Carmelo Anthony had 33 points, J.R. Smith added 23 and the Nuggets got at least a small amount of revenge against their nemesis, beating the Clippers 103-88 on Sunday night for their fifth straight win.
“I think there was a little anger there,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “I know I said in the huddle a couple of times that we owe this team.”
The Nuggets won the Northwest Division of the Western Conference last season, yet opened the playoffs on the road because the sixth-seeded Clippers had a better record. There also was speculation that Los Angeles didn’t give its best effort in its season finale against Memphis so it could face Denver instead of the powerful Dallas Mavericks.
The Nuggets were irritated, but couldn’t do anything about it, losing a testy five-game series to the Clippers. And it didn’t get any better for Denver in this year’s season-opener, with Los Angeles beating the Nuggets 96-95 in a game in which Anthony got ejected.
The Nuggets took out their frustration on the road-weary and injury-depleted Clippers this time, starting strong in the first and third quarters for their second win in the last nine games against Los Angeles. Playing one of its best all-around games of the season, the NBA’s highest-scoring team shot 51 percent and had 27 assists to win for the eighth time in nine games since an 0-3 start.
“The last game left a bad taste in our mouth and that’s all we talked about,” said Joe Smith, who thwarted the Clippers’ double teaming ploy with 15 points. “We just wanted to go out there and do whatever we can to defend our home court, do whatever it takes to get this win against the Clippers because of what happened in the playoffs last year.”
Los Angeles blew a 16-point lead in a 104-96 loss to Minnesota the night before and had trouble shaking off the effects, dropping to 0-5 on the road.
Forcing up bad shots and dribbling into double teams that led to turnovers, the Clippers missed nine of their first 11 shots to trail by nine after six minutes, and were down 36-21 early in the second quarter.
“We got off to a bad start in the first quarter,” Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. “We turned the ball over and let them get offensive boards and build a lead on us.”
Los Angeles cleaned it up briefly midway through the second, using a 13-2 run to get within four, but that was it.
Cassell, the catalyst for the Clippers’ win over the Nuggets in the first round of last year’s playoffs, was 1-of-4 in just seven first-half minutes and lasted two minutes in the third quarter before coming out.
That left the Clippers with two big holes instead of one and Denver took advantage, opening the second half with a 13-4 run that led to an 87-70 lead by the end of the third quarter.
Corey Maggette had 22 points to lead Los Angeles, which shot 36 percent to lose its fourth straight.
“This isn’t the way we play,” Cassell said. “We aren’t in a rhythm. We can’t get a rhythm. You can get it back or it can get worse.”
The Clippers gave Anthony fits in last year’s playoffs, holding him to 33 percent shooting in the five-game series. They didn’t have much success this time.
Los Angeles tried to double team him early, but Anthony got three quick assists on kickouts. The Clippers abandoned the double-team strategy for a short time, leaving Quinton Ross alone on Anthony, and that didn’t work, either.
Anthony bulled his way past the much-smaller Ross on a post move and scored on a couple of alley-oops, finishing the first half with 16 points. He kept it going in the second, getting another alley-oop and a pair of jumpers to push Denver’s lead to 69-56 midway through the third quarter.
“Anytime we play them there’s some type of specialness to the game,” Anthony said. “We played pretty good, we won the game, so I’m happy.”
The Clippers are the middle of playing four times in five nights, with games against Sacramento on Tuesday and Memphis the next night. … Part of the cast from the HBO series “The Wire” attended the game.