With almost no margin for error, James Harden, Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets finally delivered the kind of effort everyone has been waiting to see all season.
Harden scored 34 points and Howard had 19 points and eight rebounds Monday night as the Rockets kept their playoff hopes alive by defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves, 129-105, at Minneapolis.
The Rockets (40-41) entered the game in ninth place in the Western Conference and could have been eliminated with a loss and a win by the Utah Jazz over the Dallas Mavericks.
“It was important for us,” Harden said. “This is our playoff opportunity. We want to come out this entire game and just put the pressure on from the beginning of the game. We got out to a big jump and just rode that wave the whole game.”
If the Rockets defeat the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday at Houston in their season finale, they’ll be in the playoffs no matter what the Jazz do in their finale against the Lakers.
Dallas 101, at Utah 92: Dirk Nowitzki scored 22 and the Mavericks clinched the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference playoffs while putting a damper in the Jazz’s playoff hopes.
at Cleveland 109, Atlanta 94: Kyrie Irving scored 35 points, LeBron James scored 34 in three quarters and the Cleveland Cavaliers clinched the No. 1 seeding in the Eastern Conference playoffs. James scored 19 in the third quarter and sat out only four of the first 36 minutes as the Cavaliers locked up home-court advantage until the NBA Finals.
Charlotte 114, at Boston 100: Jeremy Lin scored 19 of his 25 points in a big second quarter for the Hornets, who are in a tight race with the Celtics and Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
Sacramento 105, at Phoenix 101: Seth Curry had 20 points and tripled his previous career best with 15 assists to lead the Kings.
at Orlando 107, Milwaukee 98: Ersan Ilyasova scored 22 points to lead the Magic in their home finale.
Chicago 121, at New Orleans 116: Jimmy Butler scored 12 of his 23 points in the last six minutes to lift the short-handed Bulls over the injury-riddled Pelicans.
Washington 120, at Brooklyn 111: Ramon Sessions had 21 points and 12 assists for the Wizards, who recovered after blowing a 20-0 lead.