Nuggets – Jazz Preview: Rudy Gobert Is The One That Got Away


After a fast start to the Melvin Hunt era in Denver, the Nuggets are looking to save his chances of becoming the team’s permanent head coach in the offseason. Tonight, they will take on a Utah Jazz team that is on a slide of its own — after looking like the NBA’s most dominant defense for 18 games.

The Nuggets (27-45) are coming off of a sloppy 99-85 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. They looked disorganized and forced a number of shots during a large portion of that game, but they still managed to take a 74-72 lead late in the third quarter. Philadelphia ended up having more gas than Denver, as the Nuggets tied a franchise-worst record by scoring nine points in the fourth quarter.

Denver is now 1-4 in its last five games, after starting 6-2 with Hunt as their coach. When Hunt was initially elevated to the head coaching position, the team’s offense flowed beautifully, but they have struggled to find consistency the past two weeks. They have been held to 91 points in three of their past five games.

While Denver’s offense has been their calling card, the Jazz (31-40) have been reliant on great defense. Between February 7th and March 19th, Utah was limiting their opposition to shooting 39.8-percent from the field, while averaging 83.9 points per-game. However, the script has flipped over the past three games, with the Jazz allowing teams to shoot 46.0-percent and score 101.3 points per-game. Unsurprisingly, the Jazz lost all three of those games. They haven’t lost four in a row since early in the season, when they dropped nine in a row from November 21st to December 8th.

Their defense was top-notch for three quarters against the Portland Trailblazers on Wednesday, but they dropped the ball in the fourth quarter, when they allowed 37 points. Their defense was gutted and dissected like a frog in biology class — exposing the under-belly of a once-living creature. Portland’s Damian Lillard sliced and diced his way to the basket, making the Jazz’ interior defense look as soft as a cotton ball soaked in chloroform.

You can’t take too much stock into the fact that the Jazz let Lillard expose them. It was more of an exception rather than the rule. Since the Jazz traded former center Enes Kanter to the Oklahoma City Thunder at the trade deadline, Rudy Gobert has been a man amongst boys on the inside. In the 53 games before the trade deadline, Gobert was averaging 6.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks-per game, while playing 21.9 minutes per-game. Since the Kanter trade, Gobert has been promoted the starting lineup, and he has responded by averaging 10.1 points, 13.9 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per-game.

The sad thing about Gobert is the fact that the Nuggets had him in their grasp during the 2013 NBA Draft. He was drafted in the first-round of the draft by Denver, with the 27th overall pick. They ended up trading him to Utah moments later — for a future second-round pick and cash considerations. Unfortunately, it looks like the Nuggets may have supplied a division rival with a franchise big man.

He has been a defensive monster against the team that drafted him, averaging 3.5 blocks in the two meetings between the teams this season. Denver won the first game 103-101 in Utah, on December 1st. They ran out to a 22-point lead during the first half, but Denver allowed Utah to make a run and tie the game in the final minute. Luckily, Ty Lawson came through and hit the go-ahead shot with 29-seconds left in the game.

When the teams met again on February 27th, the tables were turned and the Jazz shut the Nuggets down — Utah rejected 15 shot attempts, while the Nuggets shot 33.3-percent from the field. On the other side, the Jazz made 57.4-percent of their shots and they won the game 104-82.

Tonight’s game will come down to one side of the floor, Denver’s offense versus Utah’s defense. Both teams should be motivated to get off of the snide, and get back on the winning track. The Nuggets will need to make fast decisions and move the ball around the court. Isolations won’t work against Utah because of their doubles and traps. They like to swarm opposing players like a bunch of ticked off hornets. If you hold onto the ball longer than necessary, you will get stung. Ball movement and smart shots can win this game for Denver.

Check back with Nugg Love later tonight for your game recap.

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