Although they’re going to be without their leading scorer this time, the Nuggets probably like their chances with their floor leader back on the court.
With Carmelo Anthony(notes) expected to miss another game, Billups looks to lead Northwest Division-leading Denver to a third straight win Saturday night against a Kings team trying to avoid losing its sixth in a row.
Billups returned to the Nuggets’ lineup in Friday’s 99-97 win over Cleveland after missing eight of the team’s previous nine games with a strained left groin. The four-time All-Star showed little rust, finishing with 23 points and five assists in 33 minutes to help Denver (23-13) remain a game ahead of second-place Portland in the Northwest.
By helping to lead the Nuggets past the Eastern Conference-leading Cavaliers, Billups proved just how valuable he is to the team. Denver improved to 20-8 with Billups in the lineup after going 3-5 without him, which includes a 106-101 road loss to Sacramento (14-21) on Dec. 28.
Anthony hasn’t had the same impact, as the Nuggets are 3-1 without him.
Anthony led Denver with 34 points and eight rebounds against the Kings two weeks ago, but he has missed four games since with a right knee contusion. After deciding against rushing back to face LeBron James(notes) in Friday’s highly anticipated matchup, Anthony hopes to be back for Monday’s game against Minnesota.
“Maybe five or six years ago, if somebody told me I had a chance to play against LeBron, I probably would go out here and be stupid and play on an injured leg and not even care about that,” said Anthony, who is second in the league in scoring with 30.0 points per game.
“I’ve got to be smarter than that. I want to play in this game more than anybody out there, but unfortunately, I (can’t).”
Kenyon Martin(notes) filled in nicely for Anthony against Cleveland, finishing with 19 points, 12 boards and playing tough defense on James down the stretch. Martin is averaging 18.8 points on 52.4 percent shooting in the four games without Anthony after averaging 10.4 points on 44.6 percent shooting in the previous eight.
Nene has also picked up his scoring for Denver, averaging 20.0 points in the last five games after averaging 13.3 points in the previous five. The 6-foot-11 center had a season-high 25 points against the Kings two weeks ago.
While things were looking up for Sacramento with the win over the Nuggets, it’s dropped five in a row since.
The Kings had a good chance to end their slide Friday against Golden State but completely fell apart down the stretch, losing 108-101.
Sacramento, which led by as much as 18 points, had a 99-94 advantage with 4:38 remaining but managed only one basket the rest of the way, that coming on Sergio Rodriguez’s(notes) uncontested layup with six seconds left. The Kings, 1-7 since Dec. 23, were outscored 32-15 in the fourth quarter.
Evans had 25 points and six assists against the Warriors, playing in his third straight game after missing the previous three with a sore ankle - including the win over the Nuggets.