Mehmet Okur scored 24 points and the Jazz used easy layups to shoot 58.5 percent from the field in their 115-104 win over the Nuggets on Wednesday night. It was the highest shooting percentage the Northwest Division-leading Nuggets have allowed an opponent this season.
Andrei Kirilenko added 21 points and seven blocked shots for the Jazz, who have won three of their last five games. With Sacramento’s win over Portland, Utah remained 1 1/2 games behind the Kings for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
“This was very important for us,” Kirilenko said. “We’re still alive. We are keeping our heads in the game and in the race.”
Carmelo Anthony scored 31 points and Andre Miller added 19 points and 12 assists for the Nuggets, whose magic number to clinch the division remained at six. Their lead over the Jazz dropped to 5 1/2 games.
Nuggets coach George Karl said Utah’s desperation gave the Jazz a psychological advantage. Before the game, he said his team—which had won nine of its previous 12 games—was perhaps too confident and loose.
“We were a happy team, but not a serious team,” Karl said. “They were a playoff-serious team who knew they had to win this game.”
The Jazz won by getting easy baskets, especially in the first half, when they shot 63 percent from the field and scored 28 points in the paint. Utah led 56-45 at halftime.
“We played some zone in the second quarter and we caught Denver off guard,” Kirilenko said. “We were deliberate and kept executing.”
Utah extended its lead to as many as 16 in the third quarter, but the Nuggets came back to make it a game.
Anthony hit a 3-pointer with 7:58 remaining in the game to pull to 95-89, but Carlos Boozer made a layup to extend the lead to eight. He finished with 15 points.
It was a common theme all night, with the Nuggets scoring, but failing to stop Utah on the other end.
“Seventy-five percent of our attack was easy layups,” Kirilenko said. “We had good rotation and sharing the ball.”
The Jazz essentially sealed the game when Anthony was called for a technical foul for yelling at the referee with 4:44 remaining. Okur made the free throw to give Utah a 10-point lead. Kirilenko’s block of Anthony’s layup with less than 2 minutes was the final insult.
The Nuggets played without center Marcus Camby, who sat out with a back strain. Eduardo Najera returned after missing four games with a sore right knee, but finished with two points and three fouls in 3 minutes.
Without Camby, the Nuggets grabbed a season-low 17 defensive rebounds.
“If we had (Camby) tonight, we probably could have had more rebounds, but you can’t use that as an excuse,” Nuggets forward Ruben Patterson said. “It was just horrible out there.”
Utah’s 56 first-half points were a season high. They had scored 55 points twice, the last time against the Hornets on Monday . … Anthony has scored at least 25 points in nine straight games. … The Nuggets and Jazz finish their season series April 12 in Utah. … The Nuggets said X-rays Wednesday showed G Earl Boykins’ broken left hand was healing. He has missed five games. Another X-ray is planned in one week.