Dallas (50-21) at Utah (36-37)

By KATE HEDLIN, STATS Writer Friday, Mar 25, 2011 Tipoff: 9:00 pm EDT Sat Mar 26, 2011

The Dallas Mavericks are beginning a critical road trip that could help them move into second place in the Western Conference or drop them as low as fourth.

They’ll try to get the season-high six-game stretch off to a positive start Saturday night when they visit the slumping Utah Jazz with a chance to sweep the four-game season series.

Dallas (50-21) is in third place in the West, with only a slim margin separating it from the second-place Los Angeles Lakers. Oklahoma City is in fourth.

The upcoming road trip could have big implications for Dallas in the standings. The nine-day trek includes three sets of games on back-to-back nights and a visit to the Lakers next Thursday, although four of the six contests are against teams currently outside playoff position.

Dallas, which has won 12 of its last 15 road games, is looking to win its third straight overall. The Mavericks are coming off a 104-96 win over Minnesota on Thursday.

Dirk Nowitzki(notes) had 30 points and 11 rebounds while Jason Terry(notes) scored 18. The two combined for 19 points in the final quarter.

“We’re a veteran team that knows how to win,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Persistence has to be our calling card.”

With the Mavericks facing a rigorous schedule during this trip, that veteran lineup will be counting on its improved depth. Shawn Marion(notes) returned to the lineup Thursday after missing the previous game with a sprained wrist, finishing with 17 points and six rebounds.

Peja Stojakovic(notes) also provided a lift with 16 points off the bench. The veteran is 9 of 16 from 3-point range in two games since returning from a stiff neck.

Dallas has won all three meetings against Utah (36-37) this season. The last time the Mavericks swept a regular-season series against the Jazz was when they won all three meetings in 2004-05. They’ve never swept a four-game season series against Utah.

Nowitzki has averaged 29.7 points in the last seven meetings with the Jazz. He scored 26 on 12-of-18 shooting in a 93-81 win in Salt Lake City on Dec. 3.

When Dallas beat Utah 118-99 on Feb. 23, the Jazz had just completed their trade of Deron Williams(notes) to New Jersey. They’ve struggled without the All-Star point guard, losing their last four and falling to 11th in the West.

They suffered an especially heart-breaking 121-117 overtime loss to New Orleans on Thursday. Paul Millsap’s(notes) two free throws put Utah ahead 105-103 with 1.3 seconds to go in regulation, but the Hornets extended the game with Emeka Okafor’s(notes) 20-footer at the buzzer.

“It’s a tough loss,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “The guys had a great chance to win the ballgame. I probably should have told Paul to miss a free throw at the end of the ballgame … but (New Orleans) made a tough shot to send it to overtime and they won the game.”

Millsap finished with 33 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots before fouling out in overtime. Utah was without two starters in Andrei Kirilenko(notes) (bruised nerve in knee) and Devin Harris(notes) (hamstring). Their statuses for Saturday are unknown.

“Everybody’s working hard,” Millsap said. “Nobody wants to lose; it just happened.”

Millsap, averaging 17.4 points this season, has two 30-point performances in his last four games.

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Saturday, Mar 26