Mavericks beat Clippers, move close to playoffs… and a shave

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One more win and the Dallas Mavericks will reach .500 — and they can shave their beards. You remember, the ones they were going to grow until they got their record even, a process that has taken so long the team starting to look like a young ZZ Top? It’s almost time for razors soon, they earned it.

More importantly, Dallas is now one game back of the Lakers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West (the Mavs and Utah are exactly tied for that spot). Dallas’ streak of a dozen years in a row in the playoffs is not dead yet.

All that comes after a gritty 109-102 overtime win against the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night. While the Lakers and Jazz stumble to the finish line, the Mavericks have won three in a row, 9-of-12 and suddenly it may be time to fear the beards out West.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 8 of his 33 points in the overtime to push Dallas to the win. It came on a night the best European player the NBA has ever seen passed Patrick Ewing to move into 17th on the NBA all-time scoring list. Dirk was Dirk again, knocking down one-legged fade-aways and generally being indefensible.

Chris Paul was Chris Paul, too — and then some. He was amazing, scoring the Clippers last 10 points in regulation despite Dallas starting to double him 30 feet from the basket. He was making plays all night on his way to 33 points (on 12-of-15 shooting).

And it wasn’t enough, because in the clutch the Clippers didn’t get enough defense, enough threes (the Clippers missed their 13), and CP3 didn’t get enough help.

This game was pretty close most of the way, one team would make a run them the other, but neither side could really pull away. And all that set up a dramatic last few minutes of regulation.

Inside three minutes left the Clippers were up three after Paul hit a pull-up 18 footer over Mike James. Then after Blake Griffin drew a charge the Mavericks tried to take the ball out of Chris Paul’s hand by doubling hin 30 feet from the basket, so he found the open man — but Matt Barnes and Caron Butler missed threes. Next trip down Butler missed another three. Barnes would later airball a three. The Clippers had their chances and didn’t grab them.

So O.J. Mayo did, getting the and-1 bucket to tie the game at 93-93 with 1:15 left in regulation. Dallas took the lead on some Vince Carter free throws but Paul tied it again with a floater in the lane. And now we are inside 40 seconds.

With time getting close Paul gave the Clippers the lead when he drove around Shawn Marion (6’7”) and shot over Elton Brand (6’8″) putting the Clippers up by two. Mayo answered, looking trapped on the baseline but he held his dribble, found and opening and put up a nice lefty layup from behind the backboard.

Then came the last play, where with 0.6 Matt Barnes threw a three-quarter court strike to Griffin who hit an impossible faller — except the refs blew Griffin for pushing off Nowitzki to create room for the shot. Borderline call. At best. Dirk helped draw the whistle by selling it with a little flop.

Then came overtime and a lot of Nowitzki.

Dallas is in the middle of their tough stretch, beating a quality team like the Clippers is a huge step toward the playoffs.

For the Clippers, this is the kind of game that has you asking about changes they need to make this summer — role players, coach and system — to take the next step and do more than just win a round in the playoffs. We’re all asking that because right now we’re not even sure they can match last season’s results and get out of the first round in the postseason. Not when they play like this. And if they are out before the conference finals, expect changes to follow.

Paul George scores 28 as Thunder beat Raptors 116-109

Associated Press
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TORONTO (AP) — Paul George scored 28 points, Russell Westbrook had 18 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Toronto Raptors 116-109 on Friday night.

Dennis Schroder came off the bench to score 26 points and Jerami Grant had 19 as the Thunder snapped a four-game losing streak and avenged Wednesday’s 123-114 home defeat to Toronto.

The Thunder made 20 of 43 shots from 3-point range. Oklahoma City made a season-high 22 3-pointers against the Lakers on Jan. 17.

Kawhi Leonard scored 37 points and Pascal Siakam had 25 for the Raptors, who played without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

Lowry missed his second straight game because of a sprained right ankle. Coach Nick Nurse said there’s no structural damage to Lowry’s ankle, but soreness remains following a collision with New York’s Mitchell Robinson on Monday. Nurse said Lowry is expected to return next week.

Danny Green scored 19 points and Serge Ibaka had 11 but Toronto couldn’t hold a double-digit lead in the third quarter for the second straight game. The Raptors gave away a 20-point lead before recovering to win in overtime Wednesday, but weren’t able to match that on their home court.

Oklahoma City trailed by 10 points to start the second half, and was down 13 with 5:23 to go in the third before rallying. Westbrook gave the visitors the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter on a layup with 1:18 left in the period, putting them up 80-79. The Thunder closed the third with a 20-4 run to take an 83-80 lead into the fourth.

Leonard cut the gap to 93-91 on a free throw with 7:33 to play but George hit 3-pointers on either side of a fast-break layup by Grant, giving Oklahoma City a 101-91 edge with 6:21 left.

The Thunder missed eight of their first 10 shots of the game. Toronto was 5 of 6 from 3-point range in the first, with Green making all three of his attempts, and the Raptors led 29-22 after one.

Leonard scored nine points in the second and Green had six as Toronto led 58-48 at halftime.

 

James Harden ties career best with 61, Rockets beat Spurs 111-105

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden matched his career high with 61 points, including 27 in the first quarter, to lead the Houston Rockets to a 111-105 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.

Harden hit three straight 3-pointers to give the Rockets a 103-100 lead and scored all of Houston’s points in a 13-2 run late in the fourth quarter.

Harden topped the 50-point mark for the eighth time this season, compared with 10 such performances from the rest of the league combined. He matched his career-best total set earlier this season against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

The NBA’s leading scorer surpassed the 30-point mark in the second quarter and the 40-point mark with 9 minutes remaining in the third.

Before Harden’s late surge, the Spurs led by six points with 4 minutes left in the game. The Spurs had overcome a 15-point halftime deficit to tie the game at 81 entering the fourth quarter.

Harden was 7 of 10 from the field in the first quarter, including 3 of 4 from the 3-point line, and also went 10 for 12 from the free throw line. His 27 points in the period were the second-most in franchise history, trailing only Vernon Maxwell’s 30 in 1991.

Harden finished 9 of 13 from 3, 19 of 34 from the field and 14 of 17 from the free throw line.

Houston has won 13 of its last 15 games and eight of its last nine at home.

Bryn Forbes led San Antonio with 20 points, while Derrick White added 18 and DeMar DeRozan had 16.

Houston led 36-24 at the end of the first quarter and 62-47 at halftime.

 

LeBron James’ playoff streak ends at 13 years

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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The last time LeBron James missed the playoffs, YouTube hadn’t yet launched to the public.

LeBron had reached the postseason every year since 2005, when his Cavaliers went 42-40 and finished ninth in the East – another good marker. The last time LeBron missed the playoffs, it was so long ago, an Eastern Conference team could be that good and not qualify.

But his Lakers were officially eliminated from the playoff race Friday with a loss to the Nets.

That ends LeBron’s postseason streak at 13 years – tied for the 13th-longest of all-time. Karl Malone and John Stockton hold the record, each playing in 19 straight postseasons.

Here are the longest playoff streaks of all-time:

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Obviously, LeBron joining the Western Conference put his playoff streak in greater jeopardy. And the Lakers’ fate has been known for a while.

Still, it’ll be a little jarring to watch a postseason that doesn’t include a player who ruled half the bracket for so long.

That said, LeBron might not have the longest playoff streak snapped this year. Tony Parker, who reached the playoffs in all 17 of his seasons with the Spurs, could fall short in his first season with the Hornets.

If Charlotte misses the playoffs, 76ers guard J.J. Redick is in line to hold the longest active streak at 13 years.

Here are the players with the longest active streaks that could continue this season.

Players are listed with the teams they made the postseason with during their streaks. If they haven’t reached the playoffs in their stint with their current team, that team is listed in brackets.

Players whose teams are currently in playoff position are in teal. Players whose teams are currently outside playoff position but not yet eliminated are in purple. Free agents who’d be eligible for the playoffs if they sign before the end of the regular season are in white:

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There’s no reason to believe Manu Ginobili will come out of retirement. But he has played in every postseason since missing the entire 2009 playoffs due to injury. It’s technically possible for him to play in the 2019 playoffs and keep his streak alive.

Which is more than LeBron can say.

Knicks’ fans chant “Free IT” as Isaiah Thomas sits on Nuggets bench

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Well played, Knicks fans.

Denver went into Madison Square Garden Friday night to be the latest team to defeat the Knicks. Isaiah Thomas, out of the rotation in Denver, was the only dressed player not to play for the Nuggets. That did not sit well with Knicks fans.

Denver has better on court options than IT — Monte Morris should get Most Improved Player votes — but I hope he gets fully healthy and lands somewhere next season where he gets a chance to show what he can still do.