After dropping a heartbreaker to the Oklahoma City Thunder and a home game to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Denver Nuggets could have stumbled into Christmas on a losing streak with road games against the Portland Trailblazers and Golden State Warriors, two places that Denver had not won in since 2014. Instead Denver took both games and rolled into Christmas on a high. Trying not to waste that momentum, they host the Utah Jazz tonight - a team that always plays Denver tough no matter who is in the lineup and that has already beaten Denver this year without Rudy Gobert, who will also miss tonight’s game.
The Jazz have lost 8 of their last 10 despite the efforts of Rodney Hood and rookie Donovan Mitchell, both of whom look like long-term mainstays for future Jazz competitors. No matchup with the Jazz is easy for Denver, though, and if the Nuggets want to keep their recent winning ways they will have to solve Utah’s penchant for outworking them.
Who: Denver Nuggets (18-15) vs Utah Jazz (15-19)
When: 7:00 PM MST
Where: Pepsi Center, Denver CO
How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and KKSE Altitude radio AM 950
Rival blog: SLC Dunk
Emmanuel Mudiay - questionable (ankle), Paul Millsap - out (wrist), Mason Plumlee - probable (dislocated finger), Rudy Gobert - out (knee), Dante Exum - out (shoulder)
Three Things to Watch
Will Denver attack the paint? Utah doesn’t have a true shot-blocker in there with Gobert out but in their last matchup the Nuggets were too scared of Derrick Favors to really drive the paint. If Denver settles for outside shots, Utah has a much better chance of victory. Attack the rim and build off of that, Denver.
Can somebody please shut down Donovan Mitchell? Jamal Murray is six months younger than Mitchell and one of the main reasons Denver was never in the Mitchell game despite his talent, but because Denver traded the pick to Utah - much like with Gobert - the Nuggets will never hear the end of it when it comes to his success. So if Gary Harris or someone wants to do me a favor tonight and just shush the Mitchell-for-rookie-of-the-year thing from Utah, that’d be great. If Murray wants to go off for another 30, that’s fine too.
Balance, balance, balance. The Nuggets have recently found a nice front-court balance of offense and defense with Mason Plumlee and Nikola Jokic on the court at the same time in a way they never did with Jusuf Nurkic. That’s freed up the rest of the lineup to cut and shoot from deep, and with the emergence of Trey Lyles as a combo forward who can do both off the bench the Nuggets have been able to prevent their second unit swan-dives from destroying good starting performances. Will Barton has been in a slump, though, and whether healthy or not Emmanuel Mudiay has not been the answer all year. Denver will need to maintain its balance between offense and defense, and get bench contributions to take the weight off the starters.
A complete performance right after a holiday might be too much to ask, but if Denver plans to make any noise this year it would be another good statement.
Prediction: Denver starts slow but the Jazz can’t take advantage, and the Nuggets get it rolling late. 106-97, Nuggets.
Who is the most important Nugget if Denver’s to get a win tonight?
This poll is closed
Gary Harris - scoring and defense on Utah’s backcourt
Mason Plumlee - defense on Favors and that certain something special
Trey Lyles - revenge game and that extra scoring Utah can’t match
Dude, come on - this is always Nikola Jokic