Nuggets 111, Rockets 101

Drawing on their depth and leaning once again on Carmelo

Anthony’s offense, the Denver Nuggets withstood the loss of

Chauncey Billups to a groin injury for a 111-101 victory over the

Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.

They may soon face more tests without their star point

guard.

Anthony scored 38 points, his fifth straight 30-plus point

performance, and the Nuggets were able to win despite missing

Billups for most of the second half.

The team said Billups, who had 15 points before leaving with 9

minutes left in the third quarter, would undergo a precautionary

MRI and officially was listed as day to day.

Nuggets Coach George Karl said he anticipated being without

Billups for at least a couple of games. The Nuggets play at New

Orleans on Friday and if Billups can’t go, either rookie Ty Lawson

or veteran Anthony Carter would likely start in his place.

Both Lawson (6 points and 6 assists) and Carter (5 points)

delivered key baskets and helped facilitate the Nuggets’ offense

after Billups’ exit. So did reserve J.R. Smith, who added 21 points

for the Nuggets, winners of five straight at home since their only

loss of the season at the Pepsi Center, 106-100 to Minnesota on

Nov. 29.

“Everybody tonight did their part,” Anthony said. “A.C.

(Carter) came in and played well and he seems to always do that

when he is called.”

Added Kenyon Martin: “A.C.’s a professional. He stays ready.

That’s what it’s about. J.R.’s capable of handing the ball, ‘Melo

handles the ball a lot.”

And so does Lawson, whose speed brings an added dimension to the

offense.

“Hopefully, Chauncey comes back soon but I’ve got to be

ready,” Lawson said.

Aaron Brooks scored 23 points for Houston, which lost the second

game of a back-to-back set for the first time this season. The

Rockets were 5-0 previously in the second game of back-to-backs,

including completing their first sweep of a two-game set earlier

this month.

“When we made a run, they made a run right back at us,” said

Trevor Ariza, who had 18 points for the Rockets. “Anytime they

needed a stop or they needed to get it going, they did and we

didn’t.”

There was no letup on their part even after Billups left, Ariza

added.

“J.R. definitely got it going, ‘Melo got it going again,”

Ariza said. “He did what he’s been doing every night, doing a lot

of scoring and making plays for his team, and we couldn’t do

anything about it today.”

Houston’s Tracy McGrady played sparingly in his second game

since returning from microfracture surgery on his left knee,

missing the only shot he took in 7 minutes of play.

“Being hurt last season, having the microfracture surgery, the

progress I had to make to get to this point, it’s been a long

road,” said McGrady, who tested himself by guarding Anthony in the

second quarter. “The biggest question is, `Can I come out and get

up and down the court without having any pain in my knee?’ I felt

fine, wasn’t favoring it. My knee is holding up pretty fine.”

Down seven at halftime, Houston tied it at 71 when Ariza

converted a three-point play. But consecutive 3-pointers by Anthony

and Smith helped Denver regain command, and the Nuggets took an

85-78 lead into the fourth quarter.

From there, Denver scored 10 of the first 14 points in the

fourth quarter, including two baskets by Anthony to open a 95-82

lead with 6:52 remaining. Anthony, the NBA’s leading scorer, made

19 of 20 free throws, including six straight in the closing moments

to help hold off the Rockets.

After a tip-in by Ariza pulled the Rockets within 49-46, the

Nuggets scored nine of the next 13 points, culminating with a

reverse layup by Lawson to put Denver up 58-51 at halftime.

Houston started out strong, taking a 19-11 lead on Ariza’s

22-foot jumper with 4:23 left in the first period. Denver got a

three-point play from Anthony to start an 11-0 run, putting the

Nuggets back in front.

NOTES: Houston coach Rick Adelman said before the game McGrady

would be brought along gradually. “He’s been out a whole year.

We’re not going to push his minutes right now,” Adelman said. …

Anthony has scored 30 or more points in 17 games this season, four

more than he had last season. … Denver Broncos WR Brandon

Marshall watched the game from a courtside seat. … The Nuggets

snapped a three-game losing streak to Houston and improved their

home record to 12-1.