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Utah's Mitchell all jazzed up to visit Nuggets

Things have been tough this season for the Utah Jazz.

After a promising 2016-17 campaign in which Utah reached the second round of the playoffs, the Jazz haven't had much to cheer about.

A bright spot, though, has been the play of rookie Donovan Mitchell. The rookie point guard out of Louisville has emerged as a budding star, and the NBA recognized him Thursday by naming him the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for December.

His first game since earning the honor comes against the team that drafted him and traded him to Utah.

The Jazz (16-22) are in Denver on Friday to face the Nuggets for the fourth time this season and second in the last 10 days.

The game the day after Christmas was a lopsided 107-83 victory for Denver in which the Nuggets held Mitchell to 13 points.

That is his lowest point total in the last five games, and his production is a reason he won rookie of the month after averaging 23.1 points, 3.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds in December.

"It's been fun. I'm not going to lie and say it hasn't been fun," Mitchell told the Deseret News of December. "It's been incredible, but it's so much that I'm doing now that come February that won't be there. So, I've just got to be able to continue to improve and make adjustments because they're going to play me differently. They're going to guard me differently and make the certain reads."

Mitchell will be matched up with Jamal Murray, the main reason Denver traded Mitchell for Trey Lyles on draft night. Murray has grown into his point guard role, running the Nuggets' offense while looking for his shot. It has helped Denver get out to a 20-17 start and in a position to make the playoffs for the first time in five years.

Another reason is the play of his backcourt mate, Gary Harris. After sitting for most of his rookie season of 2014-15, Harris has blossomed into a good No. 2 guard. He is one of Denver's best perimeter defenders and his offense has taken off this season.

In Wednesday's blowout win over Phoenix, Harris tied a career high with 36 points and hit 14 of 17 shots. He was nearly unstoppable in the first half, scoring 28. He has developed chemistry with center Nikola Jokic and has benefitted from the Serbian's court vision with his cutting and ability to attack the basket.

He scored in all ways against the Suns, attacking the basket and going 3-for-5 from 3-point range. When Harris is hitting shots, it opens up the offense for the rest of the team.

"You see how he's aggressive? That's how he's supposed to be," Jokic said after Wednesday's game. "That's how he's supposed to play. As a guard/wing, he's outside the 3-point line so the inside is so open. It helps a lot."

Denver faces a Jazz team that has lost 11 of its last 14 but has shown up for big games. Utah's three wins since mid-December are at Boston and against San Antonio and Cleveland.

The Jazz have two wins over Denver in the first month of the season so the Nuggets won't take them lightly. In a competitive Western Conference, they can't afford to.

Updated January 4, 2018

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