Nuggets 103, Spurs 89
SAN ANTONIO (AP)
After revealing that Carmelo Anthony would miss a fourth straight game Sunday, Denver Nuggets coach George Karl joked he would beg the NBA's leading scorer one last time to play.
They didn't need him. Denver is still winning just fine.
Kenyon Martin scored 27 points and Chauncey Billups had 25 points and 11 assists, leading the Nuggets past the San Antonio Spurs 103-89 without Anthony, who took another day to rest his left ankle that he injured more than a week ago.
Denver will likely get Anthony back Monday against Sacramento. But if not, they'll be OK if they keep playing like this.
``We know how important Melo is to us,'' Karl said. ``But I've always believed that injuries are windows of opportunity, and I think our guys have understood that the strategy's going to be a little different, but we can still be a good team.''
In January, the Nuggets were one of the best. They went 12-3 for the month and 3-1 without Anthony, getting their lone blemish in a blowout Friday at Oklahoma City that snapped an eight-game winning streak.
``Most of the sets are run for Melo, so I just make myself more available,'' said Martin, whose 27 tied a season high. ``I can do it when he's there, but my job is facilitating.''
The Spurs were missing their own star in Tony Parker, who sat out a second game with a mild left ankle sprain. But unlike Anthony and Nuggets, San Antonio can use all the help it can get.
George Hill had 17 points in place of Parker, and the Spurs finished a disappointing six-game homestand at 2-4. If there was a season the Spurs needed their annual Rodeo Road Trip to come together, this would be it.
Parker's timetable for a return is unknown, but San Antonio will want him back for what comes next: An eight-game, 3 1/2-week road trip that figures to weigh heavily for the underachieving Spurs. Once the Spurs get back, they'll have just 12 home games the remainder of the season.
San Antonio went 8-8 in January and seemed to show that its problems run deeper than just breaking in a slew of new faces. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has lately deplored the lapses in San Antonio's usually trademark defense.
Popovich took aim at the offense after this loss.
Denver shot 54 percent from the field and made 9 of 12 from behind the 3-point arc. The Spurs shot 43 percent, hitting just three of 17 3-pointers.
``People need to step up and start making shots,'' Popovich said.
Tim Duncan had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Spurs. Manu Ginobili added 14 points. After the game, in a question-and-answer with season ticket holders on the court, even Ginobili tried directly reassuring fans things would improve.
Ginobili didn't dwell on Parker not playing.
``It didn't mean much,'' Ginobili said. ``We lost Tony, they lost Carmelo.''
Karl expects Anthony to try and play Monday against the Kings, when Denver returns home following a three-game road swing.
Before the game, Karl said the expected fast pace of the game held Anthony out much as anything. He said Anthony still wasn't comfortable making sharp moves.
Karl was right: The Spurs did push the ball, but the Nuggets ran away by the end. Antonio McDyess hit a 19-foot jumper with 3:24 left to get the Spurs within 87-85, but the Nuggets scored on their last seven possessions.
``It was a great trip for us, especially without our best player,'' Billups said.
NOTES: Spurs F Michael Finley played for the first time since Dec. 5, when he injured his left ankle in a loss to Denver the last time the Nuggets were in town. He missed two shots in 6 minutes. ...The Spurs used their 15th different starting lineup, with Hill and Roger Mason Jr. starting in the backcourt together for the first time.