Three Takeaways from NBA Monday: Dallas in, Rockets poised to grab last spot

Associated Press
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What you missed from around the NBA Monday while getting sucked into Family Guy episodes…

1) Dallas beats Utah and Mavericks are in the playoffs; Rockets move into the final playoff spot.
Before the season myself (and many others) thought this would be the year the Mavericks dropped off. Dirk Nowitzki had gotten too old, the roster didn’t appear fit together well, and Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews were too injured. Turns out Parsons was injured for chunks of the season, but as for the rest of it Rick Carlisle worked his magic — Nowitzki had a bounce-back season, guys found roles where they could thrive, and with Dallas’ 101-92 win over Utah on Monday they are in the playoffs for the 15th time in 16 seasons. Depending on the final day of the regular season, Dallas will face either San Antonio or Oklahoma City in the first round.

Utah’s loss in that game may doom their playoff chances — they are now tied with Houston (which beat Minnesota behind 34 points from James Harden) and the Rockets have the tie breaker. If Houston can beat the lowly Kings in their season finale — and the Kings are resting DeMarcus Cousins among others — then Houston is in, and the Jazz are out. Which means we are likely headed toward a Houston vs. Golden State first round meeting.

2) Cleveland reminds Atlanta who is the best team in the East. Over the past six weeks, statistically the Atlanta Hawks have looked like the second-best team in the East, playing fantastic defense and getting enough scoring based off Jeff Teague‘s play at the point. Monday night the Cavaliers showed the Hawks how big the gap is in the East, coasting to a 109-94 win. That win clinched the top seed in the East for the Cavaliers — the road to the Finals now goes through Cleveland. The Cavaliers put the game out of reach with a 19-5 run in the third quarter, and they never looked back. It was the Cavaliers’ stars who stepped up — Kyrie Irving had 35 points and LeBron James 34.

3) Russell Westbrook gets another triple-double — in the first half — and ties Magic Johnson for most in 50 years. It took Russell Westbrook all of 18 minutes of game time to get his 18th triple-double of the season — that’s the second fastest triple-double in NBA history. And the last guy to get 18 triple-doubles in a season is the best point guard ever to play the game — Magic Johnson. Westbrook has had an incredible season and would win my vote for “other than Curry MVP.”