Jazz-Nuggets Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated January 15, 2012
Despite opening the season without the faces of their respective franchises, neither the Denver Nuggets nor the Utah Jazz considered themselves to be rebuilding. So far, both have been proven right. The Northwest Division rivals will look to continue their surprising starts when they meet for the second time this season Sunday night in Denver. The Nuggets played well at the end of last season after trading Carmelo Anthony to New York and they have carried that over into 2011-12. Denver (8-4) has won six of eight including its last two games after defeating Miami 117-104 at home Friday. Ty Lawson returned after missing the previous game with a foot sprain and scored 24 points to go along with nine assists in the win over the Heat, while Nene finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds. The Nuggets shot 55.1 percent overall and 12 of 25 from 3-point range as their up-tempo offense paid dividends. "My emphasis at every timeout was don't stop running," coach George Karl said. "Try to run every possession." That style has been very effective for the Nuggets, who lead the Western Conference with 104.8 points per game and have shot better than 55 percent in four of their last six contests. Lawson, who is averaging 17.1 points, is shooting 52.2 percent on the season and 60 percent over his last three games. "We're trying to stay under the radar," Lawson, who was 9 of 11 from the field Friday with both misses coming from 3-point range, told the Nuggets' official website. "We don't need all the press. We're just going to try to get in the playoffs and make a lot of noise." Denver has won six of its last seven home meetings with Utah, including a 117-100 victory Dec. 28, when Nene had 25 points. While Utah (7-4) also dealt a key player last season in Deron Williams, it is also playing well after a slow start. The Jazz have won six of seven, with the only loss coming in overtime against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. The Jazz bounced back from that defeat Saturday with a 107-94 home victory over Williams and New Jersey. Al Jefferson scored 20 points and Paul Millsap added 18 with 12 boards and four steals. It was only the fourth time this season Utah, which is averaging 93.6 points, scored at least 100. "We want to make sure we push (the offense) early," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "It allows us to get into our offensive sets a lot sooner. ... We're a team that is capable of running." While the Jazz scored a lot Saturday, defense drives their success. They are limiting opponents to 89.1 points per game this month. "It starts with defense," said Jefferson, who is averaging a team-high 18.8 points on the season and has three blocks in each of his last two games. "When you get turnovers, turnovers lead to fast breaks and to easy baskets and that gets our confidence up and opens up everything." Utah's defense could be in for a challenge Sunday. Denver has scored at least 103 points in each of the last 10 games in this series.
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