DENVER - Carmelo Anthony’s defiance may have ultimately helped him rediscover his groove.
Anthony broke out of a shooting funk as he scored 38 points in his return from a one-game suspension for refusing to come out of a game last weekend, leading the Denver Nuggets to a 106-90 win over Portland on Thursday night.
He was the Anthony of old, hitting open looks all evening and finishing with his second-highest point total of the season.
“Carmelo was shooting shots that looked so pretty,” Chauncey Billups said. “In the first half, he wasn’t even hitting the rim.”
Maybe the day off did him some good—not that he wants to go through that saga again.
Anthony disobeyed coach George Karl’s orders to come out of a tight game against Indiana on Sunday, feeling like he was finally recapturing his missing touch and wanting to stay in. Karl deemed it insubordination and suspended him for a game.
So Anthony had to watch the team tumble in Detroit on Tuesday night from the team hotel.
He rejoined his teammates at practice on Wednesday, not fully agreeing with the punishment but abiding by it. He vowed to sprint to the bench the next time Karl tried to take him out.
He lived up to his pledge against Portland.
With 10:55 left in the game, the horn blew and Nene summoned Anthony from the sideline. The team captain hustled to the bench, his teammates laughing at his Usain Bolt-like quickness.
The playful act eased any tension that may have remained.
Even Karl couldn’t help but grin.
“I thought it was funny,” Karl said.
Now the matter is closed.
However, he felt like he needed a good game to make everyone forget the incident.
“If we would’ve lost and I played bad, people probably would’ve said whatever happened carried over,” said Anthony, who shot 29.3 percent from the floor in two games before his suspension. “It was good that I came out and was aggressive and focused.”
There was plenty of emotion as well. The Blazers were expecting that.
“He was going to bring it,” said Brandon Roy, who finished with 22 points. “We knew he was going to try to come out and play extremely hard.”
The Blazers tried to keep up with the Nuggets in this pivotal Northwest Division showdown, but fatigue finally caught up to them. The team was playing on tired legs after beating Indiana the night before.
Portland was also trying to ascend to the top of the division this late in the season for the first time since 2001.
It didn’t work out.
Yet that wasn’t a big concern—not now at least.
“There’s a lot more basketball to be played,” said Roy, whose team fell into a second-place tie with Utah, 1 1/2 games behind Denver. “We want to be in this position in April. We’re going to keep fighting.”
Although the Nuggets had Anthony back, they were without Kenyon Martin (lower back) and backup point guard Anthony Carter (hip).
Johan Petro stepped in for Martin while Jason Hart, who was claimed off waivers from the Clippers this week to be their third point guard behind Billups and Carter, made his debut in the final minutes.
But the night belonged to Anthony.
“I knew he would come out extremely aggressive,” Billups said. “He really felt bad for what happened. He felt like in a strange sort of way that he cost us in Detroit, cost us the game. I knew he’d come out and try to get that (game) back.”
He also may have rediscovered his touch.
Just in time, too, as the Nuggets head to Utah to face the sizzling Jazz on Friday night.
Hornets 104, Mavericks 88
At New Orleans, Chris Paul had 27 points and 15 assists, and the Hornets increased their season-best winning streak to six with a 104-88 victory.
David West scored 19 and Rasual Butler 18 for the Hornets, who haven’t lost since center Tyson Chandler returned to the lineup from a left ankle injury— and a rescinded trade—last week. Chandler’s minutes were limited by foul trouble, but he still finished with 11 rebounds and 10 points, slamming down several alley-oop feeds from Paul.
Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 27 points and Jason Kidd added 13, but the Mavericks faded during the last 10 minutes as the game turned into a blowout.