Jazz vs. Nuggets Preview: Utah Has Every Advantage Defensively

Action Network Senior NBA writer Matt Moore previews how to bet Wednesday's matchup between the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets.

Jazz vs. Nuggets Odds

Jazz Odds -4.5
Nuggets Odds +4.5
Over/Under 222.5
Time 10 p.m. ET
Odds via BetMGM. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

A division matchup between two playoff teams with some bad blood. Two of the most impactful centers in the league. An ESPN battle in the mountains with the reigning MVP trying to drag his team to another win vs. a regular-season machine.

Where’s the edge and where should your money go? Let’s take a look at how both teams have been playing of late.

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Could Pending COVID Risks Upend the Jazz?

Utah is banged up. Bojan Bogdanovic is questionable with a finger injury. Rudy Gobert is questionable with shoulder inflammation. Hassan Whiteside is questionable with a concussion. Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale and Jordan Clarkson are all day-to-day.

Most concerning? Joe Ingles entered COVID protocols this week. This is the first Jazz player to enter protocols this season.

We’ve seen a pattern when it comes to the protocols. A player or two enter the protocols, then two days pass and another player enters. Then the next day another. It’s rolling.

Maybe Utah’s totally fine and there’s no problem. But the risk is there.

We’re on the back end of the latest COVID surge in the last few weeks. You still want to understand the risk of betting outside of 30 minutes prior to tip because of possible absences, but with the Jazz, I would think the risk is higher specifically at this moment in time.

As far as the matchup, the Jazz have struggled with Denver the last few seasons for a number of reasons. They are 3-4 in the regular season and 3-4 in the playoffs against Denver since 2019-20.

The biggest problem is, naturally, Nikola Jokic. When you have an opposing center who can make Gobert, the Jazz’s defensive stalwart and systemic anchor, significantly less impactful, it disrupts everything. Even in their last matchup this season, a Jazz win, the Nuggets had the Jazz on the ropes until Jokic was injured before the half.

However, there are some differences this year. The Jamal Murray injury is obvious. That’s baked into the number.

But under the radar, Denver is dropping in pick-and-roll considerably more this season than in years past. And Utah is the second-best team this season offensively (Portland) against drop coverage.

You need guards who can attack the mid-range to beat the Jazz’ system defensively. The Nuggets do not have that personnel. If Mitchell and Gobert play and there are no other COVID issues, Utah is going to have a significant advantage here.

One more note: The Jazz have the second best Net Rating among bench units, while Denver is 29th. Jordan Clarkson’s availability is important there, and Ingles’ absence will be felt. But a big drop off from the Jazz bench still results in them being significantly better than Denver’s second unit. All Utah has to do to win this game by double digits is win the minutes where Jokic is off the floor.

Fatigue and Injuries Have Caught Up With the Nuggets

What a season from hell.

Here’s the butcher’s bill.

Murray is out at least until February. Michael Porter Jr. and PJ Dozier are out for the season. Vlatko Cancar, a fringe rotation player who had been forced to play lately (and had played well) broke his foot this week. Monte Morris and Jeff Green are out due to COVID protocols, and Zeke Nnaji is questionable for the same. Markus Howard, who was deep on their bench, is out with a knee sprain.

The Nuggets are starting their third (Facundo Campazzo) and fifth (Austin Rivers) guards, with their fourth guard, a rookie (Bones Hyland), off the bench. The Nuggets are held together with duct tape and bungee cords.

Jokic is starting showing signs of fatigue. His field goal percentage is down in the past five games relative to the rest of the season, and his plus-minus is showing the same trend. He looks exhausted after a deep playoff run in 2020, no real offseason, a full 72-games-played season and another playoff run.

Will Barton had to play heavy minutes early this season due to both backcourt injuries and Jokic being out for a handful. That has come with a cost in fatigue as well. Barton is shooting 38% from the field and 32% from behind the arc in his past 15 games.

Denver’s in a really rough spot.

In addition to the matchup problem on defensive I outlined above — which is related to fatigue as they have to play drop more to conserve Jokic’s energy — the Nuggets’ offensive problems are worse.

To beat this disciplined Jazz defense, you need guards who can hurt them in the mid-range. That’s specifically what the Nuggets don’t have with Campazzo and Rivers starting.

The Jazz play drop almost exclusively. Denver ranks 25th against drop coverage this season. They just don’t have the guards to take what Utah gives up by giving mid-range space.

This had been a good Nuggets matchup in the last few years, but the current iteration of the Nuggets isn’t the same version that made these games so tough for the Jazz.

Jazz-Nuggets Pick

I have this at Jazz -8.2, giving value to Utah, as long as they’re healthy. You have to wait to make sure there aren’t more COVID absences given their situation, but fully healthy, they are catching the Nuggets at their worst and Utah’s too consistent, too disciplined, and too deep.

I also like the under. I have Denver projected to score just 82 points in the halfcourt in this game against a season average of 87 per game. That differential is huge. The Nuggets play at one of the slowest paces in the league on both ends of the floor and their defense has been surprisingly decent even if the scheme matchup is bad.

The early number was 222.5 here, but it’s not up at any book as of this writing. If the number is lower, I’m fine with it all the way to 214. Anything south of 214 is a stay-away, but I’ll probably still like the Nuggets’ team total under.

Pick: Jazz -4.5 | Under 222.5