SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Alec Burks showed glimpses during the preseason, and on opening night delivered more proof that the athletic player that used to score points in droves is back.
Rudy Gobert had 18 points and 10 rebounds, Burks had 16 and the Utah Jazz beat the Denver Nuggets 106-96 on Wednesday night in the season opener for both teams.
The new-look Jazz - without Gordon Hayward and George Hill - trailed most of the night before Burks took over with a spectacular fourth quarter. The versatile seventh-year wing has missed most of the last three seasons due to a litany of injuries, 146 games to be exact, but showed no lingering effects.
“It’s surreal,” Burks said. “I’ve been through a lot, injury-wise. It’s just great to be out there healthy. … I had a bad year last year because I wasn’t healthy.
“I was aggressive and things happened to open up. Teams start relaxing. Things happen.”
Burks scored 12 points during a 25-4 run that spanned the third and fourth quarters. The Jazz trailed 83-78 going into the fourth quarter. Burks threw down a dunk, hit a pair 3-pointers and then gave the Jazz a 94-85 lead off a reverse layup.
“You feel him over the period of a couple years and he’s not just hungry,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “The adversity has tightened his game up a little bit. He played good defense.
“He’s taken a lot of pride in how he’s defended, too. It’s become important to him. … Happy for Alec and his teammates are happy for him.”
Utah picked up the defense in the final period, which helped extend the run to 31-5 and put away Denver. Snyder credited the second unit and said the team stayed persistent defensively against an explosive Denver offense.
“Three pretty good quarters and in the fourth quarter we just imploded,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “That’s not really fun to see, especially with the season-opening game.”
Derrick Favors added 14 and Ricky Rubio had 10 assists in his first game with the Jazz.
Will Barton led the Nuggets with 23 points and Paul Millsap added 19.
The Nuggets took a 58-49 lead into halftime, sparked by a 17-4 first-quarter run. Denver was 9 for 16 from 3-point range in the first half.
“They turned it up, we didn’t,” Millsap said. “I thought for three quarters we did an amazing job on both ends of the court. Offensively and defensively, we did what we wanted to do. I think toward the end of the third quarter and in the fourth quarter, we just fell apart.
“It’s a learning experience for us. We’ll watch film tomorrow and get better from it.”
Nuggets: Jamal Murray started at point guard and Emmanuel Mudiay came off the bench. … Denver was outscored 28-13 in the fourth quarter. … Nikola Jokic finished with seven points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
Jazz: Rodney Hood was pulled out of the starting lineup at the last second due to gastric distress. Rookie Donovan Mitchell made his first career start in his place. Hood entered later in the first quarter and played 18 minutes. … Dante Exum (left shoulder) and Raul Neto (right hamstring) were both out.
Malone downplayed the significance of which of his young point guards started the game. Denver fans are eager to see how the two early draft picks play together and how the minutes are distributed. Mudiay was the No. 7 overall pick in 2015 and Murray was No. 7 in 2016.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for them,” Malone said. “We feel confident in both Jamal and Emanuel. They’re both going to get great opportunities to play regardless of who’s starting.
“When they’re struggling, the great about our team is we’re not solely relying on those guys to carry our team. We play through our big guys so much that the true point guard is really not around that much anymore. Nikola and Paul are our facilitators, our playmakers.”
Nuggets: Denver hosts George Hill and the Sacramento Kings in their home opener on Saturday.
Jazz: Utah travels to face Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday in Rubio’s first game against his former team.
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