The Utah Jazz are on the outside looking in again.
After winning five straight, four against non-playoff teams, they ran into the real deal Wednesday night against the Denver Nuggets. And the result wasn’t pretty.
Danilo Gallinari scored 21 points, including nine straight in the fourth quarter, and the Nuggets rolled to a 113-96 victory.
The loss knocked Utah (39-37) a half-game behind the idle Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth Western Conference playoff spot.
”I hope you guys weren’t expecting us to win 11 in a row,” said Jazz point guard Mo Williams, held to 2-of-12 shooting and four points after averaging 22.7 points over the previous three games. ”Give them credit. That’s a good basketball team. They cause a lot of matchup problems.”
The Nuggets won by 17 despite being without leading scorer Ty Lawson because of a foot injury.
Kenneth Faried added 19 points, eight rebounds and two blocks for Denver (51-24), which took three of four from the Jazz this season.
”It’s a solid win for us in a race that is probably going to go down to the last week,” Nuggets coach George Karl said of battling for third place in the West. ”In a way I hate helping the Lakers, but now maybe they can help us.”
The Lakers face Memphis and the Clippers next, the teams Denver is battling for the No. 3 seed.
The Jazz were a confident bunch going in, especially after making 19 3-pointers in the previous two games. Randy Foye hit 8 of 9 against Brooklyn, and Williams 6 of 7 in a win over Portland.
The Jazz made just 6 of 20 from beyond the arc Wednesday, with Williams 0 of 3 and Foye 2 of 8.
Foye knew what was coming.
”We’re not going to let you tear us up tonight from the 3-point line,” he said of comments made by Corey Brewer and Andre Iguodala early. ”I tried to do some different things, but (Denver is) so big and athletic it seemed like they were everywhere. They just mucked everything up, switched everything. They make it tough. They’re smart.”
Add in fast and physical.
Denver outscored Utah 58-38 in the paint and 19-13 on the break in leading by as many as 21. The Nuggets also shot 56 percent and outrebounded Utah 42-33, with Kosta Koufos corralling 13 boards.
Denver’s bench also came up huge, with Evan Fournier shooting 7 of 9 for 18 points, Brewer adding 14 and Wilson Chandler 10.
”If you go in that locker room, there would probably be a fight. Our bench thinks they are better than the starters,” Karl quipped.
Jazz big man Al Jefferson, who finished with 16 points and nine rebounds, said his team settled for too many jumpers.
”We got caught up in their game and they made us pay for it,” he said.
Denver opened the third quarter on an 8-0 run to take a 64-51 lead. Iguodala hit a 3, Gallinari converted a three-point play and Iguodala scored on a reverse dunk. Utah missed its first six shots in the quarter and didn’t make a field goal until the 7:11 mark.
The Nuggets bumped their lead to 71-56 after Faried’s dunk off a long pass by Andre Miller, who finished with 13 points and six assists. A 6-0 Utah run, capped by Gordon Hayward’s long jumper, pulled the Jazz within 74-65 in the third.
The crafty Miller, who recently turned 37, quieted the fans by feeding Iguodala for another dunk, then stealing the ball to set up a 3-pointer for Brewer and 79-66 Nuggets lead.
”He’s just smart,” Foye said of Miller, who 15 years ago was playing in a Final Four for the University of Utah. ”He plays at his own pace. No one is going to make him hurry. He does a good job controlling the tempo.”
Paul Millsap’s driving layup pulled Utah within 82-72 with 10:46 left. Then Gallinari got hot, scoring on a layup, 3-pointer, two free throws and a dunk to bump Denver’s lead to 15.
Foye’s 3-pointer with 7:43 remaining was too little, too late.
”I put a lot of they blame on myself,” Foye said. ”If I make two or three of those, it’s a different game.”
Jefferson took solace in the fact Utah has six games remaining, with three of the next four at home.
”We just got to bounce back,” he said.
NOTES: Nuggets coach Karl, a two-time cancer survivor, was asked about Monday’s death of veteran NBA official Greg Willard to pancreatic cancer. ”I’m getting old, getting savvy with every (cancer) situation,” Karl said. ”I think he knew how tough it was going to be. It’s hard. When I come to Salt Lake City, it’s hard because (former University of Utah) coach (Rick) Majerus was here so many times. Even walking around going to dinner last night, it was emotional for me because I would be going to dinner with Rick.” Majerus died of heart failure in December. … Nuggets G Miller opted for the buffet served to media members before the game, saying he’s been doing it for several years to spare the ball boys and change his eating habits. … Jazz F Hayward picked up his third foul with 6:49 left in the second quarter but still led Utah in scoring with 18 points.