Entering December and looking at the schedule, my initial thought was that to stay in the playoff race down the stretch of the season, the Jazz would need to find a way to scrape out five wins out of those 15 games. Starting the month on a hot streak resulted in wins over the New Orleans Pelicans and Washington Wizards, but then the team cooled off and has only managed two wins since then.
Tonight represents the best chance Utah has at that fifth win, as they enter the Pepsi Center to take on the 18-15 Denver Nuggets. After this, another December win will be hard to come by, with a back-to-back tomorrow at the Golden State Warriors and the month wrapping up with a visit from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Nuggets are coming into this game playing extremely well. They’re on a two-game win streak with a 17-point win over the Trail Blazers and a 15-point win over the Warriors. Granted, the Warriors were missing key players and shot 0-for-infinity from 3 in that game (It’s legit, look it up), but a win is a win when you’re playing the defending champs.
When: Tuesday, December 26, 2017, 7:00 PM MST
Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO
TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain
Radio: 1280 and 97.5 The Zone
Raul Neto - OUT (Concussion)
Rudy Gobert - OUT (Knee)
Dante Exum - OUT (Shoulder)
Emmanuel Mudiay - Probable (Ankle)
Paul Millsap - OUT (Wrist)
What to watch for:
Rodney Hood’s consistency
Rodney Hood went supernova on TNT against the San Antonio Spurs last week. He scored 29 points, including essentially closing out the game singlehandedly with 11 points in the fourth quarter. During a two and a half minute stretch, he scored nine straight Jazz points as part of a larger 13-2 run that saw Utah take a late 12 point lead. He finished the game a plus-6 on the floor.
Two days later against the Thunder, Hood went arctic cold, finishing with nine points on 3-of-14 from the field and 2-of-8 from 3. He was a minus-4. Overall, Hood has made some major strides in his game this season, adding tricks to his bag and being a little more consistent. If the Jazz are to get that fifth December win, though, they’ll need Good Hood to show up.
Surging Trey Lyles
Look, we all know the Jazz won the draft night trade between these two teams by a mile. Trey Lyles had done next to nothing in a Jazz uniform and Donovan Mitchell looks like a budding star halfway through his rookie campaign. After the trade, Lyles has become something of a punching bag for the Jazz fanbase for reasons both on and off the court. However, it’s becoming increasingly harder to ignore the strides Lyles is making in his game in Denver this year.
One reason for the improvement is that Lyles is getting more opportunity in Denver than he ever got in Utah. His minutes have gradually been creeping up as the season goes on and since Paul Millsap went down he’s gotten even more opportunity. He’s played more than 20 minutes in 11 of the Nuggets’ last 12 games. On the season, he’s shooting an insane 47% from 3 with a 61% eFG. He’s scored 20 or more points twice and recorded two double-doubles this month. In Denver’s power forward logjam, the former Jazzman is starting to emerge as a major player.
Most likely Jazz-Killer: Will Barton
Will Barton apparently loves playing against the Jazz. This season, he’s the Nuggets’ fifth leading scorer at 14.8 points per game on 53.3% eFG and 37.3% shooting from the 3-point line. But in two of his last three games against Utah, Barton has gone off for 20 and 23 points and shot a combined 6-of-8 from beyond the arc. Hopefully the Jazz keep an eye on him tonight.