Thursday NBA on TNT Preview: Utah at Denver
by Matt Severance - 04/01/2009
The schedule makers did no favors for the Utah Jazz this week, with the team facing two back-to-backs. Utah made it through a Monday-Tuesday double with a home win over the Knicks but then got trounced the next night in Portland, 125-104.
Utah star Deron Williams said the team frankly was set up for Tuesday's blowout loss since the Jazz had blown 21- and 24-point leads in closer-than-they-should-have-been wins over Phoenix and New York in their previous two games.
Portland shot 61.8 percent from the field, the best percentage by six points this season and best against Utah since February 1995, and both Coach Jerry Sloan and Carlos Boozer were ejected.
"You could kind of see it coming after those last two games," he said. "Even though we won, we disappeared in the second half. We came out (Tuesday) and we're not even ready to play."
Tonight's game in Denver is the first of another back-to-back, with Minnesota awaiting the Jazz in Salt Lake City on Friday night. But the Jazz certainly won't be looking past the Nuggets, who lead third-place Utah by 2.5 games in the Northwest Division, with Portland sandwiched in between at 1.5 games back of the Nuggets.
Utah also sits in seventh in the West but is in danger of being caught from behind by Dallas, which would mean a first-round matchup with the Lakers. And the Jazz are four-point dogs in Denver because they are simply not a good road team at 14-22, including losing five of their past six (1-5 ATS). They are 0-10 on the road against the West's top nine teams and have lost a whopping 15 consecutive road games against teams with winning records.
The Jazz have had success against Denver this season - but only at home and not against the spread (0-3 ATS). Utah has won both games in Salt Lake City against the Nuggets but lost by 20 on Jan. 25 in its lone game in the Mile High City this season. In fairness, that January loss was the second of a back-to-back for Utah, and it was without Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko.
Sloan, by the way, is expected to coach Thursday despite the death of his brother Tuesday. However, Sloan won't be on the bench for Friday's game against the Timberwolves.
Denver, currently in a dogfight for No. 2 in the West, has clinched a playoff spot in March for the first time in 21 seasons. At 49-26, the Nuggets have their best-ever record through 75 games. They handled the Knicks 111-104 on Tuesday for their fourth straight win and ninth in 10 games (6-4 ATS) and haven't lost at home since March 9. Carmelo Anthony has been carrying the load lately, averaging 30.9 points in the past seven games.
"He was banged up, and I think he's feeling better. There's no question he's playing his best basketball of the season," Coach George Karl said of Anthony to the Denver Post.
Nene, the team's top rebounder and third-leading scorer, sustained a mild sprain of his right ankle in that win against the Knicks but is probable for Thursday. And fellow big man Kenyon Martin says he is as healthy as he has been in weeks.
With games remaining against the Clippers, Timberwolves, Thunder and Kings (plus at the Lakers), Denver is in good position to win the Northwest Division and the No. 2 spot in the conference, although that April 15 finale at Portland could be the decider. Getting homecourt advantage in any round this season would be a first in Karl's five seasons with the Nuggets.