There's a strong possibility the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets will meet in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. But even with only three days remaining in the regular season, the tightest postseason race in recent memory has shown few signs of clearing up.

With home-court advantage still within reach for the Jazz, and the West's top seed an outside possibility for the Rockets, Houston will look to rebound from an ugly road loss on Monday against Utah, the NBA's best home team

The Rockets (54-26) and Jazz would meet in the first round - just as they did last season - if the season ended after 80 games. But each team has two opportunities left to improve its seeding in the tightly packed West.

Houston is tied with San Antonio for second in the Southwest Division, one game behind New Orleans, and is 1 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers - with whom they own the head-to-head tiebreaker - for the top seed in the conference.

The Rockets wasted a chance to move closer to the Lakers on Sunday, losing 111-94 at Denver to snap a five-game winning streak.

"I'm not so concerned about the No. 1 spot,'' said forward Tracy McGrady. "I'm more concerned about how we're playing right now."

Houston was without Shane Battier and Bobby Jackson against the Nuggets, and Rafer Alston left in the third quarter after reaggravating a hamstring injury. All are listed as day-to-day.

The Rockets would be the No. 5 seed if the playoffs began today, but would have home-court advantage over Northwest Division champion Utah (53-27) due to their superior record. A victory Monday, however, would give the Jazz the head-to-head tiebreaker over Houston, making the stakes at EnergySolutions Arena - where Utah is a league-best 36-4 - even higher.

The Jazz have won 26 of 27 games on their home floor since Dec. 31, and one of their four home losses this season came at the hands of Houston - a 106-95 defeat on Nov. 1 thanks to a 47-point effort from McGrady.

Utah won its seventh in a row at home on Saturday, thrashing the Nuggets 124-97. The Jazz have won by an average of 24.0 points in that stretch.

"It was a big win. We can still get home-court advantage if we win out,'' said point guard Deron Williams, who finished with 19 points and 11 assists.

Utah is guaranteed a top-four seed - but not necessarily home-court - by virtue of winning its division. The Jazz, however, can finish as high as second in the West due to tiebreakers it owns with San Antonio and New Orleans.

Utah could use some more production from leading scorer Carlos Boozer against the Rockets. Boozer, who averages 21.3 points and 10.4 rebounds, is averaging just 14.5 points and 5.5 boards over his last six games.

But while Boozer's production has dropped, center Mehmet Okur's has been on the rise. He's averaging 19.5 points and 15.5 rebounds over his last four games.

McGrady has been excellent against Utah in the regular season, averaging 30.9 points in his last eight games.

Luis Scola will be asked to deal with Boozer and Okur inside, and the Argentine rookie has developed nicely since center Yao Ming went down in February with a broken foot. He's averaging 13.0 points and 8.3 rebounds since Yao's been out.

"We just have to win (in Utah) and win the next game," Scola told the team's official Web site. "Whoever the team is that we play, so be it - Utah, Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio, New Orleans, Lakers or Denver. Everybody is the same."

Including the postseason, the Rockets have dropped 26 of their last 30 games in Utah.


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