The Utah Jazz are one of the hottest teams in the NBA.
Not only have they won 19 of their last 21 games, but the Jazz have also risen to second place in the Western Conference and are tied with the Miami Heat for the third best record in the NBA.
The Jazz are currently first in three-point percentage, third in field goal percentage, seventh in offensive rating, seventh in plus-minus and eighth in defensive rating.
OK, that was just a fancy way of saying that the Jazz have been really, really good this year – especially over the last month.
However, there might be a small problem. Over its last 21 games, Utah has played just three teams with a winning record, of which the Jazz went 2-1.
Though they handled two of those games against teams with winnings records during that stretch, the Jazz have had a lack of exposure when it comes to winning teams. And that is precisely why Saturdays’ game against the Dallas Mavericks is absolutely huge for the Jazz.
The Mavs will be coming to Vivint Arena with heralded All-Star guard Luka Doncic, who has been absolutely destroying the league. The 20-year-old Slovenian wonder is nearly averaging a triple-double at 29.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 9.0 assists per game.
If that wasn’t enough, he’s been scoring from everywhere on the court. So why focus so much on Luka? Well, if I were to pick a player that would test the Jazz’s defense in ways they have yet to be tested, it would be him.
Standing at 6’7”, Doncic is a whole six inches taller than Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell, which will make it difficult for either guard to stop him from driving to the lane. It will often require the help from a wing player, most likely Joe Ingles, to stop him from scoring in the paint. But as his nine assists per game show, Luka is more than capable of passing it out to an open man. Rudy Gobert will be needed at the rim, but in a different way than usual. The Mavericks can use Kristaps Porzingis to stretch the court, meaning that Gobert will have to sprint to help at the rim. Here’s what the Jazz need to do.
Keys to the Game
1) Don’t kill the flow – The Jazz have welcomed Mike Conley back from injury, but I do not believe he is ready to be thrown back into his starting position. Here are two reasons why. Primarily, Utah has invested quite a bit of cash into the veteran guard, an investment that is worth protecting. Secondly, the Jazz have been in a rhythm and Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder should not mess that up. Giving Conley 20-25 minutes per game is the right move until he’s fully back and ready to go.
2) Be aggressive inside – The Mavericks have allowed 13.5 second chance points per game, which puts them in the bottom third in the league in that category. If the Jazz are aggressive getting offensive rebounds, there will be openings for them. Rudy Gobert could make a huge impact in this category, as he already averages nearly four a game. With an aggressive mentality, I believe he could snatch up eight or more offensive boards.
3) Deny the deep ball – The Mavericks rely more on the three than any other team in the NBA. If the Jazz can take that away, it’ll force Dallas to try and work the ball inside- something they can’t do well. This will require a large effort from Utah’s wings- Royce O’Neal and Joe Ingles in particular- but it will be possible, and maybe necessary.
I do believe the Jazz are the better team than the Mavericks, but it will require a team effort to beat the Mavs and Luka Doncic. The Jjazz are currently favored by three points and the over/under is 226. I like the Jazz to win and cover the spread. I also like the under in this situation.
It’s likely that the Jazz could face the Mavericks in the playoffs, so this game will allow the Jazz to test their mettle against a dangerous Western Conference foe. Donovan Mitchell will need to perform well on both ends of the ball, something he is more than capable of doing.