DENVER -- Unlike his bitter departure, Marcus Camby's return to Denver was bittersweet.
He was treated great by the fans but not his former team. He got hugs and cheers but not the win.
After getting a rousing ovation and a hug from a little girl sitting courtside who was wearing one of his old Nuggets jerseys, Camby watched Nene and Renaldo Balkman each post a double-double in Denver's 107-94 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night.
It was Denver's 42nd win and L.A.'s 50th loss.
Before tip-off in his first game at the Pepsi Center since the Nuggets traded him away last summer for salary cap relief, Camby embraced Nuggets coach George Karl. He also got some love from Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin, among others on the Denver bench.
"It was tough being on the same court and not being on those guys' team," Camby said.
But he appreciated the big round of applause when he was introduced.
"Ever since I left, I have been getting nothing but love from around the city of Denver [when] I've been here," Camby said. "If I could have gotten a nickel for everybody who told me they miss me and they wish I wouldn't have been traded, I could have probably helped out the economy."
Add a nickel from Karl, who had a melancholy moment like many of his players did when seeing Camby in a red Clippers uniform.
"I was actually a little sad because I know Marcus really wanted to be here," Karl said. "I'm glad the fans recognized and acknowledged him. I think in pro ball there are some trades you kind of wish didn't happen, and Marcus probably falls in that category."
After all, Camby was the one player who always bought into Karl's incessant preaching about defense. He was the league's leading shot-blocker the last three seasons and was named the NBA's defensive player of the year in 2006-07.
It took a long time for Camby to get over his dismissal from Denver last summer for the option to exchange second-round picks with the Clippers in 2010. One reason for his chagrin was that the Nuggets didn't tell him he was traded; he had to get the news from his agent.
To Camby's surprise, the Nuggets got nobody in return for him, although they were relieved of his $10 million salary-cap figure -- double that when you take into account the league's luxury tax threshold that Denver was above at the time of the trade.
While the Clippers have struggled all year because of a rash of injuries, the Nuggets didn't suffer from losing their best defender. They're allowing 100 points per game this season after yielding an average of 107 last year, and Chris Andersen has proven a more energetic shot-swatter than Camby was.
Still, to a man they miss the man who was a great leader and mentor and a player who allowed them so much leeway on the court because he was always there as the last line of defense.
"I miss him," said Nene, who played with Camby the longest. "I told him I miss him. I just want the best for him. It doesn't matter where he plays because he's my brother. He wants the best for me. Every time we can, we send each other messages. That dude's a brother. In good times and bad times, he calls. I know he worries abut me and I worry about him."
Camby struggled with his shot, scoring 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting and pulling down 11 rebounds.
Balkman scored a career-best 22 points to go with his 11 rebounds -- his second straight double-double playing in place of Martin (back) -- and Nene scored 17 points and pulled down 10 boards.
Despite committing 22 turnovers, the Nuggets never trailed and were hardly threatened in returning to the top of the Northwest Division, tied with idle Portland one-half game ahead of Utah, which lost in triple overtime at Miami earlier Saturday.
Camby said he'll be rooting for his former teammates in the playoffs, hoping they finally find a way to get out of the first round, something they didn't do in his time in Denver.
"I want all those guys to have career years and further their careers," Camby said. "The problem here hasn't really been the regular season, it's been the postseason, so hopefully they can get some success this postseason."
He'll be watching from afar and cheering them on.
Balkman's previous career high was 18 points against Washington in 2006, when he was a member of the New York Knicks. ... Denver capitalized on center Zach Randolph's absence to outrebound the Clippers 56-30, including 17-5 on the offensive glass. ... Randolph missed the game to attend his father's funeral in Indiana, but is expected back for Sunday's home game against New Jersey.
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