On the eve of the Denver Nuggets 2017-18 debut, guard Will Barton summed it up best: “It’s like Christmas almost. Everybody goes to sleep early the night before, getting ready to wake up and get those presents.”

It’s been 188 days since we’ve last seen the Denver Nuggets play an official game. For fans and players alike it really is like Christmas, except instead of waking up early for presents we get to wait another long day to watch the game. Instead of gifts under the tree, we get Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap under the basket, gently wrapped in the Nuggets slick, new navy blue uniforms. Instead of listening for Santa’s reindeer we will be listening for the familiar swish of the net as Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and others let it fly from deep. And instead of falling asleep early last night, we stayed up late to watch two terrific basketball games and were rewarded with a glimpse of hope, no matter how small, that the Golden State Warriors are indeed beatable.

Finally, Nuggets basketball is back. For the first time in four years the team is widely considered a playoff contender. With the dramatic shift in talent to the Western Conference, making the postseason will be more challenging than ever but this revamped Nuggets team seems up to the task. Expectations are high and as such coming out of the gate hot this season will be crucial.

First up is a date with the division rival Utah Jazz, a team which dealt with some major changes of its own this offseason and will certainly be playing with a chip on its shoulder. Both teams will be gunning for precious few playoff spots. The quest begins tonight.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (0-0) at Utah Jazz (0-0)

When: Wednesday, October 18th at 7:00 PM MST

Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, UT

How to watch: Altitude

Rival blog: SLC Dunk

Key to Victory: Offensive firepower or defensive grind…

The Nuggets and the Jazz are two teams on the complete opposite sides of the basketball spectrum. Denver finished with the league’s best offense post-December 15 last year and with Nikola Jokic at the helm will look to continue the good fortune on that end of the floor. Utah is notorious for its strong defense and after adding players like Ricky Rubio and Thabo Sefolosha (not to mention Rudy Gobert) the Jazz look like a classic grind-it-out team.

The key to this game will be who sets the tone in the first quarter. Last year when Utah played physical against Denver, the Nuggets were never able to find their offensive groove. Denver has to find a way to match Utah’s intensity and will hopefully be prepared for it. On the other hand, Utah might struggle to even score the ball. Will the Nuggets offense click and blow past the Jazz, or will they succumb to the grit-and-grind style of play?

Key Matchup: Nikola Jokic vs. Rudy Gobert

The unlikely hero or the one who got away? Jokic will have a blast this year against Northwest opponents as each team features a premiere center in the league. Gobert isn’t as flashy as Karl-Anthony Towns or burly like Steven Adams but he’s a legitimate star whose physical presence at the rim is enough to anchor their entire team. Gobert has given Jokic problems in the past, but the Joker did drop 23 and 11 on Rudy in the Nuggets lone win against Utah last season. Gobert is the new leader of the Jazz in Gordon Hayward’s absence and is looking to prove the voters wrong after missing out on the defensive player of the year award. Magic Jokic and Gobert should make for a great battle on opening night.

Story to Watch: Nuggets point guards

Though not official the Nuggets are reportedly waiving Jameer Nelson in order to sign Richard Jefferson, meaning Denver’s point guard rotation will likely consist of sophomore Jamal Murray and comeback candidate Emmanuel Mudiay. Riding playoff hopes on two unproven guards is risky without the steadying hand of Nelson, but this move also shows confidence by the front office in Murray and Mudiay. Jamal Murray is listed as the starter in the Nuggets game notes. Let’s see what he and Mudiay can do for the Nuggets.

Final Thought: Get to Stiffs Night Out!

If you live anywhere on the Front Range, there is no excuse not to be at Stiffs Night Out! Free beer, free giveaways, the Denver Nuggets dancers, Rocky, and the chance to hang out with a ton of other Nuggets fans and Stiffs writers. Do yourself a favor and come!

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