The NBA Playoffs have finally arrived, beginning four months later than usual. Each team played eight games in the Orlando bubble to determine seeding with the Portland Trail Blazers defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in the eight-seed play-in game.
The Utah Jazz have made the playoffs for the fourth-straight year with the last three during the first three seasons of star guard Donovan Mitchell’s career. Last year, the Jazz lost in five games to the Houston Rockets in the first round.
The Jazz struggled in the bubble, obtaining a 3-5 record with the three wins coming against non-playoff teams. Their offense took a hit as in May, winger Bojan Bogdanovic underwent season-ending surgery to repair his broken wrist. Also, point guard Mike Conley has left the bubble to attend the birth of his son, forcing him to miss at least two games due to the NBA’s protocol in the bubble.
The Jazz will be shorthanded heading into the playoffs but they still have a legit star in Mitchell to lead the way. He averaged 24 points per game (PPG) in the regular season and 21.7 points in the Orlando bubble. This included a 35-point performance against Denver nine days ago where he made many clutch buckets to go toe-to-toe with the Nuggets in a double-overtime loss. They will need more stellar performances from Mitchell again to compete with the Nuggets without two key players.
The Denver Nuggets return to the playoffs as a top-three seed for the second year in a row, the only returning top-three seed from last year’s playoffs. In those playoffs, the young Nuggets core, led by Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, got their first taste of playoff experience. They defeated the San Antonio Spurs in a hard-fought seven-game series.
The next round was a tough loss for the Nuggets, losing in seven games to the Trail Blazers. This included a four-overtime loss in Game 3 and a Game 7 loss at home despite leading by 17 in the second quarter.
This season, they have stayed par for the course with another solid showing in the regular season but have had to deal with a lot of injuries throughout the season.
Jokic, who played every game this season, continues to grow into one of the game’s best all-around players, notching 19.9 PPG, 9.7 rebounds per game (RPG) and 7.0 assists per game (APG). Murray, while missing 14 games, still averaged 18.5 points per game. He is now healthy heading into the postseason after missing several games in the Orlando bubble. Also, forward Michael Porter Jr. has blossomed into a future star in his first season of action in the NBA. He received limited playing time during the season but in the bubble, he played 33 minutes per game and averaged 22.0 PPG.
Both teams are going to be shorthanded for Game 1 and beyond. On top of the Jazz’s injuries, the Nuggets will miss forward Will Barton and guard Gary Harris in Game 1. The Nuggets’ depth is much better than the Jazz and are, overall, the better team. The firepower, despite missing starters, is greater than what the Jazz currently have. Jokic will use his skillset to once again dominate Jazz center Rudy Gobert. Murray and Porter will provide enough production to help the Nuggets advance to the second round for the second year in a row.
Prediction: Nuggets in 5