Tonight the Denver Nuggets have a shot at proclaiming to the world that the Northwest Division is theirs and they will not tolerate any discussion implying otherwise. A win in Utah would put a stop to the Jazz’s nine game winning streak and reestablish a two game lead over Portland and a two and a half game lead over the Jazz.
I will leave how likely that scenario is up to you. The Nuggets are just 1-6 against the Jazz since 2005-06 and the average margin in those seven games is Jazz plus 12.4. Three of the Nuggets six losses over that seven game stretch were by 21 points or more. Last season they lost both games in Utah by 27 points. If you think that is bad the Nuggets are 3-22 against Utah since the 1996-97 season. Ouch. Utah has the best home winning percentage in the NBA over the previous two seasons accumulating a 64-10 record.
The Nuggets have not been terrible on back to backs as they are 7-9 for a winning percentage of .438. In games played with at least one day of rest the Nuggets are 33-13 good for a winning percentage of .717. That is the second largest difference between those two situations in the NBA ahead of only the Utah Jazz who are a shockingly bad 3-11 on the second night of back to backs. Unfortunately for the Nuggets Utah was off yesterday. Carmelo also has the largest disparity among active players in scoring average between games with at least one day of rest (24.8) and on the second night of back to backs (22.3).
On opening night the short handed Nuggets (sans Melo) battled the short handed Jazz (sans Deron Williams) pretty well, but still fell by four. Both teams are completely different at this point in the season and I do not think there is anything to extrapolate out of the events of that evening.
The Jazz have a very versatile offense. They love to grind out possessions with cross screens and back picks designed to get easy shots around the rim, but once you start packing the defense in the lane players like Williams, Mehmet Okur and Kyle Korver will start killing you from behind the arc.
Kenyon Martin is questionable for the game and I think you can count on him sitting this one out. That makes for some rough matchups for the Nuggets bigs. I would guess that Nene being more mobile than Johan Petro, will cover Okur. Andersen is not a great matchup for either Okur’s outside game or Boozer’s power game.
The Nuggets are also going to have to figure out a way to slow down Ronnie Brewer who is posting 17.8 points per game over his last 17 contests. He has not shot under 40% for a single game since January 20th when he went 1-4. J.R. Smith has played some very good on the ball defense lately, but chasing Brewer around screens and keeping track of him when he slashes in from the weak side is a completely different experience than just staying in front of Kobe or Brando Roy. Tonight we will get a good glimpse of how far J.R. has come in his defensive improvement.
Of course Denver also has to worry about the scoring and passing of Williams. He is one of the toughest covers in the league and after a subpar game last time out against Denver he will be looking to slice and dice them up.
Previous Matchups: Game 1 – Den 94 Uta 98 | Game 44 – Den 117 Uta 97
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