Donovan Mitchell hasn’t stopped thinking about the Utah Jazz blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets since the day they were bounced from the playoffs. Sunday will be his first shot at avenging that loss when the Nuggets host the Jazz.
“I’m ready to go, that’s all I can say,” Mitchell said on Friday. “I’ve been waiting for this since September 1st. They’re going to come out and they’re going to do what they do, we just got to do what we do. Last year we kind of let that one slide. It still hurts to this day.”
The Jazz are riding a four-game win streak into Sunday’s contest, having bounced back from a pair of losses to the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks. It’s been a slow build since those back-to-back losses, but the Jazz are playing their best basketball of the season, most notably posting the best defensive rating in the league through the last four games (97.5) with Rudy Gobert averaging 3.3 blocks per game and Mike Conley looking like a vintage version of himself and stepping up the intensity of the defense on the wing.
Not only have the Jazz seen an uptick in their defense, but their offensive firepower has been lethal with Mitchell shooting 55.9% from 3-point range, Conley and Royce O’Neale shooting 50% from deep, Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson hitting treys at better than 40% and Miye Oni stepping up in Joe Ingles absence and providing solid minutes for the bench.
For Mitchell, the most telling sign that things are getting better has been the Jazz’s ability to withstand runs from other teams and punch back.
“When teams start to become physical it use to take us out of our action,” Mitchell said. “I think the biggest thing is we just push through that, continue to guard even if the shots aren’t falling.”
In their first home game since a six-game road trip, the Jazz hopped out to an early lead against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday, but the Hawks came fighting back, cutting the Jazz’s double-digit lead multiple times and trailed by just four points with nine minutes left in the third quarter.
From there the Jazz slowly built the lead back up before opening the final period on a 16-0 run that put the game out of reach for Atlanta.
There were a few possessions where it looked like the Jazz were starting to falter, but they balanced out and regained their rhythm and never wavered too far away from their defensive game plan.
The 8-4 Jazz know that when they take the court in Denver, they won’t have an easy task ahead of them with the Nuggets who are 6-6 on the season. Though it’s been a date that the Jazz have had circled on the season calendar, Mitchell is hoping that those nerves and the anticipation won’t overwhelm them.
“Give them credit, they’re a good team, we’ve just got to go out there and execute like we have been, not put too much pressure on the game,” Mitchell said. “I think when you start to amp it up little mistakes, little things start to become big mistakes. Keep it regular, keep doing what we’ve been doing. We’re on a good pace right now but we’ve got to do it at a higher level against these guys, because we know them and they know us.”
Though both teams have been through an offseason that saw some roster changes both are playing a little differently this season, it doesn’t change the fact that both teams will be looking to prove something on Sunday.
The Jazz want to prove they were just as good if not better, and the Nuggets want to prove the Jazz wrong.
“It’s going to be fun,” Mitchell said.