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Denver Stiffs staff predictions: First Round versus Utah Jazz

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What do the Stiffs think will happen in Round 1?

Utah Jazz v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

On Monday morning, the Denver Nuggets will be truly begin what they hope to be a gauntlet, a difficult journey that started in Colorado Springs for training camp in October of 2019. They will hopefully finish this gauntlet in...October of 2020...in Disney World...in a pandemic.

The journey hasn’t been quite what anyone expected down in the Olympic Training Center, but the extensive trials and tribulations of becoming a legitimate playoff contender were very real. The Nuggets started the year fast, but Nikola Jokic started slow. Jokic got it together in December, but then a series of injuries plagued the team. Michael Porter Jr. started to break out in his rookie year, but then an ankle injury and a literal pandemic shut that down. As the bubble formed and teams began to enter, Denver’s pandemic injuries and actual injuries began to pile up.

It wasn’t the way Michael Malone drew it up, but the Nuggets are finally here. They finally have an opportunity to prove their mettle in a playoff environment. Though the circumstances are certainly unique, the games will be played with the same rules, regulations, and teams.

The Nuggets are matching up with the Utah Jazz in the first round, a formidable but beatable opponent. The Jazz have perhaps been affected by coronavirus more than anyone in the NBA, even the Nuggets, but they will challenge Denver’s very identity. Can the best offensive center in the NBA outmatch the best defensive center in the NBA? Will two former Nuggets draft picks exact their revenge on a team that traded them? Will Denver’s young core prove its superiority over Utah’s dynamic duo?

Here’s what the Denver Stiffs staff thinks will happen in the first round of the playoffs:

The Denver Stiffs staff:

  • Brandon Ewing - Senior Writer
  • Daniel Lewis - Writer and Contributor
  • Evan Fiala - Writer and Contributor
  • Gage Bridgford - Writer and Contributor
  • Gordon Gross - Senior Writer
  • Jena Garcia - Social Media Director
  • Jeremy Poley - Social Media Coordinator
  • Kayla Osby - Writer and Contributor
  • Nick Hertzog - Writer and Contributor
  • Quenton Albertie - Writer and Contributor
  • Reid Howard - Lead Moderator
  • Ryan Blackburn - Site Manager
  • Zach Mikash - Deputy Site Manager

Game 1 starters?

Analysis: It certainly appears that is the way this is going to go. Will Barton and Gary Harris did not play in a single seeding game in the Bubble so even if they are good enough to go in Game 1 it’s probably not the best idea to throw them in the fire of the starting lineup right away. The Nuggets best bet to start the postseason is go with the group that’s had a chance to at least build a little chemistry over the past week. No lineup they choose is going to have the benefit of working together over the past few months, but the above proposed lineup probably has the most chemistry of anyone right now. They also have doo balance. You’ve got your playmakers in Jokic and Murray, you scorers in Murray and MPJ and your defensive anchors in Craig and Millsap. If Harris gets back then maybe you swap him and Craig but otherwise I’m probably riding that starting lineup throughout the postseason. The balance is there and it still leaves some punch off the bench in the form of Jerami Grant and Barton, if he can get back.

- Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash)

Reinforcements?

Analysis: Will Barton has made an appearance inside the bubble but only played a half, never to be seen on the hardwood again. Gary Harris hasn’t played at all. With neither getting into any seeding games, not even garbage minutes, it’s hard to predict what their health status is. It seems likely that Barton would have the edge over Harris, if only because he did give it a go earlier, but the series could go on for the better part of two weeks. Whether it’s just for a few needed minutes or in an important role, it’s entirely possible that what hasn’t been possible over the past 2 weeks can happen over the next two and one or both of these players will see minutes.

- Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs)

Which Utah Jazz player could swing the series Utah’s way?

Analysis: Without Bogan Bogdanovic and potentially Mike Conley for most of the series, the Jazz have to get scoring from anyone else besides Donovan Mitchell. The man built for that role? Midseason acquisition Jordan Clarkson. Clarkson is a volume shooter who can get hot at a moments’ notice and will undoubtedly pose a threat to Denver whether he comes off the bench or gets nudged into a starting role. He’s scored in double-digits in all three games versus the Nuggets this season, including a 37-point performance in January. While the Nuggets absolutely must contain Mitchell, Clarkson could very well be a thorn in Denver’s side, much like Rodney Hood of last year.

- Evan Fiala (@eefiala)

Who will be the high scorer for both teams?

Analysis: Donovan Mitchell is the obvious choice here. He averaged 24 PPG this season, which is higher than any Nuggets’ player, and he has the green light to shoot as much and as often as he wants. With Bojan Bogdanovic sidelined, Mitchell will shoot early and often from all areas of the floor and should average 25-30. He’ll go off for over 40 in a late game to keep the series alive, but it will be too little, too late.

- Nick Hertzog (@NickHertzogSBN)

Most important individual battle?

Analysis: I think the more important matchup here is Murray vs Mitchell. Jokic will put up consistent numbers on a nightly basis, and we know roughly what to expect from him. Murray needs to show that he’s worthy of his big extension he signed last offseason. He needs to bring his scoring chops every single night because Mitchell is going to do just that. If Barton misses any significant time, Murray has to put up points in this series. If he doesn’t Denver is going to have some issues keeping up offensively.

- Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL)

Confidence level in Michael Porter Jr.?

Analysis: Can I make my answer 1,000,000? There is no way you can take Michael Porter Jr. out of the starting lineup. MPJ dominated the Nuggets eight seeding games, so much so that he was named to the all-bubble second team. Porter deserves to start and I think Denver will give him the chance to do so. What he gives the Nuggets in terms of scoring and rebounding is not something you can waste by leaving him on the bench. Porter is going to start and will have a massive opportunity to help the Nuggets succeed—not just in the Utah series, but in the series’ to follow.

- Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717)

Who wins?

Analysis: Let’s be honest, this is a set of Nuggets reporters who have seen 70+ games of Denver and not nearly as many of the Jazz. Denver swept the Jazz this year, so the head-to-head isn’t pretty. Utah caused some problems in the past for Nikola Jokic when they could run Derrick Favors at him and leave Gobert to hunt blocks off-ball, but Gobert hasn’t shown the ability to slow Jokic down. Denver is missing it’s #2 and #3 guards in Barton and Harris, which gives Utah’s guards some hope of a mismatch, but Denver has mismatches of its own. It’s hard to see the Jazz winning 4 of 7 but flukey things happen and there is no real home court in the bubble. Consensus here says that Mitchell and Gobert win some battles, but the Nuggets win the war in 6.

- Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs)