Mavericks-Jazz Preview

(AP) - Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder has been adamant that his team is still playing for something as the season winds down.

There will be no playoffs, and victories only hurt draft positioning, but Snyder hasn't shelved his stars and completely turned to his bench.

The Jazz play their final home game Monday night against the Dallas Mavericks, and Snyder insists a strong finish can carry over into the 2015-16 season.

''We have lots of things to fight for, just not the playoffs,'' he said. ''You can always take steps. ... That's part of becoming good, being able to tap that competitiveness and that intensity and focus at times when maybe it's hard.''

The Jazz (37-43) have been one of the best teams in the league after the All-Star break. Their .667 winning percentage since then ranks sixth in the NBA. Utah leads the league in fewest points allowed (87.9) and opponents' field goal percentage (.418) during that stretch. Before the break, their opponents' field goal percentage (.458) and their winning percentage (.358) were both the seventh-worst in the league.

General manager Dennis Lindsey is slowly rebuilding with young players, a first-year coach and a patient philosophy. The team, however, has exceeded expectations, and the progression seems to be ahead of schedule. The 2016 playoffs are suddenly a realistic goal.

''Just wanting to keep getting better, improve our chemistry, our communication,'' forward Trevor Booker said. ''It's important for us to finish strong because, hopefully, next year at this time we'll be preparing for the playoffs. For us to finish strong, we can learn a lot about our team and our bodies.

''How we finish this season, it can implicate how we start next season.''

The balance, however, is a delicate one. Snyder is being careful with guys such as Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Trey Burke. Each has missed time recently because of minor injuries, and Snyder doesn't want them wasting time in the offseason rehabbing injuries. He wants them further developing their game. Hayward and Favors both sat out Saturday's 111-105 win at Portland due to a coach's decision while Burke did not travel due to a sore lower back.

The organization is getting looks at reserves Jack Cooley, Bryce Cotton, Elijah Millsap, Jeremy Evans and Chris Johnson. Rookies Dante Exum and Rodney Hood have both had their minutes increased recently.

Burke said all the players are feeling the effects of a long season on their bodies, but he believes the momentum can carry over.

Snyder conceded that it's hard to know exactly what will and can carry over. Individual players have plenty to work on, and that's just part of the growth process when the entire core of the team is young. Snyder believes there's also a mental carry-over.

''We've got nothing to lose and everything to gain,'' guard Joe Ingles said. ''For us, it's about getting better and finishing the season off right.''

That's what the Mavericks (49-31) are trying to do as they prepare for their 14th playoff appearance in the past 15 seasons.

But the only mystery left for Dallas is entirely out of its control. The Mavs are locked into the seventh seed, and there are still four teams battling for the Western Conference's No. 2 spot - each with 26 losses.

Dallas can give the West a seventh 50-win team after making it three straight with Sunday's 120-106 victory against Los Angeles, sweeping the Lakers for the first time in franchise history.

''It's just an opportunity for us to get tuned up heading into (the playoffs) next weekend,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. ''It's a good win for us. It gives us a chance for 50.''

The Mavericks swept four games from Utah last season, and they'll be trying to do so again Monday. All three meetings in 2014-15 occurred before the All-Star break.

Chandler Parsons, who has missed the last four games with a right knee injury, could return. After scoring 21 points in his first game against the Jazz in a Dallas uniform, Parsons has gone 3 for 22 from the field in the last two.


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