DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 26: Trey Lyles #7 of the Denver Nuggets drives to the basket against the Utah Jazz on December 26, 2017 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.
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Nuggets Bring the Defense in Home Win Over Jazz

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider

Steadily, the Nuggets defense is transforming from something that sometimes kept coach Michael Malone up at night, to one that he can now easily find time to crow about.

Malone took the opportunity to do just that on Tuesday before his team took the court against the Utah Jazz. His stat of choice? The Nuggets defensive rating in their last night games. It was among the top three in the NBA, he said. A quick check to find the actual number revealed that it was 102.5, which ranked right behind Toronto and Golden State, over the last nine games entering Tuesday night.

Then, Malone’s Nuggets made that number stand up, and then some. The Nuggets won their third straight game, 107-83 at the Pepsi Center. They moved to 12-3 at home with the victory and 19-15 overall, which is their best start through 34 games since going 20-14 in 2010-11.

The Jazz became the third straight team to not score 100 points against the Nuggets. It is the first time the Nuggets have held three consecutive teams under the century mark and won all three of the games since doing so from Jan. 7-11, 2014.

“I think our guys understand the importance of us playing defense in order for us to be a playoff team,” Malone said.

On Tuesday, the Nuggets got to work quickly on the defensive end, limiting the Jazz to 20 points in the first quarter, and then a mere 14 points in the second. A stingy Nuggets defense got through screens, sprinted out to shooters, shut off the lane and contested shots all over the court.

Utah made just 4-of-18 shots in the second quarter, and with solid defense as the constant backdrop all night long, the Nuggets were able to easily pull away. The Jazz shot just 32.1 percent for the game, which is their second-worst shooting percentage in a game this season.

Offensively, ball movement was key in the first half. Utah likes to get back and dig its heels in on defense, making things tough all over the court. The Nuggets executed their way out of all of that. They had 12 assists on 18 made shots in the first half, used a fluid offense to take a 50-34 lead at halftime.

The second half was maintenance. The Jazz did play better in the third and fourth, but the Nuggets turned up their play as well and outscored them in both to collect the victory. Jamal Murray led the Nuggets with 20 points and eight rebounds, and Trey Lyles played well against his former team, finishing with 16 points and eight rebounds.

“It was a sound win for us,” Malone said. “I’m just happy that we didn’t come home satisfied with our two wins on the road. We stayed hungry and came out with a great sense of urgency knowing that we were down 0-2 against (this) division opponent.”

Christopher Dempsey: and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.