Smith inspires big Denver victory over Atlanta

DENVER (Reuters) - J.R. Smith came off the bench to score a season-high 41 points and spark the Denver Nuggets to a 124-104 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday.

Smith's tally included 10 three-pointers as NBA leading scorer Carmelo Anthony added 24 points to help the Nuggets return to winning ways at home following two road defeats.

"I really started getting in that rhythm in the first quarter," Smith told reporters after coming up four points shy of his career high set against the Kings on April 13.

"Everything else was like throwing darts."

Jamal Crawford had a team-high 24 points for the Hawks (20-8), who entered the contest on the back of seven wins in eight and are enjoying one of their best starts in franchise history.

Forced to play again without injured starting point guard Chauncey Billups (groin), Denver established the lead from the outset and blew the game open in the fourth quarter when Smith knocked in four three-pointers.

Rookie Ty Lawson started in place of Billups for a second straight game and had 16 points as Denver overcame a run of five losses this season when a regular starter was missing through injury.

The blowout victory also enabled Denver (20-9) to gain revenge for a lopsided 125-100 defeat at the hands of the Hawks on November 7.

Al Horford chipped in 18 points and 11 rebounds while Joe Johnson put up 16 and nine assists for the Hawks, who were no match for the hot-shooting of Smith.

Having been suspended for his team's first seven games for off-court matters, Smith enjoyed a breakout performance in which he made 15-of-25 field goal attempts while taking advantage of the Hawks' tactic of double-teaming Anthony.

"A lot of his shots tonight were crazy, and that's his talent," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "You've got to live with it. Tonight he was in a zone and you let him go."

Smith's play helped the Nuggets extend their league-best home record to 13-1.

(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by John O'Brien)