Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:00 AM

Wednesday's Essentials

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Game of the Night - Denver at Utah (-3.5, 216.5), 10:35 ET, ESPN

The Jazz welcomed point guard Ricky Rubio back on Monday night but saw their seven-game winning streak end in a disappointing home loss to Portland. With the Nuggets in town, an opportunity presents itself to rebound immediately with a victory they can use as a rallying point with over 30 games left.

Dropping Denver to pull within five games of the Northwest Division leaders sounds a lot better when you’re in fourth place than falling seven behind. The Jazz lost their first four home games but haven’t lost back-to-back games at Vivint Smart Arena since November, so It’s no surprise to see them in a favorite’s role despite the Nuggets coming in just one game behind Golden State for the Western Conference’s top record.

Denver rebounded from being thrown over the Warriors’ knee at home for a 142-111 spanking last Tuesday by crushing the visiting Bulls and Cavs by a combined margin of 52 points. Neither team came into town equipped to deal with the altitude or fight off the onslaught that awaited as Denver healed its wounded ego by pulling no punches in playing rude host. Nikola Jokic notched one triple-double and flirted with another while not playing less than 28 minutes in either game. Only guard Malik Beasley has played more than 30 minutes, so a team that welcomed back Paul Millsap, Gary Harris and Will Barton from extended absences will be fresh and incredibly deep.

Millsap came back on Dec. 29 and looks to have worked off all of the rust, scoring in double-figures in five straight and shooting 17-for-25 over his last three. Harris has mostly been out of the lineup since just after Thanksgiving due to a hip injury and then a hamstring issue while Barton missed over a month due to hip surgery, so both have to regain their legs. That should keep Beasley, Torrey Craig and Juancho Hernangomez in the rotation and gives them a similar look than the Jazz saw in their lone meeting this season, a 103-88 loss on Nov. 3.

Harris and Murray led the way by outperforming Donovan Mitchell and Rubio, outscoring them 39-27 in shooting over 50 percent while the Jazz backcourt shot 10-for-32 (31 percent). Mitchell has been at his best since being forced into the role of primary ballhandler with Rubio sidelined, averaging 27 points and 4.8 assists over the past eight games. Rubio came off the bench in his return from a hamstring injury, so Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale and Jae Crowder remained in the starting lineup and should continue as key cogs next to center Rudy Gobert and fellow big Derrick Favors. Gobert is averaging 14.7 points and 16.6 rebounds over Utah’s last nine games.

He’s been playing his best basketball of late and held Jokic to just seven points on 3-for-9 shooting in the first meeting, so Gobert’s ability to avoid foul trouble and stay on the floor is going to be key to holding serve in Salt Lake City. The Jazz are 13-9 at home, while the Nuggets are just 11-10 in road arenas this season and come off a loss in Phoenix last time they hit the road on Jan. 12.

The ‘over’ has connected in nine of the last 12 Denver games, including four in a row. The ‘under’ has hit in six of eight games involving the Jazz. The Nuggets have won three straight meetings in the series and the ‘under’ has cashed consistently throughout the matchups played since Quin Snyder took over as Jazz head coach back in 2014. This is the longest losing streak his team has suffered through against Denver since he took over, but he’s won seven straight meetings at home. The Nuggets’ last win came on Dec. 1, 2014, back in Snyder’s first season. Only Harris remains on the roster, so the majority of Denver’s key contributors outside of Millsap, who suited up for the Jazz from ’06-’13, has ever won in Utah.

Best of the Rest

Toronto at Indiana, 7:05 p.m. ET: “Load management” will again sideline Kawhi Leonard, who will be rested until Friday night. The Raptors didn’t miss him against Sacramento on Tuesday night, pulling away in the second half behind Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet dishing out 16 of the team’s 25 assists. Each scored 19 points a piece to lead the way as six got into double-figures, so expect to see a similar community approach employed in Indy against the stingy Pacers. While Toronto and Milwaukee lead the East, Indiana is running third and followed up getting blown out by the 76ers with double-digit wins over Dallas and Charlotte. Darren Collison appears to be over his leg soreness and Myles Turner is also healthier than he’s been in a few weeks. This is the last regular-season meeting and the only one scheduled for Bankers Life Fieldhouse, so Indiana will badly want this one after dropping both games in Toronto already. The Pacers have dropped four straight against the East’s top teams, so with Leonard out, it would be a major disappointment if they’re upset here. Of course, he was absent in the most recent matchup on Jan. 6, a 121-105 win where Norman Powell led a 3-point barrage with 23 points.

L.A. Clippers at Miami, 7:35 p.m. ET: The Heat’s grip on their Southeast Division lead is tenuous following a 1-3 road trip that ended with Monday’s loss in Boston. Miami heads right back on the road for games at Cleveland and New York this weekend, so picking up a win here to get back to .500 could help it get back on track since its next three opponents are all among the East’s worst teams. The Clippers come off a disappointing loss in Dallas on Tuesday where they fell apart late to drop their sixth game in seven outings. L.A. has lost on the second night of a back-to-back three consecutive times and may not be able to count on Danilo Gallinari, who is being bothered by back spasms that have kept him out of two straight games. Tobias Harris shot 1-for-9 from the field against the Mavs and will look to bounce back against the Miami’s multiple wing defenders. The Heat won the first meeting between the teams 121-98 on Dec. 8 despite missing two starters, center Hassan Whiteside and guard Josh Richardson. The Heat swept the season series against the Clippers in ’17-‘18.

San Antonio at Philadelphia, 8:05 p.m. ET, ESPN: The 76ers were sharp in crushing Houston depite James Harden extending his 30-point steak to 20 games in just three quarters. He didn’t bother to play in the fourth because the outcome had already been decided despite Jimmy Butler sitting the game out with a wrist injury. Philly didn’t miss him on defense, blocking 14 shots and allowing 13 third-quarter points. Butler’s wrist, Embiid’s back and an upper respiratory infection Ben Simmons is dealing with loom as concerns tonight, so make no moves until you hear what their potential availability looks like post-shootaround. The Spurs are just 9-14 on the road and lack the athleticism that the 76ers employ when at full strength. It won’t help matters if DeMar DeRozan remains affected by an ankle injury that contributed to a 4-for-16 shooting game that produced just eight points in a loss to the Clippers last time out. The Spurs won the first meeting between these teams 123-96 on Dec. 17 by shooting 56 percent from the field, so Philadelphia should be ready to compete here if it gets its key guys on the floor.

Detroit at New Orleans, 8:05 p.m. ET: The Pelicans passed their first test without Anthony Davis with flying colors, dropping the Grizzlies at home. Jahlil Okafor started in the middle, Nikola Mirotic remained the anchor off the bench and New Orleans picked up its second win in six tries. Davis is out with a sprained finger, while Pistons center Andre Drummond is looking to clear one final hurdle in the concussion protocol to get back in action. He’d surely be an asset with fresh legs and Zaza Pauchila, coming off an extended absence, would anchor a second unit against a Pels squad that’s down its top big man. The Pelicans have overwhelmed the Pistons in their recent meetings, winning 12 of 13 since 2013. The ‘under’ has prevailed in seven of eight Pistons games.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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