Denver at Utah
Time: 7 PM CST (ESPN)
Spread: DEN -3.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz have cooled some. Both teams are 5-5 SU over their respective last ten games, and the Jazz will host this ESPN game as 3.5-point underdogs to Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets. The over/under is set at 219 total points according to NBA oddsmakers at 5dimes.
DEN NEWS & NOTES:
The Denver Nuggets are playing better, and as one would guess it mostly relates to a turnaround on the part of its star center Nikola Jokic.
Some have criticized Jokic for his poor conditioning, but it is hard to ignore the fact that he continues to play good basketball overall while using his immense skills to more than make up for his slow feet. Jokic is averaging 19.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and a team-leading 6.4 assists per game while posting a PER of 24.80. He also recently posted a 47-point game, so while Jokic may never appear to do anything too quickly, he does make the right moves and can be a dominant center in an era that does not even favor big men.
The Nuggets are led in scoring by Jamal Murray, who many expected to make a still-bigger leap following his outstanding postseason performances in 2019.
Instead, Murray is the second-leading at 17.6 points per game, and ranking No. 2 in assists at 4.6 per. Will Barton continues to look like a poor man’s Kevin Durant, providing a lot of shooting on the wing and a fearless trigger. Barton averages 14.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game and is one of five Nuggets with a PER above the league average of 15 (17.17).
The Nuggets are a deep team on paper, but it is still really not testing out the talents of Michael Porter Jr that much, and Malik Beasley saw a role reduction before being dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Gary Harris and Barton both see over 32 minutes per game, leaving the backups to fight over the remaining minutes, leaving some good talents to sit, naturally. Juancho Hernangomez has had his role decline and he too was jettisoned to the T-Wolves, though he did average four points per game in just 13 minutes a night.
That moves up Michael Porter Jr. on the depth chart, and he led the Nuggets in scoring last game with 19 points, and if he is able to come on strong and stay healthy, Denver could be “scary good.”
The Nuggets will eventually likely decided on a shorter rotation, but for the time being there are 11 Nuggets who play at least 14 minutes per game. It is a team loaded with talent, but both of its top scoring options are probably not true No. 1 options on a contending team, and that includes Jokic. The Nuggets have great team chemistry, but one wonders if its lack of true star power might not hurt it. While Nikola Jokic and Murray function quite well as a tandem, it seems Denver would be better delegating more responsibility to one or the other, to develop a true 1A option, especially late in games.
The Utah Jazz is 41-23 thus far this season, and following entering 2020 so hot, the Jazz struggled some. The Jazz is hoping things are starting to develop as the playoffs near. Utah is just 5-5 over its last 10 games, but it still has a better point differential than OKC by 0.6 points per game.
Things have been slower coming together following the addition of point guard Mike Conley, perhaps than anyone may have expected. The veteran is coming around after a horrid start to this season and now averaging 13.6 points and 4.6 assists per game. His ball-handling and offense help keep Donovan Mitchell ready to find his scoring spots, and Mitchell is blossoming into a true superstar in his third season.
“Spida” as Mitchell goes by, is averaging 24.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game while talking a PER just over 20. Perhaps the biggest surprise for the Jazz has been that Bojan Bogdanovic is far more than a role player, but more of a second star. This changes a lot.
Bogdanovic is averaging 20.9 points per game while shooting 41.1 percent from behind the arc on seven-plus attempts per game. His offense helps the Jazz continue to play its slow, defense-first style of basketball, of course, cued by the defense of Rudy Gobert. Gobert is averaging 14.9 points and 14.5 boards per game, but his 2.6 blocks/steals help further illustrate his importance to Utah. His rim protection is among the league’s best, and he covers the occasional blunders of Mitchell and the Jazz’s other perimeter defenders nearly flawlessly.
Also, Utah has stepped up its scoring to 109.7 per game this year, and with the way that Utah defends, that should be adequate to put together another very nice season. While few are quick to credit the Jazz in the realms of the elite and true contenders, it arguably is the strongest of the dark horse contenders in either conference. The Jazz are built on defense and with its offense shining brighter than ever, this could be the year that the darkhorse becomes the horse. Albeit, LeBron James and the L.A. Lakers will be a tough bill but Rudy Gobert’s defensive influence will become all the more important in the NBA’s postseason.