Denver Nuggets vs Utah Jazz Playoff Series Preview

A healthy Kenyon Martin could key the Nuggets to a 1st Round Playoff win

DENVER - MAY 13:  Kenyon Martin #4 of the Denv...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The Denver Nuggets slipped into the 4th seed in the NBA Playoffs with a Utah Jazz loss on Wednesday night.  The same Suns that brutally knocked Denver out of contention for the 3rd seed on Tuesday night roughed up the Jazz by a similar margin in Salt Lake City.

Now the Nuggets will enjoy home-court advantage for at least this first round, and their middle seeding could easily lead to a 2nd Round matchup with the LA Lakers.

Denver dominated the season series versus Utah.

In fact, that’s the only reason the Nuggets have home-court in the 1st Round.  Both teams finished with a 53-29 regular season record.  However, Denver’s key January win in Utah gave them the tiebreaker for the Northwest Division title and the 4th-best record in the Western Conference.

Utah escaped with a narrow victory in the teams’ final regular season matchup, as Denver played without Carmelo Anthony & Chauncey Billups.

Here’s how the season series played out between the Jazz & Nuggets

Wednesday, October 8th @ Denver

Denver Wins 114-105

Saturday, January 2nd @ Utah

Denver Wins 105-95

Sunday, January 17th @ Denver

Denver Wins 119-112

Saturday, February 6th @ Utah

Utah Wins 116-106


As dominant as the Nuggets were throughout the regular season series, the Jazz improved mightily in the final month of the season.  Carlos Boozer came on strong after struggling for Utah since late last season, and the Jazz bench began contributing in a real way for the first time in years.

The Nuggets, meanwhile, slid into their 4th seed with home & away losses to the Spurs & Sun respectively to close out their regular season schedule.  Denver did blow out the Memphis Grizzlies between those two tough losses.  But even after a 4-game winning streak that included a road win in Oklahoma City and a home win versus the Kobe-less LA Lakers, Denver has looked vulnerable going into the playoffs.

Nuggets Keys to the Series

Kenyon Martin returned to the team after undergoing rich blood platelet treatment on his injured knee.  K-Mart opted not to have season-ending knee surgery, and will be the key to Denver’s NBA Title hopes.  Kenyon was averaging over 9 rebounds per game before his injury, and his defensive presence stifled opponents’ low-post threats on most nights.

Martin is also the key to Denver Center Nene Hilario’s game, as Kenyon brings a certain snarl to the paint that Nene lacks.  Nene has great talent for a big man, and his speedy spinning post move is unstoppable without a helper defender rotating in.  The combination of Nene, Martin & Carmelo Anthony down low opens up the Nuggets’ entire offense as it contracts defenses down towards the paint.

If Denver can find its mid-season groove in this series, it will start down low.

However, the Nuggets will need its bench to contribute as heavily as they did during the season series versus the Jazz.  Rookie reserve Point Guard Ty Lawson was especially dangerous in regular season Games 2 & 4, scoring 23 & 25 points in those games.  Lawson is one of the fastest guards in the league, and could be a game-changer against Utah.

Finally, JR Smith will need to be contributing his athletic defense and timely 3’s for Denver to move forward.  Smith is a rare talent, but has had trouble with consistency and discipline.  JR was huge, though, in last year’s run to the Western Conference Finals.  Smith outshone Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony in several of those playoff games.

Nuggets vs Jazz Series Notes

Nuggets head coach George Karl will miss this 1st Round series after undergoing chemotherapy for neck & throat cancer.  His recovery time will determine whether he is capable of making a return to the Denver bench this postseason.

Karl will have a presence on the Denver bench in the form of his son Coby.

The younger Karl was signed by the Nuggets from his D-League team as Denver sought to shore up the depths of its bench.  Coby Karl will not be getting a lot of time, if any, in the playoffs, but he is tall for a Shooting Guard and may be useful as a defensive asset and rebound specialist.

Former University of Wisconsin standout Brian Butch has joined the team for the same reason.

Nuggets vs Jazz 1st Round Playoff Series Schedule

Game One: Saturday, April 17th

Utah @ Denver 8:30pm MST

Game Two: Monday, April 19th

Utah @ Denver 8:30pm MST

Game Three: Friday, April 23rd

Denver @ Utah 8:30pm MST

Game Four: Sunday, April 25th

Denver @ Utah 7:30pm MST

Game Five: Wednesday, April 28th

Utah @ Denver if necessary

Game Six: Friday, April 30th

Denver @ Utah if necessary

Game Seven: Sunday, May 2nd

Utah @ Denver if necessary

My Prediction: Nuggets in Five Games

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  • shady in Salt Lake

    Written from a true homer’s perspective.

    • Jason Ackerman

      Well what do you expect?

      Besides, he did say things like “The Jazz improved mightily” and “the Nuggest look vulnerable”. Ultimately, he picked the Nuggets in 5 because in the end – the Nuggets are still the better team. The Nuggets probably don’t have championship quality right now, but in the first round series, especially with home court advantage, the Nuggets have to be the odds-on favorites.

      Unless you’re a Jazz homer. Then feel free to think otherwise. I would expect nothing less.

      • Ian Cerveny

        The Nuggets are just so dangerous. Despite their rough patch to end the season, Denver is still capable of beating any team in the league. You can’t say that about Utah, who peaked late in the year and still got manhandled at home by the Suns with the NW Division and playoff seeding on the line.

  • Nickole Cegla

    Extremely interesting post thank you for writing it I have added your site to my bookmarks and will check back.

  • tyler

    ha ha jazz are kickin butt denver sucks

    • Ian Cerveny

      not so sure the Jazz are kickin butt. They’re getting by on the referees’ love affair with Deron Williams and the lack of leadership on the Denver bench. If they do finish Denver off, the Jazz will lose to whatever team they face in the second round… unless by some miracle of upsets they draw OK City. Utah could definitely beat OK City. Anybody else would whup em with all the injuries in the Utah frontcourt.

  • Maia Housden

    Terence~ Fortune helps the brave.