Ten games, 17 days. In that much time, a lot can happen. In that much time, wars have come and gone, presidents elected, nations fallen, songs written and millions fallen in and out of love.

For the Utah Jazz, the next 17 days will decide their place in the post-season playoffs, and perhaps in history."Ten games - we're talking about almost half of a college season," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan. "In that time a lot can happen."

It should be an eventful time for the Jazz. They are in the middle of the closest race in the NBA. They have, ostensibly, the easiest schedule and the most home games of any of the three contenders. None of this, however, serves to make the Jazz - who have lost three of their last four - feel any more secure.

"We can't think we'll win one and lose one. You've got to think only winning," continued Sloan.

Which seems reasonable. Because despite eking out a win over the Clippers on Wednesday, the Jazz aren't looking in playoff form as they begin their two-game road trip to Dallas and Houston.

The first stop is an 6:30 p.m. game at Reunion Arena Friday night against Dallas.

If the Jazz are nervous about this trip, they have plenty of history to back their concerns up. Known for years as a notoriously bad road team, the Jazz made some inroads this year, but slipped by losing three straight recently. Now they are on their last multi-game road trip of the season. The opposition includes the down-and-out Mavericks, a team of shattered dreams and high medical bills, and the Rockets, who have defied the laws of logic to become a major player in the Western Conference picture.

"The importance of the games become magnified now," continued Sloan.

Traditionally, the Jazz's trips to Texas have been lame. Going into this year, they were 10-27 in the previous seven seasons - ever since the Jazz began looking like a respectable team.

Rarely have the Jazz actually played Houston and Dallas back-to-back. In 1987-88, they played the Rockets and Mavericks on consecutive nights, losing by a cumulative total of 29 points. Before that, they played two straight in 1983-84, winning in Dallas and losing in Houston.

This year the Jazz haven't played back-to-back Dallas-Houston games.

So far this year, the Jazz are 4-0 against the Mavericks and 2-1 against the Rockets.

Of all the concerns the Jazz must address, the largest is production off the bench. In the last three road games - all losses - the Utah bench scored 56 points, but most came late in the games when the Jazz were out of the picture. More telling was a 1-for-8 bench effort against the Kings and a 1-for-12 night on Wednesday against the Clippers.

"We need help off the bench," said Sloan flatly. "Our guys have got to come off the bench and compete. We don't need them all to score 20 points a game; they've just gotta go out there and play the game."

Two games ago, the Jazz got a boost when Blue Edwards returned from the injured list. But he had a tepid 2-for-8, four-point night in his first game back, against Phoenix. In Wednesday's win over the Clippers Edwards improved, scoring 17 points.

"Last night (Wednesday) was good for him, but the important thing is he did play well and was able to gain enough confidence to forget about his ankle," said Sloan.

Whatever the Jazz's problems, they are minor compared to the Mavericks'. Dallas, picked by some in the preseason to win the Midwest Division, is sinking fast. The Mavs have lost seven of their last 10 games and won only eight road games all year. The latest was a 102-86 loss to Houston Wednesday night.

But the Jazz, for now, are taking the Mavericks seriously. "Sure these games are tough," Sloan continues. "They're very tough games - especially when they're good teams to begin with."

Perhaps Dallas, with a 26-46 record, couldn't be construed as a good team. But the way the Jazz have been playing lately, everyone looks good.

"Right now we aren't playing as well as we should be," observed guard Jeff Malone, "but we can't worry about it. We just have to keep scratching and fighting. We have some crucial games coming up in Dallas and Houston."

PREGAME NOTES: Jazz guard John Stockton needs 105 assists in the final 10 games to tie his own NBA single-season record, set last year . . . Karl Malone is now third on the Jazz all-time scoring list . . . He leads the NBA in minutes played per game (40.1) . . . Thurl Bailey has played in 338 consecutive games, fifth-longest streak in the NBA . . . Tony Brown hasn't scored in his last two outings and Darrell Griffith has blanked out in his last three.