Denver • They bounced off the backboard, swished underneath the net rather than through, and some even teetered on the rim.
But most of the Jazz’s open shots — they didn’t go in.
It was a flat night from Utah in a 107-83 loss to the divisional rival Denver Nuggets — a team it had beaten by double-digits twice before this season. But perhaps what was most frustrating for a team that has lost nine of its last 11 games is that when the Jazz’s shooting dropped off, so did everything else.
It’s not a good sign on any night — but particularly as the Jazz (15-20) prepare to face the defending champion Golden State Warriors on a back-to-back, then host the Cleveland Cavaliers this weekend to finish out a brutal month.
“When we don’t shoot well, we have to be even more determined defensively,” coach Quin Snyder said. “Our resolve on defense has to improve. That’s really what we talked about: There has to be more attention to detail. There has to be more intensity.”
There were heated moments and highlights Tuesday night — and another sky-scraping Donovan Mitchell dunk to boot — but otherwise, moments of intensity were few and far between for the visiting Jazz.
Utah shot only 32.1 percent from the floor (its second-worst shooting night of the season) and worse still (28.6 percent) from three. While Derrick Favors led with 20 points, it came on a hard-fought 6-for-14 shooting night. Mitchell, who has lit up the NBA recently as a rookie, added 13 points and six assists, but the rest of the Jazz starters were 8 for 25 from the field.
Denver’s Jamal Murray (22 points) helped lead a first-half rally which saw the Jazz fall behind by 14 at intermission. While they showed some fight at the beginning of the third, perimeter defense broke down, leading to easy buckets for Denver guards.
Denver coach Mike Malone harped during shootaround and pregame that turnovers had been the difference in the previous two games, with the Nuggets (19-15) piling up 38 in the losses. In the third meeting, they had only nine.
The Jazz felt that they had not been pushing enough on defense, particularly after the Nuggets shot 55 percent in the second half.
“The first two plays of the second half, I messed up twice in a row [on defense],” Mitchell said. “That should never happen. Just lack of focus. Little mistakes like that is definitely what led to that.”
To rub salt in the wound, former Jazzman Trey Lyles — traded this summer for the draft pick that would become Mitchell — had 16 points and eight rebounds, including an impassioned dunk after driving past Derrick Favors.
Lyles also wound up with a bump on his head after a late collision with Jazzman Naz Mitrou-Long, but still came away satisfied. It added to his experience that his family had come to watch as well.
“You’ve got friends on the other team that you’re going against,” Lyles said. “They beat us twice already, so being able to come here and get them pretty good here, it’s a relief kind of.”
While the Jazz started the game without their star big man, Rudy Gobert (PCL sprain), the Nuggets finished without theirs. In the fourth quarter, Nikola Jokic was ejected on a flagrant-2 foul in a collision with Jonas Jerebko. He had 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists before his game was cut short.
The defeat means the Jazz are falling further behind in a pursuit to get back into the top eight of the Western Conference. They now sit three full games behind New Orleans, and the Los Angeles Clippers are edging closer. With the two teams from last year’s NBA Finals up next, it’s not the easiest terrain on which to bounce back.
But Snyder refused to say the December schedule, from which the Jazz have squeezed only four wins, is to blame. It’s up to the team, he said, to start turning its fortunes around.
“Competition, you know, is a mirror,” he said. “When you put yourself up in front of the mirror, particularly against some of the better teams, you get an honest look at who you are. Then you have to look and ask yourself if you like it or not, and if you don’t, do something about it.”