With Denver still fighting for a playoff spot but the Jazz still hoping for homecourt advantage in at least the first round of NBA postseason play, Carlos Boozer gave Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony fair warning.
"I told him, 'We're gonna give you a dogfight,'" Boozer said.
"And we did."
The Jazz beat the Nuggets 124-97 Saturday night at sold-out EnergySolutions Arena, but only after Denver rallied from 16 points down in the opening quarter to go up by one midway through the third.
Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Ronnie Brewer finished with 20 points apiece for Northwest Division-champion Utah, which improved to 53-27 with two games remaining in the regular season Monday's against Houston, and Wednesday's at defending NBA-champion San Antonio.
Utah also improved its league-best home record to 36-4, with victories in 26 of its last 27 games on its home floor.
The Jazz now have won more games in any season since they went 53-29 in 2000-01, and they're within reach of matching their 55-victory total from the 1999-2000 season.
"I think we're real anxious (to start the playoffs)," Boozer said after Utah finished a four-game stretch against certain or likely Western Conference playoff-bound opponents with victories over San Antonio and New Orleans and a loss at the buzzer on Thursday night at Dallas.
"But we've still got to finish it up strong," Boozer added.
"We're sitting on, what, 53? We'd like to get 55 if we can. It's gonna be a tall task, but we look forward to it."
The Jazz did not get caught looking ahead Saturday night, though, as they dropped 40 first-quarter points on a 48-32 Nuggets club still seeking to secure the West's eighth and final playoff position.
That ties season high for points in an opening quarter for Utah, which went into the second period up by 15.
"We did a great job to start the game defensively," said point guard Deron Williams, who finished with 11 assists and 19 points on 7-of-11 field shooting for his 10th double-double in the Jazz's last 11 games. "We helped each other out, we executed well on offense, and had a pretty good lead, and they crept back in there."
The Jazz came up blank on their first 10 possessions of the second quarter, and Denver which tied the game twice in that period briefly took a 71-70 lead when Anthony Carter hit a 20-footer with six minutes and 40 seconds remaining in the third.
"They're a team that can score in a hurry," Williams said of a Nuggets club that 22 points from Anthony and a game-high 28 from Allen Iverson, "and I thought our defense was poor in that second quarter.
"I was definitely worried about this game," Williams added, "just because they had so much on the line for them and we just came off a tough loss."
Andrei Kirilenko, however, answered Carter's go-ahead bucket with a feed from Boozer, and the Jazz never trailed again.
After Anthony knocked Williams hard to the floor on a dunk attempt a few possessions later, in fact, Williams hit both free throws stemming from the flagrant-1 foul and backup Ronnie Price knocked down two more on the continuing possession to put Utah comfortably up 82-73.
By midway through the fourth quarter, the Jazz's advantage had soared into the 20s and it remained that way for the game's final 4:52.
"I think the foul might have got us going on a little bit," said Williams, who said he suspected his right hip and rear end would be even sorer today than it was Saturday night.
"I looked up, and I didn't know how much we were up. We were up by 20. I thought we were up, like, 11. I was definitely surprised," Williams added. "But we did it with defense, we did it with our execution you know, played our basketball and that's what we've got to continue to do."
They did it with notice too, which proved especially satisfying to a certain howling power forward who told Anthony what was coming."It was a big game," Boozer said after the Jazz moved to within a game-and-a-half of Houston and San Antonio, two possible first-round playoff opponents. "We've got to try and get homecourt."