Denver, CO (Sports Network) - Carmelo Anthony poured in a playoff career-best 42 points and Denver pulled away for a 126-113 win over the injury-riddled Utah Jazz in the opener of their Western Conference quarterfinal series.
J.R. Smith added 18 of his 20 points in the last quarter for the Nuggets, who came into the series as the No. 4 seed and Northwest Division champions thanks to Utah's home loss to Phoenix on the final night of the regular season. Smith made four three-pointers in the final quarter.
Last year, the Nuggets shed the moniker of consistently losing in the first round. This is Denver's seventh straight year in the postseason, but the Nuggets have gone past the first round just one time in that span. They made the conference finals last year before losing to the eventual world-champion Lakers in six games.
Anthony finished 18-of-25 from the field.
"'Melo was great," said Denver guard Chauncey Billups, who had 15 points and eight assists. "I could just see it early from the stuff he was hitting. He wasn't really hitting the rim. I didn't want to go to him too much because against a team like that you need two, three or four guys in double figures to be able to win."
Deron Williams had 26 points and 11 assists for the Jazz, who are trying to avoid their second straight first-round exit. It doesn't help that Utah is severely hobbled by injuries. Already without forward Andrei Kirilenko (strained left calf) for this series, the Jazz lost the services of center Mehmet Okur in the second quarter with a left Achilles injury. He's due to have an MRI on Sunday.
Carlos Boozer started Saturday's game despite a strained right oblique muscle. He finished with 19 points and eight rebounds for Utah.
"I was proud of the fact that our guys played hard," Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan said. "We made some mistakes defensively. When you give up that many points it's difficult to win. But I was proud that we hung in there knowing we were shorthanded at times."
Game 2 is slated for Monday at the Pepsi Center.
With acting head coach Adrian Dantley handling the duties in place of a recovering George Karl, the Nuggets used a big fourth quarter to widen the distance and win going away.
Smith had 11 straight Denver points early in the fourth quarter, helping the Nuggets break a 90-90 tie and grab a 101-93 lead. Smith hit three shots from beyond the arc during the pivotal run.
A reverse layup from Wesley Matthews had Utah within 102-98 with under eight minutes left, but after Nene responded with a layup, Anthony hit two free throws and a bucket to move the margin to 108-98 with 6 1/2 minutes left.
Anthony's layup extended the lead to an insurmountable 120-104 score with 3:13 remaining.
Utah held a 30-28 lead after the opening quarter, but Okur suffered his injury while driving toward the basket with nearly eight minutes left in the half. the game remained tight with Denver holding a 57-56 edge at the intermission.
The Jazz erased an eight-point deficit early in the third and came back to take a three-point lead before surrendering it at 88-86 going to the fourth thanks to a late Anthony three-pointer.
Karl continues to recover from throat and neck cancer treatments...C.J. Miles had 17 points, while Paul Millsap ended with 15 points and 10 rebounds for Utah...Both teams shot well with Denver ending at 57.1 percent and Utah at 54.7, but the Jazz were muscled out of the paint by a 52-34 point margin.