Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer praised his star trio Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday after their 124-118 win over the star-studded Brooklyn Nets.

Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday all made key contributions in Milwaukee's second victory against Brooklyn in three days – a result which clinched an NBA playoff spot and kept the Bucks in the hunt for a position among the Eastern Conference's top two.

Two-time reigning MVP and Bucks superstar Antetokounmpo led the way with 36 points and 12 rebounds but Middleton and Holiday played important roles in the 32-24 final quarter as Milwaukee rallied from six points down to prevail.

Middleton starred in the fourth quarter both offensively, to finish with 23 points and seven rebounds for the game, and defensively to limit Kevin Durant's impact.

Holiday, who joined the Bucks from the New Orleans Pelicans in November, had 23 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists, along with a key stop at the end.

"We're still trying to catch the right rhythm and find where all three of those guys are playing," Budenholzer said post-game.

"Maybe it's a stretch of one of them. The familiarity and comfort with each other is growing. It's a good thing for us."

Budenholzer was happy to have an NBA playoff spot secured, but more delighted that his side are playing well down the stretch, having now claimed back-to-back wins over a Nets team widely regarded as title favourites.

He also had special praise for Middleton's job on Durant, who still finished with 32 points.

"I thought he was good," Budenholzer said as the Bucks eye their first championship since 1971. "You've got to just keep coming.

"Great, great scorer, so you've got to make everything hard for him. we threw a lot of bodies at Durant tonight.

"Khris being able to finish a lot of those minutes in the fourth quarter was great work by him.

"What you need in the fourth quarter, is great defense and he stepped up down the other end too.

"But the team around him, it always takes the whole group."

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 36 points with 12 rebounds to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a 124-118 win over the Brooklyn Nets and secure their NBA playoff spot on Tuesday.

Milwaukee's victory moved the Bucks to 41-24, narrowing in on the Nets (43-23), who are second behind the Philadelphia 76ers (44-21) in the Eastern Conference, with the postseason fast approaching.

The triumph was also a tie-breaker win for the Bucks, who also beat the star-studded Nets 117-114 on Sunday too, in a boost in the race for seedings.

Two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo was crucial but Khris Middleton came up big in the final quarter, finishing with 23 points and Jrue Holiday (23 points and 10 assists) made a key stop late in the contest.

Nets star Kyrie Irving had a game-high 38 points, while Kevin Durant added 32 along with nine rebounds and six assists.

 

Clippers finish fast, Suns rise in overtime

The Los Angeles Clippers stormed home after a sluggish start to secure a 105-100 overtime win against the Toronto Raptors. Paul George finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

The high-flying Phoenix Suns produced a 20-4 overtime run to outlast the Cleveland Cavaliers 134-118, helping them return to the top spot in the Western Conference. Devin Booker (31 points), Chris Paul (23 points and 16 assists) and Mikal Bridges (22 points) led the Suns in Cleveland.

Lonzo Ball equalled his career high with 33 points, including a crucial late jumper to keep the New Orleans Pelicans and their postseason hopes alive via a 108-103 win over the Golden State Warriors.

Hamidou Diallo had 35 points but the Detroit Pistons still lost 102-99 to the Charlotte Hornets, who were led by rookie LaMelo Ball and his 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals.

Stephen Curry scored 37 points, including eight from beyond the arc to create history, joining Ray Allen as the only players in NBA history to make 2,800 career three-pointers. The two-time MVP also became the fastest player to reach 300 three-pointers in one season, needing only 58 games.

 

Landry's radar off

Nets shooting guard Landry Shamet normally makes an impact off the bench with his three-point shooting but he struggled against the Bucks. Shamet made one-of-six beyond the arc and one-of-eight overall in his 23 minutes on court, finishing with only three points.

 

Hardaway finds his range

Tim Hardaway Jr. was feeling it in the Dallas Mavericks' 127-113 win over the Chicago Bulls, shooting down an incredible 10 three-pointers in his 36-point display. Luka Doncic contributed 23 points and 12 rebounds in a double-double performance to help the Mavs move back above defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers into fifth in the west.

 

Tuesday's results

Charlotte Hornets 102-99 Detroit Pistons
Phoenix Suns 134-118 Cleveland Cavaliers (OT)
Milwaukee Bucks 124-118 Brooklyn Nets 
New Orleans Pelicans 108-103 Golden State Warriors
Dallas Mavericks 127-113 Miami Heat 
Sacramento Kings 103-99 Oklahoma City Thunder
Los Angeles Clippers 105-100 Toronto Raptors

 

Knicks at Nuggets

The in-form New York Knicks (37-28) make the trip to face Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets (43-22) with both sides jostling for playoffs seedings.

After going toe to toe just over 48 hours earlier, two Eastern Conference heavyweights prepare to face each other again when the Milwaukee Bucks host the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday.

The brilliance of Giannis Antetokounmpo helped the Bucks prevail in the first of two back-to-back meetings between teams with serious title aspirations.

Aided by landing four of his attempts from beyond the arc, the two-time NBA MVP scored 49 points to see Milwaukee come out on top.

The result moved them closer to the second-placed Nets in the standings, though both trail the Philadelphia 76ers. The trio know that finishing as top seed will leave the other two rivals to potentially fight it out on the path to the Conference Finals.

With the playoffs looming, there is a balance to be struck over clocking up more minutes in the regular season and saving energy for what is to come down the line.

Still, while there are no concerns over suffering a knockout this time around, both the Bucks and Nets will want to land a telling blow on their opponents before a potential postseason reunion.

 

TOP PERFORMERS

Giannis Antetokounmpo

A third MVP award appears unlikely, yet the Greek is averaging 28.4 points per game (he finished at 27.7 in 2018-19, but rose to 29.5 last season), as well as 11.1 rebounds and 5.9 assists.

His performance against the Nets, which included scoring his team's first 16 points in the third quarter, was even more impressive considering he had missed the previous game due to a sprained right ankle.

Kevin Durant

Like Antetokounmpo, Durant returned from a layoff to shine on Sunday. He finished the game with a team-high 42 points, boosting his average for the season to 28.1ppg.

Hamstring tightness was behind the decision to sit him against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday, having previously scored 42 in a win over the Indiana Pacers. Injuries have hampered his availability during the campaign, but Durant has excelled when on the court for Brooklyn.

KEY BATTLE

Antetokounmpo and Durant will be preparing for round two as the headline acts for their respective franchises, though both can lean on help from stellar supporting casts.

However, missed shots – and what happens in the aftermath – could be crucial to deciding the outcome. The Bucks lead the East in terms of defensive rebounds, while the Nets sit second on the list. Milwaukee, though, is superior on the boards on offense when compared to their opponents, potentially offering key second-chance opportunities.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Bucks may have come out on top at the weekend but the Nets triumphed earlier in the year when the teams met in Brooklyn, James Harden - who remains sidelined - leading the way with 34 points in a 125-123 triumph for the home team.

Durant also played in that game – contributing 30 points, including landing eight of his nine free-throw attempts – but Kyrie Irving was absent.

The Los Angeles Lakers slumped to their sixth loss in seven games with LeBron James finishing their 121-114 defeat to the Toronto Raptors injured in the locker room on Sunday.

James left the court in the fourth quarter due to a sore right ankle, the same ankle which sidelined the Lakers superstar for 20 games until his return against the Sacramento Kings on Friday.

The four-time MVP played 28 minutes, scoring 19 points with seven rebounds and six assists but he could not inspire reigning NBA champions the Lakers to reverse their worrying form ahead of the playoffs.

Toronto forward Pascal Siakam was exceptional with a season-high 39 points, 13 rebounds and four assists, while veteran guard Kyle Lowry also had a double-double with 37 points, including three three-pointers, and 11 assists.

The result means the Lakers slip to 36-28 and sixth spot in the Western Conference, while the Raptors are 27-38.

 

Giannis comes out on top against KD

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 49 points as the Milwaukee Bucks overcame the star-studded Brooklyn Nets 117-114 in their heavyweight Eastern Conference meeting. Making his return after a minor ankle issue, two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo also had eight rebounds and four assists, while Khris Middleton contributed 26 points and 11 rebounds in a key supporting role. Durant did his best to lift the Nets with 42 points and 10 rebounds.

Joel Embiid had his 14th game with 30 or more points and 10 rebounds, with only Antetokounmpo having more this season, as the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers won 113-111 in overtime against the San Antonio Spurs. MVP hopeful Embiid finished with 34 points and 12 rebounds after OT, with Seth Curry adding 22 points.

Devin Booker had 32 points to lead the high-flying Phoenix Suns to a 123-120 victory over the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder.

The New York Knicks kept up their hot run with 122-97 win against the Houston Rockets, fuelled by All-Star Julius Randle's 31 points in three quarters.

C.J. McCollum (33 points), Damian Lillard (26 points and 13 assists) and Jusuf Nurkic (14 points and 11 rebounds) combined to lead the Portland Trail Blazers past the Boston Celtics 129-119. Jayson Tatum's 33 points were not enough for the Celtics. Per Stats Perform, the Trail Blazers are the first team in NBA history to have four consecutive home losses immediately followed by four straight road victories.

 

From hero to zero

Dorian Finney-Smith nailed the game-winner for the Dallas Mavericks against the Washington Wizards on Saturday. But he was struggled in the 111-99 loss to the Sacramento Kings. Finney-Smith was one-for-seven shooting in 35 minutes, missing all five of his three-point attempts for just three points.

 

Timely tip from Simmons

Ben Simmons tipped home in the nick of time after Embiid's attempted buzzer-beating shot missed in the 76ers' win over the Spurs.

 

Sunday's results

Milwaukee Bucks 117-114 Brooklyn Nets
Portland Trail Blazers 129-119 Boston Celtics
New York Knicks 122-97 Houston Rockets
Philadelphia 76ers 113-111 San Antonio Spurs (OT)
Phoenix Suns 123-120 Oklahoma City Thunder
Sacramento Kings 111-99 Dallas Mavericks
Miami Heat 121-111 Charlotte Hornets
Toronto Raptors 121-114 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Nuggets at Lakers

The Lakers (36-28) have a big test to get back on track in the Western Conference against Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets (43-21) with playoffs seedings up for grabs.

Giannis Antetokounmpo lavished his admiration and praise on Kevin Durant, labelling the Brooklyn Nets superstar a "once in a generation talent".

The pair squared off in the Milwaukee Bucks' 117-114 win over the Nets on Sunday, with two-time reigning NBA MVP Antetokounmpo posting 49 points, with eight rebounds and four assists.

Durant – a former MVP – returned fire with 42 points of his own for the Nets, along with 10 rebounds as Antetokounmpo hailed the two-time champion.

"You have to appreciate players like that, because you don't see them often," said Antetokounmpo, who is six years younger than Durant.

"It's one of a generation talent, and, personally, I try to steal as much as I can from his game and as much as I'm capable of doing, because there’s some stuff that only he can do.

"But he's a great player to watch and growing up I always looked up to him."

Antetokounmpo continued: "What he does is unbelievable. Being 6'11, being able to shoot over everybody and the way he can handle the ball and get to his spot to rise up is unbelievable."

Antetokounmpo and Durant both may have scored in the 40s on Sunday, but the former insisted the game plan was not to go head-to-head against a player he calls "one of the game's greatest scorers".

"I was not going back and forth with KD," Antetokounmpo said. "There's nobody in this world who can go back and forth with KD.

"He's one of the greatest scorers to ever play this game. That's not the game plan you want to go against. You've got to do it as a unit."

The game also marked Antetokounmpo's return from a minor ankle injury picked up against the Houston Rockets on Thursday, although he said he played through pain.

"It felt good," he said. "Obviously I stepped on Kelly Olynyk's foot and in the moment I was in a lot of pain.

"My personality and how I am, you've got to grow your toughness and play through pain. I could still play the game and keep going, even though I couldn't step on it at all the first time.

"The team wanted me to take a break and get healthy and not have something keep lingering and lingering.

"Today I felt good. I couldn't speed up as much as I wanted to. I had dominance and I was able to get to my spots. I didn't feel as much pain."

Eastern Conference rivals the Nets (43-22) and Bucks (40-24), who are likely to face off in the playoffs, will meet again on Tuesday.

A wild game saw Giannis Antetokounmpo leave after less than one minute of play and Kevin Porter Jr. drop 50 points as the Houston Rockets won 143-136 over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Milwaukee's Greek star left the game after just 46 seconds with a sprained right ankle suffered when he stepped on Kelly Olynyk's foot on a drive to the basket. 

Though Khris Middleton scored 33, Bryn Forbes a career-high 30 off the bench, and Jrue Holiday 29 for Milwaukee, it was not enough to overcome the loss of Antetokounmpo amid an unexpected scoring onslaught from the Rockets (16-47), who rallied after trailing by 17 in the first half.

The 20-year-old Porter poured in a career-high 50 and added 11 assists, becoming the fourth-youngest player in NBA history to score 50 in a game. Brandon Jennings, Devin Booker and LeBron James (twice) are the only younger players to do it. 

Porter's previous career high was 30 points, set last year as a rookie. 

Porter was not alone in his heroics, either, as Christian Wood added 31 points and Olynyk contributed 24 along with 13 rebounds. 

Despite the loss, the Bucks remain comfortably in the third slot in the Eastern Conference at 38-24 with 10 games to play.

 

Warriors fall to streaking Timberwolves

The Golden State Warriors watched their hopes of avoiding the play-in tournament continue to fade with a 126-114 loss at the suddenly hot Minnesota Timberwolves.

Ricky Rubio (26 points), Anthony Edwards (25) and Karl-Anthony Towns (22) combined to help Minnesota with their fourth successive game despite 37 points from Stephen Curry, who made only 11 of 27 from the field (six of 17 three-pointers). 

Golden State (31-32) are three games up on the New Orleans Pelicans for the 10th and final play-in spot but have little chance of finishing in the top six in the west. 

Kevin Durant scored 30 of his 42 points in the second half and added 10 assists as the Brooklyn Nets won their fourth game in a row, 130-113 over the Indiana Pacers. 

The Denver Nuggets also won their fourth in succession, beating the Toronto Raptors 121-111 behind 23 points from Michael Porter Jr. 

Tim Hardaway Jr. had a career-best 42 points in the Dallas Mavericks' 115-105 win over the Detroit Pistons.

 

Love struggles

The Oklahoma City Thunder went right back to their losing ways after snapping a 14-game skid on Tuesday, falling 109-95 to the New Orleans Pelicans while shooting just 38.2 per cent from the field as a team. Luguentz Dort was OKC's top scorer with 17 points. 

 

KAT to the hole

Karl-Anthony Towns brushed aside the Warriors defense to drive the lane for a jam in Minnesota's big win.

 

Thursday's results

Dallas Mavericks 115-105 Detroit Pistons
Brooklyn Nets 130-113 Indiana Pacers
Houston Rockets 143-136 Milwaukee Bucks
Minnesota Timberwolves 126-114 Golden State Warriors
New Orleans Pelicans 109-95 Oklahoma City Thunder
Denver Nuggets 121-111 Toronto Raptors

 

Jazz at Suns

With playoff berths already clinched, the top two teams in the Western Conference will jockey for the top seed as the Utah Jazz (45-17) visit the Phoenix Suns (44-18).

The Milwaukee Bucks are 'hopeful' that the ankle injury which forced Giannis Antetokounmpo out of Thursday's loss to the Houston Rockets early is not serious.

Antetokounmpo lasted less than one minute of the 143-136 loss to the Rockets after planting his right foot on Kelly Olynyk's foot as he drove forward, appearing to sprain his ankle.

The 26-year-old Greek forward knocked down one of two free-throws and tried to play on but quickly left the court and did not return in a worrying sign for the 38-24 Bucks ahead of the NBA playoffs.

Antetokounmpo already had a right ankle worry sustained in the Bucks' previous game against the Charlotte Hornets.

"I think we’re hopeful that it’s not serious," Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said.

"We’ll see how he responds to treatment tonight, treatment tomorrow, get an update at some point tomorrow.

"But I think we’re hopeful that it’s; well obviously he couldn’t play or finish, it’s not something significant or serious."

Giannis has missed nine games all season with knee and back injuries, with the Bucks going 5-4 without him.

The star-studded Brooklyn Nets clinched a place in the NBA playoffs after rallying past the lowly Toronto Raptors 116-103.

Nets superstar Kevin Durant posted 17 points – including seven in the fourth quarter – and 10 rebounds, while team-mate Jeff Green had 22 points as Brooklyn became the first team in the Eastern Conference to secure a postseason berth on Tuesday.

The Nets trailed 90-84 early in the final period but used a 16-2 run to seize control, with Durant sealing the result with a three-pointer less than two minutes from the end in Tampa, Florida.

Brooklyn (42-20) – riding a three-game winning streak – are one and a half games clear of the Philadelphia 76ers (40-21) in the east.

Damian Lillard reached a career milestone and Anfernee Simons made his first nine three-point attempts as the Portland Trail Blazers snapped a five-game losing streak with a 133-112 rout of the Indiana Pacers.

Simons became the first NBA player to open with nine in a row from beyond the arc since Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors hit 10 straight to start a January 2019 game. 

Portland's Simons did miss his final three-point attempt but still led the Trail Blazers (33-28) with 27 points off the bench as the team made 20 three-pointers overall. 

Lillard (23 points) hit only six of 14 from the field, but one of those shots was significant. His third of four three-pointers gave him 2,000 for his career, making him the 10th player in history to hit that mark. 

The All-Star achieved the feat in his 670th career game, second only to Stephen Curry's 597 among that group.

 

Doncic, Mavericks run away from Warriors

A meeting of NBA superstars fizzled as Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks roared past Curry and the Warriors in the first half on the way to a 133-103 blowout. Doncic had 39 points in only 28 minutes, adding eight assists and six rebounds to outplay Curry (27 points, two assists). Golden State led 12-11 early in the game, but Dallas scored the next 28 points to put it out of reach early. The Mavericks' 28-0 run was the longest since the New York Knicks did the same to the Raptors in November 2017. 

Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo did it all for the Milwaukee Bucks, posting 29 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in a 114-104 win against the Charlotte Hornets.

The Oklahoma City Thunder avoided unwanted history, snapping a 14-game skid by upstaging the Boston Celtics 119-115. A 15th consecutive loss would have set a franchise record for the Thunder, who were led by Luguentz Dort (24 points) and Darius Bazley (21 points and 10 rebounds). Jaylen Brown had 39 points and 11 rebounds for the Celtics.

 

Celtics crumble again

The Celtics fell to their third successive defeat as they try to avoid the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. Boston made only 19 of 55 shots from the field (34.5 per cent). The home loss dropped the Celtics (32-30) into a tie with the Miami Heat for sixth place. While Boston hold the tie-breaker advantage for now, the teams will face each other twice in the final five games of the season.

While the Nets clinched, Kyrie Irving struggled. The All-Star was just three-for-13 shooting, making just one of five three-pointers for nine points in 35 minutes.

 

Towns gets style points for Timberwolves

Karl-Anthony Towns led the Minnesota Timberwolves to their third win in a row with 31 points in a 114-107 victory over the Houston Rockets highlighted by a breakaway jam.

 

Tuesday's results

Oklahoma City Thunder 119-115 Boston Celtics
Milwaukee Bucks 114-104 Charlotte Hornets
Portland Trail Blazers 133-112 Indiana Pacers
Brooklyn Nets 116-103 Toronto Raptors
Minnesota Timberwolves 114-107 Houston Rockets
Dallas Mavericks 133-103 Golden State Warriors

 

Clippers at Suns

Two of the top three teams in the Western Conference meet on Wednesday as Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers (43-20) face Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns (43-18).

The Milwaukee Bucks have been the regular season pacesetters in the NBA's Eastern Conference in recent seasons, but they sit third heading into the closing stages of the 2020-21 campaign.

It is the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets who instead lead the way, tied with 39-20 records - 2.5 games clear of Milwaukee.

Yet the Sixers had first place outright prior to Thursday's game against the Bucks in which they failed to recover from a tough first quarter.

Philly do not have to wait long for revenge, though, with the two teams meeting once more at Fiserv Forum on Saturday.

MVP challenges are on the line as well as seedings in the East as two potential title contenders get prepared to go again.

TOP PERFORMERS

Joel Embiid - Philadelphia 76ers

Embiid was the MVP favourite until a knee injury at the start of March that forced him to miss almost a month of action.

He was averaging 29.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game and the 76ers had a 24-7 record with him on the floor. They were 2-5 in the seven games Embiid missed prior to his extended lay-off.

The center returned earlier this month, seemingly with enough time to wrestle the top individual award back from Nikola Jokic, and he has since averaged 30.1 points, missing only a single game.

But the Sixers have now lost three in a row and Embiid's hopes appear to be fading after he was outshone by the reigning MVP.

Giannis Antetokounmpo - Milwaukee Bucks

It does not appear there will be a third MVP win in a row for Antetokounmpo after his momentum was checked by sitting six straight games.

But the 'Greek Freak' was back to his best against the 76ers, scoring a game-high 27 points, and can focus instead on a first title triumph in the postseason.

And Antetokounmpo feels playing a fellow challenger again on Saturday "prepares you for the playoffs".

"Playing teams back to back is awesome," he said.

"On Saturday, they're going to come out and they're going to play harder, they're going to try to execute. We've got to do the same. We've got to do exactly the same."

KEY BATTLE - SLOW START CAN SINK SIXERS

For the 76ers, "playing harder" will have to start from the tip-off. Their 14-point first-quarter deficit proved too significant against such a talented team.

As the Sixers missed one of the best defensive players in the league in Ben Simmons due to illness, Milwaukee firmly had the upper hand early on.

Philadelphia had no answer as they allowed 40 points, their second-worst mark in a first quarter this year. This came as the Bucks shot at 73.7 per cent from the field through 12 minutes, the best rate among the Sixers' 2020-21 opponents.

Jrue Holiday, a star on both ends, had seven of his 12 points in the first three minutes alone.

"That first quarter, they get every shot they wanted," Doc Rivers said. "We didn't offer any resistance."

HEAD TO HEAD

Thursday's game was the teams' second this season and the second Milwaukee victory after they won in overtime in March, again led by Antetokounmpo (32 points, 15 rebounds).

Antetokounmpo has averaged 20.8 points for his career but 22.6 against the 76ers, against whom he boasts a 19-5 record and posted a career-high 52 in 2019.

The Bucks have a 113-102 lead over Philadelphia all-time in the regular season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo felt the Milwaukee Bucks were "locked in" from the start after recording a fourth successive win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Bucks scored 77 points in the first half before holding off a 76ers fightback to triumph 124-117 in a battle between two of the leading contenders in the Eastern Conference.

Antetokounmpo led the way with 27 points, though the two-time NBA MVP had plenty of help from his colleagues. Khris Middleton had 24 points while Bobby Portis contributed 23 off the bench.

Milwaukee landed 20 of their 40 three-point attempts as a team, though Antetokounmpo was just as impressed with their efforts when not in possession of the ball.

"Guys were finding open guys, getting downhill, knocking down shots. Everybody set the tone from the start," Antetokounmpo told the media.

"From the start, you could see that everyone was locked in. Defensively also, we really seemed locked in.

"Offensively, we found one another and knocked down shots."

Joel Embiid had 24 points for the 76ers, though he landed just nine of his 21 shot attempts - including going 0-for-4 from three-point range.

Antetokounmpo praised the work done by Milwaukee center Brook Lopez when going up against Embiid, with the Bucks happy to let the MVP candidate take jump shots rather than work closer to the basket.

"Embiid is a great player, he's been playing well all season long," Antetokounmpo said.

"You've got to live with that jump shot. You don't want to send him to the free-throw line and you don't want him to get downhill, with his right hook, and get an easy lay-up.

"The gameplan was good - he was going to shoot his jump shot all night. If he makes it all night? Great. But if you don't make it, it's good for us.

"Brook did a great job on him, but he [Embiid] is a great player too."

Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers felt his team - still without Ben Simmons due to an unspecified illness - paid the price for a slow start, insisting his team were "soft" defensively to allow Milwaukee to open up a commanding lead.

The 76ers hit back as they held their opponents to just 16 points in the fourth quarter, though in the end the gap proved just too big.

"Everybody seemed fatigued, not just Joel, I would love to say Joel played better than most of our guys tonight," Rivers said.

"I just felt like we were late on everything. We were soft tonight defensively. That first quarter, they get every shot they wanted. We didn't offer any resistance."

Los Angeles Lakers superstar Anthony Davis made his long-awaited return but the reigning NBA champions lost 115-110 to the Dallas Mavericks.

Davis had been sidelined since February 14 due to tendinosis and a calf strain in his right leg – the eight-time All-Star missed 30 games, the longest injury absence of his nine-year career.

But Davis stepped back onto the court on Thursday, finishing with four points on just two-for-10 shooting, four rebounds, one assist, one block and one steal in 17 minutes.

The Lakers – still without superstar LeBron James (ankle) – were led by Dennis Schroder (25 points and 13 assists), Andre Drummond (14 points and 19 rebounds) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (29 points) but fell short in Dallas.

Luka Doncic fuelled the Mavericks with 30 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

 

Giannis tops Embiid and 76ers

Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo put up 27 points on eight-for-15 shooting, 16 rebounds and six assists as the Milwaukee Bucks took down the slumping Philadelphia 76ers 124-117. It was his 41st 25/15/5 game, the most by a Bucks player since the three-point era (1980). No other Buck has more than four in that span. Milwaukee used a 40-26 opening quarter to hand the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers a third consecutive defeat. Joel Embiid had 24 points for the visiting 76ers.

The Boston Celtics upstaged the high-flying Phoenix Suns 99-86. Kemba Walker was inspirational, shooting 11-for-17 from the field for a game-high 32 points. Boston have won seven of their last eight games, beating Phoenix, the Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers, New York Knicks and Lakers.

Zion Williamson showcased his efficiency in the New Orleans Pelicans' 135-100 victory against the lowly Orlando Magic. The former number one pick had 23 points in 23 minutes on nine-for-12 shooting, while he made all five of his free-throw attempts.

 

Oh no, Okeke

It was a forgettable outing for Chuma Okeke and the Magic, who dropped their fourth straight game as they lost for the 23rd time in 28 appearances. In 29 minutes, Okeke made just one of his 12 field-goal attempts. He was 0-for-four from three-point range in a four-point performance.

Jalen McDaniels was just as bad for the Charlotte Hornets, tallying a mere three points on one-for-eight shooting as his team suffered a 106-91 defeat to the Chicago Bulls.

 

Satoransky slam!

There was no stopping Chicago's Tomas Satoransky as he powered his way to the rim emphatically in the fourth quarter.

 

Thursday's results:

Boston Celtics 99-86 Phoenix Suns
New Orleans Pelicans 135-110 Orlando Magic
Milwaukee Bucks 124-117 Philadelphia 76ers
San Antonio Spurs 106-91 Detroit Pistons
Chicago Bulls 106-91 Charlotte Hornets
Dallas Mavericks 115-110 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Celtics at Nets

The Celtics (32-27) will make the trip to face the Brooklyn Nets (39-20) on Friday. Brooklyn have the chance to reclaim the top seed in the Eastern Conference after Philadelphia's loss.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was listed as available for the Milwaukee Bucks' matchup with the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday after missing the previous six games.

The two-time NBA MVP has not played since matching his season high with 47 points against the Portland Trail Blazers on April 2.

Antetokounmpo's absence due to knee soreness appears to have ended his hopes of claiming the MVP award for a third straight year, with Nikola Jokic meanwhile continuing to impress and Joel Embiid returning from injury.

But the Bucks will be delighted to have their talisman back out on the floor when they face the in-form Hawks.

The 'Greek Freak', who had never previously missed more than two consecutive games in his NBA career, leads Milwaukee with 28.8 points, 11.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists this season.

While Antetokounmpo was out, the Bucks went 3-3, although they remain third in the Eastern Conference with a 34-20 record.

Thursday's opponents Atlanta are now fourth after a run of seven wins in eight games.

Zion Williamson underlined his status as the emerging star of the NBA with a dominant display in the New Orleans Pelicans' 101-94 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday.

The 2019 number one draft pick had a career-best 15 rebounds along with 37 points and eight assists as the Pels turned to him in Lonzo Ball's absence.

Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said: "We decided we'd play him at the point all night. He had the ball in his hands all the time and the ability to make plays.

"Had we shot decently he would have finished with double figure assists too. He played the game the way you're supposed to play the game. He was incredible tonight."

Joel Embiid was kept quiet by Steven Adams, managing only 14 points and nine rebounds for the 76ers who are behind the Brooklyn Nets in the East with a 35-17 record.

The Los Angeles Clippers blew the Houston Rockets away with a 41-10 second quarter in a 126-109 victory with Kawhi Leonard top scoring with 31 points, along with five rebounds and eight assists.

The win improves the in-form Clippers' record to 36-18 having now won four in a row and 10 of their past 12.

The Milwaukee Bucks lost again without Giannis Antetokounmpo on Thursday, but coach Mike Budenholzer believes the two-time MVP's absence can benefit his team.

The Bucks completed a six-game road trip against the Dallas Mavericks, going down 116-101 at American Airlines Center.

Antetokounmpo featured in the first three of those games, yet he missed the next three after scoring a season-high 47 points against the Portland Trail Blazers.

The 'Greek Freak' leads Milwaukee in points (28.8), assists (6.2) and rebounds (11.4) per game, while also contributing 1.3 blocks and 1.1 steals.

Knee soreness is impacting Antetokounmpo's bid for a third straight MVP triumph, but it is also hindering the Bucks. The team are 29-16 when their superstar plays but just 3-3 without him.

Milwaukee were not helped against the Mavs by poor shooting displays from Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, their second and third men.

Middleton was an alarming 6-for-27 from the field for 14 points – 22.2 per cent, his second-worst outing of the year – as Holiday, who signed a lucrative contract extension last week, was 6-for-16 for 13 points.

Budenholzer acknowledged both players must perform better as he suggested the Bucks needed to adapt to playing when Antetokounmpo is not on the floor.

The 26-year-old forward played just 30.4 minutes per game last season when Milwaukee led the East, but he has been relied on for 34.0 minutes in 2020-21.

"The guys are getting more opportunities," Budenholzer said. "There's a little bit more of a load on both Jrue and Khris. I think they're learning to take that.

"We didn't make enough shots tonight; Khris, Jrue didn't make enough shots. We're getting better. We'll learn from these things.

"Playing without Giannis, he can't play 48 minutes, so I think there's going to be good stretches for us when Giannis doesn't play and we'll grow from these experiences playing without him."

While the Bucks struggled without their big name, Dallas got 27 points, nine assists and nine rebounds from Luka Doncic.

But the Slovenian also earned his 12th technical foul of the season. That tally has steadily increased over his NBA career – five in his rookie year, nine last year – and he is now just four shy of a one-game suspension.

"He's aware," coach Rick Carlisle said. "My level of concern is there. But look, he's an emotional competitor. It all comes from the right place.

"He's smart, he knows where the count is. If he's going to get his 16th, he'll get it in a situation where it's time for a day of rest anyway. I'm not really that worried about it."

It was a big win for the Mavs, who returned to winning ways after a shock defeat to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday ended a run of five successive victories since Doncic returned from a short lay-off due to illness.

"This was a playoff-type game [against the Bucks], playoff-calibre in terms of intensity and competitiveness and the talent on the floor," Carlisle said. "We did a much, much better job, top to bottom, than we did last night."

Dallas also got 26 points, 17 rebounds and two blocks out of Kristaps Porzingis. Eleven of his points came in the fourth quarter on 4-for-4 shooting after failing to attempt a single field goal in the final 12 minutes against the Rockets.

Porzingis said of his relationship with Doncic: "We're trying to play together and help each other. We want to win – at the end, we all want to win here.

"We have to keep playing, keep playing together, playing well and helping each other."

The Milwaukee Bucks dropped their second game without Giannis Antetokounmpo going down 116-101 to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA on Thursday night.

Mavs center Kristaps Porzingis dominated with 26 points including four three-pointers, along with 17 rebounds, with Slovenian guard Luka Doncic top scoring with 27 points.

The Bucks were without two-time MVP Giannis due to knee soreness, missing his third straight game as Milwaukee slipped to 32-19.

Milwaukee produced a 14-0 run in the third with Donte DiVincenzo scoring 22 points and Bobby Portis pulling down 14 rebounds but Dallas dominated the last quarter to take out the win.

The Los Angeles Lakers dropped another game without LeBron James and Anthony Davis as Jimmy Butler dazzled for the Miami Heat in a 110-104 victory.

Butler scored 28 points, with seven rebounds and five assists for Miami who trailed at the main break.

The Lakers have lost six of their past 10 matches with a 32-20 record and are fifth in the West.

 

Clippers blanket Suns, Jazz blow away Blazers

In a crucial clash in the West, the Los Angeles Clippers finished strong to edge the in-form Phoenix Suns 113-103 led by Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.

George had 33 points including seven three-pointers, seven rebounds and three assists, while Leonard scored 27 points, with five rebounds and five assists.

New Clippers recruit Rajon Rondo added 15 points and nine assists off the bench too, as they improved to 35-18, with the Suns 36-15 after their eight-game winning run ended.

Donovan Mitchell scored 37 points as the ladder leading Utah Jazz blew away the Portland Trail Blazers with a 40-19 third quarter to win 122-103.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert had 20 rebounds along with his 18 points while Damian Lillard scored 23 points and had five rebounds and six assists for the Blazers.

The Chicago Bulls were too good for the undermanned Toronto Raptors 122-113 with Deadline Day additions Nikola Vucevic and Daniel Theis starring.

 

New Heat recruit hurt

Heat guard Victor Oladipo played 25 minutes and scored 18 points in their win over the Lakers but he went off late with an apparent left knee injury which will have Miami sweating on their new recruit.

 

 

Kawhi dunks on Suns

The commentators were left staggered when Leonard drove into the key and produced a massive right-hand dunk in the third of the Clippers win over the Suns.

 

Thursday's results

Chicago Bulls 122-113 Toronto Raptors
Miami Heat 110-104 Los Angeles Lakers
Cleveland Cavaliers 129-102 Oklahoma City Thunder
Dallas Mavericks 116-101 Milwaukee Bucks
Los Angeles Clippers 113-103 Phoenix Suns
Detroit Pistons 113-101 Sacramento Kings
Utah Jazz 122-103 Portland Trail Blazers

 

76ers in The Big Easy

Joel Embiid's Philadelphia 76ers (35-16) go to Zion Williamson's New Orleans Pelicans (22-29) looking to re-claim top spot in the East.

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