Booker stars as Suns beat Heat to seal NBA playoff berth

Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns (right) shoots the ball during the game against the Miami Heat on March 9, 2022 at FTX Arena in Miami, Florida. (AFP)

Devin Booker returned from a four-game absence to power Phoenix over Miami 111-90 on Wednesday in a matchup of conference leaders, clinching an NBA playoff berth for the Suns.

Booker, back after being sidelined by Covid-19 protocols, scored a game-high 23 points, passed off nine assists, pulled down eight rebounds, made two steals and blocked two shots for the visitors, who improved to a league-best 53-13.

"I'm just trying to find my rhythm," Booker said. "I had a week off. I felt good. I was ready to get back at it."

The triumph was important to the Suns, who lost 123-100 to Miami at Phoenix on January 8.

"They came to our home court and kicked our ass so we wanted to make a statement here," Booker said. "We knew it was going to be a hard game but I like how we played."

Mikal Bridges added 21 points for Phoenix while Bahamas big man Deandre Ayton contributed 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Duncan Robinson led Miami with 22 points. The Heat were without star Jimmy Butler, out with sinus congestion.

The Suns stretched their lead in the Western Conference to 8.5 games over Memphis by dispatching the top club in the Eastern Conference, the Heat falling to 44-23.

Phoenix, which lost last year's NBA Finals to Milwaukee, improved to 22-0 this season when keeping an opponent under 100 points and became the first team to secure a post-season berth.

"The playoffs are upon us," Booker said. "We're looking forward to it. We don't want to fall short again."

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 43 points and pulled down 12 rebounds to spark the reigning NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks over visiting Atlanta 124-115.

It was the sixth victory in a row for the Bucks, who pulled within two games of the Heat for the conference lead at 42-25. Trae Young led the Hawks with 27 points and 11 assists.

Reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic of Serbia struck for 38 points and 18 rebounds to power the Denver Nuggets over host Sacramento 106-100 despite 32 points from the Kings' De'Aaron Fox.

LeBron triple-double

Houston rookie Jalen Green scored a season-high 32 points to power the Western Conference doormat Rockets to a 109-100 overtime home victory over the Los Angeles Lakers despite a triple double from LeBron James.

"When we make a mistake or break down defensively or don't get a good look at the basket, teams are making us pay for it every time," James said after his club's ninth consecutive road loss.

"It's that simple. We have a small margin for error and they are making us pay."

Turkish rookie Alpern Sengun scored 21 points and grabbed 14 rebounds for the Rockets, who had seven players in double figures.

James delivered 23 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists for the Lakers while Russell Westbrook scored 30 points to lead Los Angeles, which fell to 28-37 at ninth in the Western Conference.

Jayson Tatum scored 44 points to lead Boston to a 115-101 triumph at Charlotte while Chicago's DeMar DeRozan scored a game-high 36 points and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds in a 114-108 Bulls victory at Detroit.

Fred VanVleet scored 26 points while Cameroonian playmaker Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes each added 20 points to power the Toronto Raptors over host San Antonio 119-104.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich remained level with Don Nelson with an NBA record 1,335 regular-season wins. His next chance at getting the mark alone comes Friday at home against Utah.

Croatian forward Bojan Bogdanovic scored 27 points and Donovan Mitchell added 16 as host Utah routed Portland 123-85 while Malik Beasley poured in 33 points to power the Minnesota Timberwolves over visiting Oklahoma City 132-102.

Julius Randle scored 26 points to lead six double-figure scorers for the New York Knicks in a 107-77 rout of host Dallas despite 31 points for the Mavericks from Slovenian star Luka Doncic.

Cole Anthony led five double-digit scorers with 19 points to power Orlando over host New Orleans 108-102 while Reggie Jackson scored four of his game-high 31 points in a game-ending 11-0 run to give the Los Angeles Clippers a 115-104 home victory over Washington.