Anthony, the No. 3 overall pick, is 3-2 against James, the No. 1 overall pick. James, however, has averaged 20.8 points to Anthony’s 18.2 in those games.
In Cleveland’s 94-85 win Dec. 15, James bruised his left shin in the first half but returned to outscore Anthony 26-23. That defeat began a nine-game stretch for the Nuggets in which they won only two games and were a season-worst three games under .500.
The Nuggets have regrouped to win six of their last eight games and are one percentage point behind the Minnesota Timberwolves for the Northwest Division lead, and concluded a 2-1 road trip with a 97-94 comeback victory Monday over the Chicago Bulls.
Anthony scored 39 points, and Kenyon Martin added 22 and 14 rebounds. Anthony made just 10 of 24 shots, but was 19 of 21 from the free-throw line.
Denver coach George Karl wasn’t satisfied with his team’s effort in the early going. The Nuggets trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half and shot just 34.2 percent the first two quarters.
“I wasn’t really happy how we played in the first half,” Karl said. “We made them really good. We didn’t pass the ball well and forced shots.”
Earl Watson scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, including hitting 4 of 5 attempts from 3-point range. His play sparked an 11-3 run in the final minutes as the Nuggets erased a 91-86 deficit.
“This team is still growing,” Watson said. “Now we’re coming back by huge deficits and that’s the kind of team we want to be.”
Cleveland has lost four in a row, including the first three games of a season-long six-game road trip.
James had 29 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists, but Eric Snow missed a critical free throw with less than a minute to play in Sunday’s 89-87 loss at Portland.
James, who along with Zydrunas Ilgauskas combined for 56 points, went 10 of 26 from the floor and scored just seven second-half points for a depleted lineup that remains without second-leading scorer Larry Hughes (broken finger) and top rebounder Drew Gooden (thigh strain). Hughes has missed the last seven games and is expected to be out 6-8 weeks. Gooden is day-to-day.
Snow was fouled with 37.1 seconds left and the Cavaliers trailing 88-86. He made one of two free throws, and after both teams missed jump shots, Ilgauskas fouled out and the Blazers’ Ruben Patterson hit one free throw to seal the outcome.