Dirk Nowitzki

A year after bearding their way through the season and not making the playoffs, the Dallas Mavericks are back where they’re used to be, which means postseason basketball, following a 101-98 win over the Phoenix Suns after huge night from Monta Ellis who got plenty of help from Dirk Nowitzki.

The Suns have had a great season no one expected from them, but after losing to the Mavs in a direct battle for one of the two remaining playoff spots (before the game), they seem to be running out of options and opportunities, falling to ninth. The Suns still play the Grizzlies and the Kings before this season is over, while Memphis play against the Lakers, Suns and Mavs, although the Dallas game suddenly matters only to one team.

The Mavs missed out on the postseason last year for the first time since 2000 mostly because of Dirk Nowitzki missing a big chunk of the season early on. Had he returned a bit sooner or started out the season, them making it back into the Western Conference’s version of the Elite Eight wouldn’t have been such a  big deal. This year he’s been there from the start, missing only two games all season long, which makes all the difference in the world.

In the West, a 49-32 record can clinch you a playoff spot with less than a week to go in the season. That’s how brutal it’s been for these teams, unlike the Eastern conference. We have all eight teams there, and one of them is going to finish with a sub .500 record while another might finish at .500. Two teams in the Western conference that are above .500 at the moment aren’t going to make the postseason, which might lead to a change in the way we see the NBA playoffs seeded, and keep conference affiliations only for the sake of regular season scheduling.

Monta Ellis is another reason this year is different. He might not that different from his past days, drawing plenty of criticism. He is still a volume scorer going through hot and cold streaks, but he was just what the Mavs needed. Giving Nowitzki a proven scorer who can force defenses to prepare for more than just one player. Ellis scored 37 points against the Suns who once again dropped double digit lead during the second half, getting a bad shooting night from Goran Dragic (6-of-18 from the field) and their bench, as both Markieff Morris and Gerald Green failed to make an impact.

Dirk Nowitzki added 23 points with 8 rebounds in an efficient shooting display which included 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. Devin Harris might have hit the biggest shot of the game (and his only field goal) with a three pointer in the fourth quarter, and Brandan Wright continues to be an unheralded part of this success, scoring 12 points to go with 11 rebounds coming off the bench. Vince Carter scored 10 points and now like the rest of the veterans can get a night of rest before the postseason begins.

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