Round 1 playoff preview: Jazz VS Nuggets

No. 4 DENVER NUGGETS (53-29) vs. No. 5 UTAH JAZZ (53-29).(AP)Season series: Nuggets, 3-1. Denver earned the tiebreaker and home-court advantage in this series by winning the first three meetings to clinch the season series. The Jazz may come to regret a 105-95 home loss on Jan. 2, a game in which neither Chauncey Billups nor Carmelo Anthony played. Utah won the other game both missed, but the two All-Stars were unstoppable when they did play, with Anthony averaging 33.5 points and Billups 27.Storyline: In the balanced Western Conference, either of these teams is capable of knocking off the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the second round. However, one of them won’t even get past their opening series. Denver hopes to get coach George Karl back from his cancer treatments if it advances.Key Matchup I: Billups vs. Deron Williams. Williams had three 20-point games, but his size and physical play doesn’t bother Billups the way it does many other point guards. And Billups, a former NBA finals MVP, is one of the league’s most clutch postseason performers.Key Matchup II: Kenyon Martin vs. Carlos Boozer. If both are healthy – both were on the bench with injuries when their seasons ended – this is a good matchup of rugged power forwards. Boozer had double-doubles in all four games but Martin was nearly as sharp, collecting three double-doubles.X-Factor: Nene. Had only four points in the final meeting, but before that hurt Utah with some surprising offense. He averaged 18.7 points in the three victories.Prediction: Nuggets in 7.

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