Carmelo Anthony played, LeBron James did not and Denver handed Miami its worst loss of the season, 130-102. 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 4 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.
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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 lockerroom 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.
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