The Denver Nuggets dropped three straight games, then lost their leading scorer and rebounder heading into a home-and-home series with one of their top Northwest Division competitors.
That didn’t stop them from pulling out a win in the opener.
The Nuggets look to again overcome the absence of Carmelo Anthony on Tuesday night when they finish the home-and-home set by visiting the Portland Trail Blazers, one of the Western Conference’s best home teams.
For about six weeks, everything was working out well for Denver (18-10). Starting with Chauncey Billups’ debut Nov. 7 following a trade with Detroit, the Nuggets won 16 of 20 games and appeared to be emerging as top contenders in the West.
Then Anthony began to struggle with elbow pain, and the Nuggets dropped three straight. The team said Monday that Anthony, the team leader with 20.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, will miss three contests to see if rest helps him feel better.
“Right now is the best timing,” Anthony said before Denver’s game against Portland on Monday night. “Get it over with, get the rest and depend on my teammates to go out there and have somebody step up.”
His teammates did step up, holding the Blazers (17-11) to 14 points in the fourth quarter to pull out a 97-89 home victory and improve to 2-1 this season without Anthony, who was suspended for the season’s first two games.
Billups had 19 points and 10 assists and Nene added 19 points and 11 rebounds. Five Denver players scored in double figures, and four had at least 15 points.
“That’s the way it has to be,” said forward Kenyon Martin, who had eight points and 12 rebounds. “There are some guys who have to step up and play well, which they did tonight.”
The Blazers kept the game close, but didn’t get quite as much help from their supporting cast with All-Star guard Brandon Roy in foul trouble for much of the game.
Roy had averaged 36.4 points and shot 52.3 percent from the field over his previous five games before getting held to a season low-tying eight points and 3-for-11 shooting Monday.
“It was a lot of everything,” Roy said. “It was getting into foul trouble and, really, it was just their night.”
Some of the credit goes to a Denver defense that’s much-improved with Billups at the point.
“To be successful against a player like (Roy), it has to be a team effort,” Billups said. “Dahntay (Jones) started off great on him, J.R. (Smith) had some good minutes on him, so it was a team effort.”
A career 45.7 percent shooter, Roy is shooting just 34.8 percent (31-for-89) from the field in five games against Denver since the beginning of last season.
He’ll try for a better performance at the Rose Garden, where his Blazers are 9-2. Roy scored a career-high 52 points and made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 1:01 remaining in his last home game, a 124-119 victory over Phoenix on Thursday night.
He’s averaging 27.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 6.1 assists while shooting 49.7 percent in Portland, compared to 20.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 44.4 percent shooting on the road.
These teams split two matchups at the Rose Garden last season, with both games decided by three points or fewer.