The Utah Jazz worked hard and out worked the Portland Trail Blazers in Round 1 of the Las Vegas Summer League tournament. The Denver Nuggets put in their work earlier and got a Round 1 bye. Tonight the two teams face off.
Denver got the #4 seed because their team went 2-1 in the "regular season", and there are a few good reasons why that happened. If you look at their roster you see six 1st rounders on their squad (one of them, Malik Beasley, who hasn't yet played). Also, their starting back-court played in one of the three games -- but thankfully it seems like Emmanuel Mudiay and Gary Harris have been shut down for the rest of the summer. And really, they have nothing to prove.
That does leave a *new* starting backcourt to deal with, Jimmer Fredette and Jamal Murray. Both are taking a lot of shots, both are sharing the ball and finding others. Jimmer is drilling 44% of his threes and has a 5.5 to 1.0 assist to turn over ratio. That's wonderful to see. Murray hasn't been as good, but I can't expect him to keep shooting poorly forever.
They are also getting some good minutes from Axel Toupane, Juan Hernangomez, and Petr Cornelie. One thing you see is that EVERYONE on the Nuggets shoots threes -- so in a way they will have that outside attack that the Blazers did not have. (You know, that thing that could have helped Portland get back into the game...)
Denver has a huge offensive attack, they're averaging over 90 points per game in Vegas so far. If the Jazz are going to slow them down then they will have to avoid turn overs (and seems like everyone on Denver is getting steals) and control the boards. They did one of those two things in their last game against the Blazers. But the Blazers aren't the Nuggets.
The Jazz had big games from Tibor Pleiss and Joel Bolomboy in Round 1. I don't know if they are consistent enough to bring it the very next day. For Joel, who is only 22, that's okay. For Tibor, who will turn 27 during the season, less so. Of course, their contributions will be secondary if Trey Lyles is playing. There's no indication that he will be -- but if he will be, then I will tell you. The Jazz had the size advantage in the previous game, but Denver isn't going to go big -- so it may not matter.
Utah's point guards, Aaron Craft, Marcus Paige, and DNP-CD guy Tyrone Wallace will have their hands full. Also, Spencer Butterfield has played well off the bench in a specific role, and I loved his hustle in the last game -- but there's a reason why he is playing in Europe, and a reason why the nuggets have so many 1st rounders on their team. We may get to see a different level of offense, one that Butters can't contain. I would love to be wrong, he has worked his butt off to two thirds of a training camp invite if you ask me.
I think pace is going to be more important in this game than who is and is not playing (Mudiay, Harris, Lyles). Of course, in this format those players are difference makers, but the pace of play will win this game. And that's really how it's always been in Utah / Denver match-ups since the Carmelo Anthony vs. Andrei Kirilenko days. If Tibor can work in the half court, he's worth it. If he is stuck running up and down and never getting into the paint, less so.