It’s not like the schedule gets a lot easier. There’s a few games in January that are aren’t easy games either. They’re all hard in the NBA. —Jazz coach Quin Snyder
DENVER — After a brutal December, the month of January didn’t exactly get off to a great start for the Utah Jazz with Wednesday’s 108-98 loss to New Orleans.
But it’s supposed to get a lot easier for the Jazz this month, right?
Uh, not really.
After playing nine road games in an 18-day period in December, the Jazz have embarked on another tough road trip, this one lasting nine days with four games, including three against NBA playoff teams.
It starts with the Denver Nuggets Friday, 7 p.m. at the Pepsi Center. Then it’s off to a pair of Eastern Conference teams, Miami Sunday and Washington Wednesday, before finishing up with a game at Charlotte the following Friday.
“It’s not like the schedule gets a lot easier,” coach Quin Snyder said recently after the tough December slate. “There’s a few games in January that are aren’t easy games either. They’re all hard in the NBA.”
Road games have been particularly difficult this year for the Jazz, whose 3-15 road record is second-worst in the NBA, behind only Atlanta at 3-16. According to Snyder, it comes down mostly to defense.
“We need to find another level on defense,” he said. “By and large, we’ve not been good defensively on the road. It’s a challenge for our guys, and we need to play with the same urgency and focus on the road. We need to be better on the road, no question about it.”
The Jazz will certainly have a challenge Friday night against a Denver team that toyed with the Jazz just 10 days ago at the Pepsi Center in a 107-83 victory the day after Christmas. In that game, the Jazz had their second-lowest shooting percentage of the season (32.1), while the Nuggets shot 48.1 percent. Utah fell behind 50-34 at halftime and were never in the game.
Since then, the Nuggets (20-17) lost close games to Minnesota and Philadelphia before bouncing back with a 134-111 win over Phoenix Wednesday night. In that game, Denver shot a blistering 62.2 percent from the field on 51 of 82, including 12 of 27 from 3-point range. Seven players scored in double figures led by Gary Harris with 36 points. The win extended their lead over Utah in the Western Conference to 4.5 games.
This will mark the fourth and final meeting between the two teams. Utah won the first two games, 106-96 on opening night and 106-77 in a late November game when Derrick Favors led the Jazz with 24 points.
Since then, the Nuggets have switched up their lineup, moving Wes Chandler and Mason Plumlee into the starting lineup on the frontline and using former Jazzman Trey Lyles more extensively.
The Nuggets have a balanced teams led by Harris at 16.6 ppg, followed by forward Nikola Jokic at 16.2 ppg. Jamal Murray is next at 15.7 ppg, followed by reserve Will Barton at 14.8 and Chandler at 10.1 ppg. Former Jazzman Paul Millsap was averaging 15.3 ppg before going out with an injury to his wrist in late November.
Snyder doesn’t see the beginning of a new year as significant to the Jazz turning around their road woes, but hopes it begins soon.
“There’s no timeline on that,” he said. “We’ve got to keep getting better. Hopefully it’s right now.”
JAZZ NOTES: The Jazz will play Miami at 1:30 p.m. MT on Sunday. The Heat defeated the Jazz 84-74 in early November. Donovan Mitchell, who scored 24 Wednesday night against New Orleans, leads the Jazz at 18.3 ppg, followed by Rodney Hood at 17.0 ppg. The next home game for Utah will be Jan. 15 against Indiana.