W2W4: Whole lot on the line vs. Rockets

DALLAS – Regular-season games don’t get much more pressure-packed than this one.

This is pretty much a must win for the Houston Rockets, who bring a four-game losing streak to the American Airlines Center and are fighting for their playoff lives, currently standing on the outside of the Western Conference’s postseason picture.

If the Mavs don’t win this one, the defending NBA champions would put themselves in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs. They’re sitting in seventh place, just a game and a half ahead of the Phoenix Suns and Rockets, with four games remaining in the lockout-compressed regular season.

“We’re well aware of all the situations and scenarios,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “We got to earn our way into the playoffs. That’s the reality. It’s not an easy road. We’ve got tough games we got to play and tough opponents we’ve got to beat.”

Records: Mavs (34-28); Rockets (32-29)

When: 7:30 p.m.

Where: American Airlines Center

TV: TXA 21

Radio: ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM/1270 AM (Spanish)

What to watch: Will the Mavs have enough gas in the tank to finish strong against the Rockets? They had a day off Tuesday and skipped shootaround this morning, but this is the Mavs’ fifth game in seven nights, and that includes an overtime loss Sunday to the Lakers and a triple-overtime loss Monday to the Jazz. Dallas’ key closers – Dirk Nowitzki (96), Jason Terry (91) and Jason Kidd (85) -- racked up massive minute totals in those two games.

Key matchup: Goran Dragic vs. Delonte West – Dragic has been the Rockets’ best player since Kyle Lowry’s illness pushed him into the starting lineup, averaging 18 points and 8.4 assists while shooting 49.5 percent from the floor and 39.3 percent from 3-point range in the last 23 games. That includes averaging 20.5 points and 7.5 assists in two losses to the Mavs last month. West didn’t play in those games due to a fractured right ring finger, forcing small forward Shawn Marion to be the Mavs’ primary defender on Dragic. The Mavs will rely on West, who avoided suspension for the bizarre, ear-poking incident during Monday's loss to Utah, to harass Dragic and keep the Rockets’ offense from establishing a rhythm.

Injuries: Mavs – G Rodrigue Beaubois (strained right calf) is expected to play; Rockets – C Marcus Camby (sore lower back/left wrist sprain) is a game-time decision.

Up next: Golden State Warriors at Mavs, 7:30 p.m., Friday