Originally posted on NBA 24/7 365  |  Last updated 4/25/12

Utah’s up-and-down season has ended on a high, playoff note. The Jazz took care of business on their home floor, beating the Suns 100-88 to secure the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.  The game was closer than the score makes it out to be.  Phoenix struggled to put points on the board in the early going (much to the credit of Derrick Favors, who recorded 5 first-half blocks), but Michael Redd, Sebastian Telfair, and the Suns’ bench did make an early-fourth-quarter comeback that resulted in a short-lived lead.  Redd was Phoenix’s most-effective weapon in this game, finishing with a team-high 15 points on 3-6 from deep.  Yes, the fact that the Suns were led by a scorer with 15 points is indicative of how their night went.  As Phoenix failed to score for a three-minute stretch of the fourth, Al Jefferson took the game over.  Jefferson ignited an individual 8-0 run with a driving dunk around Marcin Gortat before proceeding to knock down three straight jumpers, taking it from a five-point game to a 13-point game with just 2:26 to play.  Jefferson looked hungry (“It’s the biggest game of my career,” he said before tip off), and understandably so; he hasn’t made a playoff appearance in seven years, and that was back when he was just a rookie.  Big Al finished with 18 points and 16 boards while Favors patrolled the paint to the tune of 13 points and 11 boards, along with those aforementioned swats.  Fittingly, Paul Millsap led the way with 26 and 15.  He somehow posted those numbers pretty quietly.

Getting back to Derrick Favors’ blocks… he made Marcin Gortat’s night a living hell.  Gortat went 1-8 for 2 points, got toasted by Al Jefferson down the stretch, and missed what could’ve been a key layup at the beginning of Al’s run ’cause he was looking over his shoulder.  Reggie Miller kept imploring Gortat to go up stronger, but I’m not sure it would’ve mattered.  Favors was basketball’s equivalent of a missile defense system during that second quarter, and he didn’t even need to block a shot after that; Phoenix’s bigs were all rattled.

I have a hard time not rooting for Steve Nash, but I’m glad Utah made the playoffs.  They won’t beat the Spurs, but they’ll make their home games interesting.  That frontcourt isn’t any less frightening than the one from Memphis that killed the Spurs last April.

Ron Artest’s suspension will be seven games (without pay, of course).  I figured it would fall in the five to ten game range, although a longer duration wouldn’t have surprised me either.  While some may feel that the punishment isn’t enough, I think it’s sufficient.  Stern could’ve ended his season, but seven games without pay is nothing to scoff at.  I’m sure it’ll cost Ron at least a few hundred grand as well as the first round of the playoffs.  What I do think the NBA should’ve done is impose some sort of order that requires Artest to take “World Peace” of the back of his jersey before he’s allowed to return.  I think we’re all tired of “Metta World Peace.”

Kevin Durant didn’t take the court for the fourth quarter, but he was still able to make a push for the scoring title. Kobe now trails Durant by a tenth of a point (both players have one otherwise-meaningless game remaining), and he’s lucky KD didn’t shoot very well against the Kings (just 7-19), ’cause he dropped 32 in 31 minutes anyway.  As for the game, Daequan Cook became OKC’s go-to guy with the big guns on the bench.  The Chef scored all 19 of his points in the fourth, including the dagger from the corner with 44 seconds to go.  With a closing lineup of Cook, Fisher, Royal Ivey, Nick Collison, and Cole Aldrich, the Thunder came back from down four and took it 118-110.  Sacramento’s starters actually gave up 36 points to that lineup, and in just 12 minutes (the fourth quarter).  Kinda funny that the Kings had more success against Oklahoma’s starters.  They scored 40 points in the opening quarter and pretty much led for the first three.

Seventy points from Blake Griffin (36) and Chris Paul (34) weren’t enough to keep the Clippers in the hunt for their first Pacific Division title in franchise history.  The Lakers will be wearing the divisional crown once again thanks to Joe Johnson and the Atlanta Hawks.  Johnson went for 28, including this fourth-quarter prayer that was promptly answered by the basketball gods.  Clearly, they don’t want Donald Sterling winning any division titles… and I can’t honestly say that I blame them.  The big news here is that the Hawks clinched homecourt against the Celtics while the Clipps failed to do so in their playoff match up with the Grizzlies.  The Clipps still control their own destiny–they take homecourt if they beat the Knicks tonight–but the deed will have to be done on the road with a hobbled Chris Paul.  CP3 strained his groin late in the loss to ATL, and although he insists that he’ll play… he certainly looked hobbled at the end of the 102-109 loss at the Highlight Factory.  I’m no doctor, but I know groin injuries tend to linger.  Hopefully this doesn’t affect Paul in the playoffs.  Like him or not, that would be a damn shame.  The man has been absolutely killing it lately (take a look at his game log).

I’m a little curious as to why Vinny Del Negro allowed Randy Foye to collect dust bunnies during crunch time. Yeah, he started 0-3… but it’s three shots.  Dude has been on fire lately.  It’s not like Mo Williams (7 points) was putting on some sort of otherworldly display of offensive prowess.  In a game where non-Paul/Griffin Clippers produced just 32 points on 37 shots… one would think the guy who’s been the third-leading scorer for the past month or so would be on the floor.

Nick Young was a f@ckin’ fool to try and dunk on my main man Ivan Johnson…

The last thing I’d do after stealing the ball from Ivan Johnson is attack him in any sort of way.  I imagine that few people steal anything from Ivan Johnson and live to tell about it, so Nick actually comes away pretty lucky here.

Marco Belinelli avenged two forgettable seasons with the Warriors by dropping 23 points in Golden State. Beli scored on a goaltended layup with seven tenths to go, putting his Hornets up two.  Some dude from the Dubs would proceed to toss the inbound lob off the top of the backboard and that was that.  In the grand scheme of things Marco actually did his former team a favor.  If I’m not mistaken, the Warriors need to finish bottom seven to keep their first-round pick.  The loss gives them a chance to tie with another loss to San Antonio on Thursday.  It’ll be tougher than it seems–the Spurs’ rotation figures to consist of more James Anderson than Tim Duncan.

Highlight Recap: Ivan Johnson on clean-up duty.  Mo Williams sets the table to DeAndre Jordan, who cleans the plate.  Kenyon Martin swats Tracy McGrady.  Blake Griffin tools on Josh Smith.  This is Jerome Dyson.

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