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.

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant said he and his team-mates are focused in pursuit of the Eastern Conference top seed as head coach Steve Nash awaits the return of former MVP James Harden.

Durant posted 42 points and 10 rebounds while matching a career high with seven three-pointers, but the star-studded Nets still lost on Sunday, upstaged 117-114 by Eastern Conference rivals the Milwaukee Bucks, who were fuelled by Giannis Antetokounmpo's 49 points.

The Nets – eyeing their maiden NBA championship – dropped down to second in the east, behind the Philadelphia 76ers but the two title contenders are set to continue going head-to-head for the number one seed ahead of the playoffs.

After falling short against two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in Milwaukee, two-time champion Durant – who scored 42 points in back-to-back games – told reporters: "Every day you wake up, it should be about your craft. I think that's how everybody approaches this thing.

"We try to take it a day at a time, a possession at a time. We can't control what's going to happen at the end of the season or what other teams are going to do.

"I think we've just got to take advantage of each one and that's what we're doing. Guys are locked in. We're talking the game when we're at practice, on the bus, we talk about it on the plane.

"So I think that helps as well. We're staying locked in mentally too when we do it."

The Nets were once again without superstar Harden, who remains sidelined due to a hamstring injury.

Harden has not played since leaving the matchup against the New York Knicks on April 5, missing 16 of the Nets' last 17 games.

This season, Harden – who arrived in a blockbuster trade from the Houston Rockets in January – is averaging 25.2 points, 10.9 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game.

The Nets and Bucks will clash again on Tuesday, and coach Nash said: "I'm not so much worried about what they know. For us, we have the luxury of talent. We have great players. We don't have the luxury of time. That's OK. We understand that and we'll work around that.

"James will give us a totally different dimension, but we don't sit here and say, 'well, wait 'til James gets back'. We try to solve the puzzle now. James will give us obviously something great to build on, but we can look at all the things that we did wrong today and there were a lot of things where I thought we just weren't sharp tonight. We clean some of those things up, I think we give ourselves a better chance."

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.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said the star-studded franchise have "eyes on bigger things" after clinching in the Eastern Conference.

The Nets became the first Eastern Conference team to seal an NBA postseason berth thanks to Tuesday's 116-103 win over the Toronto Raptors.

While happy with the achievement, first-year coach Nash insisted the Nets are eyeing greater things in pursuit of a maiden championship.

"It's great," Nash told reporters after the Nets made sure of their postseason spot.

"I think we have our eyes on bigger things, but it's a nice first step to clinch a berth.

"For this group, facing all we've faced, to be in this position with 10 games left is very positive."

The Nets (42-20) – who are one and a half games clear of the Philadelphia 76ers atop the east – celebrated their third consecutive win in the absence of former MVP James Harden (hamstring).

Kevin Durant had a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds, to go with four assists, two steals and two blocks.

Jeff Green top-scored with 22 points, while Blake Griffin added 17 points on the road to the Raptors as Kyrie Irving (nine points) struggled on three-for-13 shooting.

"I think everyone's in a positive mood," Nash said. "And just want to keep building, keep getting better, keep improving before the playoffs start, which is in a limited amount of time."

It has been a challenging season for the Nets, whose superstar trio of Durant, Harden and Irving have only played seven games together.

"Just all the adversity that we fought through this year with all the injuries, protocols, trade situations, guys getting in and out of the line-up," said former MVP and two-time NBA champion Durant.

"Very proud of everybody top to bottom, everybody in the organisation but especially our coaching staff that put us all in great positions to be successful every night. A lot of the credit goes to them."

Kevin Durant returned from injury and the Eastern Conference-leading Brooklyn Nets beat the Phoenix Suns 128-119.

Durant made his comeback on Sunday following a three-game absence due to a thigh contusion, the former NBA MVP posting 33 points off the bench.

Nets superstar Durant was 12-for-21 shooting, including two-for-three from three-point range, while tallying six rebounds, four assists and two steals in 28 minutes.

Kyrie Irving had 34 points (10-of-19 shooting) and 12 assists as the star-studded Nets – still without James Harden (hamstring) – improved to 41-20.

Devin Booker's 36 points and a Deandre Ayton double-double of 20 points and 13 rebounds were not enough for the high-flying Suns (42-18) in Brooklyn.

 

Wizards extend streak

The Washington Wizards claimed their eighth successive victory after topping the Cleveland Cavaliers 119-110. Bradley Beal scored 33 points, while Russell Westbrook added 14 points, 11 assists and five rebounds as the former MVP's triple-double run ended at four games. Washington are in the midst of their longest streak since December 2001, during Hall of Famer Michael Jordan's time with the franchise.

Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 31 points and 14 rebounds, but the Milwaukee Bucks still lost 111-104 to the Atlanta Hawks. Bogdan Bogdanovic led the Hawks with 32 points, however, Lou Williams fuelled Atlanta down the stretch by scoring four three-pointers in the final seven minutes.

Double-doubles from Terry Rozier (21 points and 11 assists), P.J. Washington (22 points and 12 rebounds) and Cody Martin (13 points and 10 rebounds) inspired the Charlotte Hornets to a 125-104 victory at home to the Boston Celtics.

Stephen Curry's 37 points, seven rebounds and four assists helped the Golden State Warriors hold off the Sacramento Kings 117-113. Curry has scored at least 30 points for the 13th time in 14 games, his 30th 30-point display of the season.

 

Magic's season goes from bad to worse

Rookie Devin Cannady suffered a gruesome ankle injury as the short-handed and struggling Orlando Magic tasted a fifth consecutive defeat – beaten 131-112 by the Indiana Pacers. Cannady sustained an open fracture of his right ankle in the opening quarter after landing awkwardly.

Robert Covington was far from his best in the Portland Trail Blazers' 120-113 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. In 38 minutes, Covington missed all seven of his field goals, including 0-for-four from three-point range, as he finished with two points.

 

Curry goes deep

Another game, another long-range three. Curry nailed a three-point from just inside half court against the Kings in the opening quarter.

 

Sunday's results

Charlotte Hornets 125-104 Boston Celtics
Brooklyn Nets 128-119 Phoenix Suns
Memphis Grizzlies 120-113 Portland Trail Blazers
Washington Wizards 119-110 Cleveland Cavaliers
Atlanta Hawks 111-104 Milwaukee Bucks
Indiana Pacers 131-112 Orlando Magic
Golden State Warriors 117-113 Sacramento Kings

 

Thunder at 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers (39-21) – second in the east – will look to arrest a four-game slump when they host the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder (20-40) on Monday.

Kevin Durant described his return as "like riding a bike" after the Brooklyn Nets superstar posted 33 points following a three-game NBA absence.

A thigh contusion had sidelined former MVP Durant, who only returned from a 23-game injury lay-off caused by a calf strain earlier this month.

Back in the line-up on Sunday, Durant starred in his 28-minute appearance off the bench as the Eastern Conference-leading Nets trumped the high-flying Phoenix Suns 128-119.

Reflecting on his return, Durant said: "It's like riding a bike. You get your footing right and just get your rhythm going, and I think my team-mates did a great job of looking for me all game, and I just wanted to resort back to that work I put in.

"The shots I work on at practice and shootaround, try to get to those as much as possible to gain my rhythm and then start to get a little more creative as the game progressed. It was a good start. Hopefully I build on this game and keep going."

Durant came off the bench for the third time this season, Nets head coach Steve Nash introducing the two-time NBA champion with eight minutes remaining in the second quarter.

He was 12-for-21 shooting, including two-for-three from three-point range, while tallying six rebounds, four assists and two steals at home to the Suns in Brooklyn.

"I just deal with it and adapt to the situation," Durant said. "Coach asked me today if I wanted to start or come off the bench, and I felt like it would be a bigger challenge for me to focus in and lock in if I came off the bench so I wanted to see how that worked.

"If I would've shot bad I probably would've been pissed I came off the bench, but I was able to knock down some shots. But it was solid exercise for me to ease back into the swing of things."

Nash added: "You think big picture. I'd rather fall behind and have Kevin in the back pocket than go up and have to say, 'OK, Kevin, you're done,' in the third quarter.

"I think that's kind of the give and take with it, and he's been on board with it, so props to Kevin to being willing to try something like this that I think gives us a chance to be as flexible as we can be under these circumstances."

"Kevin has shown his scoring doesn't seem to get affected by a long layoff, whether it was coming off the Achilles or coming off the hamstring," Nash said. "He seems to come right back and his rhythm and timing are excellent. It's very impressive, for sure."

Kyrie Irving, meanwhile, had 34 points (10-of-19 shooting) and 12 assists as the star-studded Nets – still without James Harden (hamstring) – improved to 41-20.

"It's more the norm than the extraordinary for those two," Nash said of Durant and Nash's efficiency.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash hailed Kyrie Irving's gritty display as the injury-hit NBA title hopefuls topped the Boston Celtics without superstar duo James Harden and Kevin Durant.

With Harden (hamstring) and Durant (thigh) sidelined, Irving helped the Nets move top of the Eastern Conference by defeating the Boston Celtics 109-104 on Friday.

Despite a poor shooting performance against his former team, Irving fell just short of a triple-double after posting 15 points on four-of-19 from the field while missing all six three-pointers, 11 assists, nine rebounds and four steals.

Nash, though, praised Irving after the Nets (40-20) replaced rivals the Philadelphia 76ers (39-20) atop the east.

"Ky had some steals, assists," said Nash. "It was not his typical scoring night, but it's few and far between when he doesn't score the ball at a prolific rate.

"But he definitely disrupted the basketball game defensively, and overall, he draws a lot of attention. I thought he was great in a lot of different ways than we're accustomed to and I thought his team-mates really picked him up as well."

"As a competitor I was just trying to go out there and do the little things, the small details, picking guys up or just being in the right position," added Irving. "When you don't have your legs on the offensive end, I felt like I was getting to where I wanted to go.

"A few angles, right, left, short, this that, just continuing to play, just continuing to have that mentality, next play, and I can have an impact with my team-mates on both ends of the floor, just making the right play. It's a simple game when you've got team-mates that are out there that are in the right spots and they're fulfilling their roles too."

Joe Harris top-scored for the Nets with 20 points, while Jeff Green (19), Bruce Brown (15) and Blake Griffin (13) made solid contributions for battling Brooklyn.

"I think that's why we're in the position we're in because we've had, I think, 33 different starting line-ups and we've had different rotations and different combinations on the floor and guys have had to buy into the way we want to play and play for one another," said Nash.

"So every night, it's got to be someone else who steps up and has opportunities but also fits in with what we want to do. I think that speaks for the spirit of the group and the willingness to try to pick each other up and not worry about themselves but to worry about the group.

"That's been fantastic, so it was a good performance. I thought [DeAndre Jordan] was great, I thought Bruce [Brown], although he was in foul trouble, did a lot of great things for us as usual. Right down the line, guys made plays for us."

Former MVP Durant missed his third consecutive game due to a thigh contusion and pre-game, Nash told reporters: "I think he's close. But I don't think he's there.

"I think we'll see tomorrow [Saturday] and Sunday if that's a possibility, but it may not [be]. So it may bleed back into this road trip. I wish I could give you more. That's kind of all I know is that it's close but it's not quite there."

Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash has praised Kyrie Irving and his side's team effort after their win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday as doubts grow around James Harden's return.

The Nets edged past the Pelicans 134-129 on Tuesday without key pair Kevin Durant and Harden, with the latter now unlikely to return prior to the play-offs with a hamstring setback.

Brooklyn have only managed to field the 'big three' - Durant, Harden and Kyrie Irving – at the same on only seven occasions due to injuries.

But the Nets improved to 39-19, keeping the pressure on the Philadelphia 76ers at the top in the Eastern Conference.

Irving scored 32 points and had eight assists, while forward Joe Harris hit 24 points with Jeff Green contributing 15 along with nine rebounds and six assists.

Guard Landry Shamet was one of three players to have six or more assists, with eight along with 18 points.

Blake Griffin added 16 points and eight rebounds off the bench, along with Bruce Brown Jr with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

"When Ky was out of the game I thought we played very well," Nash said.

"When we're going into a game with nine men, you're a couple superstars down, you've got guys playing with more responsibility and minutes and if they don’t play well, you can find yourself in a big hole.

"They played really well. Really proud of the way the guys played. I think we started slow because it was nice, new line-up, new combination."

Nash did reserve special praise for Irving who was clutch down the final stretch with some key buckets along with a late steal off Zion Williamson in a tight game.

"He made some really difficult shots," Nash said. "There wasn’t a ton of movement on the last three possessions.

"Tip your hat to your star player who makes the shots but our guys were terrific all night."

Kevin Durant will sit out the Brooklyn Nets' clash with the New Orleans Pelicans due to a left thigh contusion.

Durant played just four minutes before exiting in Brooklyn's buzzer-beating 109-107 loss at the Miami Heat on Sunday.

Nets superstar Durant missed 23 games because of a hamstring injury before returning on April 7.

In total, former MVP Durant has missed 24 of Brooklyn's 57 games this season and will now watch from the sidelines for Tuesday's matchup with the Pelicans.

Durant has been averaging 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game this season.

The star-studded Nets will also be without James Harden against Zion Williamson and the Pelicans in New Orleans.

Harden – another former MVP in Brooklyn – has not played since April 5 due to a hamstring strain, missing six successive games.

The All-Star guard, who is one of the frontrunners for MVP honours this season, has been averaging 25.2 points, 10.9 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game in 2020-21 after arriving from the Houston Rockets via January's blockbuster trade.

The Nets (38-19) are second in the Eastern Conference, behind the Philadelphia 76ers.

Julius Randle produced another inspiring performance as the streaking New York Knicks topped the New Orleans Pelicans 122-112 in overtime.

Knicks All-Star Randle posted 33 points and 10 assists to lead the New York franchise to their sixth successive NBA win on Sunday.

Randle recorded his fourth consecutive game with at least 30 points, becoming the first Knicks player since Carmelo Anthony in 2014 to accomplish the feat.

Reggie Bullock nailed a three-pointer for the Knicks with 2.3 seconds remaining in regulation before the home team outscored Zion Williamson's Pelicans 19-9 in OT at Madison Square Garden.

Derrick Rose scored a season-high 23 points for the Knicks, who are in the midst of their longest winning streak since 2013-14 as they eye their first playoff appearance since 2013.

Williamson's 34 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals were not enough for the visiting Pelicans.

Meanwhile, Kevin Durant suffered a left thigh contusion in the Brooklyn Nets' 109-107 loss away to the Miami Heat.

Durant – who only returned from a 23-game injury absence this month – left the game in the opening quarter, having gone three-for-three shooting to finish with eight points in four minutes.

Bam Adebayo (21 points and 15 rebounds) lifted the Heat with his buzzer-beating jump shot.

 

Hawks soar past Pacers

Clint Capela (25 points and 24 rebounds) and Trae Young (34 points and 11 assists) helped the Atlanta Hawks power to a 129-117 victory against the Indiana Pacers. Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter contributed 23 points each for the Hawks, who have won eight of 10 games and are 17-6 under interim head coach Nate McMillan.

Kawhi Leonard returned from a four-game absence, tallying 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in the Los Angeles Clippers' 124-105 success at home to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Chris Boucher put up 31 points and 11 rebounds for the Toronto Raptors, who downed the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder 112-106 for a third consecutive win. Oklahoma City's Aleksej Pokusevski (six) became the first Thunder rookie with five-plus blocks in a game since Serge Ibaka in 2010.

The Charlotte Hornets snapped a four-game skid behind Terry Rozier as his 34 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds saw off the Portland Trail Blazers 109-101.

De'Aaron Fox's 30 points and 12 assists guided the Sacramento Kings to a 121-107 win over the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas All-Star Luka Doncic finished with a game-high 37 points.

 

Thunder continue to be silenced

The Thunder are now in the midst of a season-worst losing streak of 10 games after losing to the Raptors.

Josh Richardson struggled again for the Mavericks. He was just three-for-nine shooting, while making only one of his five three-point attempts for seven pints. Mavericks team-mate Tim Hardaway Jr. (eight points) finishing two-for-10 shooting.

 

Bridges goes bang!

Miles Bridges is becoming known for his slam dunks. The Hornets star produced another memorable dunk in the second quarter.

 

Sunday's results

Atlanta Hawks 129-117 Indiana Pacers
New York Knicks 122-112 New Orleans Pelicans (OT)
Miami Heat 109-107 Brooklyn Nets
Charlotte Hornets 109-101 Portland Trail Blazers
Houston Rockets 114-110 Orlando Magic
Toronto Raptors 112-106 Oklahoma City Thunder
Los Angeles Clippers 124-105 Minnesota Timberwolves
Sacramento Kings 121-107 Dallas Mavericks

 

Warriors at 76ers

Red-hot Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors (28-29) visit the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers (39-17) on Monday. The 76ers have won four straight games.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said the NBA title hopefuls are waiting to discover the severity of Kevin Durant's latest injury after the superstar was ruled out early in the loss to the Miami Heat.

The Nets endured a forgettable trip to Miami, suffering a buzzer-beating 109-107 defeat against the Heat, having seen Durant exit in the opening quarter due to a left thigh contusion on Sunday.

Durant missed 23 games because of a hamstring injury before returning this month and the Nets – eyeing their maiden championship – are hoping they are not without the former MVP for another sustained period.

"He's sore but we don't know how severe," first-year coach Nash told reporters post-game.

"We'll see tomorrow how he wakes up and go from there but right now nothing’s been determined."

Durant was hurt during the first quarter, appearing to tangle legs with Trevor Ariza on a drive to the basket during the first quarter.

The 11-time All-Star had played for just four minutes, going three-for-three shooting – including two successful attempts from beyond the arc – to finish with eight points.

Durant was out for nearly two months of the season due to a hamstring injury, making his return against the New Orleans Pelicans on April 7 with 17 points in just under 19 minutes.

The two-time NBA champion did not dress for the defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers (39-17) on Thursday, a result that means they hold the tie-breaker over the Nets (38-19) in the Eastern Conference, but was back in action on Saturday, scoring 25 in the victory over the Charlotte Hornets.

"The timing of everything this year has just been a tell-tale sign of what life is right now in terms of the uncertainty of a lot going on," said Nets star Kyrie Irving, who posted 20 points in the continued absence of superstar James Harden (hamstring).

"Anything could happen at any moment, so we don't want to take anything for granted. But anytime one of our team-mates goes down, anytime something like that happens, it's definitely going to take a hit for us. And he's just gotten back. We just pray that it's not too serious and he's able to recover, but it definitely has a hit on our continuity at times. But we're not making any excuses for each other.

"We're all professionals, the guys that are getting minutes right now, we need them. So it's going to turn eventually, but we've just got to find that continuity, that connectivity from the start of the game to the end."

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said securing the Eastern Conference's number one seed would be "valuable" but not at the expense of losing players to injury as his short-handed team lost the top spot to rivals the Philadelphia 76ers.

The star-studded Nets (37-18) were without Kevin Durant, James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin for Wednesday's 123-117 defeat away to fellow NBA championship hopefuls the 76ers (38-17).

After posting 31 points in 27 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday – just his third appearance since a 23-game injury absence – the Nets opted to sit former MVP Durant and avoid back-to-back outings.

Despite missing most of their stars, though Kyrie Irving (37 points) returned, the Nets almost upstaged the 76ers in the highly anticipated showdown, rallying from 22 points down to close within 118-115 with just over one minute remaining.

"It'd be great to have the number one seed. I think it means a lot, it's valuable," Nash said afterwards. "But not at the expense of losing players or prolonging our injury situation.

"So I think we have to be very careful and make sure that our guys get to the finish line as whole as possible."

Durant has been averaging 28.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game this season.

He is also shooting a career-high 44.8 per cent from three-point range, while the two-time NBA champion (53.5) only boasted a better field-goal percentage in 2016-17 (53.7).

On Durant's absence, Nash responded to suggestions the two-time NBA champion was held out to keep Philadelphia guessing to how Brooklyn – eyeing a maiden title – might operate as a full and healthy unit in the playoffs.

"I think when you start to really try to be cute, it backfires most of the time," Nash said. "It wasn't strategic. It was, this is what this is the availability we have."

Irving – who returned from a personal issue after sitting out the Timberwolves matchup – starred for the Nets, but he watched from the sidelines as Brooklyn's reserves rallied down the stretch.

"Just played their hearts out," Irving said. "That's all you can ask coming out here to play the game that we all love. Just to go out there and compete. You know I'm sure they were chomping at the bit.

"Especially to get that win down the stretch for us and I feel like they grew as a group, we grew as a team and they learned some things out there playing against a high level playoff team that we can potentially see down the line. So it was a fun game overall."

The Brooklyn Nets will be undermanned for Wednesday's blockbuster NBA matchup with Eastern Conference rivals the Philadelphia 76ers after Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin were ruled out.

Brooklyn and Philadelphia are set to do battle in a first-place showdown midweek – the two championship hopefuls share 37-17 win-loss records atop the east.

But the Nets will be without superstar Durant (hamstring – injury management) and former All-Stars Aldridge (illness – non-covid related) and Griffin (knee – injury management) as the trio join James Harden (hamstring) on the sidelines.

The star-studded Nets, however, do welcome back Kyrie Irving after he missed Tuesday's 127-97 rout of the Minnesota Timberwolves due to personal reasons.

Former MVP Durant was in doubt for the 76ers clash after playing 27 minutes against the Timberwolves.

Durant posted 31 points on 11-for-15 shooting in his third appearance following a 23-game injury absence.

The Nets-Timberwolves matchup was initially scheduled for Monday, but it was pushed back in the aftermath of Daunte Wright being shot and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.

It meant Durant faced the prospect of back-to-back games, which the Nets opted to avoid as they eye their maiden NBA title.

Durant is averaging 28.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists for the star-studded Nets this season.

He is also shooting a career-high 44.8 per cent from three-point range, while the two-time NBA champion (53.5) only boasted a better field-goal percentage in 2016-17 (53.7).

The Brooklyn Nets warmed up for Wednesday's showdown with the Philadelphia 76ers with a comfortable 30-point victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves in Tuesday's postponed game.

Kevin Durant top scored for the Nets with 31 points along with four rebounds, with guard Joe Harris adding 23 points in the 127-97 win.

Brooklyn improved to a 37-17 record, equal with the 76ers, in the absence of James Harden (hamstring) and Kyrie Irving (personal reasons).

The Utah Jazz regained some form after losing three of their past five games, triumphing 106-96 over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert put on a show with 13 points, 14 rebounds and a staggering seven blocks, while Croatian forward Bojan Bogdanovic top scored with 23.

 

No Kawhi but Clippers keep on winning

The Los Angeles Clippers extended their winning streak to six games despite missing Kawhi Leonard in a 126-115 victory over the Indiana Pacers.

Leonard was out with a sore right foot but Paul George was up to the task, with 36 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. That's the fourth straight game he's reached 30 points.

The Clippers have now won 12 of their past 14 matches and move to a 38-18 record, equating to third in the West.

The Los Angeles Lakers managed a 101-93 win over the Charlotte Hornets to move to 34-21 in the West.

With LeBron James and Anthony Davis still out injured, the Lakers relied on Kyle Kuzma with 24 points including four threes while center Andre Drummond had 12 rebounds.

The Phoenix Suns remain firm in second in the West with a 106-86 win over the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics edged the Portland Trail Blazers in a final quarter thriller 116-115 as the jostle for play-offs seedings continues.

 

Thunder crashing down

Guard Luguentz Dort may have scored a career-high 42 points but he was not able to celebrate as the Oklahoma City Thunder slumped to their seventh straight loss against the Jazz. The Thunder are now 20-34 and practically out of playoffs contention.

 

LeBron loves Kuz sledgehammer

Kyle Kuzma got LeBron James on his feet with a massive one-handed dunk on the transition late in the second in the Lakers' win.

 

Tuesday's results

Brooklyn Nets 127-97 Minnesota Timberwolves
Los Angeles Clippers 126-115 Indiana Pacers
Atlanta Hawks 108-103 Toronto Raptors
Los Angeles Lakers 101-93 Charlotte Hornets
Utah Jazz 106-96 Oklahoma City Thunder
Phoenix Suns 106-86 Miami Heat
Boston Celtics 116-115 Portland Trail Blazers

 

Nets in Philly

The top two in the East will face off when the Philadelphia 76ers host the Brooklyn Nets (both 37-17) with Joel Embiid and Kevin Durant available to play although James Harden will likely miss due to injury.

Kevin Durant played down the importance of the Eastern Conference showdown between the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers as the superstar focuses on his return to full fitness.

The Nets and 76ers will go head-to-head in a blockbuster clash pitting the east's top two teams against each other on Wednesday – Brooklyn and Philadelphia share 37-17 records atop the standings.

Brooklyn eased past the Minnesota Timberwolves 127-97 in their rescheduled game on Tuesday, with Durant posting 31 points on 11-for-15 shooting in 27 minutes as the former NBA MVP works his way back from a 23-game absence following a hamstring injury.

The Nets-Timberwolves matchup was initially scheduled for Monday, but it was pushed back in the aftermath of Duante Wright being shot and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.

It means Durant is facing the prospect of back-to-back games, with his status for the 76ers contest uncertain midweek.

"I want to play just to get back in the swing of things more so than like pinpoint that matchup," said Durant as the Nets eye their maiden championship. "You know what I'm saying?

"I think for us we want to get everybody healthy and acclimated to what we're doing out there and I think that's just as important as circling the calendar for Philly.

"They're a great team, well-coached and I'm sure a team we're going to run into here soon but for us at this point we want to continue to fine tune what we do get better at the things that make us who we are and we'll see what happens down the line."

Durant – in his first game back as the Nets played without James Harden (hamstring) and Kyrie Irving (personal) – added: "I felt good out there. I felt like my wind and legs were getting underneath me in each and every minute I'm playing.

"That's really what I wanted out of this time and we'll see how I feel in the morning and I'll talk to coach and the training staff to see where we go from there."

Durant is averaging 28.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.2 assists for the star-studded Nets this season.

He is also shooting a career-high 43.7 per cent from three-point range, while the two-time NBA champion (52.8) only boasted a better field-goal percentage in 2016-17 (53.7).

"It's a tricky balance because he needs to play a certain amount of minutes for his benefit," said Nets head coach Steve Nash. "At the same time, when the game is that out of hand, you're caught like, do we want to risk him being out there at this point in the game.

"In an ideal world he'd play close to 30 minutes, but at the same time, he's out there at the end of the game in meaningless minutes you want to be careful as well.

"We're trying to find that balance. At least he had a good game and got some minutes in his legs."

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