SALT LAKE CITY — Last Saturday, the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets went at it in a double-overtime classic.
Ready for a few more?
Following results on Wednesday, the matchup that Utah appeared to have wanted became official: The Jazz and Nuggets will play each other in the first round of the NBA playoffs in a series that will begin early next week.
Entering Wednesday, no matchups were set in the Western Conference. That fact led to Joe Ingles even saying that Utah’s suspect lineup decisions over the past week haven’t necessarily been about chasing a certain seed.
“I guess if you're in a position where you can kind of play with a matchup or try and get a certain matchup I think this year with how close it is … I think there’s just too much that can happen and go on,” Ingles said Wednesday morning.
But if the Jazz were indeed chasing a matchup with the Nuggets, Wednesday broke just like they would have wanted. It started with the Rockets losing to the Pacers, ending any chance Houston had of climbing to the third seed. That was followed by the Thunder beating the Heat, locking the Jazz into the sixth seed. And then the Nuggets lost to the Clippers, securing the No. 2 seed for LAC and No. 3 for Denver.
The No. 2 Clippers will play the No. 7 Mavericks, No. 3 Denver will play the No. 6 Jazz, and the Rockets and Thunder will play in the 4-5 matchup (though who will be No. 4 and who will be No. 5 is yet to be determined; without homecourt advantage in the bubble, it is also not really relevant). The No. 1 Lakers will play the winner of Saturday’s play-in game for the No. 8 seed.
The first-round series will mark the fifth time the Nuggets and Jazz have met in the postseason. The most recent meeting was back in 2010 when the Deron Williams-led Jazz ousted the Carmelo Anthony-led Nuggets in six games.
Utah played Denver three times this season and lost each contest. Even with that the case, it is widely believed the Nuggets present a better matchup for the Jazz than some of the alternatives (looking at you, Houston). Which explains why the Jazz didn’t seem to care too much about a couple of losses over the last week.
While Denver center Nikola Jokic has torched the Jazz this season — averaging just under 30 points per game against Utah — he is someone Rudy Gobert can at least match up against. That’ll allow Gobert the chance to have a larger impact on the series then maybe he would against a team that plays a five-out offense (again, looking at you, Houston).
On Jan. 30, the Jazz lost to the Nuggets 106-100 in Denver. Jokic had 28 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Nuggets. Jordan Clarkson scored 24 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter for Utah as he tried to single-handedly bring the Jazz back from 17 down.
Less than a week later, Jokic again had his way with the Jazz, scoring 31 points and grabbing 21 rebounds in a 98-95 win in Salt Lake City. That game was remembered, though, not for how Jokic played, but for who didn’t play. The Nuggets had just seven active players and were on the back end of a back-to-back. Denver won anyway.
That brings us to last Saturday — a game that should get people excited (and maybe have Jazz fans a bit optimistic about their chances). Utah was nearly flawless in the first half and led by 14 at halftime before the Nuggets stormed back to set up a scintillating finish where Donovan Mitchell traded shots with Jamal Murray and Jokic up until the very end.
It felt like a playoff game.
The next one will be.