Kurt Helin

SAN ANTONIO,TX - APRIL 10: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors applauds his team's effort in game against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on April 10, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. The Warriors won 92-86, tying the all-time record for wins in a season with 72. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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NBC/PBT NBA Power Rankings: Season ends as it started, Warriors on top and Sixers on bottom

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We knew the Warriors would be good this season, we didn’t know they would be THIS good. We knew Gregg Popovich would figure out how to use LaMarcus Aldridge. We knew the Sixers would stink. But all those teams — and the ones in between in these final power rankings of the season — gave us surprises that made this an interesting season. Now the power rankings end and next week we move into the part of the season that makes these rankings moot.

 
source: 1. Warriors (72-9, last week No. 1). With a likely win over Memphis Wednesday they will set the mark for most wins in an NBA season — it’s a major accomplishment. We should enjoy and savor records such as this. It will be part of this Warriors’ team’s legacy. But was the chase to 73 worth the mental fatigue and pressure, and will that haunt them in the playoffs? If they don’t win the title, the chase will be second guessed. A lot.

 
source: 2. Spurs (65-15, LW 2). They will finish with the best record in Spurs history, and with that Gregg Popovich would get my vote for Coach of the Year — he re-invented the Spurs with new personnel for roughly the 487th time. I’m not sold any team can defeat Golden State in a seven game series right now, but this is the only team that stands a decent chance. Of course, they need to get past a tough matchup with the Thunder first (in the second round).

 
source: 3. Cavaliers (56-24, LW 3). They are clearly the team to beat in the East with a lot of talent at the top — hopefully LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving can stay healthy through the playoffs. But with Iman Shumpert and Mo Williams battling knee issues, not to mention challenges along the front line, depth issues make this team vulnerable. Can any team in the East do anything about it is another question.

 
source: 4. Thunder (54-26 LW 4). They should cruise through the first round and they present a matchup challenge for the Spurs in the second round. The biggest question in July will be heavily impacted by what happens in May — how far do the Thunder get in the playoffs and was that good enough to keep Kevin Durant.

 
source: 5. Clippers (52-28, LW 7). The best part of the Clippers win on Sunday was the third quarter, when Blake Griffin clearly started to find his groove again in a way he hadn’t since his return from injury. The Clippers have the best net rating in the NBA over the last 10 games, they are playing good defense. But they get Golden State in the second round (barring a major upset) and all the improvements may not be enough. Which will lead to some big decisions this summer.

 
source: 6. Raptors (54-26, LW 5). It has been the best season in Toronto Raptors history. Again. But since training camp opened everyone knew this Raptors campaign would not be judged on the regular season but how far they go in the playoffs. This team saw players grow and step up (DeMar DeRozan) and integrated new key pieces (DeMarre Carroll), plus their defense improved — if they carry that over to the playoffs they are the second best team in the East. But will they?

 
source: 7. Hawks (48-32, LW 6). If you’re going to pick the team playing the best basketball in the East over the past month to challenge Cleveland, then you will pick Atlanta. This is a very good defensive team (second best in the East) with some offensive firepower built around Jeff Teague’s steady play. But they have not impressed against the top tier in the regular season.

 
source: 8. Hornets (46-34, LW 8). One of the statistical criteria for a “contender” is to be in the top 10 in offensive and defensive rating — the Hornets qualify. Kemba Walker was amazing this season, but Nicolas Batum was an underrated key and it’s going to cost a lot to keep him this summer. Charlotte should pay up.

 
source: 9. Celtics (47-33, LW 9). This team has just been fun to watch — they defend well, guys play hard for Brad Stevens and in return he puts them in great positions to play to their strengths, and they have Isaiah Thomas. That said, the playoffs are going to be a tough haul for this team, especially if they end up on the Cleveland side of the bracket.

 
source: 10. Heat (47-33, LW 10). The way Miami adapted and responded to play their best basketball after losing Chris Bosh at the All-Star break was one of the best stories of the second half of the season. Matches will matter for this team in the playoffs, and while I know their fans want Cleveland and think they are in LeBron’s head, the longer they can avoid the Cavs the better.

 
source: 11. Trail Blazers (43-38, LW 13). If you’re looking for the team pundits missed the biggest on — myself included, I thought they’d be near the Lakers record — it is Portland. Neil Olshey and Terry Stotts deserve credit and award votes, but the way C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard improved and led this team was the most amazing part to watch.

 
source: 12. Mavericks (41-39, LW 15). Another team that before the season looked like they would be on the outside looking in at the playoffs, but with their recent six-game win streak they are likely in. Big showdown against Utah Monday, win that and they lock into the postseason. Dirk Nowitzki seemed rejuvenated this season, which was a joy to watch.

 
source: 13. Pistons (43-37, LW 12). Stan Van Gundy has built a team that could be a force in the playoffs in a few years, and they fact they are going to get a taste of the playoffs this season will help that process along. The reason they are good is smart pickups and bets like Reggie Jackson and Tobias Harris, to pair with Andre Drummond in the paint.

 
source: 14. Pacers (43-37, LW 14). Small ball came to Indiana and, well, they made the playoff — thanks to a strong defense, just like old times. Seeing Paul George play this well was a highlight of the season, but they have a lot of work to put better talent around him.

 
source: 15. Jazz (40-40, LW 11). The Jazz are just one game ahead of the Rockets for the final playoff spot. Utah controls its own destiny, but it won’t be easy: Huge showdown with the Mavericks Monday, all the ceremony around Kobe’s final game Wednesday (if you think playing in that hyped environment is easy, why don’t you ask OKC about playing the final game in Sacramento Saturday).

source: 16. Wizards (39-41, LW 18). Why didn’t a turn toward small-ball work in Washington this season after some success in the playoffs last year? Because it’s not Randy Wittman’s style (he will be gone this summer)? Because the roster wasn’t built to play that way well? Because guys like Otto Porter didn’t step up while Bradley Beal again couldn’t stay healthy? Probably a little bit of everything.

 
source: 17. Grizzlies (42-38, LW 20). Injuries — particularly to Marc Gasol and Mike Conley — have this team stumbling over the finish line, and with that they are the team everyone wants to play in the first round. That said, when they had to they beat the also-stumbling Bulls to secure a playoff spot last week, and they put a scare in the Warriors. This summer in Memphis is all about keeping Mike Conley.

 
source: 18. Rockets (39-41, LW 16). Even at this late date the Rockets roller coaster does not stop — they beat Oklahoma City, followed by losses to Dallas and (worse yet) Phoenix. They need to beat an improved Timberwolves team and the Kings, then hope for some help (they have the tiebreakers over Utah and Dallas). Does this team deserve to make the playoffs? One of the most interesting questions of the summer: How much will Dwight Howard get paid?

 
source: 19. Bulls (40-40, LW 17). It’s not one thing in Chicago. You can’t hang it all of Fred Holberg, or management for going with him, or on injuries, or on Pau Gasol’s defense, or on chemistry issues that led to a team that was flat too many nights. It was a little bit of everything, and it’s not simple to fix.

 
source: 20. Magic (34-46, LW 19). The Scott Skiles bump wasn’t enough to get this team to the playoffs, but there were signs that going forward this could be a much better team. The development of Aaron Gordon is at the top of that list. There are questions to answer — is Elfrid Payton the point guard of the future in Orlando? — but with a lot of cap space in a city players like the Magic could be players with free agents this summer.

 
source: 21. Kings (32-48, LW 22). To a man the Kings said after their win at home Saturday against Oklahoma City — the final game in the old Arco arena —that they are finally finding a groove as a team now that the season is almost over. Part of that is this team is just better with Darren Collison running the show not Rajon Rondo. Expect a new coach this summer, but not a DeMarcus Cousins trade.

 
source: 22. Timberwolves (28-52,LW 25). That this team came from 17 down to beat the Warriors is just a flash of the potential this team, led by soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns. The big question is will Sam Mitchell be the one coaching this developing team next season. From what I’ve heard, I wouldn’t bet on it.

 
source: 23. Nuggets (33-48, LW 24). Over the course of a long season coach Mike Malone built a culture that works, and we saw Nikola Jokic emerge and Emmanuel Mudiay grow. There is real potential there. Going to be interesting this summer to see how Denver tries to add young (or veteran?) talent.

 
source: 24. Knicks (32-49, LW 26). Yes, they missed the playoffs and it wasn’t close, but this Knicks team was considerably better than the one the season before. Kristaps Porzingis gives them someone to build around for the future, but how much talent can they bring in this summer? Will Carmelo Anthony be among that talent or will he waive his no trade clause for the right deal? And who is coaching this team? So many questions for the summer.

 
source: 25. Bucks (33-47, LW 21). They found an offensive strategy with Giannis Antetokounmpo playing point forward, and they should improve on that end of the ball next season. But the defense that propelled them to the playoffs last season was gone and that is what the Bucks need to get back.

 
source: 26. Pelicans (30-50, LW 23). When looking at perimeter players this summer — and New Orleans needs to make changes there — the first question needs to be “can this guy defend?” Their perimeter defense was horrible. They still have Anthony Davis, but this team needs a roster that fits with what Alvin Gentry wants to do.

 
source: 27. Suns (22-58, LW 28). One of the more disappointing teams this season. With the addition of Devin Booker to Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight the backcourt can be okay, but they can’t keep and play both Tyson Chandler and Alex Len (and you don’t trade the young guy). Don’t be shocked if, after a wide search, Earl Watson keeps the coaching job.

 
source: 28. Nets (21-59, LW 27). I do not envy the job Sean Marks has in front of him, rebuilding a bad roster with few draft assets. This team may need to seriously consider Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young trades this summer to get the assets to build with, but that will mean more short term pain next season. There is no quick fix in Brooklyn.

 
source: 29. Lakers (16-64, LW 29). The Lakers have some nice young players — D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Larry Nance, etc. — and they have a 56% chance of keeping their first round draft pick (has to be top 3). Now they just need a coach who has shown he knows how to develop talent. Scott Brooks?

 
source: 30. 76ers (10-70, LW 30). The Sam Hinkie era is over (it was over the day Jerry Colangelo was hired), but his “process” laid the foundation that Bryan and Jerry Colangelo are going to take advantage of. They have the assets, now lets see if the Sixers can draft well/make smart trades to build on those. Rumors are out there that Brett Brown’s job is in jeopardy — that would be a mistake.

Kobe Bryant’s legacy in the words of those who went against him

<> at Staples Center on April 6, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.
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“Love me or hate me. It’s one or the other. Always has been.”

Kobe Bryant has built an image around the sentiment in that line from a Nike ad in 2006, down to the “hero or villain” theme he’s had in this, his final season.

But he left out one part — respect.

The coaches and players who went against Kobe for the past 20 years may have loved him or feared him, but they all respected him. That was evident every time one of them spoke.

Over the course of this season, we have been talking to people around the league about Kobe, from what it was like to prepare to face him, to how things were different in this final season. We talked about his influence and legacy — and nobody put it better than those that went against him for the past two decades.

Here are their words about Kobe and what he meant to them and the game.

WHAT WAS IT LIKE GOING AGAINST KOBE?

“No matter what you did defensively, he still could rise up over you and get off a relatively uncontested shot with balance. That would scare you because there’s really no defense for it. It was like you couldn’t let him get the ball, so you had to pick your spots when you wanted to get him away from the ball or, if he did have the ball, who you were going to send to him, who you were going to allow to shoot the ball, what you were going to give up if you went after him and took it out of his hands. It was that sort of thing. But the final fear would always be — even if we did that — he still would rise up, and he’s going to get that shot off. And he did that against a lot of people, including us, many times.”
—Gregg Popovich, coach of the San Antonio Spurs

“That’s a moment that I remember in (Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals, a 39-point Boston blowout win). The funniest moment, Kobe knows this, but we were up 1,000 (points) in Game 6 and the guy who you would least expect walks over to me during the game — (then-Celtics assistant coach) Tom Thibodeau — and he asks me, ‘Are you going to sub out? There’s six minutes and we’re up 42 points.’ Of all the guys to say that, it’s Tom Thibodeau. And I looked over there at the Lakers and Kobe was still on the floor, and I actually said, ‘When Phil takes that guy out, I take my guys out.’ And Thibs said, ‘You’re safe.’ And I said, ‘Not with that guy on the floor.’

“I was dead serious. I had obviously lost my mind because it was a 42-point lead. But he put that fear in you, man.”
—Doc Rivers, current Los Angeles Clippers coach, former Boston Celtics coach

“He was just fearless. He’s a champion. To get to where you want to get to, you have to put the work in. His work ethic is one thing that he has. That’s the reason why he’s so great.”
Paul George, Indiana Pacers

“I think probably one of the moments that would stick out to me, we’re playing in L.A…. and we were just trapping him and he was taking shots over two or three guys and knocking them down. I think that’s when I got to see firsthand how good he was.”
LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs

“Two things crossed our staff’s minds. Number one is, as much as we enjoy watching him on TV, I’m glad that we never will (see him in person) again. Number two is, I can’t imagine what he was like 10 years ago because he looked like he was 29 out there.”
—Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics coach, speaking after Kobe scored 34 on the Celtics this season

“I told him, ‘Are you sure you’re going to retire this year?’”
Jae Crowder, Boston Celtics, after Kobe’s 34-point game against Boston

“He’s the most competitive player we’ve played against, and the thing he’s done throughout his career and the things he’s done to change the game, to motivate the players is unbelievable.”
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

“You remember all the struggles against him and all the competitiveness and you respect him so much for bringing it night after night after night. You know, a lot of players don’t understand that responsibility to be able to do that at that level, and he does it fiercely for all these years.”
—Gregg Popovich, coach of the San Antonio Spurs

WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING KOBE’S TEAMMATE?

“When I first got there he was still young. He was Kobe, but he hadn’t been a starter yet. And that third year of his career, that was my first year, Rick Fox went down and he stepped in and took a starting role. But just seeing the film he watched all the time, the players he was talking about, the Oscar Robertsons, Michael Jordans, the Magics, he knew from day one who he wanted to be like. He knew that to be the best, you had to work hard. That’s what he did every single day. Not one day did I see him take off.”
—Tyronn Lue, former Lakers teammate of Kobe, current Cleveland Cavaliers coach

“Honestly, it’s hard. It’s not easy. He’s a guy that’s earned every shot he’s taken, earned every minute he’s given, so you feel like being a rookie, but you feel like you’ve worked to be in his position so early but you’ve just got to be patient.”
D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers

KOBE’S INFLUENCE ON YOUNGER PLAYERS

“Obviously for us, he was the Michael Jordan of our era, a guy we watched. He emulated Michael. He had a lot of the same fadeaways, sticking out his tongue, winning championships. Just a sense of self to understand exactly what it takes to be successful. So for us, he was a guy I looked up to. His work ethic, his understanding and he knew how to bounce back from losses and shooting air balls in the playoffs as a rookie to hitting game winners.”
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers

“Me growing up in Los Angeles and being able to see Kobe, obviously he’s one of the greatest players to play the game. It was a true honor to be able to learn from him. It’s a great experience to be able to learn different things from him, not just on the floor but off the floor as well and very different experiences.”
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

“He’s been my idol growing up, my basketball idol.”
James Harden, Houston Rockets

“I grew up watching the Lakers. I grew up watching him his whole career and getting a chance to have a relationship with him and kind of, you know, patterned my game after him so to speak, so definitely speaks volumes.”
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors

“Kevin Eastman used to run a camp — a Nike skills camp — the first year they did the skills academy and I remember him telling stories about Kobe, just about his work ethic and things like that. And then over the years, you hear more stories. Being so close, you hear all kinds of stories and, like I said, the way he goes about his game, I respect that more than anything about him. Just the fact that he puts in so much work and cares about his craft so much.”
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

“Basically, the Michael Jordan of our era is what I see with all of his dedication to the game, his competitive drive. He’s one of those guys that always wants the ball in a tough situation. No matter the circumstances, he believes in himself, no matter what.”
John Wall, Washington Wizards

“He’s had such an imprint on our childhood. I know he had an imprint on my childhood. And then I was in that mix where I was a kid, and then I was trying to figure it out in the NBA, and next thing you know you’re competing against him. So, it’s been crazy.”
Chris Bosh, Miami Heat

“Earliest memory of Kobe Bryant? Probably when he won the Dunk Contest when he was 18, 19, and then probably after that just him in the playoffs hitting those shots, like Portland and Indiana in the playoffs in early 2000. So that probably is the earliest ones. I was really young, like six, five (years old).”
Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves

“I watched Kobe growing up and watched him in the All-Star Game. The impact he’s had on my basketball game and in my life and so many other people, it’s really big. It’s astronomical. That’s Kobe. That’s the man.”
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic

MEMORIES OF KOBE’S FINAL SEASON

“They were dedicated to me, and they’re going to go in my trophy case.”
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers, on being given a pair of signed shoes by Kobe after their last game

“Just a little bit more loose. I think years before on teams that were playoff and championship contenders, he would talk, but he knew it was all about business once he left, so he didn’t want to open up too much and be looked at as, I guess, soft in his his words. He just opened up more. These last few years he’s been more of a big brother to us all, and I wish we could have more time around him, but we cherish what we have now and appreciate all he’s done.”
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder, on what has changed with Kobe

“What really stood out (2016 All-Star Weekend in Toronto) was the respect that all the players had for him. We’re practicing, we’re fooling around, having a good time, and all of a sudden they started playing a video up there of Kobe highlights. And one by one, the players just stopped. We all just stopped, and everybody looked up and stared at it. For some of the young guys, the young All-Stars, some of the stuff they had never seen before, probably, when he was young. There were ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs,’ and that was a pretty cool moment.”
—Gregg Popovich, coach of the San Antonio Spurs

“I’d say from a global impact, in addition to being a great player, I think because he was raised for much of his childhood in Italy, because he speaks several languages, I think because he was particularly interested in learning about other cultures, I think that he’s had almost — in addition to being a great player, he’s punched way above his weight in terms of the impact he’s had on the global expansion of the NBA. I was in China with him for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. That was amazing the number of people he touched.”
—Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner

Jabari Parker throws down huge dunk on Nerlens Noel

<> during the first quarter at TD Garden on February 25, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.
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Jabari Parker is playing more fearlessly lately.

He’s been a key part of a Bucks team that found a little groove near the end of the season, including in a 109-108 overtime win against the Sixers on Sunday. Parker had this impressive dunk over the Sixers’ Nerlens Noel on his way to 15 points. Khris Middleton led the way for Milwaukee with 36.

Three Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Warriors chasing history, Spurs chasing Warriors

SAN ANTONIO,TX - APRIL 10: Stephen Curry #30 celebrates with Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on April 10, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. The Warriors won 92-86, tying the all-time record for wins in a season with 72. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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What you missed on a Sunday in the NBA while you were busy calling random Swedes

1) The pecking order in the West clearly established as Warriors beat Spurs to set up a shot at 73 wins.
The Golden State Warriors have tied Michael Jordan’s Bulls for most wins in an NBA season — and they did that by beating a 65-win Spurs team in San Antonio, where nobody had beaten the Spurs all season. Let that sink in for a minute. Stephen Curry was back to doing the ridiculous scoring 37 points on 22 shots. More importantly, the Warriors defense was back in sync, holding the Spurs to an offensive rating of 93.1 (points per 100 possessions, that is 15.4 below the Spurs season average).

Stop and savor what we are seeing people. This is basketball history. It’s entertaining basketball played unselfishly. If you’re response has been “it means nothing without a ring” or “these Warriors couldn’t hold a candle to those Bulls” — yes, we’re looking at you Scottie Pippen — I’ve got to ask why you think Michael Jordan needs you to defend him? No doubt those Bulls are some of the greatest teams in NBA history, nobody is disputing that. They set the bar. The Warriors are trying to establish a legacy to be in that conversation. Welcome to sports. That a team is trying to get into the rarefied air should not be an invitation to shoot them down, it’s a chance to see how high they can fly.

As for the Spurs, they were without Tim Duncan, and they will get their chance in the Western Conference Finals (barring a major upset). This is a good team, but what David West told the Express-News summed it up: “They’re the best and we’re chasing them.”

2) Pacers win, meaning Bulls officially eliminated from playoffs. When the season started most pundits (myself included) had the Bulls in the second tier in the East, the “this is a pretty good team that maybe could challenge Cleveland if everything goes perfectly” tier. Things did not go perfectly. Or even well. Turns out these Bulls aren’t even a playoff team in the East. That dream ended when, as expected, the Pacers beat the Nets on Sunday behind 28 points from rookie Myles Turner.

This sets up an interesting summer in Chicago, where they need to reshape a roster so it can both defend better (that fell off without Tom Thibodeau’s yelling) and play Fred Hoiberg’s space-and-pace style (Jimmy Butler needs to adjust to that system). Pau Gasol is likely gone and it’s going to take a lot of money to convince Joakim Noah to stay.  Derrick Rose‘s name will come up in trade rumors, but the reality of getting another team to take on his contract means he may stay put. It’s going to be an unpredictable summer in the Windy City.

3) No J.J. Barea and the Mavs winning streak ends at six; playoff spot not secure yet. It feels like Dallas should be safe for a playoff spot in the West, up two games on nine-seed Houston with two to play. But Dallas has two tough games — Utah and the Spurs — while the Rockets have two very winnable games, and the tiebreaker. Dallas needs a win (that showdown with eight-seed Utah, which is one game up on Houston, is huge Monday).

The Mavericks could have used a win Monday, but with J.J. Barea joining the long list of injured Mavs they were no match for the Clippers and fell 98-91. J.J. Redick had 20 and Jamal Crawford continued his Sixth Man of the Year push with 22. However, the real news for the Clippers is that in the second half Blake Griffin started to look like himself again, finding a rhythm.

Raymond Felton led the Mavs with 24. Deron Williams was back and added 15. Barea said he was hopeful he could go against the Jazz Monday, they are going to need him.

Clippers beat Mavs 98-91 for 5th straight victory

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin dunks during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks, Sunday, April 10, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Blake Griffin shot 2 of 11 in the first half, when the Clippers were in a struggle with the Dallas Mavericks.

In the locker room, his teammates urged him to keep shooting and while Griffin appreciated the encouragement, he knew he had to do more than settle for jumpers.

Griffin sparked the Clippers in a dominant third quarter, and they went on to win 98-91 on Sunday, snapping the Mavs’ six-game winning streak and preventing them from clinching a playoff berth.

“I tried to put a little more aggression into defense and try to let that get me going,” said Griffin, who had 17 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in his best game since returning a week ago from a three-month absence.

Jamal Crawford scored 22 points, J.J. Redick added 20 and DeAndre Jordan had 14 points and 10 rebounds in the playoff-bound Clippers’ fifth straight win.

Raymond Felton led Dallas with 21 points – two off his season high – off the bench. Deron Williams added 15 points and Dirk Nowitzki 14.

“The third quarter was a bit of a killer,” Nowitzki said. “We were missing good looks.”

The loss kept the Mavs (41-39) in seventh place in the Western Conference, a game behind Memphis with two games to play. Dallas needs either a victory or a Houston loss to clinch a playoff berth for the 15th time in 16 years. The Rockets beat the Lakers 130-110 on Sunday.

The Mavs rallied to close within five in the final 3:45 but Griffin asserted himself down the stretch, scoring and assisting on an alley-oop dunk by DeAndre Jordan, and the Clippers eventually restored their lead to 10.

“Blake just got into the defense,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “He just turned into this guy who started playing with amazing force and intensity. He started rolling (to the basket) and putting pressure on their defense.”

The teams played nearly even in the first half, with the Clippers leading 49-47 at the break. Los Angeles got its first double-digit lead of the game in the third, when Dallas shot 3 of 18 from the floor.

Leading by three, the Clippers closed on a 20-6 run to lead 76-59 going into the fourth. Griffin scored six points and grabbed the offensive rebound after Jordan missed a free throw, feeding Redick for a 3-pointer in the spurt.

“Just his presence was big for us,” Chris Paul said about Griffin. “Down the stretch, that was the Blake that we know. He was aggressive.”

The Mavs tried to slow down the Clippers by fouling Jordan, but it didn’t work entirely. He finished 6 of 23 from the line, but made two foul shots that contributed to his team’s dominance in the third quarter.

Dallas got to 83-74 in the fourth, forcing the Clippers to bring Redick and Paul back in. Williams promptly banked in a jumper to cut the Mavs’ deficit to seven. They closed to 85-79 on a 3-pointer by Charlie Villanueva.

Paul finished with five points, seven rebounds and 11 assists.

TIP-INS

Mavericks: Their six-game winning streak tied for the team’s longest this season. … No team had scored over 93 points during their streak. … G J.J. Barea sat out with a right groin strain. … Nowitzki averaged 23.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in his first three games against the Clippers this season.

Clippers: F Paul Pierce sat out to rest. … The Clippers won the season series 3-1 for the fifth year in a row. … They’ve won 11 of their last 15 regular-season games against the Mavs.

WILLIAMS RETURNS

Williams returned to the Mavs’ starting lineup after missing a couple weeks because of a left abdominal strain. He shot 6 of 11, had four rebounds and three assists to go with four fouls in 28 minutes.

“He was aggressive, especially in the first half,” Nowitzki said. “I liked how he pushed it on the break and tried to get into the lane and collapse the defense. When a guy comes back from injury you look how he moves, and I thought he looked great.”

CRITIQUING HIS FORM

Jordan got another taste of getting hacked by an opponent, a familiar tactic sure to be employed against him in the playoffs.

“It was more of a rest period for me and the rest of the guys,” he joked about his 23 trips to the line. “They looked great, except for a couple that were line drives. My teammates have confidence in me when I am up there, and that is all that matters. I’m going to be continue to be confident and shoot the basketball. It will happen in the playoffs.”