The Phoenix Suns moved 3-2 ahead in their NBA first round playoffs series against the Los Angeles Lakers with a 115-85 victory but star guard Chris Paul went down after re-injuring his shoulder.

Devin Booker top scored for the Suns with 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists as the Suns move within one win of knocking out the reigning champions.

The Suns, however, will be sweating on Paul's fitness ahead of Game 6 after going down clutching his sore right shoulder, having played 23 minutes, with nine points and six assists.

Phoenix blew the game open with a remarkable 32-10 second quarter, opening up a 32-point half-time lead which the Lakers, who were without Anthony Davis, never threatened in the second half.

LeBron James top scored with 24 points including six three-pointers along with five rebounds and seven assists, while Andre Drummond had seven points and 13 rebounds.

The series returns to Los Angeles for Game 6, before the final match in Arizona if required.

 

Nugs win in double over-time, Nets progress

Nikola Jokic and Damian Lillard traded blows as the Denver Nuggets edged the Portland Trail Blazers 147-140 in a double over-time thriller.

Jokic finished with 38 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, while Michael Porter Jr had 26 points, including a clutch late three-pointer along with 12 rebounds and three assists.

Lillard remarkably scored 55 points for the defeated Blazers, along with six rebounds and 10 assists, although he may regret passing to CJ McCollum with nine seconds left at 143-140 down. McCollum mis-controlled and stepped out of play, forcing the decisive turnover.

In a back-and-forth encounter, McCollum had earlier drained a three-pointer to send the game into over-time.

The Brooklyn Nets finished the job in their first round series against the Boston Celtics with James Harden starring in a 123-109 win which completed a 4-1 victory.

Harden produced a triple-double, scoring 34 points with 10 rebounds and 10 assists for the Nets.

Kyrie Irving added 25 points, while Kevin Durant contributed 24, including four three-pointers shooting at 66 per cent from beyond the arc.

The Nets will next face the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

 

Wayward Tatum's radar off

Jayson Tatum was a lone hand for the Celtics, managing 32 points, although he shot poorly, albeit regularly under intense heat, at 12-from-27 from the field and 36.4 per cent from beyond the arc.

 

History-making haul in losing cause

Lillard's 55 points came in a losing cause, making history as the third most in a defeat in NBA playoffs history behind Michael Jordan's 63 against the Celtics in 1986 and Donovan Mitchell's 57 against the Nuggets in 2020. He also had a record 12 threes.

 

Tuesday's results

Brooklyn Nets 123-109 Boston Celtics
Denver Nuggets 147-140 (OT) Portland Trail Blazers
Phoenix Suns 115-85 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Hawks at Knicks

The New York Knicks will look to stay alive as their first round playoffs series returns to Madison Square Garden against the Atlanta Hawks trailing 3-1.

After fighting through a knee injury to start Sunday's game, Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis is in question for Game 5 against the Phoenix Suns. 

Davis injured his groin just before halftime of Game 4 and missed the second half of the Lakers' 100-92 loss that levelled the series at 2-2. 

Head coach Frank Vogel told reporters Monday that scans confirmed Davis suffered a strained groin. 

Davis as questionable for Tuesday's game in Phoenix, but Vogel said the eight-time All-Star will do everything he can to ensure he is on the court. 

"I mean, these guys, they're great competitors," Vogel said. 

"They're always going to say, 'I'm ignoring this. I'm going to be in there.' So, we'll just see.

"That's what his mindset is, like any competitor, but we'll see what the groin feels like tomorrow and we'll make a smart decision. But he's in good spirits."

Davis previously hurt his knee in Game 3, though he continued to play, and vowed to reporters that there was "no chance" he would miss the next game. 

The severity of his latest injury is unclear, but little-used forward Markieff Morris tweeted the word "opportunity" Monday, indicating he sees a chance for some court time after playing only 12 minutes in the first four games. 

Vogel declined to say what his plans might be should Davis not be able to play Tuesday. 

On the positive side, Vogel said he was "hopeful" guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will return to the lineup after missing Game 4 with a knee injury. 

One down, plenty more to go. While the opening round of the NBA playoffs has already produced plenty of drama, the Miami Heat's hopes of a repeat run have been extinguished.

The 2020 finalists fell at the first hurdle this time around, swept aside by a Milwaukee Bucks team now waiting to find out who they will face next. As for the defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers are finding the going tough against the Phoenix Suns, that series one of three in the Western Conference delicately balanced at 2-2 through four games.

In the East, the picture looks somewhat clearer. Still, as the Denver Nuggets demonstrated last year in the NBA's Florida bubble, no 3-1 series lead is safe in the playoffs.

As the contests keep coming thick and fast, Stats Perform takes a brief pause to review those stepping up in the the playoffs, as well as the players who could do with finding some form again.


RUNNING HOT

Ja Morant

Having helped the Memphis Grizzlies come through the play-in tournament, Morant has continued to dazzle in the series against the Utah Jazz. After 26 points in the opener, the second-year point guard has dropped 47 and 28 in the next two meetings, albeit on neither occasion were his efforts enough to secure his team a victory.

Still, he is averaging 33.7 points per game against Utah, a huge upturn from 19.1 in the regular season. So, just how good has he been? Well, in reaching a century of points through his first three playoff games in the NBA, Morant matched a feat previously only achieved by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan.

Derrick Rose

Rose has claimed the starting point guard spot from Elfrid Payton for the New York Knicks as they go up against the Atlanta Hawks, a series the latter now leads 3-1 after a 113-96 triumph on Saturday.

Elevated off the bench, Rose has managed a combined total of 48 points in back-to-back losses on the road, during which he landed five of his nine attempts from deep. Payton, meanwhile, has scored one point in just 13 minutes of court time during the playoffs and did not get off the bench at all the past two games after averaging 10.1 points per game in the regular season.

Kawhi Leonard

"This is playoff basketball, we've just got to figure it out." Those were Leonard's words as the Los Angeles Clippers faced a 2-0 deficit as they headed to Dallas to continue their battle with the Mavericks.

It is safe to say the two-time NBA Finals MVP has done just that on his travels, helping his team fight back to level the series between the fourth and fifth seeds in the West. Across the past week, Leonard has averaged 35.7 points, aided by sinking 21 of his 23 attempts from the free-throw line, as well as contributing 24 rebounds. Playoff Kawhi means business this year.

GOING COLD

Shake Milton

Having averaged 13.0 points per outing in the regular season, Milton has endured a playoff slump for the Philadelphia 76ers as his minutes have been reduced. So far, the 24-year-old has managed nine points in a series that has seen his team hold control throughout.

Milton has managed to land only two of his 12 shot attempts, including missing all six in Game 2. In the following outing, head coach Doc Rivers opted to use Tyrese Maxey ahead of his team-mate off the bench, a move that may become a regular feature as the 76ers look set to move on to round two.

Enes Kanter

For the Portland Trail Blazers in the regular season, Kanter averaged 11.2 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. In the playoffs, however, it has been a different story for the veteran center.

After playing over 32 minutes across the first two games against the Denver Nuggets, Kanter has now figured in a little over nine in the following two. During his limited opportunities, there have been no points, two rebounds and a solitary blocked shot. Up against Nikola Jokic, the Blazers have opted to go with alternative options when starting center Jusuf Nurkic is taking a seat on the bench.

Montrezl Harrell

Make no mistake, the Lakers are locked in a battle with the Suns. Phoenix were impressive in taking Game 4 on the road on Saturday to draw level, during which the 2019-20 Sixth Man of the Year was finally called into action again by head coach Frank Vogel.

However, Harrell's appearance was fleeting. Having averaged 13.5 points during the regular season when playing just under 23 minutes per outing, he has been a non-factor in the playoffs. After not even making it onto the court in the previous two games, his brief cameo at the weekend saw him fail to muster a shot as LA lost at home. Across the past week, he has not scored a single point.

The star-studded Brooklyn Nets are on the cusp of the Eastern Conference semi-finals after Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden helped take down the Boston Celtics 141-126 in Game 4.

Durant, Irving and Harden led the way to silence the Celtics crowd in Boston, where the second-seeded Nets claimed a commanding 3-1 lead in the opening-round series following a franchise playoff scoring record.

A game-high 42 points from Durant, and double-doubles from Irving (39 points and 11 rebounds) and Harden (23 points and 18 assists) fuelled the Nets at TD Garden on Sunday.

Durant, Irving and Harden tied the playoffs record for most points scored by three team-mates (104), after John Havlicek (54), Jo Jo White (34), Dave Cowens (16) in 1973 and Dominique Wilkins (50), Randy Wittman (35), Spud Webb (19) in 1986.

Brooklyn duo Durant and Irving also became the first pair of team-mates in NBA history to each score 35-plus points while going 10-for-10 shooting or better from the free-throw line in the same game, according to Stats Perform.

After his mammoth 50-point haul in Game 3, Jayson Tatum followed up with 40 points, seven rebounds and five assists but it was not enough for the Celtics, who are facing elimination.

 

Clippers fightback

After dropping the opening two games, the Los Angeles Clippers are now level with the Dallas Mavericks at 2-2 in the west following their 106-81 rout. Kawhi Leonard's efficient double-double of 29 points (on 11-for-15 shooting) and 10 rebounds inspired the Clippers on the road. Paul George added 20 points as the Clippers became the first team in league history to lose the first two games of a playoff series at home and then win the next two on the road by a combined 35-plus points, per Stats Perform.

The Atlanta Hawks relied on their usual stars to get past the New York Knicks 113-96 and move within one win of the second round of the playoffs. Trae Young had 27 points and John Collins chipped in with 22 of his own as the Hawks earned a 3-1 advantage.

 

Davis injury caps Lakers loss

The Los Angeles Lakers lost 100-92 to the Phoenix Suns, who levelled the matchup in the west. Anthony Davis' injury headlined the defeat as the Suns capitalised on his second-half absence. Davis suffered a groin injury late in the second quarter and did not return for reigning champions the Lakers in Los Angeles. 

Luka Doncic was cleared to play against the Clippers, despite a neck strain. While he put up 19 points, the Mavs star was just nine-for-24 shooting in Dallas. Doncic also had little support on the court after starters Tim Hardaway Jr. (four points on one-for-eight shooting), Dorian Finney-Smith (eight points on three-for-nine shooting) and Maxi Kleber (0 points on 0-for-three shooting) struggled.

 

Caruso-LeBron combo

The Lakers lost but Alex Caruso and LeBron James still produced a highlight moment in the second quarter. Caruso lobbed the ball to James off the backboard and the latter finished emphatically. James registered 25 points and 12 rebounds.

 

Sunday's results

Atlanta Hawks 113-96 New York Knicks
Phoenix Suns 100-92 Los Angeles Lakers
Brooklyn Nets 141-126 Boston Celtics
Los Angeles Clippers 106-81 Dallas Mavericks

 

76ers at Wizards

Eastern Conference top seeds the Philadelphia 76ers can seal a 4-0 series sweep of the Washington Wizards in DC on Monday.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said he is ready to carry the load after Anthony Davis suffered a groin injury as the NBA champions lost to the Phoenix Suns.

Davis sat out the second half of the Lakers' 100-92 defeat to the Suns, who levelled the Western Conference first-round series at 2-2 on Sunday.

Lakers star Davis clutched his groin area after missing a layup during the final minute of the second quarter in Los Angeles, where he is reportedly day-to-day following the injury concern.

James posted 25 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in a losing effort for the Lakers and he insisted he is ready to lead the way should Davis miss game time.

"For me, it's putting our team in position to be successful," James said afterwards.

"It starts with my approach. It starts with my accountability and trickles down to everybody else.

"These shoulders were built for a reason and if it takes for me to put more on top of it then so be it.

"Win, lose or draw, I'm ready for the challenge."

Davis, who has been hampered by injuries this season – having missed 30 regular-season games, had six points, four rebounds and three assists in 19 minutes before hobbling out of the game.

A knee injury sustained in Game 3 already had Davis under an injury cloud.

"I thought he was labouring a little bit even before the groin injury," Lakers head coach Frank Vogel.

"He was saying that his knee was sore, but there was no way that he was not going to play. I thought he gave a heck of a run at it, trying to compete through pain."

Vogel added: "You know, he's one of the best players in the world, so you have to adjust.

"And I thought we gave great effort trying to overcome that loss, but it certainly wasn't enough."

Game 5 will be held in Phoenix on Tuesday.

"We kept on fighting back and got stops after stop after stop and still made it a game," James said. "But they played well. I tip my hat to them.

"They came in, played extremely well. And it's going to be a big-time Game 5 come Tuesday."

Anthony Davis managed to finish Game 3 for the Los Angeles Lakers despite injuring his left knee during the contest, and he has no intention of sitting out Game 4. 

Davis said Saturday there is "no chance" he will miss Sunday's matchup against the Phoenix Suns even though he has experienced swelling in the knee since hyperextending it Thursday. 

Davis and the Lakers can take a 3-1 series lead on the Suns with a win in Los Angeles. 

"There's no chance that I don't play tomorrow," Davis told reporters Saturday.

"As a player, I've wanted to be in this moment. You want to be in the playoffs and help contribute to my team's success. I want to be out there.

"So in my eyes, for me as a competitor, I think I'll be out there [Sunday]."

The Lakers listed Davis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who also hurt his knee in Game 3, as questionable, but head coach Frank Vogel said he hopes both will play. 

Davis hurt his knee in the second quarter while landing after chasing down Devin Booker for a block. 

He told reporters after that game he did not really think about his knee once he got through the opening minutes of the second half. 

Davis ended up playing 40 minutes and contributing 34 points and 11 rebounds in the 109-95 Los Angeles win. 

Now he wants to make sure the Lakers keep pushing and send the Suns to the brink of elimination. 

"It's going to be probably the biggest game of the series, I think, besides if Game 7 happens," he said.

"We're going in, want to protect home court ... We know they're going to come out and play desperate, in a sense."

Anthony Davis gave the Los Angeles Lakers an injury scare but vowed he would be ready for Game Four in the NBA playoffs series against the Phoenix Suns.

After posting 34 points and 11 rebounds in a 109-95 win on Thursday, Davis reflected on the moment in the second quarter when he made a chase-down block on Devin Booker but fell and hurt his knee.

The Lakers lead the series 2-1 and the next game comes on Sunday, with Davis optimistic he will be available to the Lakers for that one.

"We've got two days in between so I'm going to get it looked at, checked out," Davis said.

"I landed awkwardly and tried not to fall on Book, and I guess it's maybe hyperextended a little bit, but I was just keeping it warm, keeping it loose, and I just want to keep going.

"It felt fine the rest of the game, I really didn't have any problems with it. We'll see how I feel [on Friday], get some treatment Saturday and be ready for Sunday.

"I had a little discomfort but not enough to keep me out. I didn't think about it, I just kept playing, and just said in my mind that I've got two days to get it right, so leave it on the floor and fight through it. After the first couple of minutes of the third I didn't think about it, I was able to go out there and just play."

The reigning NBA champions were playing in front of a crowd of around 7,500 at Staples Center in their first home playoff game since 2013, with last year's postseason having been staged in Florida.

Booker was ejected for a two-handed push on Dennis Schroder, who was in full flight, and Davis described that incident as "a scary play", going beyond the spirit of the game.

"It was a physical game, all game guys chirping. But that's playoff basketball, guys are gonna chirp, guys are gonna talk," Davis said.

"But we can't allow plays like that to happen, just to push a guy out there with two hands, whether it was out of frustration or not.

"It's a scary play. Luckily, Dennis is all right, but sometimes it can end badly for a player. We don't want to let the chirping lead to something like that."

The Los Angeles Lakers issued a reminder of their quality as the reigning NBA champions outclassed the Phoenix Suns 109-95 to seize control in the Western Conference first-round series.

Injuries crippled the Lakers for most of the season as they slipped down to the play-in tournament and the seventh seed, but Anthony Davis and LeBron James starred at Staples Center on Thursday.

Davis posted a dominant double-double of 34 points and 11 rebounds and James put up 21 points as the Lakers claimed a 2-1 series lead following back-to-back victories against the second seeds in the playoffs.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, meanwhile, are poised to sweep the Miami Heat after easing to a 113-84 win.

Bucks superstar Antetokounmpo posted 17 points and 17 rebounds to go with five assists, while Khris Middleton (team-high 22 points) and Jrue Holiday (19 points and 12 assists) contributed en route to a commanding 3-0 series lead.

The Bucks – who are eyeing their first championship since 1971 – can seal a sweep on Saturday.

 

Jokic inspires Nuggets

MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic was at his brilliant best as the Denver Nuggets outlasted the Portland Trail Blazers 120-115 on the road. Jokic scored 36 points and collected 10 rebounds to guide the third-seeded Nuggets to a 2-1 series lead in the west. Damian Lillard's 37 points and Jusuf Nurkic's 13-point, 13-rebound double-double were not enough for the Trail Blazers.

Milwaukee's Holiday produced another impressive display against the Heat following his 15-assist performance in Game 2 as he became the first Bucks player with back-to-back 10-plus assist games in the playoffs since Sam Cassell in 2001. The 2013 All-Star was plus-37 in Game 2 and plus-42 in Game 3. According to Stats Perform, Holiday became the first NBA player to have a plus-minus of plus-37 or better in back-to-back games since Kobe Bryant in 2003.

 

Miami's shooting woes

The less said about the Heat's shooting on Thursday, the better. As a team, Miami were just 37.6 per cent from the field – making 32 of their 85 shots. From three-point range, the Heat were only 28.1 per cent (nine of 32). Goran Dragic (eight points) finished three-for-14 shooting in 29 minutes, while Duncan Robinson (two points) was one of six from the field, having missed all four three-pointers.

Chris Paul and Devin Booker were not at their usual high standards for the Suns. Paul, who hurt his shoulder in Game 2, was three-for-eight shooting for just seven points. All-Star team-mate Booker had 19 points, but it was on six-for-19 shooting from the field in 41 minutes. He only made one of four attempts from beyond the arc.

 

Rivers lights up fourth quarter

Denver's Austin Rivers was in red-hot form in the final period against the Blazers. Rivers scored 16 of his 21 points in the fourth to help the Nuggets to victory.

 

Thursday's results

Los Angeles Lakers 109-95 Phoenix Suns
Milwaukee Bucks 113-84 Miami Heat
Denver Nuggets 120-115 Portland Trail Blazers

 

Nets at Celtics

The star-studded Brooklyn Nets visit the Boston Celtics on Friday, leading the Eastern Conference first-round series 2-0.

Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis said he wanted to "make a statement" in his side's 109-102 win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday after a "terrible" Game 1 performance.

Davis led the way for the Lakers with a brilliant display at both ends of the court, contributing 34 points and seven assists, along with 10 rebounds and three blocks.

The performance came after an underwhelming return in the opening game when the Lakers were beaten 99-90, with Davis scoring 13 points and providing just two assists.

"Locked in. I know my performance the other day was terrible," Davis told ESPN. "To win a series or to win games, I can't have that performance.

"I put it on myself, as all leaders do. I wanted to make a statement this game. Come out with more energy and effort at both ends on the floor… it paid off today."

LeBron James landed a crucial three-pointer which stretched the Lakers' lead to nine points inside the final minute. He would finish with 23 points, four rebounds and nine assists as LA levelled the first round series.

Davis insisted James did not need to tell him anything about how to respond from his underwhelming display.

"We've been together for a while now," Davis said. "He don’t have to be in my ear. He saw it on my face.

"We didn’t talk much at all today. [The] first time we talked when was when we got to the arena. He just knows.

"I knew I can't have my team in that position with my performance. Since last year he's always been on me about perfection. Playing hard, playing through environments like this, it's paying off.

"It's getting to the point where I don’t need ‘Bron to tell me what I need to do. I know now. I put it on myself to be better for my team."

James added: "He responds to games like Game 1. He's not a guy who talks about it. He goes out and does it."

Game 3 will take place at the Staples Center in LA on Thursday and Davis said he expects the crowd to be "crazy exciting and loud".

Suns guard Chris Paul will hope to feature more heavily in that game after struggling with a shoulder complaint throughout Tuesday's meeting, including sitting out most of the final quarter.

"I took him out," Suns coach Monty Williams said in the post-game video conference. "It was all me looking at him holding his arm the way he was holding it.

"I couldn’t watch him run like that. He was trying to make plays, he battled, he's a warrior. I just made a decision to take him out."

He added: "He's not able to make the passes he wants. He was labouring tonight… We're hopeful it'll get better over the next 48 hours, but I don’t want to say too much."

Anthony Davis responded after his poor Game 1 by leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 109-102 win over the Phoenix Suns to square their NBA playoffs first round series on Tuesday.

Davis was self-critical after their Game 1 loss, stating "this is on me", and responded with a double-double with 34 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and seven assists.

LeBron James was brilliant with 23 points, including a final quarter threein the final minute which was the nail in the coffin. James also had nine assists and four rebounds.

The Lakers led by seven at the final change but Phoenix came hard at them, albeit largely without Chris Paul who played limited minutes in the last quarter due to a shoulder issue which hampered him all game.

But the reigning champions rallied, with a Davis block followed by a three-pointer pressing them ahead in the final minutes.

For the Lakers, Dennis Schroder had 24 points, while Andre Drummond had 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Paul only managed six points from 23 minutes in a major worry for the Suns moving forward, while Devin Booker impressed with 31 points.

 

KD gets it done, Mavs down Clippers

Kevin Durant got it done at both ends as the Brooklyn Nets claimed a 2-0 series lead against the Boston Celtics with a 130-108 win.

Durant was dominant with a game-high 26 points as well as five assists, eight rebounds and four blocks for the Nets who led by 24 points at half-time.

Joe Harris shot a playoffs career-high seven three-pointers among his 25 points, including 22 in the first half, while James Harden added an impressive 20 points, five rebounds and seven assists for the Nets.

Blake Griffin made two big dunks for the Nets, having not attempted one in his final 25 games for the Detroit Pistons before his move.

Luka Doncic and Kawhi Leonard traded blows with massive individual performances but the Dallas Mavericks claimed a 2-0 lead in their series against the Los Angeles Clippers with a 127-121 win on the road.

Doncic scored 39 points with seven rebounds and seven assists, with able assistance from Tim Hardaway Jr who made six three-pointers among his 28 points, with Dallas moving ahead in a 30-19 third quarter.

Leonard had 41 points, six rebounds, two steals and four assists, while Paul George scored 28 points with 12 rebounds and six assists for the Clippers, who face an uphill task to turn around the series in Texas.

 

CP3 and Tatum injuries

Injuries to both Paul and Celtics forward Jason Tatum denied spectators the best contest possible, with the former barely entering the court in the last with his shoulder issue which remains an issue for the rest of the series. Tatum left the game in the third quarter after a poke to the eye from Durant. He only managed nine points from 21 minutes, shooting at 25 per cent from the field.

 

Harden's three-point playoffs feat

Harden went past Reggie Miller into sixth on the all-time NBA playoffs three-pointers made list, scoring four-from-eight beyond the arc in the Nets' win over the Celtics. The 31-year-old has 321 playoffs three-pointers, behind Stephen Curry (470), LeBron James (417), Ray Allen (385), Klay Thompson (374) and Manu Ginobili (324).

 

Tuesday's results

Brooklyn Nets 130-108 Boston Celtics
Los Angeles Lakers 109-102 Phoenix Suns
Dallas Mavericks 127-121 Los Angeles Clippers

 

Grizzlies at Jazz

Western Conference top seed Utah Jazz will look to square their series against the Memphis Grizzlies after their upset defeat in Game 1.

Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis shouldered the blame for the NBA champions' Game 1 loss to the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference first round.

Davis was far from his best as LeBron James and the Lakers went down 99-90 to the second-seeded Suns in Phoenix on Sunday.

Lakers big man Davis was five-for-16 shooting in a team-high 39 minutes of action as he recorded just 13 points against the Suns, while missing both of his attempts from three-point range.

As a team, the Lakers were just 26.9 per cent from beyond the arc after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made just one of his seven shots.

Afterwards, Davis scrutinised his performance as the Lakers – ranked seventh in the west – look to bounce back on Tuesday.

"There's no way we're winning a game, let alone the series, with me playing the way I played," Davis said.

"This is on me. I take whatever responsibility, for sure. I'll be ready for Game 2."

"I kind of got lost in the offense. But I still have to be assertive to get the ball," Davis added. "That's on me. I still have to find ways to make plays on that end of the floor offensively.

"It's on me. I'm not too worried about my performance. I know I'll be better. I know we'll be better in Game 2."

Superstar Lakers team-mate James, who finished with 18 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, added: "It's always AD being AD.

"Any time he comes to the press room and tells you we can't win without him or with him playing the way he played, he always responds. I'm looking forward to that."

"I love when AD puts that pressure on himself," James said. "We're a better team when he's aggressive and we're a better team when he demands the ball."

Davis had posted 42 points against the Suns in the absence of James on May 9, but Phoenix nullified his impact on Sunday.

"Phoenix brought a lot more attention obviously because of that game," Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said. "They did a great job. Give them credit.

"They did a good job limiting his touches and bringing double teams when he did get it and making things difficult for him. But there are ways we can be better to take advantage of that."

Vogel continued: "There's plenty we can do. I'm not going to get into details on what our adjustments are going to look like. But certainly we can do a better job in taking advantage of the attention that he's drawn."

The Memphis Grizzlies did not follow the script in their shock 112-109 victory over the top-ranked Utah Jazz in the NBA playoffs, while the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns drew first blood in their first-round openers.

Utah secured sole possession of the best record in the NBA for the first time in franchise history, having topped the Western Conference with a 52-20 record.

But in the continued absence of All-Star Donovan Mitchell (ankle), the Jazz were upstaged by the eighth-seeded Grizzlies in Sunday's opener on home court.

Dillon Brooks (31 points), Ja Morant (26 points) and Jonas Valanciunas (15 points and 13 rebounds) fuelled the visiting Grizzlies in Utah.

Brooks became the sixth player in the last 10 postseasons to score 30-plus points in his playoffs debut, joining Devin Booker (2021), Luka Doncic (2020), Kyrie Irving (2015), Anthony Davis (2015) and Damian Lillard (2014).

Kyle Anderson also registered a Grizzlies single-game playoff record with his six steals, surpassing the previous mark set by Mike Conley – who now plays for the Jazz – in 2013.

The Jazz were led by Bojan Bogdanovic (29 points), Conley (22 points and 11 assists) and Rudy Gobert (11 points and 15 rebounds).

 

Harris and Embiid flex muscles, Booker stars as Suns sizzle

Eastern Conference top seeds the 76ers overcame the Washington Wizards 125-118 in Game 1 of their first-round series. A playoff career-high 37 points from Tobias Harris set the tone, while MVP hopeful Joel Embiid had 30 points, six rebounds and three assists. Harris and Embiid became the first pair of 76ers to score 30-plus points in a playoff game in 31 years since Charles Barkley and Hersey Hawkins. All-Star team-mate Ben Simmons (six points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists) joined Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain as the only 76ers players ever with 15 rebounds and 15 assists in a playoff game. Double-doubles from Bradley Beal (33 points and 10 rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (16 points and 14 assists) were not enough for the eighth-ranked Wizards.

The Suns trumped defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers 99-90 behind Booker (34 points) and Deandre Ayton (21 points and 16 rebounds). Back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10, the Suns used a 32-25 opening quarter to see off the seventh seeds in the series opener in the west, despite Chris Paul's shoulder injury. LeBron James had 18 points and 10 assists in a double-double display for the Lakers.

 

Randle struggles

All eyes were on All-Star Julius Randle after leading the New York Knicks back to the postseason for the first time since 2012-13. While he collected 12 rebounds, Randle was far from his usual best in the 107-105 defeat to the Atlanta Hawks. Randle finished six-for-23 shooting for 15 points in 36 minutes. The Knicks star made just two of his six three-pointers.

Anthony Davis was five-for-16 shooting in a team-high 39 minutes of action as the Lakers star recorded just 13 points against the Suns. He missed both of his attempts from beyond the arc. As a team, the Lakers were just 26.9 per cent from the three-point line after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made just one of his seven shots.

 

Ice Trae!

Trae Young was the hero for the Hawks, who edged the Knicks in their series opener at Madison Square Garden. Young nailed the game-winner with 0.9 seconds remaining to silence the New York crowd in a thriller between the fourth and fifth seeds in the east. The Hawks guard finished with 32 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. According to Stats Perform, Young is the first NBA player to make a game-winning field goal in the final five seconds in his playoff debut since Dwyane Wade in 2004.

 

Sunday's results

Philadelphia 76ers 125-118 Washington Wizards
Phoenix Suns 99-90 Los Angeles Lakers
Atlanta Hawks 107-105 New York Knicks
Memphis Grizzlies 112-109 Utah Jazz

 

Heat at Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks will look to extend their lead over the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference first-round series on Monday.

LeBron James has compared Chris Paul's basketball IQ with stars Rajon Rondo and Draymond Green ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers' playoffs series against the Phoenix Suns.

The Lakers won through their play-in game against the Golden State Warriors, earning seventh seed and the right to take on the second seed Suns, who are led by experienced point guard Paul.

Four-time NBA champion James has remarkably never faced 11-time NBA All-Star and high school friend Paul in the postseason.

Rondo and Green are widely known for their basketball intelligence and James identified Paul among those lofty standards.

"It's going to be comparable to playing against Rondo in a series, playing against Draymond in a series," James said during a video conference call on Friday.

"You have those out-of-this-world IQ type guys and fierce competitors, at the same time so it's the same thing.

"Every time I faced Rondo in the past, I knew I had to be not only on my A-game as far as my game, but also my mind as well and that's the same with Draymond, every time you go against those Warriors teams.

"I've had experiences with those two guys, so that will definitely help me in matching up with CP [Paul] because I know the competitor and I know the IQ of the basketball player that he is."

The Lakers may be the seventh seed but head into their series with the Suns as the bookmakers favourites, having been 2019-20 champions.

The Suns surprised a lot of people by ending their long playoffs wait and finishing as high as second in the Western Conference.

Suns coach Monty Williams insisted that being considered underdogs did not faze his side.

"We all hear it," Williams said on Friday. "Ultimately you got to get out there and compete for 48 minutes, and that's what we plan to do.

"Did anybody think we were going to win 51 games this year? In a shortened season? Don't think so. So why would we listen to those people now?"

On facing the reigning champions first up, he added: "Our guys aren't bitter. We're looking forward to competing against the Lakers.

"We're not upset or feel like anybody's done something to our Cheerios. We have to go play the Lakers."

The play-in tournament may be here to stay with NBA commissioner Adam Silver stating that his personal preference is for it to continue beyond this season.

Teams ranked seventh to 10th in both the Western and Eastern Conference have faced off in the play-in tournament for the seventh and eighth seeds in the 2020-21 season.

The additional spots available for the playoffs added intrigue late in the NBA season, with 24 of the 30 franchises maintaining the possibility of playing in the postseason in the final fortnight.

The play-in tournament has been criticized for being unfair, with Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James publicly vocal in his dislike of the concept.

"Whoever came up with that needs to be fired," James said earlier this month.

But Silver defended the play-in tournament, insisting it added vital viewership interest to the season, given the incentives for teams to compete.

"I haven't made any secret that I want it to be [around long term]," Silver told ESPN Radio.

"I have two constituencies I need to convince of that. One is the 30 teams, and I think for the most part they've supported it. I understand the sentiment if I were a team - a seven-seed in particular - the notion [that] after a long season, you could potentially play out of the playoffs. I understand those feelings.

"I think at the same time, the teams recognize the amount of additional interest we've created over the last month of the season plus those play-in games make it worth it.

"Of course, the other constituency is the players. For example, one player, who is on the executive committee of the union, said to me yesterday that he really likes the play-in tournament but he felt it could potentially be a bit unfair.

"For example, if you were the seventh seed and you were a significant number of games ahead of the eight-seed, the notion that you could somehow lose two games and be out of the playoffs seems unfair."

The sides who finished seventh in both conferences won their play-in games to claim seventh seed, while the Washington Wizards eventually took the eighth seed in the East with victory over the Indiana Pacers after finishing eighth.

The Golden State Warriors, who finished eighth on the Western Conference standings, play the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth seed in the last play-in game on Friday.

Silver said it is possible that the league will tinker with the current play-in format.

He added: "I'm going to wait only because I know there's people on both sides of it.

"Beyond the individual ratings, and some games have been pretty good and some haven't been as close, but putting aside those games and adding those games to our schedule and the amount of interest in them is where I think the play-in tournament had an impact.

"[It] was causing teams who frankly otherwise may have thrown in the towel some number of weeks back to fight for those last playoff spots."

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.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.