Kevin Durant shook off pre-game jitters to score 23 points in his Phoenix Suns debut, helping his new team to a 105-91 victory in Charlotte that halted the Hornets’ five-game NBA winning streak.
Durant was acquired from Brooklyn in a blockbuster trade three weeks ago but was sidelined until Wednesday with a sprained knee ligament.
As Durant announced his arrival in the Western Conference, back in the East the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics continued to jockey for dominance.
The Bucks beat the Orlando Magic 139-117, their 16th straight victory which keeps them half a game ahead of the Celtics atop the conference.
The Celtics, with 41 points from a resurgent Jayson Tatum, beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 117-113 in Boston.
Durant was efficient playing restricted minutes, scoring 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting in less than 27 minutes on the floor.
He added six rebounds, a pair of assists and a couple of blocked shots, complementing new teammate Devin Booker’s 37 points.
“I’ve played in almost a thousand basketball games, but today I was nervous,” admitted Durant, who scored his first points as a Sun with a silky layup less than two minutes into the contest. “A new team, new group, I want to do well, want to play hard for them and be coachable.
“So I was thinking about all of that today. But once the ball was tipped my teammates were incredible in making me feel comfortable and I just tried to go out there and play my game.”
Phoenix are in fourth place in the West, 10 games behind conference leaders Denver and three behind the third-placed Sacramento Kings.
Even as he continues to return to full fitness, Durant showed what an asset he can be as they try to climb the table.
Durant scored 12 points in the first half as the Suns took a 16-point lead.
The Hornets, whose rising star LaMelo Ball had season-ending surgery on a broken ankle earlier Wednesday, had trimmed the deficit to six points going into the final quarter.
Durant started the period and helped the Suns pull away.
“Man, I missed the game,” Durant said. “I’m glad my knee’s back right, I’m glad I’m on the road to playing more and more minutes each game.
“I’m looking forward to what we can build from this.”
In Milwaukee, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 31 points to lead the Bucks, who knocked down 26 three-pointers.
Milwaukee’s winning streak is their longest since they won 18 straight in the 2019-20 season, and it’s the longest in the league since the Suns won 18 in a row last season.
In Boston, the Celtics turned the tables on a Cavs team that beat them twice in overtime early this season.
Tatum, who was ejected late in Boston’s loss to the Knicks in New York on Monday, bounced back to notch his ninth 40-point game of the season.
“Got off to a good start and just kept staying aggressive,” said Tatum, who added that it “just felt good to get back home.
“All Star break, Indiana, it’s been two weeks since I slept in my own bed,” he noted.
– Knicks keep rolling –
Al Horford added 23 points and Jaylen Brown scored 16 for the Celtics, who withstood a 44-point outburst from Cleveland guard Donovan Mitchell, who soldiered through an apparent right thigh injury suffered early in the third quarter.
Elsewhere, the Knicks won their seventh straight, trouncing Brooklyn 142-118 at Madison Square Garden.
Jalen Brunson scored 30 of his 39 points in the first half for the Knicks — who seized control with a 47-point first quarter and sailed home.
Philadelphia’s Tyrese Maxey scored 27 points and James Harden added 23 as the 76ers beat the Heat 119-96 in Miami, despite the late scratch of star center Joel Embiid with a sore left foot.
The injury depleted Los Angeles Lakers — with LeBron James sidelined by a foot injury and Anthony Davis held out to manage the stress reaction in his right foot — beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 123-117.