With a month left in the NBA regular season, the championship race is taking shape. The top teams have distinguished themselves from the rest of the league, with most biding their time and trying to get healthy before the playoffs.
Not all championship contenders garner the same attention, though. Who should be getting more respect as a serious threat to win the NBA title?
The second part of this week's NBA roundtable breaks down a pair of teams at the top of the Western Conference but still fighting to be seen as true title contenders. USA TODAY Sports' Matt Eppers moderated the discussion with a panel of NBA experts from around the USA TODAY Network: Jeff Zillgitt and Mark Medina of USA TODAY Sports, Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic, Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal and J. Michael Falgoust of the The Indianapolis Star.
Eppers: The Jazz had a strange loss to the Wizards last night, but I don’t think it affects their standing or trajectory at all. Utah appears to be cruising to a top two seed in the West, perhaps top three at worst. Yet, the Nets, Lakers and Clippers (when presumed healthy) remain the betting favorites to win the title. Are we still underrating the Jazz?
Medina: I don't think anyone is "underrating the Jazz." Everyone takes them seriously and knows they're legitimate. They just won't ever get the same kind of coverage as the Lakers and Clippers because of the market size and the lack of a generational superstar. But the Jazz are the real deal.
Falgoust: I agree with Mark on that one. Just because not many aren't picking them to win it all doesn't mean they're being disrespected. Top two or three in the best conference is pretty good recognition.
Ridenour: I love the Jazz. Six players averaging 12 or more points. Donovan Mitchell has scored 40 in three of the last four games. Rudy Gobert having an incredible season (14.5 points, 13.4 rebounds). Mike Conley reborn. Instant offense off the bench from Jordan Clarkson. They remind me of an old school "TEAM."
Zillgitt: Lots to like about the Jazz (despite the clunker Monday night against the Wizards), from coaching to players and the way they player on both ends. A fun team to watch. Conley has been fantastic with Mitchell and Gobert and a deep team. But I need to see some playoff success. Not sure they're the favorites even with their record.