SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)—Although Carmelo Anthony(notes) was clearly the focal point on a talented team during his tenure in Denver, the Nuggets are making a good case for being a better club without the perennial All-Star forward.
The Nuggets used a big third quarter to distance themselves from the cold-shooting Kings. Denver has gone 14-4 since the trade of Anthony on Feb. 22.
It’s been a different Nuggets team since the departure of Anthony. The scoring has been balanced among the starters and a core group of reserves, making Denver a difficult team to defend.
“It’s fun being around guys that don’t have worries about who is going to play, and when they are going to play,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “I think we can do that for 25 games with basically 10-11 guys that deserve to play. There’s a lot of guys to give minutes. Tonight was frustrating trying to find minutes for everybody.”
Denver (46-29) remained 2 1/2 games ahead of Portland for fifth place in the Western Conference with seven games left in the regular season.
“We’re ready for the playoffs right now,” Felton said. “We just need to get a few guys healthy, but I think mentally and physically we’re ready to go.”
Felton was certainly ready in the fourth quarter. He had three points through three quarters and was hardly a factor at the offensive end.
With the Nuggets shooting 6 of 22 in the fourth, Felton felt it was time to be more assertive. He shot 3 of 4 in the fourth and connected on 7 of 9 free throws in accounting for 14 of Denver’s 20 points in the final period.
Felton made a jumper and followed with a fast-break layup with 2:46 left to put the Nuggets ahead 95-84.
“I decided to be aggressive and tried to get to the free throw line,” Felton said. “As a point guard you’ve got to pick and choose when you need to score.”
Francisco Garcia(notes) scored 17 points for the Kings, who are tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the worst home record (10-28) in the NBA. Tyreke Evans(notes) had 13 points, while Beno Udrih(notes), Jason Thompson(notes) and Marcus Thornton(notes) all had 11.
“Denver is playing terrific ball, you can’t really sit there and focus on what player you have to stop,” said Kings rookie DeMarcus Cousins(notes), who missed 12 of 15 shots and finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
Martin scored 14 points for Denver, which had six players in double figures. Nene had 12 points and 12 rebounds, and Aaron Afflalo scored 11.
Trailing by 17 points, the Kings scored nine straight to cut the Denver lead to 86-78 at the 7:56 mark. Yet poor shooting plagued the Kings over the next five minutes, when they scored just six points.
“It was just one of those games where if it goes that way, you have to keep attacking the basket and not take jumpers, and putting it on the referees to make the calls,” Dalembert said.
Sacramento, which shot 40 percent, had 16 turnovers, and made just 2 of 21 3-pointers.
The Nuggets are outscoring opponents by nearly 16 points during their five-game win streak, including a convincing 104-90 victory over the Kings. In Wednesday’s win in Denver, the Nuggets trailed the Kings by as many as 13 points, but pulled away in the second half, outscoring Sacramento 63-39.
“It’s tough playing a team back-to-back, they are a little better prepared for you,” Affalo said. “You’ve just got to out there and make the plays and we were able to do that when we needed to tonight.”
Despite a good chance of the Kings departing, Sacramento fans have shown no outward signs of animosity at Power Balance Pavilion. Attendance was 15,871 against the Nuggets and boos were a rarity throughout the game.
On Tuesday night, the Anaheim City Council voted 5-0 to approve a $75 million financial package to lure the Kings from Sacramento. The council also voted 5-0 to pay for the Kings’ relocation, a decision that makes the likelihood of the team relocating to Anaheim next season even stronger.
In the third quarter, the Nuggets ran off eight straight points to build a 70-59 lead by the midway point. Gallinari, who went scoreless in the first half, scored nine points and Martin had eight. Denver outscored the Kings 31-16 and headed into the fourth with a 79-67 lead.
Notes: Denver forward Chris Anderson sprained his right ankle in the fourth quarter and left the game. Karl said he is not expected to play Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers. … Former Kings owner Jim Thomas sat in a courtside seat that on many nights has been occupied by one of the Maloof owners. The Maloofs have not attended a home game in over a month. Evans made his first start since missing 19 games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Last year’s rookie of the year had come off the bench in his previous three games. The Denver bench outscored the starters 29-19 in the opening half.