The Dallas Mavericks are finally playoff-bound, thanks to a 101-92 win over the Utah Jazz on Monday night.
Wesley Matthews hit a couple of key 3-pointers, and the Mavericks' defense showed up to thwart the Jazz from the 3-point line for most of the second half, as the Mavs managed to ease away from a Jazz team that had been a problem for them all season.
The veterans carried the day for the Mavs (42-39), as Dirk Nowitzki scored 22 points and 11 rebounds, Matthews chipped in 20 points and Deron Williams — in his second game back from an injury that forced him to miss eight games — scored a team-high 23 points, including 18 in the first half.
"It didn't look pretty there about two weeks ago," Nowitzki said, referring to the Mavs' stretch where they lost 10 of 12 games and briefly fell out of the Western Conference's Top 8. "But the playoffs are always a fun time. Our franchise deserves this."
So now the final jockeying begins. While the Mavs have clinched a playoff berth they have not clinched a seed, and the Mavs could be anywhere from the No. 5, No. 6 or No. 7 seed when the regular season ends on Wednesday night.
The scenarios are plentiful. (See the breakdown going into the week here.) But the Mavs can help themselves with a win over San Antonio in their season finale Wednesday night. The Mavs own head-to-head tiebreakers over both Portland, currently the No. 5 seed, and Memphis, currently the No. 6 seed. But the Mavs lose all tiebreakers in a three-way tie with Portland and Memphis.
If the Mavs want to slide up all the way to the No. 5 seed, they need both Portland and Memphis to lose their remaining games, in addition to beating the Spurs.
The Jazz (40-41) have been a thorn in the Mavs' side this season, including a win in Dallas in February in which the Jazz mounted a massive fourth-quarter comeback and then beat the Mavs in overtime. Monday night the Mavs led the game throughout, and the Jazz suffered a loss in the second quarter when center Rudy Gobert rolled an ankle while trying to grab a rebound and missed the rest of the game.
The Mavs took advantage, winning the rebounding battle by nine, 47-38.
But Utah proved pesky again, cutting the Mavs' lead to two, 66-64, with less than two minutes left in the third quarter. Matthews stepped in, hitting one of his four 3-pointers of the game on an awkward corner jumper as the shot clock neared zero. The Mavs used the momentum to build a 71-64 lead at the end of the third quarter.
"I thought Mathews hit big shots all night long up against the shot clock," Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said.
Nowitzki called that jumper the "shot of the game," but Matthews hit another big one in the fourth quarter. His final 3-pointer, with 5:43 left, pushed Dallas' lead to 11, 84-71. While the Jazz hung around the rest of the way, they never made it a single-possession game down the stretch.
Nowitzki came out of the game with a good shooting effort, hitting most of his 3-pointers in the first half (including a 1,700th). He also played some D, too ...
But Williams' effort in the first 24 minutes fueled Dallas' slim four-point halftime lead. Playing in his second straight game after resting his sports hernia, Williams logged 37 minutes as Jazz fans showered their former point guard with boos throughout the contest.
"The booing of Deron Williams is nonsense," Carlisle said. "He was focused, he was determined and he showed what a great player he is. The kind of game he played tonight after being down for two weeks was big time."
Right now, most any Mavs criticism can be considered "nonsense.'' This club wasn't supposed to accomplish much this year, and with the loss of Chandler Parsons and other injuries, maybe shouldn't have.
But this is a winning team, a "Basketball Soul'' team, a fun team and a playoff team. And it belongs to Dirk, sure ... but it belongs to everyone involved, rookies included, naysayers allowed, bandwagoners welcome.