Jazz humming along with Nuggets up next (Jan 24, 2017)
The Utah Jazz have been building for a revival for a couple of years, and now it seems to have finally taken hold.
Utah appears to be for real in 2016-17.
The Jazz (29-17) had a six-game winning streak snapped after Monday's 97-95 loss to Oklahoma City in a matchup of the top teams in the Northwest Division.
Utah still leads Oklahoma City by two games in the division and its stay at the top might last for a while.
The key component in this successful run is point guard George Hill.
With Hill in the lineup, the Jazz are 17-5, making management look smart for trading for the 30-year-old veteran in the offseason. Utah is 10-0 when Hill scores 20 or more points in a game, and he had 30 against his former team, the Indiana Pacers, on Saturday night.
"He was unbelievable," Jazz forward Gordon Hayward said after the win over the Pacers. "I don't know if it had anything to do with playing the Pacers, but he was just tremendous."
The Jazz will try for another win Tuesday night against the Denver Nuggets (18-25). Denver is coming off a disappointing 111-108 loss in Minnesota on Sunday night, a game in which it led by nine in the fourth quarter but crumbled in the final two minutes.
"We just turned the ball over too consistently," guard Jamal Murray told The Denver Post after the loss. "There wasn't a stretch when we didn't turn it over. Our offense kept us in the game, but it should be the other way around; our defense should keep us in the game."
Murray saw his minutes increase with the absence of starting point guard Emmanuel Mudiay.
Mudiay didn't make the one-game road trip because of lower back soreness. It bothered him before Saturday's win over the Los Angeles Clippers and then it became too much to play when he was knocked to the ground on a hard, legal screen by Clippers center DeAndre Jordan in the third quarter.
Mudiay's status for Tuesday is unknown.
The Nuggets did see the return of guard Gary Harris from a right ankle sprain, and he responded with a team-high 22 points. He has missed 19 games with various injuries this season but came back flying against the Timberwolves.
"I just wanted to come out there with energy and do whatever I could," Harris told The Denver Post. "Just get out there and just try to help the team out."
While the Jazz are jockeying for a top-four seed in the Western Conference, the Nuggets are just trying to get into the playoffs. They hold the eighth and final seed in the conference, but there is a lot of basketball left for them to either secure a postseason spot or fall out for the fourth straight season.
To get there, the Nuggets have to start playing defense to match their explosive offense. It didn't happen against the Timberwolves, who pulled away in the final minute.
The defense will have to be sharp against the Jazz, who are first in the league in points against this season. Utah wins on its defense, anchored by center Derrick Favors and forward Rudy Gobert.
Gobert is a legitimate NBA Defensive Player of the Year candidate and this season he has increased his offensive production.
"It starts with strength, and that's something I've gotten better at," Gobert told the Salt Lake Tribune. "I'm also way more connected with my teammates and that's helped. They've done a great job of getting me the ball when I'm open."