Lawson scores 23 to pace Nuggets in victory over Jazz

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Denver Nuggets were without Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups and apparently any worries, too.

The Nuggets compensated for missing a huge chunk of their offense by playing gritty defense in a 105-95 win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, ending Denver's three-game losing streak.

Anthony (right knee contusion) is second in the league in scoring with an average of 30 points per game, and Billups (groin strain) has been averaging 17 points and almost six assists.

Yet the Nuggets led after every quarter and stifled Utah's limited efforts at rallying in the second half.

"To have Chauncey and Melo out and still win says a lot about the other guys on this team," said Arron Afflalo, who scored 13 and was one of five Denver players to in double figures.

Rookie Ty Lawson started for Billups and had a career-best nine assists and scored 23 points for the Nuggets, who forced Utah into a season-high 26 turnovers.

Nene added 22 points and six steals and Kenyon Martin finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds for Denver, which was missing Anthony for the first time this season.

"The basic game plan was to play hard and figure the game out as it happens," Denver coach George Karl said. "The energy was good. The intensity was great. The defense was good and we hung on and got a great win."

Carlos Boozer had 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Jazz, who compounded their own struggles with a bad night at the free throw line and some poor shot selection.

Utah did win the rebounding battle 41-32 and shot above 50 percent, but the Nuggets more than compensated by shutting down the Jazz when they tried to get inside. Denver outscored Utah 64-48 in the paint and scored 33 points off Utah's turnovers.

"They did some kind of job defensively on us," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "They got after us, made us take tough shots and they stayed after it."

Utah fans booed often and left early as the Jazz blew an opportunity to make up ground on the Northwest Division leaders, who had lost four straight in Salt Lake City.

The Jazz had the Nuggets at home and without Anthony and Billups, but were outplayed most of the night.

"We've got other scorers," Lawson said. "Just push the ball, get everybody involved early and everything will take care of itself."

J.R. Smith added 18 points for Denver.

Mehmet Okur had 16 points and nine rebounds and Deron Williams also scored 16 for the Jazz, who never recovered after falling behind by 16 in the third quarter.

"Some of it was just a little bit of us being careless," Boozer said.

The Nuggets led 51-47 at halftime, then stuck with what had gotten them ahead. Denver kept Utah on the perimeter in the third quarter and swatted away the ball when the Jazz weren't paying attention. Nene took two steals in for dunks during the period, including one that put Denver up 69-59 and kicked off an 8-0 run.

Nene added two from the foul line, Smith followed with two free throws, then grabbed an offensive rebound on a missed free throw and hit a 3-pointer for a 75-59 lead with 3:36 left in the third.

The Jazz added to their own struggles by committing nine fouls and nine turnovers in the period, and Denver took advantage for a 78-68 lead entering the fourth.

Williams pulled the Jazz to 86-77 on a three-point play, but the Nuggets answered that with a 6-0 run. Nene put back an offensive rebound, Chris Andersen hit a jumper and Anthony Carter drove for a layup that put the Nuggets up 92-77 with 7:20 left in the game.

The Nuggets kept the Jazz from rallying until there wasn't enough time for a comeback.

"We tried to battle at the end, but it seemed like emotionally we didn't have much energy as a team," Williams said.

The Jazz shot 50 percent in the first half, but turned the ball over 12 times -- leading to 17 points by the Nuggets. When Boozer's shot at the buzzer was waved off after a replay, Denver led 51-47 at halftime. Lawson and Nene scored 11 apiece in the half.

Game notes
Nene tied his career-high for steals. ... Lawson's previous career high for assists was six on Dec. 28 at Sacramento. ... Lawson score nine in the first quarter, including a layup with three seconds left that gave the Nuggets a 28-25 lead entering the second period. ... Billups was out for the fifth time in six games. ... Utah's previous high for turnovers was 24. ... The Jazz went 20-for-27 from the foul line.