Updated: April 20, 2012, 12:55 AM ET

1. Ten Notables From The Playoff Push

By Israel Gutierrez
ESPN.com

There's still plenty to absorb as the playoffs approach, and Wednesday's games taught us plenty. Here are 10 things we learned:

1. The Jazz might've just nestled into a comfortable place in the playoff race.

By winning in Portland, and with losses by the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns, the Utah Jazz hold a half-game lead over those two teams, with the easiest schedule remaining of the three.


Utah finishes with three home games against the Dwight Howard-less Magic, Suns and Blazers.

The Rockets end with home and road games against New Orleans, at Miami and home against Golden State.

The Suns have the Clippers, Nuggets and Spurs at home, and the critical matchup in Utah.

Should the Jazz get in, they arguably become the league's most surprising team this season. The Jazz are supposed to be in the midst of a severe rebuilding job, yet they're holding off a desperate Rockets team that barely missed the past two postseasons and a Suns team possibly playing its last games with Steve Nash.


2. James Harden might give the Thunder the biggest of the big threes.

The Oklahoma City Thunder were in the middle of a 4-5 stretch that had some hovering over the panic button in OKC.

Wednesday's start in Phoenix didn't do much to settle those concerns, as the Suns took a 21-11 lead.

Enter Harden. Playing near his college town of Tempe, Ariz., Harden came in at the 5:03 mark and scored 10 points with an assist for the remainder of the quarter, which ended with the Thunder leading 29-25.

Harden finished with a career-best 40 points with seven rebounds and four steals in the win on a night when Russell Westbrook (16 points, five assists, three turnovers) struggled for a second straight game.


3. Mo Williams and Nick Young giving the Clippers just what they need.

The Los Angeles Clippers started their current five-game win steak without an injured Williams, but that streak likely would've ended Wednesday in Denver without him.

Williams balances the Clippers pick-and-roll game like no other member of that team, especially when he's on the floor with Chris Paul.

Williams hit four 3-pointers against Denver, including a back-breaking 33-footer that gave L.A. a six-point lead with three minutes left.

Young added three more threes as the Clips stayed within half a game of the Lakers for the No. 3 seed and the chance to avoid the Grizzlies in the first round.


4. Carmelo Anthony is making the No. 1 seed in the East worth fighting for.

There's plenty to take from the Heat's ho-hum home win against the Toronto Raptors, including the fact LeBron James very much wants the MVP, and that the Miami Heat's bench isn't as bad as it has played of late (Mike Miller had 13 points, six assists).

But the most critical element was the win itself. The Heat remain within two games in the loss column of the top-seeded Chicago Bulls, with a meeting left between the teams Thursday.

Neither wants to face Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks in the first round. Anthony just put up 21 points in the first quarter against the New Jersey Nets on his way to 33, and he's only picking up steam.

A nice and easy first round against the flailing Sixers would be the preferred route for both East powerhouses.

Might that be enough incentive to get Derrick Rose in the lineup Thursday?


5. Paul Pierce won't be shown up by his own teammates.

With all the talk of Rajon Rondo's hypnotic floor game and Kevin Garnett's rejuvenated play, Pierce's part in the Boston Celtics' post-All-Star surge has been underplayed.

With Rondo and Ray Allen out Wednesday against the Magic, Pierce took over the creative duties with 14 assists and handled the scoring burden with an efficient 29 points.

That's coming off a 43-point effort in a loss to the Knicks. It's quite possible Pierce can't maintain this for an entire postseason, but if he, Garnett and Rondo are in a good place heading into the postseason, the Celtics could be quite frightening.


6. The Mavericks' elder statesmen might have some legitimate juice left entering the playoffs.

Two days after playing 45 minutes apiece in a triple-overtime loss to the Jazz, the duo of Jason Kidd and Vince Carter carried another significant load against the Rockets. The 35-year-old Carter scored a season-high 23 points in a critical win against the desperate and game Houston Rockets.

Kidd, the fourth-oldest player in the league at 39, closed out the win by taking a charge and hitting a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions with two minutes left.


7. Rip Hamilton still has some takeover ability.

Granted, Wednesday's effort came against the historically awful Bobcats, but Hamilton still had his second straight 22-point game, and his third 20-point effort in his past five games.

The popular assessment is that this version of Hamilton isn't nearly the "second scorer" the Bulls need to get out of the Eastern Conference. But even if Hamilton doesn't score at this pace when Rose is in rhythm, his activity offensively should still open up Chicago's offense.


8. The Sixers need starters to perform, not just reserve Lou Williams, to avoid a complete collapse.

The Milwaukee Bucks' loss to the Washington Wizards combined with the Philadelphia 76ers win over the Cleveland Cavaliers may have secured a playoff spot for Philadelphia, but if they want to finish the season strong, starters Jrue Holiday and Andre Igoudala have to play like they did Wednesday. Holiday, who took a slight step back this season, hit all six of his 3-pointers on his way to 24 points, and Igoudala had 19 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists. Philly had been struggling in part because its starters weren't playing this way.


9. Glen Davis could be a load in the playoffs.

Even if Dwight Howard does put on his cape and plays through back pain in the playoffs, chances are he won't be relied upon as heavily offensively.

Davis looks like he's ready to take that challenge.

After his 27 points on 12 of 16 shooting in another Orlando battle with Boston, Davis is now averaging 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds in 10 April games. That includes a game he played just seven minutes and scored six points.


10. The Wizards don't tank.

With all the complaints being voiced about teams like the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers laying down for better draft position, the Wizards have shown some refreshing pride.

Washington all but eliminated the Bucks from the playoffs with a win Wednesday, making four wins in six games for the Wiz.

It's the best stretch Washington has experienced, and who knows, maybe karma will reward that franchise, for a change.

Israel Gutierrez covers the NBA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter, @IzzyESPN.

Dimes past: April 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6-7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13-14 | 15 | 16 | 17

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