The Utah Jazz’s win streak may have been broken in a loss against Portland, but they’re still surging up the standings. Tonight Utah will look to start another win streak, but it won’t come easy. The 2nd best team in the West, the Denver Nuggets, is in town, and it’s not going to be an easy victory. Denver (31-14) is the last team that will feel any remorse for beating up on an injury depleted team like Utah as Denver has had to face injuries to most of their roster and has still overcome them.
Nikola Jokic will play a big role tonight for the Denver Nuggets. He’s a modern NBA big man who can pull Rudy Gobert away from the basket. He’s a point guard in a Sabonis frame and he’ll keep the Utah defense on its toes as he’s a threat to make the assist and shot at any time. He’s averaging 19.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 7.7 assists a game. He’s a walking triple double and might as well be kryptonite for Utah as his strengths on offense negate Gobert’s strengths of defense. If Gobert is Contra’s hardest level, Jokic is the game genie.
The good news is Utah is playing a lot better since the last time these two teams have met. The Jazz have adapted to the way game is being officiated with freedom of movement and Gobert has become a way better perimeter defender in the process. He’s evolving and becoming a better offensive player, too.
Donovan Mitchell who was struggling has found new life at the point guard position. That new life might be disrupted as Ricky Rubio could be inserted back into the starting lineup. It feels weird to assume that Utah’s momentum might be stalled because of their team becoming healthy again, but Donovan’s resurgence and Royce O’Neale’s turnaround have coincided with the depleted guard corps.
One thing working in Denver’s favor tonight is the time off between games. The Jazz last played on Monday against the Trail Blazers. The Nuggets? Last Saturday.
When: Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019 • 8:30 PM MT
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena • Salt Lake City, UT
TV: AT&T Sports Net-Rocky Mountain, ESPN
Radio: 97.5 FM | 1280 AM The Zone | ESPN Radio
Ricky Rubio – Right Hamstring – Available
Dante Exum – Left Ankle Sprain – OUT
Raul Neto – Groin – OUT
Thabo Sefolosha – Right Hamstring – OUT
Tony Bradley – Right Knee Surgery – OUT
Portland Trail Blazers:
Juan Hernangomez — Abdominal — Questionable
Michael Porter — Back — OUT
Isaiah Thomas — Hip — OUT
Jarred Vanderbilt — Foot — OUT
What to watch for
Can Joe Ingles bounce back?
Joe Ingles struggled against the Trail Blazers, going 1 for 7 from the field and 0-3 from deep. Part of the reason Utah struggled in that game was the lack of swag from Aussie with a mouth. Tonight, Joe Ingles may be able to take advantage of Denver being without Juan Hernangomez as he’s questionable for tonight’s game. If Utah can get their customary 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 6 assists from Jingles tonight, they’ll be in good shape.
Jokic vs Gobert
This will determine tonight’s outcome. It’s not just about Jokic’s shooting numbers tonight. If Jokic shoots poorly from the field but ends up with 11 rebounds and 8 assists, Utah’s toast. That means Rudy Gobert is going to have to be on his game, but Utah’s team defense has to be on a string. Can Utah force Denver to turnover the playmaking abilities to their secondary or tertiary option? If so, Utah wins this.