Miami would like to consider itself a challenger for the NBA title. Jerry Sloan believes the Heat have a decent chance to come out of the Eastern Conference.
Miami is 37-18 overall and alone atop the Atlantic Division standings. Its won six straight and 10 of its last 11.But the Heat's been cold against against other title contenders.
That's why tonight's game (early tip-off at 6 p.m.) in the Delta Center against the Jazz is an important test for the Heat.
The Jazz are "a team we have to beat to consider ourselves one of the elite teams in the league," said Heat center Alonzo Mour-ning.
Miami is just 3-10 against the top seven teams in the league this year with a winning record against none of them. The Heat are 0-1 against the Jazz, 0-2 against the Suns, 0-1 against the Spurs, 0-1 against the Sonics, 1-1 against the Lakers, 1-1 against the Bulls and 1-2 against the Pacers.
By comparison, Utah, 37-15 overall, is 8-6 against the seven top teams in the league.
"Nobody expects us to beat the Jazz but to get labeled one of the elite teams, you've got to win these games," said Heat forward P.J. Brown.
Heat coach Pat Riley, who has won NBA titles with the Lakers and taken the Knicks to the Finals as well, feels tonight's game will be "a good measuring stick."
Still, Riley doesn't read much into the Heat's poor record against the league's best.
"I don't think (Miami's 3-10 record against the elite) means anything because you are going to get beat by someone," he said. "When it counts most is when you get into the playoffs. All I know is that we're 19 games over .500."
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan feels the Heat, thanks to the inside-outside duo of Mourning and Tim Hardaway, is a title contender.
"They have a legitimate shot at getting to the Finals," said Sloan. "Anytime you've got a point guard and a center like they've got, you've got a chance. And they have a lot of other very good players. They're certainly capable of going a long way in the playoffs."
The Jazz have won seven in a row, which ties their season best streak. If the Jazz win tonight, they'll equal last season's mark after 53 games.
The Jazz will play 12 of their 15 March games on the road - including three Sunday NBC games in four weeks.