Kirilenko leads Jazz over Nuggets
SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—The Utah Jazz already blew one chance to gain on Denver when the Nuggets were without their two top players.
When the Nuggets showed up short-handed again, Utah was able to take advantage.
Andrei Kirilenko(notes) scored 22 points and Carlos Boozer(notes) had 19 points and 13 rebounds as the Jazz increased their winning streak to eight with a 116-106 victory over the Nuggets on Saturday night.
“As a team we’re playing really great basketball right now. This is the basketball we’re supposed to play,” said Kirilenko, who also had five steals.
Utah had a huge edge from the start when the Nuggets said All-Stars Carmelo Anthony(notes) and Chauncey Billups(notes) would not play because of sprained ankles. Denver had also just beaten the Lakers the night before in Los Angeles while the Jazz had been off since Wednesday.
The Jazz caught the weary Nuggets early with 38 points in the first quarter, then held on for the victory and pulled within two games of Denver in the Northwest Division.
“It’s huge. We’ve got a chance to get the second (playoff) seed,” said Boozer, who had missed three straight with a strained right calf. “If we can maintain our streak, we have a chance to get it maybe even before the All-Star break gets here.”
Even without their top two players, the Nuggets were able to cut a 17-point deficit to three early in the fourth quarter before Utah put the game away.
“I thought we kept fighting and fighting. We didn’t have a lot of things go our way,” Denver coach George Karl said. “We’re banged up. We need a couple of days off.”
Anthony and Billups, who scored a career-high 39 the night before in a win over the Lakers in Los Angeles, were both out with sprained ankles. It was the eighth game in a row without Anthony, who averages nearly 30 points per game.
The Nuggets also rested Billups and still were able to hang with the Jazz until late in the game.
“We all played hard, especially when we made our adjustments after the first half,” Lawson said. “We’ve just got to keep winning and make sure we hold our spot.”
The Nuggets were without Anthony and Billups when they played here on Jan. 2 and still won 105-95, but on Saturday, Denver couldn’t overcome 20 turnovers, which led to 22 points as the Jazz extended their winning streak and drew another game closer to Denver for first place in the division.
“You look out there and see they don’t have Billups and they don’t have Carmelo Anthony, so we should have won real easily probably,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “But they beat us here with those two guys out the last time we played them and that shows you how strong their team is.”
The Nuggets got back in it with a 12-3 run late in the third quarter, including two three-point plays by Chris Andersen. Utah led 93-86 entering the fourth and Denver continued to push. Malik Allen(notes) scored right away, then Anthony Carter(notes) drove for a layup to cut it to 93-90 a minute into the final period.
But the Jazz regrouped and slowly rebuilt the lead back to double-figures and held on for their first win over the Nuggets this season.
NOTES: The Nuggets have never swept a season series against the Jazz. … Millsap fouled out with 4:26 left in the game. … The Jazz were 23 of 41 in the first half (56 percent). … Graham was called for a flagrant foul on Ronnie Brewer(notes) with 8 minutes left in the third quarter. … Brewer finished with eight assists.