LeBron James may not present the biggest challenge for the Utah Jazz this weekend the way Dirk Nowitzki is playing.
The Western Conference's worst team figures to have its hands full in a difficult back-to-back set that begins with Friday night's visit to face Nowitzki's Dallas Mavericks.
Nowitzki made 10 of 14 shots for 26 points in Dallas' third straight victory, 110-96 at Memphis on Wednesday. He's averaging 29.8 points on 61.6 percent shooting in his last five games.
"He's Dirk, he's back on one of his runs," Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. "He played well again."
Utah is trying to be brave about facing a Dallas team that averages 104.7 points one night before hosting James and a Miami Heat club averaging 104.3.
"We're going to try and go out to Dallas and get a win and come back here and get a win against Miami," rookie guard Trey Burke said.
Nowitzki's impact has been evident over a 4-1 stretch in which Dallas (29-21) is averaging 114.4 points while shooting 52.0 percent.
"You can give him the ball, I feel he's going to make every shot, that's how I feel right now," point guard Jose Calderon said. "He's playing great, he's doing a lot of things for us, the defense has got to be on him all the time and that's why we've been able to get shots as well."
The Jazz (16-32) are shooting 41.0 percent in their last four games and averaging 85.3 points during a three-game slide capped by Monday's 94-79 home loss to Toronto.
Burke has totaled 26 points on 23.4 percent shooting in his last four games, going 3 of 20 on 3-pointers.
"He'll work his way through it," Corbin said. "We talked a little about it, not pressing in it, not searching for shots, just letting it happen."
The Mavs finished with 56 points in the paint against the Grizzlies to match their fifth-highest total. Brandan Wright had 17 points off the bench and Samuel Dalembert scored 14 and grabbed 10 rebounds.
''To get 40, 50 points in the paint on them is impressive,'' Nowitzki said. ''It means we were driving the ball and sharing."
Utah allows 47.5 points per game in the paint for the league's second-worst mark. Dallas held a 54-52 edge in that department in a 103-93 home win in the first meeting Nov. 22.
Monta Ellis scored 26 points as Dallas built a 28-point lead and held on for its 20th victory in its last 23 at home against Utah. Ellis is scoring a league-high 7.6 points per game on drives.
The starting backcourt of Ellis and Calderon combine to average 9.3 minutes of possession while Burke averages 6.0 minutes - 2.5 more than any of his teammates. Utah is averaging 19.9 assists for the league's fourth-worst mark.
The Jazz are uncertain about two frontcourt players. Derrick Favors has missed three straight games with an injured hip while Jeremy Evans has missed two in a row with a bruised tailbone.
Enes Kanter has started the last three games with Favors out. Utah has lost 21 of 22 this season when the third-year center is in the starting lineup.
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- Dallas Mavericks
- Utah Jazz
- Dirk Nowitzki