for this game

Nuggets outlast undermanned Spurs

Feb 4, 2009 - 5:58 AM DENVER (Ticker) -- The Denver Nuggets couldn't have dreamed of a better time to play the San Antonio Spurs ... or so it seemed.

San Antonio was without its "Big Three" of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, who was the only injured member of the trio, sitting due to a left hip contusion.

The Nuggets still needed all of Carmelo Anthony's 35 points to scrape past the shorthanded Spurs, 104-96, on Tuesday.

"I thought we were immature. We were fortunate tonight," Denver coach George Karl said. "We still have a tendency to mess around with the game. We should have attacked this game with a professional attitude and intensity.

"San Antonio showed a lot of heart and character. Our starting unit never got focused defensively. We never sustained any defensive effort. We played with selfishness."

Gregg Popovich opted to rest Duncan and Parker as San Antonio was playing the second half of a back-to-back after beating Golden State in overtime on Monday. The Spurs are in the early stages of an eight-game road trip that will keep them away from home until a February 24 date with the Dallas Mavericks.

Denver, which was without Kenyon Martin (strep throat), quickly assumed command, taking a 31-25 lead after a quarter and a 12-point advantage at the half. Chauncey Billups didn't play after intermission, spraining his right ankle.

"When he was in the game, it was so much smoother, he had the ball in his hands and he's controlling it," Anthony said of the Nuggets' point guard. "Everybody knows what to do. With him going out, it forces everyone to step up. It forced everyone to come together as a team."

The Spurs made a minor run late in the third quarter, closing within 76-68 in the final minute. Chris Andersen tapped home a missed jump shot to push the margin back to double digits.

The Spurs would not go away easily. They scrapped and clawed within two as Jacque Vaughn hit a 21-foot jumper. Denver went on a 9-0 run, however, to open some breathing room at 89-80.

Again, the Spurs rallied, closing within 98-94 when Roger Mason hit a shot from beyond the arc with two minutes left.

"I thought we gave it a good shot," Popovich said. "We did a fine job of hanging in the game and never giving in. I played a lot of guys that probably aren't used to playing together, but they did a fine job and I was proud of them.

"You're always trying to win. Obviously, you felt like it got close at that point. But the Nuggets did a good job of keeping their composure, came in and knocked down a couple threes and spread it again."

Anthony added a free throw and 19-foot jumper to finally put away the victory.

"We didn't know what to expect, we heard rumors about them not playing," Anthony said. "I guess that was one of those games you hear about the top guys not playing and the team usually relaxes. But they didn't let down. They played to the end."

A huge difference occurred at the free-throw line, where Denver was 31-of-37 while San Antonio hit 9-of-14.

Mason led the Spurs with 26 points.