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Streaking Utah Jazz knock off division-leading Nuggets

SALT LAKE CITY — The Denver Nuggets learned something about the new-and-improved Utah Jazz on Saturday night.

The Jazz, as the Nuggets found out, aren't quite the easy pushovers that the Los Angeles Lakers are.

Not anymore, at least.

A night after impressively blowing out the Lakers at the Staples Center, the shorthanded Nuggets got deep-fried at EnergySolutions Arena by the still-sizzling Jazz.

Utah's 116-106 win was its eighth in a row and moved the 31-18 Jazz to within two games of the Northwest Division-leading Nuggets (34-17).

"It's huge," a returned Jazz power forward Carlos Boozer said of the win. "We want to keep going. We want to keep climbing the ladder. We feel like we have no ceiling. The sky's the limit for us."

This, as usual, was a team effort for Utah, which has had five different leading scorers during the win streak.

Deron Williams, the newly named All-Star, and Andrei Kirilenko, the former All-Star who's playing like one, shared the scoring honors in this fast-paced contest with 22 points apiece.

Boozer chipped in with his 30th double-double of the season — a 19-point, 13-rebound outing that included a strong fourth quarter — in his first start after missing three games with a strained right calf.

The Jazz also got a couple of strong contributions from their bench. Paul Millsap, who'd played so well in a starter's role in Boozer's absence, tallied 16 points and six boards before fouling out. And C.J. Miles added a dozen points, including a 3-for-6 night from 3-point range for his fourth double-digit scoring game in a row.

If Denver brought brooms for a potential special clean-up job, the team will have to wait to use them another year.

Utah's 10th straight home win prevented the Nuggets — who won the first three meetings by an average of 8.7 points — from sweeping the Jazz for the first time in their 34-season history.

"They're a team that we could see in the postseason. We want to put a thought in their mind that we can beat you," Boozer said. "If we lose all four games to them they're not going to fear us. For us to get this win, it lets them know that we can compete with you."

Or at least compete with most of the Nuggets.

Denver was missing its two current All-Stars. Carmelo Anthony (ankle) sat out his eighth straight and Chauncey Billups (ankle) was a late scratch a day after scoring a career-high 39 in the 126-113 win in L.A. late Friday night.

But their absence certainly didn't mean a Jazz win was a gimme.

The Jazz, remember, lost to the same undermanned Nuggets on Jan. 2, 105-95, with both Anthony and Billups sidelined with injuries.

Even after Utah scored a season-best 66 points in the first half and expanded its lead to 18 midway through the third quarter, the gutsy and deep Nuggets threatened a repeat performance against the Jazz.

Thanks to the likes of red-hot rookie guard Ty Lawson (25 points), J.R. Smith (19 points) and bruisers Kenyon Martin and Joey Graham (16 points apiece), the Nuggets pulled within three points early in the fourth quarter.

The sweep-fearing Jazz, however, answered with a 9-2 run to regain its double-digit lead after a couple of inside Kirilenko buckets, a Wesley Matthews layup and a strong drive by a determined Williams.

That spurt put the Jazz up 102-92 at the 8:50 mark, and Utah held off the feisty but tuckered out Nuggets.

Don't expect the Jazz to put an asterisk by the W or offer an apology. Sloan said the Nuggets simply showed how deep they are by not giving up.

"Definitely give them credit," Kirilenko added. "They play without two key guys and they have a game (Friday) against Lakers, the best team in the West. . . . They were fighting hard until the end. I'm pretty happy that we can get that lead and we've been able to keep it."

NOTES: Nuggets coach George Karl revealed before Saturday's game that Denver very nearly made a trade with Atlanta before the 2005 NBA draft that would have allowed the Nuggets to land Deron Williams. As it turned out, the proposed swap fell apart for reasons Karl did not disclose. Atlanta took Marvin Williams at No. 2 and Utah made a trade with Portland to get Deron Williams at No. 3. By the way, ESPN.com reported in '05 that Karl was suspended for three games and fined $200,000 for improperly attending pre-draft workouts at Marquette University — organized by former University of Utah coach Rick Majerus — that featured Williams. . . . According to fanhouse.com, both Williams and Boozer will be on a list of 25-to-28 players that USA Basketball will announce on Wednesday are "in the mix" to play in on its 12-man team at this summer's FIBA World Championships in Turkey and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Williams has said he is committed to playing in Turkey and wants to play in London, and Boozer has said he would answer the call for further international duty if one came.

Contributing: Tim Buckley

e-mail: jody@desnews.com