Big second half from Nowitzki, Ellis puts Mavs in playoffs; could put Suns out of them

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Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis have carried the Dallas Mavericks all season long.

So it’s fitting that Dallas is now in the playoffs because those two combined for 44 second half points Saturday night, turning an 11 point halftime deficit into a 101-98 Mavericks win at home.

With the victory Dallas secures a playoff spot in the West. They likely will be the seven seed and draw Oklahoma City in the first round (mathematically Dallas could get the six or eight seed).

The loss was a body blow to the Suns, who had their chances late but couldn’t convert.

Now the Suns are the nine seed, half a game back of Memphis and needing help to make the playoffs. To snag the eight seed Phoenix needs to beat Memphis on Monday and Sacramento Wednesday — then get help from the Lakers on Sunday or Dallas next Wednesday beating Memphis. That’s a problem. The Lakers suck, and with Dallas having secured their playoff spot they likely rest key guys on Wednesday night. It’s a tough spot for Phoenix.

But that’s where they left themselves after missing their chances in Dallas.

In the first half Eric Bledsoe attacked and carved up Ellis, scoring 17 points on 6-of-7shooting, plus he had five assists. He looked like the Bledsoe the Suns thought they traded for, the one who could be a franchise cornerstone. Channing Frye had 15 first half points hitting 5-of-5 from three. The Suns scored 57 first half points and played with the desperation you expect from a team fighting for its playoff lives.

But in the second half the Mavs played like former champions fighting for their playoff lives.

Nowitzki and Ellis were scoring but everyone was making plays. With 12.9 seconds left and the Suns down two Phoenix got the ball to Bledsoe on a curl around the free throw line and he drove for a game-trying layup, but Brandan Wright slid across and blocked it. Then when Markieff Morris had a shot at a three to tie it at the last second, but there again was Wright with the contest.

Ellis finished with 37 points, Nowitzki had 23. Bledsoe had 29 to lead the Suns, Goran Dragic was held to 13 points on 6-of-18 shooting.

After the game the Suns locker room was dejected, according to reports. They knew they needed this one, and they almost had it. However it got away from them.

Dirk Nowitzki has done that to a lot of teams over the years.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving: “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.

However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.

Which is what Kyrie Irving was getting at in this post-loss quote from Friday night, via Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.

Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.

Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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