DENVER(AP) Now, Carmelo Anthony and George Karl can laugh about it.
Anthony scored 38 points in his return from a one-game suspension for refusing to come out of a game last weekend, and he led the Denver Nuggets past the Portland Trail Blazers 106-90 Thursday night.
As promised, Anthony sprinted straight to the bench when Karl sent in a sub this time.
"It was a lesson learned,'' Anthony explained with a big smile.
"I thought it was funny,'' Karl said, chuckling.
Anthony didn't get many breathers in this crucial Northwest Division showdown, logging 38 minutes as he helped the Nuggets avoid falling out of first place for the first time since Dec. 8. Anthony's point total was his second highest of the season and his 16 baskets tied his season high.
"We knew he was going to try to come out and play extremely hard,'' Portland guard Brandon Roy said. "He was going to bring it.''
When he rejoined his teammates at practice Wednesday after watching Denver's 100-95 loss at Detroit from the team hotel the night before, Anthony insisted he didn't agree with his suspension. But he pledged that the next time Karl tried to take him out, "I'm going to run. I'm going to run to the bench. I'm going to run hard to the bench.''
He did just that.
With 10:55 left in the game, the Nuggets ahead 85-70 and Rudy Fernandez at the line for Portland, the horn blew and Nene summoned Anthony from the sideline. The team captain sprinted from the other side of the court to his seat on the bench as the crowd at the Pepsi Center applauded and Karl smiled.
"Yeah, it was just I wanted to come out of the game, he subbed me, it was fun,'' Anthony said. "It's behind us. I learned my lesson.''
On Sunday night at Indiana, Anthony refused Karl's orders to come out in the third quarter of a tight game for Linas Kleiza, reasoning he had the hot hand and deserved to stay in. Karl called it insubordination and suspended him for a game.
The subsequent loss at Detroit put the Nuggets in a bind with their fifth loss in seven games heading into a stretch of four games in five nights.
"I wanted to be aggressive tonight,'' Anthony said, "with a must-win after the two losses. After everything that was going on, it was good to come out and have a good game tonight. ... I was feeling it since this morning. I wanted this game so bad tonight.''
Roy scored 22 points for the Trail Blazers, who were trying to ascend to the top of the division this late in the season for the first time since 2001. LaMarcus Aldridge added 19 points despite an upset stomach.
The Nuggets had Anthony back in uniform, but were without another starter, Kenyon Martin (lower back), and also backup point guard Anthony Carter (hip), both of whom are day to day.
Martin was replaced in the lineup by Johan Petro, and Jason Hart, who was claimed off waivers from the Clippers this week to be their third point guard behind Chauncey Billups and Carter, made his debut in the final minutes.
The Nuggets took an 81-70 lead after three quarters and stayed ahead by double digits the entire fourth period. Anthony took a seat for good with 1:42 left and Denver up 103-87.
J.R. Smith's 36-foot shot from beyond halfcourt gave Denver a 53-44 halftime lead, but it was his steady play in a rare start in place of Dahntay Jones that had Karl gushing about him and suggesting he would stay in the starting lineup.
But all eyes were on Anthony on this night.
Portland was powerless to prevent his monster game even though the Trail Blazers saw it coming.
"First of all, when you have a game off, you come back fresh. He had a game off, had time to rest,'' Aldridge said. "Secondly, he wanted to come back and make a statement that ... he still can do what he does.''
It doesn't get any easier for the Nuggets, who headed to Salt Lake City to face the third-place Utah Jazz, who have won nine straight games and sliced a six-game deficit two weeks ago to 1 1/2 games.
Notes: This was the first game Carter's missed all year, leaving F Linas Kleiza as the only Nuggets player who has played in every game this season. ... Karl said Martin's back tightens and spasms after games, and "rest might be the only cure.''