This time of the year, every game becomes critical for those with postseason hopes.
That can certainly be said Wednesday night when the Utah Jazz begin a three- game road trip through Texas with the first stop in Houston against the Rockets.
The Rockets are currently the seventh seed in the Western Conference playoff race, but they are only a game ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers. Houston is only two behind the Golden State Warriors for sixth.
However, the Rockets are only two games ahead of the Jazz, who are on the outside looking in at the postseason. Utah is a game behind the Lakers for the final playoff spot, so games like Wednesday's are huge.
"These last 15 games are playoff games for us," said Rockets' star James Harden. "We have to prepare ourselves to be in the playoffs, that's what we're shooting for. So every game, every detail, every quarter and every possession is going to count from here on out and we have to really focus in on that. We can't be making the same mistakes we were making early in the season. We have to show our growth and maturity."
The Rockets had a two-game winning streak snapped with authority on Sunday. The Warriors put some space between themselves and the Rockets with a 108-78 embarrassment on the road.
The Rockets, the second-leading scoring team in the NBA, managed 10 points in the first quarter and 21 in the second. Golden State had 54 at the half, so the rout was on, despite Houston taking the third quarter by eight.
Harden and Jeremy Lin led the way with 21 points apiece and Carlos Delfino was the only other player in double figures with 12 off the bench.
"What can you say?," Lin said. "We didn't do anything right tonight, and it was just one of those nights. We can dwell on it, or we can come out and kick the crap out of the next however-many opponents we have at home."
The Rockets still have four straight at home and are 2-1 thus far on this long homestand.
The Jazz are in a funk, but haven't fallen totally out of playoff contention. Utah has dropped nine of its last 12 and have lost six in a row away from Salt Lake City.
On Monday, with the undermanned New York Knicks in town, the Jazz fell 90-83. New York was without Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, but held the Jazz under 40 percent from the field.
Gordon Hayward led the Jazz with 17 points, followed by 12 from Paul Millsap and 10 apiece from Al Jefferson and Marvin Williams.
It was a disappointing way to head into a road trip.
"We have to find a way to do it," said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. "Houston's not going to feel sorry for us. Feel sorry for yourself, it's going to be a long trip. We got a chance."
The Rockets have taken two of the three matchups this season, including the only one in Houston on Dec. 1. Utah has lost six of its last nine in Houston.