Nuggets/ Jazz Series Preview
Much more than Mr. Big Shot and DWill.
by Sulaiman Folarin
There won’t be any war of words between these two divisional rivals, maybe after Game 1, but there certainly won’t be any mind games like Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson was seen playing with Kevin Durant. But the Denver Nuggets led by Carmelo Anthony and hometown kid Chauncey Billups will have their hands full when they play a seven-game series against the Utah Jazz and their veteran coach Jerry Sloan.
Facing off in a Playoff series for the first time since 1994, the Nuggets, fortunately, slipped to the division title courtesy of a Jazz loss to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday.
Just a quick reminder, Denver was humiliated the previous day by the Steve Nash-led Suns too.
But this has nothing to do with Phoenix though they helped determine the order of the Northwest Division. For a while though, the Jazz did have Denver’s number, but this past season, things were different.
Remember the Nuggets opened their season — at home — with an emphatic 114-105 win over the Jazz at the Pepsi Center. High point of that game was Anthony’s steal and a dunk midway through the fourth quarter.
Problem is no one remembers that far back, which was October 2009.
Though the Nuggets won the regular season series 3-1 and beat Utah 105-95 in Salt Lake without Billups and Anthony that was not Adrian Dantley leading the team, rather George Karl, who is currently recovering from his battle with cancer.
The Nuggets play well against the Jazz and should exploit their lack of interior defense. No legitimate shot blocker means the Nuggets might get a lot of points in the paint and also get to the line often, unless they decide to settle for pointless jump shots.
The Jazz will rely on their pick-and-roll (something we have seen a lot of since the 80’s), the Nuggets on the other hand will play iso-basketball, with guys looking for their shots; a little sharing can help.
Both teams will rely heavily on their star players, and though Denver will have a walking coach in Billups on the floor, the Nuggets won’t have that advantage when it comes to the bench.
This post-season, the Nuggets not only dropped [in comparison to last year] from second in the West to fourth, they won’t have the veteran coach Karl on the bench. People always say players go out to perform, but it’s important to note that coaches place a huge role in wins and losses as well.
Granted it’s a professor versus the rookie in the post-season, anything can happen and that’s the beauty of the NBA’s post-season.
POINT GUARD: CHAUNCEY BILLUPS VS. DERON WILLIAMS
Billups might be older, but his NBA post-season pedigree is one you cannot overlook. His resume in the Playoffs is impressive, but age is no longer on his side. Williams certainly will need help, but with Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko not being fully fit, where will that come from as Batman will need a Robin to get through a seven-game series against the tough Nuggets.
Williams has a chip on his shoulder. He plays second and maybe third fiddle to Chris Paul and Steve Nash when people mention point guards in the West, so maybe this is his time to show he can carry the team. The question is can he hit the big shots like “Mr. Big Shot” himself?
SHOOTING GUARD: ARRON AFFLALO VS. WESLEY MATHEWS
Unless you follow the game religiously, you really have no idea who these two shooting guards are. On one side is Arron Afflalo who lost in two NCAA Final Fours, was drafted by the Detroit Pistons and brought in by Karl to be that defensive stalwart the team needed in that position this season. On the other side, Wesley Matthews, from Marquette, well he plays defense too. These two are very important because they are both great defensively matching up against opposing perimeter players and isn’t that what wins championships? Afflalo holds the edge over the undrafted Matthews and that is key for Denver.
SMALL FORWARD: CARMELO ANTHONY VS. ANDREI KIRILENKO
There might be questions here, but come tip-off time, we should have them answered. Will Kirilenko play at 100 percent? Can Anthony put up a similar post-season performance from last season? With NBA players and athletes in general, nobody ever plays 100 percent anymore.
As for Anthony, he started the season well leading the League in scoring, but besides that, his shooting and scoring touch has stayed with him from last season. The basket looks a lot larger for “Melo” and scoring comes easier too; that’s the maturity and looking for the right shot.
Though “AK 47” might be injured, he probably won’t be guarding Anthony a lot with that job going elsewhere. Regardless of his injury status, Anthony has owned Kirilenko in the past and Sloan is not looking to expose his not-so-fully-fit small forward to an explosive player during the post-season. Whoever the Jazz match with Anthony, he should always have the upper hand. Match him up with smaller player, he overpowers them, someone bigger, Anthony blows by him.
POWER FORWARD: KENYON MARTIN VS. CARLOS BOOZER
Though Boozer is not at full strength [neither is Kenyon Martin], the Jazz big man has the advantage. No one knows the status of Boozer’s strained oblique and for Denver can Martin’s left knee hold up just enough? Martin had been away for five weeks and only played the last three games in the regular season. Though both teams don’t have their power forwards at full strength, Boozer is a go-to option for Sloan on offense any day. Martin’s defense will have to be top notch to stop Boozer who is a great scorer on any given night. Unless Martin gets some extraordinary shooting touch over night, Boozer gets this even with a bad oblique.
CENTER: NENE VS. MEHMET OKUR
Both gifted centers are not the greatest. Both can be very inconsistent on any given night, but Mehmet Okur’s ability to spread the floor with his outside shooting makes him a treat to the Nuggets. Nene is the more aggressive of the two and that is saying very little. Okur is more of a softer player and if Nene shows the same aggression witnessed during the post-season last year, expect Okur and the Jazz to go fishing with Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley very soon.
If Okur hits his shots though, Melo and his gang might be the ones on TNT’s infamous post-season pictures with the boat sailing away from the shore.
BENCH: NUGGETS VS. JAZZ
The Nuggets have a talented player coming off the bench. The problem is J.R. Smith is very unpredictable. Rather than have him handle the ball, Dantley should have Smith coming off screens to knock down jumpers, but they should not be ill-advised shots either; something he is prone to doing a lot of. Crowd favorite Chris “Birdman” Andersen must stick to playing smart defense first, smarter defense second and offense last. The Birdman should also refrain from biting on pump fakes. He fouls on a lot of those and also causes problems on defense, though he gets his blocks in as well. Rookie guard Ty Lawson’s ability to perform during the post-season will be crucial; Billups will need some rest and getting his rookie protégé in there is important, but getting his shots and creating for others should produce a series win.
The Jazz will rely on Paul Milsap, a player who can provide interior defense off the bench than any of their starters.
Problem is he comes off the bench.
Kyle Korver and CJ Miles will be great offense, but how will they handle the Nuggets defenders? Korver is a liability on defense by the way and combined with Miles, they cannot produce like Smith does for Denver [that’s if Smith goes on a scoring spree].
COACHING: ADRIAN DANTLEY VS. JERRY SLOAN
It’s a battle of the professor (Sloan) and the student (Dantley). The student has been learning some tricks from another veteran coach, but Karl won’t be there to give Dantley tips. Sloan has seen it all; two NBA finals appearances with Karl Malone and John Stockton, he’s been through multiple American presidents from the first George Bush, to now Barack Obama. He has seen it all in the League, from trash talking days to players going on Twitter, short shorts to baggy pants.
Get the point.
Unless Dantley invents a new offense Sloan knows nothing about, the season veteran wins this battle.
OUTCOME: NUGGETS in SIX