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Smith comes off bench to lead Nuggets over Mavs

Dec 16, 2008 - 5:57 AM By John Tranchina PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

DALLAS (Ticker) -- The Denver Nuggets continue to roll along.

Reserve J.R. Smith scored 17 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter and Carmelo Anthony added 23 and eight rebounds to lead the Nuggets to a 98-88 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Monday.

Denver now has won four in a row and is 16-4 since acquiring Chauncey Billups on November 3.

Billups added 15 points and eight assists for the Nuggets, who won for just the fourth time in their last 25 visits to Dallas.

"(Smith) was just attacking," Anthony said. "They made a defensive adjustment, and I think he noticed that on the bench and came out firing once he got in the game."

"The second unit was great," Denver coach George Karl said. "The second unit came in, ran a little bit, had some open shots. J.R. was good. Chauncey continues to be very good, his efficiency and his effectiveness."

Dirk Nowitzki, who entered the day third in the league in scoring following his season-high 46-point outburst Saturday against Oklahoma City, led the Mavericks with 27 points and 10 rebounds.

Dallas finished a seven-game homestand 5-2 (with its other loss a double-overtime defeat to the Spurs last Tuesday) and is still 11-3 in its last 14 contests.

"To go 5-2 in seven games is not too bad," Nowitzki said. "We definitely had our chances against San Antonio and tonight."

Jason Terry added 19 points off the bench for the Mavericks, who never held a lead in the game. Jose Juan Barea collected 12 points and nine assists.

Leading, 75-71, heading into the fourth quarter, Denver went on a 12-0 run to go up by 16 - its largest lead of the night - on Smith's off-balance 15-foot jump shot with 8:54 remaining.

The Mavericks responded with an 10-2 run of their own, including two straight 3-pointers from Terry, to pull back to within 89-81 with 4:32 to go. They could not get any closer against the Nuggets, who scored five straight points after that and never looked back.

"We didn't handle their switches well," Terry said. "It's something that you have to be prepared for and we just didn't handle it very well, especially in the first and fourth quarters."

"We knew coming in here that this team is as good an offensive team as you'll find, so us being locked in and tuned into the gameplan was important," Billups said. "So we came out and was able to contest all their shots and they missed some, luckily for us."

Denver held a five-point lead with three minutes left in the first quarter before pulling away thanks to a 11-2 run through the beginning of the second. The Mavericks' total of 15 points in the opening quarter was their lowest first-quarter output this season.

"Our undoing was the first quarter when we got beat by 12," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "It speaks to the importance of good starts and not playing from behind and all the things I have talked a lot about."

"To hold them to 15 points, that's a great start for us and we just built on that momentum," said Anthony, who almost outscored Dallas by himself in the first quarter with 12 points. "It was good to come out and get this one on the road."

The Mavs climbed back into the game with an 11-4 run in the second quarter, pulling back to within six when Howard nailed a 3-pointer from the baseline with 7:05 remaining, but Denver used a 9-3 run to close out the quarter and take a 56-43 advantage into halftime.

"We came into halftime feeling good and I knew they would make a run at some point," Billups said. "I didn't know which quarter it would be. I just told guys not to overreact to their runs because they're going to make one."

Dallas trailed by 14 early in the third quarter but reeled off a 20-6 run, forging its first tie, 65-65, since the opening minutes when Nowitzki nailed a 20-foot jump shot with 4:08 left in the quarter.

"We made a great run in the third quarter to get it tied," Carlisle said. "Then, I forget what happened, but we had a swing play there and they hit a three, and we were just never able to get the momentum back."

For the Mavs, Josh Howard returned from a left ankle injury after sitting out the previous 11 contests. Howard scored seven points on 1-of-5 shooting in 14 minutes.

"It felt good. There was some discomfort, but I can work through that," Howard said. "Any time you're out for a while, it's hard to get back in a rhythm."

"That was the one positive that came out of tonight, was seeing him back on the floor," Terry said of Howard. "Hopefully, his ankle holds up and he's healthy, so we can move forward and be at full strength."

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