Season Series: 3-1, Denver, Denver Nuggets 114 vs Utah Jazz 105, Denver Nuggets 105 @ Utah Jazz 95, Denver Nuggets 119 vs Utah Jazz 112, Utah Jazz 116 vs Denver Nuggets 106.
Relevant Statistics: Denver: 94.8 possessions per game (5th), 111.8 points scored per 100 possessions (3rd), 107.5 points allowed per 100 possessions (16th). Utah: 93.8 possessions per game (9th), 110.9 points scored per 100 possessions (7th), 105.0 points allowed per 100 possessions (10th).
Hit the jump to see the individual match-ups for the Jazz and the Nuggets…
Point Guard: Chauncey Billups vs Deron Williams
This would normally be a match-up of two of the top five point guards in the NBA, but with the way Billups is playing right now, its hard to imagine him producing nearly as much as Williams will. Deron has put himself at the top of the pyramid when it comes to point guards this season, doing everything great. He scored at the rim, from mid-range, and from three. Got to the line, made spectacular pass after spectacular pass, limited his turnovers, defended bigger guards in crunch time, and led his Jazz to the post-season. Billups can still be a game-changer, but if his three isn’t falling, he won’t be making much a difference. He won’t be able to take Williams down into the block and bully him around. Williams is stronger than him. If Chauncey isn’t connecting from deep, he doesn’t have a ton of value. The opposite is true for Williams.
Shooting Guard: Arron Afflalo vs Wesley Matthews
If you read my column from a few days ago on the X-Factor in the Western Conference, you’d know that I think Afflalo is going to play a huge role in this post-season. He won’t have too big of a defensive assignment on Matthews, but because Utah doesn’t have a true perimeter scorer, its possible that we see him stick onto Williams at some times. Especially if Lawson is in the game at point. Matthews has been solid all season long. It will be interesting to see how he responds to the playoff atmosphere as an undrafted free agent.
Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony vs C.J. Miles
After starting off the year as one of the top three players in the NBA, Melo has dipped as his defensive intensity and scoring efficiency have decreased drastically. Still, he’s one of the best scorers in the NBA and he is capable of dropping 30 a game every night (as evident by his 28 points per game average). In two games against the Jazz this season, Anthony averaged 34 points and eight rebounds per game while shooting 55% from the field. Ridiculous numbers. If he does that this series, Denver is going to be hard to keep up with offensively. However, in those two games, Melo wasn’t defended by Andre Kirilenko, who is one of the best, and longest perimeter stoppers in the entire league. AK-47 should get the majority of minutes on Melo though Miles should start.
Power Forward: Kenyon Martin vs Carlos Boozer
Martin isn’t completely healthy and Boozer isn’t either. Martin is the most important player for Denver. When he’s at 100%, Kenyon is Denver’s anchor defensively, on the glass, and, perhaps most importantly, emotionally. His absence clearly affected Denver down the stretch and it ultimately ended up costing them a higher seed. If he has his legs under him and can compete down low for the entire series, the Nuggets might be able to regain their swagger, and that’s one of the few ways I see them winning this series. Boozer is going to need to throw up his 20/10 a game, but the individual responsibility on him shouldn’t be too heavy. As long as he thrives off the shots Williams creates for him, Utah will be just fine.
Center: Nene vs Mehmet Okur
These two are pretty different. Nene is very athletic, thrives in transition, hits the glass with energy, gets his points in the paint and can hit the occasional 13-footer. Okur isn’t very athletic, doesn’t run the floor well, leaves the rebounding duties to Boozer and Millsap, and gets most of his offensive production from beyond-the-arc and with hook shots instead of dunks. Their per game averages are pretty similar, but their shooting percentages reinforce their play style. Nene converted on 58% of his shots during the regular season, good enough for third in the NBA while Memo hit just 48% of his attempts. In a series like this, the pace should be in heavy favor of the Brazilian.
Bench: Ty Lawson, J.R. Smith, Johan Petro and Chris Andersen vs Ronnie Price, Kyle Korver, Andrei Kirilenko, and Paul Millsap
J.R. Smith will have to shoot the ball a lot better than he did in the regular season in order for Denver to win. And considering he is one of the streakiest shooters in the league, that isn’t a far fetched idea. While Smith’s spark off the bench was key last year against the Lakers, I think the energy guy in town is rookie Ty Lawson. Lawson hasn’t seen the court lately partly because of a lingering injury and partly because Adrian Dantley didn’t trust him with a large chunk of playing time. As usual, the Birdman will be a big defensive factor with the second unit. The Jazz have three solid pieces on their bench and Korver, AK-47, Millsap could start for them on any given day. Korver is the NBA’s best three-point shooter according to the numbers (he hit above 50% of his attempts this year), Kirilenko is one of the best all-around players in the league and Millsap is every bit as good as Boozer at times.
Deron Williams and Carmelo are going to being going at it without actually going at it. Different players will be defending the other, but these two are going to duke it out for the right to play the Lakers in the second round. The Jazz have better chemistry at this point and with Martin struggling to get back into game shape and George Karl staying home for the first round, they should have the upper hand. Something to watch: Utah’s total assists vs Carmelo’s shot attempts in any given game. If Utah wins that battle, they’ll win the game.
Pick: Utah in six.