Jazz hoping to close out Nuggets at home
AP Sports Writer
SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz hope their latest trip to Denver is their last for a while.
Utah has a chance to knock out the Nuggets on Friday when the Jazz host Game 6 of the Western Conference playoff series. A victory by Denver opens up a lot of possibilities that the Jazz didn’t want to consider after another late night of travel.
“You don’t want to go back there for a Game 7 if they’ve won two games in a row – for sure,” said Kyle Korver, who missed all six of his shots in Wednesday night’s loss.
The Jazz still lead the series 3-2 after the Nuggets’ 116-102 victory at home on Wednesday. It was a discouraging reminder to the Jazz of the many reasons they don’t want to make another flight across the Rocky Mountains for a winner-take-all Game 7, which would be Sunday.
The Jazz returned for an afternoon workout mostly shrugging off their performance the night before. Utah had won the last three games in the series and stumbled as the Nuggets regrouped while playing their best game of the series. Carmelo Anthony finally got the help he was asking for as five other Denver players scored in double figures.
The Jazz had room for the off-night, knowing the series was headed back to Utah for Game 6. But the Jazz don’t want the Nuggets to get on any more of a roll and ride the momentum back home for a decisive game.
“When you’re down and facing elimination every game is important. We gave great effort for the whole game,” Denver point guard Chauncey Billups said of the Nuggets’ turnaround in Game 5. “Now you have the chance to put the pressure on them. The pressure’s on them to win in Game 6. We’ve got to go in and play the same way.”
It’s still Utah’s series to clinch, but the Jazz know they have a much better shot at ending it at home if they play better than they did Wednesday.
Utah coach Jerry Sloan said his players can’t count on the home court alone. The Nuggets showed the Jazz how dangerous they can be and are easily capable of winning a game in Utah, where the Nuggets went 1-1 during the regular season.
“If you go on trying to calculate that, you’re looking for an excuse. that’s probably going to burn you,” Sloan said. “The bottom line is you have to come with a good effort and play as hard as you can because they’re going to be fighting for their lives and we’ve got to be doing the same thing.”
The Nuggets’ first win in the series since the opener came after some infighting that went public. Anthony’s pleas that he needed more help and couldn’t beat the Jazz by himself weren’t well received.
J.R. Smith’s Twitter posting about selfish play in a Game 4 loss was another window into the emotional baggage the Nuggets were lugging around as they fell further behind in the series.
But after snapping an eight-game losing streak when facing elimination, the Nuggets were feeling quite together and knew they were one win away from tying the series.
“I think winning eases everything, regardless of what’s being said or what’s going on. When you win basketball games, there’s nothing to be said,” Anthony said. “It’s going to be even tougher out there in Utah. We’re still facing an elimination game, on their home court.”
The Nuggets won Game 5 by playing a lot like Utah had in the previous three. They shared the ball, finishing with more assists than the Jazz, and finished with fewer turnovers than Utah. And defensively, Denver kept Utah reserves from scoring, other than Paul Millsap’s 16 points.
After trailing by two at halftime, the Nuggets outscored the Jazz 66-50 in the second half.
“They got after us a little harder. They made it a little bit tougher for us to do what we wanted to do,” Sloan said. “We felt a little sorry for ourselves a couple times. When that happens, you’ve got to fight through it.”
The Nuggets will be playing without center Nene, who wasn’t traveling with the team after hyperextending his left knee when he collided with Carlos Boozer in the lane late in the first half Wednesday.