LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The red-hot Los Angeles Clippers clinched an NBA playoff berth on Tuesday with their sixth win in a row, Danilo Gallinari scoring 25 points in a 122-111 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Clippers are back in the post-season after missing out last year, becoming the fifth Western Conference team to punch their ticket.
In the East the Boston Celtics’ playoff spot was confirmed with a 116-106 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, coupled with the Detroit Pistons’ 95-92 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
Al Horford and Marcus Smart came up big for the Celtics in the fourth quarter in Cleveland.
Boston were clinging to a 96-94 lead at the 6:26 mark of the final period when the veteran Celtics duo exploded, combining to out-score the Cavaliers 15-6 over the next 4min 20sec and putting the visitors up 111-100.
Smart delivered a dagger with 2:19 remaining, connecting on a layup and converting a free throw to put the Celtics up by nine.
Lower in the table the battle continued to rage for the last remaining berths, the Orlando Magic leapfrogging the Miami Heat for the eighth and final spot with a 104-99 victory at Miami.
The Heat squandered an early 17 point lead and lost for the third time in four games this season against Orlando –- which gives the Magic the playoff tiebreaker.
The defeat spoiled Miami’s celebrations honoring former Heat star Chris Bosh, whose jersey No. 1 was retired at an emotional halftime ceremony.
But more importantly it dropped the Heat out of playoff position in ninth place in the East, just one game ahead of the 10th-placed Charlotte Hornets – who downed the San Antonio Spurs, 125-116, in overtime.
Kemba Walker scored 11 of his 38 points in the extra session as the Hornets notched a fourth straight win.
They had lost all four of their previous overtime games this season.
Charlotte withstood a 30-point game from Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge’s 20 points and 15 rebounds.
The Clippers’ win cemented a spot that was clearly on the cards.
Lou Williams added 20 points off the bench for the Clippers, whose reserves out-scored Minnesota’s bench 53-25.
The playoff-bound Rockets dropped to fourth in the West with a 108-94 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in a game billed as a clash between Most Valuable Player candidates James harden and Giannis Anteokounmpo.
That showdown fizzled as Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe imposed himself, leading the Bucks with 23 points.
Antetokounmpo added 19 points and 14 rebounds for the Bucks, but didn’t score as Milwaukee seized control in the third quarter.