SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—The Denver Nuggets are trying not to dwell on how much has changed in their opening-round playoff series against Utah.
There will be no sweep of the short-handed Jazz, who are without two injured starters but feeling quite comfortable and confident with the series tied at 1-1. Game 3 is on Friday night and the outlook is considerably different for both teams after Utah’s win in Denver on Monday.
The Jazz are thrilled to be tied—and not facing a 2-0 deficit against a team that won the regular season series 3-1.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, know they blew a chance at taking command in the series with some sloppy play that allowed the Jazz to achieve the split in Denver.
“We could have easily won the game,” acting coach Adrian Dantley said before the Nuggets’ short flight to Utah on Thursday. “We had the game down the stretch we just missed some shots and we let Williams hurt us.”
Williams finished with 33 points and 14 assists while leading the Utah to the win that could be pivotal if the Jazz can win the next two games at home, where they are a notably more difficult team to play.
Dantley knows firsthand how rowdy the Utah crowds can get. He played 461 games for the Jazz and his No. 4 was retired by the team three years ago. It hangs in the rafters not far from where Dantley will be at the head of the Nuggets’ bench.
Dantley took over when coach George Karl left the team to undergo treatment for neck and throat cancer. Karl is still recovering from the aggressive treatment, but was feeling up to talking a little basketball with Dantley on Wednesday night.
Dantley said the two coaches agreed that the Nuggets need to focus on not letting Williams come close to what he did Monday as the Jazz outslugged the Nuggets in the latest round of the Northwest Division rivalry.
There were 67 fouls in the game, 37 of which were called on the Nuggets. All-Star Carmelo Anthony(notes) had six of them, including four on offense as the Jazz pestered him with much tighter defense than Utah played when Anthony scored 42 in the series opener.
“That first game he just got too many easy shots—too many shots where he just was able to turn and shoot,” Williams said. “That’s not making things hard for him at all.”
Anthony acknowledged this week that the Jazz had flustered him and vowed to try to do a better job of keeping his composure this weekend. He can count on Utah smothering him again as much as possible with a combination of whoever is within reach of Anthony.
“It doesn’t make any difference who guards Carmelo Anthony. The other guys have got to help,” said Utah coach Jerry Sloan, who suggested his players should take a look at Anthony’s scoring average for the series before boasting too much about the defensive improvement in Game 2.
Anthony has scored 74 points in the two games.
“I wouldn’t get too excited about that,” Sloan said. “We’ve just got to continue to work harder and try to help each other.”
The Jazz know they need to keep playing physical while trying to slow down the Nuggets. Utah center Mehmet Okur(notes) is out for the rest of the playoffs with a torn Achilles’ tendon he suffered in Game 1. The Jazz are also without forward Andrei Kirilenko(notes), recovering from a strained calf and not likely to be ready before this series ends.
Dantley said Martin’s ailing left knee was feeling fine, but the Nuggets didn’t want to risk aggravating the tendinitis that caused Martin to miss 18 games late in the season.