It also has plenty to lose.
The Rockets can clinch their first division title in 15 years and perhaps finish as high as second in the Western Conference with a win Wednesday night in Dallas - or fall as low as fifth with a loss - while the Mavericks are hoping a victory will vault them into the sixth seed.
There’s still much to be decided in the West on the last day of the regular season, and Houston (53-28) has as fluid a situation as any team in the conference. The Rockets will wrap up the Southwest Division - their first division championship since 1993-94 - if they can beat the Mavericks (49-32), and they’ll finish no lower than third in the conference, with the possibility of moving to second if Denver loses at Portland.
Then again, should Houston fail to beat Dallas, it can fall as low as fifth - losing the division title and home-court advantage in the process - with wins Wednesday by San Antonio and Portland.
“We just need to keep winning because nothing is secure right now,” said center Yao Ming, who’s averaged 26.0 points and 13.0 rebounds in two wins against the Mavericks.
Yao returned after missing a game with a bone bruise in his right foot to score a game-high 22 points in the Rockets’ 86-66 win over visiting New Orleans on Monday, saying after the game that he felt fine.
Houston, of course, certainly feels a lot better with the seven-time All-Star in the lineup.
“When the big fellas is doing it we’re obviously a tougher team,” forward Shane Battier told the Rockets’ official Web site. “If we want to make any noise in this playoff run, we’re going to need him to be an MVP candidate and that’s OK.
“When Yao is playing well it makes the rest of our jobs way easier. … Three-point shots are open more and driving lanes are open more because of the attention that is given Yao.”
The Mavericks dodged one major bullet on Tuesday with Utah’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, which ensured that coach Rick Carlisle’s team will finish no lower than seventh.
That leaves the Jazz to face the top-seeded Lakers, who have beaten Dallas six straight times.
The Mavericks, who are looking to win 50 games for a ninth straight season, can still finish as high as sixth, but it’ll take a win and a New Orleans loss to San Antonio.
It looked like Dallas was on the verge of locking itself into the seventh or eighth slot for a while Monday night when Minnesota visited, but Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry came to the rescue. Nowitzki had a game-high 34 points and Terry had 22 off the bench - including the tiebreaking jumper with 0.2 seconds left - to help the Mavericks rally from a late seven-point deficit to win 96-94.
“The guys stuck together and said, ‘There’s a lot on the line here. Let’s find a way.’ And that’s exactly what they did,” Carlisle said.
The Mavericks’ lone victory in three games against the Rockets this season came Nov. 19 in Houston. Terry had 31 points in a 96-86 Dallas win as Yao sat out with a sore left foot.