The Jazz and Nuggets played each other in their first game of the season in Utah, where the home team won by eight points. Since then, each team has lost a big man and the Nuggets have been four games better but everything remains tight in the Northwest Division.
The Jazz lost Rudy Gobert a couple of weeks ago now. He’s out with a knee injury and after initially struggling badly, the Jazz has shown signs of life lately. Utah destroyed Chicago, which is only a vague sign of vitality, and then beat the Milwaukee Bucks in Salt Lake City by 13.
The Jazz plays mostly small ball now, which means they have to play fast and make a lot of threes. Joe Ingles can fill it up from outside the arc but he’s a catch-and-shoot guy. He needs somebody to make plays for him to free him up. That guy has proven to be rookie Donovan Mitchell. He’s short and stalky and can get into the paint at will. He’s a little bit like Russell Westbrook when he first came into the league — raw without much of a shot but lots of athleticism and aggressiveness that can be valuable when it’s being used in a controlled manner. He’s the key to Utah’s offense, both in the half court and on the fast break.
Then there’s Rodney Hood, who is the guy who can best get his own shot to score in Utah’s offense. While Mitchell doesn’t have the range yet to score off the dribble effectively, Hood does. He started the season badly but he’s put up some big numbers lately and is been in double-figures every night now.
Denver will come into this game having just destroyed Memphis at home, which, like the blowing out the Bulls, isn’t saying much. But just before that game, Denver went on a three-game road trip and finally won one of those games on a trip to Sacramento. It’s a start. Denver has been horrible on the road this season but with a six-game trip looming next week, this is an important tune-up.
But more recently than Gobert, Paul Millsap injures his wrist and will require surgery. He’s going to be out for three months, which means the Nuggets won’t be able to take advantage of Utah’s small lineup because they will feature something similar. This game will be faster than the first one but will probably still result in a Utah win just because neither team is good enough to beat the other on its home floor. When Utah goes to Denver, I’ll take the Nuggets without thinking twice but I like the Jazz in this one tonight.
Free Pick: Utah -1.5