I would hesitate to say we’re a juggernaut, based on beating Sydney and Maccabi — no disrespect to those teams — but this is different. That’s why it’s the regular season —Quin Snyder
SALT LAKE CITY — It’s finally here.
Five months after being eliminated by the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors in the playoffs and eight days since the last preseason game, the Utah Jazz officially open their 2017-18 season Wednesday night against the Denver Nuggets.
The game starts at 7 p.m. at the recently renovated Vivint Arena, which fans got a sneak preview of two weeks ago with three preseason games.
The Jazz went undefeated in preseason play, winning all five games, only the second time in franchise history that they’ve gone unbeaten in the preseason. But don’t read much into that about what Utah’s regular-season success will be.
While Jazz coach Quin Snyder says he’s always happy to win, he knows Wednesday’s game will be a step up from two wins over foreign teams and three others against teams not expected to make the playoffs.
“I would hesitate to say we’re a juggernaut, based on beating Sydney and Maccabi — no disrespect to those teams — but this is different. That’s why it’s the regular season.”
When the Jazz tip it off against the Nuggets, a seemingly much-improved team over last year with the addition of all-star Paul Millsap, Utah will be looking to answer several questions.
Will Rudy Gobert be even more dominating in the middle, both offensively and defensively after an all-star season last year?
Can Rodney Hood become the Jazz's go-to guy now that Gordon Hayward has moved on?
Will Ricky Rubio be the answer at point guard and be able to shoot above his 37 percent career average?
Can Joe Ingles live up to his 4-year, $52 million contract and top last year’s impressive numbers?
How much of an impact will free agents Thabo Sefolosha, Ekpe Udoh and Jonas Jerebko be off the bench?
Will dynamic rookie guard Donovan Mitchell turn out to be the real deal?
Are Derrick Favors and Alec Burks really all the way back from injuries that slowed them the past two seasons?
How much will the absence of injured backup point guard Dante Exum hurt the Jazz?
Does 37-year-old Joe Johnson have another good year left in the tank?
Will the defensive-minded Jazz actually play more up-tempo as they’ve talked about all fall and shown in other preseason games?
Those questions and more will start to be answered Wednesday and a lot during the first week of the season as they Jazz will face three more teams expected to make the playoffs this year in Minnesota (Friday), Oklahoma City (Saturday) and the L.A. Clippers (Tuesday).
As for Denver, Snyder expects to be tested right off the bat in the opener.
Besides Millsap, who came to Denver as a free agent after four years in Atlanta following seven seasons with the Jazz, the Nuggets have a rising star in 6-10 Nikola Jokic, forwards Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried and young guards Emmanuel Mudiay and Gary Harris. Former Jazzman Trey Lyles, who was traded in the deal that brought Mitchell to Utah, comes off the bench.
“They were really good last year when their identity as a team really started to crystallize for them in the second half,” Snyder said. “I know they scored on everybody a lot and they have a good nucleus of players. Jokic is unique, we all know Paul Millsap, myself included from the time I was in Atlanta, Jamal Murray has played well against us. You go down the line and one of their strengths is their depth. They’re very good and it’s going to be a difficult game for us.”
Snyder believes his team is ready to go, but will find out for sure Wednesday night.
“You don’t really know — I’d like to think we’re prepared and we have a group that likes to compete,” he said. “We could come out tomorrow and play poorly and get beat. It’s not like the members of Denver’s team are a mystery to us and vice versa. Every team right now is new in some capacity, so it’s hard to predict everything. You know it’s going to be a battle.”