PORTLAND (NBA.com exclusive) -- Two Northwest Division heavyweights went toe-to-toe Thursday night at the Rose Garden.
When it was over, Carmelo Anthony was the difference.
Denver's superstar forward scored 41 points -- including a pair of free throws with 1.9 seconds left -- to lift the Nuggets to a 97-94 win over the Trail Blazers.
"He's pretty good, isn't he?" Denver coach George Karl said with a chuckle.
"The guy showed tonight what he's all about," Portland coach Nate McMillan said. The Nuggets "basically gave him the ball and rode him."
A night earlier, Anthony had scored 30 points in a 114-105 home-opening victory over Utah.
The Nuggets put together victories over their two division rivals on back-to-back nights.
"We came in here and stole one," said Anthony, who was 11 of 21 from the field and 18 of 19 from the free-throw line.
Portland used Martell Webster to defend Anthony much of the night, but switched Brandon Roy onto him for the game's final six minutes. Anthony scored 16 of his points the rest of the way against the Blazers' two-time All-Star.
"He's a load down there on the block," said Roy, who had a big game of his own, leading Portland (1-1) with 30 points. "It's tough to guard him down there if you can't be physical. He did a good job making his shots and knocking down his free throws."
Chauncey Billups scored 14 of his 22 points in the second half and made some tough shots when Anthony left the game in the third quarter.
"Both of them are very good players," McMillan said. "They do a good job of playing off of each other and taking turns. When Carmelo didn't have it tonight, Billups did."
Portland blew a golden opportunity to win in the closing seconds when Greg Oden was fouled and sent to the line with 4.6 seconds left and the Blazers trailing 95-94.
He missed both free throws, though, and Anthony rebounded the second miss, was fouled and calmly sank a pair of gift shots with 1.9 seconds left.
After a timeout, Roy missed with a wild 3-pointer and the game was Denver's.
"I stepped up there with confidence, thinking I was going to hit (them), but it didn't go that way," said Oden, who had six points and nine rebounds in 22 foul-plagued minutes. "I put this loss on me. I need to step up and make those. All of us have to step up, and I didn't do it tonight with those free throws."
It was a physical game, but the referees didn't let the players play.
There were 60 personal fouls and 90 free throws attempted -- 49 by Denver. The Nuggets made 38.
"Forty-nine free throws is a ton," McMillan said. "We knew this was a team that would attack the paint and get to the line. We need to do a better job of keeping them off the line. You shoot that many, you're going to win."
But the Blazers had 41 attempts at the line. They were 33 of 39 until the final 4.6 seconds.
For Denver, which tied with Portland for the division crown a year ago, it meant a great start to the season.
"These first two games, they weren't just important -- they were battles," said Anthony, if anything, an early candidate for Most Valuable Player. "They were two fights, and division games, which makes it even more important. There's a rivalry between us and Portland. For us to come in on their home court and get this game early in the season, that's important for us."
Portland shot .346 from the field. The Blazers had 20 more attempts than the Nuggets and still lost.
The Nuggets "tried to take away the inside, and we didn't shoot the ball," McMillan said. "We had some open looks we need to knock down. We settled early (in the possession) a lot of times."
Even Roy was only 6 of 16 from the field, though he sank 16 of 18 at the line.
The biggest bright spot for the Blazers was Rudy Fernandez, who came off the bench for 22 points -- 16 in the second half -- in just 23 minutes. In one stretch in the fourth quarter, he scored 14 of Portland's 16 points.
"Rudy had a rhythm," McMillan said. "He was able to knock down some shots and keep us in the game."
In the end, though, Fernandez said it didn't matter much.
"We still lost," the second-year shooting guard from Spain said. "There's no satisfaction in that."