The Utah Jazz finally got back to their winning ways with a 103-90 win over the Detroit Pistons on Monday, temporarily putting them back in line for a playoff spot. Unfortunately, their stay was short. Dwight Howard's 39-point, 16-rebound performance in Orlando Tuesday night propelled the Los Angeles Lakers to a 106-97 win, moving the Lakers into the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoff bracket.
The Jazz only trail the Lakers by a half-game, and with a tie-breaking 2-1 series lead over the Lakers this season, they still have a reasonable shot at making the playoffs.
There are several big games remaining that are important in terms of playoff positioning, including Wednesday night's matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the Jazz's upcoming trip through Texas looms larger than any other three-game stretch.
@ Houston Rockets, Wednesday March 20
Starting off their trip against the Rockets, a team that is 34-30 and one game ahead of the Jazz in the standings, will not be an easy task. The last meeting against the Rockets ended in an ugly, 125-80 home loss. Not only were the Jazz flat in coming out of the gate—they trailed 57-39 at halftime— things actually went downhill from there.
If you let a team shoot 52.8 percent from the floor and 47.1 percent from beyond the arc, it is almost always going to result in a loss. When that is matched with your own sub-40 percent shooting effort, it is a guaranteed loss.
The Jazz had some success against the Rockets earlier in the season when they won, 102-91, in November, although it was during a time when James Harden was ill and only contributed six points. This game will set the tone for the rest of the trip, and the outcome will likely signal the Jazz's playoff hopes.
@ San Antonio Spurs, Friday March 22
Traveling to San Antonio has rarely been a positive experience for the Jazz.
This season they lost in San Antonio, 110-100, and looking back to last postseason, they lost both games in Texas during a first-round playoff series sweep.
If the Jazz can get a win in Houston, they should be able to ride some of that momentum and have a much better chance at getting an elusive win in San Antonio.
The Spurs' 26-4 home record and the Jazz's 10-23 record on the road seemingly indicate that this may be an impossible task, but if the Jazz want to make the playoffs and prove their worth in the Western Conference, this second game of the Texas stretch is a huge one.
@ Dallas Mavericks, Sunday March 24
While Dallas certainly is not as potent as it has been in years past, the Mavs are riding a three-game winning streak and are battling for the final playoff spot alongside the Lakers and Jazz. If their hot streak continues, this game will be crucial in carving out some breathing room while Utah closes out its schedule.
The Jazz won the previous two meetings against these teams this year, including a 113-94 victory to start off the year in Dallas, although the Mavs surely know how important this game will be in the final standings.
Even if the Jazz can come out of Texas with a 2-1 record, it will help strengthen their foothold in the playoffs.