January 5, 2022; Denver, Colorado, United States; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) walks past Utah Jazz goalie Donovan Mitchell (45) in the second half of the Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Nikola Jokic recorded his seventh triple-double of the season on Wednesday night with 26 points, 21 rebounds and 11 assists, but it wasn’t enough as the Denver Nuggets fell to the Utah Jazz 115-109.

“You feel it for him,” Nuggets assistant coach Popeye Jones said. “Twenty-six, 21 and 11 and you lose. You feel it for him. Most superstars wouldn’t take it. He comes back and he continues to fight. He’s a special guy.

There’s not much Jokic can do that he doesn’t already. He mentioned that he would like his teammates to step up and do the little things, be it spacing, running in the right places and setting up the right screens. Monte Morris agreed that more needs to be done to help the MVP.

“He’s doing everything he can,” Morris said of Jokic. “Twenty-one rebounds, 11 assists, 26 points. You cannot ask for anything more than that. We just have to take charge to help him. Do more. Whatever. Bounce more. Help him more. Help him rest in defense because he does a lot in attack, so we just need to increase our game. ”

Morris was finally back in action for the first time since December 26. He had followed health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19. He said he was pretty much asymptomatic in addition to “a few mild headaches here and there.” He also said he kept shooting, in a way.

“I was just jumping around my house with my Pop-A-Shot,” Morris said with a laugh. “It’s unrealistic for a game, but I kept my shots still there, but that’s all I did other than play video games.”

Morris had talked to Jones about playing between 25 and 26 minutes, but he kept shooting, so Jones kept him because they were in desperate need of baskets. He ended up playing 29 minutes and felt pretty good afterwards.

“I just had a little stomach cramp, but other than that I was fine,” Morris said. “I was more worried that my legs were under me, but it wasn’t a problem. Other than that, I feel good, I just wanted to get this victory. It would have been a great victory for us.

Health and safety protocols have been a difficult adjustment for everyone. Denver players are still getting used to not having Head Coach Michael Malone on the sidelines, a guy who always speaks up and lets his players know exactly what they should be doing at all times. Jokic is still impressed with how Jones has taken over the role of interim head coach despite only three games to his name.

“It’s different,” Jokic said. “I have a really good connection and relationship with the coach (Malone). Sometimes we look at each other and know what he wants me to do or what I want him to do so it’s different of course but I think he’s doing a good job especially since it’s the first time he’s done this job.

Another challenge for the Nuggets was to contain Bojan Bogdanovic who scored 36 points, a season-high, and took 13 rebounds. They knew the Jazz were going to play small and pose a threat at the 3 point line, but they waited too long to overtake Team Bogdanovic so he had everything he wanted in the paint.

“If we don’t see the defensive energy, the physique, going up in guys, we’re struggling,” Jones said. “I kept telling the guys, we have to pick up, we have to stand up defensively. They scored 10 3 in the first half. They were going to play small in the squad, we knew that. We knew it would be a challenge for the Joker to face someone.

Basketball is a racing game and that is exactly the point of the first quarter. The Jazz took a 5-0 lead at the start but missed their next six field goals, allowing the Nuggets to take a 10-7 lead after an 8-0 streak. Utah called for a time out and then responded with a 9-0 run to move up 22-14 with three minutes remaining. Morris and Bones Hyland knocked down a pair of threes to make it 22-20 with Jokic assisting on both. Jordan Clarkson and Mike Conley scored back-to-back buckets gave Utah a 26-24 lead with 30 seconds left, then JaMychal Green closed the quarter to tie the game at 26.

Clarkson and Conley opened the second quarter scoring consecutive trebles for a 32-26 lead. Rudy Gay added 3 more to help ignite a 10-2 run, pushing the lead to 36-28 and forcing Denver to request a timeout. Aaron Gordon has started to shake things up offensively for the Nuggets. He knocked down his signature midrange rider followed by a 3-pointer and a dunk. He scored nine of his 13 points in the first half into the second, going 4-4 ​​on the pitch. Bogdanovic was still cooking and scored 11 of his 19 points in the second to help Utah take a 57-56 halftime lead.

Donovan Mitchell had a slow start to the first half, but scored six straight points to give the Jazz a 66-58 lead in the opening three minutes of the third quarter. Bogdanovic was still starting and scored 11 more points. The Nuggets couldn’t buy a bucket as they came out 8 of 21 from the field. Jokic was the only one with a shot and scored 12 in the quarterfinal. The Jazz were up to 13 points ahead but were only leading 88-80 at the end of the third.

The Nuggets showed some scuffle in the fourth quarter and reduced Utah’s lead to three after Morris buckets back to back. The Jazz then went on an 11-3 streak, taking a ten-point lead with just under five minutes left in regulation. With one minute remaining, Will Barton hit a three-way clutch to extend the 113-107 lead over Utah. Mitchell missed the basket on the other end, giving the Nuggets another scoring chance and they did. Jokic dunked the ball to make it 113-109 with 44 seconds left. Mitchell missed it again, giving Denver another chance. With 12.9 seconds remaining, Morris went up for 3 and missed it. Bogdanovic had two free throws to win for Utah 115-109.

Morris came in force on the bench on his first day back, scoring 20 points. Will Barton added 20 points.

Denver hosts the Sacramento Kings on Friday night before hitting the road to take on the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers. After that, the Nuggets will have the luxury of hosting six straight home games.