Friday January 14th, 2011

DENVER -- Carmelo Anthony played, LeBron James did not and Denver handed Miami its worst loss of the season, 130-102 [Recap | Box]. Herewith, five things worth noting from the surprising beatdown ...

1. Why break up the Nuggets? Anthony's refusal to sign a three-year, $65 million extension is forcing Denver to trade him before he can walk as a free agent after the season. His anticipated departure will break up a certain playoff team that was playing its best Thursday. J.R. Smith exploded for 28 points (8-of-14 from long range) off the bench, while Chauncey Billups produced 13 assists and no turnovers. His backup -- and potential replacement should Billups be packaged alongside Anthony -- Ty Lawson had 13 points and four assists while pushing the ball in transition and helping to build the Nuggets' lead from 26-25 to 60-43 at halftime. In one crucial sequence Lawson finished a drive, turned quickly and stole the inbounds pass from Miami center Erick Dampier before finding Smith for a crushing three.

The Nuggets' trapping defense also succeeded in limiting Dwyane Wade to 16 points on 19 shots while forcing the ball out of his hands.

2. A second straight Miami loss. A sprained ankle suffered during Miami's loss Wednesday at the Clippers kept "the most talented player ever to play the game" (in the words of Denver coach George Karl) on the bench Thursday in Denver. As his teammates prepared for the game, James sat in the visitors locker room reading The Art of War by Sun Tzu.

After winning 13 consecutive road games, the Heat are now headed to Chicago hoping to avoid a three-game losing streak. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra spoke of arresting a "slippage" in the Heat's recent defensive focus after watching them be blitzed 44-26 in the opening quarter by the Clippers on Wednesday, and then 34-20 in the second period as the Nuggets pulled away. "Fortunately, LeBron's injury is not serious," said Spoelstra. "Hopefully we get him back by Saturday [against the Bulls]."

3. Carmelo Anthony's reception. Though they were robbed of a showdown between two of the NBA's most prolific scorers, Denver fans were treated to a rare clobbering of the Heat. "If I was a fan, I'd be kind of [angry]," said Nuggets coach George Karl before the game of James's absence.

As coach of the Nuggets, however, Karl didn't mind James' unavailability: "I am happy," he said.

A majority of the Nuggets' sellout crowd of 19,155 greeted Anthony with cheers, but in the opening quarters he could hear a minority of booers as well. As the game wore on and the Heat wore out, however, Anthony heard nothing but good news from the same fans who are likely to lose him in a trade before the Feb. 24 deadline. He was 8-of-17 for 21 points in 30 minutes before sitting through the entire fourth quarter of the blowout win.

"Why do you want to go there with me?" said Anthony when asked about his future with the Nuggets. "It seems like everybody was a little more focused. We just want to keep it up."

Anthony insisted no trade is imminent. "I'll be here against Cleveland," he said of the Nuggets' next game here Saturday. "I'll be at San Antonio Sunday." When asked how long he would be able to guarantee his appearance in a Denver uniform, he said, "You just keep asking me after every game, and I'll let you know."

4. Mike Miller's struggles. Miller missed Miami's first 29 games after undergoing preseason surgery on his right thumb. "I've been searching for ways to get him in there," said Spoelstra before the game. "It will happen a little more naturally tonight."

Miller came off the bench to play the bulk of the meaningful minutes in James's absence, but over the opening three quarters he was 0-for-2 with five rebounds and two assists to show for his 21 minutes. He finished with four points (2-of-7) with eight assists, and a second-half goal for this season will be to work him back into the rotation in a highly-productive way. "He just needs more game time," said Spoelstra. "You can tell he's not in the same rhythm he was in preseason. He's doing everything possible outside of the games to prepare himself, but until you get in the games that's a different story."

5. Catching fire? The Nuggets had lost three straight and looked defeated while trailing 32-18 in the opening period Tuesday against the visiting Suns. Over the second and third quarters of their ensuing wins against Phoenix and Miami, however, the Nuggets have outscored their guests by a combined 154-85 -- a stunning output for a team that appears on the verge of being broken up.

"My job is to win the next game," said Karl of the Anthony trade rumors. "We probably want better circumstances. It's frustrating, it can be confusing, but when we walk in the gym we play basketball. We've done our job pretty damn well all year long."

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