WASHINGTON (AFP) – Devin Booker scored a season-high 49 points Thursday and the Phoenix Suns clinched the NBA’s best season record and a home-court edge throughout the playoffs by defeating Denver, 140-130.
The Suns, who welcomed back injured guard Chris Paul after a five-week absence, won their seventh game in a row and improved to a league-best 60-14, clinching the Western Conference title.
“That felt good,” Booker said. “It was a very high intensity game. We wanted it. We wanted our 60th game tonight and we ended up doing it.”
Booker made 16 of 25 shots from the floor, two of five from three-point range, and 15-of-17 from the free throw line while also contributing 10 assists, four rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot.
The Suns, who also had 22 points from Mikal Bridges plus 16 points and a game-high seven rebounds from Deandre Ayton, improved their league-best road record to 30-6.
Paul played 30 minutes and scored 17 points, passed off 13 assists and grabbed four rebounds. He sank four free throws in the final seconds to help clinch the triumph.
The Suns went 11-4 during Paul’s absence. The All-Star point guard had not played for Phoenix since suffering a right hand injury in a victory over Houston on February 16.
Before the injury, Paul averaged 14.9 points and an NBA-best 10.7 assists.
Nikola Jokic scored 28 points to lead the host Nuggets, who fell to 43-31, a game ahead of Minnesota for sixth in the West.
Memphis superstar guard Ja Morant was idle due to a right knee injury, but the Grizzlies improved to 16-2 without him in the lineup with a blowout home triumph.
Desmond Bane scored 30 points, Jaren Jackson added 20 and Stephen Adams grabbed a game-high 17 rebounds to power Memphis over Indiana, 133-103.
The Grizzlies improved to 51-23, the second-best record in the NBA. The team will have at least its best season since 2014-15, the last time Memphis won a playoff series.
Morant will miss at least two weeks after tweaking the knee in a loss to Atlanta last Friday. He is set to be reevaluated on April 7, only three days before the conclusion of the regular season.
Morant’s breakout season has already seen him average 27.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists.
– Giannis-less Bucks win –
Reigning NBA champions Milwaukee, playing without two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo due to his sore right knee, moved within a game of Eastern Conference leader Miami with a 114-102 triumph over visiting Washington.
Jrue Holiday scored 24 points and passed out 10 assists, Grayson Allen added 21 points and Bobby Portis had 11 points and 12 rebounds to lift the Bucks (46-27) to the victory.
Devonte Graham scored 30 points and Jonas Valanciunas contributed 16 points and 19 rebounds to spark the New Orleans Pelicans over visiting Chicago 126-109.
Zach LaVine had 39 points in a losing cause for the Bulls, who fell to 42-31 but stayed a game ahead of sixth-place Cleveland in the Eastern Conference after Cavaliers lost 117-104 at Toronto.
Cameroonian playmaker Pascal Siakam scored 35 points to lead six Toronto players in double figures as the Raptors matched the Cavs’ record at 41-32 in the fight for a top-six spot and automatic playoff berth.
Raptors 117, Cavaliers 104
Bucks 114, Wizards 102
Grizzlies 133, Pacers 103
Pelicans 126, Bulls 109
Suns 140, Nuggets 130