James Harden

Things change quickly in the Western Conference playoff picture. The Dallas Mavericks were on the path to clinching one of the two remaining spots and completed the job. The Houston Rockets remembered how to win in money time and the Utah Jazz showed a distinct symptom of loser-ism, which might leave them out of the postseason.

The Mavericks didn’t just step up. They came to Salt Lake City and won 101-92. After struggling for so long, Dirk Nowitzki had a good night with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Deron Williams got a reminder he used to be one of the best point guards on the planet and scored 23 points. Wesley Matthews finished with 20. As if all the issues the Mavericks had that led them to being in this complicated situation were gone. The Jazz’ size? Didn’t matter. Dallas allowed only six offensive rebounds and finished shooting 51.2% from the field. Rudy Gobert played only 12 minutes hurting his ankle. Derrick Favors came off the bench. The Jazz found a bad time to get injured.

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So while the Mavericks clinch the playoff spot which guarantees a date with the San Antonio Spurs (repeat of the first round from 2014 which went to 7 games), the Rockets leapfrog the Jazz to take hold of the 8th position. Houston used the momentum of their 130 points scored against the Los Angeles Lakers and beat a pretty hot team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, by attacking their weak spots. That, and James Harden having a big game without any foolish mistakes to balance it out.

Harden scored 34 points to go with 6 assists, carrying on with his fantastic form of late. He even didn’t turn the ball over that much, although he already owns the single season record. Harden is averaging 34.2 points per game over the last five, and while it’s been a month since he last had a game with less than three turnovers, this win it felt like he didn’t force things as much as usual, and played like the star the Rockets need him to be, minus the defensive effort that simply never comes.

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Trevor Ariza had a big day with 21 points. Dwight Howard finally found a bit of offense despite the size in front of him to score 19. Even Clint Capela and Josh Smith had something to add offensively, combining to score 21 points off the bench. The Rockets had one of those games when they show their full range and depth, but the problem is the Golden State Warriors are their prize of squeaking into the playoffs, if they do make it.

What’s left? Utah play on the road against the Los Angeles Lakers, the final game of Kobe Bryant in the NBA. On paper, it shouldn’t be too tough. But the Jazz lost control of their own destiny. The Rockets play at home against the Sacramento Kings, which sounds like something they can’t lose, although we’ve seen them let things slip out of their hands a number of times this season. This time however, it feels like the Jazz blew it big time, while Houston, despite the disappointing season, will get a chance to prove they can at least make the Warriors sweat on their way to another NBA championsp.

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