Anthony returns as Nuggets start 2011 on a winning note
Billups continues hot streak to help Denver rout Sacramento
Carmelo Anthony’s return to the court following a somber two-week absence was hardly a work of art.
He scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds but missed 16 of 22 shots and committed six turnovers.
Thanks to his Nuggets teammates, Anthony didn’t have to paint a masterpiece.
Chauncey Billups continued his torrid shooting and scored 22 points, while Nene added 16 points and a season-high 14 rebounds as the Nuggets pulled away for a 104-86 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night at the Pepsi Center.
“We did it as a whole tonight,” Anthony said. “Everybody stepped up and did what they had to do. You're going to have games like this. It was one of those games to get the rust off. I’m glad we won and it’s over with.”
Anthony, who was 1-for-14 at one point Saturday, said his legs “felt like bricks” in his first game since Dec. 18 against Minnesota. He left the team following the passing of his older sister, Michelle, who died Dec. 21 of a pre-existing medical condition.
“As far as what’s going on in my head, I tried to clear it out when I stepped on that court,” he said. “I was good. I just couldn’t buy a shot tonight, and I couldn’t find a rhythm. My legs weren’t there. I’m glad I got this one out of my system. I’m all right. I’m good.”
The Nuggets (19-13) are feeling good as well, ushering in the new year with their third straight victory. With nine home games in January and only four of 17 games against teams with a winning record, Denver has a chance to build some momentum after a difficult early season schedule.
“The schedule for the month is a good schedule,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “But we’ve got to be ready for it and we’ve got to take advantage of it. If we want to get to 50 wins, we’ve got to put 10 to 12 (wins) up on the board (in January).”
The Nuggets are hoping to repeat their success of a year ago when they went 12-3 in January 2010. With nearly everyone healthy again, Denver is in position for another midseason push.
Leading the current charge is Billups, who is playing his best basketball of the season after a rough start that included missing five games because of torn ligaments in his right wrist.
Billups is still wearing a brace on the wrist, but it’s not affecting his play; he is averaging 25 points and 5.6 assists in the past six games, while shooting .589 from the field, .667 from three-point range and .979 from the free-throw line.
“I’m just feeling a lot better. I’m a lot healthier now,” he said. “I can be healthy and still shoot bad for a couple weeks. I’ve done that plenty of times. That’s how the season goes. It’s a long season. I just believe in the law of averages. You have a few bad weeks, I feel like at some point it’ll turn around and you’ll have some good weeks.”
Billups and the rest of the starters got tremendous support Saturday night from the Denver reserves, who helped break the game open early in the fourth quarter.
The turning point came when J.R. Smith hit a three-pointer after back-to-back offensive rebounds by Gary Forbes and Chris Andersen with 10:38 remaining. The shot gave Denver a 74-62 lead and sparked an 11-0 run; Sacramento never got closer than 13 points the rest of the way.
Smith scored 10 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter, Forbes added 11 points in 13 minutes and Andersen finished with seven points and 11 rebounds.
ETC: The Nuggets outrebounded the Kings 58-35 and converted 14 Sacramento turnovers into 17 points … Denver forward Al Harrington (dislocated right thumb) missed his third straight game but Karl was hopeful he could return for Monday’s home game against Houston … Nene returned after sitting out one game with a strained lower back/hamstring. He made his first six shots, with his first miss coming on a breakaway layup.