The Denver Nuggets are atop the Northwest Division and off to their best start in more than 30 years, but suddenly they have a major obstacle to overcome.
The Nuggets (24-12) will play their first game since learning two-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony will miss at least three weeks with a broken bone in his shooting hand on Wednesday against the Miami Heat, who are opening a season-high seven-game road trip.
Anthony injured his hand early in the third quarter of Monday’s 135-115 win over Indiana when Pacers center Jeff Foster swatted at the ball, catching part of Anthony’s hand. Anthony continued to play despite numbness in the hand, scoring 21 points and dishing out a season-high nine assists before leaving late in the fourth.
On Tuesday, Anthony was told by doctors he wouldn’t need surgery, but would be out 3-to-4 weeks.
“Hopefully the healing process will be a lot quicker,” said Anthony, who was also fitted for a removable splint.
Anthony has also been hampered by a bruised right elbow this season, causing him to miss three games in late December. Denver is 16-20 without Anthony in lineup since his rookie season, compared to going 239-171 with him.
Although the Nuggets could be without their top scorer for a month, Anthony is confident the team can hold it together until he returns. Denver is 23-9 since acquiring Chauncey Billups from Detroit for Allen Iverson in early November.
“We’re feeling really good right now, we’re playing good basketball,” Anthony said.
Denver has matched its best start since its first year in the NBA in 1976-77, and owns a three-game lead over Portland in the division. Replacing Anthony’s offense won’t be easy, though.
Anthony is averaging 21.1 points and has been a major part of the Nuggets’ high-powered offense that averages 104.2 points.
Denver, which is averaging 119.0 points on 53.7 percent shooting during its four-game winning streak, has won all 17 games its played when scoring at least 102 points. Its just 7-12 when scoring 101 or less.
“It hurts,” Billups said. “That’s our best player, that’s our No. 1 option.”
Anthony scored 52 points to help Denver sweep their two-game season series over the Heat (18-15) last season.
The Nuggets have won six straight games over the Heat since a 107-100 loss in Miami on Dec. 17, 2004. Denver, which is two games into its season-high seven-game homestand, has also won six straight games over the Heat at the Pepsi Center since a 100-94 overtime loss on Jan. 29, 2002.
Miami won’t return home until Jan. 21, as the circus invades the American Airlines Arena.
The Heat left Miami after a 91-84 loss to San Antonio on Monday, their third loss in five games.
Dwyane Wade had 24 points and 12 assists—his eighth double-double of the season—but had a key layup blocked with 1:33 remaining and the Heat trailing by three points.
Wade, who leads the league in scoring (28.7 points per game), is averaging 27.6 points on 50.6 percent shooting in nine career games versus the Nuggets.
Rookie Michael Beasley, the second overall pick in this year’s draft, had 15 points and 12 rebounds on Monday for his first career double-double. He’s averaging 16.0 points on 53.8 percent shooting and 9.5 rebounds in his last two games after averaging 8.3 points on 36.0 percent shooting and 4.3 boards in his previous three.
“They’re a talented group,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of the Heat, who already have three more wins than they did all of last season. “They’re trying to play together with a couple of rookies and that always takes time. It doesn’t come quickly.”