The Utah Jazz have climbed the ladder over the past two months to emerge as one of the NBA's best teams. They have done it by dominating opponents on both ends of the court.
Now the Jazz face one of their biggest tests against an equally tough Dallas team when the Mavericks visit Salt Lake Cityon Saturday.
In winning 18 of their last 20 games to move into second place in the Western Conference, the Jazz have found ways to overwhelm one opponent after another. Their last three victories have come by an average margin of 28.3 points.
Utah earned its most lopsided victory of the season, defeating the Golden State Warriors 129-96 on Wednesday. The Jazz dismantled the Warriors, making 17 3-pointers and finishing with 19 more rebounds.
"We come out every night with a high level of focus," Jazz center Rudy Gobert told the team's website. "Everyone comes with the same intensity. A lot of guys can put the ball in the basket. When we move the ball like that and find the open shots, we're very hard to guard."
Gobert has led the charge behind a significant uptick in offensive production coupled with his usual elite defense.
The 27-year-old is averaging 17.7 points, 15.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in January. In addition, Gobert has averaged 21.7 points over his last six games and he has shot 60 percent or better from the field in each of his last eight.
Much of Gobert's effectiveness starts with his willingness to do little things to get teammates going. He is one the best in the league in creating screen assists. His energy in locking down on the defensive end also gives them confidence that they can do their jobs.
"Whenever you can find a guy of Rudy's caliber that wants to do the little things because he loves winning, those things are immeasurable," Jazz forward Georges Niang said.
Luka Doncic has had a similar profound impact on Dallas emerging as a contender in the Western Conference. The Mavericks have rebuilt quickly with him at the controls. They have won five of six and are three games behind Utah in the Western Conference standings.
Doncic has elevated his game beyond what he showed a season ago, when he captured NBA Rookie of the Year honors. He leads the Mavericks in scoring (29.1 points per game), rebounding (9.6) and assists (9.0).
That's a big reason why he earned a nod as a starter in the upcoming NBA All-Star Game. Doncic is the first Dallas player to start in an All-Star Game since Dirk Nowitzki in 2010.
"He attracts a lot of attention all the time," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told the team's website. "But I love the way he handles it. He's interested in his teammates. He's interested in winning. He continues to learn on the floor. He's learned a lot about running a team and making decisions about play calls and things like that."
Saturday's contest is the second in a three-game road swing for Dallas. The Mavericks started the trip with a 133-125 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday.
--Field Level Media