The Denver Nuggets are coming off arguably their worst loss of the season against the Houston Rockets. Now, after playing late into the night last night, the Nuggets face the tall task of taking on the Utah Jazz tonight in Salt Lake City. Despite experiencing a rash of injuries early on, Utah has been able to tread water so far this season and currently just sit one game out of first place in a tight Northwest division. They’ll find no reprieve tonight however as George Hill, Derrick Favors and Alec Burks all remain sidelined with various ailments. Still, Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward and Dante Exum are all a go so its not as if Utah is completely helpless.

The Nuggets meanwhile are on the start of a six game road trip that should get easier as they go. Tonight though lines up as a classic schedule loss after they got in early this morning and have a solid team in the Jazz to face. Denver is also trying to avoid going into a slide after losing their previous two home games, badly, and now staring six straight road games in the face. Neither coach Malone nor the players minced words after the terrible loss to Houston, both coach and Danilo Gallinari stated their effort was unacceptable and they personally have to be better. So, despite it being easy to write tonight’s game off as a loss, the Nuggets have to come out focused, energized and ready to put together a win.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (7-12) at Utah Jazz (11-9)

When: 7:00PM MST

Where: Energy Solutions Arena, Salt Lake City UT

How to watch/listen: Altitude 2 and Altitude Radio AM 950

Rival blog: SLC Dunk

Injured players: Will Barton – probable (ankle), Nikola Jokic – questionable (wrist), Gary Harris – out (foot), George Hill – doubtful (thumb), Rodney Hood – out (hamstring), Derrick Favors – out (knee), Alec Burks – out (ankle)

Key match up: Jusuf Nurkic vs Rudy Gobert

The key difference between the Nuggets victory versus the Jazz on the 21st of November and then the loss to the Jazz that game a few days after was Nurkic’s ability to get Gobert into foul trouble early and thus render him ineffective. What was also very noticeable in that pair of games was how much Nikola Jokic struggled to defend Gobert down low. Rudy’s not exactly a defensive powerhouse but he’s got the size and strength to bully Jokic. Nurk on the other hand has no problem going toe to toe with the Frenchman. However, Nurkic has been in a bit of a funk recently, if the Nuggets are going to win tonight they’ll need him to snap out of it and deliver solid minutes in the post.

Key thing to watch for: Energy

The Nuggets have come out completely flat in their past two games, both losses, and now have to play on short rest. They can not let that be an excuse. At some point pride has to come into play, especially with the youngsters. Denver NEEDS to come out to play tonight, they need to push the pace and force Utah to play an up and down game. Another sluggish and sloppy start not only will lead to Denver’s third straight loss in a row, but also could trigger the team starting to lose hope. Despite the up and down start to this season Denver has managed to keep pace with being in striking distance of a playoff run down the road. A low energy, bad loss like they’ve had the past two nights very well could be the start of the slide that effectively ends any hope of Denver being close to .500 at the all star break.

Opening thought: Veterans have to step up big

Going hand in hand with not letting this run be the beginning of the end for Denver, they need their vets to carry them tonight. Chandler has been the best and most consistent player on the team so far this season and Kenneth Faried has strung together a couple of solid games in a row, but it hasn’t been enough. Gallo has struggled coming off of his thigh injury and its obvious how much the Nuggets need him to supplement Chandler. Beyond just the stats though, these are the guys who have to be the leaders on the team, they are after all the three best players on the roster. They need to set the tone early, they need to let the youngsters know the past two games are not acceptable and neither is lying down for a schedule loss.