What matchup are you most looking forward to following throughout the series?
Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717): Nikola Jokic vs. Rudy Gobert without a doubt. It is just one of those things where everyone thinks Gobert is such a good defender — and he is don’t get me wrong — but he can’t stop Jokic and both teams know that.
In all their matchups this season Jokic has got the best of Gobert and I do not expect it to be any different in the postseason. We saw it just a couple days ago when Jokic led the Nuggets to a double-overtime victory against Utah and forced Gobert to foul out. I think it will be more of the same come playoff time.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): Donovan Mitchell vs. Jamal Murray. Mitchell is a scorer and happy to have the ball in his hand while Murray is still incorporating a third scorer into the team which might take touches from him, but make no mistake: both players bring fireworks for their teams. Mitchell pumped in a lot of points on a ton of shots against Denver in the bubble already, but Denver doesn’t necessarily want a shootout between Murray and Mitchell.
The Nuggets need Murray to be engaged on defense (which he has been), lethal when called upon (which he can be) and to be a vocal leader on the floor (which he’s working on). Murray is the old hand now. He’s got to get MPJ through the first-time playoff jitters and run the offense when Jokic is not on the floor. Murray has a lot to do, and only some of it is against Mitchell directly, but seeing how those two players plan to lift their teams is a huge matchup to watch.
Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL): Michael Porter Jr. vs whoever guards him. I don’t know if Porter is going to be the starter yet. Whether he is or isn’t, he is going to be a problem for whoever has to guard him. Throughout the seeding games, Porter was next-to-unguardable, and he can be the consistent third scorer this Denver offense needs.
Porter’s size makes him a matchup nightmare, and the Jazz don’t have a player that can keep up with him on a consistent basis throughout the game. Porter lacks something on defense, but his offensive production just has to be on the floor. Malone won’t have a choice but to get him out there. When he does get out there, he’ll be able to produce and open up this offense for everyone else.
Evan Fiala (@eefiala): Jokic and Gobert. Nothing makes me happier than watching Jokic go to work on a legit DPOY candidate, especially considering Gobert was a Denver draft pick trade. Jokic has gotten the best of Gobert in every game this year and the way he turned it on in the second half of the game last week was just incredible. Can’t wait to see it again.
What concerns you most about the Jazz?
Ewing: It’s not a matchup as much as it’s just one player, Donovan Mitchell. Sure, he is going to jack up around 30 shots a game and might only make 40 percent of them, but that is still good for around 30 points a night.
Mitchell almost single handily won the game for Utah in their last matchup against Denver and he plays with that killer mentality that scares you a little. I see that same thing in Mike Conley, which is why both he and Mitchell are the only things that worry me in this series.
Gross: Three point shooting. The Jazz are the best three point shooting team in the league on pretty high volume, while the Nuggets are middle-of-the-pack on low volume. Utah is gonna get hot from the line and Denver is going to have to find a way to avoid trading its own twos for Utah threes.
Bridgford: Joe Ingles is my main concern. He’s not the most athletic or biggest player on the floor. He’s also not the best player on his team with Donovan Mitchell leading the team’s offensive charge. However, he does present an issue Denver has struggled with all year. He’s a bigger wing, and he can knock down 3-point shots at a high clip. If he gets hot, he can take over a game and put Denver in a hole rather quickly.
Fiala: Definitely the three-point shooting. Even without Bogdanovic the Jazz can be a lethal three-point shooting team (as witnessed first hand on Saturday). Utah won’t shoot that well every night (hopefully) but it is concerning how easily Jazz players were able to force help defense and just kick out to a wide open three. And, like Gordon mentioned, it’s not like the Nuggets are a great three-point shooting team in their own right. They have to hit those shots.
Who will be the Nuggets x-factor in the series?
Ewing: Michael Porter Jr. and here is why. Yes, he might get caught in some lapses defensively against this Utah team, but the Jazz have absolutely no one on their roster that can slow him down.
Porter scored 23 points in the two teams last matchup and that was on 7-of-18 shooting from the field and just 1-of-8 from three. It was an off game for Porter and he still put up 23 points. The Jazz got lucky the first time around and I don’t think that will happen again in the playoffs. I expect Porter to dominate.
Gross: For me it’s gotta be Porter. Bol won’t likely get the minutes, although some timely blocks would be nice. Grant doesn’t have a definitive matchup he needs to win (though Dozier or Morris might vs. Conley). Millsap and Plumlee won’t get the minutes, and neither Barton nor Harris may even play. Porter is the mismatch that Utah cannot account for, and both Murray and Jokic are starting to look for him on cuts and rolls, and at the arc. Porter is going to play a huge role in the series, for better or worse. Denver’s planning on “better.”
Bridgford: Just so I don’t say Porter like the other two, it’s gotta be Will Barton for me. If Barton gets the starting spot over MPJ, he’ll be responsible for guarding Ingles, and he’ll be the team’s third option on offense. He has shown the ability to do that in flashes, but he hasn’t always been consistent. In the playoffs, consistency matters more than during the regular season. If he has a lot of rust after sitting out for five months, Denver could be missing a key piece of their rotation.
Fiala: Whoever is guarding Donovan Mitchell. Whether it’s Torrey Craig or Gary Harris or anyone else, Mitchell is the biggest threat to stealing a game or two. He will need to be guarded closely throughout or Denver risks an explosion similar to the one Mitchell put up in the fourth quarter and overtimes on Saturday.
Prediction: who wins the series and in how many games?
Ewing: Nuggets in 5.
Gross: without home court meaning anything these things are hard to pick. I’d normally agree with Brandon, but let’s say Denver lets an extra one slip away. Nuggets in 6.
Bridgford: I’m going with Gordon here. I think Nuggets in 6. They still have the better team, and the emergence of Porter gives them additional firepower.
Fiala: Nuggets in 5. Each game will be close but Denver will pull it off pretty handily in the end.