1. All in all, it was a very nice bounce back game for the Utah Jazz.
A young team is going to have its share of ups and downs. After a pair of stellar games versus two contenders, Wednesday’s horrible loss to the Los Angeles Lakers brought things back to earth for the Jazz. Fortunately, they were able to get back to the ups in their commanding 104-82 victory over the Denver Nuggets.
Utah was simply many times better than its opponent. It was not even close. The Jazz offense was clicking. They were following head coach Quin Snyder’s desire to “play with the pass”, with 24 of their 39 field goals assisted– 61.5 percent. They continually got good shots, and were hitting them to the tune of 57.4 percent. The inside-outside attack was working well. With Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert controlling things inside, Utah outscored Denver 50-36 in the paint. The interior dominance was complemented perfectly by some deft perimeter marksmanship. And after some dreadful nights at the free throw line, the Jazz connected on 81 percent from the charity stripe. The scoring was spread around, with five players reached double-figures. 20 turnovers was a bit much, but you’ll take it in a performance this dominant otherwise.
On defense, Utah was aggressive and smart. Jerry Sloan was probably watching with approval, as the deflections were frequent all evening. Add in 15 blocked shots and 13 steals and Denver was dead early on. As has been the case all season, Gobert’s presence was huge–literally and figuratively. Denver had to change their schemes as a result, and it was not pretty. The Nuggets shot 33.3 percent from the floor, but it felt like it was a lot lower.
2. It was a good night to be a Jazz rookie.
After the transactions of the last week, Utah now sports seven rookies on its squad. Yes, seven. We’re talking about 46.7 percent of the roster. One of the NBA’s youngest rosters just got even younger. And Friday was productive for each of the rookies in different ways.
First, Rodney Hood is improving every passing game. The smooth swingman connected on five of eight shots, burying all three of his 3-point attempts. His 14 points was one point shy of his career-high. More impressive was his confidence on both ends of the court. While he got beat a few times on defense, the effort is there. He displayed a nice floater and has the potential to take it to the hoop, and is looking more and more sure of his abilities on the big stage. With his injury setbacks, the last two months will be very big for Hood and his development.
Second, Dante Exum’s stat line was pedestrian: just two points, two rebounds and one assist. He had another game where his lack of aggressiveness was again apparent. That said, his defense continues to be quite good. His speed and lateral quickness allowed him to stay with the jetty Ty Lawson, who he helped contain to six points and six assists–10 points and four assists below his season averages.
Third, Joe Ingles had a pair of plays early on that set the tone for the thrashing. His first trey was three feet beyond the basket–a terrible air ball. Instead of shying away, he calmly drained his very next 3-point shot. That confidence was contagious, and Ingles had another all-around night, dishing out five assists to go with his 10 points and four rebounds.
Fourth, Elijah Millsap had another solid performance. With seven points, three assists and three rebounds, he was a solid boost off the bench. His defensive potential is evident. While he missed a few rotations, he plays with a scrappiness that infuses the lineup with energy.
Given the blowout nature of Friday’s outing, all seven got playing time, with point guard Bryce Cotton and forwards Jack Cooley and Grant Jerrett all making their Utah Jazz debuts. Cotton and Cooley both scored their first NBA career points, something that has to be enormously exciting for them and their families.
3. Denver simply looks discombobulated.
It is hard to understand where the Denver Nuggets are heading. They recently jettisoned Timofey Mozgov, Arron Afflalo, Alonzo Gee and JaVale McGee, giving them an entirely different roster. The veterans remaining–Kenneth Faried, Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari–looked disinterested on Friday and a few of them are having very disappointing seasons. The result is an odd mix of players who do not seem to fit together. Head coach Brian Shaw seems to have lost some control of his team and his play-calling on Friday was occasionally baffling. They failed to make adjustments and the effort was entirely listless.
There are certainly some nice young players on Denver’s roster, with some good draft picks forthcoming. Still, it has to be a difficult time for Nuggets fans.