Carmelo Anthony scored 35 points as the Denver Nuggets got the better of the depleted San Antonio Spurs 104-96 in a thrilling Western Conference showdown on Tuesday. The win moved the Northwest Division-leading Nuggets to within a game of the Spurs in the race for the No 2 spot in the Western Conference, but the encounter was not a true test of the two teams at full strength due to a number of injuries.
The top three players for the Southwest Division-leading Spurs - Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili - all sat out the game because of various bumps and scrapes that were hampering their fitness. Ginobili had a bruised hip while Duncan and Parker were given the night off to allow them to return to full fitness. "For a variety of reasons, I didn't think Timmy and Tony should play," the Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of his side's absentees.
Anthony, who was playing in his second game since returning from a fractured right hand, had 20 points by half-time and 30 after three quarters. Nene added 17 points and 11 rebounds with Linas Kleiza scoring 13 points for the Nuggets. The Nuggets played without forward Kenyon Martin and guard Chauncey Billups missed the second half with a sprained right ankle. He finished with only four points for his efforts to be the only low point for Denver.
Despite the win, the Nuggets coach George Karl was upset with the performance of his team, which saw the Spurs cut Denver's 17-point third-quarter lead to two points at one stage in the fourth quarter. "How immature we played," Karl said. "We were extremely fortunate." Roger Mason had 26 points and six assists to pace the Spurs, who had won four in a row. "We knew without the big three it would be a different game for us," Mason said.
Meanwhile in other action, Ray Allen hit a pair of three-pointers in the final 30 seconds to lead the Boston Celtics to a 100-99 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. Boston were without Kevin Garnett, but nevertheless were able to extend their winning run to 12 games. LeBron James scored 33 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers comprehensively outclassed the Toronto Raptors 101-83 in a one-sided encounter.
Daniel Gibson scored 18 points for the Cavaliers, who set a franchise record in improving to a perfect record of 23-0 at home this season. James also made the history books as he became the youngest player to reach 12,000 points in the NBA when he hit two free throws to make it 87-75 with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. Yao Ming led the way with 28 points and Luis Scola netted 13 as the Houston Rockets took care of the Chicago Bulls with a narrow 107-100.
The Rockets also received contributions from Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest, who combined for 26 points on 12-of-23 shooting and 12 assists to cap a fine team performance. Brook Lopez had a fine night on the court as he collected 22 points and 12 rebounds as the New Jersey Nets spoiled Richard Jefferson's return to the IZOD Centre with a dominant 99-85 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Ryan Anderson, another first-year player, had 19 points and seven rebounds for the Nets, who shot 10-of-20 from the arc. Randy Foye led seven players in double figures with 19 points as the Minnesota Timberwolves used a big fourth quarter to pull out a 116-111 victory over the Indiana Pacers. Sebastian Telfair and Ryan Gomes scored 16 points apiece and Kevin Love came off the bench for 15 and 11 rebounds for Minnesota.
* With Agencies