SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Colin Sexton scored 20 points, Lauri Markkanen added 17 and the new-look Utah Jazz beat the Denver Nuggets 123-102 on Wednesday night in the season opener for both teams.
New Jazz coach Will Hardy, a former assistant with the Boston Celtics, won his first game. It was a surprising result for a Denver team built for a title run and the Jazz, who are rebuilding after trading cornerstones Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.
Rudy Gay scored 16 points, Malik Beasley had 15 and Mike Conley, the lone returning starter, had 13 as Utah had seven players in double-figure scoring. Rookie Walker Kessler had 12 points and 10 rebounds, and the Jazz shot 50.6% from the field.
Nikola Jokic scored 27 points and Aaron Gordon had 22 for Denver.
The Jazz, as might be expected with a young team with 10 new additions, nearly unraveled after leading comfortably most of the game. A series of turnovers and missed rotations allowed the Nuggets to claw back from 24 points down.
Jokic, the two-time reigning Most Valuable Player, brought the Nuggets back to 105-98 on a running hook.
But Gay and Beasley made back-to-back 3-pointers while the Nuggets shook their heads and Beasley did an extended shimmy.
Key players Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. are back from injuries but the Nuggets looked rusty, especially on defense as they allowed a 14-0 run to start the second quarter and 27-7 overall surge that out the Jazz in command.
When Sexton hit a 3-pointer late in the second quarter, the Jazz led 68-44. Despite Gordon’s 16 points and Jokic’s 14, the Nuggets trailed 75-53 and the Jazz left for the halftime break to a standing ovation from a stunned, yet energized crowd.
Nuggets: Jokic was visibly frustrated, committing an offensive foul and then getting burned by Sexton on consecutive possessions for baskets late in the game. . The Nuggets outscored the Jazz in the paint, 68-42. . Denver committed seven turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Jazz: Clarkson welcomed the Jazz fans before the game and reminded them that WBNA star Brittney Griner remains in a Russian prison and needs the fans’ ”blessings” . At one point, Vanderbilt was outrebounding all of the Nuggets, 12-9. But he picked up fouls four and five early in the third quarter before he could be substituted. . Kelly Olynyk got a technical in the fourth quarter.
Nuggets: At Golden State on Friday night.
Jazz: At Minnesota on Friday night.