Utah Jazz vs. Dallas Mavericks: Can a win streak begin anew?

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 30: Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert and Harrison Barnes of the Dallas Mavericks battle for the ball. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 30: Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert and Harrison Barnes of the Dallas Mavericks battle for the ball. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images) /
facebooktwitterreddit

The Utah Jazz will look to shake off last night’s disappointing loss to the Portland Trail Blazers and initiate a new win streak tonight as they host the Dallas Mavericks.

Man, that pesky All-Star break sure came at the wrong time.

After falling to nine games below .500 near the end of January, the Utah Jazz battled back in a big way as they were able to rattle off a stunning 11-game win streak that put them two games above .500 and right back into the playoff race. After playing uninspiring basketball for most of the first half of the season, the Jazz were finally firing on all cylinders and looked as daunting and dangerous as ever.

However, the flow of that incredible streak was rudely interrupted by that nuisance of an All-Star break that landed right at the height of Utah’s dominance. And if their first game back from the break – last night’s bout against the Portland Trail Blazers – is any indication, then said break certainly messed with their rhythm and momentum. The Jazz were handily defeated on their home court by a Blazers team that appeared to be out for revenge.

And, sure, there were some extremely questionable calls that threw the Jazz out of wack from the game’s onset and Portland deserves major credit for executing extremely well on both ends of the floor to take Utah out of their game plan, but those aspects aside, this Jazz team simply didn’t look remotely like the one that cruised to 11 straight victories.

https://twitter.com/utahjazz/status/967263547641159680

Hopefully it was just an off-game – the kind that every team in the league falls victim to from time to time – and not a return to what for most of the season had become the ugly, discouraging norm. Ricky Rubio (4 points, 2-of-6), Joe Ingles (game-low -27), Derrick Favors (4 points, 2-of-6) and Royce O’Neale (2 points, 1-of-8) all had horrible games last night despite being some of the main contributors in Utah’s winning streak.

If the Jazz are to turn it around moving forward, all four of those guys will need to instantly get back on track in a big way.

Fortunately, they won’t have to wait long to redeem themselves as the Utah Jazz are right back in action again tonight in the second night of a home back-to-back as they’ll face the Dallas Mavericks. The reeling (purposely tanking?) Dallas Mavericks played last night as well and were handily defeated by the only slightly better Los Angeles Lakers who put on a 124-102 wire-to-wire victory.

In that contest, the Mavericks actually shot the ball really well from three at a clip of 45.2 percent (19-of-42), which is something they’ve done relatively well all year as they boast the 15th best three-point percentage in the league of 36.3 percent. However, they were out-rebounded in mind-blowing fashion by a count of 62-29 (no that’s not a typo) and converted on just 40.7 percent of their field goals.

Those marks come as little surprise though as the Mavs are third to last in the league in rebounding (40.4 per game), 25th in field goal percentage (44.6 percent) and, for what it’s worth, 26th in points per game (102.1).

In other words, the Mavs are a threat from deep that the Jazz will absolutely have to neutralize, but if run off the line they don’t cause as many problems. Beyond that, they aren’t a strong rebounding team so Utah should control the boards. That discrepancy from last night still absolutely astounds me and is likely a sign of lackluster effort, further fanning the flames of Dallas’ purportedly purposeful tank job.

On the defensive end of the floor, the Mavericks are in the top ten in opponent points per game (104.8) but they’re just 21st in defensive rating (107.6) and 23rd in both opponent field goal percentage (47 percent) and opponent three-point percentage (36.9 percent). Aside from the opponent points per game, which is likely more a factor of slow pace than staunch defense, those defensive numbers aren’t impressive either.

Nevertheless, as long as the Mavs have dangerous players such as Dirk Nowitzki and J.J. Barea, who have given the Jazz issues before, they can’t be overlooked. Add in the fact that their rookie sensation Dennis Smith Jr. may be looking for revenge for his Dunk Contest loss and the fact that Dallas’ first and third leading scorers, Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews, respectively, are coming off big games last night, and this is a group that can be deadly.

https://twitter.com/utahjazz/status/967272656897626112

Fortunately, one of the Mavs’ biggest weaknesses is their lackluster bench, meaning that if the Jazz are able to outmatch their starters, this should be an easy win. The aspect that scares me the most is something I alluded to earlier – the Mavs are a proficient three-point shooting team whereas the Jazz have struggled to defend the perimeter this season.

The Jazz are third to last in the league in opponent three-point percentage at 37.1 percent. Luckily, they manage to allow the sixth fewest three-point attempts per game, but if they’re at all lax in this area and let the Mavericks catch fire, this could quickly turn into a discouraging upset defeat.

Utah played a sloppy game last night that saw them go just 24 percent from deep (6-of-25) and cough up the ball 19 times. Truly the Jazz have no business losing to the Mavs, but if they have a repeat of that disjointed performance and don’t control the three-point shot, their former winning streak could very well rapidly turn into a two-game slide.

Luckily, I don’t see that happening. Earlier in the week I pinned the Jazz to handily defeat the Mavs and I’m going to stick with that prediction. Friday’s loss was frustrating, but I expect an angry and determined Jazz team to bounce back, much like they did after their last ugly loss to the Hawks, and seek to battle back and build up a new winning streak.

It’s hard to see them shooting much worse than they did against Portland and with a much less talented team in town that’s also playing on the back end of a back-to-back after travelling in from Los Angeles late last night, there are a lot of factors working in Utah’s favor. Therefore, barring an absolute meltdown, you can expect the Jazz to get back on track and return to their winning ways right away.

Prediction: Jazz 112, Mavericks 97

Next: Utah Jazz vs Blazers: Winning streak ends but playoffs still in sight

The Jazz tip-off tonight against the Mavericks at 7:00 PM MT. Following this evening’s contest, they’ll go on to play two more games at home against the Houston Rockets on Monday and the Minnesota Timberwolves, who just lost Jimmy Butler to injury, on Friday. Each game is increasingly important as the Jazz hope to shock the world and fight back to earn a playoff spot.