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Nuggets lose 15th of last 16 trips to Utah as defense disappears

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Nuggets lose 15th of last 16 trips to Utah as defense disappears
The Nuggets’ Wednesday night loss to the Jazz, 124-111, was never in doubt. On Friday (8 p.m. MT, ESPN), they will make their way back home to take on the New Orleans Pelicans at Ball Arena.

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These are three lessons learned from the defeat.
Especially in defense, outworked
Given that they were coming off of two days off and an hour-long travel to Utah, this was likely the Nuggets’ least impressive performance of 2023–24 thus far. The Jazz advantage reached a high of 25 points in the third quarter, almost matching the biggest deficit Denver has faced this season. However, that 26-point lead came against the title-contending Thunder, not a sub-.500 team like Utah.

It’s not like the Jazz aren’t performing well. It has won eight of the previous ten games going into the match on Wednesday, including back-to-back away victories at Milwaukee and Philadelphia, solidifying its place in the running for Play-In Tournament qualification.

With the exception of their first points of the game, the Nuggets nevertheless performed like the team with the worse record. They opened the scoring when Nikola Jokic pulled down a one-handed rebound and sent the it to Michael Porter Jr. in the middle of the court without even lowering it below his shoulders. The Jazz ran all over the starters and reserve players after that transition layup, making them appear lethargic.

Denver gave up 71 points on 61.9% shooting at the half, leading to a 16-2 advantage in fast break points. Of Utah’s 26 made baskets in the half, 21 were assisted.
An outside outlier?
The Nuggets’ poor defensive performance was mostly due to their perimeter defense. This season and previous, their overall defensive effectiveness has mostly rested on restricting opponents’ 3-point attempts. However, in creating their enormous lead, Utah, which was ranked 26th in the league in 3-point percentage (35.1%), took advantage of open shots beyond the arc. During the game, the Jazz shot 40.6% from three, including 50% in the first half.

With 27 points, including 12 free throws, Jordan Clarkson led Utah, and Lauri Markkanen scored 26, demonstrating Denver’s remarkably subpar interior discipline.

The Nuggets have typically been able to turn things around in the same game after going through a terrible defensive run. Take last week’s game against Golden State, where the Warriors led by 44 points in the third quarter before an incredible 18-point comeback by the Nuggets in the fourth. But this time, following a string of ineffective defensive plays, Michael Malone ran out of timeouts with 5:46 remaining in the game. Denver was open to being exposed on the other end each time it missed a shot.

The Salt Lake blues persist despite the intense heat. Jokic
One of the more puzzling numbers from Jokic’s career has persisted in Utah long after the Donovan Mitchell–Rudy Gobert period came to an end. Since the 2014–15 season, the Nuggets have now dropped 15 of their previous 16 actual road games against the Jazz. The next year, Jokic came around. When he plays, the Nuggets are 1-12 in Salt Lake City, with an average loss of 11.3 points and a minus-147 point difference in those 13 games. Jokic’s lone victory at Delta Center comes from their renowned seven-man match in 2020.

Denver was beyond help, not even with his recent spike in shooting efficiency. It took the center several minutes into the third quarter to miss a field goal. He ended the night 8 for 9 (27 points, 11 rebounds), bringing his total over the last seven games to 83% (62 for 75).

Denver only collected 27 assists throughout the game, and he was also responsible for six of the team’s 16 turnovers.

This season, the Nuggets will visit Utah one more time, but it won’t be until April 9th, during their 79th regular-season game.

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