Giannis Antetokounmpo knows the Milwaukee Bucks can beat the teams a variety of ways, and they had to take the hard road Saturday. 

The Miami Heat held the Bucks' top two scorers without a field goal in the first quarter of Game 4, but Milwaukee pushed through that early adversity and prevailed 120-103 to sweep the first-round NBA playoff series. 

Khris Middleton finally got on the board early in the second quarter and the Greek star went without a basket from the field until a dunk with one minute to play in the second quarter, but Antetokounmpo said his team never lost patience even when their shots failed to fall. 

"At the end of the day, nothing's going to be easy. It's a game that's win or go home for them," he said.

"Obviously they're going to play extremely hard, they're going to try to be physical, they're going to try to get us out of our spots.

"But at the end of the day, as players you're going to have games that you're going to come, you're going to score the ball right off the bat. There's going to be days that you're not going to do that.

"Today was one of those days that we couldn't score the ball right off the bat but at the end of the day we keep finding one another, keep facilitating, keep playing the right way. For me and for Khris, that's what we both did.

"Obviously they did a great job guarding us and just making it tough for us, but it did not really test our patience, because what we do, we keep playing the right way, we keep finding one another."

Antetokounmpo turned in a career-best 15 assists on the way to his first playoff triple-double, adding 20 points and 12 rebounds as the Bucks out-scored the Heat 64-39 in the second half. 

But he left most of the scoring load to others this time, as Brook Lopez led the way with 25 points, Middleton had 20, and Bryn Forbes scored 22 off the bench. 

"I try to affect the game in any way I can," Antetokounmpo said.

"I'm blessed enough that I can affect the game defensively, I can pass the ball.

"There's days I'm going to be dominant, and I'm mature enough to understand that there's days I'm going to be able to do it and there's days I'm not going to be able to do it."

Thanks to their first-round sweep, Milwaukee will have a week off before the next round, where they were eliminated 4-1 by the Bucks last season. 

Antetokounmpo and his teammates want more this year, and they know this was just the start. 

"We've got to keep getting better. We have a week now to recover and rest our bodies and get better," he said.

Obviously we don't know who we're playing yet. We're going to try to focus on ourselves as much as possible. 

"Not trying to take anything away from this moment -- obviously it's a great moment for us, winning 4-0 and beating the team that beat us last year. It feels good. But at the end of the day, we've got a long way to go. Gotta stay humble."

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.

The Milwaukee Bucks are on the cusp of advancing to the Eastern Conference semi-finals but Giannis Antetokounmpo warned "our job is not done" against the Miami Heat.

Milwaukee are one win away from sweeping reigning Eastern Conference champions Miami in the opening round of the NBA playoffs following Thursday's 113-84 rout in Game 3.

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 were eliminated by the Heat in last season's Conference semi-finals 4-1 – can seal a sweep on Saturday but two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo is taking nothing for granted.

"We are going to stay focused," Antetokounmpo told reporters as the Bucks attempt to win their first championship since 1971. "Our job is not done here."

"The last two games haven't been easy," Antetokounmpo said. "Obviously, we were up 30, but it's not easy.

"I'll say this: I'll say by us doing our job, I'm not surprised that we're able to win a game because once we focus on ourselves, play together, have fun and be tough, good things are going to happen. And in these three games, good things have happened for us."

Holiday – an All-Star in 2013 – was acquired from the New Orleans Pelicans in November as part of Milwaukee's title pursuit.

The 30-year-old 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.

"We got better from last year," Antetokounmpo said. "We've had great additions to the team that help us do that."

PJ Tucker – another recruit after he was traded to the Bucks by the Houston Rockets in March – added: "We dogs. That's all we talk about. That's all I ever talk about.

"We gotta be dogs. People's perceptions of us and what people think in the past, we're erasing all of that."

Giannis Antetokounmpo revealed his love for football after leading the Milwaukee Bucks past the Miami Heat in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference matchup in the NBA playoffs.

Antetokounmpo led the way as the Bucks routed the Heat 132-98 on Monday for a commanding 2-0 lead in the first-round series.

Two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo posted 31 points in 31 minutes, while also tallying 13 rebounds, six assists and three steals on home court in Milwaukee.

A superstar with the basketball, Antetokounmpo also demonstrated his football skills after juggling the ball during a break in play against the Heat.

Afterwards, Greece international Antetokounmpo told reporters: "I can do probably like 300 of those.

"I used to play soccer when I was young. My dad used to be a soccer player. I love soccer.

"I wanted to play soccer. I didn't want to play basketball growing up."

Milwaukee – seeded third in the east – used a 46-20 opening quarter to crush Miami in Game 2 of their NBA playoff clash.

Jrue Holiday (11 points and 15 assists) added a double-double of his own, while Bucks team-mate Bryn Forbes made six three-pointers to contribute 22 points off the bench.

The Bucks set a franchise record for threes made in a playoff game after nailing 22 from beyond the arc.

Forbes, who joined the Bucks in November following four seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, said: "That was a huge part in me coming here. You know that there would be these opportunities and we would be in the playoffs. ... It's just great to be in this position, be in the playoffs again and have an opportunity and stage."

"It's just how the game goes," Forbes added. "It's ebbs and flows. Some games you're open a lot more. Some games you aren't. Tonight I think we moved the ball great and had a lot of open shots."

Bucks star Holiday hailed Forbes, saying: "If my man got the hot hand, I'm going to him. And he wasn't missing, so at that point we were running everything to him just to -- really just to see what happens."

It was an impressive shooting display from the Bucks as head coach Mike Budenholzer added: "Guys have got to shoot it with confidence. They've got to let it fly. They've got to know they’re going to get threes.

"I think the activity offensively, the attack, can create good looks for us. We've just got to continue to let it fly when you're open."

"Lots of times, there's just so much talent in the league and so many good teams, sometimes you get the early lead and things just happen and it becomes a close game," Budenholzer said. "Today we were able to keep the focus."

The Milwaukee Bucks earned a commanding 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference first-round series after Giannis Antetokounmpo and his team-mates blew away the Miami Heat 132-98.

Only two points separated the Bucks and Heat in overtime on Saturday as the third seeds edged Jimmy Butler's Miami 109-107.

But the Heat were no match for the Bucks on Monday after Milwaukee used a 46-20 opening quarter to rout Miami in Game 2 of their NBA playoff clash.

Antetokounmpo – the two-time reigning MVP – fuelled the Bucks with a game-high 31 points in 31 minutes, 13 rebounds, six assists and three steals on home court in Milwaukee.

Jrue Holiday added a double-double of his own, while Bucks team-mate Bryn Forbes made six three-pointers to contribute 22 points off the bench.

The Bucks set a franchise record for threes made in a playoff game after nailing 22 from beyond the arc.

Entering the second matchup, the Bucks and Heat had the NBA's two best records when making more three-pointers than their opponents this season – Milwaukee were 25-3 (89.3 per cent) in those games and Miami were 18-3 (85.7 per cent). But the Bucks won Game 1 while making only five of 31 three-point attempts, 16.1 percent, a season low.

The Heat had no answer on the road, where reserve Dewayne Dedmon was Miami's best performer with a team-high 19 points as Butler (10 points on four-for-10 shooting), Bam Adebayo (16 points), Duncan Robinson (10 points) and Kendrick Nunn (nine points) struggled to get going, while Trevor Ariza (0-for-three shooting) was scoreless.

In the day's only other game, the Denver Nuggets levelled their Western Conference matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers thanks to a 128-109 victory.

MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic inspired the third-seeded Nuggets in Game 2, scoring 38 points on 15-for-20 shooting, while also tallying eight rebounds and five assists in Denver.

Not even Damian Lillard's monster performance was enough for the sixth-ranked Trail Blazers to take down the Nuggets for back-to-back wins.

Lillard finished with 42 points and 10 assists – the All-Star made eight three-pointers by half-time, tying Vince Carter's all-time playoff record in a half.

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.

It is that time of year again – the NBA playoffs.

Although this season has a different feel due to the new play-in tournament, it's crunch time as LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers eye back-to-back championships.

The Utah Jazz claimed the best record in the league for the first time in their history, while Eastern Conference top seed the Philadelphia 76ers and the star-studded Brooklyn Nets loom large.

With the play-in tournament due to get under way to determine the final eight teams from each conference set to feature in the playoffs, the Stats Perform AI team have been crunching the numbers to find a worthy winner of the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

The Stats Perform model takes proprietary data and creates an offensive and defensive rating for each team.

Those ratings are paired with the team's opponent and adjusted for each team's pace. In addition, the home team get a slight boost for home-court advantage.

The model uses this information to calculate a projected score for both teams. The winners receive a victory in the race for the Larry O'Brien Trophy – this was done for every game in the playoffs.

So, here are the AI-generated results in the event that the play-in winners are the Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards.

 

Suns sizzle as Lakers crash out, Heat stun Bucks in sweep

Much has been made about the Phoenix Suns this season. Led by All-Star Devin Booker and star veteran Chris Paul, the franchise returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10. Second behind the Jazz in the Western Conference, the Suns ease past the Lakers 4-1. Winning the opening three games 120-93, 90-88 and 105-104, Phoenix never look back as they end the Lakers' quest to land consecutive championships for the first time since 2009-10.

The Milwaukee Bucks loaded up heavily in the offseason, bringing in Jrue Holiday to aid two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in his quest for a title and the franchise's first since 1971. But after trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and semi-finals, the third-seeded Bucks are sensationally swept 4-0 by last season's runners-up the Miami Heat.

Eastern Conference top seed for the first time since 2001, the Joel Embiid-led 76ers flex their muscles 4-2 against the Wizards but it is not easy. Dropping consecutive games to Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook and Washington, Doc Rivers' Philadelphia rally past the Wizards 112-109, 91-99 and 110-104 to bounce back from last season's first-round sweep at the hands of the Celtics.

Boasting a three-headed monster in Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, the second-seeded Nets dig deep against the Celtics 4-3 in the east. With all eyes on the star-studded Nets big three following an injury-interrupted regular season, Brooklyn lose two of the opening three matchups but reel off back-to-back victories to set the tone before progressing beyond the first round for the first time since 2013-14 thanks to a 110-91 Game 7 triumph.

Looking to put last season's playoff capitulation behind them, having sensationally surrendered a 3-1 lead at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals, Kawhi Leonard's Los Angeles Clippers make light work of Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks 4-1. A 128-106 rout in Game 1 ignites the Clippers, while the third-seeded Nuggets – spearheaded by MVP favourite Nikola Jokic – are upstaged by the Portland Trail Blazers 4-3. Following in the footsteps of the Clippers, Denver cough up a commanding 3-0 lead as Damian Lillard's Trail Blazers complete a stunning comeback.

The New York Knicks and their fans have been waiting since 2013 to play postseason basketball. Their playoff return does not disappoint as the fourth seed – spearheaded by All-Star Julius Randle – make the most of their home-court advantage against the Atlanta Hawks to come out 4-3 winners. Trae Young's Hawks race out to a 3-1 lead but the Knicks are not to be denied.

 

Trail Blazers continue giant-slaying run, Clippers bow out to Jazz as 76ers roll on

Ranked sixth heading into the playoffs, the Trail Blazers defy their seeding by producing another shock performance, this time outlasting the highly fancied Suns in seven games. Western Conference finalists in 2018-19, Portland humble Phoenix 129-96, 117-86 and 126-92 in Games 1, 3 and 4 to seize the momentum and while the Suns storm back to force a series decider, Lillard, CJ McCollum and the Trail Blazers step up to the plate.

Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert experienced consecutive first-round exits in 2018-19 and 2019-20, but featuring in their first Conference semi-final since 2018, the Jazz prove too hot for the fourth-ranked Clippers and take a 4-2 series win. Utah, who beat Los Angeles in two of the three regular-season contests, win the opening three games of the second-round series and never look back as pressure mounts on Leonard, Paul George and the championship-chasing Clippers.

The standout teams in the east, the 76ers and Nets barely raise a sweat en route to the Conference Finals. In pursuit of a first championship since 1983, the 76ers sweep the Knicks 4-0, while the Nets end Miami's hopes with their own devastating 4-0 success.

 

Nets conquer 76ers, Jazz rally past Blazers

A matchup many predicted when the 76ers appointed head coach Rivers and the Nets landed former MVP Harden in a blockbuster trade with the Houston Rockets in January. Philadelphia's cast of Embiid, fellow All-Star Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, sharp-shooter Seth Curry and Danny Green come up against Durant, Harden, Irving and Blake Griffin, and it is Brooklyn who prevail in a thriller. The Nets and 76ers split the opening six games before a deciding seventh game. With a championship berth on the line, Steve Nash's Nets edge the 76ers 112-109 as question marks again emerge over whether the Philadelphia franchise can succeed with both Embiid and Simmons.

Not since 1997-98 had the Jazz secured a spot in the Finals, having enjoyed back-to-back appearances in the midst of Karl Malone's greatness, but Utah end that drought against Portland. The Jazz overturn 1-0 and 3-2 deficits to finally end the Trail Blazers' fairytale run as Portland fall agonisingly short of their first Finals appearance since 1992.

 

Jazz make history

The last five head coaches to win a title in their first year were Nick Nurse (Toronto Raptors, 2019), Tyronn Lue (Cleveland Cavaliers, 2016), Steve Kerr (Warriors, 2015), Pat Riley (Lakers, 1982) and Paul Westhead (Lakers, 1980). Rookie and two-time MVP Nash has been looking to join that list with a Nets side eyeing their maiden championship – having faced a long wait since joining the league in 1976-77.

Despite a frightening array of talent, the Nets go down 4-1 in the Finals as the Jazz make history, headlined by a resounding 121-102 win in Game 5.

After consecutive Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998, the Jazz finally break through for their first NBA title thanks to coach Quin Snyder, Mitchell, Gobert, Mike Conley and Co.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Month one: LeBron leaps above Luka

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

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

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

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

Month two: Sixers star Embiid emerges

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

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

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

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

Month three: Injuries interrupt favourites

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

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

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

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

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

Month four: Nuggets make their move

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

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

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

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

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

Month five: Still in the thick of the action

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

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

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

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

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

Giannis Antetokounmpo insists the Milwaukee Bucks are "in a good place" ahead of the NBA playoffs despite being likely to miss out on the second seed.

The Bucks won 122-108 over the Miami Heat on Saturday to stay in contention for the second seeding in the Eastern Conference.

However, the scenario is tough for Milwaukee, who need to beat the Chicago Bulls on Sunday and hope the Brooklyn Nets lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers to move into second.

"We've got to keep getting better," Antetokounmpo said post-game.

"We've got to keep learning from each game. We're in a good place. The guys are having fun, guys are playing great. We're playing with an edge."

Forward Khris Middleton and reserve Bryn Forbes led the scoring for the Bucks against the Heat with 21 points each, while Jrue Holiday had 20 points, five rebounds and 10 assists.

Antetokounmpo scored 15 points and had nine rebounds and he felt another good offensive and defensive display held them in good stead for the playoffs irrespective of seeding.

"It's all about effort and defending," the Greek forward said.

"When the game started we were focused. We know it's going to be a physical game.

"We've been scoring a lot lately. We moved the ball, we found the open man and took the open shot.

"As long as we guard defensively and are able to rebound, we're in a good place."

The sight of Giannis Antetokounmpo flexing his muscles has become all too familiar for the Milwaukee Bucks' opponents but the two-time NBA MVP has toned down his celebrations.

Antetokounmpo produced yet another outstanding performance for the Bucks on Thursday in a 142-133 victory over the Indiana Pacers.

The Greek forward scored 40 points, with 15 rebounds and six assists as the Bucks closed in on the second-placed Brooklyn Nets (46-24), improving their record to 45-25.

He became the first player to finish with at least 40 points, 15 rebounds and shoot at higher than 75 per cent since the great Charles Barkley back in November 1988.

Antetokounmpo revealed he has had to cut back on tensing his muscles after slam dunks in order to save his energy.

When asked about turning into "superhero" after a dunk, he said: "I just feel so much adrenaline, I've got to let it out.

"But what I've felt is after I scream or flex, then I'm tired! I flex for two or three seconds, then I'm running down the court thinking damn, I shouldn't have done that. This year after a dunk I usually just walk back. I'm trying to save as much energy as I can."

Next up for the Bucks is the visit of the Miami Heat on Saturday but Antetokounmpo is not studying the schedule.

"I don't know who we play next. After the game I have to ask the guys 'what do we play next?' Miami at home, okay great, then I get ready for it." he added.

"I don't like to think we have Miami, Chicago and all that. I just take it day by day."

Giannis Antetokounmpo produced a remarkable individual performance to keep the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference top two hunt with a 142-133 win over the Indiana Pacers on Thursday.

Antetokounmpo scored 40 points, with 15 rebounds and six assists as the Bucks closed in on the second-placed Brooklyn Nets (46-24), improving their record to 45-25.

Milwaukee shot at 57 per cent on the night, boosted by the Greek forward who shot 14-from-18 from the field, going at 77.8 per cent.

Antetokounmpo's display was the first since Charles Barkley in 1988 where a player had at least 40 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and shot at higher than 75 per cent.

At the top of the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers missed the chance to claim first seeding again, going down 106-94 to the surging Miami Heat.

The 76ers trailed by 19 at the half with Joel Embiid returning from illness, while Jimmy Butler had 16 points by the main break.

Butler finished with 21 points including four-from-four beyond the arc as the Heat claimed their sixth win from their past seven.

 

Blazers blow buzzer beater, Knicks still in top four hunt

The Portland Trail Blazers left the door open for the Los Angeles Lakers to usurp them in the playoffs race after going down on the buzzer 118-117 to the Phoenix Suns.

C.J. McCollum, who had 27 points, had a shot to win the game on the buzzer but missed, meaning the Blazers move to 41-30, marginally ahead of the Lakers on 40-30 and seventh in the West. Damian Lillard had 41 points for Portland.

The New York Knicks kept up their push for a top four spot in the East with a 102-98 win over the San Antonio Spurs, who qualify for the play-in tournament after the Sacramento Kings lost.

Julius Randle had 25 points with nine rebounds and nine assists for the Knicks, while R.J. Barrett scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half.

MVP favourite Nikola Jokic faced off against Rookie of the Year candidate Anthony Edwards as the Denver Nuggets won 114-103 over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Jokic dominated with 31 points and 14 rebounds, while Edwards had 29 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

The Atlanta Hawks made it 10 consecutive home wins with a 116-93 victory over the Orlando Magic led by Clint Capela with 14 points and 14 rebounds.

 

Kings' long wait extends

The Sacramento Kings' 116-110 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies means they are mathematically out of post-season calculations, which also means they long wait for playoffs basketball extends. The Kings have not made the playoffs since 2006.

 

Clippers on-song beyond the arc

The Los Angeles Clippers scored an outstanding 21 three-pointers as a team in their 113-90 win over the Charlotte Hornets. They went at 46.7 per cent from range with Reggie Jackson draining five after coming off the bench.

 

Thursday's results

Los Angeles Clippers 113-90 Charlotte Hornets
Milwaukee Bucks 142-133 Indiana Pacers
Miami Heat 106-94 Philadelphia 76ers
New York Knicks 102-98 San Antonio Spurs
Atlanta Hawks 116-93 Orlando Magic
Chicago Bulls 114-102 Toronto Raptors
Denver Nuggets 114-103 Minnesota Timberwolves
Memphis Grizzlies 116-110 Sacramento Kings
Phoenix Suns 118-117 Portland Trail Blazers

 

Magic at 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers, after back-to-back losses, will look to seal top seeding in the Eastern Conference when they host the lowly Orlando Magic.

Giannis Antetokounmpo produced a remarkable individual performance to keep the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference top two hunt with a 142-133 win over the Indiana Pacers on Thursday.

Antetokounmpo scored 40 points, with 15 rebounds and six assists as the Bucks closed in on the second-placed Brooklyn Nets (46-24), improving their record to 45-25.

Milwaukee shot at 57 per cent on the night, boosted by the Greek forward whose 40 points came from 18 shots. Antetokounmpo shot 14-from-18 from the field, going at 77.8 per cent.

Antetokounmpo's display was the first since Charles Barkley in 1988 where a player had at least 40 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and shot at higher than 75 per cent.

At the top of the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers missed the chance to claim first seeding again, going down 106-94 to the surging Miami Heat.

The 76ers trailed by 19 at the half with Joel Embiid returning from illness, while Jimmy Butler had 16 points by the main break.

Butler finished with 21 points including four-from-four beyond the arc as the Heat claimed their sixth win from their past seven.

 

Blazers blow buzzer beater, Knicks still in top four hunt

The Portland Trail Blazers left the door open for the Los Angeles Lakers to usurp them in the playoffs race after going down on the buzzer 118-117 to the Phoenix Suns.

C.J. McCollum, who had 27 points, had a shot to win the game on the buzzer but missed, meaning the Blazers move to 41-30, marginally ahead of the Lakers on 40-30 and seventh in the West. Damian Lillard had 41 points for Portland.

The New York Knicks kept up their push for a top four spot in the East with a 102-98 win over the San Antonio Spurs, who qualify for the play-in tournament after the Sacramento Kings lost.

Julius Randle had 25 points with nine rebounds and nine assists for the Knicks, while R.J. Barrett scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half.

MVP favourite Nikola Jokic faced off against Rookie of the Year candidate Anthony Edwards as the Denver Nuggets won 114-103 over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Jokic dominated with 31 points and 14 rebounds, while Edwards had 29 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

The Atlanta Hawks made it 10 consecutive home wins with a 116-93 victory over the Orlando Magic led by Clint Capela with 14 points and 14 rebounds.

 

Kings' long wait extends

The Sacramento Kings' 116-110 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies means they are mathematically out of post-season calculations, which means they long wait for playoffs basketball extends. The Kings have not made the playoffs since 2006.

 

Clippers on-song beyond the arc

The Los Angeles Clippers scored an outstanding 21 three-pointers as a team in their 113-90 win over the Charlotte Hornets. They went at 46.7 per cent from range with Reggie Jackson draining five after coming off the bench.

 

Thursday's results

Los Angeles Clippers 113-90 Charlotte Hornets
Milwaukee Bucks 142-133 Indiana Pacers
Miami Heat 106-94 Philadelphia 76ers
New York Knicks 102-98 San Antonio Spurs
Atlanta Hawks 116-93 Orlando Magic
Chicago Bulls 114-102 Toronto Raptors
Denver Nuggets 114-103 Minnesota Timberwolves
Memphis Grizzlies 116-110 Sacramento Kings
Phoenix Suns 118-117 Portland Trail Blazers

 

Magic at 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers, after back-to-back losses, will look to seal top seeding in the Eastern Conference when they host the lowly Orlando Magic.

When has a player averaged at least 29 points and 10 rebounds per game in a season but failed to win the NBA MVP award?

Here's a hint: the internet was in its infancy, Hootie and the Blowfish were selling albums by the millions and the Orlando Magic, of all teams, were the league's biggest thing.

Not since Shaquille O'Neal in 1994-95 has a player reached those numbers without taking away the NBA's most cherished piece of individual hardware. Shaq actually did it twice without winning an MVP, losing out to Hakeem Olajuwon in 1993-94 and David Robinson the following year. O'Neal did average 29 and 10 while winning an MVP with the Lakers in 1999-2000, and the two players who have hit those marks since (Russell Westbrook in 2016-17 and Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2019-20) each came home with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.

Joel Embiid appears destined to buck that recent trend.

If money talks, it's given an emphatic answer as to who will seize the honour in 2020-21. Nikola Jokic has emerged as an overwhelming favourite in betting markets across the globe to claim his first MVP, with Embiid holding the second-shortest odds and a rising Stephen Curry emerging as a clear third in the public's mind.

Jokic's credentials are unquestionably worthy. The Denver Nuggets big man is closing out an unprecedented season for a player who spends his time predominately in the post, having posted averages of 26.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.4 assists heading into Denver's final three regular-season outings.

Only two players in league history have averaged 25-10-8 in a season, and neither was a frontcourt player. The great Oscar Robertson did it three consecutive times across 1960-63, and Westbrook had two straight across 2016-18.

Jokic's immense value to a Nuggets team who have successfully withstood the season-ending injury to Jamal Murray to secure a top-four seed in the Western Conference is perhaps best illustrated by his share of the team's combined points, rebound and assists. No player this season has accumulated a higher percentage than his 24.5, with the Mavericks' Luka Doncic and the Knicks' Julius Randle tied in second at 22.8 per cent.

Embiid is well down on the list, ranking 16th overall due to the 20 games the somewhat fragile seven-footer has missed this season. His dominance and importance to the Eastern Conference front-running Philadelphia 76ers would show, however, if the chart were adjusted to exclude games in which a particular player was absent.

Using that criteria, Embiid has accounted for 23.2 percent of the 76ers' points, rebounds and assists in games that he's taken the floor. That number is right in line with that of the defending two-time MVP Antetokounmpo and would put him in the top five. For the record, Doncic would move ahead of Jokic for the top spot at 24.8 percent.

Embiid's scattered availability is no doubt detrimental to his case, more so when factoring in that Jokic hasn't sat out a game all season. Just once has a player missed 13 or more games in a season and been named MVP, when Bill Walton earned the award in 1977-78 despite playing in only 58 of the Trail Blazers' 82 games.

On the flip side, it's hard to find anyone who's been more instrumental to his team's success than Philly's All-Star center. The Sixers are 9-11 when Embiid has missed a game and 38-11 when he plays, a .776 winning percentage that would tower over the rest of the NBA this season.

Embiid's importance becomes even more apparent when viewing the 76ers' performance when he's been on the court as opposed to off.

Their points per 100 possessions drop to 105.1 from 117.2, while opponents' points climb slightly from 103.9 to 105.8. That means a point differential of +13.3 falls dramatically to -0.7. Their shooting from the field (50.5 per cent to 45.4 per cent) and from three-point range (40.4 per cent to 34.7 per cent) also decreases.

Though the Sixers have remained an elite defensive team without Embiid, all of those off-court offensive splits would rank near the bottom of the NBA. It's not hyperbole to summarise that without their franchise player, Philadelphia would be scrapping for a spot in the play-in round instead of being on the verge of claiming a conference regular-season title.

Embiid is far from the only star whose team perform at a significantly lower level when he's not around, though. The Warriors have won just one of the eight games Curry has missed, while defending champions the Lakers are a mediocre 12-15 when LeBron James has been injured or rested and have been 11.6 points per 100 possessions better when 'The King' has taken the court compared to off it.

Like Embiid, the slew of missed games is going to be hard for James to justify in the minds of voters, and he's not playing for a team set for the top playoff seed in his conference. And the Lakers' descent into the West's middle tier can't all be attributed to James' absences – they also were without Anthony Davis in two-thirds of the games LeBron hasn't played.

Curry also represents an interesting case, and if there were an MVP for only the season's final month-plus, he'd be a hands-down winner. The veteran sharpshooter has averaged an insane 36.7 points per game since April 10, a stretch in which the Warriors have gone 13-5 to elevate themselves from a postseason question mark to a lock for the play-in round.

The two-time MVP also has the on/off split factor working in his favour, as the Warriors are +4.0 points per 100 possessions better than their opponent when he's on the court and a lottery-level -4.9 differential when he's not. Another potential feather in Curry's cap would be if he can hold off Washington's Bradley Beal for the league's scoring title, as four of the past seven MVPs led the NBA in points per game.

Curry has rightfully received the most credit for Golden State's late-season surge, but a closer look shows it hasn't been a one-man show. Andrew Wiggins is finally at least bearing some resemblance to the player the Minnesota Timberwolves thought they were getting back in 2014, one teams build franchises around, and the Warriors have posted a league-low 105.1 defensive rating since their hot streak began.

For all his heroics on the offensive end, Curry hasn't been a primary contributor to the Warriors' recent stretch of lockdown defense. Since April 10, opponents score fewer points (98.6 per 100 possessions, down from 107.6) when Curry is off the court and are less accurate from the field (41.9 per cent, down from 44.9), beyond the arc (27.9 per cent, down from 35.4) and in their effective field goal percentage (47.6, down from 51.9).

Jokic also won't be adding any All-Defensive Team mentions to his expanding resume, and it is a bit harder to quantify exactly where the Nuggets would be without him simply because he hasn't missed a game.

One thing's for certain, however – no player this season has had a larger impact on his team's offensive performance than the Serbian star. Their points climb to 118.2 per 100 possessions when he is involved, meaning a +6.0 point differential versus -0.7 when he is absent – despite the team allowing more points with Jokic on the court. The field goal percentage improves to 50.4, while their assists per 100 (28.4, from 22.1) are up and their turnovers (12.7, from 15.7) are down.

The Nuggets are arguably the league's most efficient offensive team with Jokic on the floor. Combine that with a unicorn quality of being the best passing big man of the digital age and a consistency edge on his main rivals, and you've got a recipe for a likely MVP winner. Curry and Doncic's otherwise strong candidacies take a hit by their teams currently standing eighth and sixth, respectively, in the West. Antetokounmpo likely gets hurt by recency bias (no one wants to vote for the same player three straight years) and his own team's success (the Bucks have still played at a relatively high level when he's missed games or not been on the court).

In reality, though, the race shouldn't be as lopsided as the betting odds suggest, provided voters can overlook Embiid's spotty attendance record. History shows, however, that will be a factor that ultimately works in Jokic's favour.

The Milwaukee Bucks drew even with the Brooklyn Nets for second place in the NBA's Eastern Conference on Friday, but Giannis Antetokounmpo said the team is not focused on its potential playoff seeding. 

Milwaukee's 141-133 win over the Houston Rockets moved them into second for the first time since March 24-25, the only time in nearly three months that the Nets and Philadelphia 76ers have not held the top two spots in the east. 

The Greek superstar was not aware of Milwaukee's position until informed by a reporter after the win but insisted the move up was not important to the team. 

"I don't care about second -- it does not matter," Antetokounmpo said. 

"All that matters right now is building good habits and playing good basketball. 

"And guys are playing great. Brook [Lopez] was unbelieveable today." 

Lopez had a nearly flawless shooting night in the win, going seven of eight from the field and nine of 10 from the free-throw line for 24 points in 24 minutes. The veteran center's one miss from the field was a three-point attempt. 

Khris Middleton had 23 points, Jrue Holiday added 20 and Antetokounmpo put up 17 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists against Houston.

While seeding could play a factor, the Bucks know it isn't everything. They finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference the past two seasons but have not reached the NBA Finals since 1974. 

Antetokounmpo is most excited that several team-mates seem to be in a groove as the playoffs near. 

"That's all I care about, is seeing my team-mates playing the right way, enjoying the game, being in the right place, playing confident," he said. 

"Everything else will take care of itself. If we finish the season first, great, that was meant to be. If we don't, it wasn't meant to be."

 

The Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to six games thanks to another dominant performance from MVP hopeful Joel Embiid.

Embiid posted 34 points and 12 rebounds in 25 minutes as the streaking 76ers (45-21) eased past the lowly Houston Rockets 135-115 in NBA action on Wednesday.

The All-Star became the first 76ers player in franchise history with a 30/10 game in 25 minutes or less, while Embiid earned his 15th 30-point, 10-rebound game of the season – only two-time reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo has more such games (16).

Kelly Olynyk scored 27 points and Rockets rookie KJ Martin had a career-high 23 points with 10 rebounds and six assists for Houston (16-50), who own the worst record in the league.

 

History beckons for Westbrook

Washington Wizards star Russell Westbrook posted another triple-double of 29 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds in an agonising 135-134 defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks. Westbrook (179) is now within three triple-doubles of surpassing Oscar Robertson (181) for the all-time record. With 42 points against the Bucks, Wizards team-mate Bradley Beal tallied his 29th career 40-point game, passing Gilbert Arenas for the most in Washington franchise history. Antetokounmpo fell just short of a triple-double – 23 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

The Utah Jazz reclaimed the number one seed in the west behind Jordan Clarkson, who was 12-for-16 shooting for 30 points in a 126-94 defeat of the San Antonio Spurs.

The Boston Celtics routed the Orlando Magic 132-96 and the Portland Trail Blazers crushed the Cleveland Cavaliers 141-105. According to Stats Perform, it is the second day in NBA history with two road teams winning by 35-plus points after November 10, 1971.

MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic's 32 points and 12 rebounds inspired the Denver Nuggets to a 113-97 victory at home to the New York Knicks.

The Memphis Grizzlies held on to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 139-135 after Ja Morant had 37 points and 10 assists. It was Morant's fifth 30-point, 10-assist game – the most in Grizzlies history. No other player has more than two. Timberwolves rookie Anthony Edwards tied a career high with 42 points.

 

CP3 struggles as sun sets on Phoenix

The Phoenix Suns were upstaged 135-103 by the Atlanta Hawks. Second in the west, the Suns slipped a game off the pace after star Chris Paul finished just three-for-11 shooting for nine points in 24 minutes. Phoenix team-mate Cameron Johnson was only one-of-nine shooting, missing all six of his three-point attempts for a measly two points in 19 minutes off the bench.

Amid uncertainty over head coach Nate Bjorkgren, the Indiana Pacers lost 104-93 to the Sacramento Kings. Aaron Holiday was two-for-nine shooting, including one-for-three from beyond the arc in a five-point display in the starting five.

The Trail Blazers made light work of the Cavaliers thanks to Damian Lillard's 32 points, but C.J. McCollum was far from his best. In 31 minutes, McCollum was three-for-14 shooting, making one of five attempts from three-point range for 10 points.

Rockets veteran Avery Bradley made just one of his six field goals, missing all three of his three-point attempts for two points.

 

The 'Greek freak'

Antetokounmpo was doing Antetokounmpo things for the Bucks, who won their fourth straight game. The Bucks superstar showcased his physicality with a powerful dunk against the Wizards.

 

Wednesday's results

Boston Celtics 132-96 Orlando Magic
Portland Trail Blazers 141-105 Cleveland Cavaliers
Atlanta Hawks 135-103 Phoenix Suns
Sacramento Kings 104-93 Indiana Pacers
Philadelphia 76ers 135-115 Houston Rockets
Milwaukee Bucks 135-134 Washington Wizards
Memphis Grizzlies 139-135 Minnesota Timberwolves
Utah Jazz 126-94 San Antonio Spurs
Denver Nuggets 113-97 New York Knicks

 

Lakers at Clippers

Bragging rights and playoff positioning will be on the line when the Los Angeles Lakers (37-28) face the Los Angeles Clippers (44-22) on Thursday. Defending champions the Lakers are sixth in the Western Conference, just a half-game above the play-in spot, while the Clippers are third and already assured a postseason berth.

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