Nuggets, Jazz ready for rematch of last year’s 7-game series
A rematch of one of the more compelling playoff series from The Bubble will take place Sunday night, when the Denver Nuggets host the Utah Jazz.
This will be the first time the Northwest Division rivals play each other since the Nuggets stormed back from a 3-1 deficit — and a double-digit deficit in a must-win Game 5 — to stun the Jazz in a classic, seven-game series at the beginning of the 2020 playoffs.
That first-round series between the Nuggets and Jazz featured a high-scoring duel that won’t soon be forgotten between All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell of Utah and Jamal Murray of Denver.
Mitchell averaged 36.3 points against Denver in the playoffs, including scoring outings of 57, 51 and 44 points. The former Louisville standout averaged 52.9 percent shooting and dropped in 33 3-pointers in the series.
Murray had two 50-point performances against Utah, and averaged 31.6 points on 55 percent shooting.
That epic first round included a Game 5 win that required Denver to rally from of a 15-point deficit in the third quarter to avoid elimination. Murray fired in nine 3-pointers in a 119-107 Game 6 win, and the Nuggets survived a grind-it-out, 80-78 defensive battle in Game 7 to advance. Denver had beaten Utah in all three regular season games.
“It was a great battle,” Murray said after the series. “I don’t know what else to say. I’m speechless.”
Four and a half months later, both teams are playing well coming into this rematch. The Nuggets have won three of four, including a recent 114-104 win over Golden State.
The Jazz are on a four-game winning streak, which began with a win at Milwaukee. Utah has held three straight teams below 100 points. Its defense limited Atlanta’s leading scorer, Trae Young, to only four points in Friday’s 116-92 win over the Hawks.
“Everybody that guarded him, primarily Mike (Conley) and Royce (O’Neale), they were solid,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “The main thing we talked about was not fouling, showing our hands. Rudy (Gobert) and (Derrick) Favors were great as well, protecting the rim.”
Mitchell and Murray have had their moments this season, although not nearly to the dominating level of their playoff spectacle. Denver’s Nikola Jokic is now the player in the spotlight, garnering respect league-wide while averaging a triple-double of 24.2 points, 11.2 rebounds and a league-high 10.4 assists.
“I think he’d definitely be in the MVP conversation, which is entirely too early to talk about,” Denver coach Michael Malone said after Jokic scored 23 points in the win over the Warriors. “That’s the kind of impact he’s had on the game every single night.”
The Serbian center’s Utah counterpart, French center Gobert, is averaging a career-best 2.8 blocks an outing to go with 11.9 points and 13.3 rebounds an outing coming into their latest tete-a-tete.
Joe Ingles remains day-to-day for Utah after having missed three games with right Achilles soreness.
The Nuggets could again be without Gary Harris, who has missed two straight games for personal reasons, and Michael Porter Jr. is out because of COVID-19 protocols.
–Field Level Media