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Jazz relish national spotlight with ESPN matchup against Denver Nuggets

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) brings the ball up court as the Utah Jazz and the Chicago Bulls play an NBA basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017.
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) brings the ball up court as the Utah Jazz and the Chicago Bulls play an NBA basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017.
Scott G Winterton,

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s not every day that this year’s Utah Jazz team is in the national spotlight.

But on Tuesday night, the world will get a glimpse of basketball in Salt Lake City when the Jazz host the Denver Nuggets live on ESPN at 8 p.m.

The heightened exposure is coming at the right time as the Jazz have re-entered the playoff picture, currently in eighth place, after winning back-to-back games against Chicago and Milwaukee.

On Saturday, the team set a franchise record by making 18 3-pointers in the win over the Bucks.

Rookie Donovan Mitchell even noticed popular sports analyst Doris Burke near the media scrum at Monday’s practice as the team is regaining its swagger amid various injuries, most notably to Rudy Gobert (knee).

“It’s going to be fun. I played a bunch in college on (ESPN),” said Mitchell. “I see that Doris Burke is here, she’s pretty cool. I love her and it’s going to be a lot of fun playing in front of that bigger crowd but it’s the same game, same game plan, so we’ve got to focus and lock in.”

Utah (9-11) is facing Denver (11-8) for the second time this season. In the home opener, the Jazz came from behind after trailing by 15 points to collect a 106-96 victory while shooting 50.6 percent from the field.

Denver will be playing without its leader Paul Millsap who is expected to miss three months after recently undergoing surgery on his injured left wrist. Millsap was selected by the Jazz in the second round of the 2006 NBA Draft out of Louisiana Tech and spent his first seven seasons in Utah, then played four in Atlanta before signing with Denver this offseason.

Millsap was averaging 15.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks before the injury, but now the Nuggets are relying more on big men Nikola Jokic, Kenneth Faried, Trey Lyles and Juan Hernangomez to help pick up the slack.

“As much as anything, you may see teams running different things with different players and personnel, it does impact the game so you’re more aware of what happened recently as opposed to the last time you played somebody,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder.

Jokic is coming off a near triple-double performance Friday night when he posted 28 points, 13 boards and eight assists to help Denver top the Memphis Grizzlies 104-92.

In Gobert’s absence, veteran Derrick Favors has transitioned smoothly to the center position, averaging 15.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks over the past eight games. His biggest adjustment to playing center again after being used at power forward so long was getting used to being involved in more pick-and-rolls and playing more in the paint. Other than that, he said it hasn’t been hard.

He’s looking forward to the challenge on center stage.

“It’s kind of one of those things where if you play good and they haven’t seen you play in a while then they love you but if you have that one bad game they hate you,” Favors said. “It’s one of those types of things but I’m just going to go out there and play my game.”

INJURY UPDATE: Jazz guard Raul Neto is questionable for Tuesday’s game with a costochondral sprain near the rib area. Neto has logged at least 10 minutes in the last five games, going off for career-high 22 points on Nov. 7 in Brooklyn.

Gobert was also spotted after practice participating in individual drills with the coaching staff. He could be returning as early as December after suffering a bone bruise in his right knee on Nov. 10 after clashing with Miami’s Dion Waiters.