Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers has singled out point guard Ben Simmons for special praise, saying the Australian is driving the high-flying NBA club at the moment.
The Sixers handed out another beating to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night to maintain the heat on the Brooklyn Nets, who went down 128-109 to Portland, as the race for the top seeding in the Eastern Conference hots up.
Simmons (six rebounds and five assists), Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris each scored 18 points in the 126-104 victory, which followed a 127-83 shellacking of the Hawks two days earlier.
The Australian has played three strong games after missing the previous four due to illness.
In home wins over Oklahoma City and the last two over Atlanta, he has averaged 12.7 points, five assists and 4.3 rebounds in 22 minutes per contest while shooting 78.2 per cent (18 of 23) from the field.
"Ben has been a tone-setter for us; he's been absolutely amazing," Rivers said. "I don't know if it's the best he's played all year, but it's close. He's driving our team right now."
Dwight Howard had a team-high 19 points and 11 rebounds for the 76ers, who are now just a half-game behind conference leaders Brooklyn.
The 76ers likely will be sad to see the Hawks leave town. Besides the victories, the two games against Atlanta gave Embiid, Simmons and other key starters extra rest as they weren't needed for the full duration ahead of the playoffs.
"It (rest) came at a perfect time for us," Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said. "None of (the starters) had to stretch minutes. Now they're good to go, which is great. The bench guys got great rhythm."
Jayson Tatum scored a career-high 60 points - including four free throws in the final 12 seconds of overtime - as the Boston Celtics came back from a 32-point, second-quarter deficit to beat the visiting San Antonio Spurs 143-140.
In the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns pulled into a tie for the top spot with Joe Ingles' Utah Jazz by beating the Jazz 121-100 in Phoenix.
Australian forward Ingles had 12 points and three assists for the Jazz who were without their All-Star backcourt of Mike Conley (hamstring) and Donovan Mitchell (ankle sprain).
But they could not keep pace with the hot Suns who were led by Devin Booker with 31 points while Mikal Bridges added 18, Chris Paul had 12 points and nine assists and Deandre Ayton contributed 11 points and nine rebounds.
Sitting fifth in the Western Conference, defending champions Los Angeles Lakers slipped to a 110-106 loss to the lowly-ranked Sacramento Kings despite LeBron James returning from the longest injury absence of his career.
James scored 16 points, grabbed eight rebounds and provided seven assists while Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
The Lakers had gone 8-12 in their 20 games without four-time MVP James and were also without Davis for 16 of those games.
They have now lost five of their last six games.