Dallas (14-4) at Utah (15-5)

By BRETT HUSTON, STATS Senior Writer Friday, Dec 3, 2010 Tipoff: 10:30 pm EST Fri Dec 3, 2010

The Dallas Mavericks and the Utah Jazz have both won seven straight games, so an argument could certainly be made for either being the NBA’s hottest team.

They’ll get to settle that matter themselves.

The Western Conference contenders square off Friday night, when the Jazz look to hand the Mavericks a sixth consecutive loss in Salt Lake City.

Neither team got off to a particularly hot start, with Dallas (14-4) losing two of its first five games and Utah (15-5) dropping three of its first five by an average of 15.0 points.

Those mediocre beginnings have quickly given way to a pair of impressive streaks. The Mavericks have won their last seven by an average of 8.7 points. The Jazz have had an even more comfortable time, winning by an average of 14.2 points after stretching their streak to seven with a 110-88 victory over Indiana on Wednesday.

“We could have exploded early in the season,” coach Jerry Sloan said. “Guys could have gone south. But they stayed together.”

Utah has shot 49.8 percent, averaged 26.9 assists and held opponents to 90.4 points per game during the streak, its longest since a nine-game run Jan. 20-Feb. 9.

“It’s ups and downs in the NBA,” forward Andrei Kirilenko(notes) said. “You remember in preseason we won eight in row, then the beginning of the season we went down, then the road trip we went up then, home games we’ve been sloppy. Now we’re up again. I hope we can stay up a little bit more.”

Utah’s streak has come against opponents that are a combined 57-68, while the Mavericks’ victims are a combined five games above .500.

Dallas wasn’t at its sharpest in win No. 7, but it didn’t need to be. Shawn Marion(notes) scored a team-high 16 as the Mavericks’ bench provided 59 points in a 100-86 rout of Minnesota on Wednesday.

“It’s progress,” coach Rick Carlisle told the team’s official website, “and we’ve got to continue it. I like this group a lot. We’ve been very business-like with our approach. Guys have taken nothing for granted.”

Extending the streak to eight - which would be Dallas’ longest since winning 13 in a row Feb. 17-March 10 - won’t be easy in Utah, where Carlisle’s team has lost its five visits by an average of 12.8 points.

“Utah is always tough to play,” Carlisle said. “We haven’t won there since I’ve been here, and I don’t think we’ve been close. So, it’s always a difficult game. And again, the important thing is being really tied together and rebounding the ball.”

Rebounding is a major reason for the Mavericks’ struggles in Salt Lake City. The Jazz have pulled down 6.8 more boards per game during the five-game streak, including a 31-rebound edge in Dallas’ two most recent visits.

Perhaps new addition Tyson Chandler(notes) can help the Mavericks change that. Chandler has averaged 12.8 points and 13.8 boards in his last five games while fueling his team’s impressive defensive transformation.

Dallas also needs to figure out how to contain Utah in the paint. The Jazz have averaged 47.2 points in the lane during their home streak against the Mavericks, many of which have come thanks to open looks provided by Deron Williams(notes). Utah’s point guard has averaged 14.4 assists in the five wins.

Dallas is 3-0 in its last 10 trips to EnergySolutions Arena when Dirk Nowitzki(notes) scores 29 points. The Mavericks are 0-7 in Utah when Nowitzki scores fewer than 29.

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