Jazz 113, Nuggets 106
Williams' return to the lineup helped the Jazz snap out of their funk with a 113-106 win over the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.
''He's the motor,'' Nuggets coach George Karl sighed.
''He's the engine,'' lamented Denver point guard Chauncey Billups.
In that case, Williams is humming like a HEMI V-8.
The Jazz had lost eight of 10 and had been without Williams for the last four games after he strained a tendon in his right wrist against San Antonio on Jan. 26.
Williams scored 26 points and dished out 12 assists in his return - better than his season averages of 21.9 points and 9.4 assists that earned him his second straight All-Star pick this week.
''I thought it was good,'' Williams said. ''The wrist is sore, it's going to be sore for a while. Every time I hit it, land on it, get fouled, it hurts. It's something I have to deal with it. I dealt with it last year for a month and a half.''
He sure looked like he was pain-free.
''Having our captain back was huge,'' said Al Jefferson, who had 28 points and 10 boards and made a couple of key hook shots in the fourth quarter that had the Nuggets shaking their heads. ''It was wonderful. His presence on the court makes things better for us. He did a good job getting everyone involved.''
''It's not surprising,'' Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said of Williams' electric return. ''That's who he is. He's able to score for us, he defends, he does a little bit of everything. We're not as good without him, I think everybody knows that.''
Carmelo Anthony led the Nuggets with 31 points and Nene tied his career high with 28.
The game got chippy in the fourth quarter when J.R. Smith and Bell got tangled up underneath the Nuggets basket, then Smith fouled Bell on the perimeter. Finally, Smith was ejected for a flagrant 2 foul on Bell with 6:45 left and the Jazz leading 94-89.
''It wasn't surprising at all,'' Bell said. ''It was a matter of time. I was lucky enough that when Deron threw the ball to me I caught a glimpse of him coming so I was able to get off on two feet and I didn't put myself out there to get injured. I kind of knew something like that was coming.''
There was lots of pushing from both teams but no punches thrown after the flagrant foul.
''You could see it was intentional,'' Williams said. ''No one wants to fight on the basketball court. You lose too much money doing that. You've got to have your teammate's back. I know J.R., I like J.R., but you can't push my teammate out there.''
Smith bolted the locker room before reporters were allowed in after the game.
After separating the teams, the officials reviewed the play. Anthony shot a technical foul shot for Denver and Bell sank two for Utah to make it 96-90. The Jazz went ahead 98-90 on Jefferson's ensuing basket.
The Nuggets never recovered.
Arron Afflalo's 3-point attempt to tie it at 107 rimmed out with a minute left and Jefferson's three-point play at the other end made it 110-104 with 51 seconds remaining.
Williams scored 16 first-half points as the Jazz took a 50-47 lead into the locker room, then he dished out seven assists in the third quarter.
''He seemed to be very early in the game very possessed to win this game,'' Karl said. ''And we lost our defensive focus in the second half. It became an offensive game and I'm not sure that's how we should try to beat this team.''
The Nuggets kept it close from the foul line, where they sank 32-of-36 shots, compared to Utah's 17-of-18 performance at the stripe.
Even with Williams' return, the Jazz weren't at full strength. Forward Andrei Kirilenko's sprained left ankle prevented him from being matched up against Anthony, and center Mehmet Okur didn't make the trip because of a strained lower back.
Notes: Karl said he was disappointed that Nene was bypassed in favor of Kevin Love when Commissioner David Stern picked an All-Star injury replacement for Houston center Yao Ming. ... Rockies manager Jim Tracy has extended an offer for Karl to manage a couple of innings of a spring training game in Phoenix. ... Anthony was 17 of 18 from the line.