Nuggets pull away from Grizzlies late in second to set up key season finale

DENVER -- The Denver Nuggets made it an early night so they could save their energy for their showdown in Phoenix.

Carmelo Anthony and Nene guided the Nuggets to a big lead and then watched as J.R. Smith and Arron Afflalo closed out Denver's 123-101 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night.

Anthony, who scored 21 points in 31 minutes, said he had forgotten what a fourth-quarter rest felt like. Nene added 20 points as the Nuggets broke out of their offensive funk.

Enjoying their biggest output in a month, the Nuggets also got 26 points from Smith and 22 points and a career-high 13 rebounds from Afflalo.

"When you have a back-to-back, the less trauma to the body is always good," Afflalo reasoned. "So, I think that was the best thing about tonight."

Before jetting off to Arizona for their crucial season finale Tuesday night against the Suns, many Nuggets expressed surprise when told they hadn't won in Phoenix since 2004.

"I thought I won one there recently," Anthony said with a shrug. "We'll get one tomorrow, hopefully."

A win by the Nuggets would secure their second straight Northwest Division title, at least the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoff bracket and home-court advantage in the first round.

A Suns victory would throw some more uncertainty into the wild Western Conference.

The Utah Jazz, a half-game behind first-place Denver in the division, visit Golden State on Tuesday night and host the Suns on Wednesday.

The Nuggets are trying to reach the postseason on a high note after fighting through some adversity. Coach George Karl is undergoing treatment for throat cancer and hasn't been on the bench since March 16. They also played without defensive stalwart Kenyon Martin for a good chunk of this stretch run.

In his second game back since missing 18 with left knee patellar tendinitis, Martin had eight points and six rebounds in 25 minutes Monday night. Most impressive, though, were his four steals and a blocked shot.

"I think his energy, his defensive intensity tonight, especially on Zach Randolph, that helped us out a lot," Anthony said. "That's something that we've been missing."

Mike Conley had 22 points to lead Memphis, which lost Randolph when he was ejected late in the third quarter.

Randolph was whistled for his fifth foul after shoving Nene to the floor while going for an offensive rebound. He continued jawing with the officials on his way to the bench and received a double-technical. Nene swished all four free throws to put Denver ahead 90-72.

Over the last six weeks, the Nuggets were usually the ones getting flustered and losing their cool.

"Yeah, I was out there on the court telling them, 'Welcome to my world,'" Anthony said.

Since 1998-99, the Nuggets have won 22 of 23 home games against Memphis, which looked for much of the first half as though it could win its 41st game and avoid a losing season.

The Nuggets, though, used a 20-6 run late in the second quarter to take control at 60-49. Although the Grizzlies closed to 63-57 at halftime, they never got it going in the second half to make a game of it and they fell below .500 for the first time since Jan. 1.

"I didn't like nothing about the whole game," Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. "They pretty much had a party here. A going-away party. The last game for the fans. They had a party with it."

Smith kept firing up 3-pointers late in the game with the victory already secured. Acting head coach Adrian Dantley said he has admonished Smith not to disrespect opponents like that.

"It's good to see J.R. hit shots at the beginning of the game, not so much at the end of the game," Dantley said. "You don't want to take those shots when you have a big lead. You never want to try to embarrass a team."

When a radio reporter asked about Smith's late 3-point barrage -- he misfired on 3 of 4 from long, long range in the final two minutes, Anthony dismissed the question.

"Man, we're in a good place right now," he said. "Why y'all want to start with J.R. right now, man?"

Game notes
Denver finished 34-7 at home, currently the best mark in the Western Conference, one that the Lakers can tie with a win over Sacramento on Tuesday night. ... Nuggets F Joey Graham was inactive with a sprained left ankle.