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Smith scores 24 points, Nuggets beat Clippers

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LOS ANGELES (AP)

J.R. Smith scored 24 points and Gary Forbes added 22, leading the Denver Nuggets to a 108-104 exhibition victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.

Aaron Afflalo, the only player to start all five preseason games for the Nuggets, scored 16 points. Undrafted rookie center Eric Boateng made his first start and had two points in 22 minutes after averaging 13 minutes in his first three games.

Renaldo Balkman had 11 points in 25 minutes before fouling out with 3:18 left. He also fouled out Thursday night in a 100-95 victory over the Clippers at Staples Center.

Coach George Karl used only eight players, resting Carmelo Anthony for the second straight game after his 30-point, 14-rebound effort against the Clippers on Thursday and giving the night off to Nene and Chauncey Billups. The Nuggets also played without the injured Kenyon Martin (left knee), Al Harrington (left foot) and Chris Anderson (right knee). Anderson and Martin both are recovering from surgery.

Reserve forward Brian Cook led Los Angeles with 28 points and seven rebounds, while Chris Kaman saw limited action. Randy Foye added 19 points, including a pair of 3-pointers in the final 13 seconds as the Clippers sliced a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to three.

Forward Blake Griffin, whose rookie season has been delayed a year because of a non-displaced stress fracture in his left kneecap that occurred in the team's final preseason game last year and required surgery in January, did not play against the Nuggets for precautionary reasons.

The No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft tweaked his ankle early in a 103-91 loss to Utah on Saturday, but still played an aggressive 34 1/2 minutes and had 14 rebounds after getting into early foul trouble. He is averaging 15.8 points and 11.5 rebounds in five games.

''I was kind of thinking about giving him the night off, anyway, but this made my decision much easier,'' new coach Vinny Del Negro said. ''He's fine, but we just want to be smart. He actually feels a lot better right now. If it was the regular season, he'd play. I expect he'll play Tuesday, unless something come up in the next 48 hours that I don't know about.''

The Clippers committed 23 turnovers. In their six losses, the Clippers have averaged 23.2. In their only victory, a 120-88 rout at Sacramento, they had just 13.

''These guys had issues with that here last year. And with a new system, players, chemistry, everybody not being together for two weeks, we're just making way too many turnovers to give ourselves a chance,'' said Del Negro, whose Chicago Bulls averaged 14.4 turnovers during his two seasons as head coach and made the playoffs twice with identical 41-41 records.

''Instead of making the easy pass, we're trying to do something that's a little more difficult - the risk-reward pass - and hopefully we can get some of that out of our system. It's difficult to win when you're in the 20s in turnovers, so we have to clean that up for sure. We have to be smart with the basketball. Their intentions are in the right place, it's just that the execution right now is not there''

NOTES: Once Del Negro and his staff get everyone back healthy, it will be easier for them to figure out what the kind of identity the offense will have. ''With Chris and Blake, we want to pound the ball inside a lot. But we also want to get into the open court and let Baron create for us in different situations,'' Del Negro said. ''It's the same thing we had in Chicago, because we have a lot of young guys to develop, but the personnel and the skill set is different.'' ... Denver is 42-18 during the preseason since 2003. ... The two-time defending Northwest division champion Nuggets had Anthony, Billups, Martin and Nene in their starting lineup only 40 times last season and still finished 53-29, one win shy of tying their best record since the franchise shifted from the ABA to the NBA. Their record when all four started was 30-10.

Tagged: Nuggets, Clippers, Al Harrington, Kenyon Martin, Chris Kaman

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