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Donovan Mitchell Brilliant as Jazz Cruise Past Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorJanuary 24, 2019

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - JANUARY 23: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz shoots the ball during the game against Torrey Craig #3 of the Denver Nuggets on January 23, 2019 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

Donovan Mitchell had 35 points, six assists and six rebounds and Rudy Gobert had a 15-point, 11-rebound double-double as the Utah Jazz beat the Denver Nuggets 114-108 on Wednesday at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City.

Nikola Jokic had 28 points, 21 rebounds and six assists for the 31-15 Nuggets, who remain second in the Western Conference standings. The 27-22 Jazz have won seven of their last eight games.

     

Jamal Murray Must Find More Consistency to Be Legit All-Star Contender

Nuggets guard Jamal Murray was not in the top 10 among Western Conference guards in the most recent All-Star voting ballot update, and at first glance, that's a bit perplexing.

The third-year point guard is averaging a career-high 18.6 points per game, which is second-best on the second-place team in the Western Conference.

He also has a knack for big performances against tough opponents. Notably, Murray dropped 48 points against the Boston Celtics and 31 more versus the San Antonio Spurs.

Murray deserves to be in the top 10, but he needs to be more consistent to land an All-Star nod.

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Most notably, the Nuggets go as Murray goes. Of note, the team is 11-0 when Murray scores 23 or more points and 21-4 when that number is 18 or better.

However, Murray had scored just 14.6 points per game on 38.8 percent from the field in his team's losses this season prior to the Jazz game.

Murray didn't fare much better in Wednesday's defeat, as the 21-year-old scored just nine points on 3-of-11 shooting.

Andy Glockner, formerly of Sports Illustrated, referenced the inconsistency when paraphrasing head coach Mike Malone in a Wednesday tweet:

Fulham's 6th leading scorer @AndyGlockner

This is what Mike Malone is taking about with Jamal Murray. Scoring 25 a night is much harder and more valuable than averaging 25 when you go for 40 and then 10.

Also, Murray needs to improve on the defensive end. Through his team's first 45 games, he ranked just 74th out of 97 qualified point guards in defensive real plus-minus, according to ESPN.com.

Ultimately, Murray looks like a future All-Star, but this year isn't his time. Still, the Nuggets look like they will hang around the Western Conference playoff picture for the foreseeable future, especially if Murray's game continues to improve. Those factors should help him land an All-Star bid eventually.

                           

Kyle Korver, Utah's 3-Point Defense Will Be X-Factors in Western Conference Playoffs

It's no surprise that the primary reason for Utah's 7-1 run is the improved play of Mitchell, who has averaged 31.4 points during that eight-game stretch.

But the performance of Kyle Korvercoupled with Utah's three-point defensedeserves credit.

Korver will be a serious problem for opposing teams in the upcoming playoffs should the Jazz make them. During this eight-game run, he has averaged 12.0 points per game on 43.1 percent shooting. Aside from one 0-of-5 bagel from behind the three-point line, Korver had made 22 of 51 three-pointers.

The 15-year veteran is no stranger to playoff success. As a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Korver had a few big games to help his team reach the NBA Finals. He had 14 points in two consecutive wins over the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals and averaged 14.5 points per game in a four-game sweep of the Toronto Raptors in the second round.

In an era where teams can't have enough three-point shooting (especially to have a chance against the sharpshooting defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors), players like Korver off the bench are valued commodities.

But defending the opposition from hitting those threes is important, too, and Utah has done a tremendous job of that this year. During the 7-1 run, teams are hitting just 34.3 percent of their three-pointers.

That number isn't representative of what Utah has done in that department, as the team ranked just 18th in opposing three-point percentage entering Wednesday. But the Jazz need to keep that trend up.

Four of the teams ahead of them in the Western Conference standings rank in the top 12 in three-point field-goal percentage, and the team that takes the most three-pointers per game in the league (the Houston Rockets) are ahead of them as well.

In sum, if Korver continues to excel and the Jazz continue to tighten up their perimeter defense, then the Jazz will be a strong Western Conference dark horse in the playoffs.

                            

What's Next?

Both teams play next on Friday. The Jazz stay in Utah to begin a home-and-home set with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Nuggets will host the Phoenix Suns.

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