Denver 120, Utah 109

DENVER (AP) - For one night, Linas Kleiza overshadowed Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony.

Kleiza scored a career-high 41 points and grabbed nine rebounds as the Denver Nuggets beat the Utah Jazz, 120-109, on Thursday night.

"I've now scored 40 points on the highest stage you can ever score,'' said Kleiza, whose previous career-high of 29 came March 15 against the Los Angeles Lakers.

"It was definitely a special night,'' Kleiza said. "I will remember this night for the rest of my life.''

The Nuggets have been searching for a consistent third scorer behind Anthony and Iverson, and Kleiza filled the role Thursday. He got going early, leaking out on the fast break and getting easy layups. He then moved to the outside, going 4-for-8 from 3-point range.

"He got a couple of easy ones, and once you get a couple of layups, the basket looks bigger,'' said Iverson, who had 28 points. "He played a great game, and hopefully he can continue to play that way.''

Kleiza scored 27 points in the first half, 20 in the second quarter when Denver took a 61-59 lead at the break.

"I knew after the first half when I had 27 it was going to be a special night,'' Kleiza said.

Kleiza had 39 points when he stepped to the line with 3:44 left. The home crowd gave him a big ovation as he sank both free throws for Denver's final points of the game.

Kleiza wasn't the only one racking up special numbers against the Jazz. Marcus Camby tied his career high in rebounds (24) and blocks (11) to help the Nuggets end a two-game losing streak.

"Camby had a terrific game,'' Utah head coach Jerry Sloan said. "He ran at the basketball and blocked shots and really had us guessing what was happening out on the floor.''

Despite big nights from Kleiza and Camby, the Jazz trailed by just two after a pair of free throws by Mehmet Okur midway through the third quarter. But the Nuggets kept pushing the ball, and Anthony scored eight of his 23 points in the final three minutes of the period as Denver grabbed a 98-88 lead heading into the fourth.

The Nuggets kept up the pace, going on a 10-3 run in the first 3:09 of the final quarter to take a 108-91 lead. The Jazz never got closer than 11 the rest of the way, and Denver led by as many as 21.

It was a different Denver team than the one that lost two straight earlier this week.

"I didn't think our guys were hungry enough on the two games on the road, and they were subservient to A.I. and Melo,'' Nuggets head coach George Karl said. "Tonight, there was more of play basketball and go.''

No one epitomized that more than Kleiza. Before the game, Anthony Carter encouraged him to run the floor, and the point guard rewarded him by feeding him the ball.

"He got most of it leaking out,'' said guard Deron Williams, who led the Jazz with 23 points. "They got the rebound and he was running. When the shot was missed he was gone.''

Gone, too, is Utah's four-game winning streak that helped them creep back into the Northwest Division race. With the Western Conference extremely competitive this year, the Nuggets and Jazz know that winning their division might be the only way to secure a playoff spot, which made Thursday's game a little more important.

"These are the games you have to win,'' Williams said. "You have to win in your division.''

Notes: Karl is hoping to see Nuggets F Nene on Friday. Nene had a tumor removed from his right testicle Monday and tests are being conducted to determine if it is benign. ... Jazz G Ronnie Price was activated after missing four games with a sprained left ankle. ... Nuggets F Kenyon Martin missed his second straight game. After Monday's loss in Charlotte, Martin had a minor medical procedure to treat a staph infection. Karl said Martin might play Saturday against Minnesota. ... Camby has eight 20-rebound games this season.


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