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Preview: Nuggets take on Utah Jazz in first divisional matchup of the season

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The Utah Jazz are playing their second game of a back-to-back, and the Nuggets must take advantage.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets will host the Utah Jazz in their first matchup versus a Northwest division opponent this season. Denver is riding a three game winning streak. If they win tonight, it will be their second four game winning streak of the season. In 2017-18, Denver had two winning streaks of four wins or more, going into the All-Star break, and the six game run they went on to close the year before losing to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Utah Jazz are in a little bit of a rut, and they struggled to put away an inferior Memphis Grizzlies team twice.

The Jazz are 4-4, and they aren’t yet playing like the breakout team many pegged them to be this season. Donovan Mitchell sat out last night’s contest with hamstring tightness, and the Jazz scored just 40 points in the second half to cede their lead to Memphis, perhaps a symptom of their need for Mitchell in the lineup. If he doesn’t play, they will likely turn to a score by committee approach.

Either way, the Nuggets are riding a winning wave, and they have an opportunity to pick up a quality win against a division opponent. The Jazz are always tough, as Nuggets fans can attest, and Jamal Murray is due for a breakout scoring game at home.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (7-1) vs Utah Jazz (4-4)

When: 7:00 PM MDT

Where: Pepsi Center • Denver, CO

How to watch: Altitude TV, AltitudeNOW.com and the AltitudeNOW App

How to Listen: Altitude Radio 92.5 FM

Rival Blog: SLC Dunk

Injury Report: Will Barton - out (core/hip), Isaiah Thomas - out (hip), Michael Porter Jr. - out (back), Jarred Vanderbilt - out (foot), Donovan Mitchell - unknown (hamstring)

Three things to watch:

Nikola Jokic vs Utah Jazz spread pick and roll

Thus far, Jokic has demonstrated major improvement in his defensive effort levels, and he and Paul Millsap are anchoring a Nuggets defense that currently ranks third in defensive rating. The Jazz are a different animal when it comes to defending though. Quin Snyder runs an excellent scheme to force Jokic to defend large spaces whenever the Jazz and Nuggets play each other, and in years past, Jokic has struggled to cover at times. With the Serbian center playing up more, Ricky Rubio and Joe Ingles will have plenty of opportunities to hit Rudy Gobert or Derrick Favors on the roll or Grayson Allen, Jae Crowder, or each other for threes. Denver’s back line defenders (Paul Millsap, Gary Harris, and one of Torrey Craig or Jamal Murray) will have to fly around and force tough shots for Utah’s other options.

Can Denver’s starting guards get out of their shooting slumps?

Jamal Murray and Gary Harris are each shooting 10/37 from behind the three-point line, good for 27.0%. They shot 37.8% and 39.6% respectively last season. Eventually, they will both get out of their slumps, but tonight would be a great start. The Nuggets as a whole are shooting 30.4% from behind the arc which ranks 28th in the entire NBA. Only Jokic, Monte Morris, and Juancho Hernangomez are shooting better than 34% from behind the arc. Denver needs their starting guards to set the tone there, especially with Will Barton sidelined by injury.

Will the Nuggets get out and run?

The Nuggets average the sixth most fast break points per game in the NBA (17.1) this season. The Jazz average the sixth most points allowed on turnovers (18.9), but they do a great job of preventing fast break points, allowing the fifth least in the NBA (11.5). Denver’s defensive scheme is predicated on creating turnovers, limiting the Jazz to a single possession, and getting out and running offensively. Gary Harris has a great opportunity for accumulating ‘pick-six’ steals tonight (when he runs it all the way back for a score) as do multiple members of Denver’s bench. With the Jazz coming into Denver on the second night of a back-to-back, will Denver get out and run consistently to try and outwork the Jazz early? If they do, this could be a quality victory over a playoff opponent for the Nuggets.