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Nuggets Fade Late and Lose to the Utah Jazz

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Denver was unable to keep up with the Jazz, ultimately finally accepting defeat.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz headed into Denver after playing a game yesterday back in Salt Lake City. This was a game where the Denver Nuggets had an opportunity to get out and run their opponent ragged, utilizing the schedule and the altitude to their advantage. Unfortunately, they were unable to get any sort of pace going and quickly fell into the Jazz’s trap of a slow grind it out game. A hot start would eventually give way to poor shooting and poor interior defense and the Nuggets would be left still searching for their first home victory as they take the loss 96-84.

With Joffrey Lauvergne unable to play, J.J. Hickson once again got the start at center. The results would not be as positive for Denver this time around. Despite Hickson getting the start, the Nuggets elected to have Kenneth Faried guard Rudy Gobert on defense, leaving Hickson to deal with Derrick Favors. There was some promise in the first quarter as it looked like Denver was making a concerted effort to try and run, at one point they even got a nice fast break basket off of a Jazz make when Faried simply out ran everyone down the court and Emmanuel Mudiay found him with a nice full court pass. Faried got himself going early and both he and Hickson were battling admirably against the larger Favors and Gobert. With Nikola Jokic back in the lineup tonight, it looked as though Denver was going to be able to win the battle down low with tenacious defense against a tired Jazz team. The early returns were good as Danilo Gallinari nailed a long jumper towards the end of the first quarter to stretch the Nuggets lead out to thirteen points. Unfortunately, Denver would struggle closing out quarters and a mini run by the Jazz at the end of the first got them back within five points.

The bench also looked strong to start, helping to erase the bad close of the first quarter with a nice run to start the second. Will Barton in particular was playing well. Yet, there were still too many missed opportunities, including one play where Jokic made a beautiful spin move in the post to blow by his man only to miss the layup. With the offense starting to sputter, Gallinari was doing his best to carry the team by continuing to be aggressive and draw fouls. Unfortunately, the pace that Denver had wanted to get at a break neck speed began to grind to a crawl which played right into the Jazz’s hand. This is not to say that Utah was starting to pull away from Denver as both teams made the second quarter an all out brick fest of bad basketball. The Nuggets were worse, managing to only muster up eighteen points in the quarter and a poor close out of the half let Utah get the game within two points.

The start of the second half looked promising, up to that point Denver had not been hurt very much by their lack of size inside and Favors would sit out the second half as he dealt with flu like symptoms. Gallinari pulled off a circus layup but that would serve as pretty much the only highlight for Denver (on Utah’s side Gobert had a monster block on Faried). The shooting went from bad to putrid in the third quarter. Didn’t matter if it was Gary Harris from three, Mudiay finishing at the hoop or a collection of players shooting free throws, no one was buying a bucket. Randy Foye hit a couple of threes but that probably did more harm than good as he went into full on chucking mode. To add injury to insult, Faried took a knee from Gordon Hayward straight to the family jewels and it started becoming evident Denver wasn’t going to be able to hold on.

The fourth quarter is where the Nuggets simply laid down. Barton and Gallinari were the only two players even trying to attack the basket and Gallinari was still somewhat complacent to just shoot jump shots like the rest of the team. The defense got sloppier as Denver was slow on their rotations and with no athletic bigs to offer help defense, Utah began running off a series of plays that resulted in easy dunks with the Nuggets pretty much standing around and watching. In fact, it seemed as though Denver just abandoned the idea of playing defense in the fourth and thus they doomed themselves to a loss. It was an ugly ugly putrid game and to call a spade a spade…the Nuggets played terrible. They were the team who looked like they had traveled into town late the prior evening as they had no energy. If you didn’t know better, you’d have thought Brian Shaw was still coaching this team.

Key matchup: Jazz bigs vs. Nuggets "bigs"

This one somewhat turned out as a wash, and I suppose if there was a positive to this game it was that Denver didn’t get absolutely killed inside. Faried played as hard as he could and was strong on the boards. There was no doubt that Gobert’s presence was felt as he did a good job of protecting the rim for Utah. However, Favors was clearly not 100% which helped the Nuggets. Hickson couldn’t follow up his solid performance in Los Angeles at home and started to look like the Hickson of old. He was not as bad as Darrell Arthur though, who was completely ineffective.

What to watch for: Pace

This was garbage, 100% garbage. The Nuggets should be ashamed to have played at the pace they did. They seemed disinterested with the whole game and were more than content to walk the ball up the court after the first quarter. They managed a measly twelve fast break points, just two more than the Jazz who have zero interest in running. You can talk all you want in press conferences and the offseason about running at altitude but when you come out and play like that when you’ve got a team on the second night of back to back, all that pace talk just feels like lip service.

Plan B? We don’t have a Plan B

The Nuggets bench accounted for just thirty-four points, and if you take away Barton that number drops to twenty-two (which was aided by eleven points generated from Foye chucking). Give credit where credit is due, Barton is having a solid start to the season and he was the one guy who seemed to be playing with some sort of urgency. Denver was outscored and outplayed by the Jazz bench (just like the starters) which is just unacceptable against a team that might have the weakest depth in the entire league

Prediction: Dead wrong on this one as there was no running to speak of and the Nuggets end up being the one owning a losing record at 2-3 and yours truly is now 0-4 on recaps…there’s always tomorrow, bring on the Warriors…yikes.

Box score via ESPN.com