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Murray and Jokic score 28 each as the Nuggets run past shorthanded Jazz

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Jamal Murray scored 28 points, Nikola Jokic tallied 28 points and 13 rebounds, and the Denver Nuggets pushed past the shorthanded Utah Jazz 111-95 on Tuesday night.

Murray missed seven games with a knee injury but is working his way back into game shape the last two contests. After being restricted to 21 minutes against Atlanta on Saturday, Murray went 11-for-20 in 27 minutes against the Jazz.

“I just go in there playing free,” Murray said. “I play winning basketball anyways. So I’m just looking to not hesitate — that’s probably the biggest thing — and just stay aggressive all game.”

Murray dunked a career-high five times in the first half and had four steals.

“He was the defensive player of the game — four steals, three blocks and five deflections. He took the challenge of guarding some of their bigger players and wanted that challenge,” Denver coach Michael Malone said.

In the fourth quarter, he hit three straight 3s to push a close game to 104-90 with 4:10 to play.

“Man, put me in the game. So I went in there and made some shots and yeah, that was it,” Murray said about taking over down the stretch.

Jokic is happy to have his point guard back.

“He’s a warrior. Obviously, he really wants to play and when he plays he doesn’t think about it. Hopefully, he’s back now because we need him,” Jokic said about Murray.

Talen Horton-Tucker scored 24 points for Utah. Omer Yurtseven posted a season-high 20 points and Luka Samanic had a season-best 15 points for the Jazz, who have lost 13 straight.

Horton-Tucker didn’t score in the fourth quarter and the Nuggets clamped down on the rest of the Jazz as well.

“You want your defense to be at its best in the fourth quarter. Obviously, just 15 points and 25% from the field is outstanding. That allowed a close game to kind of push it open and give some breathing room and get some guys out down the stretch,” Malone said.

The Nuggets have won four of five and have their sights set on the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Denver played well from the opening tip, jumping out to a 19-point lead in the first quarter.

The Nuggets (55-24) may have wanted to get their starters more rest, but the Jazz stayed close until Murray got hot in the fourth quarter.

“There was a lot of good basketball our team played tonight. We just have some stretches where we sort of lose the plot,” Utah coach Will Hardy said.

The defending champions turn around Wednesday and host Minnesota (also 55-24), who defeated Washington 130-121 on Tuesday. Oklahoma City is one game behind in the third spot with the season ending on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Jazz started featuring their younger players weeks ago and are jockeying for lottery position. Utah sat six of their top players.

“Let’s go home! We got a big game in our building against a division rival and the team that we’re battling with for first place. Three games to go, and the No. 1 seed is still up in the air,” Malone said.

UP NEXT

Nuggets: Host Minnesota on Wednesday night.

Jazz: Host Houston on Thursday night.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba