With Monday’s crucial 111-103 triumph over Utah, the Mavs inched a step closer to overtaking the Jazz and movingSpencer into fourth place in the Western Conference standings.

The Mavs are 40-25 on the season, and the Jazz are only half-a-game ahead of them at 40-24. Things are so neck-and-neck with the regular season coming to a close in about a month that it’s a good chance the Mavs and Jazz will square off in the first round of the playoffs.

“When you look at the rankings, they are one of the teams with the highest probability that we will face in the playoffs,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said. “We know that we will face a good basketball team regardless.”

Whoever clinches the No. 4 seed will have homecourt advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. Thus, since Utah holds a 2-1 edge over the Mavs in the season series, the Mavs will likely be in a must-win situation when they host the Jazz again on March 27.

Until then, here are our top five takeaways from Monday’s eight-point victory over the Jazz.

LUKA IN MVP RACE: The national media may not have noticed, but Luka Doncic has lit the NBA on fire. And what he’s done should have him right in the middle of the NBA Most Valuable Player race. After Doncic torched the Jazz for 35 points, a season-high 16 rebounds, seven assists and three steals, Utah coach Quin Snyder had this to say. “Luka is able to keep you in limbo,” Snyder said. “Do you switch or do you fall back to the big? He’s so big when you pull in he’s able to find everybody. He has such control with his size that he starts to back out and attacks you a different way.” Translation: Because Doncic is so gifted — and because his basketball IQ is off the charts — the only person who apparently can stop Doncic is . . .Doncic. And he Dorianhasn’t been stopping himself lately.

DINWIDDIE ON A HEATER, TOO: The good thing about Spencer Dinwiddie is, he has a team-first mentality. So, when he didn’t have any points in the first quarter of Monday’s game, he didn’t pout. Why not? “Luka was on a heater,” Dinwiddie said, referring to the 16 points Doncic tallied in the first quarter. “He was hot. You get out of the man’s way. If you can score 16 in a quarter, odds are we’ll probably win the game.” After Doncic was on the bench following his heater hot first quarter, Dinwiddie got on his own version of the “heater” in the second quarter when he scored 11 of his 23 points. The eight-year veteran finished the game 7-of-15 from the field, including 5-of-9 from three-point range.

DORIAN’S DEFENSE/OFFENSE: Yes, Dorian Finney-Smith has turned into a dangerous weapon on offense. Credit him for the hard work in that department. The fruits of Finney-Smith’s labor bore out in the 21 points that he scored Monday. That includes converting 8-of-14 shots from the field, including 4-of-10 from downtown. But it also shouldn’t be overlooked that Finney-Smith is a defensive demon and should be given strong consideration for a first- or second-team all-defensive award, considering all of the high-scoring guards and forwards he constantly shuts down. “I love to compete,” Finney-Smith said. “When I’m out there, I find joy in trying to stop somebody.” Finney-Smith’s defense helped the Mavs limit Donovan Mitchell to just 17 points on 5-of-19 shooting.

MAVS ROLLING: They curiously haven’t received much notoriety for their success lately outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth area,Luka but no NBA team has more wins since Dec. 31 than the Mavs. The top records since New Year’s Eve belong to the Phoenix Suns (24-6), Mavs (24-7), Boston Celtics (23-8), Memphis Grizzlies (22-8), Philadelphia 76ers (21-8), Miami Heat (22-9), Denver Nuggets (22-10), Minnesota Timberwolves (21-11), Toronto Raptors (20-13), and Cleveland Cavaliers (17-12). Since Dec. 31, the Mavs are 2-0 against the Grizzlies, 1-0 against the Celtics, Sixers, Heat, Nuggets and Raptors, and 0-1 against the Suns. Also, the Mavs have won 11 of their last 13 games, including their past five. To paraphrase a line from rapper DJ Khaled, all they do is win, win, win.

THREE-POINT DEFENSE: The Jazz entered Monday’s game as one of the top three-point shooting teams in the entire NBA. And they were coming off of Sunday’s terrific performance in Oklahoma City when they made 14-of-25 triples in the first half, and 23-of-52 shots from downtown for the game. However, when the Mavs weren’t busy chasing the Jazz off the three-point line Monday, they were able to limit them to just 31 attempts – and only 12 makes – from beyond the three-point stripe. “They did a really good job defensively,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “They are aggressive.” Three-point shooting is the bread and butter of Utah’s offense. But on Monday — thanks to the Mavs’ stout defense — the Jazz didn’t eat very much from downtown.

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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