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Denver Nuggets at Utah Jazz Game Preview

The Jazz have to play with heart tonight

Congenital Defects, Chernobyl's Uncertain Legacy Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The Utah Jazz (7-8) are under .500 — which in the big picture is where we fans expected the team to be after hearing about Gordon Hayward’s injury. If you add to the fact that the team still has yet to hear any good news about Alec Burks, rotation bigmen Derrick Favors and Boris Diaw have been out almost all season long, and that George Hill hasn’t play since the first week of the season . . . being half a game UNDER .500 is still pretty cool. The Utah Jazz are treading water, but taking a lot on. The Denver Nuggets (5-8) saw too that when they beat Utah back on Sunday — bringing the Jazz’s losing streak to four games.

Tonight the Jazz really want to avoid losing five in a row.

As always, it appears that it’s going to be an issue of three things — three point shooting, defense, and injury. This is basically the same three points we’ve been worried about for every game the team has played over the last four seasons. Trust me, it’s gotten a bit repetitive on my end.

The Nuggets aren’t the greatest three point shooting team of all-time. But they are making 35% of their attempts, while attempting 24 a game. Seven of their players are attempting 2.5+ threes a game, and it’s spread out from 5.0 attempts by Danilo Gallinari, 4.1 attempts by Emmanuel Mudiay, 3.8 attempts by Wilson Chandler, 3.7 attempts by Jamal Murray, 3.1 attempts by Jameer Nelson, 2.8 by Will Barton, and 2.6 from Gary Harris. Their outside attack isn’t just limited to guards and wingmen — Nikola Jokic is taking more than one three a night as well. Guys like him, Juan Hernangomez, and Jusuf Nurkic did what they had to do in Game 15 to drop the Jazz. Being able to spread the Jazz defense is one of their talents.

On the flipside, the Jazz were supposed to be pretty hot from outside, but with mixed results. Rodney Hood is taking nearly 6 threes a night and making almost 40% of his attempts. Gordon Hayward is almost at 5.5 threes, but shooting only 24.5%. It goes like this, one player doing well, the next not. George Hill is at 43%, Trey Lyles at 26%, Joe Johnson at 45%, Dante Exum at 29%, Joe Ingles at 42%, Shelvin Mack at 31%. And so on. Early on this year we’ve seen the Jazz be on fire from downtown (the @ San Antonio Spurs victory) and carry the day, and be really cold from outside, and look pathetic (pick any of the last four losses).

The team that better performs from deep is going to have an advantage tonight.

Defensively Utah was supposed to be able to shut teams down. And by playing so slowly it was a force multiplier. But being down big, getting blown out, and playing slowly has killed Utah of late. Denver wants to play at a much faster pace (7th best in the league), and if they get their way it would at least be a more entertaining game.

They have the guards advantage right now when it comes to health — but with how sickly the Jazz bigs have been, that may be the better play right now. Which is just sad.

And speaking of injuries, at the end of the day you can only play who is available. For Denver we are not going to see Gary Harris, Mike Miller, and Danilo Gallinari. Will Barton is probable, but not a world beater. Utah will continue to be without Derrick Favors and Alec Burks. Joe Johnson should play. George Hill could play. And for reals? I miss seeing guys be healthy.

Marquee Match-Up: Rodney Hood against Jamal Murray

NBA: Utah Jazz at Denver Nuggets Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Hood can get as hot as the best of them. Murray is pretty hot right now. I don’t know if either of them can play defense. It’ll be interesting.

X-Factor: Heart

Seems like every few years we actively have to question if this team has Heart. It first happened in the NBA Playoffs under head coach Frank Layden. It was against the Denver Nuggets.

What did Frank do to the media questioning his team in the newspapers?

He brought in an artificial heart into the locker room and told all of his players to take a look at it. Even if people said they didn’t HAVE heart coming into the series, they had one now.

As fans we’ve seen this question pop up again over the years. Did high scoring forward Adrian Dantley have heart? Did those Carlos Boozer / Andrei Kirilenko teams have heart? What about the mercenary era of guys like Josh Howard and Randy Foye — guys playing in Utah for one year in a contract year and leaving shortly after?

Seeing the intensity of how Rudy or Gordon play with, I can’t question their heart. But collectively you have some questions to answer if your team drops four in a row. They are the leaders of this team. They have to lead this team to wins. And that has to be what happens tonight.

Prediction: Jazz win

Denver blew out Utah in their last meeting. Utah needs to even the score tonight.