Three games in Texas on the last night of the regular season settled the final six spots in the Western Conference playoffs - and set up some intriguing first-round matchups.
The San Antonio Spurs routed Utah 109-80 on Wednesday night, clinching the No. 3 seed and a first-round series against the Phoenix Suns. The teams met in a tense conference semifinal series last year, which San Antonio won in six games on the way to its fourth NBA title.
San Antonio won the final two games, aided when Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were suspended for Game 5 after leaving the bench during an altercation in the final game.
The deepest playoff race in league history wasn't settled until the final few games of the schedule. The Houston Rockets beat the Los Angeles Clippers 93-75 to wrap up the No. 5 seed and set up another first-round series against Utah.
``Considering all the stuff we've been through this year,'' Houston's Tracy McGrady said, ``for us to put ourselves in a great position with home-court advantage, that's a fabulous job on our part. This team stayed with it.''
The Jazz are No. 4 automatically by winning the Northwest Division, but finished a game behind Houston. The home court didn't help the Rockets in the same scenario last year, as the Jazz beat them in seven games.
Dallas set up a rematch of another sort with a 111-98 home victory over New Orleans. That gave the Mavericks the No. 7 seed and a first-round meeting with the second-seeded Hornets, the Southwest Division champions.
The Mavs avoided the No. 8 seed and a first-round matchup with the West champion Los Angeles Lakers, which instead went to Denver.
``This was definitely a win we wanted to get,'' Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki said. ``The Lakers are probably the hottest team in the West. We definitely didn't want to face them in the first round. ... (New Orleans) had a great year, but I think we match up pretty well.''
The playoffs start Saturday, and the East pairings had already been determined.
Top-seed Boston faces No. 8 Atlanta; No. 2 Detroit opens against No. 7 Philadelphia; Southeast Division champion Orlando is the third seed and meets No. 6 Toronto; and defending East champ Cleveland and No. 5 Washington hook up for the third straight year in the first round.
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