Nuggets 111, Suns 96
Anthony scored 36 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and the Nuggets moved into a three-way tie for the final Western Conference playoff spot with an 111-96 victory over the undermanned Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night.
The win gave the vastly improved Nuggets, who won only 17 games last season, a 41-37 record—the same as idle Utah and Portland, which defeated Golden State 87-81 Wednesday—and assured them of at least a .500 record.
It also completed the first season sweep by the Nuggets over the Suns.
“I love being the go-to guy,” said Anthony, the biggest reason for the Nuggets’ rejuvenation. “Down the stretch, when they started making their run, that’s just me. I wanted the ball at the end and my teammates gave me the ball and I made shots.”
Denver coach Jeff Bzdelik concurred with his young superstar.
“He wants the ball and he is someone we will make sure he gets it,” Bzdelik said. “He did a great job in terms of scoring.
“The other thing Carmelo did was that he had seven defensive rebounds, which gave us a big lift.”
“Carmelo Anthony is a gamer,” Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni said. “In the end, he’s the answer.”
The Suns had only eight healthy players to begin the game. Shawn Marion, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer who is recovering from bronchitis, joined Howard Eisley (hernia surgery), Jake Voskuhl (injured left foot) and Jahidi White (bruised right foot) on the sidelines.
The run-and-gun Nuggets capitalized on the Suns’ careless play and poor shooting to build a 52-37 halftime lead. At one point, the Nuggets led by 50-29 before Barbosa hit three baskets, including a 3-pointer, in the final two minutes.
Denver’s pressing defense forced the Suns into 15 first-half turnovers, leading to 17 points, and held them to 36.8 percent shooting (14-for-38). Phoenix finished with 23 turnovers, leading to 28 Denver points
Meanwhile, the Nuggets got balanced scoring, with only Anthony, with 10 points, in double figures. Reserves Boykins and Michael Doleac provided the Nuggets with big lifts. Boykins, the 5-foot-5 buzzsaw, scored nine points in the second quarter, including four straight Denver field goals, and Doleac scored six points and grabbed five rebounds within a two-minute span.
Denver increased its lead to 22 points midway through the third quarter, before the Suns cut the deficit to 76-70 by the end of the period. The Suns never got closer than six in the fourth period as Anthony scored 13 points and Lenard 12.
“We knew they were going to make a run, but we kept our composure,” Anthony said. “We knew we needed this game bad.”
Anthony has scored 20 or more points in 14 of the last 15 games and 30 of the last 34. He has been the Nuggets’ leading scorer or co-leading scorer in the past 10 games.
Johnson played 47 minutes, the 31st consecutive game he has played 40 minutes or more. It is the longest streak in the NBA since former Boston starJohn Havlicek played 31 from Jan. 23-March 19, 1971.
Marion is expected to return for Friday’s home game against Sacramento. … The other injured Suns probably won’t play in any of the final four games, coach D’Antoni said. … Denver’s final four games are at Houston on Friday, home against Portland on Saturday and Sacramento on Monday, and at San Antonio on Wednesday. … Only nine players in the history of the NBA, including Johnson, have a streak of 30 or more games playing 40 minutes or more and seven are in the Hall of Fame: Nate Archibald, Wilt Chamberlain, Havlicek, NeilJohnston, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell and Nate Thurmond.