NBA: Blazers spoil Lillard's return to Portland, Durant's Suns eclipse Nets

AFP , Thursday 1 Feb 2024

Damian Lillard's emotional return to Portland opened with an ovation and ended in defeat as the Trail Blazers held off the Milwaukee Bucks 119-116 on Wednesday.

Damian Lillard
Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard (0) dunks the ball on Portland Trail Blazers forward Jerami Grant, center, as forward Toumani Camara, left, looks on during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. Photo: AP


Lillard was playing his first game in Portland since the September trade that sent him to Milwaukee after he spent his first 11 NBA seasons as a Blazer.

Greeted by a massive standing ovation and feted with a video tribute, Lillard felt the love, but the Bucks endured a second straight defeat under new head coach Doc Rivers, who was brought in after the abrupt dismissal of Adrian Griffin despite their position at second in the Eastern Conference behind the Boston Celtics.

Anfernee Simons, once mentored by Lillard in Portland, led the Trail Blazers with 24 points and made a floater that gave them the lead for good with 17.6 seconds to play.

Lillard had thrown down a dunk and fed Giannis Antetokounmpo for alley-oop dunk that put Milwaukee up 116-115 with 37.9 seconds remaining.

Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 27 points and Lillard added 25, but after Simons' go-ahead basket the Bucks couldn't find a way to score and Jerami Grant sealed it at the free-throw line.

"It was kind of weird, first time ever playing in an actual game against him," Simons said. "But it was fun. Obviously he plays the same way against anybody, he's got the same demeanor. But I'm pretty sure it felt a little bit different tonight."

Kevin Durant made a triumphant return to Brooklyn, scoring 33 points to lead the Phoenix Suns to a 136-120 victory over the Nets.

Durant received a warm welcome in his first game in Brooklyn since the blockbuster trade that sent him to Phoenix last season.

Fans cheered his introduction and the Nets played a video tribute.

The cheers turn to boos as Nets fans got frustrated but the Suns, up by three at halftime, quietened the Barclays Center crowd with an explosive fourth quarter, Durant scoring 11 points in the period as Phoenix outscored Brooklyn 42-26 to take control.

Jusuf Nurkic scored 28 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Suns and Devin Booker added 22.

"It was cool," Durant said of being back in Brooklyn, where the dream that he would combine with Kyrie Irving and James Harden to take the Nets to a title, fizzled.

Now the Suns are hoping a big three of Durant, Booker and Bradley Beal can help them contend for a title, and Durant said his experiences in Brooklyn -- like those of his current teammates elsewhere -- can only help their cause.

"Everybody's been through a lot of things in our locker room, in this league, switching teams, injuries all that stuff," Durant said. "We're bringing all that together and we try to use that experience and that knowledge to make us a better team."

In Oklahoma City, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 34 points to lead the Thunder in a 105-100 victory over the defending champion Denver Nuggets, who were without two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic because of lower back trouble.

Heat halt skid

The Thunder's third win in four games against the Nuggets this season moved Oklahoma City to second in the Western Conference behind Minnesota, who eased past short-handed Dallas 121-87.

Karl-Anthony Towns led Minnesota with 29 points while Josh Green's 18 paced the Mavericks, who were without injured Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving.

The absence of star forward Paul George didn't slow the Los Angeles Clippers in a 125-109 victory over the Wizards in Washington.

Kawhi Leonard led the Clippers with 31 points, nine rebounds, four assists and four steals and Los Angeles bounced back from a Monday defeat at Cleveland and have now won nine of their last 11 games.

In Cleveland, the Cavaliers welcomed Darius Garland back from an extended injury absence with a 128-121 home win over the Detroit Pistons.

Donovan Mitchell poured in 45 points for Cleveland and Garland -- in his first game since suffering a broken jaw in a game at Boston on December 14 -- added 19.

The Miami Heat, fueled by 31 points from Jimmy Butler, snapped a seven-game skid with a 115-106 home victory over the Sacramento Kings.

Sacramento's Keegan Murray led all scorers with 33 points and Domantas Sabonis had a triple-double of 19 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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