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Preview: Denver Nuggets look to bounce back against the Utah Jazz

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets (2-1) have started the season strong, and they’re going to look to keep up their winning ways in a Western Conference that figures to be a crowded group of playoff contenders. Tonight, they’ll match up with the Utah Jazz (2-0) for the first time this season. The Jazz and the Nuggets has been one of the NBA’s best rivalries over the last few seasons. Including the playoffs, the two sides are nearly even in wins and losses head to head with the Nuggets holding a narrow 13 to 12 edge thanks to their Game 7 win in the first round of the 2020 playoffs.

Denver took a tough loss last night to the Cleveland Cavaliers at home, and it’s quite possible they were looking ahead to tonight’s matchup. They failed to score 100 points for the first time this year, and they shot just 40.7 percent from the field and 23.7 percent from 3-point range. Denver needs to iron out their offensive kinks with Jamal Murray still on the shelf.

The Jazz have picked up right where they left off last regular season as they’ve won their first two games while putting up the third-most 3-point shots per game thus far. They’re also fifth in defensive rating and first in overall net rating at +14.6 through two games. The Northwest Division featured three playoff teams from a season ago, and the Minnesota Timberwolves are already showing some life to add into that mix. The Jazz will be looking for this early win to help with tiebreakers down the road.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (2-1, 1-0 away) vs Utah Jazz (2-0, 1-0 home)

When: 8:00 p.m. MST

Where: Ball Arena

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. AltitudeTV where available. League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Show up in Portland. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: SLC Dunk

Expected Starting Lineups:

UTA: PG Mike Conley, SG Donovan Mitchell, SF Bojan Bogdanovich, PF Royce O’Neal, C Rudy Gobert

DEN: PG Monte Morris, SG Will Barton, SF Aaron Gordon, PF Michael Porter Jr., C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Vlatko Čančar (hip), Rudy Gobert (heel)

Three Things to Watch

Guarding the 3-Point Line

Denver ranks in the top five in 3-point attempts allowed, but they’ve also played the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs, who are not exactly known for chucking up a ton of shots from downtown. The Jazz want to play with pace and put up shots from outside. Denver, especially with Jamal Murray still sidelined, don’t have the shooters to get into a shootout with this team from outside.

Get Michael Porter Jr. Going

A season ago, Michael Porter Jr. had a slash line of .542/.445/.791. Through three games, he’s shooting .382/.353/1.00 as he’s only attempted one free throw. With Murray out, they need Porter to carry his portion of the load on the offensive end, and he’s just a bit off thus far. The Jazz have decent defensive wings in Bojan Bogdanovich and Royce O’Neal, but, when Porter’s playing well, they can’t slow him down. This is a get-right spot for him.

Can the Bench do Anything?

Denver’s strength a few years ago when they first made the playoffs with this core was their depth. When other teams were worn out by the end of the year, Denver still had fresh legs. Now, it looks as though Denver’s starters are going to be gassed by February. Non-starters have scored 83 total points thus far with 12 of those coming in garbage-time last night from Bones Hyland, Bol Bol and Zeke Nnaji. When the second unit comes on the floor, they have to at least show that they can tread water. While they may not be able to build on the lead, getting blown out immediately cannot continue to happen.