The Utah Jazz are becoming feared among the league

After nearly six weeks of dominant play, the league as a whole continues to fear the Utah Jazz as one of the top teams in the association.

The last time we examined the Utah Jazz in media writers’ power rankings, they were just beginning to break inside the top tier of teams. The decision to put them inside the top 10 was unanimous across nearly every NBA website imaginable, but some were still stubborn to put them in the top five.

In the first week of the second half of the regular season, they received a slight bump in the power rankings despite losing a close game to the New Orleans Pelicans. Now fresh off the heels of an undefeated week including two victories over playoff squads, the Jazz are becoming a mainstay in the top tier.

Power Rankings by week (second half of regular season)

ESPN: 5th, 3rd

CBS Sports: 4th, 4th 

NBA.com: 3rd, 3rd

Bleacher Report: 3rd, 3rd

Sports Illustrated: 6th, – 

Hoops Habit: 7th, 6th

Notable Quotes:

via Phil Watson of Hoops Habit:

Don’t look now, but the red-hot Utah Jazz have climbed all the way to second place in the Western Conference and are within shouting distance (3½ games) of the conference-leading Lakers. Utah was 3-0 last week and has now won 13 of its last 14 and is 19-2 over its last 21 games.

Since that run began on Dec. 11, the Jazz have the best offensive rating in the NBA at 119.5 points per 100 possessions and are fifth in defensive rating with a 107.4 mark. No other team in the NBA is in the top five in both categories over the same span and Utah’s plus-12.1 net rating is even better than the plus-11.3 over that stretch posted by the Milwaukee Bucks, who were 19-3.

via Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report:

Nobody’s been as good as the Jazz over the last month. They’re 14-1 in their last 15 games, and since Christmas, they lead the league in winning percentage, net rating, offensive efficiency and true shooting percentage.

Donovan Mitchell, posting career highs across the board, led Utah in scoring in four of its last five games. But it’s been dominance by committee during the Jazz’s surprising offensive onslaught. Over the last month, Bojan Bogdanovic (21.1), Rudy Gobert (17.2), Jordan Clarkson (13.8) and Joe Ingles (13.4) have all averaged double-figure scoring. Among that group, Clarkson’s 53.5 true shooting percentage is the only one below the league average in that span.

Keys to a successful week:

The Utah Jazz will resume one of the toughest stretches of their season this week. Tonight they will face the Houston Rockets, albeit without James Harden or Russell Westbrook.

Then they will complete a back-to-back set in San Antonio and Denver before completing the week on the West coast against the Portland Trail-Blazers. The latter three games will especially be hard to complete being in three different time zones in four days with little rest.

In order to be successful, the Jazz absolutely must win tonight against the shorthanded Houston Rockets. James Harden has been averaging close to 40 points, and their offense absolutely revolves around Harden’s ability to get buckets. Without him or Westbrook, a 26 point per game scorer himself, the Rockets don’t stand a chance against a focused Utah Jazz squad.

Then out of the three games to cap off the week, Utah needs to win at least one of them. San Antonio and Portland may be below .500, but the Jazz can’t afford to sleep on them since they are both fighting for the final playoff spot out west. Damian Lillard is a walking 50 point game nowadays, and the Spurs are the Spurs. They will always find a way to win no matter what.

Finally, the Jazz need to be competitive in the game against the Denver Nuggets. Like Utah, Denver is a smaller NBA market and is built around an underrated center from Europe. It will be tough to steal this one in the high elevation (5300 feet) and on the road, but the Jazz should look to kick the Nuggets while they’re down without starting point guard Jamal Murray (ankle).

Next: Utah Jazz: Midseason grades for Jordan Clarkson

An even 2-2 with no blowout losses is my minimum expectation for this week. Winning three of the four games would be a success.

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