Smith hot from long range as Nuggets stop Jazz

DENVER -- The Denver Nuggets' reserves helped them reach another milestone.

The Nuggets reached 50 wins faster than any time in their NBA history Thursday night, when J.R. Smith sank eight 3-pointers and scored 28 points and Chris Andersen blocked a career-best eight shots in a 114-104 victory over the Utah Jazz.

Smith had 21 points in 15 minutes in the first half, helping turn an 11-point deficit into a 54-43 halftime lead that Denver never surrendered against a team that's lost six of its last seven road games.

"It was unbelievable. I was shocked with myself at some of the shots," said Smith, whose eight 3-pointers tied a career high, and was one shy of the franchise mark set by Michael Adams in 1991 and tied four years later by Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.

"Were we ready for it? Not really," Utah's Deron Williams said. "The scouting report, that's exactly what we said when talking about J.R. Smith. He's a guy that can come in, if he heats up, he's like one of the best players in the NBA. When he gets it going, he's got unlimited range. He's a volume shooter and he made some tough shots.

"He got them going. They were a little sluggish at first, they weren't expecting that, and he got their confidence up."

Carmelo Anthony added 23 points for the Nuggets, who are seeking home-court advantage in a playoff series for the first time since 1988. They won for the 10th time in 11 games and improved to 50-26.

On the same day the Denver Broncos traded disgruntled quarterback Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears, several fans had signs bidding good riddance to the pouty Pro Bowl passer while also lauding the Nuggets, who have exceeded expectations this season after dumping Marcus Camby and trading Allen Iverson away.

The Nuggets, who joined the league in 1976, reached the 50-win mark in consecutive seasons for the first time. With six games left, they have a shot at topping their best record, 54-28 in 1987-88.

"Fifty wins is in the coaching profession, it's pretty important, it's a notch in the belt," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "As I constantly tell you, I don't think any of you thought we were going to win 50 this year."

Truth be told, neither did Karl.

"I do a realistic and an idealistic" estimate for wins, Karl said. "So, I think I had us at 52 or 53 if everything went the right. Realistically, I thought we'd be 46 to 49."

It wasn't all rosy for the Nuggets, however.

Kenyon Martin, who just recently returned to full health after dealing with a bad back for a month, went to the locker room in the third quarter with what the team described as a cartilage strain in his left rib cage. X-rays were negative.

Martin, who didn't know how he got hurt, said he was in a lot of pain after the game and wasn't sure if he'll be able to play Saturday night against the Clippers.

"Ain't nothing broke, but it doesn't have to be broke to be hurt," he said.

Karl had his fingers crossed.

"I like challenges but I would prefer to be healthy," Karl said. "I think 'Melo's getting healthier and everybody seemed to be on the route of getting healthier and had more bounce in their step. I'm hoping this is just a few-day injury and not much more than that."

C.J. Miles led six Jazz in double figures with 19 points.

Some of Smith's 3-pointers came from a few feet beyond the arc, including two back-to-back shots in the fourth quarter. On the second, he spun to gain the slightest separation from Kyle Korver before swishing the basket and slapping Korver on his behind as he headed back upcourt with the Nuggets ahead 90-77.

Smith went 2-for-6 on 3s in the second half after going 6-for-7 in the first half.

"J.R. got us going with his 3-ball, got a little crazy in the second half," Karl said. "His range was four or five feet behind the line. I've always said I don't mind shooting it from behind there, but he was pushing that."

The Jazz trimmed a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to 104-98 but couldn't get any closer as the Nuggets were a free throw-shooting machine in the final minutes.

As it stands now, these two teams would face each other in the first round in the playoffs. But so much can change in the final two weeks with all the jockeying going on in the wild West.

The Jazz shot just 36 percent and Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Williams were a combined 3-for-23 in the first half.

"Boozer, Mehmet and Deron, I don't know what they were, but they didn't shoot the ball very well in the first half," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "I was more disappointed in our defense. I know nobody's trying to miss shots, but some of our defense, it didn't look like we wanted to help each other enough to try to win a ballgame."

The Nuggets donned green uniforms as part of the NBA's Green Week. Some of their players also wore green shoes, part of the league's promotion designed to raise awareness for a more ecologically friendly environment.

"The only thing I don't like about that is they remind me of the Celtics," Karl said. "I think it's a great week. I'm an amateur socialist, I'm going green. I think it's going to be a great thing for our country. I think it's a movement that a lot of people are going to get involved with and I'm glad the NBA is stepping forward and taking a stand on it."

Game notes
Williams received a technical while he was sitting on the bench in the third quarter and a foul had just been whistled on Andersen. ... Okur had a double-double with 14 points and 15 boards but was just 2-of-12 from the floor compared to 10-for-12 on free throws.