Kevin Durant’s career-high 55 points could not prevent the Brooklyn Nets suffering a 122-115 loss to the Atlantic Hawks which snuffed out their last slim hope of a top-six finish in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
With just over a week of the regular season remaining, the Nets – home of Australian star Patty Mills and among the title favourites entering the season – are locked into the play-in tournament contested by the teams from seventh to 10th.
Trae Young scored 36 points, including nine in the final minute, in Saturday night’s match in Atlanta to lead the Hawks (41-37) into eighth place in the East, a game ahead of Brookyn and (40-38) and Charlotte.
“I’m not worried about that,” Durant said of his personal scoring record. “I’m just mad at the loss.”
The Hawks, attempting to regain the late-season momentum which pushed them to the last year’s Eastern Conference finals, have won 10 of 13.
Amidst his 55 points, Durant set another career high by making eight 3-pointers while Kyrie Irving added 31 points.
But the Nets had no other scorer in double figures while missing two starters and another top backup. Mills started and played 31 minutes without scoring.
Backup point guard Goran Dragic did not play after suffering COVID-19 symptoms.
Brooklyn’s backcourt depth took another hit when starter Seth Curry was ruled out with a sore ankle minutes before the game and they were also without starting forward Bruce Brown (flu).
In Chicago, Jimmy Butler scored 22 points, and Kyle Lowry added 19 points and a game-high 10 assists as the Miami Heat defeated the Chicago Bulls 127-109.
Miami (50-28) lead the Eastern Conference and swept all four games against the sixth-placed Bulls this season.
In Philadelphia, the 76ers tied their franchise record with 21 3-pointers as they beat the Charlotte Hornets 144-114.
Joel Embiid had 29 points, Tobias Harris scored 23, Tyrese Maxey had 19 and James Harden had 12 points and 13 assists for Philadelphia who are fourth in the East.
In New York, Darius Garland had 24 points and 13 assists to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 119-101 win over the New York Knicks.
The Cavaliers (43-35) are seventh in the East.
In San Francisco, Klay Thompson scored 36 points as the Golden State Warriors erased a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Utah Jazz 111-107.
The improbable win, during which they trailed by as many as 21, allowed the Warriors (49-29) to increase their lead over the Dallas Mavericks (48-30) to a full game atop a four-team duel for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.