For seven seasons, Paul Millsap lived the Jazz-Nuggets rivalry from the other side of the Rocky Mountains.
“Teams going at it, playoffs, it’s always been a pretty good rivalry, pretty good competition, pretty good game for both teams,” Millsap said. “They were pretty intense. With the Nuggets, we feel like we’re the best conditioned team out there, being in altitude. I think they are probably feel like they are the best because they are at altitude, too. It’s going to be an interesting game for us.”
Millsap was originally drafted by the Jazz in the second round of the 2006 NBA draft. As a part of the Jazz, Millsap faced the Nuggets 27 times in the regular season and averaged 10.8 points and 7.0 rebounds against them.
Now, after signing with the Nuggets in the summer, he’ll experience Nuggets vs. Jazz from Denver’s point of view. This will be his first game against the Jazz with the Nuggets, the first of four meetings against his old team.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Millsap said. “I’m excited about it. Always excited to get that first one out of the way, get out there, get a good feel for it and see what happens after that.”
Going back to Utah isn’t as big a deal to Millsap from a newness standpoint. He’s been back to Salt Lake City a number of times when he played for Atlanta. But going back to Utah remains a fun exercise for Millsap, because he spent so much time there.
“I’m pretty familiar with the community and the people of Salt Lake,” he said. “So it’s good to see a lot of old faces.”
On the court, he and the Nuggets will see plenty of new faces for the Jazz, which lost a number of players via free agency and trade during the offseason. Gone is the team’s leading scorer from last season, Gordon Hayward; starting point guard, George Hill; and reserve Trey Lyles, who is with the Nuggets. In, are former Minnesota point guard Ricky Rubio, athletic rookie guard Donovan Mitchell, and free agent signee Thabo Sefolosha, who played with Millsap in Atlanta.
All of that turnover makes Utah difficult to get a read on, Millsap said.
“It’s going to be a new look, different guys stepping up for them,” Millsap said. “Preseason is preseason. You can’t really get a good feel for what the team is about in preseason. So, first game we’ll see.
“It’s an unknown. Without their best player we don’t know how they are going to react, who is going to take the majority of the shots, who is going to do the playmaking for them. So, it’s going to be a different look for them and It’s going to be a little confusing for us to try to figure out.”
Yet no matter what personnel and strategy the Jazz puts on the court, Millsap is ready to get the first game with his new team under his belt.
“I’m super ready,” Millsap said. “Getting that first game out of the way, a division rival, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.