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Mike Conley - Denver Nuggets - Utah Jazz
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Conley Ready To Extend Hot Streak Against Nuggets

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) drives into Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris (11) as the Utah Jazz and the Denver Nuggets play an NBA basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. Courtesy of Deseret News.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Mike Conley is playing his best basketball of the season in Orlando. The Utah Jazz guard has found a larger role and his shooting stroke in the absence of forward Bojan Bogdanovic. Now, Conley says he’s ready to carry that momentum into the Jazz first-round series with the Denver Nuggets.

Conley has averaged 18 points, five assists, and three rebounds in the NBA bubble, giving the Jazz a much-needed boost from their prized offseason acquisition. Good news for the Jazz, Conley has had even better success against Denver this season than he’s had during the league’s restart.

The veteran is averaging season highs in scoring (20.5 ppg) and rebounds (7) against Denver in two games. In February, just two games into returning to the starting lineup after injuring his hamstring, Conley scored 21 points, dished out five assists, and grabbed eight rebounds in a 98-95 loss.

Last Saturday, inside the NBA bubble, the guard added 20 points, six rebounds, and five assists in the Jazz loss. The Conley insists he’s ready to keep his hot streak rolling against the Nuggets.

“I’ve had a good couple games against Denver where I’ve got an idea of what to expect and how they’re going to play us,” Conley said.

Conley Benefiting from Nuggets Focus on Mitchell

Part of Conley’s success against the Nuggets is a result of the defensive scheme Denver has drawn up against Donovan Mitchell. Coach Mike Malone has matched defensive specialist Torrey Craig up with Mitchell to slow the guard’s success.

As a result, Conley has drawn the defensive attention of Jamal Murray who is not considered one of the league’s better defensive guards, allowing for bigger numbers.

“That’s one of the reasons why I’m here,” Conley said. “We understand that Donovan is going to draw a lot of attention and Rudy [Gobert] is going to draw a lot of attention on his rolls into the rim, and guys have got to be able to make shots and make plays.”

The Nuggets have been without guards Gary Harris (hip) and Will Barton (knee) in Orlando, leading to a significant minute increase from guard Monte Morris. The third-year guard has been a thorn in the side of the Jazz this year, averaging 12.3 points while shooting a blistering 59 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three.

The Jazz will need Conley to continue his high level of play both in the bubble and against the Nuggets to match Denver’s talented backcourt and escape the first round.

Gobert on Nikola Jokic

The premier matchup between the two teams pits Gobert against Nikola Jokic. The two All-Star centers have conflicting styles of play, and could very well determine the outcome of the series.

Jokic is already one of the most talented offensive big men the NBA has ever seen. With a background in water polo, and a big bruising frame, the Nuggets center combines strength and finesse to both score efficiently while picking opposing defenses apart with his passing.

Meanwhile, Gobert has entered the pantheon of all-time great defensive centers. With back to back Defensive Player of the Year Awards in his trophy case, the Jazz center is capable of forcing opposing teams to reconfigure their entire offensive scheme.

Gobert said he understands that Jokic is one of the league’s premier big men, but it worried about more than just his head to head matchup.

“He is a very good player but I believe that basketball is a team game,” Gobert said. “I always say when I’m on the floor, I’m not just worried about one player, I’m worried about the whole team.”

Jokic has gotten the better of the three matchups with Gobert, both individually, and from a team perspective. Jokic averaged 29.3 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists, and 2.7 steals as the Nuggets swept the Jazz in three games.

Meanwhile, Gobert has been no slouch either. The Jazz All-Star averaged 19.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game against Denver. Despite losing all three matchups, the Jazz are 1.7 points per 100 possessions better than the Nuggets when Gobert is on the floor.

The Jazz and Nuggets open the NBA playoffs on Monday at 11:30 am MT. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN and locally on AT&T SportsNet.

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