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Can the Jazz slow the surging Nuggets?

How Denver won and how Utah lost quickly established a pattern that might well continue for the remainder of this series.

First and foremost, the Nuggets almost exclusively relied on the fact that their roster is appreciably more talented than Utah's. And, given the absence of the injured Andrei Kirilenko, this discrepancy was most obvious whenever Carmelo Anthony touched the basketball in his team's 126-113 win at the Pepsi Center.

'Melo simply had one of those magical games that great scorers sometimes experience -- 18-for-25 shooting and 42 points. Virtually all of his shots/points resulted from his being in isolation situations, but Utah's defensive (or defenseless) game plan also had something to do with Anthony's explosion.

Sans AK-47, the task of guarding him variously fell to C.J. Miles, Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews. As part of their strategy, the Jazz positioned one of their big men adjacent to the strong-side paint area with the purpose of preventing Anthony from driving the ball to the rim. Unfortunately for Jerry Sloan's crew, 'Melo simply took one or two dribbles to his left on an acute angle away from the basket, and then launched jump shots -- leaving the visitor's big men in no man's land.

Even when the Jazz attempted to double team Anthony on the catch, he repeated the same maneuver -- dribbling away from the slow-footed incoming help and burying mid- and long-range springers.

What must Utah do to remedy this situation?

Two-time Anthony with smaller, quicker players coming from the top of their defense and not the bottom. Then rotate to the top from the weak-side, thereby forcing the Nuggets to execute at least two on-target passes to get the ball in the hands of an open shooter. Besides Anthony's early and late marksmanship, Chauncey Billups had a significant role in getting Denver off and scoring. On several first-quarter sequences, Billups powered his way to the hoop past Deron Williams and through whatever big men came to help.

Utah's remedy?

Play him loosely and make him drain his perimeter shots. If Billups and Anthony carried the offense for most of the contest, it was the emergence of J. R. Smith at the beginning of the fourth quarter that opened up the game. That's when Smith registered eleven consecutive points, mostly on 3-pointers. After scoring only a deuce through the first three periods, Smith wound up tallying 18 points in the decisive fourth quarter.

Utah's remedy?

Abstain from sending whoever's guarding Smith into the lane to help against ball-penetration by one of the other Nuggets. Smith is too dangerous a shooter to ever be left alone. While it's true that Carlos Boozer played with a recently injured oblique muscle, his defense was atrocious. Nene took it to him several times with great success, and Boozer's rotations were either late or non-existent.

Utah's remedy?

With Mehmet Okur straining his already troublesome Achilles' tendon when he seemed to trip over the foul line, the only other rotation player the Jazz could plug into the middle was the undersized Paul Millsap. Since neither 7-foot-1 Kyrylo Fesenko nor 7-foot Kosta Kouros are ready for prime time, the Jazz attempted several varieties of zone defenses to try to disguise their lack of frontcourt size. Alas, their zones were so full of holes that Denver moved the ball well enough to generate open jumpers and layups. Unless Okur is not as seriously damaged as it appears, there's nothing that Utah can do except play the two 7-footers, expect the worst and hope for the best. Ty Lawson turned on the jets and got to the basket much too easily.

Utah's remedy?

Lawson was only 3-for-8 from the field, forced at least three shots and was totally abused on defense by Deron Williams. However, the Jazz can take Lawson out of the picture by having Williams post him up. Kyle Korver's defense was equally poor on the strong-side and on the weak-side.

Utah's remedy?

Their only hope is that he compensates for his defensive shortcomings by shooting at least 60 percent from beyond the arc. When the Jazz had possession, neither Boozer nor Millsap had any presence in the paint. Virtually all of their attempts to score when they received the ball in the low-post were stymied. Indeed, Millsap resorted to taking jumpers when he assumed the proper position, while Boozer registered most of his points on mid-range jumpers.

Utah's remedy?

None. Williams had a miserable first half and didn't get rolling until after the intermission. On the other hand, Miles got the Jazz off to a good start by attacking the rim early in the game--but was rendered useless when he picked up a slew of fouls trying to guard Anthony.

Utah's remedy?

Run more plays that open a side or a lane for Williams and let him relentlessly attack whoever's guarding him, thereby forcing Denver's defense to jam the middle and enabling Williams to play drive-and-pop, drive-and-kick, or just plain drive. Double Anthony with more quickness and precision. By preventing Miles from having to play so much solo-defense against the NBA's most versatile scorer, his foul situation and his playing time will both improve. Given that Okur and Kirilenko are out for the duration, none of the suggested fixes will suffice to overcome the huge advantages that Denver enjoys in talent, athleticism, size, and depth.

Utah's remedy?

Obtain more lively bodies in the off-season by arranging a beneficial sign-and-trade deal for Boozer, by seeing what Okur and Korver are worth in the marketplace, and by committing lots of money to the free-agent bonanza.