Let me start off by saying that I fully wanted a Denver victory in Phoenix to end the season, setting up the dream scenario of playing a Brandon Roy-less Blazers team who in all likely hood would have lost to Denver in 5 games. Even more so was I for Denver beating Dallas last week and never have been in this situation at all. In hindsight, if Denver had got the 2 seed that would have landed a first round match-up with the Spurs, who would not have exactly been a cake walk. The Nuggets however did lose to Dallas and the Spurs and the Suns in a run that lasted just over the course of a week and put us in the precarious "Laker side of the bracket" and drawing none other than the most hated of all rivals..the Jazz.
Say what you want about the Spurs and the Lakers, the Jazz have always been my enemy number 1. Some of the younger fans will undoubtedly argue with me on this, but the fans like me, who were just evolving into true fandom in the early to mid nineties know what I’m talking about. Memories of Stockton setting the assist record in butt whipping fashion of the Nuggets (while the stat keepers thought process was "Stockton touched the ball two possessions ago, better give him an assist for that bucket Malone just threw down") are still fresh in my mind, so is the 7 game series where we went down 3-0 then got all excited to think our Nuggies were going to make playoff history twice in one year when they came roaring back to 3-3 and then got embarrassed in Utah to finish the series. The 2000’s made me hate the Spurs (the Lakers have always had a gloss of hatred over them) but it was the 90’s that made me hate the Jazz.
I’ve said before that normally I would dread a first round matchup with Utah but this year it’s just different (see I did say that). Denver has had Utah’s number this season (just like they had Dallas’ last year) by evidence of their 3-1 season series and the near 9pts they beat the Jazz by on average this season. Denver’s one loss to Utah this season came on Saturday February sixth. The Nuggets flew in early that morning after coming off a huge Chauncey fueled win against the Lakers while the Jazz were on three days rest. Denver was without Melo and Chauncey while the only player from Utah’s regular rotation that was missing was Kyle Korver…not exactly apples to apples. The Jazz controlled that game from the start (38 pts in the 1st quarter and it was over).
I won’t go into the injuries or the matchups (Andrew and Nate already did great series previews). Rather, I’ll go into the gut feelings I have for this series.
Gut Feeling (GF) one: The Nuggets will win. Why? Besides the fact that we have performed well against Utah, you just have to like the matchup overall. Denver is healthier, more athletic and a better overall team. Deron Williams is a superstar and quite possibly the best pg in the league (you can add the qualifier below 30 and it really comes down to him and Rondo if we don’t count CP3 because of the injuries) but is he as big of a weapon and as dangerous as Melo? No he’s not. Without Andrei Kirilenko Melo will torch the Jazz, he will be much more effective against CJ Miles than Williams will be against Billups. Not to say Williams won’t be effective, but if you’re looking at it from Utah’s side, Miles v Melo is a brutal mismatch much more brutal than Williams v Billups (And I haven’t even mentioned Ty Lawson).
GF 2: Let Boozer get his. Look, Denver is likely to drop one or more games in this series because they play poor defense down low and don’t hustle on the glass(count me amongst the contingency that is very worried about Kenyon Martin’s effectiveness). They are going to get beat on the boards by Boozer, Millsap and Okur, it’s just who they are. I can deal with Boozer going for 20-10 though. It’s like against Dallas last year when Dirk was putting up 30 a game on us in the second round, it didn’t matter because the rest of the team was useless, which brings me to number 3.
GF 3: Deron Williams must be contained. D-will is the key to the Jazz, Boozer can put this team on his back and win game or two, a series? No. The Nuggets must slow down D-will, get in his face, bother him, make sure that if he’s going into the lane he’s going to feel it. Petro, who deserves to play this series, has 6 fouls and he needs to give them out and give them out hard. Make Deron get rid of the ball before he wants to and make one of the other Utah players create.
GF 4: Ty Lawson must play big minutes and must do well. I fully expect Blur to come out and drop a stinker in game 1. Rookie in his first playoff game, it’s bound to happen. After that game 1 Lawson will remember though, he will remember he played big games in tournaments at UNC all the time, he’ll remember that he torches Deron Williams with his speed and that, unlike the NCAA tourney, he gets another shot two days later. I am hoping to hope he seizes the opportunity to never lose his rotation spot to AC again and comes out and contributes solid play for the rest of the series. He doesn’t have to get a career scoring high (25 pts…February 6th…against Utah) or even come close to it (23 pts…January 2nd…against Utah) he just needs to have a solid game and run down the Jazz in the beginning of the fourth quarter (7 of 17 pts in the 4th…October 28th…against Utah)
GF 5: Games 1 and 2 are important, Game 5 is a must win. Utah is hard place to win in the regular season, it’s ridiculous in the post season. As much as I don’t want to be a downer on Denver and its fans, for every game in Denver there will be one in Utah which is going to be rowdier, louder and crazier. Utah, in my opinion, has the best basketball following of any team, the people are almost as big on basketball as they are on Joseph Smith. It’s not out of the realm for Denver to win game 3 or 4 in Utah, but it won’t be easy. In the likely scenario that the series is 2-2 going back to Denver, the Nuggets will be faced with a must win. Going down 3-2 and having to go back to Utah in a win or go home situation…not good.
GF 6: Contrary to our very own D-Stiffs expert opinions, this will be a hard fought long series. Denver and Utah lost 16 games at home this season…combined. Both hovered around .500 on the road (Utah a little over, Denver a little under) I honestly don’t see there being more than one road win in this series and I don’t see it coming in the first four. Talent wise these teams are very close and with the familiarity of playing a division rival this has all the makings of an epic opening round series.
Prediction- Denver in 7