Billups picks up slack for nicked Melo as Nuggets nip Rockets

DENVER -- Carmelo Anthony's right elbow was so sore, he couldn't shoot, pass or dribble. Heck, he couldn't even lift his toddler son, Kiyan, after the game.

Good thing the Denver Nuggets have Chauncey Billups on their side now.

Making up for Anthony's absence -- along with Melo's usual double-digit performance -- Billups had 28 points and 10 assists to lead the Nuggets past Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets, 104-94 on Sunday night.

It was Denver's third win in four games over five nights, and also its 11th win in 14 games since Billups arrived from Detroit in the Allen Iverson trade.

"We just have somebody on the court who loves winning and knows game situations and controls the game," Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin said. "It's great having him. I told him right after the game, 'I appreciate you being here.'"

Billups scored 11 points in a 19-7 third-quarter run the Nuggets used to break away from the Rockets, who played their third straight game without injured star Tracy McGrady (sore left foot).

The Nuggets lost their own leader when Anthony took a seat in the second quarter after deciding he couldn't take the pain of a sore right elbow that's been bothering him since training camp but has gotten progressively worse over the last couple of weeks.

It hurt so bad, Anthony said, that "I couldn't even dribble the basketball. I tried to lift my son up after the game and I couldn't even do that."

Anthony scored just two points, halting his NBA-best streak of consecutive games in double figures at 222. That honor now goes to LeBron James, who has scored in double figures 134 straight times.

"I've got like 10 years left to get that streak back, so I don't worry about that," Anthony said.

And he's not fretting over the ailing elbow, either.

Anthony insisted it wasn't a serious injury and that he'll play Tuesday night against Toronto after receiving treatment Monday.

"I'll be OK, I'll get through it," he said.

Anthony said he was in a lot of pain before the game but didn't tell the team until he took himself out after 14 agonizing minutes, which included an unintentionally soft pass because his arms were so weak.

Anthony, who was 1-of-4 from the floor, hadn't been held below 10 points since Nov. 28, 2005, when he played just 1 1/2 minutes against New Jersey before leaving with a sprained ankle after scoring two points.

His franchise-record streak made him the most consistent offensive player in the NBA since 2005. He's been struggling with his shot this season but is still averaging 21.1 points while posting career highs in both rebounds (8.7) and assists (3.9).

The fatigued Rockets couldn't capitalize on Anthony's absence, however.

"As a team we weren't in sync, so it didn't matter who was out there," Ron Artest said.

Yao led Houston's balanced production with 18 points but he was just 5-for-12 from the floor as Martin, Nene and Chris Andersen played terrific defense on the big man.

"We're not going to back down because he's 7-foot-6," Martin said.

Nene had 17 points and 10 boards for the Nuggets, who took a 48-44 halftime lead thanks to two 3-pointers from J.R. Smith in the closing minutes of the first half. Smith, who has been in and out of coach George Karl's dog house for lapses in play and professionalism, finished with 19 points.

"I told him way to bounce back," Martin said. "That's a sign of a true professional that he's grown a lot over the last couple of years."

Smith said he hopes he and Karl will soon "kiss and make up."

More disciplined performances like this wouldn't hurt.

"It's all about what he can do for us out there on the court," Martin said. "He can't help us on the bench and I think he realizes that."

After Billups sank a trio of 3-pointers in the key spurt that put Denver in control 72-58, the Rockets chipped away, pulling to 89-84 with 7 1/2 minutes left on consecutive baskets by Carl Landry, capping a 9-2 run.

Andersen halted Houston's momentum with a pair of free throws and Nene's basket off Billups' 10th assist made it 97-86 with five minutes left.

"They responded," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "You've got to give Billups a lot of credit, he really took the game over that second half. Made a lot shots, which he's capable of, and he made some nice playmaking plays to find other people when we were coming at him."

Game notes
The Rockets missed just four of their 26 free throws but two in crunch time. ... Billups has topped 20 points six times for Denver and he's led the Nuggets in scoring a half dozen times.