Game Day: Utah Jazz at Denver Nuggets
By KATE HEDLIN
Posted Dec 28 2011 2:46AM
The Denver Nuggets may lack the star power that most of the NBA's top teams have, but that doesn't mean they've lowered their expectations.
While it may be too early to make any predictions about the Utah Jazz, they appear to have a tougher road in front of them without a go-to player.
The Nuggets will play their first home game of the season when they host the Jazz on Wednesday night.
There was not a lot of optimism in Denver when the Nuggets traded disgruntled star Carmelo Anthony to New York last February, but they went 18-7 without him before losing in five games in the first round of the playoffs to Oklahoma City.
Denver became more balanced after trading Anthony and it has a similar team-first approach this season. Rather than trying to bring in new talent, the Nuggets' biggest moves in the offseason were re-signing Nene and Arron Afflalo.
Coach George Karl was very pleased with what he saw in Denver's 115-93 win over defending-champion Dallas on Monday as five players scored in double figures.
Ty Lawson led the way with 27 points while Andre Miller and Al Harrington each scored 18 points in reserve roles.
"It's way too early to get crazy but it felt good," Karl said.
With the Nuggets (1-0) looking for different players to step up, the pressure may be heaviest on Lawson. The third-year point guard stepped into a starting role last season when Anthony and Chauncey Billups were shipped to the Knicks, averaging 14.4 points and 6.9 assists in the final 25 regular-season games.
Lawson was 10 of 15 from the field Monday and scored nine points during a 20-0 run midway through the second quarter.
"That's when we're good, when we get out and run," Lawson said. "It's my job to make sure the tempo is fast and guys are running in those lanes."
Like the Nuggets, the Jazz traded their star player last season when they sent Deron Williams to New Jersey. But coming off a 39-43 season, Utah could experience some harsher growing pains than Denver with its talent still developing.
The Jazz opened the season with a 96-71 loss to Los Angeles on Tuesday - their second-worst opening in team history.
Utah shot 32.2 percent and was 1 of 13 from 3-point range. Paul Millsap, playing through tendinitis in his right quadriceps, scored 18 points and Josh Howard added 10, but the Jazz starters combined for 30 points on 25.0 percent shooting.
"It didn't seem like much was working for us," said forward Gordon Hayward, who had seven points. "It felt like we were a little stagnant, just standing around and watching a little bit. ... But it's just one game. We just need to be more confident shooters."
The big piece the Jazz (0-1) received in the deal for Williams was Derrick Favors, the No. 3 pick in the 2010 draft. While Favors is still developing, Utah's frontcourt was supposed to be one of its biggest strengths, but it certainly will be looking for more from Al Jefferson, who had four points on 2-of-16 shooting Tuesday.
Denver and Utah split four meetings last season with each winning once on the road. Afflalo averaged 20.5 points in the Nuggets' wins and sat out the series' final game, a 107-103 Utah victory on April 13 in which Hayward had a career-high 34.
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