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Utah Jazz: Brutal week awaits red-hot Jazz

SALT LAKE CITY — They have seen what a nice run can do, vaulting them from outside of the NBA's Western Conference playoff picture to a front-row seat in the latest postseason snapshot.

They know what even a short nosedive can do, too — with eight teams still vying for five berths behind the conference's three division champs.

It's with that in mind that the 28-18 Jazz — winners of five straight, and nine of their last 10 — kick off a brutal week, something they've have had plenty of already this season.

"It seems like now, the way things stack up, that every game is important, you know?" Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said Sunday.

Monday's comes with extra meaning, because a win over Dirk Nowitzki and 30-17 Dallas would give Utah a season-series win over the Mavericks for just the second time in 10 years — despite two of the three games in this season's unbalanced schedule-shortened season being in Dallas.

Moreover, a Jazz victory would push Utah to within a half-game of the conference's currently third-place Mavs — and give it tie-breaker rights over Dallas, should it not win the Southwest Division, in the jam-packed West.

"We need this right now," power forward Paul Millsap said. "I think it's real crucial for us to come out and try to win that game =8A because you don't want it come back and haunt you."

The same, though, can be said of all of the Jazz's games this week — including visits from Portland on Wednesday night and, at the tail end of a four-game homestand, Northwest Division-leader Denver on Saturday night.

That comes on top of weeks already this season in which the Jazz had four games, including ones with Houston, Dallas and San Antonio (they went 1-3, including a home loss to lowly Sacramento); four games back East, including visits to Boston and Cleveland (they went 2-2 with losses to the Celtics and Cavaliers); and a brutal one in December in which they went 3-1 despite having games against San Antonio, the Los Angeles Lakers (twice) and Orlando.

Curiously, though, the roughest weeks don't seem worry the Jazz nearly as much as one might suspect.

"The toughest games you try to play, to me, (are) the games that people look at and say you're supposed to win," Sloan said.

"When you're loaded like that," Millsap added, "I think it's easier for you to stay focused — or try to stay focused. But, you know, you can go one of two ways."

You can, which is why Sloan hopes the Jazz are able to ride their current momentum throughout their final five games before the mid-February NBA All-Star Game break.

Utah also has games against the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers next week.

"We'd like to, because =8A you've got to play, coming out of the All-Star break, four games in row on the road," said Sloan, whose Jazz visit Houston, New Orleans, Golden State and Portland immediately after the break. "And obviously our road record (9-12) hasn't been that great."

NOTES: The Jazz practiced Sunday morning without starting power forward Carlos Boozer (strained right calf), starting point guard Deron Williams (family funeral) and starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko (stomach flu).

Williams is expected to play tonight, while Kirilenko will be a gametime decision and Boozer is out. ... After attending Saturday's funeral for an uncle in West Virginia, Williams wasn't scheduled to land back in Salt Lake City until Sunday afternoon. ... Backup center Kyrylo Fesenko — who's missed seven games with a sprained left ankle — did practice Sunday and could dress tonight.

e-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com