Why The Denver Nuggets Targeted The Utah Jazz
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz will match up with the Denver Nuggets in the first round the NBA playoffs. After carefully positioning themselves during the NBA’s eight seeding games in Orlando, the Jazz appear to have the first-round playoff opponent they targeted as the postseason drew nearer.
However, after Denver’s loss to the Clippers Wednesday night, it appears the Nuggets may have been targeting the Jazz as well. In the latest episode of the Jazz Notes podcast, KSL Sports Ben Anderson and Mile High Sports Tj McBride discuss the Jazz and Nuggets playoff matchup, and why Denver may also have had their sights set on the Jazz.
Nuggets Eyeing the Jazz
The Nuggets rested all but one starter in the fourth quarter against the Clippers in Wednesday night’s 124-111 loss. Denver employed a similar strategy against the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night. Were the Nuggets trying to set up a first-round meeting with the Jazz?
“The Nuggets wanted the exact same thing the Jazz wanted,” McBride said. “They wanted to pull the Jazz, and not the [Dallas] Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs.”
The Nuggets swept the Jazz in three meetings this year. Meanwhile, the Mavericks stole two of their three meetings with Denver.
“I wouldn’t want to face Luka Doncic in the first round,” McBride said of the Nuggets. “He might already be a top-five player in basketball. So I think Denver also got the outcome they were looking for.”
Nuggets Deep but Playing Shorthanded
The Nuggets have seen two young players breakout inside of the Orlando bubble. Rookies Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol have seen a significant increase in minutes and production over the last seven games.
However, the majority of those minutes have come in the absence of regular starters Gary Harris and Will Barton. Neither player has suited up for the Nuggets during their seven seeding games in preparation for the playoffs.
“You’re talking about a bench unit that had Michael Porter Jr. removed from it and Torrey Craig as their best defender,” McBride said of the Nuggets early-season rotation. “And now suddenly PJ dozer and Bol Bol have just appeared as these incredibly impactful players and you wouldn’t expect it from them.”
Porter Jr. has been the Nuggets leading scorer in the bubble at 22 points per game. Bol is averaging just 5.3 points in Orlando, but shooting a remarkable 54 percent from the floor and 50 percent from the three-point line.
Nuggets Struggling on Defense
The Nuggets have been the worst defensive team in the NBA bubble. Denver has a defensive rating of 122.4 in Orlando, which is just rank last in the NBA for the entire season by a large margin.
For comparison, the Washington Wizards own the league’s worst defensive rating this season at 115. The Nuggets rating is seven points worse than that over the last seven games. It’s a concern for the Nuggets without Barton and Harris in the starting lineup.
Despite the poor defensive rating, McBride said the Nuggets defense hasn’t been all bad in Orlando.
“The Nuggets have shown some extremely high-level defensive flashes in the bubble,” McBride Said. “Especially when they’re playing this jumbo lineup when they have Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Jeremi Grant, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic.”
The Nuggets size will be a problem for the suddenly small Jazz. Without forward Bojan Bogdanovic, the Jazz have one of the smallest starting lineups in the NBA. McBride said even with the size advantage, the Nuggets defense is a work in progress.
“On one hand, I want to say the nuggets have the ability to do it,” McBride said. “On the other hand, I have absolutely no faith in that actually holding up. So schematically it should work. I just don’t know if the execution level will be there.”
If the Nuggets are going to beat the Jazz in the first round, what does the series look lie? According to McBride, it revolves around Denver’s size advantage.
“[The Nuggets] beat the Jazz in five games because there isn’t a matchup that they can put out there for Michael Porter Jr.,” McBride said. “And if they do switch off, the Nuggets can have other mismatches created.”
The Jazz and Nuggets open the NBA playoffs Monday at 11:30 am MT. The game will broadcast nationally on ESPN, and locally on AT&T SportsNet.
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