Dallas Mavericks 117 at Los Angeles Clippers 94
The picture was very clear for the Dallas Mavericks as they entered their last road game of the regular season. Making quick work of the Los Angeles Clippers, the Mavs made that picture crystal clear Monday night.
Win out and the Southwest Division champion Mavericks are well aware that they will lock up the second slot in the Western Conference playoff seeding. Taking the court for the second to last regular season test, the Mavs also knew winning out would merely mean duplicating the results of the previous three matchups. The Mavs stepped into the Staples Center on a three-game winning streak, while also concluding a three-stop road trip. They walked out with at least the No. 3 seed, sweeping the season series against the Clippers with a dominant 117-94 win.
"We came here tonight wanting and needing to win. Our team wants that second spot in the playoffs," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "I am happy with our results. As a coach, we want to see positive outcomes in a game. I felt like tonight we conquered that."
Fortunately, the team took a step in the right direction on the health front, welcoming back Shawn Marion after the versatile forward missed three games with a strained left oblique muscle. However, the squad was without swingman Caron Butler due to a minor hip injury. Meanwhile, the Clippers had injuries of their own to be concerned about, missing lead guard Baron Davis (wrist) and Eric Gordon (viral infection).
With Butler sidelined, rookie Rodrigue Beaubois slid into the starting lineup next to point guard Jason Kidd, Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Erick Dampier. Marion showed no ill effects in coming back from the injury, elevating for rejections on defense and transition scores on the offensive end. But Beaubois' above-the-rim finishes and electric play in the opening quarter stole the show, sparking a 12-0 run. As he has throughout the road trip, Nowitzki continued his assault on the opposition, after being named the Western Conference's Player of the Week earlier in the day for the fourth time this season and 14th time in his career. With the squad clicking on all cylinders, the Mavs quickly jumped out to a double-digit advantage, taking a 37-26 lead at the end of one.
The Mavs never looked in their rearview.
"We did not risk anything tonight. It went smoothly, just like we went over in practice," Carlisle said.
The Dallas bench was the story in the second stanza, creating a 16-point space between the two teams. Then Nowitzki re-entered the game and went right back to terrorizing the L.A. defense. The sharpshooter's scoring, combined with Kidd's Hall-of-Fame playmaking and Marion's spectacular finishing ability, lifted the Mavs to a favorable 64-43 margin at the midway point.
Behind Nowitzki's 13 points and Kidd's eight assists, the Mavericks overcame seven first-half turnovers and out-shot the Clippers 56 percent to 41 percent. Marion pitched in 12 points in the first 24 minutes of play.
The combination of Beaubois and Kidd kick-started the Mavs in the third quarter. And neither Nowitzki or Marion skipped a beat, helping to build a lead as large as 33. Outscoring the Clippers 35-26 in the period, the Mavs entered the final quarter with a 99-69 advantage.
"We played well down the stretch tonight. We rebounded well and our offense was good," the coach said.
With the game no longer in doubt, Carlisle emptied his bench in the fourth quarter. Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson took over the scoring load, putting the seal on a NBA-best 27th road victory of the season.
By the end of the night, the Mavs' 54 percent shooting bettered 46 percent for L.A. The pass-happy Mavericks' season-high tying 37 assists also made it possible to nail 11 of 27 shots from behind the 3-point arch. A 16-4 edge in fast-break points also went the Mavericks' way.
Playing just three quarters, Nowitzki led the way with 25 points after hitting nine of 13 shots. In his return to the lineup, Marion posted 21 points on 9-of-12 from the field in his 26 minutes of action.
"We want to have fun and take this experience and use it for our run in the playoffs," Marion said of the winning streak at the end of the season. "I am excited for what will happen with our team and the guys."
After his 105th career triple-double came in Sacramento, Kidd recorded a double-double with 12 points and 12 assists. Jason Terry (12), Beaubois (11) and Stevenson (11) made it six Mavs that scored in double figures.
All-Star forward Chris Kaman's 17 points led the Clippers, though it came in a losing cause.
Now, the Mavs return to the American Airlines Center for the regular season finale against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night. With a win, the team claims the No. 2 seed in the playoff picture. The Mavericks lead the season series with the Spurs 2-1. The game will air locally on KTXA and KTXA HD at 7 p.m. CT. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling (214) 747-MAVS.
Then the attention turns to the postseason, with the team hosting an opening round playoff series on either Saturday or Sunday.
"I am not sure if our team is where it needs to be for the playoffs," Carlisle said, wanting to see more. "We need to work on our rebounding if we want to play great basketball. We need to take positive steps to get good results. We have better players, I know we can get far if we play together."
"We have better players this season, with great experience in the playoffs and Finals. Those are the guys who are going to guide the rest of the players who have not been there yet," Marion concluded.
Note: Mavs.com introduces a new, interactive broadcast entitled "Technical Foul," hosted by Mavs television broadcasters Mark Followill and Bob Ortegel. The first live broadcast will be Friday, April 16 at 12:30 p.m. CT, highlighting the Mavericks' first-round playoff series while Earl K. Sneed fields questions from the fans via the official Mavs Twitter account. Tune in for exclusive Mavs talk with the people that know the team the best.