After three weeks of road games and frightful opponents, the question now for the Utah Jazz is whether they can maintain the momentum. Wednesday night at McNichols Arena, the schedule gets considerably less intimidating.
The Jazz kick off a string of games against the no-names and also-rans of the NBA.However, as the Jazz have proven, they have a tendency to play up, or down, to the competition.
After playing seven road games in 11 days, followed by home games against Boston and Portland and a road game against Seattle, the Jazz meet the lowly Nuggets, who have lost their last three and seven of nine.
That will be followed by a Thursday game in the Salt Palace against Charlotte. Other coming attractions include Minnesota, the L.A. Clippers and Sacramento. The only team that should pose a problem for the Jazz is the Milwaukee Bucks, who visit the Salt Palace next Monday.
"They know where they are," Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan said of his team, "and I think they are working hard to be as good as they can be."
Being good against bad teams has been a problem for the Jazz. They have already been beaten by Orlando, Minnesota, Indiana, Miami and Denver. Of the remaining 18 games, the Jazz play 12 teams that likely won't make the playoffs.
Denver epitomizes the kind of team the Jazz have struggled against. The Nuggets beat the Jazz on Jan. 26 at McNichols during a six-game winning streak. But that was followed by seven straight losses and 10 losses in 11 games. Lately, Denver has lost seven of its last nine.
Utah won the first game with Denver, 141-126 in the Salt Palace.
Last time the Jazz and Nuggets met, Denver was playing minus star scorer Orlando Woolridge, who was out with a detatched retina. Woolridge is back, and has made 25 of his last 43 field goal attempts (.581) and is averaging a team-high 26 points a game. Guard Michael Adams is averaging 25.5 per game.
First-year Denver coach Paul Westhead is going through a nightmare season. The Nuggets' 18 wins are tied for the worst in the NBA. Illness and injury have accounted for 194 player-games missed. As a result, the Nuggets have used 26 different starting lineups and had 21 players on the roster.
That story continues. Woolridge is listed as "probable" to play against the Jazz, thanks to a sore right knee. Anthony Cook is out with a torn ligament and Todd Lichti is out until late March after knee surgery.
Meanwhile, the Jazz are a week to 10 days away from the return of forward Blue Edwards, who had the cast taken off his severely sprained ankle on Monday. Karl Malone, who missed a Monday practice due to a sore hand, returned to work out with the team on Tuesday before leaving for Denver.