Denver has lost four of five and seven of 10 to fall to eighth in the Western Conference playoff race, a slump they’ll try to emerge from Wednesday night when they visit the Milwaukee Bucks in their final game before the All-Star break.
Rumors of a potential Anthony deal have loomed over the Nuggets (31-25) all season, but the four-time All-Star is still with the team that drafted him as the Feb. 24 trade deadline approaches.
Many thought Denver would keep Anthony past that date only if it looked like a contender in the West, but right now it’s playing like a team that might miss the playoffs altogether. The Nuggets blew a 14-point, second-quarter lead in less than five minutes Monday at Houston, a shift in momentum the Rockets rode to a 121-102 victory.
Denver has lost four of five, blowing double-digit leads in its past three defeats.
“I’m not satisfied with how we’re playing,” point guard Chauncey Billups(notes) said. “Talent-wise we are a lot better than this. We are really not in a bad spot record-wise, but we have to start playing better.”
To make matters worse, Anthony bruised his right shoulder after colliding with Houston’s Luis Scola(notes). He sat out the fourth quarter Monday - Denver was already down 20 - and was happy the team had Tuesday to rest.
“I think they said I’ve got a deep bruise, a shoulder contusion or something like that,” Anthony said. “It’s good that we’ve got a day off.”
While the Nuggets remain in playoff position in the West, the Bucks (21-33) find themselves in 10th place and on the outside of the East picture.
After a stretch of seven losses in eight games, though, Milwaukee turned in its best performance in weeks Monday against the Los Angeles Clippers. Carlos Delfino(notes) had a season-high 26 points - hitting 7 of 10 3-pointers - and Milwaukee shot 51.5 percent in a 102-78 rout.
“It’s huge,” Delfino said of the victory. “When we play together, we’re a different team, we can make a run.”
The Bucks had 25 assists Monday, an impressive effort for a team that averages an NBA-worst 18.4. When Milwaukee has 23 assists or more, it’s 8-3.
“That’s how we’ve wanted to play all year - find the open man and he’s knocking down shots,” said guard John Salmons(notes), who had tied a career high with 12 assists. “That makes all the difference.”
Delfino and Salmons are both healthy - they missed a combined 41 games earlier this season - but the Bucks are still struggling with injuries. Corey Maggette(notes) sat out Monday’s win with a back injury - opening the door for Delfino to start - and is considered day to day, while Ersan Ilyasova(notes) left in the first quarter with an eye injury.
Ilyasova’s status for Wednesday is unknown.
The Bucks didn’t have much going offensively Dec. 1 in Denver, when they shot 40.0 percent in a 105-94 loss. Andrew Bogut(notes) missed that game with a sore back, and Nene Hilario(notes) took advantage, scoring 24 points on 8 of 9 shooting.
Anthony has averaged 30.4 points in seven games at Milwaukee. But after the Nuggets won his first four trips to the Bradley Center, they’ve lost the last three.