The Denver Nuggets went into the 2019 postseason as newbies, with most of their roster untested in the intensity of the playoffs.
Two grueling series and a pair of Game 7s — one win, one loss — gave Denver valuable experience it hopes will pay off in this postseason. The Nuggets, the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, faces a familiar foe in the first round in the No. 6 seed Utah Jazz.
Game 1 of the best-of-seven series is Monday. This will be the fifth time the teams have met in the postseason, and the Jazz have won three of those series, most recently a 4-2 win in the first round of the 2010 playoffs.
Utah, which tied for second in the Northwest Division behind Denver, is making its fourth straight postseason appearance. The Jazz were eliminated in the first round by Houston in 2019 but reached the Western Conference semifinals the previous two playoffs.
The teams met four times in the regular season, with the Nuggets winning all four. The last time they played was Aug. 8 in the bubble, a two-overtime thriller that Denver pulled out despite a big night from Donovan Mitchell.
Utah will need him to be great offensively to help overcome the loss of Bojan Bogdanovic, who had season-ending wrist surgery in May. The Jazz also announced Sunday that they will begin the series without veteran guard Mike Conley, who left the bubble to be with his wife for the birth of their son.
Conley, 32, averaged 14.4 points, 4.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds in 47 games (41 starts) in his first season with Utah in 2019-20.
Coach Quin Snyder has been looking for different ways to get offense, and one of the points of emphasis has been to get more scoring behind the 3-point line.
“As a staff, we’ve had the opportunity to coach guys that will let you coach them, and really, we learn from each other,” Snyder said after Saturday’s practice. “So when we say we’re evolving and molding to fit — be it our personnel or things we’ve learned about how we how we play, what we want to do better, what we want to do more of — we’ve had a group that’s really receptive. And you’re lucky as a coach to have that. They embrace what we give them, and sometimes they modify what we give them — which is great — and make it better.”
Focusing on shooting more 3-pointers could be a wise strategy. Denver has struggled with its perimeter defense in the restart, in part because of injuries. The best perimeter defender is guard Gary Harris, who has yet to play since the restart due to a right hip injury. His status for Monday is not known, nor is the availability of Will Barton (right knee soreness), who has also missed the eight games in the bubble.
Those absences have provided an opportunity for rookie Michael Porter Jr., and he has taken advantage. Porter averaged 19.3 points in the eight games played near Orlando, including four double-doubles, and was named to the All-Bubble second team.
But Denver’s success will ride with center Nikola Jokic, who averaged 29.3 points and 9.0 rebounds in three games against Utah this season. He will see plenty of two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, and he understands what it takes to win in the postseason.
“It’s every possession matters,” Jokic said. “You cannot have three, four times-in-a-row possessions that you kind of dribble the ball or just (have) empty possessions. Or you cannot have a lot of turnovers in a row because basketball is a game of runs, so you need to use the opportunity that you have and not kind of (start) forcing things.”
–Field Level Media