Smith left Tuesday’s 95-80 loss at San Antonio in the second quarter with torn cartilage in his left knee. The 6-foot-6 guard, who ranks third on the Nuggets (26-26) with 15.4 points per game and leads the team with 114 3-pointers, had arthroscopic surgery on Wednesday and will be out three to four weeks.
“J.R. has had a good year for us,” coach George Karl said. “I think a lot of people have been surprised by his contribution, and he seems to be getting better every game.”
Karl said as a result of Smith’s injury, he may start Iverson at point guard and bring in Steve Blake off the bench. Iverson missed eight of nine games with a right ankle sprain before returning to score nine points in just over 35 minutes against the Spurs.
“We’re going to change our personality a little bit,” Karl said. “I’m thinking about tinkering with the lineup a little bit, trying to get A.I. more aggressive, more assertive in the game. It seems like he’s being too passive for me.”
Iverson, acquired in a December trade with Philadelphia, said he felt good “for the most part” on Tuesday despite going 3-of-11 from the field. However, he did take a fall during the game, bruising his hip and hurting his elbow.
“Is that a trick question?” he said, when asked at practice Wednesday how he felt. “I’m not 100 percent, but if I’m out there on the basketball court, I don’t have any excuses. Nobody goes through the season 100 percent. I’ve been banged up all my career, and I have no excuses.”
Carmelo Anthony had a team-high 15 points against the Spurs, less than half his league-leading average (30.3 ppg). He and Iverson were 25 points off their previous low combined point total when playing together.
“I said all along I’m surprised we haven’t already had one of these flat games with all the changes and all the craziness we’ve had,” Karl said Tuesday. “I would have thought we’d have already had one.”
Denver has dropped its last five games against Utah, including two this season. The Nuggets are in second place in the Northwest Division, 8 1/2 games behind the Jazz.
Utah (35-18) is coming off its first loss in seven games, Tuesday’s 103-100 defeat at Portland.
Mehmet Okur had a team-high 25 points for Utah, which fell to 6-2 without Carlos Boozer. Boozer, who leads the team with 22.1 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, is nursing a hairline fracture of his fibula.
In Boozer’s absence, Okur has averaged 24.1 points.
Utah also was without Deron Williams, who strained his left groin in the Rookie-Sophomore Challenge game during All-Star weekend. Williams leads the team with 9.2 assists per game.
“We had two guys out tonight,” coach Jerry Sloan said, “but you can’t use that as an excuse.”