For starters, the Jazz have come back down to Earth after their red-hot start to the season. In their last ten games the Jazz are an honest 5-5 and are coming off a loss to the, smirk, Memphis Grizzlies. They do still have a four game lead over the Nuggets in the divisional standings, but tonight poses an opportunity for Denver to gain some ground.
In their first match-up, Deron Williams exploded on the defense of Earl Boykins for 28 points and 12 assists, but don’t think that a similar performance is in stock against the defense of Steve Blake or Allen Iverson. It’s just not going to happen, and I feel that Williams will be held around his averages of 16 points and nine assists.
Another front to be aware of is the defensive presence that was missed when Marcus Camby wasn’t available for the first meeting. Okur, despite having a great season, and Boozer will have a different time getting all those bunnies that killed the Nuggets last time with one of the league’s best one-on-one defenders/shot blockers/rebounders back in action.
I have two points of emphasis tonight that if accomplished will end up resulting in a victory for the Denver Nuggets. Reggie Evans and Nene are going to have to play great defense against Carlos Boozer. Carlos can hit the medium range jumper with consistency and likes to crash the boards from the weak side on both the offensive and defensive glass. The Nuggets defender that guards Boozer is going to have to make sure to contest that outside jumper while not giving up baseline drives and also make a point to put a body on Boozer regardless of proximity to the basket to keep him of the glass. He lives off offensive rebounds for easy buckets and will become frustrated if he isn’t grabbing boards as easily as he is accustomed to.
My second point is movement without the ball. I noticed against the Sonics that the Nuggets still have a tendency to get caught watching when AI or ‘Melo start to work on their man. If, and when, Carmelo gets the ball in the low post it is imperitive for the weak side to screen away and cause commotion because it frees up passing lanes for ‘Melo to survey and causes confusion on rotations. This results in the double-team being harder to pull off for the Jazz and makes it easier for Denver to capitalize when they do. Both Iverson and Anthony are proficient enough passers to find the open man if their offensive attempt isn’t there and I would like to see both men finish with more than five assists for the game.
This is far more than just a divisional match-up for the Nuggets. This game serves as a measuring stick for how the Nuggets are progressing against some of the real contenders in the stacked Western Conference. Wins over Memphis and Seattle were nice, but as the season enters the second half it is really how the Nuggets do against teams that are playoff bound that provide a glimpse as to what is to come. Denver can extend their five-game win streak if they take care of the points of emphasis that I have illustrated. I’m expecting a great game. Go Nuggets!