The Utah Jazz played the NBA’s best defense for nearly six weeks but are having a difficult time with two key players sidelined.
An entirely disappointing season for the Denver Nuggets appears to be headed for a fittingly sour ending.
Utah tries to avoid a fourth straight loss for the first time in nearly four months Friday night when it visits Denver.
The Jazz (31-40) held opponents to league lows of 83.9 points per game and 39.8 percent shooting during a 14-4 stretch Feb. 7-March 19, but they’ve since allowed 101.3 points and 46.0 percent shooting while dropping three in a row.
Utah surrendered 37 fourth-quarter points in a 92-89 loss to Portland on Wednesday.
"We need to be smarter," coach Quin Snyder said. "Thought we had some breakdowns, obviously, in the fourth quarter defensively."
Being without rangy forwards Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood hurt the Jazz on both ends of the floor. Hayward, who has missed the last two contests with a shoulder injury, leads the club with 19.6 points per game and is second with 4.2 assists. Hood was averaging 13.8 points over his last eight games before sitting out against Portland due to what the team described as gastrointestinal distress. Hood has been bothered by stomach issues in the past.
Utah was led by 26 points from Derrick Favors while Trey Burke scored 22. The Jazz recorded only 12 assists on 35 baskets.
"It certainly changes our team," Snyder said of the absences. ”Keeping the ball out of the paint was one of the things the other night that I think hurt us. We just missed that 6-foot-8, 6-foot-9, that length, and those guys playing the passing lanes.
"And the most obvious thing is, it’s harder for us to score. … The ability for us to score throughout the course of the game and then execute at the end are two challenges for us right now."
Utah hasn’t lost four in a row since a nine-game skid Nov. 21-Dec. 8.
Denver (27-45) owns its worst winning percentage since going 17-65 in 2002-03. The Nuggets have shot 42.2 percent with opponents averaging 19.0 points off turnovers during a 1-4 stretch.
They were held to 91 points or fewer for the third time in five games and shot 34.5 percent in a 99-85 loss to lowly Philadelphia on Wednesday. Denver scored nine fourth-quarter points.
"There are some basketball icons rolling over in their graves right now, from Philadelphia all the way to Denver," interim coach Melvin Hunt said.
Danilo Gallinari was limited to eight points on 3-of-10 shooting after scoring a career-high 40 in Sunday’s 119-100 win at Orlando. He said he was bothered by a shoulder injury.
"My shoulder is starting to get a little sore, but it shouldn’t be anything to worry about," he said. "I will be fine for the next game."
These teams have split two meetings with Utah winning 104-82 at Denver on Feb. 27.