There are still four games remaining, but the way they ran away with the fourth quarter Monday night against the Dallas Mavericks, the Jazz could find themselves the Western Conference's third-place team heading into next week's All-Star break.
The Jazz cradled a one-point lead heading into the final period but surged to a 104-92 victory while totaling seven offensive rebounds, seven steals and three blocks in winning the hustle-filled quarter 27-16 at EnergySolutions Arena.
It was the Jazz's sixth consecutive victory, as well as 10th in the last 11 games, and left them just a half-game behind No. 3 Dallas in the conference standings. The Mavericks not only dropped their third consecutive game, but the season series 2-1 to the Jazz.
The Jazz (29-18) have games remaining at home against Portland, Denver and the Lakers, plus a road game against the Clippers, before reaching the All-Star break, with the chance to complete a remarkable rise from 10th in the conference a month ago.
"We have to prove it," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "There's no need talking about it, as far as I'm concerned, because we have to prove it. And we haven't proven anything other than we are in a decent spot.
"There's a lot of games left to be played. You don't know how chemistry's going to hold together and how they react. So we'll just take it one day at a time and hopefully we can compete like crazy. That's kind of fun to watch guys compete and want to win."
Paul Millsap led with 25 points, nine rebounds and four blocks in his second start for an injured Carlos Boozer, while Deron Williams added 18 points and 15 assists. Dirk Nowitzki scored 28 points for Dallas but only two in the fourth quarter following a 14-point third quarter.
"They just stepped up their pressure in the fourth," said Nowitzki, who erupted for 29 points in the fourth quarter Nov. 3 against the Jazz in Dallas. "I couldn't get any looks. I barely had the ball in my hands. We turned over the ball before that. It was tough.
"I thought we did a good job there in the third quarter moving the ball, getting open looks, and then when they stepped up their pressure, we had no answer."
The Jazz led 77-76 entering the fourth, then opened with tip-ins by C.J. Miles and Andrei Kirilenko. Ronnie Price stripped Jason Kidd, leading to a layup for Wesley Matthews, and the Jazz were off and running.
As they outscored Dallas 17-6 to open the quarter, the Jazz came up with back-to-back three-point plays. Kirilenko broke up JJ Barea's pass to Nowitzki as the Mavericks tried to work a pick-and-roll, then raced ahead and flipped in a layup as Barea fouled him.
Kirilenko said he and Williams decided to switch defensive assignments for a second on the pick-and-roll, which led to the steal. Millsap then stripped Jason Terry, leading to a layup and three-point play for Matthews and 94-82 lead for the Jazz.
Millsap provided the exclamation point with 4:24 left, blocking Terry before Kirilenko dunked at the other end.
Kirilenko finished with 13 points, not counting two that were taken away after replay ruled that his fourth-quarter dunk off a Matthews miss didn't beat the shot clock. Matthews went 3-for-11 with seven points but brought an unmistakable energy.
Nowitzki didn't take a shot in 9:33 of action in the fourth quarter, after going 7-for-9 in the third. Millsap credited Kirilenko: "He limited his touches, did a great job helping off of him. When you do that, we got out, got a lot of steals, some blocks, and got out and ran with the ball."
Kirilenko didn't want to hear about the Jazz's place in the conference afterward. "I don't think about our standings, I think about our game," he said. "We play really good basketball, really nice basketball, so I want to play good basketball."
"We just have everybody playing at a high level right now," Williams said, adding, "We're playing our best basketball, and hopefully we don't get too confident, too cocky, and just keep doing what we need to win."
IN SHORT » The Jazz win the fourth quarter 27-16 behind a host of hustle plays and beat Dallas for their sixth straight victory.
KEY PLAY » Andrei Kirilenko breaks up JJ Barea's pass to Dirk Nowitzki and races the other way for a three-point play in the fourth quarter.
KEY STATE » Kirilenko had three steals and Paul Millsap had three blocks in the fourth quarter alone.