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2008-2009 Game 1: Denver Nuggets at Utah Jazz Game Thread

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Opening day has arrived! We have been dissecting the Nuggets for the past six months. Today the talking stops and the Nuggets will take the initial step in a season where they are not expected to be a playoff team for the first time since Carmelo Anthony’s rookie season.

That initial step looked to be a doozie when the schedule was announced as the Nuggets are heading into one of the locations that has not treated them very well. Salt Lake City. The Nuggets have lost five of their last six games at Utah including an embarrassing game last March where the Nuggets found themselves down by 37 at one point.

Needless to say Nugget fans were chalking this one up as a loss. Also the Carmelo Anthony suspension was a nice mental security blanket to help us from getting too disappointed in case the game got out of hand.

However, just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in. A few days ago Derrick Rose made a play to be the MVP of the game tomorrow night for the Nuggets. Rose made contact with Deron Williams as Williams was in the air shooting a three causing Deron to land awkwardly and sprain his ankle. Williams will miss the game and I now have a renewed sense of hope that the Nuggets can win.

The Jazz have an offensive system that puts the point guard in position to look good, but it is not an offense that requires a great point guard in order to be effective. In fact, looking at Williams’ replacement Ronnie Price’s (hey look ma, a double possessive) numbers on 82games.com the Jazz were just as good with him on the floor as they were with him on the bench. Their offensive efficiency was an identical 114.7 with or without him (keep in mind Price played less than ten minutes a game which means those statistics should be taken with a grain of salt).

Utah’s offense is based on execution, discipline and toughness (then again, what offensive system is not based on execution, well, besides the Nuggets). With or without Williams they will run their sets and work for easy shots, but with Williams out of action they will be easier to defend. Still, a team who get sloppy with their defensive positioning and rotations will be picked apart by the Jazz’s system. That makes this game a decent indicator of whether or not the Nuggets have actually turned over a new page on defense or not.

Without Williams I like the way the Nuggets match up with the Jazz. AI can handle Ronny Price, Anthony Carter can deal with Ronnie Brewer, who excels at getting open on cuts and screens. I do not think we need to worry about Carter getting posted up. Fill in starter Dahntay Jones will do a good job on either Utah starter C.J. Miles or Kyle Korver or even Andrei Kirilenko depending on who is in the game at the same time he is. I like the front court matchup of Kenyon Martin and Nene against Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur. I start Nene on Boozer as he has the strength and quickness to give Boozer trouble in the paint and Kenyon can use his quickness to stay with Okur on the perimeter.

Offensively, the Nuggets have the talent to make up for Melo’s absence with J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza ready and able to put up points as soon as they step on the floor. Nene should be able to score in the paint as Utah is not known for their stout interior defense and we have seen the Nuggets have success running against the Jazz, although to be fair that success was in Denver and not SLC.

The big question after what we saw in the preseason is what will the Nuggets get from Allen Iverson? That is a question that Nugget fans did not expect to have to ask as long as AI was upright, but AI put up some frighteningly pedestrian numbers in the preseason. I am confident that he will score more than the five or six points he averaged during the exhibition games, but how much more no one can know for sure.

Ultimately the key to the game for me is which team can most efficiently replace what they are missing in their absent star player? As I said above, the Nuggets can replace Melo’s scoring. Utah does not have the talent on the bench to very easily make up Williams 19 points, ten assists, stellar shooting and bold leadership.

Call me crazy, but I think the Nuggets have a very good shot at winning this game.

Make sure you check out SLC Dunk to read what Jazz fans are saying about tonight’s game.