|Nuggets hope to avoid fade route vs. Kings|
For three quarters Wednesday night, the Denver Nuggets looked like a team ready to take the next step.
They controlled the Utah Jazz, leading by as many as 15 points and moving the ball. Then it all came apart. From late in the third quarter to late in the fourth, the Jazz outscored Denver 33-7 to turn a 10-point deficit into a 16-point lead. The Nuggets lost by 10 but the bigger question is whether they lost their confidence.
Denver (0-1) gets to show how it can respond when it hosts the Sacramento Kings in its home opener Saturday night. Paul Millsap, the Nuggets' big free-agent signing of the summer, will play his first meaningful game at Pepsi Center since joining the team. He had a solid debut with 19 points and six rebounds but couldn't get the Nuggets over the top in a 106-96 loss to Utah.
The team was understandably disappointed with the loss.
"We have to be better when it's winning time," Will Barton, who led the Nuggets with 23 points off the bench, said after the game.
They get a little advantage for the home opener. The Kings (1-1) beat the Mavericks 93-88 in Dallas on Friday night and will have to play a Denver team determined to push the pace.
Sacramento lost its home opener to Houston on Wednesday but got a balanced performance in the setback. The Kings also debuted a couple of dynamic rookies in Justin Jackson and De'Aaron Fox. Jackson started and scored five points and Fox had 14 off the bench.
The young Kings didn't wilt in that game, either.
"To see so many young guys in our rotation, and we didn't give up, is very encouraging," guard Garrett Temple told The Sacramento Bee.
Forward Zach Randolph made his Sacramento debut against Dallas after missing the opener due to oral surgery. He had 13 points and six rebounds against the Mavericks. Sacramento was led by George Hill, who had 21 points.
The Kings made bigger news off the court Friday when they added former Sacramento Monarchs coach Jenny Boucek to the staff as an assistant player development coach. Boucek, who coached the Monarchs of the WNBA for two seasons, worked with the Kings during training camp.
The Nuggets also made a significant move, officially signing veteran Richard Jefferson and waiving guard Jameer Nelson. Jefferson was released by Atlanta after the Hawks acquired him from Cleveland. Jefferson won a title with the Cavaliers in 2016 and has been to the NBA Finals four times, so he brings a winning pedigree to the locker room.
The 37-year-old forward probably won't get much playing time, but he is happy to be reunited with head coach Michael Malone, who was an assistant with Golden State during Jefferson's two seasons with the Warriors.
"I'm so old I don't care about what my playing role is," Jefferson told the Denver Post. "I'm just glad I have a job."
The Nuggets hope he can help the young team reach the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. Nelson was the steady leader at point guard but now that position is in the hands of 20-year-old Jamal Murray and 21-year-old Emmanuel Mudiay.
Jefferson is ready for the challenge.
"My job as a professional is not only to perform but also put my team in the best position," Jefferson told the Denver Post. "The only thing I'm doing is what older players did for me when I was a younger player. All I'm doing is paying it forward."