DENVER — Forget the hats. Cancel the T-shirt order.
Because after Thursday, when their shots wouldn't fall but they did, there's little need for the Jazz to plan how they'll celebrate a third straight NBA Northwest Division title.
Yet another debacle away from home saw to that, as Denver rolled to a 114-104 Pepsi Center victory over a 46-29 Jazz team that still doesn't have a road win over any of the West's other seven playoff-positioned teams.
Guard J.R. Smith did most of the damage for the Nuggets, finishing with a game-high 28 points and hitting six of his eight 3-pointers during an opening half that Denver dominated.
Just as painful for the Jazz, though, was their own lousy shooting.
Utah finished a season-low 36.6 percent from the field, including Carlos Boozer's 7-for-23 and Mehmet Okur's 2-for-12.
"Boozer, Deron (Williams), Memo (Okur) — I don't what they were, but they didn't shoot the ball very well," a noticeably dejected Sloan said of a trio that collectively finished 14-for-47.
"I was more disappointed in our defense," he added. "I know nobody's trying to miss shots.
That's the way I've always looked at it as a coach. But some of our defense — it looked like we didn't really want to help each other enough to win the ball game."
The 46-29 Jazz remain seventh in the NBA's Western Conference, but — with just seven games to go in their regular season, including tonight's contest at home against Minnesota — they've fallen to 3.5 games behind leader Denver in the Northwest Divisions standings.
Furthermore, they're now just one game ahead of eighth-place Dallas in the West — and that close to slipping into a first-round playoff matchup with the team that eliminated them in the second round last postseason, the Los Angeles Lakers.
Denver, second in the West behind the Lakers, improved to 50-26.
"They're a powerful team," Sloan said prior to Nuggets tying the season series at 2-2.
"They've got a lot of things that can hurt you. They've got guys that can shoot 3s, rebound the ball. They've got a lot of things going for 'em."
Especially when someone is as hot as Smith was Thursday.
The Jazz led by as many as 11 points in the opening quarter, but Smith closed the first with one of his treys and opened the second with another to even the game at 24.
"They ran a screen for him," Sloan said of Smith's 3-pointer at the end of the first. "We never got up to give help, like we're supposed to do."
By the time the half was done, and Anthony Carter had stripped Okur at one end and dropped a buzzer-beating layup on the other, Denver was up 54-43.
Okur (1-for-6), Williams (1-for-7) and Boozer (1-for-10) were a combined 3-for-23 from the field in the half. Only Paul Millsap's 4-for-4, Kyle Korver's 2-for-3 and 3-of-5 shooting from both Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Miles (who had a game-high 19 points) saved the Jazz from hitting worse before the break than the 34.9 percent that they did.
Seven points was the closest Utah got to the Nuggets in the third quarter, but Denver's lead remained at 11 heading into the fourth.
The Jazz did get to within six three times in the final quarter, but an Okur basket that would have made it a five-point game at 108-103 with 46.1 seconds remaining was negated because Boozer committed offensive goaltending.
NOTES: The Jazz put their 15-game EnergySolutions Arena win streak on line tonight against the Timberwolves. Utah is 11-3 in its last 14 games against Minnesota, including four straight victories overall and six straight at home. ... Denver's Chris Andersen blocked eight shots. ... Nuggets big man Kenyon Martin exited in the third quarter with strained rib cartilage and did not return. X-rays were negative. ... The Jazz are now 6-2 on major national cable TV this season, including 4-1 on TNT and 2-1 on ESPN. The Jazz's next national game comes Wednesday night at Dallas, on ESPN. ... The Nuggets on Thursday wore all green, 45-percent organic cotton uniforms to help celebrate the NBA's inaugural Green Week.
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