The Dallas Mavericks largely failed to capitalize on a franchise-long homestand, casting some uncertainty on their chances at a 13th playoff appearance in 14 seasons. But they've since found some separation - albeit to a small extent - away from home.
Dallas looks to close out an undefeated four-game trip Tuesday night against the struggling Utah Jazz.
The Mavericks (47-31) split a set of eight straight home games March 17-April 1, which included three overtime losses by a combined six points. Afterward, they were locked in a three-way tie with Phoenix and Memphis, but have since notched road victories over both Los Angeles clubs as well as Sacramento to take a half-game edge over the Suns for seventh place in the Western Conference.
They're also 1 1/2 games behind sixth-place Golden State, though both the Warriors and Suns have a game in hand on the Mavericks.
Dallas can guarantee itself a playoff berth with a 3-1 finish. The team hosts San Antonio and Phoenix on Thursday and Saturday before closing the season in Memphis on April 16.
Dirk Nowitzki was just 5 for 17 with 15 points in Sunday's 93-91 win over the Kings, but he was picked up by Monta Ellis, who scored eight of his 23 points in the final quarter. Dallas' 40.4 field-goal percentage was its fifth-lowest in a win this season, though the squad was 13 of 31 from 3-point range with Vince Carter and Jose Calderon combining to go 8 for 16 from deep.
Nowitzki, who is 17 points shy of Oscar Robertson for 10th on the league's all-time scoring list, had averaged 28.7 points on 64.2 percent shooting in his previous three contests. Dallas had been 5-5 when he scored 15 points or fewer.
"We knew it was going to be a dog fight, but the good thing is we stayed together," coach Rick Carlisle said. "The Kings are pretty tough, but we came through. Every game has such a high level of importance. We need to play much better than tonight."
They might not need to against the defense-adverse Jazz (24-53), who occupy last place in the West.
Utah has dropped 17 of 20 and allowed 130 points for the second time this season in Sunday's 130-102 loss at Golden State. Ellis and Nowitzki may be in for big nights after the Jazz surrendered a combined 64 points to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as the Warriors shot 57.8 percent.
It marked the ninth time during Utah's 3-17 stretch that it allowed a team to shoot at least 50.7 percent. Opponents are shooting 47.3 percent against the Jazz on the season, their highest since allowing the same mark in 1985-86.
Trey Burke finished with 24 points and a season-high 15 assists after totaling 13 points on 6-of-22 shooting over his previous three games.
Marvin Williams didn't practice Monday and is a game-time decision due to left knee inflammation. He combined for 40 points in the season's first two meetings in Dallas, though he was 1 for 4 with two points in a 108-101 home loss March 12.
The Mavericks have won four straight and 11 of 14 against the Jazz and were 30 for 56 from 3-point range (53.6 percent) in the first three matchups this season.
Nowitzki is averaging 26.6 points while shooting 56.7 percent over his last 18 games versus Utah.
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