Paul returns, Suns beat Nuggets to wrap up NBA’s top seed
DENVER (AP) — Chris Paul returned from a broken right wrist to help the Phoenix Suns wrap up the top seed in the NBA playoffs with a 140-130 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night.
Devin Booker led Phoenix with a season-high 49 points and Paul had 17 points — 15 of them after halftime — and 13 assists in the Suns’ seventh straight victory.
The Suns, who won 11 of the 15 games while their 12-time All-Star point guard was out, lead the NBA with a 60-14 record and are trying to make the NBA Finals for a second straight season after losing to Milwaukee last year.
Nikola Jokic led Denver with 28 points. The Nuggets shot 59.3% from the floor, but Phoenix was even hotter, hitting at a 60.5% clip.
Mikai Bridges added 22 points for the Suns on 8-of-9 shooting, Bridges and Deandre Ayton have played well in Paul’s absence and Ayton had a career-high 35 points Wednesday night in a comeback victory at Minnesota. He had 16 against denver.
Paul returned roughly five weeks after breaking his right thumb in a game against Houston on Feb. 16, just before the All-Star break.
With a nine-game lead over second-place Memphis with eight games left for both teams, the Suns wrapped up the best record in the NBA and home-court throughout the playoffs.
GRIZZLIES 133, PACERS 103
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Desmond Bane scored 30 points, hitting 12 of 15 shots, and Memphis beat Indiana to clinch a playoff spot.
Jaren Jackson Jr. finished with 20 points, going 7 of 13 from the field, and the Grizzlies shot 54%. De’Anthony Melton added 19 points, and John Konchar matched his career high with 18. Bane was 5 of 7 from outside the arc as Memphis made a season-high 21 3-pointers.
Before the game, Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins announced that leading scorer Ja Morant would miss the next two weeks with right knee soreness.
Lance Stephenson led Indiana with 25 points.
BUCKS 114, WIZARDS 102
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Jrue Holiday had 24 points and 10 assists to help short-handed Milwaukee beat Washington.
Grayson Allen added 21 points and the Bucks never trailed despite playing without either of their two All-Stars: Khris Middleton and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Middleton missed a second straight game with a sore left wrist. Antetokounmpo was out for the second time in three games with a sore right knee.
Ish Smith scored 17 points for Washington.
PELICANS 126, BULLS 109
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Devonte’ Graham hit five 3-pointers on his way to a season-high 30 points, CJ McCollum scored 25 points and New Orleans beat Chicago.
Jonas Valanciunas added 16 points and 19 rebounds for the Pelicans. They won for the fourth time in six games as they try to solidify their hold on a Western Conference play-in spot.
Zach LaVine scored 39 points for Chicago, which played without leading scorer DeMar DeRozan (left groin) and lost for the fifth time in six games.
RAPTORS 118, CAVALIERS 104
TORONTO (AP) — Pascal Siakam matched his season high with 35 points, Chris Boucher added 17 and Toronto beat Cleveland to tighten the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Siakam was 6 for 7 from 3-point range to help Toronto snap a three-game home losing streak and tie Cleveland for the sixth-best record with nine games left.
Lauri Markkanen led Cleveland with 20 points.