Preview: Denver Nuggets look to win season series vs. Jazz

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

The Denver Nuggets needed a bounce-back performance Wednesday and that’s exactly what they put forth. Following a tough loss to the Los Angeles Lakers Monday, Denver returned home to dominate the New York Knicks 113-97.

Nikola Jokić scored 24 points in the first quarter alone and the Nuggets never looked back after building a 34-12 advantage after the first 12 minutes. Jokić finished with 32 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists on the night, while Austin Rivers (25 points) and Facundo Campazzo (16 points, five steals) stepped up for Denver’s depleted backcourt.

MORE: Takeaways from win over Knicks

The Nuggets (44-22) now begin a daunting back-to-back against a familiar foe in the Utah Jazz.

Utah (48-18) has been the league’s best team this season, dominating on both ends of the floor. However, recent injuries have led to some struggles toward the end of the season, as the Jazz are just 4-3 over the past two weeks.

The two teams split the first two games of this season series, which took place in Denver.

Projected starters: Facundo Campazzo, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokić

TUNE-IN: 7 p.m. MT, Altitude TV and 950AM

Key matchup: Nikola Jokić vs. Rudy Gobert

In previous years, Jokić had struggled going up against Gobert (and Derrick Favors) in this matchup, but with the Serbian big man taking his game to another level over the past year, he has found plenty of success against the two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

Highlighted by his 47-point performance against Utah back on Jan. 31, Jokić has averaged 41 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists per game on 63.3 percent shooting from the field against the Jazz this season. Jokić’s ability to score from all areas of the floor can stretch Gobert out of his comfort zone, so look for the Serbian big man to be aggressive from beyond the arc to try and set the tone early.

Gobert is enjoying another dominant defensive season and is in line to be named Defensive Player of the Year for the third time. With averages of 14.4 points, 13.4 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game on the league’s top-ranked defense, the French big man continues to drive a lot of Utah’s success.

The battle on the boards

Friday’s contest pits two of the best rebounding teams in the league against one another.

Denver ranks second in offensive rebound percentage and sixth in defensive rebound percentage, while Utah ranks fifth and third, respectively, in the two categories.

With two high-powered offenses going up against each other, securing an advantage on the boards could go a long way in winning the season series.

Denver won the rebounding battle in each of the first two games against Utah this season, including a dominant performance on the offensive glass (23 offensive rebounds) back on Jan. 17. Of course, the Nuggets couldn’t convert a high percentage of those extra looks and still lost, but rebounding can keep a team in a game when shots aren’t falling.

Defend the 3-point line

When facing the Jazz, your defensive game plan must always focus on the 3-point line.

Utah ranks first in the league in the frequency of shot attempts coming from beyond the arc at 45.4 percent, which is over three percent higher than the second-ranked Portland Trail Blazers. However, it’s not just volume that makes Utah a dangerous 3-point shooting team, as the Jazz have connected on 39.6 percent of those attempts in non-garbage time minutes.

In the first two meetings against the Nuggets, Utah shot a combined 35-of-84 (41.7 percent) from beyond the arc, making it imperative that Denver is locked in defensively on the perimeter Friday night. The Nuggets don’t want to get into a 3-point shooting contest against the Jazz in Utah to begin their weekend back-to-back.

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