It’s been tough, but that’s the way the game is. —Utah Jazz center Ekpe Udoh on the team's challenging December
DENVER — Maybe it’s the high altitude.
Or lack of depth, with guys recovering from injuries.
You also can’t forget that Tuesday was the day after Christmas, too.
But whatever the case may be, the Utah Jazz certainly struggled in Denver. No excuses.
After a lackluster effort in the Mile High City, the Denver Nuggets handed the Utah Jazz their ninth loss in the past 11 games, 107-83.
The Jazz won the previous two matchups against Denver, forcing 19 turnovers per game, but they didn’t bring that intensity this time around. Not even close.
“We haven’t been in the gym really in the past couple days,” said Jazz guard Rodney Hood, who ended with 10 points and six rebounds off the bench. “Yesterday was a good day; we needed that day to be with our family, but we’ve just got to get back in the swing of things and I think we’ll play better tomorrow.”
Utah fell behind by as many as 24 points, while shooting a season-low 32.1 percent from the field.
At 9:43 in the fourth quarter, Nuggets center Nikola Jokic was ejected after a flagrant 2 foul against Jonas Jerebko, but Denver continued to put it on Utah even in his absence. Jokic left the game with 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Jamal Murray and former Jazzman Trey Lyles exposed Utah’s perimeter defense with two-handed driving slams at 7:41 and 5:38 in the fourth.
Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell responded with a vicious, one-handed cram of his own over Will Barton at 6:24, but the play was a little too late, as he ended with 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting with six assists. The dunk will certainly make ESPN "SportsCenter’s" Top 10 plays, but the rookie sees beyond those plays when they leave no impact on the game.
“I really didn’t think about it to be honest because we were already down,” Mitchell said. “It wasn’t one of those where you stand and think about it. It was one play, two points at the end of the day, and it didn’t really affect us in any way.”
Derrick Favors led the way for Utah with 20 points and six boards in 28 minutes, Jerebko contributed 13 points and Joe Ingles grabbed a team-high seven rebounds with eight points.
“We have to be better in every facet of the game,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “Obviously, we didn’t shoot the ball well. I thought we got some open shots. When we don’t shoot well, we have to be even more determined defensively. Our resolve on defense has to improve.”
New Jazz two-way signee Naz Mitrou-Long made his NBA debut with a 3-pointer at 3:20 in the fourth but received nine stitches after the game after colliding with Lyles.
“I’m going to have this scar forever,” Mitrou-Long said, smiling. “I’m just trying to make plays hustling.”
The first half was ugly for both teams, particularly Utah, as the Nuggets led 50-34 entering the break. Utah connected on just 28.9 percent of its shots to Denver’s 41.9 percent after two quarters. Favors led the team with nine points at halftime on 2-for-7 shooting. The Jazz struggled to get in any sort of rhythm, lacking any sort of flow or execution and couldn’t create a basket, as the energy just didn’t seem to be there on the day after the holiday.
Utah allowed Murray to go off for 13 of his 22 in the first quarter while Jokic posted 11 in his first 16 minutes. Lyles ended with 16 points and eight rebounds against his former team.
The Nuggets entered the contest third in the NBA in defensive rating over the past nine games.
“Trey Lyles has been great for us,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone. “Early on in the season, he wasn’t getting time because we signed Paul Millsap, but, ever since Paul went down, you talk about a guy taking advantage of an opportunity, Trey Lyles is doing so in a big, big way so I’m very proud of him as well.”
The Jazz (15-20) will hit the road to face the Golden State Warriors for the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday. Guys are looking to put the latest loss behind them, as the month of December doesn’t get much easier.
“It’s been tough, but that’s the way the game is,” said Jazz center Ekpe Udoh, a former member of the Warriors. “Every team has this stretch, so we’ve got to be ready.”