for this game

Anthony returns as Nuggets hang on to first place

Mar 6, 2009 - 7:30 AM DENVER (Ticker) -- This time, there was no need to get Carmelo Anthony off the floor - and with the importance of this particular game, George Karl needed every minute out of his star forward.

After serving a one-game suspension for refusing to come out of a game, Anthony erupted for 38 points Thursday to lead the Nuggets to a 106-90 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in a huge Northwest Division clash.

"Melo gave us a horse to score points," Denver coach George Karl said. "They had trouble with the matchup. I thought in the second half it got better because it was more around the rim. There was more cutting and curling. I was a little nervous sometimes in the game that we were trying to shoot jump shots against a good jump-shooting team."

The Nuggets came into the game having lost five of seven to see their stranglehold on the top spot in the division diminish. This showdown meant first place - even if it was by the slimmest of margins. Denver held court, retaining its edge in the Northwest standings.

"It was a playoff game," Anthony said. "It was a game we needed. It was a game we had to go get to get a little bit of separation and we came out and took care of that."

The team will travel to Utah to take on the Jazz, who are tied with Portland 1 1/2 games behind.

"We control our own destiny," Anthony said. "I've been in this situation before but I was at the bottom. Now we are playing for home court so we know what is at risk right now."

The Nuggets stormed in front early and quickly put to rest any and all subsequent runs by the Blazers as they snapped a two-game losing streak. Anthony set the tone with his jumper from the start, knocking down three in a row - including a 3-pointer - to open up a 22-13 advantage.

"He came out aggressive scoring in a number of ways but mainly one on one raising up and shooting over the top," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. "He was hot tonight."

The Nuggets closed the first quarter on an 8-0 run to extend the lead to 32-18. The Blazers pulled back to within six late in the second quarter, but Denver closed the first half in emphatic fashion. First, Anthony barreled inside for a layup. After Brandon Roy answered with a jumper, J.R. Smith launched a 35-footer at the buzzer to give his club a 53-44 lead going into the break.

Portland wouldn't go away quietly, staging a 9-2 run early in the third quarter and pulled to within two on Nicolas Batum's layup with 7:03 on the clock. Smith came back with a runner in the lane, drawing contact and completing the three-point play.

Steve Blake answered with a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 62-60, but that was all the motivation the Nuggets needed to start putting the game away. Chauncey Billups responded from the arc to push the lead to five, sparking an 8-0 run.

"All losses are a loss and you've got to play harder, you've got to be more aggressive and you need everybody to play and we didn't get that tonight," McMillan said. "You can't get outworked, you can't get out-scrapped. You've got to make plays."

The All-Star point guard struggled with his shot most of the night, going 3-of-13 for 10 points while dishing out nine assists. Smith added 17 points and Nene chipped in 16.