- The Washington Times - Friday, April 3, 2009

DENVER (AP) - The Denver 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 in a 114-104 victory against 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.

Smith’s 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.

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.

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.

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 but he didn’t return to action.

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.

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.

“I’m totally confused by the race,” Nuggets coach George Karl said before the game. “I’ll know way better in five, six days. The whole thing comes down to you’re going to have a difficult matchup in the first round. There’s no easy matchup. Dallas is not easy. Utah is not easy, Houston early is not easy, Portland is not easy.”

The Nuggets, who donned green uniforms as part of the NBA’s Green Week, were outrebounded 16-8 in the first quarter and fell behind by as many as 11. They scored the last seven points of the quarter, including Smith’s 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Another 3 by Smith just 15 seconds into the second quarter erased the last remnants of the Jazz’s early lead.

The teams combined for 28 free throws in the third quarter, which ended with Denver up 83-72.

Notes:@ The Nuggets are one of four teams donning green uniforms _ and some players are wearing green shoes, too _ during the league’s Green Week, joining Chicago, Charlotte and Toronto for the promotion designed to raise awareness for a more ecologically friendly environment. As part of the celebration, Denver mayor John Hickenlooper rode an old-fashioned bicycle onto the court while dribbling a basketball before tip-off. … Karl picked up his first technical since Feb. 18 at Philadelphia. … Utah’s Deron Williams received a technical while he was sitting on the bench in the third quarter and a foul had just been whistled on Denver’s Chris Andersen.

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