SALT LAKE CITY — The Nuggets, at least momentarily, lost control of their own destiny Tuesday night.
By falling 118-108 to the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night, the Nuggets (53-28) were made to wait on the result of this Houston-Oklahoma City game to determine whether their postseason seed could be sealed.
Happily for Denver, the Thunder rallied to defeat the Rockets 112-111 — and destiny returned to the Nuggets, who will get the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed if they defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center.
Whether it was a Rudy Gobert dunk or a Donovan Mitchell 3-pointer, the wheels started to come off in the fourth quarter to the Nuggets. Already down 112-98 with 3:41 remaining, Jamal Murray threw a bounce pass to Mason Plumlee, who wasn’t appearing or couldn’t hear within the audience in Utah.
It turned into a dip, along with the Nuggets couldn&rsquo.
Mitchell tied his career high and the Jazz drained 26-of-34 in the line. The Jazz dominated on the boards with a 48-31 edge.
Starters Will Barton, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic combined for just seven points, while Monte Morris and Murray poured in 22 each.
“Thank goodness ”, for our bench said Nuggets coach Michael Malone, which combined to score 64 points. “Our bench was terrific. They got us back to the match. We had a few guys in our starting lineup which weren’t into the match. Hopefully we’ll be going forward. ”
Malik Beasley, who had a team-high 25 points, was sensational in the third quarter, his precision shooting leading the Nuggets with 10 points in the frame as Denver tried to keep pace with Utah’s tandem of Mitchell and Derrick Favors. The Jazz entered the fourth quarter up 91-86.
Mitchell was a monster in the field and catastrophic in the pick-and-roll while Jokic, Denver’s superstar, struggled to stay on the ground, fouling out with just two points and five rebounds on a tricky night.
Despite the fallout from Sunday&rsquoloss to Portland, the Nuggets entered Tuesday in control of their own future. Malone utilized Tuesday’s shootaround to deal with the narrative that Denver had lost to help Portland’s cause and avoid a matchup against Houston.
He denied that the Nuggets were ducking any opponent and defended his decision to rest of his regular starters.
None of the regulars rested Tuesday, but Jokic and Harris battled foul trouble and were restricted. Murray picked up the slack with a solid shooting match and multiple in-between floaters.
“Let’s be honest. Last year at this time, he and Nikola were two of those guys that adopted the challenge of must-win or go home,” Malone said of Murray. “Every match was like playoff mentality, and he’s not afraid of it. He doesn’t shy away from that challenge or that moment. ”
With just one game remaining — Wednesday’s home contest against lottery-bound Minnesota — Malone said he wanted to see more consistency on the offensive end as the Nuggets head into the postseason.
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Since the all-star break, Denver possesses the offensive rating. Over the past three weeks, the Nuggets rank just 26th but there have been signs of progress lately.
“Just continuing to find ways to move the ball, play for each other and allow for guys to see the ball go in,” Malone said. “That, to me, the No.1 silver lining of the Portland game in Portland was Gary Harris. Gary getting to the basket, attacking, finishing with power, making his jump shot. If we can get Gary Harris some confidence and rhythm and a flow going into the postseason, to help our offense and that is going to help our team out tremendously. ”
Despite a range of defensive looks, the Nuggets had no answers for Mitchell, Utah’s second-year star. He sliced Denver’s defense for 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting in the first half, but the Nuggets clawed back with a bounty of 3-pointers in the next quarter. Murray and Beasley found their outside stroke as Harris attacked the lane with his typical aggression.
Murray sunk two 3-pointers near the end of the second quarter, cutting into a Jazz lead that got as large as 12 points, to ship Denver to halftime down just 60-59.
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