Kevin Durant scored a season-high 45 points to power Brooklyn to a 109-102 NBA victory over the Orlando Magic on Monday that kept the Nets trending in the right direction.
While the league-leading Boston Celtics romped again, leading wire-to-wire in a 140-105 victory over the Charlotte Hornets, the Philadelphia 76ers erased a 16-point deficit to beat the Atlanta Hawks 104-101 in star center Joel Embiid’s return from injury.
In Brooklyn, the Nets had their hands full early with the Magic, who led by 10 in the first quarter.
The Nets were up by one at halftime, and Durant erupted in the third quarter, scoring 19 points, blocking two shots and coming up with a steal in the period as the Nets seized control.
“Teammates set great screens for me, the paint was opened up because we were spaced off properly and I was able to knock some shots down,” Durant said after the game.
It’s been a rocky season for Brooklyn, who had just sacked coach Steve Nash in the wake of a 1-5 start when star guard Kyrie Irving was embroiled in controversy after posting a link to an anti-semitic film on social media.
Durant, who was a ruthlessly efficient 19 of 24 from the floor and also had seven rebounds and five assists, was delighted to see them put together back-to-back victories and move to 11-11 for the season.
“We’ve been through a lot so far,” he said. “Getting to .500 is a definite goal of ours the last couple of weeks — we were right on the cusp.”
Irving added 20 points and Nic Claxton scored 16 points with 13 rebounds for the Nets.
“We just want to keep progressing,” Durant said.
It was business as usual in Boston, where Jayson Tatum returned from a one-game absence to score 35 points and sat out the fourth quarter with the game well in hand.
Jaylen Brown, who had carried the load in Tatum’s absence in a blowout victory over Washington on Sunday, had his turn to rest, sitting out with a sore neck.
It didn’t matter at all as the Celtics knocked down 24 three-pointers and kept their offense clicking with 40 assists.
The Hornets, missing Terry Rozier, LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward, simply had no answer for a Celtics team that has won 13 of their last 14 games.
Embiid shines in return
In Philadelphia, Embiid started slow in his return from a four-game absence with a sprained left foot.
He connected on just one of his first seven shots, but finished nine-of-18 from the floor, grabbing eight rebounds and handing out seven assists, while chants of “MVP! MVP!” rang out as he made the final free throw to seal the win.
Embiid’s fadeaway jump shot had given the 76ers a 101-100 lead with 18.6 seconds to play.
Seconds later he picked off a pass from Atlanta’s Trae Young, then made two free throws to stretch Philadelphia’s lead.
Embiid, who was hurt when teammate Georges Niang fell on him during a game, said he felt good after playing 35 minutes on Monday.
“I thought it (the injury) was going to be really bad,” he said. “So I’m just excited to come back in such a short amount of time.”
Wizards center Kristaps Porzingis had a big night in Washington, scoring a career-high 41 points — 29 of them in the first half — in a 142-127 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Even worse for the T-Wolves, star Karl-Anthony Towns had to be helped off the court in the third quarter with what the team said was a right calf strain.
Towns was running up the court when he suddenly grabbed his leg and fell. He was eventually helped to the locker room by teammate Rudy Gobert and a team trainer.