Utah Jazz vs. Denver Nuggets Matchup Preview (1/5/22)
The red-hot Utah Jazz (27-10) will travel to Denver and take on the Nuggets (18-17) Wednesday night. The Jazz have won 7 of their last 8 games and were 12-2 in December. They currently are the 3rd seed in the Western Conference, trailing only the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns. The Jazz have the best net rating in the NBA at 9.9 and make 15.1 3PT shots per game, the highest mark in the NBA. Their defense is led by 7’1” center Rudy Gobert, winner of three of the last four DPOY awards. From 2017-2021, the Donovan Mitchell era, the Jazz have a regular season winning percentage of 62.9%. This season, they have a 73% winning percentage, which is on pace for 60 games won. The Jazz are a cohesive, familiar unit that makes threes, plays great interior defense, and hustles. In this matchup, Joe Ingles (COVID) and Udoka Azubuike (ankle) are out. Eric Paschall (personal) and Hassan Whiteside (concussion) are questionable to play. Without Ingles, the Jazz will rely on Jordan Clarkson and Rudy Gay to pick up the playmaking slack on the second unit. If Whiteside can play, the Jazz would have a backup center that can control the glass.
The Nuggets have been forced to play without two of their big three. Michael Porter Jr. (back) is out for the season, and Jamal Murray (knee) is expected to be out until at least March. Jokic has gone nuclear carrying this injury-riddled roster by building upon his MVP last year with a season for the ages. He is averaging 25.7 PPG, 14.0 RPG, 6.9 APG on 56/34/77 shooting splits. His 32.19 PER would be the highest ever recorded in a single season. Aaron Gordon and Will Barton have been excellent complementary pieces for the Nuggets. If Porter Jr and Murray were healthy, the Nuggets would feature one of the best rosters in the entire NBA. The Nuggets are expected to be without Monte Morris (knee) and Zeke Nnaji (COVID) for this contest. Morris has been a steady ball handler for the Nuggets in recent years and his reliability will be missed. Jeff Green (COVID) and Austin Rivers (thumb) are questionable to play. They would be a boost for this roster because Green is a versatile wing defender and Rivers is a microwave scorer. The Nuggets will need Jokic to be unaffected by Gobert’s defensive presence if they want to win the matchup. If Jokic does not produce his usual numbers, the Nuggets will not have enough firepower to keep up with the deadly Utah Jazz.
Utah Jazz vs. Denver Nuggets Betting Odds
In their previous matchup on October 26th, the Jazz won 122-110. Jokic, Gordon, Barton, and Morris all had at least 19 points. Jokic had a bad night per his standards – 24 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. Although Jokic shot 8/9 from the field, Gobert was able to slow down Jokic’s playmaking and impact on the boards. Gobert had 23 points and 16 rebounds, while Mitchell had 22 points and 6 assists. I am picking the Jazz to win the game and would bet up to -8.5 for the spread. The Jazz have probably the best defender to throw at Jokic. Gobert’s defense will allow the Jazz guards and wings to stay on the perimeter. I expect Jokic to score his usual 25 points, but his rebounds and assists will be down. The Nuggets will struggle to stop Donovan Mitchell, a dynamic scorer averaging 25.7 PPG. Overall, the Jazz are deeper than the Nuggets and can counter the Nuggets best weapon as well as any team can.
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Time: 10:00 PM ET
Arena: Ball Arena – Denver, CO
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Utah Jazz Starting Lineup
Utah Jazz Analysis
Everything the Jazz do defensively is a result of Gobert. He is the premier rim protector in the NBA and allows Jazz defenders to stay on their man without helping inside. Conley, Mitchell, and O’Neale can fight over screens and switch on the perimeter knowing they have help behind them. When a defense can trust their center to clean up their mistakes, there is a certain swagger and confidence in their abilities as a unit that translates on the court. And translate it does. The Jazz are 1st in defending Spot Up plays through their stingy 0.86 Points Per Possession allowed. It will be a clash of strength against strength, as the Nuggets are 2nd at Spot Up offense by producing 1.09 Points Per Possession. Jokic commands so much attention in the post that defenders usually help, causing Spot Up shooters to be open.
Gobert will be the key towards clogging the Nuggets offense. If Jokic can be covered with one defender, the Nuggets will struggle to produce points. The Jazz are 2nd at defending Post Ups (0.79 Points Per Possession) because Gobert has uncommon length and instincts. Jokic is one of the best at posting up, so Gobert will be the most important player for the Jazz in this game. If Gobert cannot stifle Jokic, this game could be closer than expected. For the second unit, Clarkson (15.1 PPG) and Rudy Gay (9.0 PPG) must equal the Nuggets bench. The Jazz starting lineup has the edge on the Nuggets. If the Jazz bench wins their minutes, the game should not be close.
Denver Nuggets Starting Lineup
Denver Nuggets Analysis
The Nuggets fate every game rests on Jokic. He must score, rebound, and create for his teammates while protecting the rim. Jokic has delivered for the Nuggets this season, but they will need other players to elevate their game against an elite Jazz team. Barton has been great this season, averaging 15.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 4.2 APG on 42/36/77 shooting. He will need to clear 18 points on good efficiency and solid defense. Barton must match up with Donovan Mitchell as best he can for the Nuggets to stay close to the Jazz.
Aaron Gordon can expose a flaw in the Jazz defense. Gobert is not the most mobile center, so their transition defense has been lacking. The Jazz are 29th in transition defense (1.18 PPP), and the Nuggets are tied 8th in transition offense (1.11 PPP). Gordon has the size and speed to be a threat in transition and score easy points. The Nuggets allow 10.6 opponent 2nd chance points per game, good for 1st in the NBA. The game plan for the Nuggets will be based around these easy points. If they continue their trend and stop easy points while scoring some themselves, then the contest will be a hard fought one. However, if the Nuggets get themselves into a halfcourt offense duel, the result will be an ugly one for them. Without an all around game for players besides Jokic, the outcome looks bleak for the Nuggets.
Utah Jazz vs. Denver Nuggets Daily Fantasy Picks
In this matchup, I like Rudy Gobert and Aaron Gordon the most. The Jazz are 6th in Pick and Roll Roll Man offense (1.20 PPP), while the Nuggets are tied 25th at defending it (1.19 PP). Gobert’s most common offensive play is the pick and roll with Donovan Mitchell. Look for Gobert’s statline to be around 20 points and 15 rebounds. Aaron Gordon, meanwhile, can exploit the Jazz transition defense and boost his stats. I expect Gordon to score around 18 points while grabbing 7 rebounds. A sleeper pick is Nuggets guard Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland. He has been inconsistent, but it is expected for a rookie making the leap to the NBA. Some nights Hyland scores 5 points, while other nights he will score 20 points and look like a fringe all-star player. Hyland is a risky pick, but the value could be extraordinary for the price he will cost.