J.R. Smith's 26 points helped short-handed Denver beat the Memphis Grizzlies 120-107 on Tuesday, hours after the Nuggets finalized a blockbuster deal that sent Anthony and Billups to the New York Knicks.
The Nuggets had only nine players on the bench following a three-team trade that also involved Minnesota.
But New York had to pay a steep price, sending Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov and a 2014 first-round draft pick to the Nuggets, who get additional picks and cash. Denver also acquired center Kosta Koufos from the Timberwolves.
The moves reshaped Denver's roster by giving the team a bevy of talented young players.
Felton, Mozgov, Chandler and Gallinari received the biggest ovation of the night without even stepping on the floor. They waved to the crowd from the side of the court after spending most of the game watching from a luxury suite as their new teammates picked apart the Grizzlies.
Coming out with an early intensity, the Nuggets jumped out to a 24-point lead in the first half and never glanced back.
Smith hit a 33-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the third quarter, increasing the lead to 102-76.
That was just the way the night was going for the Nuggets.
No Anthony meant more shots to go around for everyone, especially Smith, who's never been bashful to pull up and take a jumper. He finished 9 of 22 as he stepped into Anthony's starting spot.
However, Smith hobbled off the court late in the game favoring his right leg.
In a pregame news conference, team president Josh Kroenke went out of his way to express remorse that the trade had to include Billups, a hometown favorite.
"He is Denver basketball," Kroenke said.
But speedy Ty Lawson efficiently ran the team in place of Billups, scoring 21 points and dishing out seven assists.
Nuggets coach George Karl relished the thought of coaching a depleted squad, pondering different moves and scoring options all day.
"I've been told by a lot of owners that I coach better when I have a shorter bench," Karl said. "I think everybody knows I enjoy these type of games where you have to mix and match some situations and circumstances and find some success."
With the Nuggets comfortably up, a chorus of "Who needs Melo?" began to ring through the crowd.
With Anthony, though, went 25 points a game -- a difficult total to make up.
"We lost a superstar and superstars are hard to find in this league," general manager Masai Ujiri said. "Chauncey and Melo were the ultimate -- they brought smiles and excitement and greatness to this basketball organization.
"Do I feel there's a future here? Absolutely. I feel very confident that things will work out and people will love watching these young kids play basketball here."
The Nuggets have 24 more games to reassemble the pieces in an effort to make the playoffs for an eighth straight season. The team entered the night in seventh place in the Western Conference, just ahead of Memphis and Utah.
With the rumors picking up intensity over the last few weeks, the Nuggets appeared to be a distracted bunch, dropping four of six before the All-Star break.
Now, the drama has ended and the pressure relieved.
"I'm just happy it's over with. Period. We won't have to answer these questions no more," Al Harrington said. "I hope this is the last time I'm going to have to answer any trade questions for a long time."
The Grizzlies signed G/F Rodney Carney to a 10-day contract. ... F Rudy Gay (shoulder) will be sidelined for about four weeks. ... Memphis had seven players score in double figures. ... Nuggets G Arron Afflalo finished with 21 points. ... The Nuggets beat Memphis for an eighth straight time at home.
- Ron Garretson
- Leon Wood
- Mark Lindsay