Jazz players and coaches and executives, of course, will all say that the team takes every game, every opponent seriously — and having won 18 of 20 against mostly teams with losing records would, indeed, seem to bear that out.
But there’s no getting around the fact that, after playing a stretch that was heavily populated with sub-.500 competition, business is about to pick up, as the saying goes.
“We’re not shying away from the task at hand,” Mike Conley said at Friday’s practice. “We understand that we have a lot of good teams coming in, and when we go on the road as well.”
One of the quirks of Utah’s 2019-20 schedule is the team is now 44 games into its campaign, and has yet to get a firsthand look at such Western Conference competition as the Mavericks, the Rockets, and the Nuggets.
Coach Quin Snyder called the situation “unique” but not necessarily any more problematic than, say, a random one-off in Memphis, or a Sunday afternoon tipoff in Washington.
Of course, the scheduling strangeness will all change within the next week: Dallas visits the Viv for a Saturday matinee; Houston is in town Monday night; and the Jazz will head to Denver this Thursday. Portland and Miami loom after that.
No matter the victory over the Clippers in Los Angeles, or the recent annihilation of the Pacers, many are convinced it is this upcoming stretch may well truly prove what this team is capable of.
Conley said he and his teammates feel prepared.
“It is unusual for it to be this late — middle to late January — to finally get a sense of these guys, the Dallases and the Houstons and all those teams,” he said. “But we’ve played some really good teams early in the year, and we’ve got to test ourselves against them. So we’re just looking forward to each challenge and each team coming up.”
First up, the surprising Mavs and All-Star starter Luka Doncic.
It goes without saying that the second-year superstar can’t help but get everyone’s attention.
The Slovenian is fourth in the league in scoring, at 29.1 points per game. He’s third in assists, with 9.0. He’s even 17th in rebounding, at 9.6. He makes 3.0 treys per game. He gets to the free-throw line 9.2 times per contest. Doncic is already second all-time in career triple-doubles among Mavericks players, trailing Jason Kidd by just one — in 388 fewer games.
Snyder said that Doncic’s experience playing for Barcelona against high-level competition as a teenager goes a ways toward explaining some of his dominance, though he conceded that’s only part of it.
“Well, I think his experience in Europe was unique in that there's not too many guys that at 17, 18 years old are winning EuroLeague championships and EuroLeague MVPs. That said, I think what he's doing in the NBA is also uniquely unique,” Snyder said. “… Obviously, Dallas saw that. And the way that Rick [Carlisle] uses him, and the way that their team plays, it makes him even more effective and even more unique, because of his size, and his ability to pass the ball, as well as score the ball.”
Conley was even more effusive, noting that there are certain athletes that NBA players make it a point to check out, and that, “When Luka’s on TV, I think a lot of us are watching — he’s doing something different every night.”
The veteran point guard said there was no doubt it would be a challenge to try and rein in the player moat responsible for the Mavericks’ 28-16 start to the season.
“Man, he’s impressive — he’s got everything in his game, with his size and his skill. He’s one of the few players who can do what he can do,” Conley said. “… Being that young and doing what he’s doing, you don’t see that very often. That’s a testament to his skill set and his work ethic and the things he’s been able to accomplish thus far. He’s special. He’s special, he really is. The NBA knows it, the world knows it, and we gotta deal with him tomorrow.”
JAZZ VS. MAVERICKS
At Vivint Smart Home Arena
Tipoff • 3 p.m.
TV • AT&T SportsNet
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 31-13; Mavericks 28-16
Last meeting • Jazz, 125-109 (Feb. 23, 2019)
About the Jazz • Utah has won 18 of its past 20 games, with a three-point loss in Miami and a five-point overtime defeat at New Orleans as the only blips in that stretch. … Donovan Mitchell’s 24.7 ppg rank him 14th in the league, while Rudy Gobert is first in FG% (68.3) and second in rebounds (14.5). … The Jazz have three of the top-16 3-point shooters in the league by percentage, in Georges Niang, Royce O’Neale and Joe Ingles.
About the Mavericks • Second-year star Luka Doncic, who is averaging 29.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 9.0 assists, will start in the All-Star Game. … Through Thursday games, Dallas led the NBA in total 3-pointers made, as well as in offensive rating. … The Mavs rank fourth in the league in rebounds per game, but also just lost starting center Dwight Powell to a season-ending injury.