Nene tied his career high with 28 points and J.R. Smith quickly put to rest coach George Karl's concerns about rust after a five-day layoff, leading the Denver Nuggets past the Utah Jazz 117-97 Sunday night.
Smith scored 13 of his 22 points in the first quarter, setting the tone for Denver's rare rout of Utah, which fell 4½ games behind first-place Denver in the Northwest Division with its third straight loss and second in 24 hours.
The Jazz have been without star Carlos Boozer most of the season and he's not expected back from knee surgery for a couple more weeks. By that time, the Nuggets might have too big of a cushion for the Jazz to have much hope of defending their division title.
Nene, who made all 12 of his shots, took a seat with six minutes left and the Nuggets comfortably ahead by 22. His 28 points tied his career high set against Sacramento on April 4, 2007. His previous high this season was 27 against Oklahoma City on Jan. 2.
Chauncey Billups added 22 points and Linas Kleiza came up with 18 off the bench for the Nuggets, who had lost 10 of their previous 13 against Utah.
The Jazz, 1-10 in the second game of back-to-back sets this season, didn't get to Denver until just before noon Sunday because of issues with their charter jet that forced them to stay in Salt Lake City after a 102-97 loss to Cleveland on Saturday night.
The well-rested Nuggets quickly built a double-digit lead on the Jazz, thanks to Smith.
The only thing that cooled Smith was a bad foul call that forced him to the bench with 13 points, two fouls and 4:36 left in the first quarter. Smith was whistled for a foul on Paul Millsap even though he slapped the ball, not Millsap.
Smith, who dished out a half-dozen assists, returned in the second quarter and had 16 points at halftime as the Nuggets took a 60-51 lead into the locker room, an advantage they stretched to 20 points in the third quarter.
Smith's night was over with 7:11 left and the Nuggets ahead 100-81.
Ronnie Brewer led the Jazz with 16 points, and Deron Williams scored 15, but he was hounded by Dahntay Jones, who returned from a separated shoulder that sidelined him for a game.
Nuggets coach George Karl said he thinks Billups will be added to the All-Star team but he's not as confident that Carmelo Anthony will get the nod. Anthony started the All-Star game last year but has been plagued by injuries and hasn't played in a couple of weeks because of a broken bone in his right hand. ... Anthony, who has been shooting baskets at practice, is aiming for a return Friday night against Charlotte.
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