DENVER(AP) If not for Nene's breakout first half, Carmelo Anthony's fourth-quarter fireworks and Anthony Carter's defensive deftness wouldn't have mattered much.
Nene kept Denver in it until his teammates could turn this one into another laugher, scoring 18 of his playoff career-high 24 points in the first half of the Nuggets' 109-95 rout of the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday in the opener of their second-round series.
"'Melo in foul trouble and kind of searching for an offensive confidence, we got it from Nene,'' Nuggets coach George Karl said. "The balance of our team has quietly been a strength of who we are. In the second half 'Melo got into the game, J.R. (Smith) jumped into the game and our defense was fantastic.''
Nene, who beat testicular cancer last year, played more minutes than ever this season and over the last month he really hit a wall. In the Nuggets' five-game dispatch of New Orleans in the first round, he averaged 9.0 points and 7.8 rebounds.
His fantastic first half saved the Nuggets, who poured it on the second half thanks to 20 Dallas turnovers, eight by Jason Kidd, who turned over the ball just three times in the first round.
"Offensively, we were good,'' Karl said, "but defensively we were really good.''
Thanks to their stifling defense, the Nuggets outscored the Mavericks 29-4 on fast breaks, but the disparity that really bothered Dallas coach Rick Carlisle was the 36-13 advantage Denver had at the line.
"We're going to have to raise our level of aggression if that's what's going to get us to the free throw line,'' said Carlisle, who was particularly bothered that Dirk Nowitzki took just four foul shots plus a technical.
"I'll look at that closely, and if the referees were right they were right. But he's being played very physically, away from the floor where the rules are different than in post play,'' Carlisle said. "We'll look at it and if there's a complaint to be made we'll talk to the league about it.''
Anthony found it funny the Mavs were complaining about whistles because he was in early foul trouble for what he considered questionable calls.
"Foul trouble didn't bother him, it didn't freak him out, it didn't take him to a dark side that we had to worry about,'' Karl said. "He trusted the team, the team did great and he came out in the second half and was a leader for us.
"His maturity, his mental involvement now is team and not individual ... I don't know who's given him that wisdom. Is it Chauncey (Billups)? Is it a gold medal? Is it the coaching staff? I don't care, I think he's doing a fantastic job.''
Anthony scored 14 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, including a dunk off Smith's behind-the-back assist that rocked the arena.
Nowitzki led Dallas with 28 points and 10 boards, and Josh Howard, Kidd and Jason Terry each scored 15.
Game 2 is Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center, where the Nuggets have won 14 straight.
The Nuggets led 82-80 when they iced it with a 15-4 run. It began with two free throws and a bucket from Chris Andersen, who blocked six shots, and two fouls shots and a jumper from Anthony.
From there on, it was the brand of basketball the Nuggets have been playing all season, with Billups and Carter taking turns leading the way at both ends of the floor.
"That's how we win,'' Billups said. "We win with our numbers and not just one or two guys having big nights.''
Nowitzki, who scored 13 of the Mavericks' first 17 points, was thrown to the floor by Kenyon Martin in the first quarter and didn't get an open look the rest of the day.
"I felt like in the first quarter I had some good looks there and after that, they really made me work for everything I got,'' Nowitzki said.
In the first half, Erick Dampier turned his left ankle and Howard, who missed two 11-game stretches this season with a bum left ankle, turned his right one.
"I can't avoid injuries,'' Howard said. "Right now I could get hurt walking off a plane.''
Notes: Nuggets VP of basketball operations Mark Warkentien was voted the NBA's executive of the year. ... The Mavericks are 0-5 against Denver this season.