The top teams in the Northwest Division square off in what could double as a Western Conference semifinal preview if both teams are able to advance past their first-round opponents. As things currently stand, Utah is hanging on to the top record in the entire NBA despite missing its starting backcourt while a Denver squad that is without most of its top guards is running fourth in the West and has at least locked up homecourt advantage in a first-round series while still in the mix to catch the L.A. Clippers for the third seed.
Following the Clips’ blowout win over the LeBron James-less Lakers on Thursday night, the Nuggets enter weekend action a half-game behind L.A. in a race that is expected to come down to the wire. However, if the current standings hold, these rivals that know each other extremely well would meet for a trip to the Western Conference finals if they avoid first-round upsets.
Nuggets at Jazz picks and predictions hinge on which backup backcourt you believe in most, not to mention whether you can see two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert slowing down MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic, who comes off an enormous game in a win over the Knicks and continues to put his depleted team on his back, solidifying his candidacy as this season’s top performer.
Utah Jazz Vs. Denver Nuggets
- Time/Venue: 9:10 p.m. ET, Vivint Arena
- TV: Altitude
Jazz Seek To Hold Off Suns For NBA’s Top Record
Despite being without star guard Donovan Mitchell for the past three weeks due to an ankle sprain suffered against the Pacers and All-Star point guard Mike Conley due to a hamstring issue for the last five games, the Jazz have managed to take back the top spot in the West that they briefly surrendered to Utah and are poised to wind up with homecourt advantage for however long they last in the NBA playoffs if they’re able to post a strong finish.
Joe Ingles, who leads the NBA in true shooting percentage, top 3-point maker Bojan Bogdanovic and Sixth Man of the Year favorite Jordan Clarkson have stepped up in helping Utah win four of its last five games, including three in succession as they take the floor at home against Denver and Houston in a Friday-Saturday back-to-back. Mitchell and Conley may both return for a final push as early as Monday at Golden State but that remains to be seen.
Despite missing their All-Star guards, the Jazz opened May by holding off the Raptors and then posting consecutive double-digit wins over the Spurs, the latest of which came in a 126-94 blowout on Wednesday. The victories added to the league’s top home record, which currently stands at an astounding 29-4. Following Saturday night’s game against the Rockets, Utah has just one regular-season home game left, which will they’ll play against potential first-round opponent Portland, who is desperately looking to avoid that possibility by staying out of the play-in round.
Gobert has been brilliant again on the defensive end while versatile forward Royce O’Neale has flourished all season in his glue-guy role. Stretch-four Georges Niang has joined the starting lineup to keep top reserves, Clarkson and Derrick Favors, in their customary roles. Although stretched thin and leaning on younger players like Miye Oni and Trent Forrest to fill in here and there, the Jazz have more than enough ammunition to hold off the Suns, who enter Friday’s action one game behind in the West but who do hold the head-to-head tiebreaker between the squads courtesy of a regular-season sweep. The Suns also have a light schedule to close the season, playing one of their toughest remaining games at home against New York on Friday night. With little room for error, count on seeing a motivated Utah Jazz team tonight.
Jokic Looks Increasingly Likely to Win MVP, Nuggets Flourishing
Denver has incredibly won 10 of 12 games since losing top guard Jamal Murray to a torn ACL back on April 12, which is even more impressive since it has been without another top playmaker in wing Will Barton due to a hamstring injury for the past seven games. He’s close to a return but will miss another contest in Salt Lake City tonight.
P.J. Dozier, who had been filling in and playing major minutes without Murray and Barton available, suffered an adductor strain to open the week and is in for an extended absence. In true “next man up” fashion, 30-year-old Argentinean rookie Facundo Campazzo, recently signed veteran Austin Rivers and undrafted guard Shaquille Harrison, on a two-way contract, have stepped up and played solid basketball.
Whether that’s sustainable remains to be seen and it will surely be a relief to get Barton back, but Jokic has strengthened his MVP candidacy in ensuring no drop-off for last year’s Western Conference runner-up. DraftKings lists Jokic as a -2000 favorite after he was +200 there as recently as mid-March. FanDuel has him at -1000, which is still enormous ‘chalk.’ Jokic deserves it. Even though Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Phoenix’s Chris Paul are worthy candidates, Jokic has separated himself thanks to a brilliant past few months.
The 6-foot-11 Serbian center outscored the entire Knicks team in the first quarter of Wednesday’s 113-97 blowout win, adding to his amazing resume with 32 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists. He leads Denver in all categories with 26.4 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.4 assists. Nuggets at Jazz picks and predictions will hinge on how effective he can continue to be in combatting the length of the 7-foot-4 Gobert, but it should be noted that his team has won four of the past five meetings between these teams, prevailing in three tight games last season while splitting a pair of matchups in Denver’s Ball Arena in 2021.
Following Friday’s showdown, the Nuggets turn right around and head home for their final game against a talented Brooklyn Nets team led by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. They’ll close the season on the road at Charlotte, Minnesota, Detroit, and Portland and will likely be favored in all of those games with the exception of the last one at the Trail Blazers.
Sports Betting Line Analysis
These teams played on a pair of Sundays in January, so they’ll be renewing acquaintances for the first time in months despite playing in the same division. Utah won 109-105 on Jan. 17 despite Jokic’s 35 points, 14 boards, and nine assists as a 1.5-point favorite in a game that snuck in just under the posted total of 219.5. The Nuggets got revenge 128-117 on Jan. 31 as Jokic dominated with 47 points and 12 rebounds, going right through Gobert, Favors and anyone else Utah sent his way. Denver closed as a 3-point home underdog and that total closed at 221 and was surpassed easily as the Nuggets set the tone with a 79-point first half.
BetRivers lists the Jazz as a 4.5-point home favorite and sets the total at 216.5. FanDuel and DraftKings opened with the Jazz laying just three points but have shifted that number to 4. Westgate and William Hill have held steady at that number. This will be just the third time Denver is in an underdog role over the last 20 games despite all of its injuries. The Nuggets are 32-34 against the spread, while Utah is 38-28 and an impressive 22-11 at home.
The total opened as high as 220 at DraftKings, fluctuated in the 219 range, and has come down to where most shops have in the 216.5-217 range. The Nuggets have seen seven of their last nine contests close ‘under’ the posted total, while the Jazz have closed on the low side in six of nine.
Injuries/Rotational Adjustments To Watch
The Jazz are utilizing Niang as a starter to keep a shooting threat out on the floor at all times, giving them three around Gobert and O’Neale. Clarkson comes off the bench looking to get in the paint and play catalyst, so Utah remains reliant on ball movement and still has some solid depth to lean on in spite of missing both All-Star guards.
The Nuggets have moved Campazzo into a starting role with primary backup Monte Morris also out with a hamstring issue. The versatility and length of Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon have those guys on the wing now with Paul Millsap moving into the starting five in head coach Michael Malone’s latest wrinkle.
Nuggets At Jazz Handicapping Notes And Pick
Jokic has been remarkable all season and dominated against Gobert back in January, so it’s hard to lay the points with Utah here. The Jazz are fantastic at home and can catch fire from beyond the arc while also being deadly from the free-throw line if closing a game out late, so I’m not keen on taking points with Denver either. Instead, the recommendation is to expect both teams to score effectively in clearing a posted that has come down some, creating a little value. Find it at 216.5 and pull the trigger.