DENVER(AP) Nuggets coach George Karl thinks anger trumps happiness on an NBA basketball court every time.
Tony Parker scored 22 points, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili each added 21, and the smarting San Antonio Spurs took advantage of a rare poor performance by Chauncey Billups since he arrived in Denver to whip the Nuggets 108-91 on Thursday night.
The Nuggets had won 12 of 15 since acquiring Billups from Detroit in the Allen Iverson trade, including a 132-93 shellacking of Toronto that still had them aglow 48 hours later.
The Spurs were still exasperated over their double-digit loss to Detroit this week and their double-digit defeat at the hands of Denver last month when they were short-handed.
"To me you had a very angry team, a very mad team and we were a happy team,'' Karl said. "Arrogance, cockiness, happiness, contentment, they're all different, there are very thin lines and tonight we probably thought we were a little bit better than we were and we got embarrassed. Not embarrassed, but we got beat.''
Billups, the former University of Colorado star, had enjoyed a wonderful homecoming up to this point, helping the franchise get off to its best start since the 1976-77 team behind David Thompson won 13 of its first 19.
"It was a pretty good bounce-back,'' Ginobili said.
And a pretty hard fall for the Nuggets, who have been better in all areas since Billups' arrival, putting a constant smile across Karl's face after several years of consternation with a high-priced roster that lacked a pure point guard.
Not on this night.
Denver's dismal showing came just 48 hours after a 39-point blowout of Toronto, an embarrassment that served as the last straw in Sam Mitchell's tenure as Raptors coach. Karl lamented the firing long and hard before Thursday's tip-off.
After routing the Raptors, Billups declared it was just one of those games where everything worked: "Throughout the season you usually get two or three of those games,'' he said. "Unfortunately, you usually get two or three on the other side, those games where nothing really works.''
And this game was certainly one of those.
"I might have talked it up on us, I don't know,'' Billups said Thursday. "That was an ugly game. Games like that you have to wash them off in the shower and just forget about them as soon as possible. They picked us apart. They just outplayed us all over the place.''
One game after doling out 37 assists, the Nuggets handed out just 19. And they missed 40 percent of their free throws while San Antonio was going 17-of-18 from the stripe.
In the first half, Billups scored just 3 points on 1-of-7 shooting and he doled out but a single assist. Billups scored nine points in the irrelevant fourth quarter to finish with 12. Carmelo Anthony led Denver with 16, and J.R. Smith had 15 points and 10 boards off the bench.
The Spurs shot 56 percent, racing out to a 61-41 halftime lead that put this one in the win column early - not a single time in their history have the Nuggets overcome a deficit of 20 or more points.
"I'll tell you what, that first half was one of the best shooting halves I've seen in a long, long time,'' Billups said. "We made some rotations. They made some great shots. We were down 20 against the half against a team that is going to play slow enough that they don't let you get on too many runs. So, it's tough to get down 20 to a team like that and be able to come back.''
The Nuggets (55 percent) and Spurs (58 percent) were both hot in the first quarter but Denver started out the second quarter by missing 10 of 12 shots while the Spurs were still sinking most of their shots.
"I think as a team we played some of our best basketball,'' Duncan said. "We were a lot more consistent defensively. In the second half they were a lot more aggressive getting to the rim. There was a stretch there where we were fouling people too much, but other than that, consistently throughout the game we played well, we moved the ball well and Manu and Tony scored some points.''
Reserve George Hill scored seven points in a 15-2 run San Antonio used to take control at 47-33 with six minutes left in the first half, and Denver never recovered.
"We're just trying to right our ship right now; it doesn't matter who we play,'' Duncan said after the Spurs snapped a two-game skid and improved to 10-8. "We're trying to get ourselves right. To get a win here against a team that's playing very good makes us feel we're back on track.''
Notes: Parker and Ginobili both missed the Spurs' 91-81 loss to the Nuggets in San Antonio on Nov. 19.