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The Utah Jazz have won 10 in a row and are back in the postseason mix. Who’s a bigger first-round nightmare: the Jazz, the Denver Nuggets, the New Orleans Pelicans or the LA Clippers?
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David Aldridge: I think it’s Utah, which has a real defensive difference maker in Rudy Gobert, a legit low-post talent in Derrick Favors and a crazy good rookie in Donovan Mitchell who takes and makes big shots. Plus, Joe Ingles hasn’t missed a 3-pointer in a month, it seems. And, as predicted, Jae Crowder will fit right into what coach Quin Snyder does. It’s a deep and balanced team, and defensively imposing. If Crowder can hit enough jumpers, the Jazz will be really tough in the first round.
Steve Aschburner: Denver. New Orleans would have been my pick if DeMarcus Cousins’ season wasn’t over. I’m not sure Utah even makes it to the postseason -- the Jazz might be peaking right now. Elsewhere in today’s blogtable, I make my feelings clear on the Clippers (meh). But the Nuggets are young and hungry, with a core growing up together in Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, Trey Lyles and Will Barton. Working in veteran forward Paul Millsap, a grown-up, when he returns from wrist surgery will help without hindering. And I think coach Mike Malone has these guys’ ear. That said, the Nuggets better finish sixth or higher, because the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets will be the only nightmares -- for their opponents -- in their first-round series.
Tas Melas: Denver. Dynamic guards, 3-point shooting, skilled big men and a heck of a homecourt advantage. Their defense has been lacking but some of that can be put on the Paul Millsap injury (they were middle of the pack defensively before Millsap got hurt). They strike me as fearless -- when your leader is Nikola Jokic, that makes sense.
John Schuhmann: Of those four teams, the Jazz have the best record (4-6) against the top four teams in the West. But Denver has the most potent offense of the group, and that's playing most of this season without Paul Millsap, who should be back next month. The Nuggets have matchup issues both on the perimeter (with Jamal Murray) and inside (with Nikola Jokic), as well as some versatility at the forward spots. They will have a tough time defending Golden State and Houston (in fact, only the Wolves have allowed the Rockets to score more efficiently this season), but they will scare those teams on the other end of the floor.
Sekou Smith: Denver strikes me as the most dangerous team of the bunch because they have the depth and versatility on their roster to make life miserable from one of the West favorites. The playoffs are, as always, all about matchups. And Denver, provided Paul Millsap returns in form, can present issues that the other teams on this list cannot in a playoff setting. I'm not here calling for them to upset the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets in a potential first round series. But I am suggesting that they'll make things much more interesting than you might think. They have the personnel to run shooters off of the 3-point line, play up-tempo at a high level and keep up with the Warriors and Rockets in ways that I think would be much more difficult for the Jazz, Pelicans and Clippers.