Williams, Boozer return to Jazz, stomp Nuggets

DENVER -- George Karl, who recently backed away from his
declaration that the Northwest Division race was over, refused to
concede the crown to the Utah Jazz on Friday night.

His team pretty much did so on the court.

The Jazz, seeking their first division title since 2000, beat
the Nuggets for the sixth straight time and increased their lead
over second-place Denver to a whopping 9{ games with a 114-104 rout
at the Pepsi Center.

"It was a big game for me. It was a big game for us," said
Deron Williams, who scored 26 points and dished out 14 assists in
his return to the lineup. "We wanted this one badly. It puts them
9{ games behind us. If they somehow tie us, we own the

Williams, the Jazz's top assist man, showed no signs of his
strained left groin he sustained in the Rookie-Sophomore Challenge
game All-Star weekend, forcing him to miss one game.

Carlos Boozer, Utah's leading scorer and rebounder, also
returned to the lineup after missing eight games with a hairline
fracture in his left leg.

"I felt good," said Boozer, who scored 10 points in his cameo
appearance. "We want to take it slowly to make sure everything is
strong and going in the right direction. I felt good in the 12
minutes I was out there."

Just as they returned, however, another two Jazz starters went

Center Mehmet Okur was inactive because of back spasms, ending
his streak of 233 straight starts, and forward Andrei Kirilenko
left the game with a bruised knee after banging into Carmelo
Anthony in the first half. He finished with no points and one
assist in nine minutes.

No matter. Utah's bench outscored Denver's 70-21, led by Matt
Harpring's 22 points.

"Everybody stepped up big for us," Boozer said.

The Jazz were hardly threatened by a Nuggets team that still
fancies itself a division contender despite a lineup that's been
juggled all season because of injuries, illnesses, trades and

Karl's latest tinkering had Allen Iverson playing the point,
Linas Kleiza moving into the starting lineup at off-guard and Steve
Blake coming off the bench.

The move was made to put the ball in Iverson's hands more often,
and he rebounded from a season-worst nine-point effort at San
Antonio on Tuesday night to score 33 points against the Jazz.

Anthony led the Nuggets with 36 points.

"We don't have no chemistry right now," Anthony said. "We're
just trying to get everybody on the same page. It seems like
everybody's in their own world right now. The chemistry off the
court is very great, I can tell you that. That's why I don't
understand why the chemistry on the court is not as great."

The Nuggets sorely missed sharpshooter J.R. Smith, who had
arthroscopic surgery Wednesday after tearing cartilage in his left
knee against the Spurs.

Smith, who is out for up to a month, has been coming off the
bench and hiding many of the Nuggets' flaws by allowing them to
catch up via the 3-pointer. Without him, the Nuggets were just
3-of-9 from the arc and fell further and further behind as the Jazz
turned a nine-point halftime lead into a 93-74 bulge after three

The Nuggets trimmed a 21-point deficit to single digits when
Melo's 3-pointer made it 107-98 with 2:54 left, but that was as
close as Denver got.

Iverson moved around much better than he did against San Antonio
in his return from a severely sprained ankle that sidelined him at
the All-Star game.

"I felt all right. I'm not 100 percent, obviously, but I doubt
if I'll be 100 percent all year," Iverson said. "I don't think
that will have anything to do with the production I can give my
team. I'm fine. I'm just ready to go back on the court and I'm just
happy for that."

Karl is ever the optimist, pointing out that the Nuggets, flaws
and all, are still in the thick of the playoff race.

"I think we're dangerous," he said. "Right now we're
dangerous to ourselves more than we're probably dangerous to the
opponent. But ... we can become dangerous to the other team."

Game notes
Jazz assistant coach Phil Johnson was whistled for a
technical foul in the third quarter. ... Melo (37) and A.I. (33)
also topped 30 points apiece against the Jazz on Jan. 26.