Carmelo's 37 not enough for Nuggets as Butler fills in admirably to lift Clippers

LOS ANGELES -- The first player off the Los Angeles Clippers' bench led them in scoring, something that doesn't happen with this club except when there are injuries -- which is most of the time.

Forward Rasual Butler had 27 points, Al Thornton added 18, and the Clippers withstood an early scoring spree from Carmelo Anthony to beat the Denver Nuggets 106-99 on Friday night.

"We're so deep that anyone can lead us in scoring, and tonight was Rasual's night," teammate Baron Davis said. "He played with aggression, we played at a pace and a speed that was great for us, and it got him a lot of wide-open shots. If we continue to play like that, I think we're going to have different leading scorers every night."

Chris Kaman had 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Clippers. Davis had 12 points and nine assists.

The defending Northwest Division champion Nuggets, coming off one-sided victories over the Lakers and Toronto Raptors, lost to the Clippers for the first time since Nov. 11, 2007. They had won the previous seven meetings, including a four-game sweep last season. Anthony led Denver with 37 points, and Nene had 18 points and 12 rebounds.

"It's not like a few years ago, where you play the Clippers or somebody and it's just another game," Denver's Chauncey Billups said. "We have to somehow realize that we are everybody's big game. It's a very tough loss, but we have to forget about this game and focus on tomorrow night."

The Clippers, who set an ignominious franchise record last Friday by blowing a 22-point lead in a home loss to Toronto, led Denver by 19 with 3 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter. The Nuggets opened the fourth with a 19-4 run that narrowed the gap to 92-90 with 6:10 to play and gave the crowd of 18,155 a sense of impending doom.

"We needed this win. It was a nationally televised game, and we didn't want to be embarrassed," said Butler, who was 8-for-15 from the field after coming in averaging 9.5 points with a 36.7 shooting percentage.

"I just hadn't been shooting the ball lately. I've been playing a pretty good floor game, but my shot just was off," Butler said. "My teammates and the coaching staff have supreme confidence in my ability to shoot the ball and they continue to be positive with me. I was able to just put those other games behind me and give myself a fresh start."

The Clippers missed six of seven shots during Denver's rally, but grabbed the momentum back with 3-pointers by Butler and Davis 32 seconds apart to take a 98-90 edge with 5:18 left. The Nuggets got as close as 104-99 on a 3-pointer by J.R. Smith with 1:09 left.

"We gave them some turnovers and easy scores and had some missed defensive assignments," Butler said. "During the timeout, we just talked about tightening back up and refocusing. We were able to do that and started getting stops and rebounds. Marcus Camby came up with two big stops for us, getting the charge after the timeout and then a blocked shot that started the fast break for us."

Anthony, who scored 17 points in the opening quarter, made his first six shots before Kaman blocked his attempted layup with 8.9 seconds left in the period. The rejection led to a 3-pointer by Butler at the other end with less than a second on the clock, slicing Denver's lead to 26-21.

The Clippers took the lead for good at 28-26 on a layup by Sebastian Telfair with 9:50 left in the second quarter. Davis, who missed his first four shots, ended the drought on a 3-pointer with 1:20 left in the first half to increase Los Angeles' margin to 53-42. Butler followed with a three-point play 28 seconds later to cap a 7-0 spurt.

Game notes
Clippers longtime play-by-play announcer Ralph Lawler and color analyst Michael Smith did not work Friday's broadcast, after the Fox Sports Prime Ticket cable network suspended them for one game because of some off-the-cuff comments they made during Wednesday night's telecast from Memphis about Iranian-born Grizzlies center Hamed Haddadi. The on-air banter offended one viewer who e-mailed Fox to complain. Michael Eaves and former NBA and UCLA player Don MacLean, who regularly serve as halftime and postgame analysts on the Clippers telecasts, substituted for Lawler and Smith at courtside. ... Davis recorded his 5,000th regular-season assist in the NBA when he set up Kaman's 15-foot jumper with 3:19 left in the first quarter. ... Anthony has scored at least 30 points in eight of his first 12 games. He and Miami's Dwyane Wade are the only players in the league who have had 20 or more in all of their teams' games so far. ... Denver coach George Karl got a technical foul from referee Marc Davis with 4:40 left in the third quarter after Anthony was called for a foul on Thornton with the Nuggets trailing 75-60. .