SALT LAKE CITY — Sure, the Utah Jazz have won five games in a row, and they've looked mighty good in the process.
But they'll really know if they turned a corner after tonight's game against the Denver Nuggets.
Even without injured point guard Ty Lawson, the Nuggets are clearly the best team the Jazz have faced since they got hot nine days ago. Denver has a 50-24 record and has its grip on the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
"It's a huge contest for us. We need to win games," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "Denver is a team that's ahead of us. They're playing really well. This is a playoff team. We're fighting for our lives in the playoffs. This will be a good test to see where that process is."
Corbin said the Jazz have to be careful to try not to get into a track race with faster-paced Nuggets, who are averaging 105.6 points compared to Utah's 98.6 scoring clip.
"It can be fun," he said, "if you're making shots."
The Nuggets come into this contest having won 16 of 18 games, including a 109-87 blowout of Brooklyn last Friday. That, by the way, was the Nuggets' last game.
Since then, Utah has also knocked off the Nets — 116-107 Saturday — and taken down Portland, 112-102.
The Jazz and Nuggets have each won their home games in the season series this year, with Denver winning most recently, 110-91 on Jan. 5 at the Pepsi Center.
"We know how good they are," Jazz guard Randy Foye said. "We see how many teams go into the Pepsi Center and get blown out. We're confident that we're going to come out and play well and play together.
"The biggest thing," he added, " is you've got to believe in yourself. If you don't believe in yourself and that you can win, then you don't have a chance."
HIGH-FLYING ACT: Jamaal Tinsley and Jeremy Evans combined on one of the most impressive alley-oop dunks of the season during the Jazz's win over Portland Monday night.
Tinsley sparked the play, lofting up a no-look lob from beyond the top of the key on a fast break. Seemingly out of nowhere, the 2012 NBA Dunk Champion put on the afterburners to catch up to the pass and then soared to snag it mid-air and slam it in.
It earned ESPN's Dunk of the Night honors.
Corbin admitted his initial thought was, "What the heck!?" when he saw Tinsley pass the ball from behind the 3-point line.
"Oh my goodness. I was looking at Jamaal and I saw a guy on the left side of the court coming down, and he threw it to the right side," Corbin said. "I was like, 'What in the world?' and here comes Jeremy."
Evans was also behind the arc, out of Corbin's eyesight, when Tinsley tossed the ball up. But he quickly made up the ground with his speed and lengthy stride.
"That's just Jamaal seeing the play before it's there, before everybody else can see it," Corbin said. "It was a tremendous pass and a great run by Jeremy to catch up to the ball and finish it."3 comments on this story
PLAYERS OUT: Center Enes Kanter continues to be sidelined indefinitely with a dislocated shoulder, but Corbin said the second-year big is "progressing" and called his injury situation a "day-to-day thing."
Rookie guard Kevin Murphy also didn't practice Tuesday because of a skin infection.