(SportsNetwork.com) - Who's been the hottest team in the NBA since the All-Star break?
Is it LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers? No. How about the Western Conference- leading Golden State Warriors? Nope. What about the team with the league's best record in the Atlanta Hawks? Wrong again.
Shockingly, the distinction belongs to the lottery-bound Utah Jazz, who are 11-2.
That run coincides with the departure of Enes Kanter, who was dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder prior to the NBA trading deadline.
The deal opened the door for 22-year-old Rudy Gobert to move into the starting lineup and allowed Derrick Favors to slide over to power forward. Both players have seen their games take off, and their play has been a big reason for Utah's recent success.
Gobert has really opened up eyes around the league with his rebounding, shot blocking and overall defense.
Since the second-year center has been in the starting lineup, the Jazz have allowed just 84.7 points per game after giving up an average of 97.7 prior to that.
Gobert, who has earned the nicknames "Stifle Tower" and "French Rejection" for his shot blocking ability, has averaged 2.8 rejections since entering the starting lineup, including a season-high six in a win over the Denver Nuggets on Feb. 27.
Gobert also has been a monster on the boards, averaging just over 15 rebounds per game, including three games with at least 22. In eight games this month, he's pulling down 17.9 rebounds per game.
With Gobert and Favors patrolling the paint, the Jazz have been dominant defensively and on the boards during this run. Utah is ranked first in the NBA during this stretch in defensive rating, opponents points allowed, opponents field goal percentage and 3-point percentage, rebound percentage and opponents rebounds.
Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens had plenty of praise for Utah's two young bigs after his team beat the Jazz at the buzzer on March 4.
"They're playing great," Stevens said. "It's one of the more impressive teams I've seen since the All-Star break. Their defense has been outstanding. And it's to be expected somewhat when (Rudy) Gobert's minutes go up because he's an absolute force on that end of the floor, and he's becoming really good on the other end of the floor.
"I've always thought they had as good a young talent as there is around, and they're doing a good job. They're very active in helping. They can take some gambles and some risks because not only Gobert but Favors is a good rim protector in his own right. So they've got some guys down there that can cover up some mistakes."
Meanwhile, on the offensive end, Favors is starting to make his mark, too. He averaged 15.9 points per game before the All-Star break. Since then (coinciding with the Enes Kanter trade and Favors' move to the 4), he's putting up 18 points per contest.
"I feel good right now," he said. "Overall, I'm improving a lot. Coach trusts me to actually go to me in the post, and I'm working on my game a lot. The team's starting to trust me a lot more in the post. They've started to get me going early."
As for Utah's great play since the All-Star break, what makes it even more impressive is four convincing wins over playoff-bound teams in the West. The Jazz beat the Portland Trail Blazers by 16 points, the San Antonio Spurs by nine, the Memphis Grizzlies by 11 and the Houston Rockets by 18.
You'd have to think the rest of the league won't take the Jazz lightly at this point, so it'll be interesting to see how they close out the season.