Nuggets try not to overlook Jazz
Statement games don’t normally register in November, but the Denver Nuggets have a chance to make Saturday night one of those — even this early in the season.
After missing the playoffs by one game last season, Denver is determined not to take any part of its schedule lightly, even a game against a hurting Utah squad that is coming in on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Nuggets (7-1) are off to their best start since 1976-77 after a 110-91 win at Cleveland on Thursday night. Playing the banged-up Jazz offers an opportunity to take early control of the Northwest Division, so history is irrelevant to Denver coach Michael Malone.
“It doesn’t mean a whole lot to me, to be honest,” Malone said after Thursday’s win. “I’m not trying to be coy. The minute we start thinking we’ve done something is when we’re going to set ourselves up for failure.”
The Nuggets should be primed for the Jazz (4-4) because they understand how a team can come on strong when playing a second straight night. Denver gutted out a thrilling overtime win in Chicago on Wednesday and then overcame a sluggish start to rout the Cavaliers.
The good news for Denver is the game was decided early in the fourth quarter so many of the regulars got to sit. Despite playing for the third time in four nights on Saturday the players should be rested.
What kind of opponent is coming in is another story. The Jazz lost to Memphis 110-100 at home Friday night, the second time in less than two weeks the Grizzlies beat them in Utah. The Jazz played without guard Donovan Mitchell, who tweaked his hamstring in a loss to Minnesota on Wednesday night.
Guard Alec Burks also missed the game with a left hand sprain.
Utah may need to rely heavily on its bench players to go against a deep and confident Denver team.
“Our bench is good when they think collectively,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said to reporters earlier this week. “That’s one of the things that continues to get solidified.”
The Jazz are a cohesive bunch that turned things around quickly last season to reach the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. They started 1-2 this season and turned things around on a 3-1 road trip, with the only loss coming at Minnesota when Derrick Rose dropped a career-high 50 points on them.
“Three out of four — we’ll take it every time,” forward Jae Crowder told reporters after Wednesday’s loss. “You’ve got to learn from the good and learn from the bad. We’ll definitely try to learn from this and move forward.”
The Nuggets seem to have learned from last season’s issues, when they would lose winnable games against lowly teams. They swept Chicago and Cleveland, barely escaping the Bulls, but it was a win. And Thursday’s game against Cleveland was won by the bench. No starter played more than 28 minutes in the game, and the star was Juancho Hernangomez with a season-high 23 points.
He played a team-high 29 minutes after not getting off the bench against Chicago.
“If he doesn’t play, he’s the guy on the bench that’s rooting for everybody,” forward Paul Millsap, who won the Chicago game with a last-second putback, told reporters after Thursday’s win. “For him to get in the game, not playing (Wednesday) night, and contribute, that says a lot.”