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Analysis: How the Jazz looked more like themselves in beating Nuggets, snapping losing skid

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Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, left, dunks as Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic defends.

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, left, dunks as Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022, in Denver.

David Zalubowski, Associated Press

DENVER — The Utah Jazz beat the Denver Nuggets 125-102 on Sunday night, ending their four-game losing streak. In Rudy Gobert and Rudy Gay’s return to the lineup, the Jazz looked more like themselves and won despite a Nikola Jokic triple-double of 25 points, 15 rebounds and 14 assists. 

High notes

  • For the first time in a while, with a mostly intact roster, the Jazz looked like they were engaged on the defensive end and that they weren’t willing to let up at any point in the game. I think that the most encouraging part of this win for the Jazz was the fact that they improved and found areas to exploit as the game went on and then late in the third and into the fourth quarter they kind of tightened the vice and really took control. That kind of progression and upward trajectory through the course of a game is a really nice sign for a team that can sometimes be so up-and-down over the 48-minute stretch.
  • Jokic is a really smart player in a lot of ways. He is one of the best passers in the game (not just one of the best passing bigs) and there are a million reasons why he is the reigning NBA MVP. But, one of the really small things that Jokic does well is something that is so fundamental in basketball that it’s drilled into young players as they are learning the game. If you catch the ball high in the paint, don’t come down with it. Anyone who has played organized basketball surely has heard coaches yell this time and time again. It’s no different in the NBA and yet some players just let go of some of those elementary lessons. Jokic is a master at catching the ball high in a deep post position and turning to immediately release for a shot. It gives him a great chance at a finish and also is a good way to draw a foul. I just appreciate basketball fundamentals.

  • Because Hassan Whiteside remains in the league’s health and safety protocol, the Jazz had to replace his minutes somehow. That meant playing Gay at the five in some stints and replacing Gay’s non-five minutes with Eric Paschall. Though he only played about nine minutes, he was really good in those minutes and really important. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Jazz may not use Paschall as much when they are all full strength and there are certainly arguments to be made about that decision, but the fact that they have someone who is that capable and that reliable who can come in at any time and provide valuable minutes, especially defensively, is a great thing for a team looking to make a deep playoff run.
  • Bojan Bogdanovic just seems to pull out all the tricks against the Nuggets. He likes to beat this team and he likes to go big. He and Donovan Mitchell combined for 52 points and it didn’t seem particularly difficult.

Low notes

  • The Nuggets bench/non-Jokic minutes in the fourth quarter were really not great. This was a one-possession game and the Jazz quickly ballooned a double-digit lead when Jokic was sitting. That’s just the risk you take in some of these regular season games though. You want to prevent fouls and you don’t want to kill your team just to win a game when you’re already missing so many pieces. I assume that barring foul trouble, Jokic and Gobert would probably play the entirety of the fourth quarter.
  • Remember that thing I said earlier about Jokic not bringing the ball down when he catches in the deep post. Gay makes the mistake of doing the opposite and it costs him.
  • A high note for the Jazz was that they were in the bonus for the final 10 minutes of the game, but that means that the Nuggets committed five fouls in the first two minutes of the final quarter of a close game. That’s just not great. And the penalty foul that started that 10-minute stretch was an incredibly ill-informed foul by Facu Compazzo. You have to know how many fouls your team has — another basketball fundamental. 

Flat notes

  • There was a Nuggets fan sitting in the section near the media seats who, during timeouts, was walking through the stands holding up a COVID-themed poster with a photo of Gobert on it and it read “It’s all Rudy’s fault.” I just feel like this is in such poor taste. Not only does it incorrectly blame an entire deadly pandemic on the shoulders of one person who has already dealt with death threats because of his unfortunately being the first player to test positive in the NBA back in 2020, but it also is just insensitive to the fact that more than 850,000 people have lost their lives because of this virus and trivializing it in this way just isn’t right.