Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images
Stiffs writers join together to discuss the Nuggets and Jazz series through two games.
Are you concerned about the Nuggets after their 19-point loss to Utah in Game 2?
Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717): I would not say I’m concerned, but I definitely think the Nuggets need to tighten things up defensively. Yes, the Jazz made almost every shot they put up, but I wouldn’t say the Nuggets offered much resistance either. If the Nuggets are going to let Utah score at will, then Denver has to be able to keep up offensively.
This was the only game in all the teams matchups this season where someone won in blowout fashion. Denver’s last two wins over Utah have both come in overtime, so these teams are very equally matched. Mike Conley also could return for Game 3 tomorrow, which could present even more issues for the Nuggets defensively. I’d put my concern level at 3/10 right now, hopefully the Nuggets can bounce back tomorrow.
Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL): I am concerned. Denver has been the worst defensive team since the restart got underway in the bubble, and that includes teams like the Washington Wizards that were trotting out lineups loaded with backups. Will Barton has been announced as out indefinitely, and we still don’t have a read on when Gary Harris will be returning.
Denver has the offensive horses to keep up with Utah, and it was unfortunate, that the night when Utah went nuclear, Denver’s shooters just didn’t show up in the same way. You’re not going to be able to put up 120 every night, but Denver has to do better on one end or the other. I’d like for them to show more defensive intensity throughout the game. Unlike Brandon, my concern level is at a 6/10. I’ve seen Donovan Mitchell cook for two games, and there hasn’t been a ton that can be done to slow him down.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): Am I concerned that the team that had the worst defense in the seeding games had another defensive stinker against one of the best shooting teams in the Western Conference? I sure am! The Nuggets needed to win every game that Mike Conley missed, because at full strength, they’ll have more talent than the Nuggets do in their depleted state. The Nuggets had zero answers for Donovan Mitchell, and they let him dissect whatever the scheme they were trying to execute in Game Two. Help isn’t coming in the form of Will Barton or Gary Harris — the players they have now need to step up, starting with their guards and ending with Nikola Jokic.
Should the Nuggets keep their starting lineup the same for Game 3 or make a change?
Ewing: I would probably give Paul Millsap one more game to start at power forward before seriously considering making a change to Jerami Grant. Millsap has put together some fine minutes in the series thus far, but Grant just gives the Nuggets so much more on both ends of the court. It’s just a matter of deciding if you want Millsap to come off the bench and play around 15 minutes a game or start him and he will play around 20-22 a night. No matter what the decision is, Grant needs to be getting around the 30 minute mark on a nightly basis.
Bridgford: If the Jazz keep starting small, I’m taking Millsap out for Grant. With the return of Mike Conley, we’ll probably see Juwan Morgan go back to the bench. If that’s the case, Royce O’Neal and Joe Ingles will the starting forwards. Get your offensive group on the floor that has a size advantage and force the issue on offense. Millsap is still a smart player, but he’s getting blown by as a result of playing against younger more athletic players.
Lewis: Absolutely. They need smart defenders out there, and Millsap helps them on that end. I don’t think the personnel in the starting lineup is the issue, I think that the execution is the issue. Porter Jr. is more likely to get benched for Jerami Grant than Millsap would be.
Who has to step up the remainder of the series in order for Denver to be successful?
Ewing: I will put this on two guys: Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic. Murray has to get going earlier and put up more shots than what we saw from him in Game 2. You saw what Murray could do when he gets in a rhythm during the first game of the series, but that same killer mentality was absent in Game 2.
As for Jokic, he put up fine stats in Game 2, but he missed far too many open shots. Jokic could have easily scored 40 points if he just made the shots he usually does and it seemed as if Rudy Gobert was getting in his head a little. If the Nuggets want to make it to the next round, Murray and Jokic both have to be better.
Bridgford: Michael Porter Jr. needs to do better on the defensive end. His offense is good, but he can’t be such a liability when he gets switched onto the ball with Mitchell in front of him. We’ve seen, through two games, Porter gets switched, and he has just no shot of stopping the ball-handler from getting past him. I also need to see more from Mason Plumlee. If he’s going to continue to get regular minutes, he has to do more with them when he’s on the floor.
Lewis: Jamal Murray. He has to take some ownership of the Nuggets perimeter defense issues, and try to slow down Mitchell. Being a superstar isn’t just about getting into a rhythm on offense — you need to be able to get a stop occasionally so you can help your team go on runs. Game Two was defined by two huge runs in the second and third quarter, and if the Nuggets can get stops and keep things close until the final minutes of the game, they have a much better chance of winning.
After two games, what is your new prediction in who wins this series and in how many games?
Ewing: I originally had Nuggets in 5, but I don’t think that’s going to happen anymore. I’ll take Nuggets in 7, but it’s a toss up for me at this point. Hopefully the Nuggets put together a better performance in Game 3 to make me more confident. Until then, this series is up for grabs as far as I’m concerned.
Bridgford: Nuggets in 6. That was my original prediction, and I’m sticking to it.
Lewis: Nuggets in 6. Until the Jazz win three games, I can stick to that prediction.