SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—Utah coach Jerry Sloan was as frustrated as his players during the Jazz’s recent slump.
Losing three straight and seven of nine didn’t bother him nearly as much as the halfhearted effort he was seeing.
Sloan’s message finally seemed to get across Wednesday when the Jazz beat Denver 103-90, ending the three-game losing streak and moving within two games of the first-place Nuggets.
“Coach said it best earlier at the shootaround today,” said Milt Palacio, who had 12 points and seven assists for the Jazz. “It’s like a little kid getting bullied every day and one day you’re going to have to stand up and fight.”
And the Jazz did—finally.
It was remarkably different from a 79-70 loss to San Antonio on Monday. The Jazz also avenged a 30-point embarrassment at Denver last month and extended the Nuggets’ losing streak to four.
“We started to push the ball. We just got rebounds and beat Denver at their own game,” Kirilenko said. “They like to run a lot and sometimes they forget about defense. So we kind of forced them with our fast attack.”
Denver was without Marcus Camby, who strained a muscle in his left shoulder the night before in a loss at Sacramento, and his absence was quite apparent. Utah finished with a 40-23 rebounding advantage and shot 55 percent, outscoring the Nuggets 40-28 inside.
“It was probably their best transition game of the year. They got way too many easy baskets,” Denver’s Andre Miller said.
Carmelo Anthony scored 20 points and Miller had 15 points and nine assists for Denver.
The Nuggets had won seven straight before the losing streak started last Friday against the Clippers. They shot nearly 60 percent in the first half Wednesday, but couldn’t overcome going 6-for-20 from the floor in the third period.
Denver’s lead in the division slipped to two games over Minnesota and Utah.
“You can’t let a team shoot the basketball so freely like we let them tonight,” Denver coach George Karl said.
After shooting 58 percent in the first half, Denver struggled in the third quarter and the Jazz took advantage of Camby’s absence by getting inside for layups and rebounds.
Utah opened the third with a 7-2 run and led 75-67 entering the fourth. Denver didn’t have a field goal from Miller’s turnaround jumper with 2:48 remaining in the third until Kenyon Martin made a shot 5 minutes later.
The Jazz took over with a 7-0 run to open the fourth quarter. Keith McLeod started the run with a steal and a layup, Matt Harpring converted a three-point play and Kirilenko made a spinning layup to get the lead up to 82-67.
By the time Martin’s short jumper went in with 9:48 left in the game, the Jazz were already in command and never let Denver get closer than 12 the rest of the way.
Martin finished with 18 points and led the Nuggets with six rebounds.
Harpring scored 11 off the bench for Utah.
: The Nuggets had just five turnovers. … In the second quarter, Denver’s Earl Boykins took a steal in for a layup, but Kirilenko got there first and didn’t even have to jump to block the shot by the 5-foot-5 Boykins. … Utah G Gordan Giricek (Achilles’ tendon) did not dress. … Camby was listed as day-to-day. … After going 22-for-38 in the first half, Denver made 14 of 37 the rest of the way.