ATLANTA (AP) Dwight Howard had 19 points and 12 rebounds as the resurgent Atlanta Hawks won their fourth straight game, routing the listless Charlotte Hornets 103-76 on Tuesday night to wrap up the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks will face the Washington Wizards in the opening round of the playoffs.
A week ago, Atlanta’s playoff hopes were in jeopardy after a dismal stretch that included two losses to Brooklyn, the worst team in the NBA.
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Then, in a sudden turnaround that epitomized the team’s maddening inconsistency this season, the Hawks knocked off East-leading Boston and recorded two straight stunning victories over the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers, including Sunday’s comeback from a 26-point deficit.
This one was never in doubt. Charlotte played its regular-season finale already eliminated from the playoffs and without its best player, Kemba Walker.
NUGGETS 109, MAVERICKS 91
DALLAS (AP) – Gary Harris scored 20 points and Denver beat Dallas with the Mavericks honoring retiring Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo as a ceremonial player.
With nothing at stake in a lost season that will be the worst for Dallas (32-49) since going 20-62 in 1997-98, the Mavericks followed through with an idea hatched in part by star Dirk Nowitzki weeks ago when it was clear Romo wasn’t returning to the Cowboys.
Romo was honored exactly a week after announcing he was leaving football to become the No. 1 NFL analyst at CBS.
The soon-to-be-37-year-old had the crowd on its feet in the final minute hoping he could play, but Romo wasn’t on the roster or under contract.
After breaking a bone in his back last preseason, the career passing leader for the storied Cowboys franchise lost the starting job he held for 10 years to rookie Dak Prescott and decided not to play for another team.
Mason Plumlee and Malik Beasley scored 16 apiece in the first game for the Nuggets (39-42) since getting eliminated from the postseason. Nowitzki scored 21 for Dallas.
THUNDER 100, TIMBERWOLVES 98
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Victor Oladipo scored 20 points and hit a jumper with 6.3 seconds to play to lift Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City over Minnesota.
With Westbrook resting for the first time this season, Oladipo also had nine rebounds and six assists, and the Thunder outrebounded Minnesota 54-35. Starters Taj Gibson and Andre Roberson also sat out as the Thunder prepare for a first-round series against Houston. Domantas Sabonis added 19 points and nine rebounds.
Karl-Anthony Towns had 26 points and 12 rebounds, while Andrew Wiggins overcame a 1-for-11 start to finish with 18 points for the Minnesota. But the Timberwolves again struggled to get stops down the stretch and Wiggins missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer as they lost their fifth straight game.
LAKERS 108, PELICANS 96
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Metta World Peace scored a team-leading 18 points during what might have been his final home game for the Lakers, and Los Angeles extended its late-season winning streak to five games with a victory over New Orleans.
World Peace made his 840th career NBA start and hit four 3-pointers while scoring all of his points in the second half, thrilling his younger teammates and setting off chants of his name from the Staples Center crowd.
Although he hasn’t announced his retirement, the 37-year-old veteran of 17 NBA seasons got several standing ovations down the stretch.
Cheick Diallo scored 19 points for the Pelicans, who lost their fifth straight while playing without big men Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.
KINGS 129, SUNS 104
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Buddy Hield scored a career-high 30 points and Ty Lawson had his first career triple-double, getting 22 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds as Sacramento beat Phoenix.
The Kings never trailed, scoring the game’s first nine points, leading by 19 at halftime and keeping a double-digit lead the entire second half.
Ben McLemore, Willie Cauley-Stein and Georgios Papagiannis all had 13 points for the Kings. Skal Labissiere and Anthony Tolliver had 12 points apiece. The Kings snapped a two-game losing streak, beating the Suns for the third time in four games this season.
Tyler Ulis had 27 points and Marquese Chriss scored 22 for Phoenix. Leading scorer Devin Booker was given the night off as the Suns finished 24-58.