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Royce O'Neale and Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Utah Jazz Set To Face Denver Nuggets In First Round Of Playoffs

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz know who they will be facing in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The sixth-seeded Jazz will match up with the third-seeded Denver Nuggets when the playoffs begin next week.

The Jazz learned their fate after the Oklahoma City Thunder locked the Jazz into the sixth-seed with a win over the Miami Heat. Then, the Nuggets lost a crucial game to the second-seeded Los Angeles Clippers, solidifying the second and third seeds.

The Jazz will face the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday in a game that holds little importance for the team. San Antonio is still fighting for their playoff lives, though those could be dashed by the time the two teams tip-off. The Jazz have already announced they will sit Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley for the matchup, though that list could grow with the team’s first-round destiny set.

Jazz Get Their Wish

The Jazz appeared to be targeting the Nuggets over the final week of seeding games. Last Friday, the Jazz sat four out of their five starters in a 119-111 loss to the Spurs. After a double-overtime loss to the Nuggets on Saturday, the Jazz again seemed to purposely lose their game against the short-handed Dallas Mavericks.

After building a 21 point second-half lead, the Jazz opted to sit their regular rotational players in favor of a lineup made mostly of rookies. The Jazz would lose 122-114, falling behind the Thunder for the fifth seed.

Though the Jazz appeared to be setting their sights on Denver, coach Quin Snyder said there were more obvious motives for the sudden move to playing the younger second unit.

“In a playoff series where it is so physical and people are playing so hard, we’re going to have to at least have the option and the potential to get to the bench in some crucial minutes,” Snyder said. “That’s going to be important for us.”

Jazz and Nuggets Recent History

The Jazz and Nuggets met three times this season, with each game tipping in the Nuggets favor. The three games were decided by a total of 11 points, including Saturday’s double-overtime thriller that ended in a two-point Nuggets victory.

Each of the three games against Denver were memorable for the Jazz. The first meeting came the evening both Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were named to the All-Star game. Mitchell followed the honor with arguable his worst performance of the season. The newly named All-Star scored just four points on 1-12 shooting in a 100-106 loss.

The second meeting marked one of the Jazz worst losses of the year. Due to a string of injuries and recent trades, the Nuggets played just seven players, including the little-used Vlatko Cancar, on the second night of a back to back, against a well-rested Jazz team, and prevailed 98-95. The Jazz were outscored by six points in the fourth quarter to lose the game during one of the worst stretches of basketball the Jazz played all season.

The final loss came during one of the Jazz better performances in the Orlando bubble. Mitchell scored 35 points and hit several clutch shots for the Jazz in the final seconds of regulation and overtime before finally falling to the Nuggets. Gobert fouled out of the game midway through the first overtime.

The NBA has yet to announce the playoff schedule, though teams will begin playing series openers on Monday.

The Jazz will face the Spurs Thursday at 4:30 pm MT. The game will be broadcast nationally on TNT and locally on AT&T SportsNet.

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