Denver Nuggets (3) vs Utah Jazz (6)

The Denver Nuggets are coming off a subpar 4-4 seeding record. That record however doesn’t tell the whole truth as they were without starting shooting guard Gary Harris, starting small forward Will Barton, and also without starting point guard Jamal Murray for the majority of those 8 games. Murray played some but not enough to make a vast difference. A bright spot for the Nuggets has been the incredible play of rookie forward Michael Porter Jr., who averaged better than 26 points per game thus far under the bubble. 2nd year man PJ Dozier has also been playing unexpectedly well for the Nuggets. There is no time frame for when Gary Harris and Will Barton will be back. Jamal Murray however is expected to play against the Jazz. Michael Porter Jr will fill in for Will Barton along with Jerami Grant. A combination of PJ Dozier and Torrey Craig will fill in for Gary Harris. While they’ll be missing two key starters, the Nuggets will make no excuses and play the games with whom they have.

And of course if you’re following our picks, in the seeding games we picked Nuggets -2 over the Jazz.

The Utah Jazz meanwhile will be without starting point guard Mike Conley who left the bubble to witness the birth of his son. It’s not known how long Conley will be quarantined by the NBA. Look for a combination Donovan Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson to fill the point guard slot for the Jazz. The Jazz were 3-5 in the seeding games. One of those losses was a against the Nuggets in a 134-132 double over time thriller. While the Jazz will be missing Conley, they will have their other 4 starters in the forms of Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles, and Royce O’Neale. The Jazz are 0-3 vs the Nuggets this year, with two of those losses being within a basket. The aforementioned double over time thriller that they lost 132-134 and a 95-98 loss to the Nuggets were both almost as close as one could get.

There are some intriguing match ups that will determine which of these two teams will eliminate the other. The first of those match ups is that of Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray and Jazz point guard/ shooting guard Donovan Mitchell. Jamal Murray is averaging 27 points per game against the Jazz to go with 6 assists. Donovan Mitchell is averaging 19 points and almost 6 assists against the Nuggets. Another key match up will be between Nuggets center Nikola Jokic aka the Joker and Jazz center Rudy Gobert. The Joker has put up a whopping 29 points per game to go with 9 assists against the Jazz. Rudy Gobert has average a shade under 20 points per game and over 12 rebounds per game against the Nuggets Additionally the match up between Nuggets small forward Michael Porter Jr. and Joe Ingles will also be critical. Porter Jr. has been on a tear since play began under the bubble. Ingles will be looking for help from other forwards on the roster against the Nuggets. At power forward Paul Millsap gives the Nuggets a clear advantage over Royce O’Neale.

The key for Jazz to pull the upset will be how well Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert can stop the two man game of the Nuggets’ Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic. The Jazz will also have to some how shut down Michael Porter Jr. Whether Ingles or Bogdanovic can do that remains to be seen. Additionally the timeline for Mike Conley’s return to action after quarantine will have a huge impact on this series. From a fan’s perspective you want to see everyone healthy and able to play so that you get to see as good a series as possible. The Nuggets must also stop Utah’s two man game of Mitchell and Gobert. Paul Millsap should over power Royce O’Neale but we’ll have to wait and see how that goes. The X factor in this series is the aforementioned Michael Porter Junior. If he can continue to average in the high 20’s, the Utah Jazz are going to be in big trouble. Additionally, like Conley’s return to the Jazz, the Nuggets will be highly impacted by the return of both Gary Harris and Will Barton.

All in all this will be a good series. The Nuggets are favored but that doesn’t mean anything because it always depends on who comes to play. If the previous outcomes are any indication, these games and this series should be fought tooth and nail.

Enjoy the Games!