Nuggets 105, Timberwolves 94
Returning from a right knee bruise that forced him to miss five games, Carmelo Anthony started slowly but finished strong.
Anthony scored 10 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, including consecutive 3-pointers midway through the period to help quash any chance of another upset by Minnesota, and the Denver Nuggets beat the Timberwolves 105-94 on Monday night.
``Early in the game ... it was hard to figure what I can do and what I can't do,'' said Anthony, who didn't get his first basket for more than 8 minutes. ``I was trying to ease my way into the game.''
But with just over a minute left in the first quarter, the All-Star forward began to rediscover his form. He put a nifty move on Sasha Pavlovic, brushing past him for a layup despite getting fouled and then completed the three-point play.
``I made that move on the baseline, got that 1-on-1, and once I was able to do that, it felt pretty good,'' Anthony said.
The NBA's leading scorer, Anthony was injured Dec. 28 against Sacramento. His return was a welcome development for the Nuggets, who are getting healthy again after being buffeted by a series of injuries that saw some of their best players lose time due to various ailments.
``It was great to have him back,'' said Chauncey Billups, who scored 18 points. ``He got an opportunity to run around, shake off a little rust, get a little bit of rhythm. I thought he really caught the rhythm in the second half.''
Billups returned from a groin injury last week. The only Denver player who missed the Minnesota game due to injury was rookie guard Ty Lawson. He remained inactive because of a sprained left ankle, missing his third consecutive game.
Arron Afflalo added 15 points for Denver, which reversed the outcome of its Nov. 29 meeting with Minnesota. The Timberwolves overcame a 14-point halftime deficit to beat the Nuggets 106-100 in that one, snapping their 15-game losing streak.
Minnesota handed Denver its first loss of the season at the Pepsi Center, ending a 17-game regular season home winning streak that dated to last season.
But the Nuggets have regained their footing since that embarrassing loss, especially at home, where they have gone 9-2 since.
``They definitely did not want to lose to us again on their home court,'' said Minnesota's Kevin Love, who had 20 points and 14 rebounds. ``They came out and kind of put us out in that third quarter. We fell too far behind in the fourth and we just couldn't pull it out.''
Anthony said the Nuggets did not want to repeat the mistakes of their past meeting with the Timberwolves, when they blew a double-digit lead.
``We didn't want them to beat us at all,'' he said. ``We didn't want to give that team no confidence. Last time we got up 14, we loosened up and they beat us. Tonight we didn't want to make that the case.''
Anthony's return also made a difference.
``He comes right back and doesn't miss a step,'' Love said. ``That's just kind of what you expect from him. You hope to contain him, slow him down, push him into a drought, but for us, it was too little, too late.''
Corey Brewer had 25 points for the Timberwolves, who lost their fourth consecutive game on the road. Al Jefferson added 22 points and 15 rebounds.
Up by eight at halftime, the Nuggets extended their lead to 85-70 by the end of the third quarter. Billups had eight points in the period, twice hitting 3-pointers to deflate runs by the Timberwolves.
The Nuggets took a 58-45 lead when Billups converted a three-point play with 56.4 seconds remaining in the second quarter. The Timberwolves closed within 58-50 at halftime by scoring the last five points in the period, including a three-point play by Brewer, who had 20 of his points in the half.
NOTES: The three teams ahead of last-place Minnesota in the Northwest Division all have winning records, topped by Denver. ... Denver has defeated the Timberwolves in 11 of the last 12 meetings. ... Kenyon Martin had 15 rebounds to go with his eight points for Denver. ... Ryan Gomes, who had a season-high 27 points in Minnesota's victory at Denver, was held to two points Monday.