NBA.com Daily Confidential

The Utah Jazz have emerged as one of the top teams in the Western Conference. They can further prove it by beating the West's best from last season.

The Jazz get another chance to test themselves on Monday when they host the defending conference champion Dallas Mavericks.

Utah (15-5), which has missed the playoffs the last three seasons, has been one of the league's biggest surprises. The Jazz own the NBA's top home record at 10-1 and are averaging 103.0 points after scoring only 92.4 per game last season.

Dallas (14-6) has bounced back from an 0-4 start to win 14 of 16 games. The Mavericks have won seven of their last eight meetings against the Jazz, including the last three.

Utah coach Jerry Sloan is getting his second chance to become the fifth NBA coach to record his 1,000 victory. Sloan, who is 999-663, missed his first opportunity in a 110-103 loss at Minnesota on Friday.

The Jazz allowed Minnesota to shoot over 51 percent, marking only the third time a Utah opponent has shot better than 50 percent.

Deron Williams had 21 points and 11 assists, but was often victimized by Mike James, who scored 28 points for the Timberwolves.

``I wish we could have that game over again,'' Williams said. ``We didn't really execute well tonight. We didn't play well tonight, but we were still in the game for the most part, down by five in the last two minutes.''

Williams will be going up against another quick point guard in Devin Harris, who has started the last 18 games for Dallas. The two guards were rivals in the Big Ten when Williams went to Illinois and Harris was at Wisconsin.

The Mavericks have split four games since a 12-game winning streak, including a 105-90 victory over Denver on Saturday. Josh Howard had 30 points and 11 rebounds for his second straight double-double, and helped slow down Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony.

Howard, Devean George and Greg Buckner all took turns guarding Anthony, limiting Denver's leading scorer to 18 points on 8-of-26 shooting.

``It was a great team effort,'' Howard said. ``We kept giving him different looks, coming at him from different angles.''

Defense has been an area in which the Mavs have shown improvement this season, ranking fourth in the NBA in opponents' field-goal percentage at 43.3 percent since Nov. 16.

The offense has been led by Dirk Nowitzki, as expected, although his scoring is down to 24.6 points per game from last season's career-high average of 26.6.

He's one of five Mavs averaging in double figures, along with Howard (17.6 ppg), Jason Terry (15.3), Jerry Stackhouse (12.1) and Harris (10.1).

Dallas could be missing Stackhouse for a second straight game. The team's top reserve who averages 12.5 points, Stackhouse sat out Saturday with a strained right groin after totaling only nine points on 1-of-11 shooting in his previous two games.


Copyright 2006 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited