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Tonight the Utah Jazz look to take one on the road against the Denver Nuggets. Currently, the Jazz are a game behind the Nuggets, who are second in the Northwest Division. With a chance to overtake a team that is somewhat a division rival, the Jazz players are taking this game very seriously.
"Every game is big for us right now, just because we dug ourselves in such a hole," said Jazz point guard Deron Williams, referring to the team’s awful December.
"We're trying to catch back up to where we'd like to be at in our division, and the playoff hunt in general. So every game is a big game. As it's been for about a month. But this game we have an opportunity to actually gain an entire game on one of the teams in our division, and that's huge for us because we'd like to repeat as division champion if we can. So it is a big game," added Jazz power forward Carlos Boozer.
Small forward Andrei Kirilenko tried to downplay tonight’s game. “You media like those words ‘rivalry’ and ‘special’ games. It is a special game.”
The Jazz are coming off a four game home win streak. Unfortunately, they’ve been awful on the road, winning only 6 of 20 away games. They will be playing at the hostile Pepsi Center, where the Nuggets are 15-5 this season.
Even though the Nuggets clearly have a home court advantage, an undermanned roster is going to be detrimental, especially in their front court. Nene is on a medical leave due to having a testicular tumor removed. His website has announced that his tumor was benign, and on behalf of Utah Jazz fans everywhere, I wish him a healthy recovery. Kenyon Martin is battling a staph infection in his buttocks. I’m not making that one up.
Taking their playing time is Eduardo Najera, who has been scoreless in his last two games. His condition is suspect as well; he was recently inactive due to a hyperextended elbow.
The Denver guards’ situation isn’t much better either. Chucky Atkins is out with a hernia, and J.R. Smith might be suspended due to a verbal argument with NBA referee Marc Davis during Tuesday night’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
On the other side, the Jazz lineup is fairly healthy and has no combustible incidents. This will be the first these teams will play each other. That said, there is not much to go on but prior encounters. So how is the Jazz going to win tonight?
The Jazz must keep Allen Iverson out of the paint. When he’s driving to the bucket he’s at his best; he can score, he is a very accurate passer in traffic and he can draw fouls. The latter is a huge problem because he’s great from the free throw line. Fortunately, Iverson isn’t the best outside shooter. The Jazz really need to keep him as far away from the basket as possible.
Denver’s other high scorer, Carmelo Anthony poses other problems, as he can score with great versatility. In previous Jazz/Nuggets games, I’ve noticed that Matt Harpring does a great job guarding him. Harpring’s physical defense seems to really irritate Carmelo, which forces him into taking really bad shots and turning the ball over. When Carmelo gets frustrated he really shuts down.
Offensively, the Jazz really need to get Mehmet Okur involved. With him being a good shooter from the outside, that causes Denver center Marcus Camby out of the paint. Camby is undeniably great (he’s a former Defensive Player of the Year), but around the three point line he is not nearly effective.
Getting Camby away from the paint allows Boozer to be a beast from the block, and allows guys like Williams and Kirilenko to cut from the basket. If they keep Camby down low, the smaller Nuggets guards will have a difficult time guarding the seven footer.
Either way, it should be a great game to watch. Both teams can score, and the team that does a better job controlling the ball and shoots better at the free throw line will win the game.
Tonight’s game starts at 9 PM Eastern Time and is available on NBA League Pass.