Rounding up predictions from across the Net for your one-stop convenience. Click on each header to read more.
Ball Don't Lie
And there's nobody crazier than Ronnie Price(notes).
Don't let the smooth taste fool you -- he's like G.G. Allin multiplied by the Red Skull. You mark my words: There'll come a time -- Game 3, I'm guessing -- when Ty Lawson(notes) is about to get out on the break for a bucket that could swing the momentum of the series, and Price is going to stop him in his tracks and steal his soul like Shang Tsung. Figuratively, I mean. (As far as you know.) Still, it'll definitely scare the wits out of the kiddies in the stands.
I can't say I condone it, but man: You want to talk about "going for it?" Stealing a promising rookie's soul darn sure qualifies in my book. Well, it's technically more of a brochure than a book, but you get what I mean. -- Dan Devine
The Score (The Basketball Jones)
Mini Playoff Preview: 4. DEN vs. 5. UTA from The Basketball Jones on Vimeo.
Q & A with Wesley Matthews
SN: When the team traded Ronnie Brewer in February, that opened up the starting spot for you. What was your reaction to that trade?
WM: People assume I was happy, but it was hard. Brew was like my older brother on the team, right away. When I came in, he helped me from the beginning. And so, in a way, it is a blessing that he got traded, I am the one who benefited most from it. I am the one who got a starting job out of it. But I was also the most upset about it. He was very good to me.
I wrote a bit about why you should follow the Jazz if your team is out of the playoffs,
Kyle Korver: That Korver, he's so hot right now. If you're looking for a way to convince your wife to continue watching basketball even though your team is out, look no further. We have the hottest guy in the league. He just broke the single-season record for three-point percentage. Oh, and he's easy on the eyes.
And from SB Nation,
With a different draw, Utah could really make some noise, mainly because they've got the best home court advantage in the league, one of the three best coaches in the league (Sloan, Phil Jackson, Popovich ... you pick the order), and a superstar in Deron Williams that could potentially carry them much further than they're ever supposed to go.
That's what I originally wrote when I put them in the first category, but then I realized... "Hey, Utah's actually looking pretty intriguing right now." They've got the best crowd in basketball, they're playing a Nuggets team that's hobbled into the playoffs, and Deron Williams is due for a breakout performance. Could they beat the Nuggets and the Lakers in successive series? Maybe not, but if they do, why can't they go all the way?
In addition, the Nugs have looked ragged both offensively and defensively since coach George Karl's illness forced him off the bench. Adrian Dantley is a good guy (and he was once a great player), but his charges simply aren't playing like a team under his supervision. Even Chauncey Billups, the man who usually holds everything together, has had periods of late when he's shot too quickly, dribbled for too long and moved the ball around too infrequently. The assist numbers aren't where they should be or need to be for the Nuggets to excel.
On the other hand...
Billups has a history of stepping up when the spotlight's brightest, and the Nuggets still have Carmelo Anthony, who's deservedly seen as one of the NBA's stars. Moreover, the Nugs match up well against Utah under any circumstances, and the Jazz are at least as handicapped by injuries as the Nuggets, if not more so: Andrei Kirilenko is out and Carlos Boozer's health is a jumbo question mark.
POINT GUARD: The point guard matchup between Billups and Williams will be one to remember. Billups, though, has the advantage because he's won an NBA title before with Detroit, which beat Kobe Bryant and the Lakers back in the summer of 2004. Billups has been playing at a Hall of Fame level for many years and averaged 19.5 points and 5.6 assists this season. He posted 27.0 points in two games versus Utah this season, missing a pair of games with ankle and adductor problems. In 133 career playoff games, Billups is averaging 17.7 points and 5.9 assists.
Williams had a strong year with 18.7 points and 10.1 assists, and missed a few games due to injury. He is healthy now and his supporting cast is just as strong as Billups', but distributing the ball will be key. Williams has played in 34 career postseason contests and has posted 20.2 points and 9.4 assists over that stretch. As previously stated, the experience factor is the only advantage Billups has right now. That and Anthony.
The Sporting News
Where the Jazz have the edge: Utah has vastly superior depth up front, beginning with PF Carlos Boozer, who should be able to establish himself inside against a hobbled Nuggets PF Kenyon Martin. The Jazz also have gotten much better production out of C Mehmet Okur, who averaged 16.9 points over his last 20 games and has rediscovered the 3-point stroke (he shot 41.8 percent on 3s over the last 20). Utah brings PF Paul Millsap-who would start for most teams-off the bench. PG Deron Williams is a master when it comes to deciding when to feed his big men the ball and when to score himself.
Fans of offensive fireworks, step right up, because a torrent of points is headed your way in this series. Denver finished third and Utah was eighth in offensive efficiency, and both play at a rapid pace. Both have offensive virtues that are poised to exploit their opponents' defensive flaws: Denver's lackluster interior defense will be challenged by a Utah team that ranked second only to Memphis at generating points in the paint. Utah committed more personal fouls than any team but Golden State, while Denver led the NBA in free-throw attempts. Both teams won 53 games, and are led by especially smart and physical point guards. Both are dominant at home and ordinary on the road -- advantage Denver, which gets an extra game in its building.
ESPN (Scouts Inc, Insider)
The Jazz pride themselves on being an efficient offensive team. They execute and are precise and fundamental. They continually are ranked among the best teams in the NBA in field goal percentage. This year they finished shooting .491 from the field. They do not take bad shots and they know how to grind out wins in the postseason. They are built for the playoffs. If they can stop the Nuggets in transition, slow the game down and keep it in the half court they have a very good chance of defeating Denver. In addition, the Jazz will need All Star performances from Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. They need these two players to carry the team offensively and let the complimentary players play off of them. If Kyle Korver, Mehmet Okur and Wes Matthews can make the Nuggets pay from the three-point line it will open up more scoring opportunities for Williams/Boozer.
The Jazz will need a big defensive effort from their team. The Nuggets have a lot of weapons and it is imperative for the Jazz to limit their opponent's offensive efficiency. The most important statistic may be fast-break points. The Jazz can't give up easy baskets and they must be able to contain Anthony. This will be a very tough matchup for the Jazz, even if Andrei Kirilenko plays Melo he will be a load for him to handle in postups and iso's.
And this is the double-edged sword of how you defend the Jazz, especially when Deron Williams is on the court. You have to give in somewhere. If you're allowing points inside, you're probably also allowing free throw attempts and three-point plays due to late rotations and dumb fouls inside. But if you pack in the paint, you're leaving deadly and timely outside shooters in the area that counts for the most points. So what do you do?
You have to form a pocket on defense. They're least efficient from the middle of the floor. Put them in the 10 to 15-foot range and you've got your best chance of stopping them. There are no Rip Hamiltons on this team and Jeff Hornacek certainly isn't walking through that door. You need to pack in the middle then swarm the perimeter in a furious effort of defensive rotations. The trick is keeping those interior guys in place and flanking the passing options. Make them run enough clock and the Jazz perimeter guys will have to pull up off the dribble for "bad" mid-range jumpers. It's actually one of the simplest ways to try to bait a team into taking bad shots but it does take smart and disciplined defense.
Jazz guard Deron Williams and forward Carlos Boozer are the primary duo in Utah's screen-and-roll, although Paul Millsap gets involved and Mehmet Okur does as well from time to time. During the regular season, the Nuggets were able to control Utah's screen-and-roll with a greater success rate than they could against Phoenix. That's because without a bevy of big-time 3-point threats, the Nuggets can freely crowd the lane on Boozer or Millsap without much worry that other Utah players will make them pay for it from beyond the arc.
I think we can expect to see the Nuggets play the Jazz as straight up as possible. The Jazz have the reputation of being a pick and roll team, but they are a team that sets a bevy of picks on every possession and force you to pay close attention to your man and worry about who might be coming free for an open shot. Denver has better this season helping on screens and cuts away from the ball, than figuring out how to stop the pick and roll. It will be interesting to see if the Jazz play more pick and roll to exploit Denver's weakness or if they stick to their regular game plan and work to out execute Denver. I would expect the Nuggets to attempt to defend the pick and roll the same way they did against San Antonio and Memphis towards the end of the regular season. Denver did not switch ball screens much against Utah this season and seeing as how that is such a passive strategy I do not expect to see them begin to do so now.
Denver Stiffs (more coming from them)
When Kirilenko plays, the Jazz have a much deeper bench because Miles comes in as the seventh man. But with Kirilenko out, the Jazz go just three deep off the pine: Paul Millsap, Ronnie Price and Kyle Korver. That said, Millsap would likely start at power forward on most NBA teams, so having him come in to spell Boozer and Okur is a huge bonus. Similarly, the Nuggets have a starter-caliber player off their bench in J.R. Smith to go along with Chris Andersen, Ty Lawson and - sometimes - Anthony Carter, Joey Graham and Johan Petro.
With rotations expected to tighten in the postseason (I hope AD knows this), look for Andersen to up against Millsap, Smith versus Korver and Lawson versus Price. Since Lawson is better than Price, I'm giving the Nuggets a slight edge here...but that's with the caveat of AD playing Lawson more minutes than AC like he should. (SLIGHT) ADVANTAGE: NUGGETS