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Utah Jazz basketball: Sizzling Nuggets give Jazz a heat-check loss

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz still might prove to be a playoff team.

What they proved Wednesday night, however, is that they are nowhere near being considered among the elite Western Conference crowd.

Denver definitely belongs near the top of that group.

The fast-paced Nuggets dominated the Jazz on both ends and snapped Utah's season-high five-game winning streak with a 113-96 victory at EnergySolutions Arena.

"We got into their style of play. We didn't play our best basketball," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "It's a tough loss. We hate that we lost the ballgame, but we've got six games left, so we've got to get a new streak."

With the ugly loss, the Jazz fell to 39-37 and dropped out of playoff positioning, a half-game behind the idle Lakers (39-36).

"It's one game. I think we realize that and we've got to stay optimistic here," Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward said. "We had a pretty good streak, so now we can start over and get on a new one."

The Jazz only have six games remaining, including Friday's homestand-ending contest against New Orleans. There isn't much margin for error left — if any, depending on what the Lakers do from here on out.

"We just won five games in a row. I hope you guys weren't expecting us to go 11-0," Jazz point guard Mo Williams said. "That'd be great, but at the same time we're not going to win every game. You want to put your best effort out there. You're playing against a good basketball team. … They just got the better of us."

People around Jazzland wondered whether the Jazz had benefited from a favorable schedule, which included four games against teams with sub-.500 records, or if the team really had turned a corner while racking up five wins in a row.

Or maybe both.

Needing a win to remain in the No. 8 playoff spot out West, Utah got its heat-check game against one of the hottest teams in the NBA.

The Nuggets (51-24) sizzled to remain in the No. 3 position.

The Jazz melted.

Early in the third quarter, Denver burst out of the locker room ahead 56-51 lead and went on an 8-0 run to establish a double-digit lead that it never relinquished.

In that game-changing stretch, the Jazz missed their first five shots of the second half — Corbin was upset that they were jumpers — and didn't score until Randy Foye hit the second of two free throws to make it 64-52 at the 8:01 mark of the third quarter.

"We had that drought where we couldn't really score, and they kind of took off," said Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward, who led Utah with 18 points. "So, props to them."

Just like that, Utah's momentum vanished.

And that wasn't the only thing that disappeared.

The Jazz's interior presence was almost nonexistent, as Kenneth Faried (19 points) spearheaded the Nuggets' 58-38 scoring landslide in the paint and Kosta Koufos (13 rebounds) led Denver's 42-33 domination on the glass.

Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap each scored 16 points, but the Jazz struggled as a team to hit just 46.4 percent from the field.

Utah's sizzling perimeter play of late was also missing. After they'd been so hot of late, Foye and Williams combined to score only 11 points on 4-of-21 shooting.

Denver, meanwhile, shot 56.2 percent and had seven players in double figures, led by Danilo Gallinari's 21-point night.

The Nuggets' backcourt players torched the Jazz, with ex-Ute Andre Miller scoring 13 points with six assists, Andre Iguodala contributing 10 points and six dishes, and sub Evan Fournier going off for 18 points.

You would have never guessed Denver was missing its best guard, injured Ty Lawson, who's out with plantar fasciitis.

"I think it is a solid win for us in a race that is probably going to go down to the last week," said Denver coach George Karl said, whose team is duking it out with the Grizzlies and Clippers for the 3-5 spots.

"In a way, I hate helping the Lakers, but now maybe they can help us. They have Memphis and the Clippers the next two games."

The Jazz, of course, hope the Clippers and Grizzlies give them long-distance assists.

They also hope to get back to playing well enough so they won't hear boos from their own fans during another loss, like they did Wednesday night.

"I think they have seen us play well and they know how we can play," Hayward said. "So they probably expect that."

NOTES: D-League call-up Jerel McNeal was made active for the first time since joining the Jazz on a 10-day contract a week ago Wednesday. McNeal dressed but didn't play. … The Jazz were without the services of backup big Enes Kanter (dislocated shoulder) and rookie guard Kevin Murphy (skin infection). … Foye's only two makes were from beyond the 3-point line, giving him at least a pair of 3s in eight of his last 10 games.