The Utah Jazz have placed a well calculated bet by seeding themselves at number six in the western conference to face third ranked Denver Nuggets in the first round of the NBA Playoffs 2020.
Denver Nuggets won the season series 3-0 against the Utah Jazz, but the Jazz were right up to the challenge every time. Nuggets took advantage of the last-quarter hustle in all three face-offs and didn't allow a single game to go to the Jazz.
Utah's key in the entire series will be to keep Denver's big men off the glass, take advantage of a quicker defence and shoot timely hot buckets. The Jazz will take the court without Bojan Bogdanovic whose season ended in May after undergoing a wrist surgery.
While the Nuggets have themselves suffered a slew of player injuries, their star, Jamal Murray has taken the court well in time to deliver 23 points in a 2OT win against the Utah Jazz. But they are still missing two of their key players - Will Barton and Gary Harris - who haven't played at the Bubble yet.
On that note, let's take a look at the five key matchups which we are expecting to see during the first round playoff series between Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets.
Five key matchups between Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets:
#1: Battle of the Giants - Nikola Jokic vs Rudy Gobert
The matchup between Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert is definitely going to be the highlight of this series as it marks the first post season face-off between the two NBA All-Stars.
Rudy Gobert has already made it among the final three for the Defensive Player of the Year laurel and is looking for a 3-peat after winning the award in the last two seasons. He leads Utah Jazz in blocks (2.0) and rebounds (13.5) and has a hefty 15.1 points season average to his name.
Nkola Jokic aka the Joker is undoubtedly one of the most unorthodox big man the NBA has ever seen. He moves like a giant but has the looks of a point guard. Jokic makes plays for the entire team and finishes craftily at the post. He leads the Nuggets in points (9.9), rebounds (9.7) and assists (7.0).
#2: Jamal Murray vs Donovan Mitchell
We have already caught a glimpse of what to expect when Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell come toe to toe.
The face-off between the two stars delivered one of the most thrilling performances of the season as Denver Nuggets had a double over-time victory during the seeding games. Mitchell was on fire with a game-high 35 points while Murray carried Denver Nuggets to the finish line, with 23 points and 12 rebounds in his Bubble debut.
Both players have similar athleticism and scoring prowess. With numbers stacked evenly, this fight is going to be of much interest. It remains to be seen which player manages to get the better of the other.
#3: Joe Ingles vs Michael Porter Jr.
Denver Nuggets' rookie forward Michael Porter Jr. has performed amazingly in the seeding games, averaging 29.3 ppg during a span of four games in Orlando.
He is looking to continue his rhythm during his rookie season. Porter Jr. did not get noticeable minutes to play in the regular season but has started and played through the stretch during recent times due to injuries of key Denver Nuggets players.
Porter Jr. is a tremendous shooter beyond the arc and could be a key piece of Denver Nuggets' offence deeper into the playoffs.
With their second-leading scorer Bojan Bogdanovic out for the season, Utah Jazz will look to expand the role of Joe Ingles who has just started in over 45 games in the regular season.
Ingles, as we know, is a great shooter of the ball from mid-range and is a specialist 3-point shooter. However, his defensive quickness will be tested against a younger and agile Michael Porter Jr.
#4: Jordan Clarkson vs Torrey Craig
With Gary Harris and Will Barton out, Denver Nuggets' defence has been heavily reliant on Torey Craig.
He is their best defensive option in the small forward position and will be playing major minutes after getting to start for the Denver Nuggets. Craig has averaged 9.6 points and 4 rebounds in the bubble. He is a great lockdown defender at the perimeter but will definitely be matched against the Utah Jazz's 6th man Jordan Clarkson.
Clarkson has gelled well into the Jazz offence after being traded mid-season from the Cavaliers. He has averaged 15.6 points in over 24 minutes of game-time.
Jordan Clarkson has provided a timely boost to the Utah Jazz on both the offensive and defensive ends. He has scored in double digits in almost every game played by the Utah Jazz after the NBA season restart.
#5: Mike Conley vs Monte Morris
Mike Conley is carrying serious momentum going into the NB playoffs against the Nuggets.
Conley has scored 20+ points multiple times since the NBA restart. He is getting more floor spacing as the defence has tended to focus more on Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. His offensive presence has also increased due to the absence of Bojan Bogdanovic, allowing him to increase his shot attempts.
On the contrary, Monte Morris entered the Bubble as a defensive guard when the Denver Nuggets arrived short-handed with Gary Harris (hip) and Will Barton (knee) out of action. He has averaged nine points this season with newly added minutes but will be majorly confined to keeping the Utah Jazz guards at bay.Published 16 Aug 2020, 03:24 IST