Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 40 points and rejected a Joel Embiid shot with seconds remaining to propel the NBA champion Bucks to a key 118-116 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday.
Khris Middleton scored 22 points and Jrue Holiday added 18 for the Bucks, who moved a half-game behind the Miami Heat for first place in the Eastern Conference.
The Sixers dropped two places to fourth, but still just 1 1/2 games behind the Heat.
As the top of the table clash dominated Eastern Conference action, the Los Angeles Lakers slid out of Western Conference post-season position with an embarrassing 128-110 loss to the Mavericks in Dallas.
With LeBron James and Anthony Davis sidelined by injury, the Lakers trailed by a shocking 82-56 at halftime.
It was the second-most first-half points allowed by the Lakers in franchise history — after the 83 conceded to the Celtics in 1959.
“Not good enough in any way,” was Lakers coach Frank Vogel’s assessment after watching Mavs star Luka Doncic ride roughshod over his players.
Doncic scored 34 points with 12 rebounds and 12 assists, posting his 10th triple-double of the season.
Doncic said the Mavs knew they needed a quick start against the Lakers, who with seven games remaining are fighting just to get into the play-in tournament for teams in seventh through 10th place.
“They’re fighting for the playoffs so we had to get out with aggressiveness and energy,” he said.
Meanwhile the Bucks and Sixers continued their battle for position in the East in a game that came down to the wire.
James Harden scored 32 points and grabbed nine rebounds for Philadelphia and Embiid shook off a slow start to score 29 points with 14 rebounds and seven assists.
Down by as many as 11 in the first quarter, the 76ers led by 10 at halftime and by 14 in the third quarter.
But the Bucks took control in the fourth, opening the final period on a 13-4 scoring run and taking a 94-93 lead on a three-pointer from Middleton.
It was a back-and-forth battle from there, with an Antetokounmpo free throw putting Milwaukee up by two with 13.2 seconds remaining.
Out of a timeout Harden missed a three-pointer and Embiid grabbed the rebound for a put-back attempt that Antetokounmpo blocked with 1.6 seconds left.
An initial goaltending call on Antetokounmpo — which would have given a basket to Philadelphia — was overturned on review, and on the ensuing jump ball the 76ers ran out of time.
“I just tried to jump as high as I can and make a play,” said Antetokounmpo, who also had 14 rebounds and six assists.
Durant fuels Nets
Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan scored 32 points to lead the Bulls to a 107-94 victory over the Washington Wizards and into sole possession of fifth place in the East.
Brooklyn superstar Kevin Durant scored 41 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as the Nets erased a 12-point second-quarter deficit to beat the Detroit Pistons 130-123 at Barclays Center.
Kyrie Irving scored 24 points and Andre Drummond added 14 for Brooklyn, who had six players score in double figures.
The victory kept the Nets a game ahead of the Charlotte Hornets for eighth place in the East.
In Los Angeles, Paul George returned from a three-month injury absence to score a game-high 34 points and help the Clippers rally from a 25-point third-quarter deficit for a 121-115 victory over the Utah Jazz.
George, sidelined since December 22 with a torn ligament in his right elbow, made six three-pointers, handed out six assists and came up with four steals.
Reggie Jackson added 21 points for the Clippers, who took the lead for the first time, 110-109, with 3:24 left to play.
Donovan Mitchell scored 33 points for the Jazz, who saw guard Trent Forrest depart early with concussion-like symptoms after taking an inadvertent shot to the head from teammate Rudy Gobert.