SALT LAKE CITY — Dirk Nowitzki attracts the most attention, but the versatile 7-footer isn't the only player the Utah Jazz are worried about heading into tonight's showdown with the Dallas Mavericks.
"They've got two teams that are very good," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "Probably about as good as you'll see in this league."
Team 1: Ten-time All-Star Jason Kidd, ex-Jazz guard DeShawn Stevenson, thriving small forward Caron Butler, former MVP Nowitzki and center Tyson Chandler.
Team 2: Dangerous scorers such as Jason Terry and Shawn Marion as well as mighty mite Jose Barea, center Brendan Haywood and forward Brian Cardinal.
Those groups, who haven't had the benefit of injured guard Rodrigue Beaubois yet, have helped Dallas get off to their best start in years at 14-4. The 15-5 Jazz are expecting a tough challenge when the two tangle on ESPN at 8:30 p.m.
"They've won seven in a row, as have we," Jazz sixth man C.J. Miles said. "They're playing as well as anybody — a lot of great players, they're a deep team also. They play well in transition. They run their half-court stuff good. I mean, they're a balanced team."
The Mavericks have jelled since some of the pieces were added last season, and now guys like Chandler and Butler are making a difference for Dallas.
"Those guys have gotten together and have just gained more camaraderie (as) they've been together," Miles said. "They've learned the offense better, the defense better and they're just playing well."
Sloan also credits Dallas for being mature. The Mavericks have six players who've been in the league 10 or more years compared to just one (11-year veteran Raja Bell) for the Jazz.
"They've got all veteran players pretty much on their team," Sloan said. "They've got guys that know what they're doing. They've been together a little bit longer some of them. I just think they're an excellent team. They don't make many mistakes."
Both teams have found success on the defensive end.
The Jazz lead the league in field goal (.425) and 3-point defense (.307) and are eighth (96.9) in team scoring defense. The Mavericks are ranked No. 2 in field-goal defense (.430) and blocks (3.3 bpg), and are third in scoring defense (92.2 ppg).