CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Chauncey Billups flew to Charlotte a week ago, only to have his life dramatically altered before he even got on the court.
Nine days later he was back in town, leading a new team to another victory and making the early returns of that blockbuster trade quite positive for the Denver Nuggets.
Carmelo Anthony scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half, while Billups directed a steady offense and had a key three-point play late in the Nuggets' 88-80 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Tuesday night that left Denver 3-0 with their new guard in the lineup.
"It took me a week, but I got a game in in Charlotte," Billups joked.
Billups was headed to the arena for shootaround on Nov. 3 when he was told Detroit had traded him to the Nuggets in a landscape-changing deal that sent Allen Iverson to the Pistons. Billups abruptly left for the airport in shock, leaving the team that in 2004 he helped lead to an NBA title.
Since then Billups has regrouped and embraced his new club, but he still thought it was odd to be back in Charlotte so soon.
"Scene of the crime, baby," Billups said. "It was weird. It was funny. I was talking to all my guys last night and we laughed about it."
Billups had 16 points and five assists and provided the veteran leadership down the stretch that helped squash Charlotte's comeback.
After an 11-point fourth-quarter lead was sliced to 75-73, the undermanned Nuggets turned to Billups and -- something Denver hasn't been known for much -- defense. Charlotte went six straight possessions without a point, while Billups found Nene for a thunderous dunk before Billups' driving layup and free throw on the next possession made it 80-73 with 2:56 left.
The Bobcats couldn't recover, sending coach Larry Brown to his fifth loss in seven games with his newest team. And while Brown is struggling with a flawed roster devoid of big men, the fellow North Carolina alum on the Denver bench is happy to have Billups.
"He helps me orchestrate the game," George Karl said. "Sometimes we're too wild. Last year we were too wild and our shot selection got too crazy."
That hurt the Bobcats on Tuesday. Jason Richardson scored 23 points and Adam Morrison added 16, but the Bobcats settled for 27 3-point attempts as they struggled to get it inside despite Denver's depleted front line.
"I have never been with a team where you're trying to figure out whether we drive the ball, whether we post the ball, whether we run pick and roll," Brown said. "It's a real puzzle right now."
A day after Antonio McDyess was waived, Denver dressed only nine players. Forward Kenyon Martin missed his second straight game with a sprained right wrist, joining Chris Andersen (ribs), Steven Hunter (knee), Chucky Atkins (knee) and Sonny Weems (groin).
The Nuggets trailed by as many as 10 points in the second quarter before Anthony took over in the third.
With a combination of fadeaway jumpers, fastbreak layups, mid-range shots and free throws, Anthony scored 14 points in the quarter. His jumper early in the fourth made it 73-62 before Charlotte rallied.
Morrison's 3-pointer and Richardson's reverse layup capped a 9-0 run to cut the lead to 75-73. But with Raymond Felton on the bench with five fouls, the Bobcats couldn't sustain the run with rookie D.J. Augustin struggling running the point in Felton's absence. Augustin shot 1-for-9 with three assists and four turnovers.
Even Sean May's return to the court couldn't prevent Charlotte from dropping to 1-2 on its season-high six-game homestand.
May was active for the first time since the opener, when Brown criticized his conditioning following knee surgery. May started the fourth quarter and missed a jumper 13 seconds later. He went to the bench with no points or rebounds two minutes later and didn't return.
"It took him four seconds to shoot a jump shot," Brown said. "But he's getting back. We need him. ... Hopefully we can work him real hard. I want to put him out there when he has a chance."
The attitude was much better in Denver's locker room.
"I'm just trying to come in and lead," Billups said. "Come in and share with a lot of these guys my experiences and what it takes to be a good team."
Richardson needed four stitches at halftime to close a gash above his right eye from Nene's elbow. ... Karl and Brown reminisced of their days at North Carolina at the morning shootaround. "I don't know how long he'll do it, but I think he'll be very excited and energized for at least a couple years," Karl said of Brown.
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