Nuggets vs. Jazz Preview: Back Underdog Denver to Cover Spread

Action Network senior NBA writer Matt Moore gives his detailed and betting pick, for Tuesday's game between the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz.

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Nuggets vs. Jazz Odds

Nuggets Odds +7
Jazz Odds -7
Over/Under 219
Time 10 p.m. ET
Odds via PointsBet. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

The Denver Nuggets hit the road Tuesday to face their Northwest Division foes, the Utah Jazz, on the second night of a back-to-back set.

The Nuggets enter this matchup following a loss after a poor shooting night at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers, while the Jazz are 2-0 and haven’t played since Friday.

Which side has the edge in a matchup of two very familiar teams? Let’s take a look at their recent play.

Denver’s Offense is Sputtering to Open the Season

Denver has been the bizarro Nuggets so far this season. Defensively, they’ve been great, with the sixth-best mark defending the halfcourt. Offensively, they’ve been a mess, ranking 27th overall in offensive rating.

You know, those grit-and-grind, defensively tough Nuggets.

The team started 2-0, with an impressive win over the Phoenix Suns and a completely acceptable performance against the San Antonio Spurs. However, they were  worked wire-to-wire Monday by the scrappy Cleveland Cavaliers. Denver shot horribly, but its bigger issue was the turnover problem rearing its head again.

Denver has given up the seventh-most points off turnovers this season. The Cavaliers scored 99 points, with 32 of those points coming off turnovers. Now, the Cavaliers only had eight fast-break points because many of the turnovers were dead ball (i.e. offensive fouls and the like). However, if Denver can’t maintain possession, it hands opponents extra possessions to outpace it.

When Denver gets an actual shot attempt, they have the 11th-best offense league wide, but they have to clean up the turnovers.

Outside of Jamal Murray who continues his rehab and recovery from ACL surgery, the Nuggets’ injury report is clear.

The Jazz Remain Solid on Both Ends

There is absolutely nothing to report with Utah. The Jazz are exactly who you’d think they would be.

Utah ranks ninth in offensive rating and second in defensive rating, with the second-best net rating in the NBA. The Jazz look exactly like the regular-season juggernaut they were last season, ready to roll through.

For perspective on how good they’ve been, backup center and annual plus-minus vortex Hassan Whiteside has an on-court net rating of +27.5. Every rotation player has won their minutes.

Their injury report has just one name — Rudy Gay — who’s still sidelined with a foot injury. His injury means there’s no small-ball option for Utah.

Nuggets-Jazz Pick

My too-early model has this with Utah as a double-digit favorite. Utah’s looked better, Denver played terribly last night and the Jazz are in the friendly confines in their mountain stronghold.

However, I’m fading the model and the obvious because I think this is a buy-low spot for Denver.

First, you need to understand the Nuggets’ identity under Michael Malone the last five seasons. It’s a team that doesn’t get up for foes like the Cavs and look helpless, only to get huge wins versus top-tier teams.

And here are some trends for you, specifically tailored to Denver:

  • The Nuggets as a road dog on a back-to-back the last three seasons are 8-2 (80%) ATS.
  • Denver in a division game off a loss the last two seasons is 9-3 (75%) ATS, and 5-1 as an underdog in those spots.
  • Let’s project the Cavaliers as a 40% win percentage or worse team. Not bad, but not good. (They might be better, honestly.) Denver coming off a loss to a team with a 40% win percentage or worse is 7-4-1 ATS (64%).
  • Denver has only been a dog of more than 6.5 points nine times in the last three years, going 5-4 ATS.

The Nuggets are a team that zigs and zags constantly. Lose to a bad team? Turn around and win a tough game. They thrive in moments of adversity and struggle in moments of comfort.

On the other side, of course, Denver is 1-3 ATS as an underdog in Utah the last three seasons. There’s this, though: the Jazz are 10-16 (38.5%) ATS at home vs. opponents on a back-to-back the last three seasons. They were favored in each of those games.

Utah is 10th in opponent turnover rate this short season, but last year they were 30th. So, Denver’s specific weakness shouldn’t be as much of an issue with how the Jazz play.

denver nuggets-utah jazz-nba playoffs-betting-odds-picks-predictions-game 3

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert.

There’s a familiarity with these two teams that has to be accounted for. In the past three regular seasons, the combined score between Denver and Utah is Nuggets 1,114, Jazz 1,111. A 3-point differential across ten matchups, with the record split even at 5-5.

The Jazz’ biggest defensive advantage is obviously Rudy Gobert, and there is categorically not a tougher matchup for Gobert than Nikola Jokić. Gobert has wins against Jokić and has gotten the better of him in various games, but on the whole, Jokić cooks Gobert the same way he does everyone outside of Anthony Davis.

Denver’s shooting the lights out to start this season with the 4th-best effective field goal percentage league-wide. Their only issue has been turnovers, and those are correctable.

I don’t like Denver on the ML here at all. Utah most likely wins this game. However, after opening at 7, this moved to 7.5 on Monday night before sliding back to 7 as of writing. Our Action Network app model has this at Jazz -2.4 and based on last season’s numbers, I have it right around this number.

The Jazz are starting to get money coming in on them, which might move this higher. It’s best to wait to see where it is before tip-off; it’s unlikely this line moves toward Denver so you might be able to grab another point before tipoff.

I’m taking the points with Denver in a spot of adversity. Seven is just too many points for a team with the MVP and a still very good roster.

Pick: Nuggets +7