We’ve talked about doing the things that we can control, and we haven’t been doing as good a job of that. I think the scoreboard reflects that. —Jazz coach Quin Snyder
DENVER — The last time the Jazz strolled into Denver, they handed a reeling and depleted Nuggets team a 104-82 thrashing for their 18th loss in 20 games.
The Jazz were four games into what would turn into a 12-3 run, in which they’d hold opponents to league lows of 82.5 points per game and 39.8 percent shooting.
And the two division foes, who, at one point looked quite similar as they hovered near the bottom of the Western Conference, had suddenly taken different paths.
A lot has changed since Feb. 27.
Utah’s 107-91 loss to the Nuggets at Pepsi Center on Friday night may be the latest bit of proof.
The Jazz (31-41) struggled to find any rhythm offensively from the start as the Nuggets quickly jumped out to a 6-0 run. Passes were dropped. Dunks were deflected. Tip-ins weren’t anywhere near the hoop. And Gordon Hayward, who returned after missing the last two games with a shoulder injury, looked rusty early as he tried to weave his way through the Nuggets’ defense.
It took nearly three and a half minutes for the Jazz to get on the board. And a two-point Nuggets lead at the end of the first quarter quickly ballooned to as much as 16 in the second as Hayward rested and Utah’s once-stiffing defense fell flat.
“We didn’t play well tonight,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We’ve talked about doing the things that we can control, and we haven’t been doing as good a job of that. I think the scoreboard reflects that.”
Hayward led all scorers with 24 points on 9-of-19 shooting with seven rebounds and three assists, while big man Rudy Gobert added 14 points and 14 rebounds.
“Shoulder felt fine,” Hayward said. “I got a little tired out there, a little winded, but that was to be expected.”
But his team’s overall play wasn’t.
The Jazz could only muster 39.5 percent shooting from the field and a dreadful 18.5 percent on 3s, while allowing the Nuggets (28-45) to hit 51.3 and 54.2.
“We just weren’t who we’ve been, honestly,” Hayward said. “Defensively especially, communication isn’t where it was, where it’s been.”
With 10 games left, Snyder and Hayward both said their goal for the homestretch is as simple as it was from the start of the season: Get better.
“We’re the same team that won, we’re the same team that lost,” Snyder said. “It’s just a question of consistency. There are still things we can do, no matter who is on the floor. We may not be as good a team, but we can play the right way, and we didn’t play the right way tonight.”
But injuries and general fatigue have taken their toll, as they have with nearly every team at this point in the season.
Rookie swingman Rodney Hood, who missed Wednesday’s game against Portland with a gastrointestinal illness, did not travel to Denver because he was undergoing further tests in Salt Lake City. Derrick Favors left in the fourth quarter Friday with back spasms and did not return. And Dante Exum got sick during halftime and didn’t play the final two quarters.
Things won’t get easier for the Jazz as they return home, either. They host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday in a game that will likely put an official end to their tiny playoff hopes.
“Back to back for us,” Snyder said. “Tough game. Banged up. But I just want to see us play the right way, and I know we’re capable of doing that. If that results in a win, great. But we’re not playing against the scoreboard. We’re playing against our habits and our focus and our identity.”