Melo out but won't need surgery

DENVER -- Carmelo Anthony didn't care for the color of the new removable splint he was sporting on his broken right hand, preferring it to be Denver Nuggets blue over bright red.

Then again, a splint of any color sure beats surgery.

The Nuggets All-Star guard will miss at least three weeks after breaking a bone in his shooting hand in a victory over the Indiana Pacers on Monday night.

He's been told by doctors he'll be out three to four weeks. Surgery would've sidelined him much longer.

"Hopefully the healing process will be a lot quicker," Anthony said after returning to the Pepsi Center following his visit with a hand specialist.

Anthony attempted to put a positive slant on his predicament.

"I can get my left hand better," he cracked, hoping to become even more dangerous on offense.

The recovery time for his hand also will help his bruised right elbow, which caused him to miss three games in late December.

"I'm going to make this time the best time I can, just by rehabbing," Anthony said. "I'm surprised, a little bit frustrated I've got to sit out."

Anthony was injured with 9:44 left in the third quarter when Pacers center Jeff Foster swatted at the ball, catching part of Anthony's hand.

He continued to play despite numbness in the hand, scoring 21 points before leaving late in the fourth quarter of a 135-115 win.

"Tough kid," teammate Kenyon Martin said.

Anthony's glad he didn't know the hand was broken. He didn't want to come out, not with the game still close.

"We just needed that game," said Anthony, whose team blew a 20-point lead before pulling away again in the fourth quarter. "That was a game last night that we couldn't let slip out of our hands."

Anthony's hand hurt so much that he asked teammate J.R. Smith to hike up an elbow sleeve on his right arm, drawing a bewildered look from Smith.

"He's like, 'Man, you're really messed up,'" said Anthony, who tied an NBA record for points in a quarter (33) against Minnesota on Dec. 10. "My elbow was hurting, my hand was hurting, I really couldn't do nothing."

Anthony's injury comes with the Nuggets on a four-game winning streak. At 24-12, Denver is off to its best start since its first year in the NBA in 1976-77.

The Nuggets play seven of their next eight games at home, starting with the Miami Heat on Wednesday night.

"If an injury is coming at a good place, it might be in a good place now," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "We can feel sorry on off days, but we can't feel sorry for ourselves when the games start. We've got to figure out how to win games."

Replacing Anthony's offense won't be easy. He's averaging 21.1 points.

"It hurts," Chauncey Billups said. "That's our best player, that's our No. 1 option."

Smith filled in for Anthony when he recently rested his aching elbow and could be in line for Anthony's minutes. The team went 2-1 with Smith in the starting lineup.

The Nuggets also may turn to Linas Kleiza or Chucky Atkins, a player Karl has been looking to get more into the game. Atkins has played less than two minutes over the last four games.

"I think the next couple of games is figuring out matchups and how I want to play," Karl said.

Minus Melo.

"Anytime you lose an All-Star, it's always going to hurt your team," Smith said. "Hopefully we can get through it."

Billups is confident the team can hold it together until Anthony returns. Billups has become the glue of the team since his arrival in a trade that sent Allen Iverson to Detroit in early November.

The Nuggets are 23-9 behind the steady play of the proven point guard. Billups is anxious to see who steps up with Anthony out.

"There's going to be some players that are going to play minutes that they maybe might not be accustomed to and play in different stretches of the game that they may not be accustomed to," Billups said. "You've got to embrace that role."