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

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

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

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

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

Gobert gets up for Jazz win

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

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

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

Siakam sizzles as Raptors avoid sweep

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

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

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

Timberwolves level series with Grizzlies

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

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

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

Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant took joy in inflicting pain on the Minnesota Timberwolves fans in attendance of their 104-95 win.

Memphis' win, to go up 2-1 in the seven-game series, came after not taking their first lead until 7:09 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Grizzlies fell down by 26 points in the second quarter, and were able to pull the margin back to seven points at half-time, before the Timberwolves extended it back out to 25 points in the third term.

Trailing 83-62, the Grizzlies scored 21 consecutive points to tie things up, before pushing on and finishing the game on an eye-watering 50-13 run, including a 37-12 final quarter.

Ja Morant struggled to score as the Timberwolves backed off him and dared him to shoot long jump shots all night, finishing five-of-18 from the field, but he worked his way to a triple-double with 16 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and three blocks – the first playoff triple-double in Grizzlies history.

Before the game, Morant told reporters he wanted to send the Wolves fans home "mad", and he stood by his comments when chatting with post-game media.

"[Backing up my comments felt] good," he said. "I'm disrespectful just like [Timberwolves fans] are disrespectful.

"That's why you saw me throw the ball in the air [at the end] – I asked for the ball [for that specific purpose]. 

"I know what we're capable of, and like I said this morning, that was our goal, to come and win games on the road and have their fans go home mad. There will probably be a lot of people drinking tonight [in Minnesota], with that 'L'."

Morant spoke about his team's never-say-die attitude, and gave a shout-out to the role players who he says "won this game for us".

"The message was just to continue to fight – go out and battle – because we all know the game is never over until there's zeroes on the clock at the end," he said.

"It's the same thing I've been saying all season about my teammates – they deserve a lot more respect and recognition for what they do for us on the floor. 

"Us three [Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr and Dillon Brooks] struggled, but that's why we've got [Tyus Jones] and the rest of our teammates to pick us up. We're really the deepest team in the league, and we're so good.

"Those three guys [Jones, Brandon Clarke and Desmond Bane] were very big-time for us. Tyus coming in and being the floor general, controlling the pace and knocking down some big-time shots for us during that stretch where 'Des' and 'BC' were alongside of him. 

"That picked us up – a lot of credit goes to those guys – I feel like they pretty much won this game for us."

A remarkable fourth quarter from the Memphis Grizzlies was the catalyst in their 104-95 win on the road against the Minnesota Timberwolves, going up 2-1 in the series.

In the first quarter, in front of their home fans, it appeared that it was going to be all Timberwolves early as they got off to a scorching start, with Patrick Beverley scoring eight of the game's first 12 points as the hosts went up 12-0.

Both Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr collected two personal fouls each in the opening period as the Grizzlies went into the second quarter trailing 39-21. A much-improved defensive effort held the Wolves to 12 points in the second term, though, cutting the margin back to 51-44 at the half.

Memphis were unable to keep that momentum coming out of the break as Minnesota started the third frame on a 28-10 run, pulling away to a 79-54 lead.

But trailing 83-62 with 1:05 to play in the third quarter, the Grizzlies started their run. They would score 21 consecutive points to tie the game at 83-83 as Desmond Bane, Brandon Clarke and Tyus Jones lifted the visitors.

As Karl-Anthony Towns struggled down the stretch – finishing with just eight points and five blocks with five fouls – the Grizzlies were firing on all cylinders, winning the last quarter 37-12 to open their lead up to 10 points for a relatively comfortable final few minutes.

Morant was a disappointing five-of-18 from the field for his 16 points and seven turnovers, but he added 10 rebounds and 10 assists as he stayed involved in other areas of the game. 

He was supported beautifully by Bane who top-scored with 26 points, hitting seven-of-15 from long range, while Clarke had 20 points and eight rebounds on just nine field goal attempts. Jones posted a line of 11 points, five rebounds and four assists off the bench, hitting all three of his threes.

Game 4 will remain in Minnesota before heading back to Memphis for Game 5.

Brunson and the bench boys

Dallas Mavericks point guard Jalen Brunson carried his side to a 126-118 win against the Utah Jazz, with superstar teammate Luka Doncic watching from the sidelines.

Brunson scored a career-high 41 points in his last outing, before dropping 31 on 12-of-22 shooting in hostile territory on Thursday.

He was supported by a terrific shooting performance by the Mavericks reserves, as Maxi Kleber, Davis Bertans and Josh Green combined to shoot 11-of-17 from three-point range. As a team, Dallas shot 42.9 per cent from beyond the arc (18-of-42).

The Jazz shot 56 per cent from the field in the loss, but were minus 12 in the nine minutes with Donovan Mitchell sitting on the bench. Mitchell finished with 32 points (10-of-21 shooting) with six assists.

Rudy Gobert did not miss a field goal or free throw for 15 points and seven rebounds, but the Jazz struggled to get stops while he and Mike Conley were on the floor, as both players finished with a plus/minus of minus 16.

The win is the Mavericks' first in Utah since 2016.

Warriors shoot their way to 3-0 lead

In a game where both teams shot the lights out, the Golden State Warriors showed once again that it is not wise to get into a shoot-out with the team from the Bay Area, beating the Denver Nuggets 118-113.

The Warriors shot 55 per cent from the field and 45 per cent from long range (18-40) as their offense was clicking for most of the night. 

Denver shot the ball well in their own right, finishing 50 per cent from the field and 44 per cent from deep (11-of-26), and even looked to take control in the third quarter, winning the term 30-18 and taking a 89-87 lead into the final period.

But that third quarter would be the Warriors' only slip-up, scoring at least 31 points in the other three as the Splash Brothers – now with a third member – were unstoppable.

Stephen Curry came off the bench once again to score 27 points (nine-of-17 shooting, three-of-nine from deep), Klay Thompson looked back to his best with 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting, hitting six of his 13 threes, while Jordan Poole continues to show he is no flash in the pan, scoring 27 points on nine-of-13 shooting.

For Denver, MVP favourite Nikola Jokic tried his heart out, finishing with 37 points (14-of-22 shooting) with 18 rebounds, five assists and three steals, and he was plus three in his 38 minutes, meaning the Nuggets were outscored by eight in his 10 minutes on the bench.

The win moves the Warriors to a 3-0 lead, with Game 4 to be played in Denver, before returning home for Game 5.

Ja Morant gave the Memphis Grizzlies a brief scare but declared himself "good" after returning to the floor in their Game 2 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Grizzlies are the second seed in the West but dropped the first game of their first-round series to the seventh seed T-Wolves.

They needed a response then on Tuesday and got it, predictably, through Morant, who had 23 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds in a 124-96 win to level the series.

But it was not all plain sailing for the Most Improved Player finalist, who took a knee to his thigh in the third quarter and limped off.

Morant returned to play four minutes in the fourth quarter, though, and said afterwards: "I'm good, a warrior. I played on concrete."

The former second overall pick is undoubtedly the Grizzlies' star man, but the team have at least proven they can play without him this year.

As part of their run to finish with a 56-26 record, second behind only the Phoenix Suns across the NBA, Memphis went a remarkable 20-5 in games Morant missed.

The Phoenix Suns lost Devin Booker to a hamstring injury as they were stunned 125-114 by the New Orleans Pelicans who squared up their first-round playoffs series.

Brandon Ingram scored 37 points, including 26 in the second half, with 11 rebounds and nine assists, while CJ McCollum added 23 points including six three-pointers.

But the hamstring injury to Suns All-Star guard Booker was the major talking point, leaving the Western Conference's top seed severely weakened if he is out for an extended period.

The Suns were leading 61-56 at half-time with Booker having scored 31 first-half points including shooting seven-of-11 from three-point range, before he left the game in the third quarter and did not return.

Chris Paul could not lift the Suns in Booker's absence, finishing with 17 points and 14 rebounds, while Mikal Bridges added 19 points.

 

Butler on fire as Heat win

Jimmy Butler scored 45 points with 15-of-25 shooting from the field as the Miami Heat claimed a 2-0 lead in their series against the Atlanta Hawks with a 115-105 win.

The Heat went on an 11-0 run the third quarter to open up the game-winning lead led by Butler while Tyler Herro (15 points) and Max Strus (14 points) contributed well.

Trae Young, coming off a playoff career-low display, managed 25 points for the Hawks with Bogdan Bogdanovic landing five triples in his 29-point haul.

 

Grizzlies claim franchise-best playoff win

The Memphis Grizzlies overcame a Ja Morant injury scare as they levelled their series against the Minnesota Timberwolves with a 124-96 victory.

Morant left the court in the third quarter after copping a knee to his left leg but returned, finishing with 23 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists. That was Morant's third career playoffs double-double.

The victory was the Grizzlies' largest in their franchise playoff history, despite Anthony Edwards' best efforts with 20 points and six rebounds for the Timberwolves.

Anthony Edwards scored 36 points in his playoff debut, as the Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 130-117 to take home-court advantage.

The second-year player went 12-of-23 from the floor while making all eight attempts from the free-throw line, along with adding six assists, two blocks and a steal. Meanwhile, Karl-Anthony Towns contributed 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting and 13 rebounds to start his second-ever playoff series.

The Wolves scored a franchise record for points in a first quarter on the way another record for points in a playoff game, shooting an even 50 per cent from the floor.

The Timberwolves, who beat the Los Angeles Clippers in the Play-In tournament to secure the seventh seed, also held a double-digit advantage in rebounding against the Grizz.  

The Grizzlies went cold from the perimeter at 25.9 per cent as a team, and Ja Morant wildly attacking the basket became a regular pattern, going 18-of-20 from the free-throw line on the way to 32 points.

Poole party for Curry's return

Jordan Poole also went off in his playoff debut, scoring 30 points in the Golden State Warriors 123-107 win over the Denver Nuggets.

The 22-year-old showed already characteristic composure, going nine-of-13 from the floor on the way to scoring 30 points, as Stephen Curry started on the bench in his return from injury, 

In his 22 minutes on the floor, Curry's return allowed the Warriors to move the ball and get great looks against the Nuggets, shooting 45.7 per cent from perimeter and creating 35 assists as a team.

Draymond Green's fingerprints were all over the game, coming up with 12 points, nine assists, six rebounds and three blocks in the series-opening win.  

Without Facundo Campazzo as well as Jamal Murray, Will Barton had to carry most of the offensive burden along with MVP candidate Nikola Jokic, with the two combining for 49 of the Nuggets' 107 points.

Maxey makes light work of Raptors

A Tyrese Maxey takeover in the third quarter handed the Philadelphia 76ers a comfortable 131-111 win at home to the Toronto Raptors to open their playoff series.

Maxey scored 21 points and connected on five three-pointers in the third term on his way.to a playoff career-high of 38 points, as fans at the Wells Fargo Center chanted his name. 

The likes of James Harden and MVP candidate Joel Embiid even deferred to him as the Sixers pulled away in the third. Harden provided a little bit of everything offensively though, shooting and distributing well as well as getting to the free-throw line, on the way to 22 points and 14 assists

The Raps simply could not keep up on the back of a poor shooting night from Gary Trent Jr. who went two-of-11 from the floor and losing Scottie Barnes to an ankle injury exacerbated matters.

In just under 32 minutes, the rookie center put up 15 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.    

Jazz take home-court against the Mavs

Donovan Mitchell took over for the Utah Jazz, who opened the playoffs with a 99-93 victory on the road over the Dallas Mavericks.

The 25-year-old put in a big effort playing just under 42 minutes and despite going 10-of-29 from the floor, scored 30 of his 32 points in the second half.

Also breaking the 40-minute barrier for the Jazz was Bojan Bogdanovic, who added 26 points from 11-of-20 shooting, along with five rebounds and four assists.

Luka Doncic was sorely missed for the Mavs, making their first playoff appearance since their 2011 NBA title, shooting 38.2 per cent from the floor and coming up with 17 assists as a team despite half the turnovers (7-14).

Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie shot a combined 15-of-39 from field goal attempts, while the latter contributed eight of the team's assists.

Patrick Beverley has been hit with a $30,000 fine for "inappropriate statements" and "egregious use of profanity" after the Minnesota Timberwolves guard aimed salty shots at the Clippers.

The comments from Beverley came after Tuesday's 109-104 win for the T-Wolves in the seven-eight play-in game in the West.

Anthony Edwards played a starring role with 30 points for Minnesota and was interviewed alongside Beverley after the game.

Beverley was excitable after beating his former team. He spent four years on the Clippers before joining Minnesota last August.

"I wanted this so bad," Beverley said. "I wanted this one so bad."

He said his message to the Clippers was: "Take their a** home. Long flight to LA, take y'all a** home.

"It's deeper than that for me. I gave my blood and sweat and tears to that organisation. You guys know the story. Blood, sweat and tears, to just be written off like that, 'oh, he's injury prone, he's old', this, this, that, that.

"To be able to come here, play them in a play-in, beat their a**, there's no other feeling, man, no other feeling."

Beverley also used social media to express similar emotion, with added profanities. NBA chiefs considered he overstepped the line of acceptability.

A league statement on Thursday read: "Minnesota Timberwolves guard Patrick Beverley has been fined $30,000 for inappropriate statements during a media interview and on social media, including the egregious use of profanity, it was announced today by Byron Spruell, president, league operations."

It was a second fine inside a week for Beverley, who had a $25,000 punishment imposed for improper conduct to a game official after being ejected from the Timberwolves' April 10 loss to the Chicago Bulls.

Anthony Edwards ensured the Minnesota Timberwolves did not pay the price for Karl-Anthony Towns' night to forget against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Three-time All-Star Towns fouled out of the seven-eight play-in game in the West on Tuesday.

Having made just three field goals and given up four turnovers along with his six fouls, Towns had a miserable plus/minus of -14 as he exited the fourth quarter.

But the seven-point lead the Clippers held at that point was subsequently overturned – in no small part due to the performance of former first overall pick Edwards.

The second-year wing finished with 30 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, in a 109-104 T-Wolves win.

Edwards faced the media alongside Patrick Beverley afterwards, and his team-mate interrupted when the 20-year-old was asked about his work on offense.

"No one can guard him. I've been telling him that all year," Beverley said. "I don't care who plays him. I've seen the best defensive guys. I'm one of the best defensive guys on Earth.

"No one can guard him, and I just keep preaching that, preaching that to him, and he's been doing it all season, so credit to him, credit to his hard work, credit to his patience.

"Obviously we have Karl-Anthony Towns, who we feature a lot, so credit to his patience at a young age, understanding the game, being patient, understanding when to attack.

"KAT fouled out, him and D'Lo [D'Angelo Russell] took over the game. Our young core, man, those three guys, man, we're going to be here for a while.

"So, I'm very excited. I didn't mean to interrupt his questions, but I see the boy, he puts in a lot of work, fellas... ladies, too. He puts in a lot of work.

"One of the first guys in the beginning of the year in the gym. It's time to go home, he's the last one in, he comes at night. He brings his dog in there, he's in there.

"So, you've got to give a lot of credit. This is our star and this is his moment. He deserves all of it. This is his moment. My bad."

Beverley could be forgiven for being a little excited, having beaten his former team. He spent four years on the Clippers before joining the T-Wolves this season.

"I wanted this so bad," he said. "I wanted this one so bad."

His message to the Clippers now? "Take their a** home. Long flight to LA, take y'all a** home.

"It's deeper than that for me. I gave my blood and sweat and tears to that organisation. You guys know the story. Blood, sweat and tears, to just be written off like that, 'oh, he's injury prone, he's old', this, this, that, that.

"To be able to come here, play them in a play-in, beat their a**, there's no other feeling, man, no other feeling."

Despite Beverley's apparent ill feeling towards the Clippers, former team-mate Paul George said he "loves" and "misses" his "contagious" antics.

"You need energy guys like that," George said, although Clippers coach Ty Lue was disappointed with the way Beverley was able to get under his team's skin.

"He did a good job, especially in that second half, of just defending, getting into guys, irritating guys like he always does," Lue said.

"He's a big reason why this team is successful this year. I just think the mentality he brought over here has changed the team.

"[You've] just got to be able to keep composure, you can't let it get to you. I thought at times he did. That's what he does.

"He's been with us here forever. We knew that coming into the game. We didn't handle it well, but whatever."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timberwolves win through to face Grizzlies

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

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

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

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

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

The Minnesota Timberwolves have locked up the services of current head coach Chris Finch with a multi-year extension.

Finch was a highly-respected assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors when he was hired in February 2021, having earned his way onto NBA staffs after winning 2010 D-League Coach of the Year with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

In his first full season in charge, Finch turned the Timberwolves into the seventh-best offense in the NBA, built largely around the talent of All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns and the top overall pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, Anthony Edwards.

Impressively, the Timberwolves also finished the regular season in the top half of the league in defensive efficiency as well, addressing concerns some had that it may be impossible to build a solid defense while Towns is playing center, which is the most important defensive position by far.

As well as Towns – Edwards and third 'star' D'Angelo Russell also have poor defensive reputations, so to counteract that, Finch made the move to start defensive specialists Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt to balance things out.

Speaking to media after news of his extension, Finch said it was a move initiated by the franchise.

"They came to me," he said. "I think that shows the type of energy and commitment in the building. 

"Everything's going in the right direction here. It's a fun time to be a part of the Timberwolves."

It was all positive from executive vice president of basketball operations Sachin Gupta, too.

"They're not always easy decisions in this business, but this one was a very easy one," he said.

"Coach has been a terrific partner for me, and the results on the floor are clear."

After finishing seventh in the Western Conference with a 46-36 record, the Timberwolves will host the Los Angeles Clippers in the Play-In Tournament, with the winner earning the seventh seed and a series against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the Playoffs.

If Minnesota lose against the Clippers, they will get another chance to earn the eighth seed, hosting the winner of the nine-versus-10 matchup between the New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have agreed multi-year contract extensions with head coach Chris Finch and his staff.

Finch's Timberwolves fell to a 124-120 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Sunday to conclude their regular season with a commendable 46-36 record in the Western Conference.

Minnesota finished seventh in the West to secure home-court advantage in the NBA Play-In tournament, in which they host the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday.

The Timberwolves will be boosted by the confirmation of the extension for Finch, who is in his first full season in charge after being appointed in February 2021 following the firing of Ryan Saunders.

A former assistant coach in Houston, Denver, New Orleans, and Toronto, Finch expressed his delight at having the chance to build on this impressive campaign.

"I am thankful to [majority owner] Glen [Taylor], Becky and the entire ownership group for their ongoing support and commitment," he said. 

"It's been a season that all of us, including our fans can be proud of and I'm grateful that my staff will continue to lead us forward."

The Timberwolves ownership group added: "Chris has done a tremendous job creating stability and consistency for this franchise and building a winning mentality.

"We look forward to supporting him throughout the years while he continues achieving the goals he and his staff have set out for the team."

Finch has overseen 62 wins with the Timberwolves, the fourth-most in the team's history, while the 52-year-old guided Minnesota to 20 road wins in the 2021-22 campaign for the first time since the 2004-05 season.

The Timberwolves also lead the NBA this season in points-per-game (115.9) for the first time in the franchise's history, along with a league-leading 1,211 three-pointers and 1,339 turnovers forced.

Whatever you think about the sporting merit of the introduction of the Play-In tournament to last year's NBA season, there is no doubt it made things more interesting for the neutral.

The Golden State Warriors were surprisingly eliminated after defeats to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Memphis Grizzlies, while the Indiana Pacers were denied a playoff place by the Washington Wizards in 2021.

The format has returned for this season, and again, it promises to add all sorts of further intrigue to the playoff picture.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the mini tournament will take place from April 12-16. The teams that finished seventh and eighth play one another to determine the seventh playoff seed from their respective conference, while the loser of that game gets a chance to secure the eighth seed when they host the winner of a game between the ninth and 10th seeds.

Therefore, the teams that finish seventh or eighth only need to win one game to advance to the playoffs, while those in ninth and 10th must win two.

Whoever clinches the seventh seed in the east will face the Boston Celtics in the playoffs, while the eighth seed will take on the Miami Heat. In the west, the seventh seed will go up against the Memphis Grizzlies, and the eighth seed will be paired with the Phoenix Suns.

With the regular season over after Sunday's final games, Stats Perform takes a look at the eight teams with one last chance to secure their place in the 2022 NBA playoffs.

Eastern Conference

Tuesday, April 12 – Brooklyn Nets (7th) vs Cleveland Cavaliers (8th) 

It has felt like a season of distractions in Brooklyn this season, be it James Harden's struggles, Kevin Durant's fitness or Kyrie Irving's vaccination status, and now the debut of Ben Simmons, which it seems may come in the playoffs, if they make it that is.

The Nets will be favourites, having won 12 of their last 17 and with Durant and Irving both in excellent form. KD is averaging 29.9 points per game (PPG), while Irving sits at 27.4.

The Cavaliers do not arrive in great form, losing eight of their last 11 games. Though they were victorious in their last outing against the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, the Bucks rested their starters, and Jrue Holiday only started to earn a foul and trigger a financial clause in his contract.

Darius Garland will be key if Cleveland are to stand a chance at Barclays Center, with the 22-year-old averaging 21.7 PPG.

Brooklyn have won three of their four meetings this season, including a 118-107 win at Barclays on Friday.

The loser will host the winner of...

Wednesday, April 13 – Atlanta Hawks (9th) vs Charlotte Hornets (10th)

All eyes will be on Trae Young as the 23-year-old looks to drag the Hawks into the playoffs, though it will take two big performances, even by his high standards.

Young averages 28.4 PPG this season, the joint-fifth highest in the league along with Luka Doncic, as well as 9.7 assists per game.

Atlanta have won seven of their last nine, including a 130-114 success at the Houston Rockets on Sunday.

For Charlotte, they will look to trio Miles Bridges, LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier for inspiration, and have had a good end to the season themselves, winning 11 of their last 15.

They also beat the Hawks last month 116-106 in Charlotte, though each team has won two apiece of their four meetings through the campaign.

Western Conference:

Tuesday, April 12 – Minnesota Timberwolves (7th) vs Los Angeles Clippers (8th)

Despite the Timberwolves going into this one with home advantage, you would have to make the Clippers the favourites based on form and previous meetings.

Minnesota have lost six of their last 10, while the visitors arrive having won five of their last six.

The form of Karl-Anthony Towns, who is averaging 24.6 PPG this season, will be key for the hosts, as will that of Anthony Edwards, who scored a career-high 49 points in the recent win over the San Antonio Spurs.

Unsurprisingly, the Clippers have been a different prospect since the return of Paul George at the end of March, having lost eight of their previous 10 games before the 31-year-old came back, and winning six of seven since, albeit George only played in five of those games.

The Clippers have won three of their four meetings in the regular season, but the Timberwolves did win their last encounter in January. It should be noted that the team from Los Angeles won both games in Minnesota, though.

The loser will host the winner of...

Wednesday, April 13 – New Orleans Pelicans (9th) vs San Antonio Spurs (10th)

No team shows just how much the introduction of the Play-In tournament keeps seasons alive for a longer period than the Pelicans, who somehow have a shot at the postseason despite a disastrous start to their campaign.

Having lost 12 of their first 13 games, they are just two wins away from booking their place in the playoffs, and come into this one having won five of their last eight. 

Coach Willie Green will need CJ McCollum in top form, with the 30-year-old impressing since arriving from Portland earlier in the season, averaging 24.3 PPG since becoming a Pelican.

San Antonio recently won seven of eight games, but a slight wobble from the Spurs in the last few, losing their last three, may have thrown them off course at precisely the wrong time.

Like the Clippers, the Spurs could still be favourites despite being the away side, as they have won three of the four meetings between the two teams this season, including the most recent one in late March (107-103 in New Orleans).

There are just days remaining in the 2021-22 NBA regular season, but plenty is still on the line.

While the red-hot Phoenix Suns have long since secured the top seed in the Western Conference, four teams retain realistic hopes of leading the East.

Which of their superstar players are in the best shape heading into April, though?

Stats Perform's NBA Heat Check highlights the standout performers of the past month...

RUNNING HOT...

Jayson Tatum

Only the Suns (.867) had a better winning percentage in March than the Boston Celtics (.786, tied with the Memphis Grizzlies and Milwaukee Bucks) – and much of that was due to an outstanding month from three-time All-Star Tatum.

His 32.8 points per game in March ranked third behind LeBron James (34.3) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (33.3) but significantly appeared to represent a major leap, having averaged 25.7 to that point. It was the fourth-largest increase in scoring across the NBA last month.

It figures that Tatum's three-point shooting should also be up, as he made 4.2 threes per game in March, compared to 2.8 previously.

Tatum actually saw the fourth-largest decrease in rebounding, from 8.3 per game to 6.6, but the Celtics were down in this regard across the board and it did not seem to hamper them.

Jordan Poole

As the Celtics climbed in the East, the Golden State Warriors fell in the West – but Poole did more than most to keep them competitive.

Stephen Curry's absence for the second half of the month was the chief factor in the Warriors' fading form, yet Poole is increasingly proving he can be the man to fill the void when the team's superstar guard is out.

Poole was the sole player to see a greater increase in threes made than Tatum in March (2.3 per game to 4.2), while his scoring improved from 16.1 points per game to 25.4 – second only to Drew Eubanks in this regard (4.8 to 15.0).

Those are stunning statistics but remain in line with how Poole has played all season long when Curry has been out. He has started all 12 games he has played without Curry, averaging 35.7 minutes (up from 28.6), 10.7 three-point attempts (up from 6.8), 4.3 three-point makes (up from 2.4), 5.2 assists (up from 3.5) and, admittedly, 3.3 turnovers (up from 2.2).

While taking more shots, Poole's field-goal percentage decreases slightly without Curry, yet his three-point shooting and free-throw percentage are both up, perhaps showing Golden State a future beyond the two-time MVP.

Cade Cunningham

The Detroit Pistons are nowhere near the playoff picture, but March did wonders for Cunningham's Rookie of the Year hopes.

While Evan Mobley suffered an ankle sprain that makes another appearance before the end of the regular season far from certain, Cunningham averaged 22.9 points, up on 16.0. The number one overall pick is up to 17.6 for the year, leading all rookies.

GOING COLD...

D'Angelo Russell

Russell is merely the third man on the Minnesota Timberwolves, but that looked to be evidence of the team's depth of scoring options at the start of March.

Although the T-Wolves remain one of only five teams to have had three different players average 18 or more points while playing in at least 60 games, Russell's scoring has dipped significantly from 19.4 at the end of February to 18.0 now.

Having scored just 13.1 points per game in March, Russell saw the largest decrease in the league, while his fall in three-point shots made (3.0 to 1.7) was also the greatest.

The former Warrior has too often struggled for consistency this season, but his four-point performance in the face of intense Celtics defense last weekend was especially alarming.

James Harden scored 29 points with a season-high 15 rebounds as the Philadelphia 76ers improved to 46-27 with a 122-97 road victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.

Harden had four three-pointers in his 29 points, while he also dished off seven assists, with Joel Embiid adding 27 points with 10 rebounds as the 76ers flexed their muscle.

The 76ers set the tone with a 35-19 first quarter with Tobias Harris (12 points, two rebounds and two assists) hitting a buzzer-beating three-pointer.

Harden's 15 rebounds are the most the 2018 MVP has had in a game since December 2020 with the Houston Rockets.

The win helps the 76ers close on the Miami Heat (47-27) and Milwaukee Bucks (46-27) at the top of the Eastern Conference in the jostle for top seed ahead of the playoffs.

 

Curry-less Warriors beaten again

The Golden State Warriors lost for the fourth time in their past five games since Stephen Curry's foot injury, going down 121-110 to the Atlanta Hawks despite Klay Thompson's 37 points including nine triples. Hawks guard Trae Young starred with 33 points and 15 assists.

The Minnesota Timberwolves clinched their 11th win from their past 14 games as they got the Dallas Mavericks 116-95 led by Karl-Anthony Towns' 20 points and nine rebounds. Luka Doncic had 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists for the Mavs.

The Charlotte Hornets responded after their shock defeat to the New York Knicks with an impressive 107-101 win over the Utah Jazz, with Miles Bridges scoring 26 points and 11 rebounds, while Terry Rozier added 25 points.

 

Knicks' remarkable run downs Heat

The Miami Heat looked set to gain some breathing space on top of the Eastern Conference before the New York Knicks closed on a remarkable 38-13 run to claim a stunning 111-103 victory. Immanuel Quickley scored 20 of his 23 points in the last quarter.

Giannis Antetokounmpo missed his second game in the Milwaukee Bucks' past three as they won 114-102 over the Washington Wizards but head coach Mike Budenholzer insists there is nothing to worry about.

The reigning NBA Finals MVP missed the game with a sore right knee, leaving Jrue Holiday to star with 24 points and 10 assists as the Bucks improved to 46-27.

Antetokounmpo also missed Saturday's 138-119 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves with knee soreness.

"I don't think it's anything long-term or anything significant, but we'll see whether he travels tomorrow and make decisions on the game Saturday as we kind of see how he feels and learn more," Mike Budenholzer told reporters before Thursday's game.

Khris Middleton has missed Milwaukee's past two games with a sore left wrist but Budenholzer was bullish he would be available to face the in-form Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.

"I fully expect him to travel with us to Memphis," Budenholzer said. "I think I'd go as far as to say we're hopeful he'll play against Memphis.

"We'll see how he does in the next day or two, but as of now, I'd expect him to be on the flight and we're hopeful that he'll play."

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