Associated Press

NBA Power Rankings: Familiar faces from Bay Area back on top

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A familiar face is back on top of the power rankings, the Golden State Warriors, who flipped the switch in a couple of key games (Houston, Oklahoma City) to remind us of their status as the team to beat. The Bucks only slide down one spot.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (48-22, last week No. 4). Steve Kerr called last week’s loss to the Suns “a wake up call” for Golden State, and the team responded with wins against Houston and Oklahoma City, holding each of them to less than 40% shooting. All without Durant. Andrew Bogut is back and in his debut showed he can give the Warriors a few quality minutes behind DeMarcus Cousins (once Boogie gets back from his mild ankle injury) and that’s all they need from the Australian.

 
Bucks small icon 2. Bucks (53-18, LW 1). Malcolm Brogdon is going to be out for a while, likely into the first round of the playoffs (at least), and the loss to Philadelphia on Sunday showed how much the Bucks will miss him. Brogdon is both a threat to shoot the three (he’s shooting 42.6% from deep but takes fewer than four per game) and his straight line drives to the rim to create shots. The loss to the Sixers may be an anomaly but it was the realization of the worst playoff fears for the Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo went off for 52 (a chunk of that late) but the other Bucks shot 31% from three and didn’t step up under pressure. That can’t happen in the postseason.

 
Nuggets small icon 3. Nuggets (47-22, LW 5). The Nuggets still have a shot at the best record in the West (they are just half-a-game back of the Warriors and are tied in the loss column) but they are going to have to get some tough wins on the road to do it — 6 of Denver’s next 8 games are on the road, and the teams left on its schedule have a much higher winning percentage than who Golden State faces (the teams play each other April 2). However, the win in Boston shows the Nuggets can get the needed wins. They just need more plays like this Nikola Jokic game-winner against Dallas.

 
Sixers small icon 4. 76ers (46-25, LW 6). Philadelphia is 6-1 when their dream five start the game. That lineup is besting teams by 17.2 points per 100 possessions when on the court together, dominating on both ends. However, the key in the postseason will be finding lineups with bench players that work while starters rest (and are staggered in with the bench). Against the Bucks Sunday the fivesome of Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler, Mike Scott, T.J. McConnell, and Boban Marjanovic was +12 in just under 11 minutes. The Sixers need more of that.

 
Rockets small icon 5. Rockets (45-26, LW 2). Houston has won games where it shot poorly recently (except against the Warriors) because the team is finally defending well again — the Rockets have a defensive rating of 107.7 in their last 15 games, eighth best in the league in that stretch. The Rockets need those wins to hang on to the three seed, Portland is just 1.5 games back and seeds 3-8 in the West are separated by just 3.5 games. Winners of 11-of-12, the Rockets have 4-of-5 coming up on the road, but only two of those games are against playoff teams.

 
Raptors small icon 6. Raptors (50-21, LW 3). Toronto is 12.5 points per 100 possessions worse when Kyle Lowry sits and the Raptors offense falls apart (the offense scores less than a point per possession when Jeremy Lin is on the court). It was evident in the loss to Detroit, but the Raptors thought Lowry would only be out two games until Michell Robinson fell on his ankle Monday, now he’s out for a while longer, although it doesn’t look to be a severe ankle injury. Toronto could use him in the upcoming home-and-home against Oklahoma City. The Raptors remain pretty much locked in as the two seed in the East, injury or no.

 
Celtics small icon 7. Celtics (43-28, LW 7). Boston GM Danny Ainge called his team “inconsistent” right now, and that’s pretty spot on. They have won 5-of-7 including thrashing the Warriors, but losses to the Clippers and Nuggets raised questions about how far they can really go. Another concern is the struggles of the starting lineup in recent weeks. With plans to rest Al Horford a few games as well as other starters down the stretch (with an eye toward having them fresh for the playoffs), will Boston make up the half game it is behind Indiana and get home court in the first round?

 
Spurs small icon 8. Spurs (42-29, LW 11). After that dreadful rodeo road trip, we kind of wrote the Spurs off, but that’s always a mistake. San Antonio has won nine in a row and the Spurs have a shot at home court in the first round of the playoffs (San Antonio is the five seed, just 1.5 games back of Portland and home court). In the last 9 games the Spurs have a +9.1 net rating. While the offense has been good during the streak (top 10) it is the defense — which has struggled much of the season — returning to elite status that has made the big difference (103.1 defensive net rating in those 9 games, third best in the league).

 
Blazers small icon 9. Trail Blazers (43-27, LW 9). Not having C.J. McCollum for at least a week — and likely longer, McCollum told NBC Sports he’s taking it week by week but he doesn’t have a timeline — will make it challenging for Portland to hang on to the four seed and home court in the first round. San Antonio, OKC, Utah, and the LA Clippers are all within two games of the Blazers. Portland leaned heavily on its starting five to win games, now it needs more out of Jake Layman and Rodney Hood to win enough to keep home court.

 
Jazz small icon 10. Jazz (41-29, LW 13). Winners of four in a row and with the easiest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way, as long as the Jazz take care of business they will climb higher than the seven seed, and home court is not out of the question (although it’s a long shot at two games back with 11 to play). The Jazz are doing it with their old formula: They have the best defense in the NBA over the last 10 games and held a few teams to less than a point per possession, then they are getting just enough offense from Donovan Mitchell and company. But that pedestrian offense remains the thing holding them back.

 
Clippers small icon 11. Clippers (42-30, LW 10). Doc Rivers is deservedly going to get a lot of Coach of the Year votes, and Steve Ballmer and the Clippers understand when you have something good you don’t let it go, so he locked Rivers up (no Lakers in Rivers’ future). The Clippers have been a well-run basketball operation for a few years now and extending Rivers fits with that. Another something that works in L.A.? Lou Williams. He has made a strong Sixth Man of the Year push and shots like this help.

 
Pacers small icon 12. Pacers (44-28, LW 12). The Pacers keep playing great defense to stay in games, then getting spurts of offense that spark dramatic comeback wins. Any fan of basketball has to admire the grit and tenacity with which this team plays. Nothing speaks to the fight in these Pacers like coming from 19 down against the Thunder, setting up the Wesley Matthews game winner.

 
Thunder small icon 13. Thunder (42-29, LW 8). Oklahoma City has lost three in a row — because their offense has gone missing, having the second-worst net rating in the league during the last 10 games — and is now tied with San Antonio for the 5/6 seed in the West, with the 7/8 seeds (Jazz, Clippers) both just half a game back. Why should those four bunched-up teams concern Thunder fans? Because OKC has the toughest remaining schedule of any West playoff team (starting with a home-and-home against Toronto starting on Wednesday) and the Thunder could fall farther down the standings in the West.

 
Heat small icon 14. Heat (34-36, LW 17). They have won 7-of-9 against a tough schedule, including beating the Pistons and Hornets in the past week. The wins have come in bunches with Bam Adebayo starting and Hasaan Whiteside coming in with energy off the bench, that rotation has helped the Heat defense. All those wins has kept Miami 1.5 games clear of Orlando for the final playoff slot in the East, but the Heat are on the road this week (and the Magic have a very soft schedule the rest of the way).

Pistons small icon 15. Pistons (36-34, LW 15). Would the real Detroit Pistons please stand up? Please stand up? Is it the team that got blown out by the Nets and Heat, and Monday lost to the Cavaliers? Or, is it the team that beat Raptors twice this month (Dwane Casey revenge games)? The Pistons are inconsistent because Reggie Jackson has been off his game (Blake Griffin has struggled with his shot of late, too). That loss Monday in Cleveland was the first of a five-game road trip for Detroit.

 
Nets small icon 16. Nets (37-36, LW 14). The Nets have gone 1-3 to start a seven-game road trip (although the win was a dramatic comeback against the Kings that could turn the trip around). The blame for the stumbles falls on the team’s offense, third worst in the NBA over the last 10 games. Specifically, it falls on their guards — D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and company have gone cold of late — at least until Russell in the fourth quarter against the Kings Tuesday. The Nets have slid down to the seven seed and are just three games away from falling out of the playoffs entirely. Add to that they have the toughest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way and Brooklyn needs to find some wins to stay in the dance.

 
Kings small icon 17. Kings (34-36, LW 16). Sacramento’s long-shot bid to make a run to the playoffs took a punch to the gut Tuesday night with the worst loss of the team’s season: blowing a 25-point fourth quarter lead to the Nets. Sacramento’s playoff dreams were put on their death by a recent 1-3 road trip where all the losses were in games the Kings were within five points in the final five minutes but couldn’t close it out. The Kings’ goal now should be to finish the season 8-4 and be above .500 for the campaign for the first time since 2006 (or at least 7-5 and get to .500).

 
Magic small icon 18. Magic (33-38, LW 19). The Magic have the softest schedule of any team fighting for a playoff spot in the East, but that only helps if the team wins games — Orlando is 3-4 in its last seven with losses to Cleveland, Memphis, and Washington. The Magic are still just 1.5 games back of the heat and have won the first two of a five-game homestand, but that has to be just the start. Orlando needs more out of Terrence Ross and the bench to make this run.

 
19. Timberwolves (32-39, LW 18). Minnesota is turning heads with the amazing play of Karl-Anthony Towns sparking an offensive resurgence, but the team is 3-7 in its last 10 because it has the worst defense in the NBA by far in that stretch, a defensive net rating of 121.2. On the bright side, rookie forward Keita Bates-Diop is looking like he could be a rotation player.

Pelicans small icon 20. Pelicans (31-42, LW 20). Elfrid Payton has had a triple-double in five straight games. The only other players in NBA history to do that? Russell Westbrook, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, and Michael Jordan. That’s elite company. Of course, the Pelicans lost the first four of those, in part because they are one of the worst clutch teams in the NBA (15-26 in games within five points in the final five minutes). Which is why the win over Dallas in OT Monday was a nice change of pace.

 
Wizards small icon 21. Wizards (30-41, LW 23). Bradley Beal has thrived without John Wall next to him and, barring a collapse, will be just the 12th guard in NBA history to average 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game. Beal is averaging 29.9 points per game since the All-Star break and had a pair of 40-point games last weekend. Beal could make the All-NBA team, which shows how impressive he’s been in spite of the team’s struggles.

 
Hornets small icon 22. Hornets (31-39, LW 21). Charlotte’s playoff chances are not dead yet, but the prognosis is not good. Sunday’s loss to Miami, where Charlotte scored just 75 points, likely did them in. The Hornets are three games back of he Heat with 12 to play and likely need to go at least 8-4, maybe 9-3, the rest of the way to get an invite to the dance. Not impossible, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

 
Grizzlies small icon 23. Grizzlies (28-42, LW 22). Given some extra run since coming over in the Marc Gaol trade, Jonas Valanciunas has reminded teams he can get them some points. Valanciunas has averaged 17.9 points on 58.2% shooting plus is grabbing 8 rebounds a game since joining the Grizzlies. He has a player option on his contract for next season for $17.6 million and it seems likely he will pick that up (unless he’s looking for a longer deal with more security, which is not likely out there). Expect his name to come up in trade talks, but wherever he plays next season he has value.

 
Lakers small icon 24. Lakers (31-40, LW 24). Los Angeles has clearly let go of the rope on the rest of this season — they are bottom 10 in the league in both offense and defense in their last 10 games, with an -8.1 net rating over that stretch. That’s why the focus in Los Angeles has already shifted to the off-the-court moves from the team this summer, starting with who the next head coach will be. That’s not decided, the only thing we know is it will not be Doc Rivers. By the way, LeBron James can still do this.

 
Hawks small icon 25. Hawks (24-48, LW 25). Despite the losses piling up and Hawks fans watching NCAA Tournament games this weekend on scouting expeditions, the Hawks remain one of the most entertaining teams to watch down the stretch. Trae Young is shooting from anywhere in the building and is electric to watch, John Collins is going to be a stud, but maybe the most fun part is 42-year Vince Carter still making plays and being a part of the action.

 
Mavericks small icon 26. Mavericks (28-42, LW 26). Luka Doncic is going to win Rookie of the Year and continues to impress, but his game has slipped a little as the long season has ground him down. It has been most evident his high 13.4 turnover ratio in his last 10 games (his assist ratio is still at 20%). Congrats to Dirk Nowitzki for passing Wilt Chamberlain for sixth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

 
Bulls small icon 27. Bulls (20-52, LW 28). Chicago has played poorly of late, even for them. On one end their defense has been one of the worst in the NBA, while on the other end Lauri Markkanen has gone into a scoring slump. The only time that changed was the one game the Bulls could have stood to lose, their defense showed up in a win over the Suns, meaning the Bulls almost certainly will enter the draft lottery in the No. 4 slot.

 
Suns small icon 28. Suns (17-55, LW 27). The Suns picked up a key loss Monday in Chicago. Going into that game the Suns had the third worst record in the NBA but had won 6-of-10, while the Bulls were the fourth worst record. If the Suns won that game the Bulls would have had a real shot at one of the three worst records in the league, with each of those teams getting a 14% chance of Zion Williamson, er, the top pick in the draft at the lottery. The Bulls won and now are three games better than the Suns and will not make that up, meaning the Bulls will have a 12.5% shot at Zion. Not a huge difference, but when you’re talking about a franchise player every little bit helps.

 
Cavaliers small icon 29. Cavaliers (18-53, LW 29). Maybe Monday is the Cavaliers’ night. This past Monday Cleveland beat playoff-bound Detroit, the Monday before that they beat Toronto, but they lost the three games in between those contests. Collin Sexton has come on as a scorer lately, having scored at least 23 points in six straight games as he starts to feel more comfortable with the NBA three (and that means fewer midranges).

 
Knicks small icon 30. Knicks (14-57, LW 30). Knicks fans, don’t just watch Duke and drool at the possibilities in the NBA draft, don’t forget to check out Ja Morant from Murray State, the kind of scoring point guard New York might want. Also, D’Andre Hunter from Virginia is the kind of defensive wing who can get out in transition and hit threes who would look good with the Knicks next season. Jarrett Culver of Texas Tech also would be a good fit.

Three Things to Know: D’Angelo Russell’s 27 in fourth sparks Nets 25-point comeback win

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) D’Angelo Russell’s 27 in fourth sparks, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s circus shot completes Nets’ 25-point comeback on Kings. Heroes in the NBA can come from the most unlikely places.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had fallen out of Brooklyn’s rotation. He got a DNP-CD four of the last six games, and the two games he got on the court it was only in garbage time. He had become an afterthought.

However, on Tuesday, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson was frustrated. His Brooklyn team was getting outworked and outhustled by the Kings in a game the Nets needed — lose this and just two games (one in the loss column) would have separated Brooklyn and missing the playoffs. Yet the Nets were flat and down 24 with 4:53 left in the third quarter when Atkinson turned to the bench and put Hollis-Jefferson in looking for a spark. He didn’t get it immediately (Hollis-Jefferson’s first play was a turnover), the Nets were down 25 points at the start of the fourth.

That’s when D’Angelo Russell took over — he scored 27 points in the fourth (of his career-high 44), much of it in transition as the Nets pushed off misses right back at the fast-paced Kings. Russell attacked — he was 6-of-7 inside 8 feet of the rim in the fourth — but also was 4-of-7 from three.

It was an epic comeback that saw a Jared Dudley three put the Nets in the lead for the first time.

But it ultimately took a circus shot from Hollis-Jefferson to get the win. The play was designed for Russell (as it should have been) but De’Aaron Fox did a good job of ball denial, so with time running down Russell yelled “go!” and Hollis-Jefferson went at Marvin Bagley III, then got the circus shot to fall.

This loss was essentially the final dagger in the Kings’ already dying playoff dreams, and you could hear that in the voice of the Kings’ announcers on that final shot.

The Nets won the fourth quarter 45-18. The game before against the Clippers the Nets had made a comeback with a 10-0 run in the final 1:02, only to have Lou Williams spoil the comeback with a game winner. Tuesday night it was the Nets’ turn.

Brooklyn is going to make the playoffs and be a tough out for somebody in the first round.

Russell is a restricted free agent who is going to get PAID this summer.

2) James Harden has now had a 30+ point game on every other team in NBA this season. Which is the more impressive feat from James Harden:

That he has now scored 30 points on all 29 other teams in the NBA this season, a feat he capped off by dropping 31 on the Hawks’ Tuesday in a win.

Or that he has now has taken more threes in a season than any player in NBA history. Stephen Curry had the record at 886 during the 2015-16 season, but with his 11 on Tuesday Harden is now up to 890 attempts. And counting. He’s shooting 35.5 percent on them, by the way.

Or maybe his best play of the night is what Harden did to Kent Bazemore.

We’re going to go with the 30-points on all 29 teams as being the more impressive. The last guy to drop 30+ on every team was Michael Jordan, but that was “just” 27 teams because the league expanded in 2004.

Either way, it’s been an MVP-level season (whether he wins the award or not he played well enough to get it).

3) Doc Rivers is not going to coach the Lakers, signs extension with Clippers. Luke Walton is going to be the fall guy for a disappointing — or if you prefer, disastrous — Lakers’ season. He’s not blameless, but he’s also not the primary reason the Lakers have fallen so far short of expectations. Still, someone’s head has to roll, and the conventional wisdom around the league says it will be Walton.

If/when the Lakers fire Walton, who are they going to get that’s better? What coach can they bring in that LeBron James will instantly respect and trust? What coach will they find who the players want to play for and who puts them in positions to succeed?

That guy is already at Staples Center — Doc Rivers of the Clippers. Which has led to rumors and speculation the Lakers would target him this summer.

Rivers shot that all down Tuesday night, saying he signed an extension to stay with the Clippers.

To be clear, Doc River signed an extension with the Clippers last May, but both sides had an opt-out after this season. Rivers and Ballmer talked, got rid of the opt-out, and extended the deal even further.

Rivers knows the Clippers are in a good spot — they start three guys age 21 or younger, they are going to be in the mix for major free agents, and they have an owner who both helped turn the franchise culture around and is willing to pay for the best to win. Rivers knows a good situation when he sees one and he’s not leaving it.

It’s going to be interesting to see what direction the Lakers go next summer when getting their new coach.

Embiid has 21 points, 17 rebounds, leads 76ers past Kings

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A little rest and a taste of spring did a lot for Jimmy Butler.

Butler had 22 points, six rebounds and seven assists while playing with the type of assertiveness coach Brett Brown says the 76ers need from him in Philadelphia’s 123-114 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Friday night.

Joel Embiid added 21 points and 17 rebounds and made some big plays on both ends of the court late in the fourth quarter for the 76ers, who won their third in a row to pull even with idle Indiana for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Philadelphia holds the tiebreaker with the Pacers and is trying to maintain hold of home court in a first-round playoff series, something Brown said he coveted before the contest. Fifth-seeded Boston is two games behind the 76ers and Pacers.

In order to secure home court and go deep in the playoffs, Brown knows he’ll need Butler to play the way he did against the Kings.

“He was our bell ringer,” Brown said. “We will not be as good as we can be without him playing the way he played tonight.”

Butler rested in Philadelphia’s last game, a 106-99 victory over Cleveland on Tuesday. And he felt even more refreshed by Friday’s weather in Philly, which reached 75 degrees.

“That’s all it takes,” Butler said. “Rest and good weather. It makes my knees not ache.”

And it’s only going to warm up as the postseason draws near, a great sign for 76ers fans.

“The snow is gone,” Butler said. “We’re good. We’re ready to rock.”

Tobias Harris and JJ Redick each added 19 points and Ben Simmons contributed 18 for the 76ers.

Harrison Barnes and De'Aaron Fox had 16 points apiece for Sacramento, which lost its third in a row and seventh in the last nine to further hurt its playoff push. The Kings, who last made the postseason in 2006, entered ninth in the West, five games behind the Clippers.

“We’re playing hard, we’re playing the right way, we’re playing together,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “The wins are going to come.”

And how?

“Don’t play Golden State, Oklahoma City, Denver, Philly, Boston . I can go on,” Joerger joked.

With Philadelphia clinging to a four-point lead with 3 minutes remaining, Embiid blocked Willie Cauley-Stein‘s layup attempt. Two possessions later, Embiid rejected Barnes’ close-range try before hitting a short jumper of his own to make it 121-114 with 1:45 remaining.

“At the end of the day, I think Joel Embiid made two defensive plays that were terrific,” Joerger said.

The Kings were playing one night after a 126-120 loss at Boston, a game in which they had a 17-point first-half lead.

Against Philadelphia, Sacramento played from behind from the outset. Philadelphia increased its 62-58 halftime advantage to as many as 13 in the third quarter on Redick’s 3 that made it 93-80 with 2:13 left in the period.

The 76ers had a 10-point advantage to start the fourth, but Yogi Ferrell‘s 3 capped a 9-2 Kings run to start the period that pulled Sacramento within 101-98 with 9:25 to play. But Simmons scored consecutive buckets from close range to increase the lead to seven and Sacramento never would get closer than three the rest of the way.

 

Three Things to Know: Nikola Jokic’s leaner at buzzer tops Luka Doncic dunk

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Nikola Jokic’s leaner at buzzer beats Luka Doncic dunk in Denver win. Dallas may have lost six in a row and 11-of-12 coming into Thursday night, but do not question how badly Luka Doncic wants to win these meaningless games (or Dallas) down the stretch. Doncic doesn’t do tanking. He may be slumping (shooting 21.6 percent from three in his last five games) but it’s not because he’s mailing it in.

Just ask Denver, who watched him put up 24 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Thursday — and he threw down a dunk over two Nuggets with 5.8 seconds left that looked like a game winner.

Then Nikola Jokic topped it.

Denver came from 10 down in the fourth quarter, tied it on a Paul Millsap bucket that gave him 33 on the night, got lucky Doncic missed a free throw after being fouled on his clutch dunk (that and-1 point would have had Dallas up two), then gave the ball to their star with everything on the line and he hit a well-defended leaner for the win.

That shot crushed Doncic.

Denver’s win keeps them just one game back of Golden State for the top seed in the West, maintaining pressure on the Warriors not to mail in the rest of the season.

2) Pacers will not go quietly, beat Thunder to hang on to three seed in East. Indiana is not folding. First, Victor Oladipo went down and people expected the Pacers to crash and burn, but they just kept on finding ways to win. Then the Pacers hit (and are still in the middle of) a brutal patch of the schedule, but they refuse to roll over. If Philadelphia is going to be the three seed, it will have to pry it from the Pacers’ cold, dead hands. Indiana is not going away.

Just ask the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Pacers held on to the three seed for another night, coming from 19 down in the second half for a clutch home win. They can thank Wesley Matthews, the guy they picked up to fill some of Oladipo’s minutes. Matthews was the closer. First, he played good defense on Paul George.

Then he had the putback game winner (Russell Westbrook watched the ball, slid into the middle of the lane and didn’t put a body on him).

As always with the Pacers it was a team effort — Domantas Sabonis scored 26 and keeps making his Sixth Man of the Year case. Coach Nate McMillan may have found something with a lineup of Matthews, Sabonis, Myles Turner, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Darren Collison. That group outscored the Thunder 23-10 down the stretch. The group played so well Thaddeus Young told coach Nate McMillan not to sub him in and break up what was working.

It was too much for OKC despite Russell Westbrook’s triple-double and Paul George dropping 36 points.

Indiana is half-a-game up on Philly for the three seed, with Boston 1.5 back. Indy still has work to do — six of their next seven are on the road, all against playoff-bound teams — but don’t expect them to fold.

3) Kyrie Irving triple-double leads Boston to a gritty win. Pretty or ugly, the wins all count the same. And the Celtics need those wins.

The first-half Thursday was ugly for the Celtics. Boston’s shaky transition defense was getting abused by a Kings’ team that always plays in fifth gear. Plus, the Celtics shot 1-of-12 from three. Sacramento led by as many as 17 and seemed in control.

Then the second half saw toughness from Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown getting buckets on his way to 22. Then when Boston needed it, Kyrie Irving stepped up, finishing with a 31 point, 12 assists, 10 rebound triple-double.

Boston remains the five seed in the East, but the Celtics may be playing the best ball of any East contender entering the playoffs. In the postseason, grit goes a long way, and Boston has shown it has plenty when needed.

Watch Kyrie Irving grab a triple-double as Celtics beat Kings (VIDEO)

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BOSTON (AP) Kyrie Irving had 31 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds to help the Boston Celtics overcome a 17-point first-half deficit and beat the Sacramento Kings 126-120 on Thursday night.

It was Irving’s second career triple-double. His first was with Cleveland on Feb. 28, 2014, against Utah.

Jaylen Brown added 22 points, and Marcus Morris finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds.

It was Boston’s second victory over Sacramento in eight days, and the Celtics’ fourth win in five games overall.

Buddy Hield led Sacramento with 34 points. Harrison Barnes added 20, and De'Aaron Fox had 19 points, nine assists and seven rounds as the Kings lost for the 11th straight time in Boston.

The Kings have dropped 13 of 17 road games as their hopes of catching the Clippers for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot fade.

Sacramento had split the first two games of its four-game trip. The Kings were hoping for a boost with rookie Marvin Bagley III returning after spraining his left knee in a home loss to Milwaukee on Feb. 27 and missing five games.

He played only 10 minutes in the first half but had 10 points to help the Kings build a 17-point lead. He finished with 14 points and six rebounds.

The Celtics returned home on the mend following a 3-1 West Coast trip.

Jayson Tatum was back in the starting lineup after missing a game with right shoulder soreness. Smart was battling a cold but also started. Meanwhile, Terry Rozier and Daniel Theis both sat out with illnesses.

It had its effect. Despite playing on two days’ rest, the Celtics were slow on switches on defense and relied on jump shots early. They stayed close thanks in large part to Irving’s 19 first-half points.

Boston was much more energetic in the third quarter, opening on a 9-2 run to take its first lead since early in the first quarter.

Sacramento led 89-79 with less than three minutes to play in the period before a 3 by Irving and three straight 3-pointers by Brown put the Celtics back in front.

Boston led by as many as 13 in the fourth quarter.

TIP-INS

Kings: Outscored the Celtics 22-11 in fast break points.

Celtics: Irving is the first Celtics player to record 30-plus points and a triple-double in the same game since Rajon Rondo on Feb. 12, 2012, against the Bulls. … Boston shot 39 percent (10 for 26) in the field in the first quarter and 1 for 12 from the 3-point line in the first half.

ACCURATE KINGS

The Celtics were sluggish in the first quarter for the second straight game. Boston missed eight of its first 10 shots as the Kings sprinted out to a 17-6 lead.

And much like in its 25-point loss against the Clippers on Monday, Sacramento was able to rack up easy transition baskets.

The Kings ended the quarter with a 38-25 lead, shooting 70 percent from the field and connecting on four 3-pointers. Barnes led Sacramento with 11 points in the quarter. Hield added 10, going 4 for 4 from the field and 2 for 2 from deep.

UP NEXT

Kings: Visit Philadelphia on Friday.

Celtics: Host Hawks on Saturday.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower