(Photo Via: Rick Bowmer/The Associated Press)
This is the first of Denver’s four Northwest Division duels this month and the only one at home
The 7-1 Denver Nuggets are off to their best start since their inaugural NBA season and expectations in the Mile High City are surging as they head into their matchup with the 4-4 Utah Jazz. The Jazz are coming off a loss to the Grizzlies last night but will likely be getting Donovan Mitchell back from his one-game absence for injury.
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell is PROBABLE for tonight at Denver
— Tony Jones (@Tjonesonthenba) November 3, 2018
This will be the first time these two division rivals face off this season and also the first time the two teams have played since Jan. 5. The teams split the matchup last season with each team defending their home court after the Nuggets nearly stole the season opener in Utah before a fourth quarter collapse.
Neither team was quite what they are now but the importance of those early season games was felt when the Jazz finished just two games ahead of the Nuggets as the fifth seed in the Western Conference last year.
The problem for the Nuggets last year is that they had to adjust to the pace of the Jazz and played directly into their defensive strength. This year, it’s the Nuggets who have been one of the league’s strongest defensive teams, making this a compelling matchup where the Nuggets can hopefully set the tone and continue to play their style of basketball.
One of the issues the Nuggets have been having this week, though, is slow starts. Part of that appears to be the starting unit struggling to get a contribution from Torrey Craig in his minutes. Against Chicago on Wednesday it was Malik Beasley who came in and sparked a late victory and on Thursday it was Junacho Hernangomez who was able to inject energy into the team that found themselves down 12 to the Cavaliers before ultimately winning by 19.
Denver can’t afford to find themselves in a hole early in this game especially at home. Whether Craig starts or not remains to be seen, but it appears Hernangomez and Beasley have carved out roles that will be put to the test against the Jazz tonight.
As a team, the Jazz have had a wildly inconsistent year to this point but have put up 123 points or more four times this year, including twice on the road against the Pelicans and Timberwolves. Aside from tough matchups against the Grizzlies, the Jazz have been bit by a Jonas Jerebko tip-in and Derrick Rose’s 50-point night for their losses this season.
The Jazz do boast a 4-1 record on the road, although two of those games were against the Harden-less Rockets and the Davis-less Pelicans. With inconsistency from game to game you don’t know which Jazz team will show up tonight coming off the back-to-back. Regardless, the Nuggets need to play a complete game to come away with the win, and that starts with bringing high energy from the start.
Show up and show out when we face the Jazz on Star Wars Night Saturday at 7 p.m. MT. pic.twitter.com/mZpSyyQYOV
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) November 3, 2018
Tonight is also Star Wars Night for the Nuggets’ home crowd in Denver. The Nuggets can hope that the atmosphere adds another layer of excitement to the game more than it already has as a division rivalry. However, for Gary Harris it seems like the game itself will be enough to motivate him.
Gary Harris said he has never seen any Star Wars movies at all.
— T.J. McBride (@TJMcBrideNBA) November 3, 2018
Tonight’s game tips off at 7:00 p.m. (MST) at the Pepsi Center in Denver. The game will air on Altitude TV and NBA League Pass.
Utah Jazz Projected Starters
PG – Ricky Rubio
SG – Donovan Mitchell
SF – Joe Ingles
PF – Derrick Favors
C – Rudy Gobert
Denver Nuggets Projected Starters
PG – Jamal Murray
SG – Gary Harris
SF – Torrey Craig
PF – Paul Millsap
C – Nikola Jokic
Whether or not the Jazz are fully healthy tonight doesn’t take away from the importance of the Nuggets winning this game at home. If the Nuggets want to be the team that people think they can be, they have to excel in Denver and that means winning nearly every home game.
That starts tonight, as Denver begins a stretch in November where they have a schedule that gives them the opportunity to steal games away from Western Conference opponents. With only one back-to-back and minimal travel the Nuggets can’t afford to to miss the opportunity to extend their lead alongside the Warriors atop the standings. Fortunately, it seems like they’ve been looking forward to this game since they hit the road on Wednesday, so it should be exciting to see what they can produce.