Looking at the performance of the Utah Jazz so far this season tonight’s game should be a sure thing. The Jazz are a combined 0-13 on the road against the other top teams in the west (Phoenix and up) and the three beasts of the east (Cleveland, Boston and Orlando). Out of those 13 games the Jazz have only been within six or fewer points three times and the average margin of defeat is 12.8 points per game. Why should tonight’s game be any different? Denver is a very solid 29-8 at home and riding a six game home winning streak.
There are a couple of reasons why I am worried about tonight’s game. First of all the Nuggets’ defense has been anything but stout in the lane lately. They have only collected at least 65% of their defensive rebounds in two of their previous six games. Utah is a top five offensive rebounding team by the percentage of offensive rebounds they recover.
The real reason why I am worried is desperation. The Jazz know they suck on the road and they are going to be desperate to try to win a couple of games like tonight in order to earn home court advantage in the playoffs. They also know losing tonight’s game will basically eliminate them from winning the division. The Nuggets are under no such pressure. Even I have fallen into the trap of saying, if they can just win one of their three final difficult games and sweep the four sorry teams on the schedule they should be able to hold on to the second seed. Of course George Karl is saying the same thing, “If we don’t win, we can wake up tomorrow and the next day and still be in a good position.”
Fortunately the players seem to be hyped up about the matchup. Carmelo said he might not get any sleep the night before the game. J.R. called it a “huge, huge game.”
The Nuggets are going to focus on Deron Williams, and rightfully so.
“The Nuggets feel the best way of slowing down Williams is throwing different looks at him, like a crafty big-league hurler. Billups, Anthony Carter and Dahntay Jones will spend time defending Williams, and with pick-and-roll defense in the fourth quarter, Karl won’t hesitate to put bigger players Kenyon Martin or Anthony on the 6-foot-3 guard.”
Williams is indeed a stud and the Jazz have the same talented roster this season as they have the past couple of years with one major exception. Players like Williams, Ronnie Brewer and Paul Millsap are much improved. Even so the gap between the two teams that existed last season has vanished. The Nuggets did lose twice in Utah this season, but both games were close unlike last season’s dual 27 point losses in Salt Lake City. The first time these two hooked up in Denver the Nuggets rolled to a 20 point victory in one of the few games this season where the Nuggets took the lead and held on rather comfortably for the remainder of the game.
In order for the Nuggets to be successful they need to run and attack the rim. Denver rolled out to a 20 point lead the last time these two teams played in Utah powered by J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony getting in the lane at will. Defensively Denver will have to limit the easy baskets the Jazz excel at earning while rotating to cover shooters like Kyle Korver and C.J. Miles.
Both teams know each other and possess a strong sense of respect and acrimony. For all the progress the Nuggets have made a loss tonight will stick them with another 1-3 record in the series and will give Utah all the confidence in the world should these two tee off in the postseason.
I think you can count on the Nuggets playing the kind of defense they displayed against the Hornets as opposed to the lackadaisical switching scheme they ran against the Knicks. Yo know the Jazz are going to play hard as well. It should be a close and intense regular season game.
Take this with you: Carmelo Anthony’s play on offense lately has been the force that has carried the Nuggets to the second seed in the west. Can he continue to produce big numbers with efficiency against a higher echelon team?
Oh and by the way, it is the first of two green jersey nights. After tonight we will either be clamoring for more green jersey nights or calling for their incineration.