Dirk Nowitzki scored 31 points and the Dallas Mavericks clinched the eighth and final NBA playoff berth from the Western Conference by beating Utah 130-101 on Wednesday.
This will be the ninth season in a row the Mavericks have reached the playoffs but they still have unfinished business as they try to move out of the eighth seed position and a date with the assured top seed Los Angeles Lakers.
Dallas’ victory eliminated the Phoenix Suns and set the post-season clubs in the West as the Lakers, Denver, Portland, Houston, San Antonio, New Orleans, Utah and Dallas.
The Mavericks are level with Utah at seventh at 47-31 with New Orelans at 48-30. Dallas and New Orleans meet twice this weekend.
Jason Terry added 21 points while Jose Juan Barea had 18 for the Mavericks.
Deron Williams led Utah with 18 points and 12 assists while Andrei Kirilenko added 17 and Ronnie Brewer 16 for the Jazz, who trailed 61-45 at half-time and were outscored in every quarter.
Meanwhile, Steve Nash scored 24 points, six of them on free throws in the final minute, to give the Phoenix Suns a 105-100 victory over New Orleans that postponed their elimination from the NBA playoffs.
The Canadian guard also added 17 assists Wednesday while Shaquille O’Neal contributed 17 points and 11 rebounds as Phoenix improved to 43-35.
But the Suns were eliminated from the Western Conference playoff hunt when Dallas defeated Utah 130-101 later on Wednesday to secure the eighth and final spot.
New Orleans was led by 29 points and 16 assists from Chris Paul and 28 points and 12 rebounds from David West, but it was Serbian sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic’s 30-pointer with 26 seconds to play that pulled the Hornets within 100-97 before Nash nailed his free throws to secure victory.
The Suns had not beaten the Hornets in two seasons but did so with their playoff hopes at stake thanks to Nash, O’Neal and 17 points from Jason Richardson.
O’Neal went 7-of-10 from the field to boost his NBA-best shooting percent of better than 61 percent.
Stojakovic finished with 18 points while Grant Hill and Jared Dudley each scored 10 for Phoenix.
In another match on Wednesday LeBron James scored 21 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers avenged an embarrassing loss to one of the league’s worst teams by thumping the rival Washington Wizards 98-86.
The Cavs improved to 38 wins and won loss at home and became the first team in NBA history to have two 15-game winning streaks at home in the same season. If Cleveland can beat Boston (Sunday) and Philadelphia (next Wednesday) in its final two games at Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavs will match the 1985-86 Celtics, whose 40-1 home mark is the league’s all-time best.
Mo Williams scored 14 points and Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 13 rebounds for the Cavs, who also inched closer to locking up the best record in East.
Nick Young scored 16 to lead the Wizards, who stunned Cleveland last week and handed the Cavs two of their 15 losses this season.
In other games on Wednesday it was:
• Celtics 106, Nets 104
• Nuggets 122, Thunder 112
• Trail Blazers 95, Spurs 83
• Suns 105, Hornets 100
• Magic 81, Grizzlies 78
• Hawks 113, Bucks 105
• Pistons 113, Knicks 86
• Pacers 130, Raptors 101
• Timberwolves 105, Warriors 97