If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.
The Denver Nuggets’ first round of the playoffs is set. They’ll be taking on the Utah Jazz in the 3-6 matchup. The home-court advantage doesn’t exist, and this is going to be a difficult game for them, especially if either Gary Harris or Will Barton are unable to play. Today, we’re going to be doing a little bit of preview for the playoffs. It’ll be on both ends of the floor, and it will give us a path to a winning formula.
The two sides have had some back and forth over the past several years. Denver won the three regular season matchups during the 2019-20 season after dropping three out of four last year. Their biggest win was earlier this season when they won 98-95 with a seven-man rotation on the road which was the team’s first win in Utah since the 2014-15 season. They might have to replicate that feat due to the litany of injuries this team has been dealing with.
This Nuggets’ team is the more talented group, and they have all of the pieces to win this series with ease. However, they must be more consistent than they were during the eight seeding games. This team dropped far too many games that they held a considerable lead, and the games now matter too much for them to let that happen.
Let Michael Porter Jr. Fly
In the movie, The Other Guys, Mark Whalberg’s character, feeling cooped up, let’s everyone in the department know that “He’s a peacock, and you’ve got to let him fly.” For Porter, that rings just as true. After being relegated to the bench any time he made a defensive mistake, Porter has forced his way into the rotation with his elite play on the offensive end of the floor.
His aggressiveness is a good thing because it allows him to take advantage of his size inside. With his lack of weight, he could just as easily prefer to sit on the outside and take in long rebounds. Instead, he pushes inside to grab offensive rebounds. He averages a healthy 2.6 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes which is fourth among rotation players behind Nikola Jokic, Mason Plumlee and Paul Millsap.
One feature of his game that I love more than most of his play is his cutting ability. Jokic thrives on players cutting to the basket, so he can make a nifty pass for the easy bucket. With Jokic operating at the elbow, he’s going to draw double teams, and MPJ has the sense of mind to make that quick cut to the basket every time. When he’s on the floor with Jokic, they just have such a good chemistry around the basket that other teams just can’t defend.
Slow Down Donovan Mitchell
To think that this guy could be on the Nuggets’ right now playing alongside Murray, MPJ and Jokic is just not fair. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and he’s been starring for the Jazz over the past three seasons. A member of the all-rookie team and an all-star during the 2019-20 season, Mitchell has been nothing short of outstanding since he entered the league out of Louisville.
In the above clip, he’s got a matchup with Monte Morris. Morris isn’t a lockdown defender, but he’s not the worst defender Denver has. It doesn’t matter how close he stays because of how well Mitchell uses the screen from Rudy Gobert. Mitchell gets the screen going both ways, and, once he has his separation, he takes a few dribbles forward and rises up for the bucket.
This bucket should concern Nuggets’ fans even more. Mitchell is being guarded by their defensive wing Torrey Craig. Mitchell catches the ball, and he gets Craig flowing towards the basket. Once he gets his feet moving, he steps back for the jumper. Gary Harris or Craig will be the players primarily responsible for guarding Mitchell. If they can’t slow him down, he’s just good enough to help them upset Denver.
Jokic Must Eat
This one goes without saying, but this team will only go as far as Jokic is able to take them. He’s far-and-away the best player in this series. The Jazz have Gobert as an elite defensive center, but he just can’t match up with Jokic. Jokic has the weight to back him down in the post, but he’ll really take advantage of him on the outside where Gobert tends to get really uncomfortable.
Similar to MPJ, Jokic is a monster on the inside. He thrives less on raw athleticism and more on his natural instincts around the basket. He has no right getting to some of the rebounds he gets to, such as the one in the above clip. He’s surrounded by San Antonio Spurs’ players, and he still gets the rebound and the easy basket. Against a Jazz group that lacks an elite forward rotation, he needs to be making these plays every single game.
The finish by Morris is anything but clean on this play, but it’s also the exact way Denver can neutralize the threat of Gobert around the basket. None of the other bigs can match up physically with Jokic, so Gobert will be forced to go out there. As a result, the cutters will have free reign to make dashes towards the hoop. His passing allows them to convert a high rate of those chances. When those plays force Gobert into a tugging of guarding near the basket or staying outside, they can start to convert 3-point attempts to build a bigger lead.
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