Game Preview: Jazz vs. Nuggets (Game 7)
So far, the 2020 NBA Playoffs have featured two players score 50-plus points four times. Jazz All-Star shooting guard Donovan Mitchell did it in a Game 1 loss and Nuggets sharp-shooting point guard Jamal Murray in a Game 6 victory. Both of them reached the 50 point mark in a tightly contested 129-127 win for Utah in Game 4.
Surprisingly, for a series split 3-3, every other game has been decided by more than double-digits as one team has dominated while the other revealed their flaws. Additionally, with series-long team stats that are close to identical, Game 7 should come down to whichever team masks their weaknesses better while utilizing their strengths.
An easier way to compare the teams could be to take out the star-studded guards and see what’s left. If Murray and Mitchell are having off nights or are locked up by defenders, who does each team have left to go to?
The easy answer for the Nuggets is All-Star center Nikola Jokic. He’s averaging 25.7 points per game and almost 50% from three in the series. And if the big man gets in trouble down low, his advanced passing ability can create open jumpers for his teammates. If Denver needs a bucket or two in crunch time, Jokic can certainly be relied on with the ball in his hands.
Rookie forward Michael Porter Jr. is a viable option as well. He leads the team in rebounds in the series at just under seven, and while the 21-year-old scorer is known for creating his own shot, he’s also reliable on catch-and-shoot opportunities. His plug-and-play style could give Denver an extra boost down the stretch.
Utah’s secondary options are a bit different. All-Star big man Rudy Gobert is a true center and has done well on pick-and-rolls so far against Denver. He’s the strongest man on the floor and has been extremely tough to stop inside, especially if he gets favorable positioning. He’s also the only player averaging double-digit rebounds in the series at 10.3, providing the Jazz extra possessions and opportunities.
Veteran point guards Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson have also been a big help for Utah so far in the series, averaging 22.8 and 17.8 points per game, respectively. Conley has also been great from beyond the arc, shooting over 60% on 28 attempts, while Clarkson has focused more on his mid-range game, giving the Jazz options from all over the frontcourt.
Who Can Make the Stops?
With both teams averaging over 115 points a night, the defensive end of the floor obviously hasn’t been a huge emphasis for either squad. Even in the regular season, their defensive ratings were both in the middle of the pack.
Utah’s rating is most likely inflated by Gobert. He’s an impressive rim protector and shot blocker, however he can’t guard Jokic when he goes outside. The Jazz don’t have too much defensive presence on the perimeter at all. On the other hand, Denver showed some impressive perimeter coverage during the regular season. But now, they’re without their two best defenders in Gary Harris and Will Barton due to injury.
Key players for both teams will have to take it to the next level on defense if they want to advance to round two. Mitchell and Conley will look for pick-pockets and lazy passes as they are both averaging over a steal per game in the series. Nuggets power forward Jerami Grant will look to improve on his seven blocks and assist Jokic on Gobert down low.
Utah and Denver are very similar, evenly-matched teams. Both have a leader in a shooting-happy guard, both have a center as a second option, both have reliable role players who can score, and neither is great on the defensive side.
But in a Game 7 scenario, the players who can take over are the most important, and Murray, Jokic and even Porter Jr. can do that for the Nuggets. On the other hand, the Jazz only have one player who gets his team buckets night in and night out and that's Mitchell.
The Nuggets should take this game and advance to the second round.
Final Score Prediction: Nuggets 121, Jazz 109
Jack McCune is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.