It looked as if the game would go down to the wire when Zaza Pachulia flipped in a putback, pulling the Hawks to 72-69 with just over 10 minutes remaining.
But Denver dominated the rest of the way, outscoring the home team 30-18. The Nuggets hardly missed in the fourth quarter, making 12 of 18 from the field — including four 3-pointers.
Smith knocked down three of those, part of a 6-of-7 fourth quarter after he took only three shots — and missed them all — over the first three quarters.
Pachulia led the Hawks with 19 points off the bench, but the Hawks got little production out of their starters.
Josh Smith missed his first six attempts and finished with 13 points on 4-of-16 shooting. Joe Johnson struggled, too. One night after scoring 36 points against Milwaukee, he was held to 12 points by the Nuggets. The All-Star went 4 of 13 from the field after making six straight 3-pointers in a 25-point win over the Bucks.
Denver is clearly having more fun since dealing Anthony, spreading the ball around and playing fierce defense. As the final seconds ticked off, coach George Karl broke into a sly grin watching another impressive performance by his remade team.
Nene dominated on the inside, making shots or drawing fouls (he was 8 of 9 at the line). Aron Afflalo returned to the lineup after missing three games with a strained left hamstring and scored 15 points. Wilson Chandler added 14 and Kenyon Martin had 12.
With Johnson and Smith struggling, the Hawks got good work off the bench from Pachulia and Jamal Crawford, who combined for 16 points in the first half.
The duo sparked Atlanta after a sluggish start, pushing the Hawks to a 12-point lead with about 7½ minutes left in the second quarter. But the Nuggets dominated the rest of the period, ripping off a 16-2 run that included seven points from Nene. Denver went to the break up 46-42.
Crawford had 13 points, and Marvin Williams had 10 off the bench. The Hawks got nearly as many points from their bench (42) as the starters (45).
NOTES: When Afflalo came off the court after the pregame warmup, Karl asked nonchalantly, "Are you playing?" Afflalo said he was. "Wanna start?" Karl said. "Yes!" Afflalo responded. ... Hawks coach Larry Drew was liking a new lineup that has Johnson starting at small forward, Jeff Teague and Kirk Hinrich teaming up in the backcourt, with Williams comes off the bench. "We're going to stick with this lineup for now and see how it goes," Drew said before the game. He might want to reconsider. Hinrich had only nine points, Teague just four on 1-of-7 shooting.