Short-handed Nuggets host hot Jazz

NBA
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The Denver Nuggets are dealing with injuries to key rotation players, so the tough schedule to end the month of January is even rougher for them.

The last three games come against teams with a combined 33-7 record for January, with games left against two of the hottest teams in the NBA.

Denver travels to play Milwaukee on Friday night, but before facing a team that is 11-1 for the month, the Utah Jazz come to town for a key showdown on Thursday night. It is the first meeting of the season between the teams.

Utah enters the matchup at 11-3 for the month after its 127-120 loss at San Antonio on Wednesday night, but fatigue won’t be a factor in a battle for first place in the Northwest Division. The Nuggets have been atop the division most of the season but the recent play by the Jazz had vaulted them over Denver.

The loss to the Spurs on Wednesday night left both teams with a 32-15 record. It figures to be a tight race for the second half of the season, which makes Thursday’s nationally televised game even more important.

The Nuggets are coming off a 104-96 loss at Memphis on Tuesday night, a game in which they looked fatigued and out of sync without Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee. Guard Gary Harris is back from a right adductor strain but he is on a minutes restriction.

Murray (left ankle), Millsap (left knee contusion) and Plumlee (right foot injury) will not play against Utah, making things more difficult against the Jazz.

Denver’s defense was soft in the middle against the Grizzlies and the offense struggled. Memphis had 11 blocks and forced 19 turnovers, seven by Nikola Jokic, who finished with 25 points and 13 rebounds.

“We had a lot of failed possessions,” Jokic said. “Defense was not what it was supposed to be. We were living in the paint. They would blow by us.”

Plumlee’s defense might have helped shore up the paint defense but until he gets back the Nuggets will have to find a way to keep Utah’s guards from getting to the rim. Jokic will also have to figure out how to score against Rudy Gobert, who is fourth in the league in blocks with 2.0 per game.

The Jazz can’t relax against Denver, a lesson they learned in dropping a home game to the short-handed Houston Rockets on Monday night. Head coach Quin Snyder said before that game it’s dangerous to take a hurting team lightly, and then Houston made him prophetic.

“Well, I think there’s plenty of examples of short-handed teams playing well and winning,” he said. “And I think as much as we’ve talked about a couple things — we’ve talked about getting better throughout the course of the year, and in order to do that, we’ve wanted to make it about us and how we play. Obviously competition helps clarify those things for you.”

Utah should be motivated now that it has lost consecutive games for the first time since dropping three in a row from Dec. 1-4.

–Field Level Media

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