The results will not be confirmed until later in the postseason, but the NBA's MVP race has been run and there appears to be a clear winner.

After a season in which Joel Embiid and LeBron James were each favourites at a time, and while a number of other contenders made impressive runs, Nikola Jokic is seemingly set to scoop the league's top individual award.

Jokic achieved what the others could not in remaining healthy, starting all 72 games for the Denver Nuggets as they finished third in the Western Conference.

But the 'Joker' was more than just the last man standing in a gruelling campaign, earning his recognition by averaging 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game – the combined total of 45.5 leading the NBA alongside triple-double king Russell Westbrook.

A worthy winner, the Nuggets center shot 56.6 per cent from the field, 38.8 per cent from beyond the arc and 86.8 per cent from the free-throw line. No player to attempt 30 or more field goals across a season in NBA history has topped Jokic in all three metrics.

Stats Perform reflects on how Jokic ultimately outperformed his opponents to establish himself as the league's main man in 2020-21.
 

Month one: LeBron leaps above Luka

Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo were the preseason MVP favourites, while Los Angeles Lakers duo James and Anthony Davis appeared well set as both Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant returned from injuries.

Doncic's hopes quickly took a hit once the campaign got under way, however, as the Dallas Mavericks slumped to 7-7 over the first month, the same middle-of-the-road record that ensured Jokic was not immediately thrust to the forefront of the conversation on a .500 Nuggets team.

Yet the Serbian quietly built the foundations for his awards challenge in that spell. He had five triple-doubles, including three in his first four games, and averaged 25.1 points, 11.4 rebounds and 10.0 assists.

A 12-4 start for the Lakers meant the anticipated early James calls grew louder, the four-time winner an ever-present and averaging 24.4 points with an impressive 9.3 plus/minus rating.

Month two: Sixers star Embiid emerges

The PAR (points plus assists plus rebounds) chart Jokic topped in month one was led by Antetokounmpo in month two, with Jokic sliding to fourth behind Embiid and Doncic despite averaging 27.8 points over his next 16 games.

James was sixth, adding 27.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game to his totals between January 22 and February 21, but Embiid emerged as a serious contender.

As their star center put up a league-leading 33.9 points over the period, the Philadelphia 76ers improved to 20-11 to lead the East.

Missed games would ultimately cost Embiid, but they added to his case at this stage. He featured in 25 of the Sixers' first 31 outings, sitting out five defeats and only a single win.

Month three: Injuries interrupt favourites

Events in mid-March blew the MVP race wide open.

In the 76ers' win at the Washington Wizards on March 12, Embiid suffered a knee injury. However, James was the clear favourite for just eight days before he sustained a high ankle sprain as the Lakers lost to the Atlanta Hawks.

Curry could not capitalise as a tailbone issue kept him on the sidelines over the same stretch, instead allowing James Harden to improbably enter the reckoning.

A high-profile yet polarising trade to the Brooklyn Nets should have removed Harden from awards consideration, many argued, but his performances and stat line made a compelling argument.

Between his Nets debut on January 16 and March 21 – the end of the third month of the season – Harden became the key man in his new team's 'big three' and led the league in playmaking with 11.3 assists as Brooklyn went 22-7 with the 2018 MVP on the court.

Month four: Nuggets make their move

Although Harden, Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard – who has long led the league in 'clutch' points this year – all made runs, Jokic was the favourite at the time of James' injury, then with an even more impressive stat line, including 41.6 per cent shooting from three. Month four consolidated that position.

As Harden and Antetokounmpo each sustained injuries in early April, Jokic was boosted by the arrival of Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline.

The Nuggets got only five games (four wins) out of a Jamal Murray-Will Barton-Michael Porter Jr-Gordon-Jokic line-up, yet no five-man group in the league this season which played over 100 minutes averaged more than their 55.6 points per game.

Another injury disrupted Denver, but it was Murray rather than Jokic who went down, the guard tearing the ACL in his left knee.

The Nuggets were on a four-game winning run regardless by April 21 to improve to 38-20, giving Jokic a clear edge over Curry on a Golden State Warriors team hovering below .500.

Month five: Still in the thick of the action

As the playoff picture took shape over the final weeks of the season, a number of stars racked up DNPs to protect themselves for the challenges ahead. Jokic, despite repeatedly insisting he had no interest in the MVP award, did not.

The apparent winner finished the year having played 2,488 minutes, trailing only New York Knicks pair Julius Randle and RJ Barrett.

Sunday's final-day defeat to the Portland Trail Blazers was the first time all year Jokic dipped below 26 minutes in a game, limiting the damage to his impressive numbers.

It meant he protected a healthy lead in the awards race, despite Curry's continued excellence in the final month. The scoring champion averaged an outstanding 35.6 points across his final 12 games to take the Warriors to eighth place.

Denver ended the year on a 13-5 run following Murray's injury, with Jokic putting up 26.9 points. Few can argue he is not a worthy MVP winner.

LeBron James insists he will be fit for the Los Angeles Lakers' play-in tournament showdown with the Golden State Warriors and believes Stephen Curry should be named the NBA's MVP.

The Lakers rounded out an injury-hit regular-season campaign with a 110-98 triumph over the New Orleans Pelicans, with James nailing 25 points at Smoothie King Center.

Despite a fifth straight win, the Portland Trail Blazers' 132-116 victory over the Denver Nuggets consigned the Lakers to seventh position in the Western Conference and having to go through the new play-in route involving the teams from seventh to 10th.

It means the Lakers have to win one of up to two games to make the playoffs, with their first opportunity to do so coming against the Warriors on Wednesday.

James' fitness for the fixture was shrouded in doubt when he appeared to aggravate the ankle injury that saw him miss 26 of the Lakers' final 30 regular-season games.

However, he insists it was just a "tweak" and fully expects to feature, saying: "I'll be fine.

"I'll be in the line-up on Wednesday. The time is now and I'm ready for it."

Having to go through the play-in may not be the ideal situation for the defending champions, who have been decimated by injury this term with both James and Anthony Davis missing significant periods of time.

But James says the team are feeling confident having begun to hit their stride at the end of the regular season.

"I don't look at our seeding. It doesn't matter," he added. "Obviously we know we wanted to play a lot better this season, but injuries took a toll on our team. 

"We're finally starting to get whole, starting to feel a little bit better about our situation."

In Golden State, James and the Lakers come up against a red-hot Curry, who scored 46 points in the Warriors' 113-101 win over the Memphis Grizzlies to secure the NBA's scoring title.

Curry finished the regular season with a scoring average of 32.0 and 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).

He also joined Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players with multiple scoring titles, MVPs and championships.

James has no doubt that Curry should be awarded with another individual honour.

"I mean, just look at what he's done this year. I don't know anything else if you're looking for an MVP. If Steph is not on Golden State's team, what are we looking at?" James asked.

"We get caught up in the records sometimes. We get caught up in the, okay, who has the best record instead of just saying who had the best season that year. And Steph has had, in my opinion, the best season all year."

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.

LeBron James returned to the court after his latest injury as the Los Angeles Lakers boosted their hopes of avoiding the play-in tournament with a 122-115 win over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.

James had missed 26 of the Lakers' past 28 matches due to an ankle injury sustained on March 20 but played 28 minutes in his return against the Pacers.

The four-time MVP scored 24 points and had seven rebounds and eight assists, while Anthony Davis added 28 points with 10 rebounds.

Dennis Schroder also returned to the Lakers side, contributing 14 points in a positive sign ahead of the post-season.

The Lakers still have work to do to make the top six, needing to win their final game on Sunday against the New Orleans Pelicans and hope that the Portland Trail Blazers lose to the Denver Nuggets.

If the Lakers miss the top six, they will compete in the play-in tournament in the West, between sides finishing seventh to 10th.

 

Nets' big three reunited but rusty

The Brooklyn Nets also enjoyed a return of their own, with James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving hitting the court together for the first time since February 13 in their 105-91 win over the Chicago Bulls.

The Nets' big three have only played together eight times, improving that record to 6-2 ahead of the playoffs where they are likely to be second seed in the East.

Harden, who has had a hamstring injury, only managed five points, five rebounds and seven assists, while Kyrie Irving added 22 points.

Durant had 12 points, nine rebounds and six assists, although he was 4-for-17 from the field in a rusty display.

Valuable contributions from reserves Nicolas Claxton (10 points and eight rebounds) and Jeff Green (19 points) aided Brooklyn's cause.

The Milwaukee Bucks kept the pressure on the Nets for second seeding in the East with a 122-108 win over the Miami Heat.

Jrue Holiday (20 points, five rebounds and 10 assists), Khris Middleton (21 points, seven rebounds and seven assists) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (15 points, nine rebounds and four assists) all made key contributions.

The result means the Bucks can still move above the Nets into second if they win against the Bulls and the Nets lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Sunday's final regular season matches.

Jayson Tatum stepped up in Jaylen Brown's absence with 26 points and 11 rebounds in the Boston Celtics' 124-108 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. The win ends the Celtics' four-game losing run.

 

Hornets stung again

The Charlotte Hornets are destined for the Eastern Conference play-in tournament but they have now worryingly lost four in a row ahead of the post-season, going down 118-109 to the New York Knicks in overtime. Charlotte have had a tough run of fixtures, losing to the Knicks, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Denver Nuggets and the New Orleans Pelicans.

 

Suns burning bright

The Phoenix Suns' 140-103 win over the San Antonio Spurs keeps alive their hopes of clinching top seed in the West. But it was also the Suns' 50th win for the season, representing the first time they have achieved that feat since the 2009-2010 season which was the last time they made the playoffs.

 

Saturday's results

Brooklyn Nets 105-91 Chicago Bulls
New York Knicks 118-109 Charlotte Hornets (OT)
Los Angeles Lakers 122-115 Indiana Pacers
Boston Celtics 124-108 Minnesota Timberwolves
Phoenix Suns 140-103 San Antonio Spurs
Milwaukee Bucks 122-108 Miami Heat

 

Nuggets at Trail Blazers

The fine margin between sixth and seventh, thus a playoff and play-in tournament spot, is on the line when the Portland Trail Blazers host the Denver Nuggets, with the Los Angeles Lakers hoping for a Portland defeat whilst needing to win at the New Orleans Pelicans.

After missing the better part of two months following an ankle injury, LeBron James sounded a positive note following his return to the Los Angeles Lakers lineup Saturday. 

James played 28 minutes in the Lakers' 122-115 win over the Indiana Pacers, scoring 24 points and adding eight assists and seven rebounds. 

He had missed 26 of the Lakers' previous 28 games after hurting his ankle on March 20, but said he felt much better on Saturday than he had in his brief return to play two weeks ago. 

"I felt pretty good -- a lot better than I did last time I suited up," James said. 

"Just been putting in a lot of work, obviously off the floor, just getting my ankle right, getting my foot right, but I felt pretty good going into the game. 

"I think every game I'll get better and better, but it was a good first test for me."

Lakers head coach George Vogel was pleased with what he saw, though he did not indicate how much James might play in Sunday's regular-season finale. 

"I think he looked really good," Vogel said. "Obviously it's still going to take time before he gets to a 100 per cent but I thought most of the game he was in control and looked like his old self."

The key indicator for James was the way he felt in the second half.

The last time he played, May 2 against the Toronto Raptors, his leg and ankle grew noticeably stiff at halftime. There were no such issues Saturday. 

"Being in the Toronto game just gave me a sense of where I was as far as my ankle, physically, but I needed that. I needed that test to see where I was then to know where I needed to go," James added.

"Today was another opportunity to see where I'm at and how far I can go, too. I've still got some more room for improvement as far as my ankle, my mobility and my strength, but I'm 10 times better than I was in that Toronto game and I believe I can get five to 10 times better in the future.

"The more games that we have, the more opportunity I have to continue to strengthen it, strengthen everything around it, and continue to get better. 

"We've got a great team. I've got a great team around me. My trainer's on me every single day, and I'm on myself about doing what I can do to be available to this team and controlling what I can control. That's all I can worry about." 

The Lakers enter Sunday level with the Portland Trail Blazers at 41-30, with the final spot in the Western Conference top six on the line. 

Los Angeles will play at the New Orleans Pelicans and Portland face the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, with both games starting at the same time. The Lakers need to win and have Portland lose to avoid the play-in tournament, as the Blazers own the tie-breaker between the two. 

James said it does not matter to him or the team which seed the Lakers end up getting. 

"Let the chips fall where they may. Simple as that," he said. "We're ready to go." 

LeBron James is to return to action on Saturday for the Los Angeles Lakers, while Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder are also set to play against the Indiana Pacers.

James has missed the previous six games for the defending NBA champions due to a high ankle sprain.

However, head coach Frank Vogel confirmed to the media that the four-time MVP will be involved against the Pacers in the Lakers' penultimate game in the regular season.

A win over Indiana, as well as in Sunday’s clash with the New Orleans Pelicans, and Los Angeles can rise to sixth in the Western Conference, provided the Portland Trail Blazers lose to the Denver Nuggets.

If they finish as the seventh seed, though, then they will have to go through the play-in tournament to have a chance of defending their title.

James initially missed 20 games earlier in the campaign with the injury to his right ankle that he suffered against the Atlanta Hawks on March 20.

He briefly made a comeback earlier this month, only to be sidelined again after feeling pain in his second outing back.

In the 2020-21 season, James has averaged 25 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.8 assists.

Davis sat out Wednesday's win over the Houston Rockets due to a groin issue but is available again, while Schroder has cleared the NBA's health and safety protocols put in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said "there's a chance" superstar LeBron James will return to face the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.

James returned from a six-week absence due to a right ankle sprain only to re-aggravate the injury after just two appearances for injury-hit NBA champions the Lakers.

There had been hopes that James would make his comeback against the New York Knicks on Tuesday or the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, but the four-time MVP missed both games.

The Lakers – who are seventh in the Western Conference and currently occupy a play-in position ahead of the playoffs – only have two regular-season matchups remaining and James is listed as questionable for the clash with the Pacers.

"We want to see how he feels in response to today's work, like always," Vogel told reporters on Friday. "But there's a chance that he plays if things go well."

James has been averaging 25.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game for the Lakers this season.

Through 43 games in 2020-21, James boasts a field-goal percentage of 51.3 – his best since 2017-18 and it is the same story regarding his three-point percentage of 36.6, which is his highest since that season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"Anytime you've had guys that have been out for extended absences and they're returning to play, it's always going to be a little bit imperfect," Vogel said.

"So the more minutes you can get those guys, the better off it's going to be for us, in terms of the readjustment period. So if we're able to do that, that would be great."

The Lakers could also be boosted by the return of fellow star Anthony Davis for the Pacers showdown.

Davis, who did not practice on Friday, sat out the 124-122 win over the lowly Rockets midweek due to groin tightness.

"I feel fine. I feel great," Davis said. "Went through some things during practice, not everything, but got some work going on, got some work in on the side. So felt great, felt great today."

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.

LeBron James announced he will not be in the line-up to face the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, though the Los Angeles Lakers superstar said he is "getting close" to returning from an ankle injury.

James returned from a six-week absence due to a right ankle sprain only to re-aggravate the injury after just two appearances for injury-hit NBA champions the Lakers.

There had been hopes that James would make his comeback against the New York Knicks on Tuesday or the Rockets midweek, but the four-time MVP is still sidelined following his update via social media.

James, who sat out the 101-99 overtime win against the Knicks, wrote on Twitter: "Getting close but I won't be in the line-up tonight but more importantly I will be there to put that CHAMPIONSHIP banner in the rafters at Staples Center in front of our fans!!"

Star team-mate Anthony Davis is also reportedly set to miss the clash with the lowly Rockets due to tightness in his groin as the Lakers prepare to raise their championship banner.

A full participant in Monday's practice, James has been averaging 25.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game for the Lakers this season.

Through 43 games in 2020-21, James boasts a field-goal percentage of 51.3 – his best since 2017-18 and it is the same story regarding his three-point percentage of 36.6, which is his highest since that season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Anthony Davis revealed he was dealing with groin tightness as the Los Angeles Lakers scraped past the New York Knicks for a big overtime win on Tuesday.

Davis missed more than two months with an Achilles issue but has crucially featured in all 11 games since his return last month, helping a Lakers team hit by a number of injuries.

LeBron James remained out – instead an active cheerleader on the sidelines – as the defending champions defeated the Knicks 101-99 at Staples Center.

Davis had 20 points but was clearly moving uneasily in the closing stages. He stayed in the game, though, with 43 minutes his most since early February.

"I'm hurting," he said afterwards. "There's nothing worse on my body, just my groin got tight. That was really it, I'm not sure where it came from, but my groin got a little tight.

"There was no way I was coming out of the game. It was a big game for us. The team was playing real hard, the situation that we're in, trying to battle for the six.

"It was a big game for them, trying to battle for fourth, trying to keep that fourth seed – I think they might be sixth now after the loss, I'm not sure.

"It was a huge game for us and I didn't want to come out, no matter injury, and finish the game and make sure we secure the win."

The Lakers are quickly back in action against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday and in need of another victory, still sitting seventh in the West – in an unwanted play-in place – but now just 1.0 games back from fifth.

"I'm not sure about tomorrow. I'm going to get treatment and see how I feel," Davis said. "I want to say I'm going to play, but it was really bothering me tonight.

"We'll see how I feel tomorrow and then later on in the day.

"There's a very strong possibility that I fight through it and play since the next day's an off day, but also I don't want to have it lagging and then I'm out for a couple of games. We'll see how I feel."

Regardless of Davis' status, there is the possibility James returns against the Rockets.

Having won back-to-back games for the first time since late March, the Lakers could now have some momentum heading into the postseason.

"It's good. It's a confidence booster for us," Davis said. "We've been playing well as of late.

"If [James] comes back tomorrow, we can get him back acclimated with the team and get him back in the rhythm. If he doesn't then he doesn't, but we want him to get healthy first and foremost, get ready for the playoffs.

"I'm not sure what he's going to do – that's none of my business, I just want him to get health – but my job is just to come out here and help this team.

"If he is able to come back tomorrow, it's our job to get him back into a rhythm to get him ready for playoff mode, which we know he'll be ready for."

Talen Horton-Tucker hit the game-winning three among eight overtime points, but the Lakers only reached that stage thanks to Davis' suffocating defense.

The Knicks had the lead and the ball in the final 30 seconds of regulation, only for Davis to brilliantly stop All-Star Julius Randle (31 points) and force a shot-clock violation.

"Julius, that's my guy," said the Lakers superstar, who guarded Randle throughout the closing stages. "I played with him in New Orleans and he's definitely developed his game, with his shooting ability and off the dribble.

"That last possession, I just had to lock in defensively and make sure that he wasn't going to score to help the team.

"I feel like I made him hit the three with my contest at the end [in overtime] – he shot it a little higher than normal.

"He's been playing like this all year. I think he's an MVP candidate, he for sure should win Most Improved, what he's doing, got this team in the playoffs right now for a team who hadn't been in the playoffs for a while.

"He's playing his a** off and you can do nothing but respect him."

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.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James was a full participant in practice on Monday as he steps up his recovery from an ankle injury.

James returned from a six-week absence due to a right ankle sprain only to re-aggravate the injury after just two appearances for injury-hit NBA champions the Lakers.

The four-time MVP has since missed four straight games as the Lakers – seventh in the Western Conference – sit in the play-in positions in their playoff pursuit.

But James could reportedly return on Tuesday or Wednesday after Lakers head coach Frank Vogel provided an update following practice.

"He did participate in full practice. No update to his status tomorrow," Vogel told reporters on Monday. "General plan is to take it one day at a time. Nothing more than that."

Vogel added: "We did some drill work. We did some contrived scrimmages and we did a short, full scrimmage. And he did all of it."

James has been averaging 25.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game for the Lakers this season.

Through 43 games in 2020-21, James boasts a field-goal percentage of 51.3 – his best since 2017-18 and it is the same story regarding his three-point percentage of 36.6, which is his highest since that season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"What I've seen from LeBron today, he'll be fine. Trust me. He'll be fine," Lakers team-mate Anthony Davis said on Sunday, after inspiring a 123-110 win over the Phoenix Suns via 42 points and 12 rebounds.

"He's been in this game long enough. Obviously, he hasn't missed a ton of games, but he's been in this league long enough to be able to come back and lock in and do what he got to do to help the team.

"But I don't know what other teams are thinking. We know that we're confident against anybody we match up against, especially when we're fully healthy. That's our mindset.

"…We're going to come out and fight and I think teams know that just because we’re a lower seed we're not going to back down from anybody. We're going to come out and play Lakers basketball and I think teams know that and fear that as well."

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 joked he is feeling "20 per cent" his old self after posting a season-high points tally to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to victory over the high-flying Phoenix Suns.

Davis was playing his 10th game since recovering from a strained Achilles and calf injury that kept him out for more than two months.

He posted 42 points and 12 rebounds, as well as five assists, three steals and three blocks as the Lakers beat their Western Conference rivals 123-110 in Los Angeles on Sunday.

It is the seventh time in Davis' career that he has managed 40 points, three blocks and three steals in a game. The only player to have more such games over the past 35 years is the great Michael Jordan (14).

The Lakers are now within a game of the sixth seed in the west, which guarantees a postseason berth, and Davis feels he is slowly getting back to his best.

"I'm at 20 per cent my old self!" the 28-year-old said. "I'm kidding. I'm feeling good. I'm getting my legs and my rhythm back, getting my steps back on both ends of the floor.

"I feel good. I'm getting better each game, getting my wind back each game.

"My legs are not as heavy during games. All the shots I'm taking, I'm not using all of my legs. My legs are feeling good again – that's important."

The Lakers were without LeBron James against the Suns for a fourth straight game due to a troublesome ankle injury.

Head coach Frank Vogel will not rush the four-time NBA champion back for the remainder of the regular season, with a decision to be made ahead of each remaining game. 

"Our position doesn't affect LeBron's timeline," Vogel said. "Bron's going to try to get in there as much as he can to get a rhythm without agitating the ankle. 

"I don't think how Anthony's playing or how our seeding situation looks like is going to change LeBron's timeline."

However, Davis expects James to be fit and ready for the postseason whether he plays before then or not.

"What I've seen from LeBron today, he'll be fine," Davis said. "Trust me. He'll be fine."

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.

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