Nuggets 104, Bobcats 93
``I'm a big believer that injuries can be positive,'' Denver coach George Karl said after Monday night's 104-93 win over the Charlotte Bobcats. ``It was fun coaching the game. We had a play-hard intensity to us that we need every night. Some guys that haven't played gave us that. That's a compliment to them.''
Stephen Jackson had 22 points and Gerald Wallace added 20 for the Bobcats, who lost their third in a row since a franchise-tying six-game winning streak.
Picking up the offensive slack in the absence of leading scorer Carmelo Anthony (ankle), Billups scored 27 points and Aaron Afflalo matched a career high with 24 points in Denver's season-high seventh straight win.
The Nuggets also lost forward Kenyon Martin to an ejection late in the second quarter when he argued with officials over a foul call against teammate J.R. Smith. Early in the fourth, Chris Andersen got his feet tangled underneath the basket and crashed to the floor with a sprained ankle. The injury knocked him out for the rest of the game. Andersen is day to day.
But the Nuggets got 13 points from Joey Graham, making a rare start in place of the injured Anthony, and little used Malik Allen brought tough defensive play and rebounding in 20 minutes on the floor in place of Martin and Andersen. Nene chipped in with 17 points and Smith, who drew management's ire by sulking on the bench last Saturday against New Orleans, contributed 12 points.
``We knew without 'Melo we were going to be short-handed,'' Billups said. ``When Kenyon went out, we knew guys were going to have to step up and have some big nights. Arron was awesome, J.R. played really good and Joey was great. Everybody who got the opportunity came in and played well.''
Charlotte's Raymond Felton said the short-handed Nuggets gave more than the Bobcats could handle.
``I'd rather play a team when they've got everybody than when they've got somebody out,'' Felton said. ``That's when a team really elevates their game and that's what they did tonight.
``Afflalo was 9 of 11 from the field and 6 of 7 from 3-point range. I'm not saying that's not normal for him, but that was a great game. He stepped up his game. So you're getting guys' best games when they're missing their top player.''
The Bobcats kept the game close most the way, trailing 29-26 after the first quarter and 56-52 at halftime.
But the Nuggets began pulling away midway through the third quarter.
After a Nazr Mohammed's dunk pulled the Bobcats to 64-61, Billups, who also had 11 assists, converted a three-point play to start a 13-4 run that carried the Nuggets to a 77-65 lead with 3:58 remaining in the third quarter.
Joey Graham scored six of his points in the surge and Afflalo hit a key 3-pointer.
``I was just trying to find a good rhythm in shooting and I've got to thank my teammates for that, creating all the plays,'' Afflalo said. ``I'm just out there trying to make shots.''
When Smith connected on a 3-pointer, the Nuggets had an 84-73 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Bobcats pulled to 91-80 on a layup by Wallace but Nene made a pair of free throws and Afflalo, who made six of seven from 3-point range, connected again from beyond the arc to give the Nuggets a 96-80 lead with 6:01 remaining.
NOTES: Joey Graham's twin brother, Stephen, is a member of the Bobcats. ... Jackson has scored in double figures in all 34 games since joining Charlotte as part of a trade with Golden State, including 10 of 20 points or more. ... Anthony, who sprained his ankle Saturday against New Orleans, is expected to be ready to play Wednesday, when the Nuggets are at Houston, Nuggets coach George Karl said. ... Charlotte fell to 0-4 against Western Conference teams. ... Denver improved to 21-3 at the Pepsi Center, the second-best home record in the league this season.