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Game 1 Preview & Thread: Nuggets vs Jazz (8:30pm MST)

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70850_knicks_nuggets_basketball_medium_mediumNuggets Nation was hoping the team would get some rest rest before the playoffs, but the short break has the fans champing at the bit. The wait is over and with the game just hours away I had some questions about the Jazz I wanted answered. Who better to bring in than Basketball John of SLC Dunk? Let's get to the Q&A to tee this series up.

First off ... Melo's Yellows! It's playoff time once again ... be on the lookout for the nosebleed college atmosphere section!

Also, be sure to head over to SLC Dunk and check out the 5 Question John threw my way and my answers. A small sample ... click here for the entire SLC Dunk story.

2. This isn't really playoff-related, but I guess it is in a way. Kenyon Martin and Carlos Boozer were free agents at the same time when they were signed by their respective teams. The Jazz even pursued Kenyon Martin. Looking at their careers since then, both have had injury issues. Boozer has more offensive polish while Martin is a much better defender. If you could go back to that year, would you swap players?

Was Boozer really a free-agent or didn't he backstab the Cavaliers and sign with Utah after backing out of his verbal agreement? Ha ha ... I got jokes! There is no way I would want to swap players, even if I could pull a Michael J. Fox and go back in time. ...

Note: I sent these questions over to John on Thursday, April 15th before I knew Andrei Kirilenko was going to be out with his calf injury and before I knew Carlos Boozer was a game-time decision in Game 1 ... thankfully John answered them after learning the news.

1.) Here at Denver Stiffs we have put a primary on coaching. Before George Karl's illness, I think a lot of us took what he did with our team for granted. Now that we're dealing with a new voice and leader in Adrian Dantley (former Jazz great) people seem to appreciate Karl more. With Jerry Sloan being the coach of the Jazz, since Dr. James Naismith hung the first peach basket I think, what do you think his game plan is for this first game and perhaps for this series? Is there something you want to see the Jazz exploit tonight or overall against Denver?

John: I think he's going to have to adapt quite a bit with Kirilenko out for the series. Obviously he's our main guy when it comes to slowing down Carmelo. But he normally finds a way to get the most out of the players that he has and keeps plugging them in and getting results.

The key word that he'll use for offense is execute. Moving the ball around, moving without the ball, setting screens, and coming off screens are all staples of the Jazz offense. The Jazz get into trouble when they start trying to go one on one and taking jumpers early in the shot clock and outside of the offense. If you see the Jazz getting assists early, you'll know it's working.

On defense, he's got his work cut out for him. Obviously Melo is the main focus but you guys always seems to have a third or fourth player like Lawson or Smith that catches fire against the Jazz. With AK out, our defense is a lot weaker. You can put him on almost any player from a PG to Nowitski. The Jazz will play man to man and you'll always see the guards fight over the the top of screens. If the Jazz go to a zone, you'll know they're in trouble. He's going to stress getting back on D in transition and not giving up easy baskets, even if that means fouling, a lot.

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66723_britain_jazz_basketball_medium_medium2.) The injury bug hit the Jazz a little bit at the tail end of the regular season with Andrei Kirilenko missing 15 of Utah's final 17 games and Carlos Boozer missing the season finale against Phoenix. Denver has been dealing with serious injuries to Kenyon Martin and Ty Lawson so we feel your pain. Are you concerned with AK47's ability to come back into the lineup and contribute how we all know he's capable? Are there any other injuries or players that you're concerned about?


John: Prior to today's news, I would have said I would be hesitant about what he could bring. It takes a bit of time to get into the flow of things again, especially on offense. I would have been worried about him hurting something again and it looks like it happened. So now we won't have him in the first round.
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3.) I found the trade deadline deals of promising rookie point guard Eric Maynor (to the Thunder) and energetic youngster Ronnie Brewer (to the Grizzlies) to be a troubling sign for the financially "up-against it" Jazz. But there you were in the hunt for the No. 2 seed anyway. Who stepped up and who should Denver be on the lookout for in this series that could become X-Factors?

John: The reason why Brewer became expendable was the emergence of Wesley Matthews. He's been the hard-working, hustling player that Sloan drools over. He's also got the talent to boot. He's been one of the best finds the Jazz have ever had. His story of being an un-drafted player to the starting two-guard on a Jerry Sloan team is nothing short of remarkable and a testament to his skill.
He's going to get an opportunity to slow down Melo on occasion, something that he has looked forward to. The advantage that he had over Brewer was that he had a more consistent outside shot. He can sit in the corner and hit a three which opens things up a bit. I'm looking forward to him making a big impact.
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4.) Deron Williams is a truly talented player. George Karl admitted that in the 2005 draft, Denver made a play to acquire the No. 2 pick from Atlanta and they were set to select Williams. If you look at his numbers at Pepsi Center this year (25.5 points, 51% shooting, 13 assists) it looks like it would have been a great idea. Old news aside, Williams averaged 22.3 points, 50.8% shooting and 10.3 assists against the Nuggets in four games, but his team was just 1-3 in those contests. What does Williams need to do in order to secure some wins? Are you worried at all about Arron Afflalo possibly defending him? And does the regular season head-to-head record mean anything to you now?

John: I think he's got become a little more consistent in big games. He's had some nights, like against Oklahoma City a couple of weeks ago, where he can just take over games. For the most part he knows when to get others involved and when to be the scorer. But there have been a couple of games where he hasn't played well at all and these are games that the Jazz had to have. Even if he's not shooting well, he can set up other guys. I would like to take a page out of Billups' playbook when it comes to big games. I think he'll get there with some more seasoning.

I think the season series advantage for the Nuggets is huge. We dropped one at home when Denver didn't have Melo and Billups. They were also missing in the one that we did win.
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5.) The Nuggets (34-7), like the Jazz (32-9), are a superior home team. Quite frankly, the Nuggets are two different teams ... there are the Nuggets at home who can beat anyone and the Nuggets on the road who can be very frustrating. How important is it for the Jazz to win either tonight's game or Monday night's game before heading back to Utah? And how do you feel about the Jazz on the road where they were 21-20 during the season?

John: Stealing one in game one or two would be huge. Both teams are struggling a bit so if they were able to thieve home court, it would be a huge confidence booster. That would be a tall task even with a completely healthy team. With AK out, Boozer ailing, and Okur gimping on a bum Achilles, I don't see it happening. It's a bit sad but the Jazz finishing over .500 on the road is a huge deal. There was a stretch where they won quite a few games in a row on the road this season which just hasn't happened in recent years. So they're not completely inept on the road.

With that said, I think it's likely Denver in 7 with each team holding serve on their home court. Give me a healthy AK and I think we might have had a chance to advance.
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Any predictions for the game tonight?

John: For tonight I'm just looking to not get embarrassed. I'm not expecting a win but I am expecting a much better outing than the Jazz had against the Warriors or the Spurs. If they do manage to pull one off, I'll be ecstatic.
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My thanks to John for taking the time to bring you Stiffs a little prespective heading into tonight's game.
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ntimmons73@yahoo.com
Twitter: Nate_Timmons

Photo courstey of AP Photos