Denver Nuggets vs Utah Jazz: Round 1, Free Picks, Odds & Predictions

Denver vs Utah NBA Playoffs Round 1
NBA Playoffs

A series dominated by stellar guard play came down to two big men in Game 7. The Denver Nuggets relied on Nikola Jokic’s 30 points and 14 rebounds to edge out the Utah Jazz, who were led by 19 points and 18 rebounds from Rudy Gobert. Neither of the two standout guards in this series had productive conclusions as Jamal Murray was 7 of 21 from the field for 17 points for the Nuggets and Donovan Mitchell was 9-of-22 from the floor with 22 points for the Jazz. It was a shockingly low-scoring affair as both teams shot 38 percent or worse in the game.

Denver Nuggets win 4-3

The Denver Nuggets overcame a 3-1 series deficit with a remarkable run of games from Jamal Murray as he outdueled Donovan Mitchell in Games 5 and 6. Despite his poor conclusion to the series, Murray still averaged 31.6 points per game in the series and made 55 percent of his shots, including 53.3 percent from 3-point range. He’ll need to be that good again against the Clippers, who present far different challenges than the Jazz did. Meanwhile, Utah will see this as a missed opportunity after dominating Games 2-4 to jump out to a series lead, but it could not get anything going on offense in Game 7 and had no answer for Nikola Jokic inside.

Game 1

August 17th, 1:30 p.m., The Field House

Almost every Western Conference series will be a fascinating to watch, and this one between the third-seeded Denver Nuggets and sixth-seeded Utah Jazz is no exception. The two teams played a double-overtime thriller a week ago with Denver eking out a 134-132 victory, and I expect the games in the NBA postseason will be just as tight. Utah has one of the best volume scorers in the game in Donovan Mitchell while Denver has an elite post player who can stretch the floor with Nikola Jokic.

Denver had a strong start to the bubble with wins in three of its first five games, but the Nuggets couldn’t sustain that momentum in dropping their final three contests of the regular season. What the bubble did provide the foil for Michael Porter Jr.’s emergence as a scorer in the NBA as he dropped 23 or more points in four straight games to help boost Denver to those three wins. It also highlighted the importance of Jerami Grant off the bench, who had five of his 14 highest-scoring games of the season in Orlando.

Utah could not match that success in the bubble, dropping five of six games after defeating New Orleans in the opener to fall to the sixth seed. Donovan Mitchell averaged 21.7 points in the bubble – more than two points below his season average – and the Jazz struggled to consistently provide him with complementary scoring. Rudy Gobert was the closest Utah came, and Gobert has looked solid as well, but the Jazz need to find more perimeter scoring to take some pressure and attention off Mitchell. Utah also needs to fix its defense, which allowed opponents to shoot 49.4 percent from the floor and 37.7 percent from long range while scoring more than 116 points per game.

Ultimately, the Nuggets look to be a bit deeper than the Jazz, and that is what ultimately what will decide this series. The New Jersey online sports betting sites have a range of odds on Denver winning the series, but the best we’ve seen is -200. Instead hedge your bets on the length of this series with the Nuggets winning in six games (+350) or seven games (+450).

Both of these teams will be well-rested for Game 1 on Monday, and both will be eager to get off to a strong start in what will be a tense series. I’m curious if the time off has affected Porter’s shooting ability, but if he’s still locked in then it’ll be a long night for the Jazz. I expect Grant to continue his strong performance in the bubble and his points off the bench are what propels the Nuggets to a win at -146 odds.


Game 2 (Denver Nuggets lead 1-0)

August 19th, 4 p.m., AdventHealth Arena

The Denver Nuggets found an offensive rhythm led by Jamal Murray and used it to ease past the Utah Jazz in overtime Monday. Murray made 13 of his 20 shots, including 6-of-9 from 3-point range, and also dished out nine assists in helping the Nuggets make more than half of their shots in the game. Nikola Jokic scored 29 points to also help Denver, but he and Murray only beat Donovan Mitchell by eight points as the Utah sharpshooter scored 57 points to will his team into an extra session.

Michael Porter Jr. was a major catalyst for the Nuggets in the bubble entering the postseason, but he struggled Monday and scored only 13 points. In his place, Denver’s scoring depth was on display with not only Murray, but Jerami Grant adding 19 points off the bench and Monte Morris chipping in 14 points off the bench. The bench points are always important, but when you can get them consistently from players, it makes a world of difference in the game. It also helps that both of them had positive plus-minuses for the game and weren’t defensive liabilities.

Donovan Mitchell ran the show for the Jazz with his 57 points, but the bigger concern for Utah was its defense. The Jazz allowed the Nuggets to make 51.6 percent of its shots in the game, including 22 of its 41 attempts from 3-point range. Utah forced just 11 turnovers in the game and had three players finish with five fouls in the game. Even if Utah was able to better complement Mitchell’s scoring, its defensive struggles will doom them against a deep Nuggets squad.

Unless Utah finds a way to improve defensively, it’s hard to see how Mitchell can outscore the Nuggets almost by his lonesome. Denver was able to pick up the slack for Porter when he struggled Monday, and I don’t think Utah has an alternate plan if Mitchell isn’t having a great game. It’s that depth from the Nuggets that give me optimism in betting on them at -162 odds from New Jersey online sports betting websites.



Game 3 (Series tied 1-1)

August 21st, 4 p.m., AdventHealth Arena

When his team needed him Wednesday, Donovan Mitchell was ready to lead the Utah Jazz to a much-needed victory over the Denver Nuggets. Mitchell was efficient and deliberate in his offensive attack, knowing when to shoot and when to set up teammates for easy scores. He was a tremendous on-court team leader for Utah to help tie the close series. It wouldn’t have been a problem if Utah had lost Game 2 to Denver, but the Jazz must be feeling a lot better about themselves after evening the series with the Nuggets.

It was a quick slump for Michael Porter Jr., who responded from Game 1’s disappointment with 28 points, and Nikola Jokic also scored 28 points for Denver. The issue was the rest of the team, which shot 39.5 percent from the field and scored just 49 points. Jamal Murray had his share of struggles with just 14 points and four assists and Jerami Grant wasn’t nearly as effective off the bench as he’s been in recent weeks. It added up to a disappointing loss, but one that is easily correctable heading into Friday.

Mitchell is known mostly for his incredible ability to score, but he was an excellent facilitator of the offense in Game 2. He led Utah with eight assists and just created chances for his teammates with his presence on the court. When he did look for his own shot, he was efficient, making 10-of-14 attempts, including 6-of-7 from 3-point range en route to 30 points. He was complemented wonderfully by Jordan Clarkson’s 26 points off the bench as well as Joe Ingles’ 18 points, and the Jazz shot nearly 52 percent from the field as a team.

Game 3 is going to be a toss-up, and the New Jersey online sports betting sites agree with Denver only a slight favorite. This is going to come down to which team gets better production from role players because we know the stars are going to come to play. If Mitchell is as efficient Friday as he was Wednesday, and can create for his teammates like he did in Game 2, I’ll take Utah as the slight underdog. But if Murray can rebound after a poor performance and return to his form from the end of the regular season, Denver could easily win this game also. Ultimately, I have more faith in Mitchell, so I’m going with the Jazz at +108 odds to win.



Game 4 (Utah Jazz lead 2-1)

August 23rd, 9 p.m., AdventHealth Arena

It was the unusual superstars the stepped forward for the Utah Jazz in Game 3 against the Denver Nuggets. Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert led the cause for the Jazz in second straight convincing win over the Nuggets. Conley led all scorers with 27 points as he lit up the Nuggets from behind the arc while Gobert was a menace on the inside by using various actions to free himself in the lane. The Nuggets couldn’t respond to the challenges early then seemingly surrendered the match midway through the third quarter while trailing by more than 30 points.

Friday was such a harmonious night for Utah at both ends of the floor. The Jazz shot 51.2 percent from the floor and held the Nuggets to just 37.5 percent as everyone seemed to be on the same page on both ends of the court. Gobert brilliantly used pick-and-rolls to score 24 points and added 14 rebounds as well to lead the cause. Conley made seven of his eight 3-point attempts to help Utah shoot 48.6 percent from behind the arc and Joe Ingles dished out a team-best eight assists. It was the type of team effort around Donovan Mitchell – who had 20 points in the win – that the Jazz need to be contenders in the West this season.

There are so many places you can focus on for Denver in such an ugly loss. The Nuggets had just three players finish in double figures – including reserve center Bol Bol – and they made just 12 of 38 3-point attempts. Jamal Murray struggled mightily, Michael Porter Jr. was a defensive liability and was limited to just 15 minutes, and Nikola Jokic was slightly below-average. You could also focus on the fact the Nuggets had no answer for Conley’s hot shooting or the pick-and-roll game that Gobert thrived off of in the win.

Unless something changes Saturday, there is no reason to bet against Utah in Game 4. The Jazz have found a system that is working at both ends of the floor, so it’s up to the Nuggets to be able to adjust one way or the other. What Denver loses defensively when Porter is on the floor, it needs to find a way to correct because he’s become too important to the Nuggets’ offensive success. The Jazz, though, will pick and roll their way to a victory at -155 on the moneyline at the New Jersey online sports betting sites.



Game 5 (Utah Jazz lead 3-1)

August 25th, 6:30 p.m., The Field House

Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray got into a scoring duel, and Mitchell won the individual and team prize at the end of the game. Mitchell’s 51 points were enough for the Utah Jazz to outlast the Denver Nuggets despite 50 points from Murray, as the two opponents became the first to score 50 or more points in the same playoff game. Utah once again carved up Denver’s defense, but this time the Nuggets were able to score enough to keep pace with the Jazz. It wasn’t enough, however, as Utah is now one win away from advancing to the next round.

Mitchell stole the show for Utah, but Jordan Clarkson and Mike Conley also had big games for the Jazz backcourt. Clarkson scored 24 points and Conley added 26 points as Denver had no answer to slow down Utah’s three main guards. Combined, Clarkson, Conley and Mitchell made 32 of 53 shots for 101 of the Jazz’s 129 points in the game. Rudy Gobert was efficient in scoring 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting, but he proved to again be strong on the glass with 11 rebounds and a strong screen-setter to free up the guards’ success.

Murray had struggled in the last two games of the series, but emerged as a deep threat once again with nine 3-pointers in the loss. Nikola Jokic added 29 points as the second of four players in double figures, but defense is still the first priority for the Nuggets at the moment. Denver has been carved up the last three games by Utah’s offense, and it wasn’t any better Sunday despite the closer score. The Jazz made an astonishing 57.5 percent of their shots against the Nuggets, which overrode Denver’s rebounding advantage and 49-percent shooting.

Since it doesn’t look like Denver is going to be able to fix its defense, then Nuggets best hope is for all of their offensive players to click at the right time. I doubt that Game 5 will be that moment and Utah will be able to continue to make the Nuggets defense look like Swiss cheese. It might not be the same dominant performance from Mitchell, but the Jazz are skilled enough to pick apart Denver and slide into the next round. The New Jersey online sports betting sites have the Jazz as 2.5-pont favorites, but I’ll add a point to that spread and take Utah laying 3.5 points at +107 odds to finish the series.


Game 6 (Utah Jazz lead 3-2)

August 27th, 4:00 p.m., AdventHealth Arena

Jamal Murray had an incredible encore to his 50-point performance in Game 4. The guard dropped 42 points and made 17 of his 26 shots to extend the Denver Nuggets’ season with a Game 5 win over the Utah Jazz on Tuesday. Nikola Jokic added 31 points on 7-of-11 shooting from 3-point range to aid in the effort to extend his season by a game. Denver made 50.6 percent of its shots, including 45.7 percent from behind the arc, denying the Jazz from becoming the first Western Conference team to advance to the second round.

Denver’s formula for success in Game 5 is probably not repeatable, but it was sure fun to watch while it was happening. Jokic and Murray were dialed in from the opening tipoff and they put on an offensive clinic against Utah. The two of them combined to score 73 points and shoot 64.4 percent from the field while their teammates made just 35 percent of their attempts and scored 44 points. Although he wasn’t one of the stars Tuesday, it was important for Denver moving forward that Michael Porter Jr. feel confident again, and he has something to build off after scoring 15 points and making 3 of 7 from long range in the Game 5 victory.

There shouldn’t be any panic in the Utah locker room after falling in Game 5 because the Jazz still operated at a high level offensively. It wasn’t the efficient dismantling of Denver that the Jazz had in the previous two games, but most teams will sign up for making half their shots in a game and having six players finish in double figures. Donovan Mitchell was good but not great in scoring 30 points and Jordan Clarkson added his normal pop of energy and scoring off the bench as well. The biggest question facing Utah is how to slow down Murray before he takes over the series and leads Denver to two improbable victories in a row.

The Jazz are again slight favorites at the New Jersey online sports betting sites, which aligns perfectly with my pick. Denver has needed heroic efforts from Murray the past two games to stay competitive with Utah, which is problematic because at some point those shots are not going to fall at the same clip. The Nuggets cannot sustainably win games when allowing opponents to shoot 50 percent from the field and 47 percent from 3-point range, the same way they cannot rely on Murray and Jokic to shoot as well as they did in game 5. So I’ll take Utah laying the 1.5 points at -110 odds to advance in the postseason.



Game 7 (Series tied 3-3)

September 1st, 8:30 p.m., AdventHealth Arena

Jamal Murray’s sensational NBA playoffs continued in a big way Sunday as he again kept the Denver Nuggets alive against the Utah Jazz. He scored 50 points for the second time in three games to help the Nuggets force a winner-takes-all Game 7 against Utah after Denver trailed the series 3-1. Murray’s season high entering the playoffs was 39, a total he has eclipsed in each of the last three games, and he also scored 36 in Game 1, meaning four of his seven highest scoring totals of the season have come in the postseason. Donovan Mitchell scored 44 in the loss for Utah, which again struggled to keep Murray off the 3-point line and gave up 50-percent shooting from behind the arc to the Nuggets.

Murray has just been dominating the court in the past three games with a pair of 50-point games sandwiching a 42-point effort in Game 5. He’s shooting 64.2 percent from the field in that span and made 22 of his 36 3-point attempts in the last three games. Nikola Jokic added 22 points and two others reached double figures, but Denver’s reliance on Murray could be a problem in a decisive game. Michael Porter Jr. had 12 rebounds Sunday, but his shooting has been off in this series, and the Nuggets will need that secondary scoring at some point. As a team, the Nuggets shot 55 from the floor in Game 6, but three of their four starters were still in negative plus/minus and Jokic was only plus-1, which tells you Denver’s margin for error is thin.

Utah didn’t exploit the Denver defense nearly as much as it did when it jumped out to that 3-1 series lead, so the Jazz will need a new strategy. Mitchell’s 44 points and Mike Conley’s complementary 21 points were very helpful, but this series will be won or lost based on how well Jordan Clarkson and Georges Niang can defend off the bench. The pair were a liability on defense when they were on the floor as both had large negatives in plus/minus that averaged out to just shy of one point per minute. Utah was also badly outrebounded 43-30, something that will need to change in order to limit Denver’s possessions and keep the ball out of Murray’s hands.

It seems like a cliché, but Game 7 will be determined by one final duel between Mitchell and Murray. Both scorers have been extraordinary in this series and now they have everything to play for Tuesday night in the decisive game of the series. Whichever team does the best job of defending the other team’s star player will likely advance out of this hard-fought series. The New Jersey online sports betting sites have installed Utah as a slight favorite, and I tend to agree with them. However, Murray should be slowing down at some point and regressing to his 20-point average, according to statistics, but there’s no reason that won’t come in a second-round series should Denver advance. Against my better judgement, I’ll side with the hot shooter and pick Denver to win Game 7 at -103 odds.



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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

All Reviews by Josh Walfish