Nuggets overcome Carmelo Anthony's struggles, take care of Kings

DENVER -- Carmelo Anthony insists his legs were heavy, not so much his heart.

Anthony was rusty in his return to the Denver lineup after a two-week absence following the death of his sister, and his teammates picked up the slack in the Nuggets' 104-86 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night.

Anthony missed 15 of his first 18 shots and finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

"As far as what was going on in my head, I tried to clear it out tonight when I stepped on that court," Anthony said. "As far as thinking about anything, I was good. I just couldn't buy a shot tonight. I couldn't find a rhythm. My legs weren't there. But I'm glad I got this one out of my system."

Anthony hadn't played since Dec. 18, missing five games following the death of Michelle Anthony, a 38-year-old mother of four who died Dec. 21. The funeral was Monday in Baltimore.

The Nuggets went 2-3 in his absence.

Anthony said spending time with his family back home was good for his soul and that it's time for him to get back to work.

Chauncey Billups, who led Denver with 22 points, called Anthony's return cathartic for everyone.

"It was good to have him back out there doing what he does," Billups said. "Kind of a rough night for him, but it really didn't cost us nothing. We were trying to get him re-acclimated, but, man, it was good to have him back."

Anthony said he saw his sister as a second mother and always looked forward to her postgame calls in which she'd tell him what he had done wrong and what went right.

He was left to critique his own game for the first time Saturday night.

"Well tonight I just wanted to see what I could do and what I couldn't do," he said, "where my body was at, where my legs were at, where my wind was at. I thought my wind was pretty good, it's just my legs felt like bricks out there tonight."

Anthony was just 1 for 11 in the first half, his only bucket a put-back layup with 3:03 left in the first quarter. He finished 6 for 22 from the floor and committed six turnovers.

"I didn't expect it to be that sloppy, but I mean, I knew the game had to be managed around him a little bit," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "And I think Sacramento played him smart. The shots, I can live with. It's the turnovers and the decisions of playing [to] the crowd."

While Anthony was struggling, Nene was surprising, at least for a half.

Karl said before tip-off that his big man's bothersome lower back and tender right hamstring might limit him to a cameo appearance: "Don't be surprised if he pulls the plug on himself early," Karl conceded.

Instead, Nene had 16 points and six rebounds in 18 first-half minutes to help the Nuggets take a 51-39 lead.

Nene kept it up on the glass after halftime, grabbing eight more boards. But he didn't score again, taking only two second-half shots, much to Karl's chagrin.

While Karl was miffed by the sloppy play on offense, he liked the play of his bigs, which produced a 58-35 dominance on the boards.

"That is surprising because we're usually aggressive on the boards," DeMarcus Cousins said.

Anthony had a nice stretch late in the third quarter, when he had two sweet jumpers and two free throws in a 6-2 run that put Denver ahead 59-51, then took a seat until the 5:32 mark of the fourth quarter.

The Nuggets led 69-60 after three quarters and used a 13-0 spurt behind J.R. Smith's pair of 3-pointers to put this one away.

"Carmelo was rusty and it showed," Kings coach Paul Westphal said. "In the second quarter if we could have had a well-played quarter we could have gotten the lead and made that game very interesting. Instead we took bad shots and were careless with our execution and let them get the leads."

By the time Anthony returned to the court in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets were comfortably ahead 89-73, and he scored Denver's next half-dozen points.

"I'm sure just getting back on the court is something all players appreciate," teammate Arron Afflalo said. "It's their place of peace, even if their night isn't going as well as they would like. I'm sure he's happy to get back."

The Kings, led by Jason Thompson's 17 points, left the Pepsi Center lamenting a blown opportunity to steal a win in Denver with Anthony's game so out of sync.

"Our main focus was to contain him but other players got going," Cousins said. "That hurt us."

Game notes
The Nuggets were without F Al Harrington for a third straight game because of a dislocated right thumb. ... In the third quarter, Anthony corralled a rebound while diving for a ball, then passed to Kenyon Martin, who also was sitting in the lane, and the Nuggets called timeout.