It’s no secret my dislike for the Jazz runs deep. Perhaps it’s because they have ruled the Northwest Division over the last three years and their recent run of success has incubated a fair amount of jealousy in me or because Matt Harpring is such a complete tool box that he even comes with his own tape measure. Either way, I’ve always rooted against the Jazz regardless of opponent. Period. However, I do have to say with the utmost respect that the gentlemen over at True Blue Jazz are some of my favorite bloggers.
One thing we know about tonight’s game is that it will be hard fought. My disapproval of Utah aside, it’s no secret that these two teams don’t like each other and when that kind of ill-feeling is between two opponents all the records, rankings, and stats go right out the window. One thing we do know about tonight’s game is both teams will be without at least one All-Star. Utah’s Carlos Boozer is still on the sidelines for at least two more weeks following knee surgery earlier this month and Denver’s Carmelo Anthony is not set to return to the Nuggets’ line-up until the end of the month after breaking a bone in his hand.
Without Carmelo, the Nuggets have been able to sustain their grip on the Northwest Divisional lead by winning four out the seven games he has missed largely in part to a home-heavy schedule in January despite a majority of the teams visiting Pepsi Center being over .500 in the W/L column. The Nuggets are 17-6 at home this year and currently lead the Jazz, who are in third place behind the Blazers, by three and a half games.
Utah has also been a very tough team to beat at home as their 17-5 record indicates, but they’ve had trouble stacking W’s on the road. The Jazz are just 8-14 on the road this year and have lost seven of their last eight games.
In tonight’s game there are some fantastic match-ups. At the point, youth meets experience when Chauncey Billups and Deron Williams battle at the point. Nearly carbon copies of each other physically, whatever advantage in speed Williams holds over Chauncey at this point in their careers is negated by Billups’ experience leading the perennial postseason powerhouse Pistons (try saying that five times fast) year-in and year-out over the better part of the new millennium. At shooting guard, the Nuggets will without doubt start offensive genius J.R. Smith due to Dahntay Jones still aching from a dislocated shoulder suffered in warm-ups against the Kings. The offensive minded Smith will match-up against defensive minded Ronnie Brewer in what should be a great look at two very different approaches to the game. Brewer is extremely long and will give J.R. trouble trying to get the rim, but if J.R.’s stroke is sweet like honeydew melon there won’t be much Ronnie can do. Moving right down the line, Andrei Kirilenko is listed as questionable and if he doesn’t play that moves C.J. Miles into the starting role to face Linas Kleiza at the small forward position. Both men fly under the radar on their respective teams due to rosters chocked full of star power, but both could be pivotal in tonight’s outcome. Proof for Denver Nuggets’ fans surely being the memory LK scoring a career-high 41 points against the Jazz last season in one of only two wins for Denver in their last twelve meetings against Utah.
But wait, we’re not done looking at how these two teams stack up.
At the power forward and center positions there is an interesting situation brewing. Typically, the Nuggets put power forward Kenyon Martin on their opponent’s best low post scorer. Tonight, that will be Jazz center, Mehmet Okur. Okur is a sharp shooting big man that will surely test the coverage of Kenyon around the three-point line. On the other side of the ball, Denver center Nene will almost surely be seeing a lot of the big body of Jazz power, forward Paul Milsap. Nene possesses superior footwork over Milsap in the low blocks, but Milsap is going to be a handful for Nene, and the rest of the Nuggets’ front line, as he is averaging 24 points and 14 rebounds over his last three games.
I can’t wait for this one to get underway! Denver should be well-rested after four days off while Utah should be tired after traveling and taking it on the chin last night against the Cavaliers, 102-97. Advantage - Denver.