LOS ANGELES: Kevin Durant scored 16 points in his return from injury as the Golden State Warriors won their 14th straight with a 123-101 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday (Sunday in Manila).
Durant also finished with a game-high 10 rebounds and six assists as he played 31 minutes at the Amway Center after missing 19 games with a knee injury.
“I felt good putting my jersey on and running out with the team. It felt normal again,” Durant said.
“I am a basketball player. I love playing basketball. It is my favorite thing to do. To feel part of team and this energy we have feels great.”
The Warriors improved to 66-14 to extend their win streak which is the longest in the NBA this season. They had already clinched the top seeding in the Western Conference.
They won Saturday despite the absence of Stephen Curry, who was sidelined by a bruised left knee.
The Pelicans (33-47) played minus star big men DeMarcus Cousins (right Achilles tendinitis) and Anthony Davis (sore left knee).
They were also playing the second night of back-to-back games that began with a loss in Denver.
Durant suffered a sprained left knee on February 28.
The Warriors threw him right into the fire against the Pelicans, not only starting him but feeding him on their first possession. He made good, driving to the hoop for a reverse dunk.
“You get a dunk on the first play of the game, it don’t matter how long you been out, it feels good,” he said.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Durant has been bugging him to play.
“At first we thought it was season ending,” Kerr said. “I am just happy for him that he was back out here where he needs to be. It was time for him to play.”
Elsewhere, Jimmy Butler did all he could, but the Chicago Bulls’ defensive lapses proved too costly to overcome in a damaging 107-106 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
Butler scored 33 points, but the Bulls’ bid to rally from a lackluster first half were doomed by their inability to put the brakes on the Nets in the final five minutes.
“Jimmy played amazing down the stretch,” said Chicago guard Dwyane Wade, who scored 14 points in his return after missing 11 games with a broken right elbow. “He hit a lot of big shots for us. We just needed some stops.”
After their slow start the Bulls finally seized the lead for the first time midway through the third quarter.
Nikola Mirotic’s three-point play on a fast break gave them a 97-88 lead with 4:24 to play.
But Chicago didn’t score again for more than two minutes, when Butler’s jump shot gave them a 99-98 lead.
In the meantime, Nets rookie Caris LeVert hit back-to-back three-pointers and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson made two layups.
The Bulls were unable to respond. Butler’s two free throws gave Chicago a 101-98 lead with 1:36 to play, but it would be their last lead of the game.
Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists as the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Philadelphia 76ers 90-82 to clinch a playoff berth.
Antetokounmpo scored eight of his points in the third quarter, when the Bucks (41-39) outscored the Sixers 25-12 to seize command and snap a three-game losing skid.
The Bucks began the night needing a victory and a loss by Chicago, Indiana or Miami to secure their second postseason berth in three years. The Bulls lost 107-106 to Brooklyn.
Greg Monroe added 17 points off the bench for Milwaukee, which held Philadelphia to 35 percent shooting, including just 25 percent from beyond the arc.
In Portland, Damian Lillard scored a franchise-record 59 points to power the Portland Trail Blazers to a 101-86 victory over the Utah Jazz.
Lillard broke the club record of 54 points set by Damon Stoudamire in 2005.
The 26-year-old American sank 18 of 34 shots from the field, nine of 14 from three-point range and 14 of 16 from the foul line in front of a crowd of 19,800 at the Moda Center arena.
It was the second straight victory for the Trail Blazers who improved to 40-40 on the NBA season.
Their magic number for earning the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference is one.
One Portland victory or one Denver loss clinches the berth for the Blazers.