DENVER (AP) Michael Malone needn't have worried about his superstar center and a potential letdown when the Denver Nuggets faced the short-handed Utah Jazz.

Nikola Jokic played through a bruised right arm that kept him out of shootaround and Jamal Murray scored 37 points, helping the Nuggets bulldoze the Jazz 142-121 Saturday night.

Jokic had 26 points, six rebounds and eight assists, and Michael Porter Jr. added 19 points for Denver, which inched within a half-game of Western Conferene leading Oklahoma City, which was idle Saturday night.

The Nuggets, who were coming off a big win over Boston, led by as many as 39 points in the first half, which helped them withstand Utah's third-quarter rally that cut the deficit to 14.

The Jazz scored as many points in that third quarter as they did in the first half.

Down 78-44 at the break, the Jazz outscored Denver 44-24. Keyonte George led Utah with 29 points and fueled the Jazz's third-quarter surge that made it more respectable and had the sellout crowd buzzing over a potential historic collapse.

“That was embarrassing,” Malone said.

But he was thrilled with the other three quarters of play.

“I was really proud of our approach to start the game,” Malone said. “To build a 39-point lead was outstanding. Unfortunately, coming out of the half, we did not do anything remotely close to what we did in the first half to get that lead.”

The Nuggets made 14 of 20 long-range shots before halftime and finished 19 of 32 from beyond the arc, including Murray's 6-of-9 night.

“I give a lot of credit to the Nuggets,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said. “I mean, 14 of 20 from three in the first half is pretty spectacular. And they're a championship level team and when a team shoots the ball from the perimeter like that it's a hard game to win.”

With Murray leading the second unit in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets recalibrated and cruised to their eighth in nine games since the All-Star break.

The Nuggets were coming off a 115-109 win over the Celtics on Thursday night that gave them a season sweep of the Eastern Conference leaders, so Malone worried that his team would have an emotional letdown.

“Getting up for the best team in the NBA is easy," Malone said an hour before tip-off. “And Boston's a sexy game.”

Not so this one.

“Tonight is different. You're playing against a team that's 5½ games out of the play-in with no Lauri Markkanen (bruised right thigh), they have no All-Stars," Malone said. "They're playing a lot of guys that our players probably don't even know about - They don't know who Brice Sensabaugh is.”

So, Malone said he'd continue to hammer away at the point that the reason the defending NBA champs are rolling is because “we have not cared who we're playing; we've cared about playing up to our standards.”

They did that Saturday night, at least for three quarters.

“In every game that we've played I feel like there's a stint where we haven't played well,” said Murray, who sank six 3-pointers in nine tries. "So, I don't feel like today's any different. We led by how much from the get-go? So, I feel like we were doing a pretty damn good job for the whole game.

“It was just the one quarter they played harder than us. And we got back to it and we closed the game out. So, we did a good job of just staying with it, picking up our energy and not letting their run affect us.”


Jazz: Host Boston on Tuesday night.

Nuggets: Host Toronto on Monday night.



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