Lets start out by saying I hate the Jazz. I hate losing to them. I hated seeing them go the Western Conference Finals because a historical first round upset by the Warriors prevented them from having to play Dallas. I hate Carlos Boozer. I hate Matt Harpring. I only dislike Deron Williams, but you get the point. Now do not get me wrong. I do not wish injury on them or that their personal lives go bad. I do not hate them personally and I am sure they are all nice guys. I keep my ill feelings for the Jazz limited to the hardwood. Come game time, the hatred will be there.
Now that I have that out of my system lets get to the game.
At first glance the Jazz look like a horrible road team. They are a pathetic 6-14 on the road. However, look closer and you will see a team that played a bunch of difficult road games in a short period of time. In the month of December the Jazz had 10 road games. They only won one of those ten games. They lost at Sacramento, San Antonio, Dallas, Phoenix, Portland, Atlanta, Charlotte, Miami and in L.A. against the Lakers. Their lone win on the road in December was at Orlando.
It is easy to dismiss the Jazz as a road team due to that stretch, but look at what the Nuggets have done on the road against those teams. The only teams that the Nuggets have defeated on the road out of that group are Sacramento, thanks to a miracle comeback that saw the Kings miss four free throws down the stretch leading to a Linas Kleiza buzzer beater, and Dallas in what was probably the best game the Nuggets have played all year.
Part of the problem the Jazz had during their losing streak was the disappearance of Mehmet Okur. Memo shot 33.3% or worse in nine straight games in December. Those nine games were wrapped around a stretch of seven games where he did not play due to injury. Okur finally broke out in January posting his first consecutive 20 point outings of the season on the tenth against Phoenix and twelfth against Orlando. He followed those two games up with a 3-11 performance against Milwaukee on Monday so he may not be completely out of his slump. Okur is the kind of perimeter mismatch the Nuggets have struggled with. Camby, Martin and Najera have not performed well when they have been forced to guard perimeter shooters as detailed in the Pickaxe and Roll Film Room in the clips from the Golden State and Orlando games.
The Jazz are still viewed as a defensive team, but that is no longer the case. This team is built around its offense. Sure Jerry Sloan still demands that they put forth maximum effort on defense and they are a very physical team, but they will not shut you down like they used to. This is not a recent development either. Last year in the playoffs the Jazz were able to play the Warriors style and outscore them to win the series relatively easily.
The Nuggets are once again facing a show me game. If Denver cannot get up for this game after receiving good news on Nene today and knowing that these guys won their division last season, and are planning on doing it again this season, then I may completely lose faith in them. Show me a sense of urgency. Show me you care enough to play hard all game long and not just in the second half. Show me you can beat a very good team when you have to. Show me you can work together on offense. Show me you hate to lose.
The Nuggets went 1-3 against Utah last season dropping both games at the Pepsi Center by 12 and ten points. If the Nuggets want to win this division and earn a high seed for the playoffs they are going to have to win the season series against Utah to do it.
They are in a virtual dead heat for the division right now with Portland and Utah. Gaining some separation from those two teams can start tonight if the Nuggets play hard from start to finish.
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No Kenyon Martin tonight and Najera is questionable.