|2012/2013 NBA Regular Season: Game 75|
|April 2nd, 2013 - 7:00 PM (MT)|
|Energy Solutions Arena, Salt Lake City|
|Altitude / 950 AM / 104.3 FM The Fan|
|Denver Stiffs||Blogs||SLC Dunk|
|Injuries||Enes Kanter (shoulder, out)|
|The Nuggets are 3-10 at Utah since the 2005-06 season and are 70-100 all-time against the Jazz.||Stat||If the Nuggets win Wednesday, it will be only the second time since the 2003-04 season that the Nuggets have won their season series against Utah.|
Having won their 50th game with eight to go by easily besting the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night, the Nuggets are in a unique position to set an NBA franchise record by winning more than 54 games. Unfortunately, with the exception of a season-ending home date against the lowly Phoenix Suns, every Nuggets opponent from here on out will make for a tough game. A really tough game.
And playing the Jazz in Utah is about as tough as it gets.
As noted above, the Nuggets have won just two season series against the Jazz since 2003 and are a disappointing 3-10 at Utah since the 2005-06 season ... and the Jazz have had some down years in that span. Simply put, the Jazz are always tough at home (evident by their impressive 28-9 home record this season) and if you add in their desperation to secure the Western Conference's eighth playoff seed and their current five-game winning streak, playing at Utah right now is even tougher than normal.
The Nuggets have two things going for them and one thing going against them (in a big way) entering Wednesday's game. On the positive side, the Nuggets haven't played since Friday - a rare five-day break this late in the season. And while the five days probably hasn't given Ty Lawson enough time to recover from his plantar fasciitis injury, it should help those with minor bumps and bruises like Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari to get right.
Secondly, there's no way the NBA wants Utah in the playoffs in place of the league's glamour franchise - the Los Angeles Lakers (fighting neck-and-neck with the Jazz for the right to lose to the San Antonio Spurs in Round 1). Therefore, it's unlikely that the Jazz will get any calls to go their way from now until season's end.
On the negative side, of course, is Lawson's injury and I'm afraid it's been understated just how nasty this particular injury is. As we saw first hand when Al Harrington had plantar fasciitis issues upon his arrival in Denver, there's no real "cure" for this heel-based injury. All an injured athlete with plantar fasciitis can do is rest, as any movement exacerbates the injury. And yet by not being mobile, the injured athlete gains weight, loses their rhythm, etc. It's like a self-perpetuating injury.
Lawson's injury couldn't come at a worse time, frankly. Not only do the Nuggets need to win (at least) five of their last eight to secure that much needed three-seed in the Western Conference playoffs, but there isn't an opponent on the horizon that the Nuggets can afford to rest Lawson against. It's just a bad, bad situation all around.
In the wake of Lawson's absence, all we can hope for now is that French rookie Evan Fournier can step up and display the fortitude that we witnessed during Friday's win against the Nets when the rook torched the Brooklynites for 19 points off the bench. Of course, that game was never in question. With the Jazz beckoning and other tough competition on the near horizon, Fournier is about to be put to the ultimate test: can this unproven, 20-year-old rookie guide the Nuggets to their best NBA franchise regular season ever?
Three things to look for in this game ...
1) A repeat performance from Evan Fournier. As mentioned above, Fournier made the most of the 20 minutes bestowed upon him by head coach George Karl in the Nuggets Friday victory. And yet Fournier was a DNP-CD just two nights earlier in San Antonio. With playing at Utah being a lot tougher than playing home against an Eastern Conference team, will Karl trust Fournier for another 20 minutes on Wednesday night?
2) Containing Al Jefferson. The Jazz's five-game winning streak has been due in large part to Big Al's much improved play. In the past four games, Jefferson has scored at least 20 points and grabbed at least seven rebounds, while never shooting less than 52%. The Nuggets will need a healthy dose of JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos' best defense on Wednesday, because Jefferson crushed the Nuggets' interior D for 28 points the last time Denver visited Salt Lake City.
3) Make those free throws. Leftover from the Jerry Sloan days, the Jazz remain a foul-first, ask questions later team ... hence why they're third overall in the NBA by dishing out 21.5 fouls per game. The Nuggets, meanwhile, are the NBA's third-worst free throwing shooting team and when they lost at Utah in late November, the Nuggets missed 14 of their 32 free throw attempts - a game they lost by two.
Scouting the Jazz
-Al Jefferson: The aforementioned Jefferson has improved mightily as the season has gone on, but so has Koufos. Will the new version of Koufos be able to contain the improved version of Jefferson?
-Mo Williams: The former All-Star seems to have gotten his mo-jo (pardon the pun) back, lighting up opponents in his past three games. The aging Andre Miller will have his hands full guarding Williams.
-Gordon Hayward: Under the radar, Hayward has turned out to be a very productive, reliable small forward.
-Enes Kanter: This third overall pick has had a disappointed sophomore season, highlighted by a shoulder separation.
I never a) thought that the Nuggets would get to 50 wins this fast and, b) that it would be so difficult to get to 55 with eight games to play. No one could have foreseen Lawson's untimely injury, but remember when I wrote that we'd regret losing to the Magic, 76ers, Wizards and Timberwolves way back when? Had the Nuggets won just two of those games, they'd have the necessary breathing room to finish out the season in the three-spot.
Now, every game is a "must win" and the Nuggets don't have their starting point guard along for the ride. But at least it will be fun to watch!