With first place on the line, Carmelo Anthony was out of the doghouse, and the Denver Nuggets remained in the penthouse.
Anthony erupted for 38 points, and the Nuggets pounded the Portland Trail Blazers 106-90 on Thursday night to stay atop the highly competitive Northwest Division.
Anthony was suspended for Tuesday’s game after refusing coach George Karl’s orders to come out of Sunday’s contest against Indiana. However, the Nuggets’ star said the incident was behind him.
“Me and George talked,” Anthony said. “I apologized and learned my lesson.”
Indeed he did.
With just over a minute gone in the fourth quarter, Karl motioned for Anthony to come out for a breather. He kept his promise and sprinted to the bench, getting a smile from the coach.
The Nuggets have led the Northwest Division since Dec. 6, but have stumbled recently with five defeats in seven games which allowed Portland and Utah to tighten up the race.
JR Smith scored 17, Linas Kleiza had 15 while Chauncey Billups chipped in with 10 and nine assists for Denver (40-22), which was without forward Kenyon Martin (sore back) and Anthony Carter (sore hip).
Brandon Roy scored 22, LaMarcus Aldridge had 19 and Travis Outlaw added 15 for Portland (38-23), which fell from fourth to seventh place in the Western Conference playoff picture after having its three-game winning snapped.
Denver led 32-18 after the opening quarter, and 53-40 at half-time as Smith nailed a 35-foot desperation heave at the buzzer, while Anthony led the way with 17 points.
Portland pulled within 62-60 with 5:24 left in the third quarter, but then Anthony took charge. He led the hosts on a 19-10 run with 10 points, while Billups and Smith buried three-pointers, opening up an 81-70 advantage entering the final frame.
The Nuggets led 87-77 with 9:40 to play before going on a 13-4 run to decide the game for good.
Kleiza made back-to back baskets, Nene converted a three-point play and Anthony followed with six straight points for 100-81 with 4:48 left.
HORNETS 104, MAVERICKS 88
In New Orleans, the hosts extended their winning streak to six games with a comfortable victory over Dallas.
Chris Paul had 27 points and 15 assist for the Hornets, who haven’t lost since center Tyson Chandler returned to the lineup from a left ankle injury — and rescinded trade — last week.