Barry Gutierrez, Associated Press
DENVER — The Utah Jazz added Deron Williams back to their roster Friday night.
By no coincidence, the Jazz had some extra sparkle in their game while taking the fizz out the Pepsi Center with a gutsy 113-106 victory over the Denver Nuggets.
"We just said before the game we need to go out there and have a lot of fun, get back to having fun," a sore Williams said. "We haven't been having much fun the past month and a half, and I think we did that tonight.
"We played together. We shared the basketball," he added. "We helped each other defensively. It just looked like a different team out there."
That was the case from the extra energy, to having him back in the lineup, to winning a game against a rival on the road after losing eight of 10 contests during a rough stretch.
Asked earlier Friday what Williams would add to the Jazz lineup in his return from missing four games with a sprained right wrist, Jerry Sloan only half-jokingly said "20 points and 10 assists."
Turns out, the Jazz coach sold D-Will short.
While leading his slumping team to one of its best outings in quite some time, Williams scored 26 points with 12 assists in 41 fired-up minutes.
"That's who he is," Sloan said. "He did a heckuva job, and we certainly needed everything he gave us. That gives you a chance to win."
That wasn't the only classic performance by a Jazz player.
"I thought our whole team played hard," Sloan said. "I thought they tried really hard defensively and to try to guard that team is tough."
Center Al Jefferson had one beast of a fourth quarter — to use one of his favorite words — as he scored 15 of his team-high 28 points. Big Al, who's had success and struggles in his first season in Utah, also hauled in 10 rebounds.
Jefferson also had three blocked shots, including a timely swat of a Carmelo Anthony attempt with 39.8 seconds remaining to help the Jazz shut the door on a Denver rally.
"Coming into the fourth quarter, (Jefferson) told me to take it home," Williams said. "And he comes out and hits two hooks and I said, 'You take us home.' And he went to work after that."
Equally important, Raja Bell had his best performance in years. The starting shooting guard, whose shot has slumped as much as the Jazz of late, scored 20 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out four assists.
He also aggravated the Nuggets, certainly because of his feisty defense.
Things got heated in the fourth quarter when J.R. Smith about started an all-out brawl when he viciously plastered Bell while the Jazz guard was driving to the basket.
Bell crashed to the floor after being hammered, and players from both teams rushed to the scene in a hurry.
Williams got a technical foul for coming to Bell's defense, which cost the Jazz a point after Carmelo Anthony hit a free throw.
"It was a reaction," Williams said. "(Smith) took him out of the air. You could see it was intentional. Nobody wants to fight on the basketball court. You lose too much money doing that."
Added Williams: "You've got to have your teammate's back. It was a dirty play. I know J.R. I like J.R., but you can't push my teammate out of the air like that."
But Denver took the brunt of the blow.
The Nuggets lost Smith to an automatic ejection that accompanies a flagrant-two penalty, and the Jazz carried the momentum to turn a five-point advantage into a 10-point lead.
Denver cut that to three, but that double-digit edge proved to be enough of an insurance policy.
The victory was a big one for the Jazz (30-21), who leap-fogged the Nuggets (29-21) in the Northwest Division standings. Utah has another chance to make up some lost ground against a rival, seeing as division-leading Oklahoma City will visit EnergySolutions Arena tonight.
As for his injured hand, Williams admitted he was in pain.
"The wrist is sore. It's going to be sore probably for a while," he said. "Every time I hit it, landed on it, got fouled it hurts. But it's something I have to deal with. I dealt with it all last year for a month and half, two months. It is what it is."
Anthony led Denver with 31 points and Nene chipped in 28 points.
NOTES: Andrei Kirilenko missed his second game in a row with a sprained left ankle, and the Jazz's usual starting small forward said he will not play tonight but hopes to return Monday in Sacramento. … Center Mehmet Okur, who has missed four straight with a recurring lower back strain, is doubtful vs. OKC. … The Jazz are 17-3 overall and 3-0 on the road when leading at the half.
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