Anthony's 50 not enough as Nuggets fall to Houston
Absence of Nene and Billups too much for Denver to overcome
The first time Carmelo Anthony reached the half-century mark, his emotions ranged from relief to jubilation in the afterglow of a Nuggets victory.
His second 50-point foray left only a hollow feeling.
Anthony matched his career-high with 50 points and grabbed 11 rebounds Monday night, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the Nuggets from falling to the Houston Rockets 108-103 at the Pepsi Center.
“When you score 50 points and lose you start thinking why? Why the 50?” Anthony said. “If we’d have won it would have been totally different ... Fifty doesn’t mean anything tonight. I’d give it back (for a win).”
The Nuggets (30-22) needed Anthony’s offense as they played without starting center Nene (illness) and lost starting point guard Chauncey Billups to a knee injury less than 9 minutes into the game.
“Nene and Chauncey out, that’s a tough one,” Denver coach George Karl said. “Mentally we weren’t tough enough to kind of assert ourselves and discipline ourselves to figure out how to win the game. We were fighting just to figure out what we were going to do to survive.”
Billups did not return after experiencing pain in his left knee on a non-contact play. He was diagnosed with a strain and hopes to know more after an MRI scheduled for Tuesday.
“I didn’t feel a pop,” he said. “I’ll see tomorrow.”
The Nuggets already were ailing in the backcourt as backup point guard Ty Lawson returned after missing one game with a knee strain of his own. Lawson said he has trouble elevating, preventing him from finishing close to the rim.
The nagging injuries have been the norm for Denver since starting the season without forwards Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin, who both missed significant time recovering from offseason knee operations.
“You would love to gain some consistency with your entire core,” said Nuggets shooting guard Arron Afflalo. “If anything, I’m pretty sure it’s tough on coach trying to get some consistently. We just have to do our best with it. You can’t make excuses and take losses for it.”
Afflalo, Denver’s top perimeter defender, was in foul trouble for most of the night, which helped Rockets leading scorer Kevin Martin get loose for 37 points. Martin was held to 8 points in Houston’s first visit to the Pepsi Center on Jan. 3.
“I think it was a mental thing,” said Martin, who scored 30 of his points in the second half. “I was missing shots up here the last couple times and I had to get it out of my head. I did that at halftime and finally started playing in the third (quarter).”
Behind Martin’s 18 third-quarter points, the Rockets pushed a two-point halftime advantage to 16. The Nuggets cut the deficit in half by the 7:27 mark of the fourth but could never make it a one-possession game.
Just two nights after recording 30 assists in a win at Minnesota, Denver finished with 14 assists and 21 turnovers.
“We weren’t passing the ball well enough to create an energy that would build any confidence,” Karl said. “The room for error was real short, and we didn’t have many guys playing at a high level.”
Al Harrington started at center for Nene and finished with 10 points, while Lawson added 19 points, six rebounds and five assists in relief of Billups. Throw in Melo’s 50 and the rest of the team combined for 24 points as the Nuggets lost consecutive home games for just the second time since the start of the 2007-08 season.
“I don’t want anybody to put their heads down,” Anthony said. “There is no need for anyone hang their heads right now. We are right there (in the playoff race). We always compete. Record-wise, a lot of teams might be better than us, but as far as competing and the level of talent on our team, we are right there.”
SMITH FINE WITH FINE: Nuggets guard J.R. Smith said he understands why the NBA fined him $25,000 for his hard foul against Utah Jazz guard Raja Bell last week and doesn’t believe there will be any lingering ill will when the teams meet again in March.
“If it’s a flagrant (type) 2, they’re pretty much going to fine you,” he said. “I’m not going to say I disagree with it. The rule is set for everybody. If there’s rules set for everybody, that’s what it should be.”
Utah point guard Deron Williams drew a technical coming to Bell’s defense after the foul. After the game, he called it a dirty play by Smith, who also happens to be a good friend.
“I have no beef with him. Deron’s a great player,” Smith said. “He’s always shown me the utmost respect. I’ve always shown him the utmost respect … I have nothing personal against Deron or Raja. It was just the course of the game. It’s to the point where it’s gone and forgotten.”
ETC: Harrington has been on the losing side in each of Anthony’s two 50-point games. He scored 41 for the New York Knicks in a loss at the Pepsi Center on Nov. 27, 2009 … Denver has allowed at least 100 points in 12 of its past 13 games and is 7-6 in that stretch … The Nuggets dropped to 4-14 when recording less than 20 assists and are 1-8 when having fewer assists than turnovers.