Writing this game preview was the last thing on the minds of the Denver Stiffs staff on Wednesday. We spent most of the day monitoring the news, conferring as a group, discussing the events as they unfolded, and deciding a plan of action if the NBA ultimately chooses to cancel games in the bubble. It wasn’t until 11:15pm that I was reminded that we should probably write a preview just in case.
What’s going on in Kenosha, Wisconsin is bigger than basketball. The Black Lives Matter movement in support of peaceful protesting of racial inequality and police brutality is always something we will stand in solidarity with at Denver Stiffs. It doesn’t matter if the Denver Nuggets are playing a regular season game, fighting elimination in a first round playoff series, or competing in the NBA Finals. The life players are choosing to fight for is so much bigger than a basketball game utilized to generate entertainment and revenue.
It hasn’t been formally announced yet, but it’s expected that the Nuggets and Utah Jazz won’t play on Thursday afternoon at 2:00 pm MT as was previously scheduled. The Milwaukee Bucks decided to strike for Wednesday’s Game 5 against the Orlando Magic, igniting a chain reaction involving every team playing on Wednesday to strike in solidarity with Milwaukee’s decision.
Discussions on continuing season will extend into tomorrow, sources tell ESPN, but appears unlikely the three playoff games on Thursday will be played. "Everyone is still too emotional," one high-ranking source tells ESPN. "There needs to be more time to come together on this."— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 27, 2020
NBA players were sold on the idea of the bubble as a way to finish up the regular season and playoffs, but if any potential outbreaks of coronavirus forced teams to delay games for fear of not creating a competitive product, the NBA would allow them to delay. This feels no different. NBA players will ask for time to weigh the level to which they want to leverage their power as players to have a voice in these discussions. If they come to the decision that playing basketball isn’t what’s best on Thursday, then that’s a perfectly reasonable outcome.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers have voted to boycott the rest of the playoffs and were the first two teams to exit the meeting, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) August 27, 2020
There also seems to be a lot of momentum behind potentially boycotting the rest of the playoffs as well. Whether doing so is the best way for players to wield their power is a topic for another day, but the fact remains that players are unhappy with how things have transpired throughout the United States while NBA teams are sequestered in a bubble environment and feel they can’t enact change while separated from their communities. Players have been locked in the Orlando bubble for a long time, and they are getting antsy for good reason. They signed off on the idea that using their platforms for change would help enact change in places of power, in police departments across the United States. What happened in Kenosha to Jacob Blake is a dark mark on that idea.
Will we see games being played? I have no idea. My guess would be no, but players may decide that playing is the best way to wield the power they have to enact change.
With that in mind, let’s talk briefly about what might happen in Game 6 versus Utah just in case it happens:
Who: Denver Nuggets (2-3) vs Utah Jazz (3-2)
When: 2:00 PM MDT
How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless its the romanticized 18th-century type. ESPN, League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Sneak into the bubble with an Adam Silver mask. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio.
Utah: Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert
Denver: Monte Morris, Jamal Murray, Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic
Three Things to Watch
Does Murray have enough left in the tank?
It’s no secret that Jamal Murray has erupted in the bubble. In his five playoff games, he’s averaging 30.8 points, 6.8 assists, and 6.5 rebounds per game while maintaining 55.7/52.4/100 shooting splits. His performance in three of the five games has been absurd, and frankly, those are the three games that Nuggets fans care about the most. His killer instinct in clutch situations has helped Denver stay alive, and his attitude and swagger on the floor have generated newfound confidence in a Nuggets squad on the brink of elimination.
The only question is whether he can maintain such an absurd pace. Nikola Jokic has also found his shooting stroke in the bubble, but almost all of his threes, especially in late game situations, are generated off of the pressure Murray puts on the defense. If Murray never cracks under the pressure and the rest of the Nuggets offer enough help, Denver will be in good position to win this one.
Can Denver’s defense replicate their second half of Game 5 performance today?
The biggest revelation of Game 5 was Denver’s renewed vigor on the defensive end in the second half, combining with Murray’s heroics to help the Nuggets fight another day. Denver found a solid formula defensively in the late third quarter and entire fourth quarter against Utah: perimeter length, athleticism, and frenetic rotations. None of it was perfect, but a high level of effort combined with the Jazz cooling off on open shot efficiency helped Denver massively.
The biggest question is whether they can replicate it. The Jazz were caught off guard by Denver’s hard hedging scheme defensively. They won’t be in Game 6. Quin Snyder will have them prepared for it. Will Denver’s length and athleticism be enough to overcome that extra level of preparation? It’s a tough one to answer.
Which Denver Nuggets role player will play the most minutes?
The Nuggets found something with PJ Dozier filling in as the fifth option next to Murray, Jokic, Michael Porter Jr. and Jerami Grant. Murray and Jokic captained the offense, while Grant was the primary assignment against Donovan Mitchell. Porter was on the floor for perimeter spacing and the health of the offense, and despite several mistakes, he made key plays on the defensive end too. Dozier was the fifth guy. He added a level of relief as the ball handler for Murray on some possessions. He also defended Mike Conley fairly well in his limited minutes and forced Utah to go in other directions offensively.
Is Dozier’s Game 5 performance enough to earn him a big role in Game 6? That would be my expectation. Dozier’s perimeter length, athleticism, and low mistake nature as the fifth option lended him to being solid next to Murray. He didn’t force things and merely did his job. He would be taking minutes from Monte Morris primarily, but also Torrey Craig and Paul Millsap. Morris and Craig have had their moments in the series but were largely non-factors in Game 5. Millsap has had major struggles all series with perimeter contain, even more so than Michael Porter Jr. whose defensive mistakes can be frighteningly bad.
I would expect Dozier to play over all of them. He’s reprising a sort of hybrid role between Gary Harris and Will Barton as a defensive minded guard who can also be a playmaker offensively with the ball in his hands. That has helped contribute to the rest of Denver’s lineup in ways I didn’t expect.
Not bad for a former South Carolina Gamecock.