The Denver Nuggets rolled into Salt Lake City like they weren’t that interested in winning just their second game in the last sixteen tries there, and the Utah Jazz were happy to take advantage as they blew out the Nuggets 124-111. The game was not as close as that score might indicate. Nikola Jokic had 27 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists, but the rest of the starters struggled from the field and with defense while the Jazz did whatever they wanted. They had 34 assists against Denver, Lauri Markkanen scored 26 points and had 12 rebounds, Collin Sexton had 22, and Jordan Clarkson was huge off the bench with 27 points and 9 assists. It might have been the ugliest loss of the year for Denver, which had its full regular roster but much less than its regular effort.

Game Recap

The Nuggets won the tip but Murray missed his shot, which didn’t matter a second later as Nikola Jokic took a missed Utah shot and winged a 60-foot pass to MPJ for a layup. Utah made a pair of threes, which Murray answered with a turnaround bucket in the paint. Kris Dunn made a nice push shot, MPJ fumbled a Jokic pass out of bounds, and a Jokic deflection turned into a KCP bucket to cut Utah’s lead to 8-6 early. Porter missed a bank shot for Denver and John Collins made two Utah threes sandwiched around a wide-open one for Murray. Sexton Finised inside and forced a timeout from Denver with a 19-8 Jazz lead. The lead ballooned to 23-9 before Jokic made a couple layups for his first buckets, then a Jazz turnover led to an Aaron Gordon dunk and a 25-15 deficit. Collins flushed an oop for Utah, KCP answered with a layup, but Utah just kept hitting shots with Clarkson making easy jumpers. Jokic had 8 points in the quarter, but the rest of Denver only scored 16 despite a last-minute three from Peyton Watson and the Nuggets trailed 35-24 after one quarter.

DeAndre Jordan opened the second with a dunk, and Murray hit a pull-up after some Utah free throws. Walker Kessler hit a hook over DeAndre, then the Jazz blocked Jordan for the second time in the game and it turned into a Jordan Clarkson three and a 43-29 Utah lead. Christian Braun made a three for his first bucket, then Denver forced a 24 second violation and Jordan got free throws to cut it back to 11 before Olynyk buried a wide-open 3 for Utah. Jokic came in and immediately assisted a three from Reggie Jackson, then took a pass from Reggie to make a bucket of his own. The easy bucket for Reggie off a KCP pass cut the Utah lead to 7 at 48-41 as the Nuggets got their offense going, and Clarkson’s three for Utah was answer by Aaron Gordon. Jokic bullied Markkanen inside but Sexton’s three kept Utah above 50% from deep in the first half at that point. Clarkson’s breakaway dunk put Utah back up 11, and the Jazz hurt Denver with their transition game as Lauri Markkanen attacked them in back-to-back possessions. The Nuggets kept turning the ball over or failing to grab offensive rebounds and the Jazz made them pay at every opportunity, taking a massive 71-53 lead into the half despite Jokic’s efforts.

Jokic made Denver’s first basket of the second half but Utah kept scoring and Denver did not. It was 78-55 Utah when MPJ hit his first three, followed by a KCP one. Denver was in the bonus early and Jokic got to the line to cut it to 80-64, and with better rebounding the Nuggets forced a Utah timeout after an MPJ to Murray layup in transition. KCP made a three after a Utah dunk, Murray and Keyonte George exchanged threes, but the Jazz pushed the lead back to 20 at 91-71 with Denver unable to keep offensive consistency or defend as a team. Denver went five-plus minutes without a field goal until Jokic made a three and Denver finished the third quarter down 99-78.

Aaron Gordon made a three for Denver as he and Murray started the fourth quarter with the reserves, and Christian Braun had a dunk, but Denver’s porous defense reared its head again as Clarkson cut them up from inside and from deep. MPJ wedged a shot in between the rim and the backboard in a shot indicative of the night for Denver. Jokic came back in with the Nuggets down 21 at 108-87 and it made no difference. It was 116-91 Utah when Jokic was pulled again and Denver waived the white flag with deep bench players and half the quarter to go. The final score of 124-111 didn’t indicate a better effort down the stretch, just the Jazz easing up on the beatdown.

Final Thoughts

– Denver was not ready for Utah’s intensity. As I said during the game, I don’t think Denver has adjusted to the idea that they have to be ready for every team’s best shot.

The Nuggets were a perfect 18-0 before this game against under .500 squads, but it’s the way they play some of these games that’s troubling. They definitely don’t come out looking to put a hurt on every team to blow them out, and their flat starts let other squads hang around without pressure. The Jazz had 9 first-half threes, with 21 assists and just 6 turnovers. Denver’s defense was invisible, just no pride shown at all on that end. Their zone was porous, their man defense worse. Maybe Denver didn’t respect Utah, but it’s still a microcosm of Denver’s problems with starting halves. The broadcast reported that Jokic admitted they were a tired team with the shortened summer and the mass of back-to-backs early this year. Malone challenged them at halftime to “bring a championship standard of excellence” to the second half but that didn’t happen. They need to find that standard of excellence to make wins easier and avoid these letdowns.

– The schedule is about to get tough. The Nuggets only face one of those under-.500 squads in the next ten games, with most of their schedule stuffed with legitimate contenders in both conferences and six of those games on the road. Denver won’t have the back-to-backs that have worn them down, but they will need more precision and energy to keep their winning ways. It’s an important stretch of the season that will test them, and that championship standard needs to show itself against the sort of teams they’ll need to overcome to win another title. This isn’t a meaningful game to extrapolate from, but it is an important example of how Denver cannot play if they want to stay in control of their own destiny.