The greatest obstacle in doing so, present and future, might be the Portland Trail Blazers, but the Jazz knocked their Northwest Division rival down a peg with a 97-88 victory Thursday night.
Mehmet Okur scored 21 of his 27 points in the first half and the Jazz cruised after building a 17-point lead in the third quarter. Brandon Roy (33) and LaMarcus Aldridge (22) combined to score 55 points, but Portland clanked 21 of 27 three-pointers.
The Jazz (15-9) were more than happy to take a victory against a Portland team that beat them three times last season and came into Thursday a game ahead in the division standings, even if it is only the second week of December.
"This team was very difficult for us last year as you all know," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "They're a better team. I just think they probably missed some shots and didn't shoot the three as much as they have been or as well as they have been."
The Jazz improved to 5-0 in the division, ensured themselves no worse than a season split with Portland and will have a chance to take a three-game winning streak into their annual pre-Christmas trip with a victory Saturday against Orlando.
"We knew it was an important game, so the standings really didn't matter," Deron Williams said. "We knew we wanted to win the game for just the sole reason it's a division game and we want to win all our division games."
The Blazers made it 88-79 with 5:32 left, but came up empty on four possessions with a chance to draw closer. Steve Blake and Rudy Fernandez combined to miss three three-pointers and Kyle Korver took a charge on Roy.
As they helped with a second defender on Aldridge and Greg Oden inside, the Jazz watched as Portland (15-9) moved the ball and missed one three-pointer after another. The Trail Blazers shot 22.2 percent from beyond the arc for the night.
Although the Jazz struggled to close out the victory, Williams drove for a layup on Blake with 1:57 remaining to make it 91-81. Williams again struggled with his shooting, going 5-for-16, but finished with 14 points and 11 assists.
"I felt better," Williams said. "I went without an ankle brace today, so I just had the tape. It felt a lot better. I was more mobile. I think a lot of the stiffness was because I had so much on my ankle, so it worked out. I still can't get any lift on my shot, so hopefully that comes with it."
Okur was active from the opening minute, cutting for layups, spinning for dunks, scoring in the post against Oden, draining runners and burying three-pointers. He scored 11 points in the first quarter and 21 by halftime, hitting 8 of 11 shots.
"I felt good, especially in the first half," Okur said. "I was able to mix up my game and I was able to get in the paint and I got to the freethrow line, couple easy layups and stuff, and then I stepped back."
With Sloan leaving in Williams to start the second quarter, the Jazz built a 10-point lead. That included a flagrant foul by Portland's Channing Frye, who hammered Matt Harpring on the fast break.
"I talked to him a little bit about not sitting him too awfully long until he gets in a little better shape and gets a little bit more natural feeling about playing," Sloan said of Williams.
Although they let Portland close back within a point, the Jazz rallied to head into halftime ahead 57-46, winning the second quarter 28-19. Midway through the third quarter, the Jazz led by 17 after Ronnie Brewer cut and drove baseline for two layups and C.J. Miles hit a three-pointer. "It was a battle [with Utah], it will be for years to come," said Roy, who scored 15 of Portland's 20 points in the third quarter. "They did a good job protecting their home court, so now it's our turn to protect our floor."