SALT LAKE CITY (TICKER) —One awful quarter prevented the Denver Nuggets from having a chance for their first win at the Delta Center in over seven years.
Utah never led in the first quarter as Denver made five of its first seven shots. But the Nuggets just 9-of-38 the rest of the half, and the teams went into the locker room tied, 41-41.
“These are difficult games to play,” Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. “Sometimes you come out and think it going to be an easy game. Denver has played hard all year long. They just haven’t had the success they would like to have had.”
The second half was a different story for both teams. Denver went scoreless for the first 4 1/2 minutes as Utah opened a 50-41 lead on former Nugget Calbert Cheaney’s jumper with nine minutes remaining.
Rookie Junior Harrington scored the Nuggets’ first basket of the half, but the Jazz responded with a 12-5 spurt, increasing their advantage to 62-47 with 4:13 to play.
Denver shot just 21 percent (5-of-24) in the quarter, committed seven turnovers and allowed Utah to shoot 64 percent (7-of-11), falling behind, 68-54.
“We got after it in the third quarter, for a period of time trying to put the game in our favor, then we kind of went from there,” Sloan said. “These are difficult games to play, knowing that you’re supposed to win.”
But the Nuggets scored a season-high 35 points in the quarter and used a 10-2 run to climb back into the contest. They were within 95-89 with under a minute to play after Harrington’s free throws but could not overcome 35 percent shooting (31-of-88) and ran their losing streak to eight games.
“I’m pleased with our effort,” said Denver coach Jeff Bzdelik, whose team has been competitive most nights, but has lost by an average of 14.8 points during the current slide. “Our guys really battled, never ever gave up. We got off to a bad start in the third quarter, which followed us through that third quarter.
“I thought there were a lot of positives with our game for which to go from and our guys play so hard. We just need to make a few more shots, improve our execution on the defensive end and we’ll be right there.”
Juwan Howard had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Denver, which has not won in Utah since December 7, 1995 and is 9-51 all-time here. But with Malone on him most of the night, he shot 4-of-12 in the first half and 8-of-21 for the game.
Malone shot 5-of-9 from the floor, converted 10-of-12 free throws and matched a career high with 10 assists. He has had 10 assists six times in his brilliant career, most recently on November 29, 2000.
Cheaney finished with 15 points and Matt Harpring added 14 as the Jazz shot 49 percent (32-of-65) and improved to 30-15 in their last 45 games.
“We were kind of going through the motions in the first half and came out with a strong third quarter and a good opening to the fourth,” Padgett said. “We got up by enough. It seemed to hold them off, but we didn’t finish very well. But we got the win and that’s the important thing.”
“I thought we played decently in the second half and we were able to get a good enough lead to where we (didn’t have) play our best basketball to finish it out,” added Utah guard John Stockton, who scored all 11 points in the second half.
Harrington added 16 points but made just 5-of-15 shots. Reserve Chris Anderson scored 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter and Shammond Williams chipped in 13 in his first game since being acquired from Boston at Thursday’s trading deadline as Denver dropped its 14th straight road contest.