The Denver Nuggets visit the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night at 10 p.m. ET (ESPN). It's the second meeting between the two teams, who faced off back in the first week of the season. The Jazz won that game 106-96 in a contest that featured both Utah's Rudy Gobert and Denver's Paul Millsap. Both stars have since been injured and won't take the court in Salt Lake City tonight.
The Jazz are 4-4 in the eight games without Gobert. Last season, he missed only one regular season game and Utah lost it. Gobert missed 21 games in 2015-16 and the Jazz went 7-14 without him.
Millsap underwent wrist surgery after injuring it vs. the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 19. Millsap was averaging 15.3 PPG and 6.2 RPG. Entering this season, Millsap had appeared in 94.5 percent of career games, missing just 49 games out of a possible 886.
Jokic picking up the slack
In the three games without Millsap, the Nuggets have gone 2-1 with Nikola Jokic averaging 20.3 PPG and 11.0 RPG. Jokic posted 28 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists on Sunday vs. the Memphis Grizzlies. That was his eighth game of at least 25 points, 10 boards and eight assists in the last two seasons. Only Russell Westbrook, James Harden, DeMarcus Cousins, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo have more such games during that span.
Jokic is one of just three players this season to lead his team in points, rebounds and assists (Westbrook and Marc Gasol). The only other player in Nuggets history who finished a season as the team leader in each of those categories was Fat Lever in 1989–90.
When Jokic posts a double-double this season, Denver is 10-1. When he doesn’t record a double-double, the Nuggets are just 1-7. Overall, the Nuggets are 16.4 points better per 100 possessions when Jokic is on the court versus when he is sitting.
Jokic has been a big reason why Denver leads the NBA with per-game averages of both offensive rebounds and second-chance points this season. The Nuggets have generated higher totals than their opponent in both of those categories in each of their last seven games. Denver's offensive rebounding rate of 28 percent also leads the league.
Denver's erratic guard play
Denver's Will Barton has scored an average of 20.8 PPG in four games as a starter this season (including three games of 20-plus points), but is averaging just 13.0 PPG in 15 games off the bench. The only player with more fast-break points off the bench than Barton (51) this season is Memphis' Tyreke Evans (73).
Barton led the Nuggets with 23 points when he faced the Jazz last month. It was one of five 20-point games for Barton this season, but Denver is just 2-3 in those games.
Some of the other Nuggets' guards have been struggling with their shots as of late. Gary Harris made only one of his eight 3-point attempts last game after having sunk 59 percent of his shots from behind the arc (13 of 22) during his previous four games.
Likewise, Emmanuel Mudiay has made only six of his 26 field-goal attempts of any kind over his last four games (23 percent). He's a career 37.2-percent shooter, which is the second lowest among active players with at least 1,250 shots from the field. The only player with a worse clip is the Boston Celtics' Marcus Smart (35.3 percent).
Mitchell, Hood and Favors stepping up for Utah
Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell’s 40 3-pointers this season are the second-most among first-year players behind the Chicago Bulls' Lauri Markkanen (44). Mitchell has produced six 20-point games this season, tied with Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers for second-most among rookies. The Lakers' Kyle Kuzma leads the group with seven such performances.
Unlike Denver's Barton, Utah's Rodney Hood has performed better coming off the bench this season. He's averaging 16.1 PPG in the nine games he has started, compared to 19.3 PPG in his nine games as a substitute.
Hood has scored at least 30 points in two of his last six games, both off the bench (21.8 PPG scoring average during that time). The only other players with at least one 30-point game as a non-starter this season are the LA Clippers’ Lou Williams (two) and the Grizzlies' Evans (one).
Meanwhile, the Nuggets have not allowed an opposing player to score as many as 30 points in any of their last 12 games (since Kristaps Porzingis scored 38 against them on Oct. 30). The only players who have reached that mark for the Jazz this season are Hood (twice) and Ricky Rubio.
Veteran center Derrick Favors has stood tall in Gobert’s absence this season. In 12 games with Gobert, Favors averaged 10.3 PPG and 4.3 RPG. In the eight games without Gobert, Favors has posted 15.9 PPG and 8.8 RPG.
Utah thrives on forcing turnovers and turning them into points. The Jazz are second in the NBA in points off turnovers per game (20.1). They force 17.5 turnovers per game, which is also second-best in the league.
In Utah's backcourt, Rubio's career average of 2.1 steals per game makes him and the Houston Rockets' Chris Paul (2.1) the only active players who have career averages of at least two steals per game (minimum: 100 games).
Without the injured Gobert patrolling the paint for Utah, Ekpe Udoh has stepped up as a shot-blocker when his name is called. Udoh's 30 blocked shots are the most off the bench by any NBA player. He swatted three shots in 13 minutes in the season opener against Denver.
The bottom line
Utah is 8–1 this season in games in which it had a higher field-goal percentage than its opponent, compared to 1–10 in games in which the opposite was true. Similarly, the Nuggets are 10–1 in games in which they had a field-goal percentage advantage and 1–7 in games they did not. Overall, teams with the higher field-goal percentage have an .827 winning percentage in the NBA this season.