With six Western Conference playoff positions accounted for, the Dallas Mavericks are the next logical team in line for clinching a postseason spot.
It could theoretically happen on Dallas’ three-game homestand, but that might require a series of impressive wins, beginning with Thursday night’s visit from the Houston Rockets.
The Mavericks (46-29) helped their cause by defeating one of the teams chasing them on Wednesday night, winning 135-131 at Oklahoma City to put four games between themselves and the eighth-place Thunder. After facing Houston, Dallas hosts Golden State and Phoenix.
"We all know how important this game was," former Rockets small forward Chandler Parsons said. "We needed this win in a bad way."
The Rockets (51-24) have won eight of 10 and expect Dwight Howard to play after sitting out the last two games. The center is said to be only resting after a knee injury cost him 26 games before returning for three.
With or without Howard, James Harden has often been a handful lately, averaging 32.5 points in those 10 games with the first two 50-point efforts of his career. Just seven games after scoring 50 in a March 19 home win over Denver, Harden had 51 in Wednesday’s 115-111 home win over Sacramento to become the first Rockets player in history with two 50-point games in the same season.
"He finds a way to wow our team every time he goes out there," teammate Trevor Ariza said. "He’s just so crafty and he can score so many different ways. It’s definitely fun to watch."
He was also 8 of 9 from 3-point range, matching a career high for makes to pace an 18-of-40 team mark, the Rockets’ second time in four games with at least 18 makes after going the rest of the season with no more than 17.
"Shooting 8 of 9 from 3 is hard to do,” coach Kevin McHale said. "It’s hard to do when you’re by yourself, much less in a game when everything is contested."
Ariza was 6 of 14 from beyond the arc with 22 points, and the small forward is averaging 15.8 in the last 10 games.
Houston begins a daunting three-game road trip that includes Sunday’s stop in Oklahoma City before concluding Wednesday at San Antonio.
It might be in a slightly more comfortable position than Dallas, but it’s also trying to hold onto a top-three seed with surging San Antonio making a late push in the Southwest Division. The Spurs have already blown by the Mavericks and the Rockets are just two games ahead while Portland and the Los Angeles Clippers are also within striking distance in the conference race.
Harden will be seeking some improvement in Dallas, where he’s shooting 32.4 percent in four visits since joining Houston, which is better than only his 30.2-percent mark in four visits to Oklahoma City, his old team.
The Rockets have won two of three in the season series and three of four dating to last season, though the Mavericks won the last meeting 111-100 in Dallas on Feb. 20 with eight players in double figures for their eighth win in nine home games in the series. The Mavericks have scored 109.4 points and shot 49.0 percent in those games.
They made those numbers look mediocre Wednesday while shooting 61.5 percent, their second-best mark of the season.
Monta Ellis had 26 points after sitting out Sunday’s 104-99 loss in Indiana because of a leg injury. Parsons chipped in 22 against the Thunder and is averaging 24.5 on 60.0 percent in two games. In three games against his old team, he’s been limited to 14.0 points.