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Associated Press
Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson (25) is fouled as he drives between Denver Nuggets' Arron Afflalo (6) and Timofey Mozgov, from Russia, during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

DENVER — In the middle of the Rocky Mountains, two Northwest Division rivals, who both shipped off their franchise players of a year ago, squared off.

One has improved since the move, the other has taken a step back.

Wednesday's evidence: Denver 117, Utah 100.

After coming out with a much better start the first 18 minutes of the game, the Jazz succumbed to the fast-paced Denver attack. George Karl’s deep team turned on the engines and ran every chance they could. Nene led a high octane, balanced effort with 25 points in 23 minutes. In all, six Nuggets finished in double digits. Denver’s starters sat out most of the fourth quarter.

In a losing cause, Utah also had six players finish in double figures paced by Al Jefferson’s 19. Rookie Alec Burks chipped in 15 points.

Turning points: After point guard Devin Harris canned back-to-back 3-pointers, Utah found itself down by just two, 42-40. Nene easily swiped the ball away from Jefferson at the top of the key, leading to an uncontested dunk. That play proved to be the catalyst for an impressive 21-6 run to finish the first half, and the Nuggets’ lead remained in double figures the duration of the game.

Utah started out the second half with some solid offense, cutting the lead down to 13 at one point. That was short lived as Al Harrington’s seven points fueled a 19-10 run to close the third quarter and give Denver a 88-66 advantage.

Hustle stats: From the get-go, Denver seemed to just had more energy — an assumption that was backed by the hustle statistics:

  • Even though no one had more than seven caroms, Denver outrebounded Utah 45-39.
  • While the Jazz were no slouches with 10 steals, the Nuggets’ quick hands picked the Jazz’s pockets to the tune of 17 steals by nine different players.
  • Led by the speedy Ty Lawson, the aforementioned run-and-gun pace led to 27 fast-break points for Denver, while Utah had 17.
  • Denver forced 22 Jazz miscues, leading to 25 points.
Odds and ends: Some other observations from Wednesday's game:
  • The four lottery picks from the past two years played a combined 19 minutes in the first half, and Burks didn't play in the first half.
  • All of Burks' 15 points came in the fourth quarter.
  • Gordon Hayward had a career-high seven assists. Former Ute Andre Miller and recently acquired Rudy Fernandez combined for 20 dimes off the bench.
  • 12 out of 13 Denver players scored (rookie Kenneth Faried being the exception).

David Smith will provide instant analysis for Deseret News' Utah Jazz coverage this season. He works for LDS Philanthropies and also blogs for the Utah Jazz 360 website. He can be reached at mechakucha1@gmail.com or on Twitter at davidjsmith1232.