Preview: Jokic and Gobert expected to face off tonight in Denver

NBA: Playoffs-Utah Jazz at Denver Nuggets
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Suddenly the Nuggets are stacking wins while Jazz are stacking losses. Will the Nuggets conquer the Jazz for the first time this season?

The Denver Nuggets will take on the Utah Jazz tonight in hopes of beating them for the first time this season. The two teams faced off twice this season and Utah has scored 115+ points in each matchup. While the Nugget offense has struggled frequently this season, that has not been the case against the Jazz. They scored 110 in the first matchup and 109 points in the second. Since these teams are division rivals and know each other so well, maybe the script flips and we see a rugged defensive effort tonight.

The last time the Utah Jazz won a game actually came against these Denver Nuggets in early January. They have lost four straight all of which coming against eastern conference opponents. Unfortunately for the sake of this matchup, Utah is 18-4 against the west. They are averaging nearly 119 points per game in those matchups on 48% shooting as a team. The Jazz have beaten the Nuggets four out of the last five games and each matchup has been a high scoring affair. Defense could be the key behind a Denver win tonight.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (22-19, 11-7 home) vs Utah Jazz (28-14, 14-6 away)

When: 6:00 PM MT

Where: Ball Arena

How to watch/listen: NBA League Pass, Altitude TV (If you’re lucky enough), or 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: SLC Dunk

Expected Starting Lineups:

UTAH: PG Mike Conley, SG Donovan Mitchell, SF Bogdan Bogdanovic, PF Royce O’Neale, C Rudy Gobert

DEN: PG Monte Morris, SG Will Barton, SF Aaron Gordon, PF Jeff Green, C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Austin Rivers (day to day), JaMychal Green (out), Vlatko Cancar (out), Hassan Whiteside (day to day), Udoka Azubuike (day to day), Jared Butler (out)

Three Things to Watch

Jokic vs Gobert

In their last game, they did not get a chance to face-off but Rudy Gobert is expected to be active tonight. It is one of the more intriguing matchups to watch because of their opposing skillsets. Gobert is the dominant three-time DPOY winner while Jokic won his MVP based off his historical offensive artistry. They say defense wins championships but Utah’s defense apparently does not beat Nikola Jokic. In his last seven games against Utah, Jokic is averages 31 points per game including a dominant 47 point performance last year. The role players must step up to against this high-scoring Utah bunch, but Denver will likely need another vintage Joker performance tonight.

Battle of the role players

On the January 5th matchup, Utah destroyed Denver in this category. They held Utah’s star Donovan Mitchell to just 8-22 shooting, but they let Bogdanovic, Gay, and Clarkson combine for 67 points. On Denver’s side, Monte Morris was the only bench player in double figures. Not only do the role players need to convert their open looks, but they need to hinder Utah’s open looks. The Jazz rank as the best offensive team in the league and they are even better when their big man is back in the lineup. Expect a lot of pick and roll and screening from Gobert because the Jazz love to take advantage of drive and kick opportunities.

Maintain the offensive rhythm

After a disappointing 85-point performance against the Clippers, the Nuggets ignited their offense of late. They’ve scored 130+ points in back to back games and the three-ball has played a massive part in that. Against Portland they made 21 threes and they also knocked down 23 on the Lakers last night. With that being said, it will be a tough task as this game comes on the second night of a back to back. You hope for another explosive performance out of Bones Hyland because when he is effective, the Nuggets rarely lose. He scored 17 on Portland and he had his career high of 27 against the Lakers. He showed he has the juice to compete against a good team in the Lakers, now tonight will be a great test of consistency against an even better team.

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