Normally I'd say the Nuggets sans Carmelo Anthony have no shot at winning in Utah on the second of a back-to-back. But if last night's win and the Nuggets previous win in Utah have taught us anything, when this team puts its collective mind towards winning, anything is possible.
First off, I want to piggyback on much of what Nate said in regards to last night's Denver Stiffs "Event" at Choppers. It was great to finally meet so many of the faces behind the names that frequently post on this site. Because Choppers was so jam-packed with Nuggets fans last night, it was hard to tell who was there because of Denver Stiffs and who was there just to be there. But every time I walked around I met a longtime reader in addition to those sitting with us by the pool table area. So if I had to guess I'd say the Denver Stiffs contingency was in the 40-person range (maybe more?). For our next event, we'll have to find a night or a place less crowded so that we can just take over the joint. Many many sincere thanks to those who showed up - it was a blast!
The euphoria from last night's exceptional game will likely dissipate quickly as the Nuggets have to play in Utah tonight. Talk about a buzz kill.
As Nuggets head coach George Karl himself told me during our interview a few months ago, there's no tougher game to play in the NBA than playing at Denver or at Utah on the second of a back-to-back when you're traveling in from the West Coast. I wish I could get my hands on the data, but I guarantee the opposition loses about 85% of the time in those games over the last five seasons (especially while both Denver and Utah have been good teams). In fact, in recent seasons we've seen Karl pull his starters early in games at Utah knowing the players just don't have it, rather than risk getting hurt by the most physical team in the NBA, although that's changed a bit since Matt Harpring retired.
So while the Nuggets are undoubtedly better than the Jazz this season - evident by their stunning 105-95 win at Utah on January 2nd with neither Carmelo Anthony nor Chauncey Billups suited up and their 3-0 lead in the season series - the Nuggets are still the underdog in tonight's heavyweight fight in my opinion.
Other than our Nuggets, the Jazz may very well be the hottest team in the NBA. Since losing to the Nuggets in early January, they've won 12 of 15 games and are currently on a seven-game winning streak. And it's not like they're playing soft opponents, either. During this winning stretch the Jazz have bested the Trail Blazers and Mavericks twice apiece as well as the Spurs, Grizzlies, Cavaliers and Suns. Don't be surprised if Utah finishes third in the Western Conference by season's end.
And with the exception of blowout losses at Oklahoma City and at home recently to the Suns, the Nuggets aren't exactly slacking. During the same time span, the Nuggets have won 14 of 17 games. This will be a heavyweight fight indeed.
Having recently covered the Jazz when the Nuggets beat them in Denver 119-112, I've modified the scouting report below. But while we can make all the fun we want of their players (and we should), this Jazz team is playing like anything but a group of Stiffs right now.
Are you ready to rumble? Ding! Ding! Ding!
SCOUTING THE JAZZ...
-Andrei Kirilenko: As much as I love his wife (hands down the nicest "NBA wife" I've ever met), I suspect even Masha Kirilenko would acknowledge that "AK47" is an overpaid Stiff at this point in his career. Owed $17.8 million next season, 'Drei's numbers continue to plummet across the board.
-Kyle Korver: Korver's production has picked up a bit since I called him out as a Stiff before the last Nuggets/Jazz game, but he's still not getting consistent minutes and isn't the threat he once was.
-Kosta Koufos: A 2008 first round draft pick by Utah, the 7'0", 265 pound Koufos barely sees any action and when he does, he doesn't produce.
-Kyrylo Fesenko: I figured all the Jazz players with a "K" to begin their first or last name belong on the Jazz's Stiff squad. Fesenko is a bona fide Stiff: 7'0" tall, 300 pounds and perhaps the goofiest white guy you'll see at the end of an NBA bench these days. God bless the Jazz and their insistence on having at least five white guys on their roster every season. I guess Rafael Araujo wasn't available this season.
-Jerry Sloan: For only the 22nd consecutive season, Sloan is proving that he's one of the top two or three coaches in the NBA. The guy just wins games and does so in an old-school, "my way or the highway" style that any true NBA fan can appreciate. The Jazz may be a hated opponent, but you have to respect the hell out of Jerry Sloan (I know Karl does).
-Carlos Boozer: Boozer has missed the last three games with a strained calf, but is expected to play tonight. If Boozer can play on a bad calf, Billups can play on two bad ankles, Kobe Bryant can play with a broken finger, a bad knee, back spasms and a severely sprained ankle, maybe Melo can play...oh, forget it...I'll just piss everyone off again.
-Deron Williams: Thankfully Tracy McGrady didn't get voted onto the All-Star team which enabled Steve Nash to start and D-Will to finally get an All-Star nod as a backup guard. While none of these guys should have been voted/selected over Billups, Williams is certainly an All-Star player.
Photo courtesy of AP: David Zalubowski