DENVER (AP) – Nene kept Denver in it until his teammates could turn this one into another runaway.

Nene scored 18 of his career playoff high 24 points in the first half and the Denver Nuggets raced past the Dallas Mavericks 109-95 Sunday in the first day game in the Pepsi Center’s 10-year history.

Carmelo Anthony scored 23 points, including a dunk off J.R. Smith’s behind-the-back assist that rocked the arena in the closing minutes. Smith added 15 points, leading a bench that outscored Dallas’ celebrated reserves 38-24 before both teams emptied their benches in the meaningless final minutes.

Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 28 points and 10 boards and Josh Howard, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry each scored 15.

Game 2 is Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center, where the Nuggets have won 14 straight, including four in the playoffs. All four have been blowouts.

The Nuggets, who trailed by nine early, looked like they were going to pull away late in the third period when their defense led to several fastbreak baskets and an 81-72 lead.

But Antoine Wright’s 26-foot 3-pointer to beat the shot clock jump-started the Mavericks, who pulled to 82-80 in the first minute of the fourth quarter when Terry sank a 3 and Nowitzki swished one of his fadeaway jumpers.

The Nuggets responded with a 15-4 run that iced it.

It began with two free throws and a bucket from Chris Andersen and two fouls shots and a jumper from Anthony that make it 90-82.

From there on, it was the brand of basketball the Nuggets have been playing all season, with Chauncey Billups leading the way at both ends of the floor, blocked shots leading to fastbreak baskets and 3-pointers that broke the Mavericks’ spirit.

The first half was the rough and tumble as both teams expected. Nowitzki, who scored 13 of the Mavericks’ first 17 points, was thrown to the floor by Kenyon Martin in the first quarter.

There were also some touch fouls whistled, two of them on Anthony, who took a seat midway through the second quarter after picking up his third foul.

The Nuggets did just fine without him, taking a 51-47 halftime lead thanks to Nene’s 18 first-half points, which tied his career playoff high for an entire game.

Howard, who missed two 11-game stretches this season with a bum left ankle and probably needs surgery, turned his right ankle in the second quarter when he got tangled up with Billups. He went to the locker room but returned to action before halftime.

Howard thought he had hit a running hook at the buzzer and he trotted up the tunnel in jubilation only to hear the arena announcer gleefully report the shot was being waived off.

Nene, whose career has been dogged by serious injuries and testicular cancer, played more minutes than ever this season and over the last month he really hit a wall. In the Nuggets’ five-game dispatch of New Orleans in the first round, he averaged 9.0 points and 7.8 rebounds.

His fantastic first half saved the Nuggets, who got a combined seven points from Anthony and Billups.

Notes: Nuggets vice president of basketball operations Mark Warkentien was named the NBA’s executive of the year. Warkentien was the architect of the biggest deal in the NBA this season, trading Allen Iverson for Billups. The move sparked Denver’s franchise-tying 54-win regular season and the Nuggets’ first playoff series win in 15 years. … Denver swept the regular season series in the Mavericks 4-0. … The crowd saved its biggest jeers for the few times Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was shown on the big screen.

AP-ES-05-03-09 1819EDT

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.