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Mavericks clinch playoff spot with extraordinary 101-92 win against the Jazz

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With just one game left on the schedule, Dallas secured a playoff berth with a hard-fought victory on the road.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

On a night when the Mavericks needed -- and received -- a vintage performance from Dirk Nowitzki, it was the 3-point shooting of Wesley Matthews that made the difference in the second half. Matthews hit four of 10 three point attempts in the game. Those long range field goals included a shot to end a 10-0 Jazz run at the end of the third quarter and another to put Dallas up double digits with just 2:21 left.

Deron Williams also threw in 23 points and 6 assists, hitting from all over the floor against hapless Utah defenders. But no Maverick had a more impressive stat line than the team's franchise player. Dirk posted 22 points on only 12 field goal attempts and snagged 11 rebounds, steadying the Dallas offense throughout the night in Utah. His game even included a couple highlight reel defensive plays and some trash talk directed at Jazz forward Joe Ingles in the third quarter.

Nowitzki's play has been up-and-down over the last 10 or so games but when Dallas needed a win to secure a playoff against a hungry Jazz team, he was at his best.

A team win

Things looked hopeless for Dallas' season after losing 10 out of 12 games during a brutal stretch of March. But strong play from J.J. Barea and rookie Justin Anderson helped fuel a six-game winning streak that pushed the Mavericks into the postseason. On Monday, Barea had an off night with only five points on 11 shots. But he had a positive impact when he was on the floor, somehow posting a +17 plus/minus -- better than any other Mav starter. Anderson was demoted from the starting lineup for the first time in seven games and looked lost at moments. But against a pressing Jazz defense, he split two defenders with 29 seconds left for a driving dunk that probably put the game out of reach for good. For good measure, he stuffed a Gordon Hayward dunk attempt with seconds left.

Salah Mejri, another revelation from the recent winning streak, had 7 points off the bench with multiple dunks at the rim off feeds from Dallas guards.

Strong defensive play continues

With Chandler Parsons lost to season-ending knee injury and Deron Williams out for multiple games, Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks got back to winning by slowing the game down and emphasizing defense. Before Monday night, opponents were averaging only 88.8 points in the month of April. That theme continued in Salt Lake City. The Jazz made several strong comeback attempts, cutting double-digit Dallas leads to 2 points in the third quarter and six points late in the fourth. But the comeback failed partly because of Utah's atrocious three point shooting. The Jazz made only nine out of 33 attempts. And Dallas was able to keep the younger, more athletic team off the boards with a 47-38 rebounding advantage.

Mavs catch breaks

Dallas' cause was really helped by the absence of Jazz big man Rudy Gobert in the second half and the disappearance of second-year forward Rodney Hood. Both had huge games the last time these teams played, an overtime loss at American Airlines Center. Gobert turned his ankle badly after blocking a Salah Mejri dunk attempt in the second quarter and his absence in the paint made life a lot easier on offense for driving Dallas guards. Hood, meanwhile hit only one field goal out of 11 attempts for six points -- a big comedown after putting up 29 points against the Mavs in February.

Gordon Hayward (26 points) was brilliant but it's going to be tough to get a W when Shelvin Mack is your second best player on the floor.

Looking ahead

If the playoffs started tomorrow, the Mavericks would face San Antonio. But a win against the Spurs in their final regular season game Wednesday, along with help from the Grizzlies, could mean a first round matchup with the Thunder. With a little extra help from the Trail Blazers, the fifth seed is within reach. For now, Dallas fans can be satisfied with at least one more week of Dirk elbow jumpers in April.