Dallas has locked up home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs but had dreams of catching San Antonio and the Lakers for one of the top two spots in the West. Those hopes have gone up in smoke since the Mavs closed a season-long six-game road trip with three straight losses and extended that with another setback against Denver in north Texas on Wednesday.
J.R. Smith took his turn leading the balanced Nuggets in scoring in that one, tallying 23 points off the bench, as Denver edged Dallas, 104-96, in what could be a playoff preview.
Shawn Marion led Dallas with 21 points and 10 rebounds, Dirk Nowitzki donated 20 points, Jason Terry 15 and Corey Brewer 13 off the bench. Brendan Haywood grabbed a season-high 19 rebounds, including eight offensive boards, but remarkably took just one shot.
"Every time we made a run, they made a big shot," said Nowitzki.
J.J. Barea scored 12 points and dished out 10 assists and Brian Cardinal chipped in 13 points for the Mavericks, who are two games back of the Lakers for the second seed with four games remaining. Dallas, however, should be more concerned with hard-charging Oklahoma City, which is now a game behind in the race for the third slot.
The Clippers had a two-game winning streak stopped by the Thunder on Wednesday as Kevin Durant dropped 29 points and seven rebounds, as Oklahoma City edged Los Angeles, 112-108, to capture the Northwest Division title.
Oklahoma City native Blake Griffin had a game-high 35 points and 11 rebounds for the Clippers. Eric Gordon and Mo Williams each had 16 points, while Williams pitched in nine assists in the loss.
"I didn't think we played very well the first half," Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said.
The Mavs have won 15 of 16 overall against the Clips, including all three meetings this season. Dallas has also won eight straight and 21 of 24 over the Clippers in north Texas.