cornerstone – but right now it's about supporting him physically and mentally to get back on the floor, and coaching the group to put its best foot forward in the first few games of the series at least. 

"Internally, we're not sitting here saying 'Ben's returning in this series' – we'll see what happens."

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant believes Joel Embiid should win this season's NBA MVP award.

The Philadelphia 76ers center and reigning MVP Nikola Jokic are the clear favourites for this season's award, with Giannis Antetokounmpo in the running, too.

Durant, who was the MVP in 2014, pointed to Embiid's scoring when he said he deserved the nod marginally ahead of Denver Nuggets big man Jokic.

"If I had to choose, I would go Joel Embiid," Durant told reporters.

"He led the league in scoring, double-doubles, his team won 50 games this year. His numbers were incredible. It's a great year.

"But you can just close your eyes and just pick any one of the guys out of the top six or seven, and you can have a good MVP this year.

"That shows how great our league is right now and how talented our league is from top to bottom, but I would go with Embiid if I had to choose."

Embiid finished the regular season with the scoring title, averaging 30.6 points per game, along with 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists. He also had 46 double-doubles.

Jokic was second in the NBA across the regular season for rebounds, averaging 13.8. The Serbian center also contributed 27.1 points and 7.9 assists, with 66 double-doubles and 19 triple-doubles – two league highs.

The 76ers finished with a 51-31 record to claim fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Nuggets were sixth in the West with a 48-34 record.

Durant was also critical of MVP voting, claiming a player's narrative or story too often fed into the results.

"It's unfortunate," Durant said. "There's a lot of players that have been controlled by their narrative.

"Some of it has been because of the player, some of it just has been because of the perception of other people about that player.

"In Joel's case, more people just like Giannis and Jokic. It's as simple as that. They just prefer them more than Embiid's personality or his story, I guess."

Embiid was the runner-up for last season's MVP behind Jokic, with Stephen Curry in third.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timberwolves win through to face Grizzlies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No stoppin' Obi Toppin

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

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

 

Siakam shines, Heat hang on

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

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

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

Kevin Durant believes his knee injury near the midway point of the NBA season "derailed" the Brooklyn Nets' campaign.

The Nets are sitting 10th in the Eastern Conference, occupying the last of the Play-In Tournament spots.

Durant did not play a game between January 17 and March 3 as a result of his injury, with the Nets going 3-10 in February.

If the season were to end now, the Nets would need to win on the road against the Charlotte Hornets, and then triumph again on their travels against the winner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks' matchup in their clash for the seventh seed.

Brooklyn have a winning percentage of .513 (40-38) for the season, but that jumps to .627 in games Durant has played (32-19), and plummets to .296 (8-19) when he has been absent.

"So I'm not looking at it like we're just not a good basketball team. There wasn't a lot of continuity with me and Kyrie [Irving] out of the line-up, that's just what it is. 

"When we're all on the floor together, I like what we got."

Reflecting on what has been a hectic season off the court, the two-time Finals MVP made it clear what it takes to be in the upper echelon of such a competitive league.

"You can talk about expectations and what you see this team on paper – I always said this, but everyday matters," he said. 

"You want to be a champion every second that you step on the floor, not just when we play a good team or the playoffs coming up. 

"I think being a champion is in the habits and the work ethic, the care that you have for the game. [There's] a lot of champions out here that never won a ring, but they approach their work that way.

"So that's how I felt our team needed to approach this season – and guys have – but some stuff that's out of individuals' control is the reason why we're in certain positions. 

"That doesn't stop you from having the championship mentality every day as an individual."

Durant was emphatic when asked if he spends time thinking about all the different scenarios the Nets could be faced with due to playoff seeding.

"Who cares?" he asked reporters.

"Whoever we play, we play. I don't care who we play. I don't care that we're in the play-in. 

"Just tip the ball up, see what happens. That's all you can control. 

"It's too stressful thinking about trying to dodge a team, just play the game. We'll see what happens."

Despite Durant's knee injury, he has still played in 51 games, while Irving has played in just 25 as New York previously had a mandate preventing players unvaccinated against COVID-19 featuring in matches in the city.

Kyrie Irving recognised the Brooklyn Nets have to do more to support Kevin Durant as the two-time Finals MVP's career night from three-point range was not enough to beat the Atlanta Hawks.

The Nets fell to 10th place in the Eastern Conference with a 122-115 reverse to the Hawks, who are eighth.

As things stand, Brooklyn will have to win consecutive games in the play-in tournament just to make the playoffs, while Atlanta get two shots at reaching the postseason.

This Nets setback came despite Durant scoring 55 points and making eight of 10 attempts from beyond the arc.

Eight threes made represented a career high for Durant, but he was more focused on the result.

"Every loss is deflating," Durant said. "I ain't even worried about [losing after a career high], I'm just mad at the loss.

"I'm glad I shot the ball well, made eight threes, a career high, but I wish we would have came out with a W just by doing the little stuff.

"My points are going to come, my shots are going to come, but the little stuff that we've got to do we've got to be on the same page with."

Team-mate Irving had 31 points but was the only other Net to make double figures. Brooklyn became the first team in NBA history to lose a game while having one player score 55 points and another 30.

Irving's came on 12-of-32 shooting, however, compared to Durant's 19-of-28 performance.

"It doesn't even feel like he had 55 tonight," Irving said. "You know what I mean? Just the way that we feel about the game afterwards.

"We just have to ease his burden on the offensive end. He's going to be Kevin Durant. We know who he is. We know what he's capable of.

"But we have to be there to support him. And we have to be there ready to play just as much as he is and not allow frustration seep in at all."

Irving did not go to the foul line once, with the Nets having only 19 free-throw attempts to the Hawks' 49.

"It's not because of the refs," said a frustrated Durant. "It was because we're reaching and being undisciplined and just playing too aggressive. That's the game."

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