Denver 126, Phoenix 113

DENVER, Mar. 5 (AP) - Carmelo Anthony grabbed more rebounds and caught less flak than usual.

Anthony crashed the boards as hard as he worked for open looks at the basket, collecting 13 rebounds and scoring 30 points Wednesday night in the Denver Nuggets' 126-113 win over the tired Phoenix Suns.

"I always kid with him about not being a rebounder, being so big,'' Allen Iverson said of his fellow All-Star starter. "I say, 'If I was your height, I'd get a double-double every night.'''

Iverson understands Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin tend to pull down the ball a little easier and a lot more often than Anthony, who averages seven rebounds a game, "but tonight, he was just so aggressive. He wanted the ball more than everybody else.''

Anthony said he just wanted to take advantage of the smaller defenders such as Raja Bell the Suns put on him and score some easy baskets early, "and the way I was going to do that was with offensive rebounding.''

Seven of his rebounds came off the offensive glass.

Iverson led the Nuggets with 31 points and had 12 assists and no turnovers, teaming with Anthony Carter, who had 11 assists and just two turnovers, to lead a highly efficient Denver offense sparked by reserve J.R. Smith's 20 points.

All this firepower moved the Nuggets within one game of Golden State for the eighth and final spot in the rousing Western Conference playoff picture. Even at 36-24 (.600), the Nuggets remain on the outside looking in as they embark on a very imposing schedule this month.

"We're not going to play 22 great games. I would like to play like the Rockies down the stretch, but I doubt we're going to go 21-1 the rest of the way,'' Nuggets coach George Karl said, harkening to Colorado's unfathomable run-up to the World Series last October.

"In March, if we put double-digit wins up, we'll be OK. We'll still be in the hunt. It's one in 20 years, this type of thing. I've never seen it in the NBA, and every team is playing well.''

Smith's long-range shooting helped the Nuggets build a second-quarter cushion and later helped put the Suns away. He sank six 3-pointers, two of them in a 16-0 run that Denver used to take control.

"Guys like Carmelo and A.I. are going to get theirs,'' Shaquille O'Neal said. "But when J.R. Smith comes out and shoots those wild shots that he was making, then they are a hard team to beat.''

The Suns aren't the run-and-gun team they were with Shawn Marion, who was traded to Miami for O'Neal last month, and they proved much easier for Denver to defend.

"I think tonight we did a heck of a job just getting back in transition, keeping them guys in front of us and keeping them off the 3-point line,'' Anthony said.

The last time these teams played, the Nuggets were incensed that the Suns ran up the score in a 137-115 blowout at US Airways Arena, a game in which Marion led Phoenix with 27 points and 14 boards.

"I just told the guys remember how they tried to embarrass us in Phoenix, and now we get another chance to do something about that,'' Iverson said. "We did tonight.''

Amare Stoudemire led Phoenix with 22 points, and O'Neal grabbed a season-high 18 rebounds, but the Suns fell to 3-5 with the big man in the lineup.

Trailing 40-33 in the second quarter following a basket by O'Neal, the Nuggets scored 16 straight points, including back-to-back 3-pointers by Smith, to take a 49-40 lead they would never relinquish.

"We're going to need J.R. to play that way because he makes it so much easier for everybody else, for spacing the court out,'' Iverson said.

During their 4:44 scoreless stretch, the Suns starting to show the effects of arriving in Denver in the wee hours after winning at Portland on Tuesday night. They fell behind 60-46 after a series of Denver defensive stops and fastbreaks that left the Suns gasping and exasperated.

"They started making shots and making plays and we just didn't have the fight in us,'' Steve Nash said. "I think for us it is a matter of trying to figure it out. We don't want to go out and lose every game and be out of the playoff picture before we figure it out, but it's going to take us some time.''

Notes: Nuggets F Linas Kleiza played despite a sprained left foot that he aggravated in practice Monday and scored six points in 21 minutes. ... Shaq's previous season high for boards was 14.


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