Since the start of 2012, no team has a better record than the Utah Jazz.
While much of their success has come at the expense of lesser opponents, they're starting to prove they can also beat some contenders.
The surprising Jazz look to add the defending champion Dallas Mavericks to their list of victims Thursday night in Salt Lake City.
Utah (9-4) has won eight of nine since New Year's Day, with its only blemish coming against the Los Angeles Lakers in overtime last Wednesday. The first six victories in this stretch came against teams with a combined 29-53 record, but the last two have come over Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Although the Jazz defeated a Clippers team playing without Chris Paul on Tuesday, the All-Star point guard also sat out Wednesday against Dallas (8-7), and Los Angeles won 91-89. The night before, Utah didn't just beat the Clippers, it completely overwhelmed them, winning 108-79.
The Jazz jumped out to a 13-2 advantage and led by as many as 34 in the opener of a four-game homestand. Paul Millsap had a team-high 20 points on 7 of 11 shooting and reserve C.J. Miles added a season-best 19.
"We are tougher to guard when you have four of five guys out there who can score and do different things," said former Maverick Devin Harris, who is averaging 8.6 points - one of six Utah players scoring at least 8.0 per game. "We don't just have one or two guys that others can focus on.''
While the Jazz do a good job of spreading out the scoring, opponents first need to figure out a way to stop Millsap and Al Jefferson. Since Jan. 1, Utah is averaging 50.0 points in the paint, second-best in the league.
Millsap - averaging 23.3 points in the last four games - and the Jazz, however, could have some trouble against the Mavericks, who are allowing a league-low 32.4 points in the paint this month.
Although Utah is 7-1 at EnergySolutions Arena, Dallas is likely happy to arrive in Salt Lake City after losing back-to-back games at Staples Center by a combined five points.
The Mavericks, who saw their season-high five-game winning streak come to an end with Tuesday's 73-70 loss to the Lakers, appeared as though they might bounce back against the Clippers when Jason Terry drained a 3-pointer to put Dallas up 89-88 with five seconds remaining. But Chauncey Billups answered with a 3-pointer of his own with one second left.
Against the Lakers, Derek Fisher hit a 3-pointer with 3.1 seconds to play.
"We've got to keep on fighting," Dirk Nowitzki said. "Nobody said it was going to be easy, but we can't keep losing on 3s that end the game. It just can't happen. We've got to work that out."
Billups' basket put the Clippers over the 90-point mark, and that typically spells trouble for Dallas.
The Mavericks are third in the league in scoring defense at 88.7 points, but are 0-6 when allowing 90 or more points. They're 8-1 when yielding 89 or fewer.
The Jazz have raced past the 90-point mark during a three-game winning streak, reaching at least 106 in each.
While Dallas' defense has been solid overall, it could use more production from Nowitzki.
The 7-foot German finished with 17 points on 6 of 18 shooting against the Clippers and failed to score from 9:04 of the second quarter until there was 10:27 remaining in the fourth. He is averaging 14.1 points in the last eight games, topping 20 just once.
Nowitzki averaged 24.8 points on 63.2 percent shooting in helping Dallas sweep last season's four-game series with Utah.
- Sports & Recreation
- Sports & Recreation/Basketball
- Dallas Mavericks
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Paul Millsap