Utah 96, Denver 84

DENVER, Jan. 6 (AP) -- Deron Williams kept reminding teammate Carlos Boozer to "hang in there.''

Denver's zone was keeping such a close eye on Boozer - Utah's leading scorer and rebounder - that he had no operating room.

"It was hard to get him the ball,'' Williams said.

So Williams did something about it, hitting four 3-pointers and tying a career high with 28 points to lead the Jazz over the Nuggets, 96-84, on Saturday night.

Denver had little choice but to pay more attention to Williams, which, in turn, opened up Boozer, who finished with 24 points, including 14 in the final quarter.

"D-Will was like, 'Hang in there, we're going to get it to you,''' said Boozer, who had just four points in the first half. "Sure enough, it opened up.''

Just in time, too. Utah saw a 19-point lead in the first half cut to 68-67 with 9:30 remaining in the game. But Boozer's layup and foul shot started Utah on a 10-0 run to restore some breathing room and send the Nuggets to their season-high fifth straight loss.

Not that Utah was worried by Denver's fourth-quarter rally.

"No big deal,'' said Boozer, who also had 11 rebounds as the Jazz improved to 21-5 when he records a double-double. "We stayed poised.''

Nuggets coach George Karl almost prophesied Williams' performance. Before the game he called him an All-Star in the making, and the point guard lived up to the compliment with 22 points in the first half.

He also had 12 assists. At one point in the second quarter, Williams was almost beating Denver by himself, 24-22.

"I was just playing my game,'' he said. "I felt good out there.''

And when Denver paid more attention to him, Boozer got loose.

"It's a Catch-22 as a coach,'' Karl said. "The results are disappointing.''

The Nuggets feel like they're living under a black cloud these days. Morale is sinking. The team is feeling the effects of the losing streak. Denver has now dropped to 3-6 since the league suspended Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith for their roles in an on-court incident with the New York Knicks on Dec. 16.

However, Denver will get Smith back after one more game.

"When you are in a losing streak and you can't find answers, you're paranoid,'' Karl said. "There are moments when I think the league is against us. We're not getting any whistles, A.I. (Allen Iverson) gets beat up and no calls. It just seems like you get paranoid and you think everybody is against us.''

Iverson just shook his head when asked about Denver's psyche.

"To say (morale) is great would be a lie,'' said Iverson, who finished with 22 points after scoring just five in the first half.

"Coach is telling us after the game, 'Just keep your spirit and stay together. Because that's the easiest thing to do when things are going so bad is to point fingers at each other and get down on each other and not stay together. That's easy to do when things are going wrong. The real good teams are the ones that stay together when they face adversity, not just when everything is going right. We'll find out what type of character this team has while we're struggling right now.''

Iverson is trying to be on his best behavior these days. He's even bending over backward apologizing for remarks he made about referee Steve Javie after a loss to his former team, the Philadelphia 76ers, last week. The NBA fined him $25,000 for his verbal abuse of Javie during and after the game. Iverson said he was sorry again Saturday - for the third time in three days.

"I allowed my emotions to get away from me, and for someone who has played in this league for as long as I have, that is inexcusable,'' Iverson said through the team.

Iverson tried to sound upbeat after the game.

"The morale of the team is the most important thing,'' he said. "Just staying together and believing in each other and believing it will be a better day.''

Notes: Denver C Marcus Camby sat out after irritating his fractured finger on his shooting hand while blocking a shot in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night. ... Given Nene's sore knee, Karl planned to keep him to around 20 minutes. The plan worked as Nene played 18:32, scoring four points. ... The Jazz have not scored more than 100 in five straight games. ... Earl Boykins finished with 22 points. ... Mehmet Okur and Derek Fisher, who came off the bench, each scored 10 points. ... Linas Kleiza tied a career high with 17 points.

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