J.R. Smith came off the bench to score a season-high 41 points and spark the Denver Nuggets to a 124-104 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday.
Smith’s tally included 10 three-pointers as the NBA’s leading scorer Carmelo Anthony added 24 points to help the Nuggets return to winning ways at home following two road defeats.
“I really started getting in that rhythm in the first quarter,” Smith told reporters after coming up four points shy of his career high set against the Kings on April 13. “Everything else was like throwing darts.”
Jamal Crawford had a team-high 24 points for the Hawks (20-8), who entered the contest on the back of seven wins in eight games, enjoying one of their best starts in franchise history.
Forced to play again without injured starting point guard Chauncey Billups (groin), Denver established the lead from the outset and opened it in the fourth quarter when Smith knocked in four three-pointers.
Rookie Ty Lawson started in place of Billups for a second straight game and had 16 points as Denver overcame a run of five losses this season when a regular starter was missing through injury.
The blowout victory also enabled Denver (20-9) to gain revenge for a lopsided 125-100 defeat at the hands of the Hawks on Nov. 7.
Denver jumped out to a 34-24 lead after the first quarter and led by as much as 17 points in the third, before Atlanta closed the deficit to 92-82 heading into the fourth.
Al Horford chipped in 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Joe Johnson put up 16 and nine assists for the Hawks, who were no match for the hot-shooting of Smith.
Having been suspended for his team’s first seven games for off-court matters, Smith enjoyed a breakout performance in which he made 15-of-25 field-goal attempts, while taking advantage of the Hawks’ tactic of double-teaming Anthony.
“A lot of his shots tonight were crazy and that’s his talent,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “You’ve got to live with it. Tonight he was in a zone and you let him go.”
Smith’s play helped the Nuggets extend their league-best home record to 13-1.
■CAVALIERS 117, KINGS 104
AFP, SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA
NBA superstar LeBron James scored 34 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to power the Cleveland Cavaliers past Sacramento on Wednesday night as the Kings went scoreless in over-time.
The Cavaliers thwarted the Kings in the extra five-minute period just two days after Sacramento rallied from a 35-point deficit to beat Chicago — the NBA’s best comeback victory in 13 years.
James, who also had 10 assists, was joined by Mo Williams, who scored 21 of his 27 points in the second half, and Lithuanian Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who scored 25 points that included three three-pointers in over-time.
Cleveland enter a Christmas showdown with reigning NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers have won seven of their past eight games.
James managed only eight points in the second half, but played well on defense to frustrate the Kings, who went none-for-seven from the field and committed two turnovers in over-time.
Kings rookie Tyreke Evans scored 28 points, while Omri Casspi and Jason Thompson each scored 18, and Spencer Hawes had 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Kings.
Wednesday’s other NBA results:
• Magic 102, Rockets 97
• Cavaliers 117, Kings 104, OT
• Trail Blazers 98, Spurs 94
• Thunder 117, Suns 113
• Heat 80, Jazz 70
• Raptors 94, Pistons 64
• Wizards 109, Bucks 97
• Hornets 108, Warriors 102
• Timberwolves 103, Nets 99
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