WASHINGTON(AP) As the words spilled forth from Antawn Jamison, it was tough to tell what bothered him most about the 124-103 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday night that dropped his Washington Wizards to an NBA-worst 10-40.
There was his teammates' general mind-set: "Honestly, I thought some of our guys were scared to play out there tonight.''
There was the way the home fans reacted: "It's embarrassing when they're booing you and doing the wave and got to find a reason to entertain themselves.''
There was the lack of progress from Washington's young players, who are seeing more time because of all of the team's injuries and illnesses: "They complain about, 'If I was playing, you know, this should happen.' And now you're playing, and you need to show me what you've got, and right now, they're not showing us anything.''
In sum, the two-time All-Star said, "I've been in the league for 11 years, this has probably been the toughest stretch, the most difficult stretch, of my career. And we still have another 30-some-odd games in the second half of the season to deal with.''
With backdoor cut after backdoor cut, fastbreak after fastbreak, and alley-oop after alley-oop, the game devolved into something of a Denver dunk contest. The Northwest Division-leading Nuggets welcomed back starters Kenyon Martin and Chauncey Billups and showed no compunction about beating up on a beaten-down Wizards team.
Carmelo Anthony delivered 23 points, eight rebounds, six assists - and created or finished some scintillating slams that had teammates leaping off their sideline seats for chest bumps. It was a fitting way to celebrate the best 50-game record (34-16) for the Nuggets since they joined the NBA in 1976.
"Games like this are dangerous. You come in, and a team that's wounded, that's beat up, that's not been very successful - they're just going to play. They're going to play loose, so I think you've got to impose your will on a team like that,'' said Billups, who scored 16 points in his return from a sprained right ankle. "When you get them down, you've got to keep them down.''
Martin, returning after missing two games with strep throat, had his share of highlight-worthy dunks, and finished with 11 points and seven rebounds.
Anthony, Billups and Martin sat out the entire fourth quarter. Which made perfect sense, given that the score was 102-70 after three and the Nuggets were coasting to their fourth consecutive victory.
"That gave us an uplifting spirit, too, to have everybody back. And it was good to just finally relax in that fourth quarter,'' Anthony said. "If we call ourselves one of the better teams in the Western Conference - or the NBA - these are the games we've got to come out and make a statement from the beginning.''
Actually, though, the Wizards pulled out to a 21-14 lead on Mike James' 3-pointer with about 4 minutes left in the first quarter.
That was pretty much the end of the evening's competitive portion.
Anthony made a 16-foot fadeaway jumper on the next possession, opening a 21-2 run. The Nuggets would go on to lead by as many as 36 and improved to 20-1 against teams with losing records.
Jamison, the only member of the Wizards' ideal starting lineup in uniform, led the hosts with 26 points and eight rebounds.
"He's doing all the right things. He's doing everything he can do,'' Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott said. "But the game is played 5-on-5.''
Jamison's co-captain, Caron Butler, missed a second consecutive game with the flu, joining the lengthy list of missing players: Gilbert Arenas (knee), Brendan Haywood (wrist), DeShawn Stevenson (back), Etan Thomas (knee), Andray Blatche (knee).
The Wizards did get Juan Dixon back after he missed one game with an elbow injury, prompting Tapscott to mockingly rejoice before tipoff, "So we're up to nine!''
Asked if he felt any empathy, Nuggets coach George Karl replied: "Yesterday and tomorrow.''
Notes: Wizards G Javaris Crittenton made his first career NBA start, recording 10 points and seven assists. ... Dahntay Jones scored eight of Denver's first 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting, all jumpers. He didn't attempt another shot until - what else? - a soaring alley-oop jam off Anthony's assist in the third quarter. Jones finished with a season-high 18 points.