Early in the week, Nuggets coach Michael Malone warned against looking past or counting out the Jazz just because they lost two key players in the summer – All-Star forward Gordon Hayward and point guard George Hill.
On Wednesday, the Nuggets get their first game against the new-look Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena in the season opener for both teams. It is a Northwest division game against a rival that has given the Nuggets plenty of problems in the past in Salt Lake City. Overlooking the Utah is not an option.
How do the Nuggets come out with a victory? Here’s what to watch for in the Nuggets’ season opener at Utah.
Pace matters. Utah was third in defensive rating last season (102.7), second in field goal percentage allowed (44.3) and eighth in blocks. Translation: Scoring against this team, particularly at the rim, is difficult. Effective transition offense is important for the Nuggets in order to not have to play against a set Utah defense the majority of the night. Fast breaks and early offense out of those breaks to get single coverage on players like Nikola Jokić and Paul Millsap gives them easy scoring opportunities, and gives the Nuggets a chance to push the possessions and scoring out of Utah’s comfort zone.
Quick adjustments. Offensively, Utah is an unknown again in terms of which players are featured and who is doing most of the scoring. The Nuggets have to be nimble in adjusting to who is getting the majority of touches and who might have a hot hand. There are a lot of capable offensive players on Utah’s team, so paying close attention to scouting report details and then adjusting quickly to how things are unfolding is a must.
Second unit chemistry. While the Nuggets enter Wednesday’s game with a starting five that have worked a lot together during exhibition games and in preseason practices, the second unit has experienced a ton of flux. Can the Nuggets start to settle in on a rotation they like, and when they do, find enough production out of it?
Many happy returns. For Paul Millsap and Trey Lyles, this is a return to familiar territory as both spent time playing for the Jazz. Lyles’ stint was most recent – the last two seasons – and he admitted earlier in the week that he’ll have a few butterflies in returning to Vivint Smart Home Arena as a visitor. Millsap has been back to Utah as a visitor four times with the Hawks, so he’s been through the emotions of an initial return already. Still, for both, getting calm and comfortable in a different uniform on old stomping grounds is key.
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.