MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Even while winding up a five-game road trip, the Denver Nuggets were able to muster enough defensive intensity to stay in the Western Conference playoff hunt.
Allen Iverson had 26 points and seven assists, while Carmelo Anthony finished with 23 points and nine rebounds as the Nuggets used a big second half to defeat the Memphis Grizzlies 120-106 on Monday night.
"We wanted to end this road trip the right way," said Marcus Camby, who had 15 rebounds. "In the first half, we didn't play particularly well. ... We knew eventually if we picked up our level of defense, we had enough scoring to put a lot of points on the board.
"I think our defense really won the game in the second half."
Denver, fighting for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, trails Golden State by one game and seventh-place Dallas by 1½.
The Nuggets will face Dallas and Golden State at home Thursday and Saturday.
J.R. Smith led the Nuggets, scoring 25 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, as Denver stretched the lead to as many as 22 in winning its third straight. Smith was 8-for-10 in the period, including seven outside the arc.
"Amazing," said Kenyon Martin, who missed only one of his eight shots while recording 14 points and 10 rebounds.
"You've just got to take one shot at a time," Smith said of the streak after shooting 1-for-5 before intermission. "In the first half, it was awful, so I came out early at halftime and tried to get my rhythm back."
Rudy Gay led Memphis with 30 points, while Hakim Warrick finished with a season-high 29. Mike Miller added 19 and Javaris Crittenton 14.
"(The Nuggets) just picked it up a notch in the third quarter and came out with a lot of steam," Memphis coach Marc Iavaroni said. "They (caused) a couple of turnovers, and we had a couple of missed open shots and a layup. That is just a little to much for us."
Memphis led at halftime, but the Nuggets outscored the Grizzlies 37-22 in the third period to build their lead to 14. Memphis could not overcome the deficit, particularly after Smith scored 16 points, including 13 straight for Denver, by the midway point of the fourth. At that point, Denver held a 109-95 lead, matching its biggest margin of the night at that point.
The loss snapped Memphis' two-game winning streak.
Memphis, which had won three of its previous four, had no answer for the Nuggets after halftime as Denver connected on 24 of 40 shots. The Nuggets already had built the lead in the third quarter, and then it was as if the Grizzlies couldn't find Smith. He had open looks outside the arc and helped Denver continue to extend the lead.
"I thought the tempo of the game got faster," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "We created a lot of the tempo with turnovers and got our defensive hands active."
Memphis overcame early defensive lapses to erase a Denver lead and carry a 57-51 advantage into the break.
The Nuggets were getting to the rim in the first quarter on dunks by Martin and assists by Iverson leading to inside baskets. Memphis didn't get back on defense several times, leading to easy scores as the Nuggets shot 55 percent early and held a 14-4 advantage in the paint.
But Memphis scored in a variety of ways from dunks by Gay to Warrick hitting jumpers from 15 to 20 feet. That allowed Memphis to erase the early Nuggets advantage, and lead by as many as nine in the second quarter.
Denver's defense to open the second half included blocked shots and pressure that led to Memphis turnovers. Martin, whose only miss was an airball on a baseline jumper, still was getting loose for dunks, and the Nuggets shot better from the outside. Meanwhile, Memphis was missing seven of its first eight shots in the period.
"They just hit the shots, some big shots. Shots that didn't fall for them in the first half," Warrick said. "I think they did a good job of protecting the rim. Made some good blocks."
And that was enough intensity and defensive pressure for the Nuggets to overcome a sluggish first half.
"The last game of a road trip, usually fatigue comes in," Camby said. "But we have a lot of veterans on this team, and they know the importance of every ballgame, especially down the stretch."
The Grizzlies were seeking their third consecutive victory. Memphis hasn't had a three-game winning streak since the end of the 2006-07 season. ... Anthony was called for a technical late in the second quarter after arguing with official Pat Fraher when Anthony was called for a foul. ... Miller recorded his 11th double-double of the season. ... Martin's double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) was the 100th of his career. ... Gay nailed a 39-footer as the horn sounded to end the third period. Officials confirmed the basket after reviewing the play. ... Miller tied his season high with 14 rebounds. ... Denver's 43-28 record is its best through 71 games since the 1987-88 season, when the Nuggets were at 45-26. ... The Grizzlies haven't defeated a team with a winning record since an 88-85 victory against San Antonio on Dec. 19.