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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No stoppin' Obi Toppin

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

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

 

Siakam shines, Heat hang on

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

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

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

The Miami Heat clinched the first seed in the Eastern Conference, as the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Boston Celtics 127-121 on Thursday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday each scored 29 points in the win, while the former also added 11 rebounds and five assists. Khris Middleton was close to a triple-double with 22 points on nine-of-18 shooting, along with eight rebounds and nine assists.

On the second night of a back-to-back after their win in Chicago, the Celtics rested Jayson Tatum and Al Horford, and only just lost on the road against a fellow contender in the East.

Marcus Smart shot seven-of-12 from beyond the arc and was the Celtics' leading scorer with a season-high 29 points. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown came up with a triple-double of 22 points, a career-high 11 assists, along with 10 rebounds.

With the win, however, the Bucks moved past the Celtics into second spot in the East, effectively clinching home court for Miami in the playoffs.

Raps edge past short-handed Sixers

Pascal Siakam put up a triple-double in the Toronto Raptors' 119-114 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

Matisse Thybulle missed the game, raising speculation over whether he is vaccinated against coronavirus, with unvaccinated foreign nationals prohibited from entering Canada.

Siakam's consequent ability to get into the paint counteracted his one-of-seven from the perimeter, putting up 37 points on 14-of-28 shooting, along with 12 assists and 11 rebounds.

Warriors win builds pre-playoff confidence

The Golden State Warriors continued to build momentum without the injured Stephen Curry, securing a 128-112 victory at home to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Having already been eliminated from play-in contention, the Lakers were without LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook. Talen Horton-Tucker scored a career-high 40 points on 15-of-28 shooting.

It was the Dubs' third consecutive win and their last game in the Bay Area before the playoffs, heading on the road to San Antonio and New Orleans to close out the regular season.

The Miami Heat are now just one win away from securing the Eastern Conference's top seed after they smashed the Charlotte Hornets 144-114 on Tuesday.

Having tied their franchise record for three-pointers in a game on three separate occasions this season, the Heat broke that record against the Hornets, connecting on 23 of 42 total attempts.

Tyler Herro contributed eight of those buckets beyond the arc from 14 attempts and in doing so, also tied the single-game franchise record for points off the bench with 35, previously held by Dwyane Wade.

On any other night, it would have been a satisfactory performance from the Hornets, but Heat were automatic, with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo only combining for 49 of the team's points with Kyle Lowry out.

The 49-30 Boston Celtics momentarily remain within touching distance, having played a game less than the 52-28 Heat.

Meanwhile, the Hornets have already wrapped up the Eastern Conference's last play-in spot.

Raptors secure playoffs in East

Pascal Siakam put up 31 points and 13 rebounds as the Toronto Raptors clinched a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, defeating the Atlanta Hawks 118-108.

This victory, coupled with the Cleveland Cavaliers' loss to the Orlando Magic, ensured the Raps will finish no lower than sixth in the East. They also rose to fifth after the Chicago Bulls lost to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Five other Raptors finished on double digit points as Scottie Barnes and Chris Boucher scored 19 and 18 points respectively, Gary Trent Jr. had 14, Fred VanVleet 12 and Precious Achiuwa 11.

Lakers knocked out of West's play-in race

The Los Angeles Lakers have been eliminated from Western Conference play-in calculations, losing 121-110 to the Phoenix Suns, whose 63rd win this season made for a new franchise record.

The desperate Lakers needed a win to stay in touching distance with the New Orleans Pelicans but had a mountain to climb against the Suns, who had won all three games head-to-head this season.

Devin Booker showed characteristic smoothness and composure, putting up 32 points on 12-of-22 shooting as well as four of five three-pointers when his team broke the game open.

Kyle Lowry was overwhelmed by the reception he received upon his return to Toronto, as the Miami Heat beat the Raptors 114-109 on Sunday.

The Heat guard spent nine seasons in Toronto, averaging 17.5 points and 7.1 assists over that span, as well as being such a key player in the Raptors' sole NBA championship in 2019.

It was the first time Lowry had played in Toronto since February 2020, weeks before the Covid-19 pandemic forced a stoppage to the season and a move to a bubble.

After Miami's other starters were introduced, the lights at the Scotiabank Arena dimmed and a video tribute to Lowry's time in Toronto played on the scoreboard. The sell-out crowd gave the 36-year-old a standing ovation as he was introduced with the words "From North Philly to your city…"

Lowry graciously acknowledged the crowd with his two sons by his side, before putting up a double-double of 16 points and 10 assists, as well as six rebounds in the win.

"It meant the world to me for the fans to show their appreciation, give me an ovation like that," Lowry said post-match. "The first time is always special and you don't forget that.

"It's something I'm going to cherish for a long time.

"I got the win, so that made it better. Even if I didn't win, it would have been a great night, a special night."

Heat assistant coach Chris Quinn, who handled coaching duties with Erik Spoelstra sidelined due to the NBA's health and safety protocols, praised Lowry's ability to handle the emotional return on the Toronto court.

"I'm surprised he was able to reel it back in and play so well," Quinn said. "Obviously we needed him tonight as the quarterback of our team. What a cool night."

With the win, despite the injured Jimmy Butler's absence, the Heat moved closer to claiming the Eastern Conference's first seed.

The Miami Heat moved a step closer to claiming the Eastern Conference's first seed with a 114-109 win on the road against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday.

Kyle Lowry put up 16 points and 10 assists in an emotional return to the Air Canada Centre against his old team, while Victor Oladipo scored a season-high 21 points.

Lowry had not played in Toronto since February 2020, when he was still a member of the Raptors, weeks before that season was shut down and moved to a bubble due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Heat had a healthy spread of scorers as Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo scored 18 and 16 points respectively, on the way to winning their fourth consecutive game.

Miami remain two games clear of the Boston Celtics atop the standings in the East, while both teams have only three games remaining in the regular season.

Toronto now hold an equal record with the fifth-placed Chicago Bulls, but the Bulls hold the tiebreaker. However, they remain 2.5 games clear of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the play-in spots.

Bucks no match for Luka magic 

Luka Doncic was unstoppable as his Dallas Mavericks defeated the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks 118-112.

Doncic had 32 points on nine-of-22 shooting, as well as 15 assists, eight rebounds and three steals in a game that saw both coaches cut their rotation down to nine players and extend the minutes of their stars.

Giannis Antetokounmpo top-scored for the Bucks with 28 points on 12-of-22 shooting, but was a costly 50 per cent from the free throw line, going four-of-eight.

Clippers clinch play-in double chance 

The Los Angeles Clippers secured eighth spot in the Western Conference on Sunday, defeating the New Orleans Pelicans 119-100.

Marcus Morris made four three-pointers on the way to 22 points, while the Clippers went 21-of-44 from total beyond the arc and connected on all eight attempts in the first quarter.

The Clips guaranteed the double chance in the play-in with the win, meaning if they lose to the seventh seed, they would face the winner between the ninth and 10th seed for an eventual play-off spot.

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet heaped praise on the professionalism and locked-in nature of his squad, while Scottie Barnes looked forward to Kyle Lowry's return to Toronto this weekend after a 102-89 win against the Orlando Magic.

With the win, the Raptors moved to 11-2 from their past 13 fixtures, including wins over championship contenders such as the Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics.

All five Raptors starters finished with at least 14 points, as VanVleet and rookie Scottie Barnes led the way with 19 points each.

VanVleet also added five steals and two blocks to his stat-line, while Barnes collected eight rebounds and dished out seven assists, with no turnovers.

Speaking to post-game media, VanVleet highlighted the value of chemistry as the core of himself, Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby remain from the Raptors' 2019 championship.

"The biggest thing chemistry does is extend your winning streaks, and helps you get out of funks," he said.

"When you have problems and you can address them, and you can communicate better, there's less BS going on, less hidden agendas.

"Everybody has hidden agendas – everybody has personal goals – but when you have good chemistry you can kind of all be on the same page. 

"It's not easy all the time, everyone wants to be great in their own right, but I think we've all agreed on putting winning as the biggest picture and the number-one goal, and everything else falls under that."

A main factor of the Raptors' recent hot run has been their professionalism, with VanVleet highlighting how important it is to have a group of guys all locked in on their assignments.

"Over the last couple weeks we've been really locked into the game plans, and our attention to detail has been great," he said.

"That's one thing you look for, especially with a young team, how you can convert from walkthroughs and shoot-arounds and practices to the game.

"No plan is perfect – sometimes they're good, sometimes they're bad, but as long as we're all on the same page we give ourselves a chance, and we stick together. That's something that can go a long way."

Speaking on the court immediately after the win, star rookie Scottie Barnes looked forward to Kyle Lowry's return to Toronto on Sunday night.

"I already know it's going to be a packed house, for sure," he said.

"It's his first game back, and he did so much for the organization. He might be the best Toronto Raptor ever.

"It's going to be a memorable night for him, so we have to come ready to play."

When asked about his own personal hot-streak, which has seen Barnes become the bookmakers' second-favorite for Rookie of the Year behind Evan Mobley, he was optimistic about the best being yet to come.

"I'm just getting started really – our team is doing really good, we're ready to go to the playoffs," he said.

"I'm a winner – I've always been a winner."

With the league MVP seemingly down to a two-horse race between Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, the Denver Nuggets big man dominated yet again as his side beat the Charlotte Hornets 113-109.

Jokic, who is following up his MVP win last season with the greatest playmaking season of any centre in the 21st century, finished the contest with 26 points (nine-of-17 shooting), 19 rebounds and 11 assists.

All five Nuggets starters scored at least 14 points, with Jokic and Aaron Gordon both finishing with a plus-minus of at least plus 20, indicating that it was Denver's mediocre bench unit that struggled enough to keep things close.

Reigning Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball was terrific for the Hornets, scoring 22 points (eight-of-21 shooting) with 11 assists and six rebounds.


Boston sits stars, lose one seed

Playing without star duo Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Boston Celtics pushed fellow Eastern Conference contenders Toronto Raptors all the way before ultimately losing 115-112 in overtime.

The star of the show was Raptor Pascal Siakam, who hit two clutch free throws to send the game to overtime on his way to final tallies of 40 points (17-of-29 shooting) and 13 rebounds to go with three steals and two blocks.

Despite the loss, which sent the Celtics from the one seed toppling down to the four seed, they are now 22-4 in their past 26 games dating back to the end of January.

 

Miami regain top spot, Barrett beats Bulls

With Boston falling out of the Eastern Conference's top seed, the Miami Heat have reclaimed it, beating the Sacramento Kings 123-100 after a recent rough stretch.

Jimmy Butler (27 points on 10-of-14 shooting) and Bam Adebayo (22 points on 10-of-16 shooting) starred for Miami, while Sixth Man of the Year lock Tyler Herro chipped in with 20 points off the bench.

Meanwhile, the flailing Chicago Bulls have now lost six of their past eight after another disappointing defeat at the hands of the New York Knicks 109-104.

R.J. Barrett continued his ascension, scoring 28 points on 10-of-24 shooting in 43 minutes.

The Toronto Raptors' game against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday was suspended in the second quarter after a speaker hanging over the stands caught fire.

Fans were ordered to leave the Scotiabank Arena with a little over four minutes left in the first half, with the Raptors leading 66-38 at that stage.

The Toronto Fire Department attended the scene and confirmed that nobody was injured, though the arena was cleared as a precautionary measure.

After a delay of more than an hour, play resumed without any spectators in attendance. Toronto issued an apology and vowed to refund those who had purchased tickets.

Devin Booker put on a show with 49 points as Chris Paul returned from a broken wrist as the Phoenix Suns clinched top spot in the Western Conference with a 140-130 win over the Denver Nuggets.

Booker's 49 points was a season-high, while 36-year-old Paul returned for the first time since February 20 with 17 points, including 15 in the first half, and 13 assists as the Suns secured their sixth straight win.

Three-time All-Star Booker shot 16-of-25 from the field and also had 10 assists, with Mikal Bridges contributing 22 points from eight-of-nine shooting.

The win means the Suns have secured the NBA's best record for the third time in franchise history, following on from 1992-93 and 2004-05.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic had 28 points with six rebounds and six assists for the Nuggets, who are 43-31 and holding on to sixth spot in the Western Conference.

 

Grizzlies and Bucks win without stars

The Memphis Grizzlies won again without Ja Morant with a 133-103 victory over the Indiana Pacers. Desmond Bane scored 30 points with five assists and five rebounds as the Grizzlies improved to 16-2 without Morant.

The Milwaukee Bucks triumphed without Khris Middleton (wrist) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) with Jrue Holiday starring with 24 points and 10 assists in a 114-102 win over the Washington Wizards.

Pascal Siakam equalled his season-high 35 points as the Toronto Raptors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 117-104 in a crucial game in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

 

DeRozan out as Bulls slide continues

The Chicago Bulls slipped to their fifth defeat from their past six games, going down 126-109 to the New Orleans Pelicans. The Bulls are fifth in the east with a 42-31 record, just ahead of the Cavs and Raptors (both 41-32).

The Bulls, who were without DeMar DeRozan due to a left groin issue, were dominated 40-24 by the Pels in the fourth quarter, led by Devonte' Graham (30 points including five three-pointers) and Jonas Valanciunas (16 points and 19 rebounds).

Zach LaVine was Chicago's best with 39 points in DeRozan's absence, going 12-of-23 from the field, while Coby White added 23 points off the bench including five triples.

Russell Westbrook was hailed a "big-time player" by LeBron James after sinking a clutch three-pointer to force overtime in the Los Angeles' Lakers win over the Toronto Raptors.

The much-maligned Westbrook forced a turnover off a Raptors inbound with 0.4 seconds remaining at Scotiabank Arena and drained a triple to tie the game at 116-116.

Inspired by 36-point James, who scored 19 of those points in the fourth quarter and overtime, the Lakers claimed a 128-123 victory to snap a three-game losing streak.

Westbrook has endured a frustrating first season in Los Angeles, who lost 12 of their previous 15 games, with Friday proving to be a rare highlight for the one-time MVP.

"I was actually looking at his feet when he was getting close to the three-point line," James said of Westbrook's key intervention.

"I saw him step on the three-point line and then slide his foot back before he released it. It was big-time IQ there on his part and a big-time shot by a big-time player."

 

Westbrook registered his 10th triple-double of the season with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists as the Lakers picked up a first road win in 12 attempts.

The 33-year-old now has 1,241 points for the season, which is second only to James (1,542) among Lakers players.

He has 23,098 across his career, meanwhile, and the former Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards point guard has never lost faith in his own ability.

Asked how he has managed to cope with criticism aimed his way this season, Westbrook told reporters: "I got 23,000 points... How about that?
 
"Throughout this whole process, throughout the year, ups and downs, the good and the bad, I lean so much on my faith.

"It's very important that I stay faithful and truthful to that because eventually it will all work out, and nights like tonight was the reason why I stay just true to my faith."

With his 36 points on Friday, James is 20 away from passing Karl Malone as the second-highest points scorer in NBA history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leads the way with 38,387.

Joel Embiid and James Harden scored a combined 56 points as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Dallas Mavericks 111-101 on Friday.

Going 11-for-20 from the floor, Embiid scored 21 of his 32 points in the first half, including a fadeaway three on the buzzer to give the Sixers a 58-53 lead at the interval.

Luka Doncic put up a double-double of 17 points and 10 assists but was held to 25 per cent from the floor and 20 per cent from the perimeter, in a poor shooting night.

At 43-26, the Sixers are now three games behind the Miami Heat, the Eastern Conference leaders, while the Mavericks are fifth in the Western Conference at 43-27.

Westbrook lifts Lakers to overtime win in Toronto

Russell Westbrook's three-pointer at the end of regulation propelled the Los Angeles Lakers to a 128-123 road win over the Toronto Raptors in overtime.

With 10.3 seconds remaining, the much-maligned Westbrook forced a turnover off a Raptors inbound before draining a contested triple from the wing, to tie the game at 116-116.

Both sides remain firmly placed in play-in calculations, though, with the Lakers ninth in the Western Conference at 30-40, while the Raptors are seventh in the East on 39-31.

Short-handed Hawks snap Memphis win streak

Without their two scoring leaders, the Atlanta Hawks secured an important win at home to the Memphis Grizzlies, emerging 120-105 victors.

In John Collins and Trae Young's absence, Bogdan Bogdanovic came up big with a season-high 30 points, while Delon Wright and Clint Capela also added 18 each.

Despite 29 points from Ja Morant on 11-for-23 shooting, the Grizzlies had a four-game win streak snapped, but still hold the NBA's second best record at 48-23.

Joel Embiid and James Harden scored a combined 56 points as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Dallas Mavericks 111-101 on Friday.

Going 11-for-20 from the floor, Embiid scored 21 of his 32 points in the first half, including a fadeaway three on the buzzer to give the Sixers a 58-53 lead at the interval.

Luka Doncic put up a double-double of 17 points and 10 assists but was held to 25 per cent from the floor and 20 per cent from the perimeter, in a poor shooting night.

At 43-26, the Sixers are now three games behind the Miami Heat, the Eastern Conference leaders, while the Mavericks are fifth in the Western Conference at 43-27.

Westbrook lifts Lakers to overtime win in Toronto

Russell Westbrook's three-pointer at the end of regulation propelled the Los Angeles Lakers to a 128-123 road win over the Toronto Raptors in overtime.

With 10.3 seconds remaining, the much-maligned Westbrook forced a turnover off a Raptors inbound before draining a contested triple from the wing, to tie the game at 116-116.

Both sides remain firmly placed in play-in calculations, though, with the Lakers ninth in the Western Conference at 30-40, while the Raptors are seventh in the East on 39-31.

Short-handed Hawks snap Memphis win streak

Without their two scoring leaders, the Atlanta Hawks secured an important win at home to the Memphis Grizzlies, emerging 120-105 victors.

In John Collins and Trae Young's absence, Bogdan Bogdanovic came up big with a season-high 30 points, while Delon Wright and Clint Capela also added 18 each.

Despite 29 points from Ja Morant on 11-for-23 shooting, the Grizzlies had a four-game win streak snapped, but still hold the NBA's second best record at 48-23.

Frank Vogel says LeBron James' game time is "always a concern" after the four-time MVP played a team-high 40 minutes in the Los Angeles Lakers' 114-103 loss to the Toronto Raptors.

James starred for the Lakers in the previous day's defeat to the Phoenix Suns but was listed as questionable for Monday's clash with the Raptors due to soreness in his right knee.

The Lakers were 6-12 without James heading into the contest at Crypto.com Arena and Vogel took a gamble of sorts by not only using James but keeping him on the court for longer than any other player.

He delivered another impressive display with 30 points and nine rebounds, yet it was not enough to halt the Lakers' poor run as they fell to an eighth defeat in 10 games to go 29-39 for the season.

Despite James' fitness concerns, Lakers head coach Vogel is comfortable with his decision to keep the 37-year-old on the court against the Raptors, who won for a fourth straight game.

"It's always a concern," Vogel, who was in constant dialogue with James, said when asked about the forward's minutes. "But you feel the game out. There was enough stoppages. It's not always the total minutes on here. 

"It's what kind of flow the game has and there was enough stoppages that we never left like he was being too taxed."

 

James has played 1,845 minutes this season, which is second behind only Russell Westbrook (2,299) among Lakers players.

He has 1,487 points for the campaign and has averaged 29.7 across his 50 games, a tally that is bettered only by Joel Embiid (29.9).

Despite James' efforts, the Lakers left themselves with too much to do against the Raptors after finding themselves 24 points down in the first.

The hosts hit back to make it 109-97 with just over two minutes to go, but the comeback fell short.

Reflecting on another disappointing night for his side, a frustrated Carmelo Anthony said: "If you take away the first quarter, we won the game. We can't be digging ourselves holes or whatever. 

"We've been digging ourselves holes to start games off with. We did it against Phoenix, we did it again today. We find ourselves in those positions often this season."

On a day that saw MVP favourites Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic go head-to-head, it was fellow center Karl-Anthony Towns who stole the headlines.

Towns scored a career-high 60 points in the Minnesota Timberwolves' 149-139 win over the San Antonio Spurs.

It is the most points scored by any player in a single game this season, ahead of Trae Young and LeBron James, who both scored 56.

After reaching half-time with 24 points, Towns exploded into life after the break, scoring 32 of his side's 46 third-quarter points on his way to final shooting figures of 19-31 from the field, 7-11 from three and 15-16 from the line.

Towns, who is the first center to hit 60 points in a single NBA game since Shaquille O'Neal in March 2000, also grabbed a personal season-high of 17 rebounds, while on the other side Dejounte Murray was no slouch with 30 points and 12 assists, though it was not enough for the Spurs.

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