With plenty of regular season games still to be played, and any number of possibilities yet to unfold, the Utah Jazz naturally have not wanted to devote too much bandwidth to discussing a potential playoff series against Monday night’s opponent, the Dallas Mavericks.
But after the teams had yet another animated encounter in their third meeting of the season, highlighted by a pair of dust-ups between All-Stars Rudy Gobert and Luka Doncic, it’s getting progressively more difficult to pass the Mavs off as just another talented potential postseason foe.
“When you look at the [standings], they’re one of the teams with the highest probability,” Gobert grudgingly conceded.
That would be about the most benign thing he had to say about Dallas in the aftermath of the Mavs’ 111-103 victory.
Gobert got a technical when he lost control of the ball on a foul by Dallas center Dwight Powell, and accidentally clocked Powell with an elbow as he attempted to regain control.
Later, as the first half expired, Doncic drove the lane, looked for a foul, did not get one, and began chirping at the referees for the umpteenth time, prompting an annoyed Gobert to toss the ball to him as he began to exit the court. That led to Doncic trying to fire the ball back at Gobert, and for the players to be separated.
Doncic was subsequently assessed a technical.
“They’re two, three games ahead of us and it was a big game. So those games are going to get chippy at some point,” Doncic would tell reporters afterward. “… Just, you know, emotions. That’s it.”
In the third quarter, after a Dallas basket, Gobert was preparing to run back up court when Doncic initiated contact, crashed to the court in an exaggerated flop, then mock-waved good-bye at Gobert as the refs reviewed the play for a potential “hostile act.”
They did not find one.
Gobert, meanwhile, found himself annoyed with Doncic’s antics.
“He whispered something in my ear and tried to bait me into getting mad. But I knew what he was trying to do,” said the three-time DPOY. “I just tried to run back on offense, but he got in my way. It’s also part of the game.”
Doncic would claim, quite incredulously, that he initially believed Gobert threw him to the court before a video replay revealed the absence of anything: “I thought it was the worst, and then I saw it and it was nothing,” Doncic said. “We were all laughing on the bench.”
Gobert was not laughing.
Instead, he was fuming about an apparently constant stream of over-the-top comments emanating from the deep reserves on Dallas’ bench.
“There’s a lot of things being said that wouldn’t be said outside a basketball court. A lot of things I don’t say,” Gobert explained. “I’m not perfect, but I don’t say things to guys that I wouldn’t tell them to their face outside the locker room. It’s a lot of talk.”
He also expressed annoyance with the crew of officials not intervening in a situation that could potentially escalate.
“The officials have got to get to a point where they check — on both sides — that no lines have been crossed, verbally or with actions,” he said. “There was a lot of things being said out there. At some point, we’re men, too. My thing is, I’ve gotta keep my mind in the right place. My team needs me in the game.
“You’ve got guys on the bench that don’t play that just keep talking and saying some stuff, and the officials can hear and they don’t do anything. As a man, it’s like, is it worth being suspended? We shouldn’t have to ask ourselves that question,” Gobert continued. “[The refs] have to do a better job keeping that in check. It’s actions, but the words carry weight. If someone is disrespected, at some point, as men, we’re gonna ask ourselves: Do we want to stay on the court, or penalize our team and stand up for ourselves? I usually take the first option.”
So, no, Jazz vs. Mavericks is not — now at least — just any old playoff preview.
As Doncic went off in the first half, he made it a point to continuously talk to the Jazz’s bench to rub in his exploits. Other teammates would soon join him.
The result was an intensity and atmosphere not indicative of any old one-of-82 regular season game.
“We might see ‘em — this kinda felt like that,” conceded Donovan Mitchell. “We go up 2-0 in a sense, and then they come back and counter, take care of home court. So now it’s how do we take care of business on [March] 27th?”
It felt telling that Mitchell — who frequently claims to be unsure who or where the Jazz are playing next — knew precisely when Utah’s final meeting this season with the Mavericks is.
He also noted that Dallas was the aggressor on this occasion, that the Mavericks made significant schematic changes from the teams’ two prior meetings — both Utah victories — and that he was pleased to see the Jazz make a game of it late in the fourth after falling behind by a significant margin in the finale of a five-game road trip.
Coach Quin Snyder, meanwhile, praised the Mavs in noting that, “The way they’re playing right now, they’re as good as anybody in the NBA.”
Predictably, he has declined to discuss the broader ramifications of what the matchups with the Mavs might mean down the line, but he did at least concede that Monday’s game unfolded in such a way as to feel big.
“This is a team tonight that we played recently and beat. They were obviously ready to play. I think we were ready to play,” Snyder said. “That was a very grind-it-out game on a lot of levels.”
Just not a postseason one. Yet.