The Utah Jazz (34-35) and Dallas Mavericks (33-36) face off in a game that will put the ninth seed in the Western Conference on the line. The Jazz have struggled since the All-Star break, losing 11 of their 15 games, and falling out of the playoff picture for the time being.
The Mavericks, meanwhile, have continued trucking along. They've won seven of their last ten games and can now leap one ladder rung closer to nabbing a playoff spot. With the regular season dwindling down to its final weeks, both teams are certainly down but not out in regard to the playoffs.
Dallas, however, will be finishing out their season without guard Rodrigue Beaubois, who will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery on his left hand. The Mavericks are in the middle of a big homestand, playing six-straight games at the American Airlines Center before hitting the road for a four-game road trip. If there's a time to make ground for Dallas, it's now.
Utah has been travelling throughout Texas, playing the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs prior to finishing their Texas rodeo in Dallas Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. ET. Utah lost both games they've played in Texas during their three-step across the state.
While holding onto the eighth and seventh seed throughout much of the season, the Jazz are now on the outside looking in while the Los Angeles Lakers have forced their way into the final slot in the Western Conference playoffs. The Lakers currently hold a 1.5-game lead over the Jazz, but Utah holds the tie-breaker over Los Angeles.
In the Jazz's favor, in the prior two meetings between the Jazz and Mavericks, the Jazz have emerged victorious. Utah, however, has one of the worst road records in the league having won only 10 of their 26 road games through the season. Sunday night in Dallas is one of their final five games away from Utah.
Dallas will have to shore up its defense, as they rank 27th overall in points allowed per game, giving up 102.2 points per game. The Jazz have been riding Gordon Hayward as their leading scorer over the last 10 games, with both Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson seeing a decrease in offensive output. Each of Utah's big men have seen a drop in field goal percentage and points per game as the Jazz have hit a huge skid. They have also seen a decrease in minutes while both Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors have seen the floor at an increase.
Each of the two teams will have to seize the remaining games on their schedule to potentially squeak into the playoffs. While there are only a few weeks left, a 1.5-game margin from the eighth seed is still a realistic deficit to overcome. A road win before heading home could spark a turnaround for the struggling Jazz, while a win over Utah could motivate the Mavericks as they reach ninth in the Western Conference standings and are within striking distance of the eight-seed Lakers.
With the crumbs of playoff hopes still on their plates, both teams have plenty at stake. The Western Conference playoff picture is split in half, with the top fives seeds rotating position, and the bottom three seeds (and teams within reach) are in a tight race to finish out the season.