Veterans lead the way as Nuggets end losing streak
Denver builds big lead against Portland and puts away division rival
Let’s hear it for the old guys.
Yes, age is relative, but Chris Andersen (32), Chauncey Billups (34), Kenyon Martin (33) and Nene (28) deserved game balls after Tuesday night’s much-needed victory against the Portland Trail Blazers.
With the Nuggets (17-13) dangerously close to their first four-game losing streak in nearly four years, the veteran quartet provided scoring, rebounding and leadership in a 95-77 win over their Northwest Division rival.
Billups led the way with 18 points and nine assists, while Nene (17 points, seven rebounds) and Martin (10 points) combined to make 11-of-12 shots from the field. Andersen added eight points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots.
“Our veteran guys played good,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “Chauncey was good, Kenyon was good, Nene and Bird were good. I thought they felt the urgency of the win, that we had to get a win. (They) realized how important this game was.”
After spending Monday watching film of their late-game struggles against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Nuggets built a 23-point third-quarter lead against Portland and never let the Blazers get closer than 17 the rest of the way.
“It was great to be able to get a little rest in the fourth and let the bench come in and just kind of close out the game,” Billups said. “I thought they did a good job of that, but it was some much-needed rest for the starters.”
The blowout came at a good time. Not only did it end Denver’s three-game losing streak, but it allowed Karl to rest many of his players heading into Wednesday night’s game at Minnesota.
Martin is not expected to play against the Timberwolves because the Nuggets want to be cautious as he returns from offseason knee surgery. Denver also will be without leading scorer Carmelo Anthony for the fifth straight game as he mourns the loss of his sister, Michelle.
Anthony is scheduled to return to the team Thursday and is likely to play Saturday against the Sacramento Kings.
“The most important thing for him is to be with his family right now and makes sure everything is okay with them, but we’d love to have him back,” Martin said. “It’s going to be open arms. If we can get the whole team on the court at once, that’d be a great thing.”
The past week has been difficult for Anthony and his family, but he said in a statement Tuesday that he is looking forward to rejoining his teammates.
Karl, a two-time cancer survivor, believes a return to basketball can be part of the healing process.
“The comfort zone, sometimes for me, has always been the court,” he said. “That’s where you forget about the pain and you forget about the emotion. For two hours or three hours, you can kind of cleanse yourself a little bit. Basketball can be therapy.”
When Anthony returns, he will share the court with Martin for the first time this season. Martin missed the season’s first 26 games while regaining the strength in his left knee. He rebounded from an 0-for-6 performance Sunday with a perfect 5-for-5 night Tuesday.
“I was determined to come out and not duplicate the performance from the other night,” Martin said. “Just focus in a little bit more and know what I had to do in order to help us win.”
Though the veterans set the tone, a couple of 25-year-olds provided the momentum boost at the end of the first half.
With Denver leading by two, J.R. Smith hit a 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left in the second quarter, and Arron Afflalo scored on a layup at the buzzer after intercepting Andre Miller’s inbounds pass.
Just like that, a one-possession game was suddenly three.
“I thought that hurt them a lot,” Karl said. “I thought it was a psychological hit for them. They were staying with us, they were doing some good things and all of a sudden they were down seven going into halftime.”
In his understated fashion, Afflalo said he simply read the play and reacted.
“I saw Andre trying to look down court,” he said. “It happens a lot when guys feel pressed for time, one or two seconds left, to inbound it fairly quickly. I think it was a good momentum play for us.”
NOTABLE: Denver’s last four-game losing streak occurred in February 2007; the Nuggets have now gone 304 games without losing four in a row – the longest active streak in the NBA … Portland’s 77 points were a season-low by a Denver opponent … Billups has made 29 straight free throws … The Nuggets are 19-2 against the Blazers at the Pepsi Center since the 2000-01 season ... For the first time this seson, all five Denver starters scored in double figures.