Denver Nuggets vs Utah Jazz Preview
Trailing the Utah Jazz 3 games to 1, the Denver Nuggets managed to stave off elimination with a 117-107 victory in Game 5. The Nuggets were led by Jamal Murray, who erupted for 42 points, including 33 in the second half alone. Fresh off of a 50-point performance in Game 4, Murray connected on 17 of 26 shots and had eight assists as the Nuggets inched closer to tying the hard-fought series. Both he and Nikola Jokic led the way for Denver, who trailed by as much as 15 points in the third quarter. The two Denver stars played the entire second half and combined for 73 points, 14 rebounds, and 12 assists. In his last two games, Murray has been close to unstoppable, as he’s averaging 46 points, 9.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists while shooting 61.7% from the field and 55% from three.
As a team, the Jazz played well and continued to shoot the cover off the ball. Utah shot 50% from the field and made 16 threes on 47.1% shooting from deep. All five starters scored in double figures, and the Jordan Clarkson chipped in with 17 points off the bench. Outside of its starting five and Clarkson, the Jazz managed just 9 points. The Jazz must get more production off the bench if they want to close out the series in Game 6. Donovan Mitchell had been a monster this postseason, but I certainly didn’t expect him to score another 50-plus points after his superb scoring performance in Game 1. The Jazz must also contain the two-man game of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, who have given Utah problems down the stretch in Games 4 and 5. Utah’s defense in crunch time also needs to be more effective, as they’ve given up 73 total points in the fourth quarter during the previous two games.
Time: 8:30 PM ET
Arena: AdventHealth Arena, Orlando, FL
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Nuggets: Gary Harris (probable), Will Barton (out)
Jazz: Ed Davis (out), Bojan Bogdanovic (out)
Nuggets Starting 5
Denver will have to rely on Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive. The lack of production outside of their two superstars is concerning for the Nuggets, and Denver must get more production from other players on its roster. Starters Jerami Grant, Monte Morris, and Paul Millsap must play much better than they did in Game 5. The three combined for just 21 points and shot 6-21 from the field. Talented wing Michael Porter Jr. also struggled to shoot the ball in Game 5, and he managed only 15 points in 34 minutes of action. Many of Denver’s players looked lackadaisical at times and must play with more intensity and fight in Game 6.
The losses of Will Barton and Gary Harris have been monumental to Mike Malone’s team this postseason, and Malone has had to rely on the play of rookies Michael Porter Jr. and P.J. Dozier. Barton still has no timetable on his return to the bubble following a knee injury, but Harris is questionable for a Game 6 return. Given Harris’ layoff, I don’t expect him to play significant minutes or make a huge impact even if he returns this series. The key for Denver will be the play of its two superstars, Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic. Murray is fifth in scoring average this postseason (30.8 PPG), and Jokic is averaging 26.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 5 assists a night. Murray has been white-hot over his last two games, and the two-man game has proved to be Denver’s bread and butter in the fourth quarters of Games 4 and 5.
Jazz Starting 5
Donovan Mitchell has been masterful this postseason, and he’s averaging a league-leading 37.6 points per game. He finished Game 5 with 30 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists. In addition to relying on Mitchell as the team’s primary scorer, he’s also been asked to handle a lot of the ball-handling duties in crunch time. The improvement in Mitchell’s game has been monumental, and both his efficiency and playmaking abilities are on full display this postseason. He’s taken another step as a scorer, and he knows when and where to pick his spots while also not forcing the issue on offense. With that being said, I’d like to see him more involved down the stretch, much as we saw in games 1-3. Since Mike Conley’s emergence back into the starting lineup, Mitchell’s assist numbers are down, and I’d like to see him more involved as the primary ballhandler in PnR scenarios. Utilizing Mitchell’s PnR skills could shift the tide back in Utah’s favor and allow the Jazz to continue their torrid shooting from deep- they lead the playoffs in three-point percentage (44% on 38.2 3PA/G).
The addition of Mike Conly was made to lessen the offensive load of Donovan Mitchell this season. Conley brings playmaking, three-level scoring, and playoff experience to a Jazz team without its second-leading scorer Bojan Bogdanovic. I like the initial move of bringing Conley in as a second/third scorer, but with Mitchell on such a roll now in the playoffs, I think the Jazz would benefit more by placing Conley off the ball. Jordan Clarkson has also been, in my estimation, the best in-season move for any organization in the NBA. He’s given Utah a much-needed scoring spark off the bench on the playoffs and is averaging 19.2 points per game. Containing the high-scoring duo of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic will be crucial to Utah’s ability to close out the series. Both Denver stars have taken over offensively each of the past two games, and Utah must be more disciplined at containing the duo down the stretch of games.
Nuggets vs Jazz Fantasy Basketball Angle
Both offenses have clicked this series. The Jazz are putting up 121.8 PPG while Denver has managed 114.2 PPG. Four of the five games have been decided by double-digits, and Game 6 will prove to be another high-scoring contest. Jamal Murray, Donovan Mitchell, and Nikola Jokic continue to be top fantasy options for their teams. Look for players like Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles, or Michael Porter Jr. to have one of their better games in a must-win Game 6 for the Denver Nuggets.
Nuggets vs Jazz Betting Odds
Nuggets Spread: +2.5 (-110)
Nuggets Moneyline: -100
Jazz Spread: -2.5 (-110)
Jazz Moneyline: -120
Over/Under Points Total: 220.5
Only one game in the first-round series has been decided by less than ten points. Both team have relied heavily on superhuman performances from their backcourts, and I expect more of the same in Game 6. The Jazz are a much better defensive team than Denver, but I’m not confident in their ability to stop Denver’s two offensive stars. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic have been rolling as of late, and have controlled the game late in the fourth quarters of games 4 and 5. The Jazz have countered the scoring outburst of Jokic and Murray with the play of Donovan Mitchell- who has two games of 50-plus points in the series. Mitchell has looked like a complete player on offense this series, hitting clutch shots from all three levels, improving his playmaking, all while maximizing his efficiency. This is one of the tougher matchups to decide, as both teams have been inconsistent in their level of play at times. Both possess a star or two that can take over offensively, but my concerns fall more of the defensive end of the ball. The matchup between Rudy Gobert will be interesting but I think Denver manages to push the series to seven games. The real battle in Game 6 will again be Jamal Murray versus Donovan Mitchell.
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