SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Dallas Mavericks clinched a Western Conference playoff spot for the third consecutive season and the 15th time in the last 16 years.
Dirk Nowitzki scored 22 and the Mavericks earned the No. 7 spot Monday with a 101-92 win over the Utah Jazz, leaving one remaining postseason slot.
The postseason is nothing new for the organization, but the team seemed to be in dire straits when it dropped 10 of 12 during a stretch in March and lost Chandler Parsons for the season after surgery on his right knee on March 25.
Dallas made a playoff push by winning seven of its last eight games.
“Well, it’s been a lot of work,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s been an amazing two weeks. Our guys looked like they were down and out, and we all dug in. Everyone dug in, especially the players, and we found a way to get into the playoffs.
“Tonight was game seven. That’s the way we approached it.”
Utah (40-41) lost control of its own destiny and needs to beat the Lakers on Wednesday and for the Rockets (40-41) to lose to the Kings. Houston holds the tiebreaker against the Jazz if they finish with the same record.
Dallas (42-39) rode its two biggest stars to victory as Nowitzki hit four 3-pointers and added 11 rebounds. Deron Williams scored 23 of his own against his former team.
“Coming in here, we knew it was going to be like a playoff atmosphere,” said William, who was booed throughout. “In a sense, (it) was a playoff game because there was so much at stake.
“(The boos) got me going out there a little bit. Not only the booing, but the stuff that was being said when I was sitting on the bench, at dead balls, stuff like that.”
Gordon Hayward finished with 26, but was 1 for 9 from 3-point range. The Jazz struggled to shoot the ball and were 2 for 18 from behind the arc in the second half.
“We just didn’t play that good,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “I don’t think we made a perimeter shot until about five minutes left in the game. It just puts a lot of pressure on you.
“We talked about the last 20 games or so to try to be in a playoff race and find ourselves in this position. Unfortunately, Dallas was a better team tonight. We looked like a team that’s the youngest team in the league. And that’s what we are. This is a good experience for us. It hurts right now.”
The Mavs took a 50-46 lead into halftime after leading by as much as eight in the first half. The Jazz struggled to keep up with Nowitzki in the first quarter, in which he scored 10, and Williams in the second, when he scored 16.
“We just weren’t staying within the offense,” Jazz forward Derrick Favors said. “We missed a lot of shots that we normally make. (Rodney Hood) normally makes most of the shots he takes. It was just a tough offensive night for us.
“Wasn’t any nervousness. Just (missed) a lot of shots that we normally make.”
Mavericks: Nowitzki hit four 3-pointers and now has 1,700 in his career to become the 15th player in NBA history with at least 1,700 career triples. … Nowitzki needs two made free throws to become the seventh player in NBA history – and the first 7-footer – with 7,000 career made free throws.
Jazz: Starting center Rudy Gobert hit the floor with when he rolled his right ankle fighting for a rebound. He immediately went to the locker room and did not return. He was on crutches and in a walking boot after the game. … Trey Lyles started his second consecutive game with Derrick Favors dealing with right knee soreness. Favors played but clearly wasn’t fully healthy.
The Mavericks are the second most experienced team in the NBA and the Jazz are the least. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said before the game that helps his team. “Experience is valuable,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that have been in a lot of playoff games and a lot of big regular season games. There were some things you can remind them of. But as the second-most experienced team in the league, I don’t think there’s a lot I need to say to them.”