The argument for the Jazz as contenders is statistically solid: They have the third-best record in the NBA, the best offense, sixth-best defense, second overall net rating, and they are 11-2 in their last 13 (with the second-best net rating in the league in that stretch).
But watch them struggle with what should be an inferior opponent — and the shorthanded Mavericks without Luka Doncic are that — and the eye test makes one wonder if Utah is a contender right now. Especially on a showcase NBA day where hours before the Warriors and Suns left no doubt either one of them is capable of winning it all.
It was not the beautiful game and the entire contest lacked flow, although a referee crew that apparently got new whistles for Christmas and wanted to show them off had a lot to do with that. The game had 72 free throw attempts, the most of any game this season, and that doesn’t begin to account for the odd calls.
Dallas got 27 points each from Jalen Brunson and Kristaps Porzingis. But the Mavs are missing Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Maxi Kleber and Reggie Bullock due to health and safety protocols. That lack of depth caught up with them in Utah.
Utah also used an offensive game-plan to go right at Porzingis — don’t let him be a help defender (his strength), but get a switch and drive right at him. It worked.
The Jazz may play to the level of their opponent more than fans would like, but this is the NBA, every team has professional players, and a win is a win. Mike Conley added 22 and Jordan Clarkson had a dozen and some key plays down the stretch.
The bottom line with the Jazz remains the same today as it did before the season, and it will be the same after the All-Star break: Utah needs to prove itself in the playoffs. We have all seen regular season dominance from them before, and we’ve seen the Kawaii-less Clippers go small and run them out of the playoffs. On paper the Jazz look better suited to handle those tactics, but games like today do not inspire great confidence.
Still, Utah will take the win.