Mavs At Rockets Preview

If the Mavs have a chance ... this is their chance. Two games in four days against the Houston team that presently owns the eighth and final West playoff spot. Two games in four days against a Houston team that Dallas has a 2-0 record against this year. If there is a chance ...

The Dallas Mavericks remain five games back of the Houston Rockets for that eighth playoff slot in the West, and we've already crunched the painful numbers: History says Dallas needs to win as many as 20 of the final 24 games to get the job done.

"We can't afford any losses," Dirk Nowitzki said. "We have 24 games left, and we need to take one game at a time. It sounds lame and stupid, but that is how you have to look at it. We can't look at the big picture because we're too far down."

OK, but to start, Dallas needs to win two of the two games facing it in the next four days.

Sunday, it's a 6 p.m. tip at the Toyota Center in Houston, and Bob Ortegel, Dana Larson and me have the telecast starting at 5:30 on Fox Sports Southwest. Then comes a mini-break for the Mavs before the rematch -- Wednesday back home at the AAC.

Maybe it's helpful that the Mavericks have won the first two meetings against the Rockets this season. Maybe it's meaningful that Dallas has won nine straight games against the Rockets.

It needs to be meaningful now, with the best and maybe only way to close the gap of playoff contention being to take down a foe that ranks ahead of you.

Houston has become James Harden's team, and he is a challenge to the Dallas defense, as you might recall from last year's playoffs. The Mavs, meanwhile, have enjoyed the return of Dirk Nowitzki, who is averaging 19.9 points and 9.5 rebounds over his last eight games.

Oddly, Dallas is just 2-6 when Dirk scores 20 or more.

The Mavs are 26-32. The Rockets are 32-28.

"Houston is a team we're trying to catch, but we need to move up regardless of who the opponent is," coach Rick Carlisle said.

Yeah, but Houston is the team they're trying to catch. And the next two games in the next four days will go a long way to determining the likelihood of doing so.

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