NBA Playoffs Preview: 5) Utah Jazz Vs. 4) Denver Nuggets (The Trailer Looks Great)

Let me preface this by saying I’m a sucker for a good trailer.

If you want me to get excited about an upcoming movie release and you want my money to support said movie then you’re probably going to need to have produced a gripping trailer when you’re advertising this cinematic event.

It doesn’t even really need to be THAT good of a movie when it comes out. All you need to do is get me in the mood to see it and I’ll have a hard time finding ultimate failure in a movie. The last time I can remember being psyched by a quality trailer and just horrified by the finished product of a movie was with Righteous Kill. That was just an atrocious movie. The script was bad. The acting was bad. In fact, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino were so bad in the movie that I walked away thinking, “You know – 50 Cent is NOT that bad of an actor.”

The trailer doesn’t even have to be that gripping now that I think about it. It just needs a nice buildup before you unleash a certain song in the trailer that I’ve subconsciously wanted to listen to. With Righteous Kill, they brought me in with Please To Meet You by The Stones. With Brooklyn’s Finest, they brought me in with Run This Town by Jay-Z and Rihanna.

And with The Departed two songs drew me in – Gimme Shelter by the Stones and Shipping Up To Boston by Dropkick Murphys. Perhaps the two-song whammy is the reason I could never find that much fault with this movie. When I go back and watch it, it’s not terribly good. The accents are… interesting. The acting by Jack Nicholson is like watching Vince Carter in his final days of being a Toronto Raptor. And some of the dialogue is just perplexing. However, I still enjoy it thoroughly because of the music involved and my self-brainwashing going into the movie.

This is kind of how I feel about this Nuggets-Jazz series. I’m sold on the soundtrack. The dulcet tones of Chauncey Billups and Deron Williams trying to Bobby Fisher each other are enough. But you’ve also got the beautiful dance number of Carmelo Anthony’s offensive game playing over the inconsistency of his past playoff performances. I can get swept away in the cacophonous beats of JR Smith, Kenyon Martin, and Carlos Boozer all trying to endear their way of existing to us.

I mean this is just a murderer’s row of personalities, subplots and issues that will be playing on a consistent loop throughout the entire series. Regardless of how it plays out, I know that I’m sold on it. There could be four, five, six or seven atrocious games and I’ll be locked in based on the most superficial aspects of this series.

When you look at these two teams, they’re almost identical. They’re both very good offensive teams. They shoot the ball well. They get to the free throw line. They’re pretty decent defensively while challenging shots and forcing misses at almost the same rate of efficiency.

In fact, I don’t know that you could have a more evenly matched first round opponent in this year’s playoffs. So what does it come down to?

Simplicity.

What is the simplest way for each team to win games?

Here’s what we know about the Utah Jazz. They score the hell out of the ball and do so by getting a nice balance of inside-out scoring. They’re one of the top teams in the league in terms of scoring around the basket (63.5%, Fifth in the NBA) with the highest percentage (63.7%) of baskets around the basket coming from assists. They also shoot the ball very well from the outside. They knock down jumpers from 16-23 feet very well (40.7%, Sixth in the NBA) with the highest assist rate for these shots (77.2%, seven percent more than second place) to go with the seventh highest effective field goal percentage from three (54.6%).

(Thank you HoopData for the stats)

All of this is obviously because of Deron Williams. They can get into the heart of the defense whenever they need to. A lot of this has to do with dribble penetration that leads to players cutting towards the basket for easy scores. Deron Williams draws in the interior defense like a magnet. If the defense is able to create a wall and account for the cutters, they often will leave the perimeter shooters locked, loaded and without the safety on.

And this is the double-edged sword of how you defend the Jazz, especially when Deron Williams is on the court. You have to give in somewhere. If you’re allowing points inside, you’re probably also allowing free throw attempts and three-point plays due to late rotations and dumb fouls inside. But if you pack in the paint, you’re leaving deadly and timely outside shooters in the area that counts for the most points. So what do you do?

You have to form a pocket on defense. They’re least efficient from the middle of the floor. Put them in the 10 to 15-foot range and you’ve got your best chance of stopping them. There are no Rip Hamiltons on this team and Jeff Hornacek certainly isn’t walking through that door. You need to pack in the middle then swarm the perimeter in a furious effort of defensive rotations. The trick is keeping those interior guys in place and flanking the passing options. Make them run enough clock and the Jazz perimeter guys will have to pull up off the dribble for “bad” mid-range jumpers. It’s actually one of the simplest ways to try to bait a team into taking bad shots but it does take smart and disciplined defense.

With Denver, it’s sort of the same thing. They finish well inside and they shoot well from three. You want to force them into the mid-range area and pray that Carmelo Anthony isn’t the one taking those shots. They need to have a very simple game plan on offense. Pick-and-roll the Jazz to death with Chauncey Billups and make the Utah big men play on the perimeter. If they struggle to show on the screen, Chauncey can pull the jumper or drive into the paint. If the defense collapses, he can have Arron Afflalo and JR Smith in the corners, ready to knock in three-pointers from their hot spots.

The Nuggets will also need to get out in transition and try to knock down threes in these situations. The key will be finding JR Smith on the break and get him the ball in a position to rise and fire. JR Smith shot just 34% from three this season, which seems like a very manageable rate even when you factor in the quantity in which he shot them. But in transition, his percentage increased to 44% from three. Also, Carmelo Anthony is extremely efficient scoring on the break. His field goal percentage of 46% jumps up to 62% in transition. You can run with this team, especially when Ty Lawson is coming in for a change of pace, at a very efficient clip.

It sounds so simple for both teams. Get the ball into the areas you score with the highest efficiency. Push the tempo if you’re the Nuggets. Live off of dribble penetration and the chaos it creates if you’re the Jazz.

Don’t Forget To Pray For Health

This is where the series will ultimately be won – in the training room.

The Nuggets need Kenyon Martin to be healthy. When he’s healthy, he changes the game for opposing big men. Most players can’t handle the bulk and the versatility of the Boozer-Millsap combo inside. He’s always been able to neutralize what Carlos Boozer does offensively. He defends and challenges shots well while not letting Boozer live at the free throw line. While Millsap has been able to score at a highly efficient percentage of 63% in his career against K-Mart, Martin has still been able to match him point for point and rebound for rebound.

Kenyon Martin is a neutralizer inside defensively and that’s exactly what the Nuggets need to contain the power forward combination the Jazz throw at opponents.

In a similar way, this is what the Jazz need from Andrei Kirilenko. He’s the perfect defender for Carmelo Anthony. He’s long enough to bother jumpers. He’s agile enough to absorb the contact and still be able to recover when Carmelo makes his moves inside. He makes Melo work for his points and doesn’t really allow him to go crazy. Carmelo still gets his numbers but it’s rare that he goes NOVA against the Russian. In 19 career matchups, Carmelo Anthony has only scored 30 or more points five times against Kirilenko.

If Andrei Kirilenko can play then the Jazz have the man that can contain Anthony and that wins a huge battle for them. You’re then allowed to put Deron Williams up against Chauncey Billups one-on-one and when that happens I like Deron’s chances of being the better player. Then all you have to ask for is Wesley Matthews to be a pest for JR Smith and try to prevent him from getting in a rhythm from deep.

But again, this is all IF Kenyon and Kirilenko can be healthy.

Series Prediction
This may be the most fun series we see throughout the entire first round. Both teams like to push it like Salt ‘N’ Pepa. Both teams like to ramp up the offense. And both teams can play good enough defense to make the other team earn their points. There is no real throwaway aspect in this series. It’s just going to be seven very competitive games between two teams that are always hard to fully buy into. And the prize at the other end of the first round is a second round showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Normally in these evenly matched 4-5 series I take the home team. I assume the house will be protected regardless and that the series will be seven straight wins by the home team. And when the team with home court advantage has the best player in the series (Carmelo Anthony) that seems to be even more of a no-brainer. However, I don’t trust the health situation of Kenyon Martin and I certainly don’t trust the depth of the big man rotation Denver employs. After Nene (who should dominate Mehemt Okur in every way) the Nuggets are relying on Chris Andersen and Johan Petro. Those are components of a great movie about a cross-country trip but they don’t exactly make me think, “Those are two guys who can contain the Boozer-Millsap hybrid.”

Then we get to the ultimate X-factor for me in this series – Deron Williams. We’ve seen some special things from Deron Williams over the past two years as he makes his case for best point guard in the NBA. This is his chance to truly prove he’s a cut above the rest. By getting the better of Chauncey Billups in a series in which he’s scheduled to play more road games than home he can truly shine and show the nearly perfect weapon he is. I tend to gravitate towards the best point guard of the series when two teams are this even.

With that I’ve got to take the Jazz to go the distance in this series. They’re least likely to knock off the Lakers in round two but that’s not their concern right now. Their concern is keeping their offensive attack simple and to execute it properly.

Regardless of how the series plays out, the trailer is pretty kick-ass.

Jazz Win in Seven

Seth Carstens