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Monday, April 16, 2012
Week ahead: Two desperate teams start it off

By Jeff Caplan

SALT LAKE CITY -- This is it. The final full week of the compacted 66-game regular-season schedule comes down to four games in six nights.

The Mavericks will have four days off following this week's slate before finishing off the regular season on April 26 at Atlanta, and then presumably beginning the playoffs a few days later.

The Mavs (34-27) have yet to secure a playoff spot with five games to go, but they certainly have the upper hand in getting in and finishing with the sixth seed. But nothing is guaranteed and that includes getting a win tonight at Utah, a team desperately clinging to playoff contention.

So here we go:

Today: at Utah Jazz (31-30), 8 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW/103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: The Mavs know they're going to get the Jazz's best game. They got a night off and have to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Dallas is 2-0 against Utah but hasn't seen the Jazz since early March. The big issue for the Mavs could be fatigue after Sunday's overtime loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles. Dirk Nowitzki played a team-high 43 minutes. Jason Kidd played a season-high 39, Delonte West and Brendan Haywood each played 38 minutes and Jason Terry played 37.

Wednesday: versus Houston Rockets (32-28), 7:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: KTXA (Ch. 21)/103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: Another desperate team is on the docket. The Rockets ended the week Sunday with a third consecutive loss after winning four in a row. Houston gets Denver at home tonight and depending on that result and how the Mavs fare at Utah, this game could be absolutely huge just to get into the playoffs.

Friday: versus Golden State Warriors (22-37), 7:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW/103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: If ever there was a gimme game, this is it in the home finale. The Warriors (10-20 on the road), via trade and injury, are completely depleted. Their best healthy player might not be healthy any longer as David Lee has a strained groin and a stress reaction and could miss the rest of the season. Dallas came close to blowing a big lead at Golden State to start this current four-game road trip. If the Mavs don't win this one easily at home then they might as well pack it in for the summer.

Saturday: at Chicago Bulls (46-14), 8 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW/103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: This will be the Bulls' third-to-last game, and as they start the week with a 3 1/2-game lead over Miami for the No. 1 seed in the East, it's debatable as to whether the Mavs will see a full Bulls lineup or not. By this point, if the Mavs have not clinched a playoff spot, they could be in serious jeopardy of matching the 1999 Bulls as the last defending champ not to make the playoffs. Chicago could still be jockeying with Oklahoma City and San Antonio for best overall record, so it's hard to say at this point how each coach will approach the game.