Nuggets 102, Hornets 95
NEW ORLEANS (AP)
Carmelo Anthony had the whole repertoire working.
There were graceful rainbow jumpers from 20 feet, tough layups in crowds, backdoor cuts for two-handed jams and even some gritty offensive rebounds and putbacks.
The struggling New Orleans Hornets could keep pace for only so long.
Anthony scored 12 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter and grabbed 12 rebounds, and the Denver Nuggets extended their winning streak to five with a 102-95 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Friday night.
``We didn't want to look back at this game and say, 'Aw, this is a game we should have won,'' Anthony said. ``So let's go get it while we've got a chance.''
Chauncey Billups scored 21 points for Denver, which finished with a flourish to break open an 86-all tie with 6:05 to go. Anthony was 5 of 7 shooting and made both of his free throws in the final quarter.
Anthony's fast-break layup gave Denver an 88-86 lead with 5:32 left in the game and Denver slowly pulled away, with Anthony hitting a 19-foot jumper and putback to make it 94-88.
``That's a time where you really lock in and focus on trying to take the shots you want to take, try to get to your spot,'' Anthony said.
Emeka Okafor's inbound pass was then stolen by Billups, who drew a foul and hit a pair of free throws. Billups then drove hard into the lane to set up Nene's easy dunk to make it 98-88 with 2:46 left.
Assistant coach Adrian Dantley was running the Nuggets from the bench with head coach George Karl missing the club's four-game road swing while undergoing treatment for throat and neck cancer.
Dantley credited the Hornets with throwing a variety of effective defensive looks at Anthony, who was 8 of 20 shooting through three quarters. Ultimately, though, Anthony ``figured it out and hit some big shots,'' Dantley said.
Nene added 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Johan Petro had 10 points and 10 rebounds for Denver, which pulled two games ahead of Utah - losers to Milwaukee - for first place in the Northwest Division.
David West scored 30 points for New Orleans, which has dropped eight of 10 games as its slim playoff hopes continued to evaporate. Hornets rookies Marcus Thornton and Darren Collison added 23 and 17 points, respectively, and Julian Wright scored 13 points.
``We fought, but they just made the plays down the stretch in terms of having those elite guys who have been in situations like that,'' West said of Denver. ``They just know how to close the show.''
Okafor sought throughout the game to be assertive offensively against Nene but struggled, going 4 of 12 from the field for nine points to go with nine rebounds.
The Nuggets outrebounded the Hornets 49-36 and Denver cashed in on its 10 offensive rebounds, outscoring New Orleans 15-3 on second-chance points.
The were 21 ties and 19 lead changes in a game that was competitive until the short-handed Hornets, who were without key reserve and defensive specialist James Posey (flu), seemed to run out of steam.
West scored 14 of his points in the third quarter, scoring six straight as the Hornets took a 62-59 lead before Billups tied it with his second 3 of the game.
Thornton's jumper late in the third quarter put New Orleans up 74-73 and the Hornets had a chance to extend their lead when J.R. Smith was called for a blocking foul as Morris Peterson tried to get off a last-second shot from well beyond the 3-point line. Peterson made only one of three free throws, however, and New Orleans' lead was 75-73 heading into the fourth quarter.
Denver's six-point lead was the largest by either team in the opening half. New Orleans stayed close in large part because Thornton came off the bench to score 16 points in 14 minutes, hitting four of his first five 3-point attempts.
His fourth 3 tied it at 50 and the Hornets led 52-51 at halftime.
NOTES: The Hornets are 7-13 since Chris Paul went out with a torn meniscus in his left knee that required arthroscopic surgery. Head coach Jeff Bower said before tip-off that Paul was cleared for straight-line running, some on-court drills and could return in seven to 10 days. ... Saints coach Sean Payton attended the game with his son, Connor, in courtside seats near the Hornets' bench. The crowd erupted when Payton was shown on the video board, and during a timeout Bower shook Payton's hand before walking back to the bench to address his players. ... Denver's four-game road trip, which began with a victory in Minnesota on Wednesday, continues in Memphis Saturday night.