Jazz strive to continue dominance against Nuggets


Everything is clicking for the Utah Jazz on offense and defense these days.

The Jazz have overwhelmed the Denver Nuggets on both ends of the court in two consecutive games. Heading into a pivotal Game 4 on Sunday between the two Rocky Mountain rivals, Utah is playing like a team that has already seized control of the first-round series.

In three games against Denver, the Jazz are averaging 18 made 3-pointers per game and have shot 45 percent or better from behind the arc in both victories. Mike Conley encapsulated that effectiveness from long range in a 124-87 Game 3 victory on Friday near Orlando.

Conley shot a career-best 7-of-8 from 3-point range in his return from a two-game absence and finished with a team-high 27 points.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, he’s a terrific player,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “He’s found a rhythm as the season’s gone on and it shows.”

Rudy Gobert has also found a rhythm. His dominance inside is a big reason for how well the Jazz bounced back after falling to the Nuggets in overtime in Game 1. Gobert racked up 20 points and 11 rebounds before halftime on Friday and finished with 24 points and 14 boards.

He made it look easy along the way. Gobert repeatedly attacked open lanes to the basket for uncontested layups and dunks. On defense, he refused to let Denver get clean looks around the rim.

“I just try to set the tone, mostly of course on the defensive end,” Gobert said. “Defensively I try to be a force and be aggressive — whether it’s setting screens, running the floor, finishing and trying to be aggressive. It’s all about trying to set the tone.”

Denver has been setting the wrong sort of tone over its past two games. The Nuggets are a mess on defense and have struggled to find a consistent rhythm on offense.

Slow starts continue to be a thorn in Denver’s side.

The Nuggets endured an abysmal first quarter on Friday, shooting 6-of-18 from the floor — including 2-of-9 from 3-point range. An inability to attack the paint only exacerbated those outside shooting woes. Denver was outscored 30-12 in the paint before halftime.

The Nuggets made it easy for Utah to find a rhythm. Denver coughed up 11 first-half turnovers and rarely contested shots.

“The energy (by us) was terrible,” big man Nikola Jokic said. “There was no reason, we just didn’t know what we were doing…We had energy, it just kind of wasn’t in the right way.”

Denver’s sudden slump on offense will not likely carry over to Game 4, but defense remains a persistent issue. Utah’s perimeter shooting has improved in each game in the series, culminating in the Jazz shooting 18-of-37 behind the arc on Friday. The Nuggets are paying a steep price for repeated mental lapses when it comes to closing out on perimeter shooters.

“They’re playing at a different level than us right now,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We have to somehow find a way to not only match but exceed that going into Game No. 4.”

–Field Level Media

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