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Carmelo is chairman of the boards

Carmelo Anthony figured that with Kenyon Martin out and Chris Andersen coming back from two sprained ankles, Nene would have his hands full with Emeka Okafor.

So, who was left to clean up the glass?

'Melo.

Anthony pulled down a career-best 18 rebounds to go with his 26 points in Denver's 93-80 win over the New Orleans Hornets on Thursday night.

"I was going for 20. That was my goal, to get 20 rebounds tonight. I knew we were going to need it," Anthony said. "I knew Nene was going to have his hands full with Okafor, and our other bigs ... would have their hands full with David West. So, it was a great opportunity for me to go down there and grab some boards."

"When he's rebounding like that," Hornets coach Jeff Bower said, "he's a handful."

Anthony's offense wasn't exactly absent, although acting head coach Adrian Dantley noted he only went to the line twice.

The Nuggets led by 27 - on Nene's steal and slam that made it 64-37 in the opening seconds of the second half - but they saw their lead trimmed to 79-70 on Darren Collison's free throw midway through the fourth quarter.

Anthony re-entered the game and swished a fadeway bucket, then grabbed his own miss, spun around and sank a follow-up that gave the Nuggets an 85-72 lead with 4:23 left.

He scored on the Nuggets' next two trips downcourt to make it 89-72.

"Early in the game, my scoring, we didn't really need it as much," Anthony said. "We had everybody playing together. Everybody was playing well. J.R. (Smith) came off the bench, gave us some big buckets and kept us going. It came down to that fourth quarter when they started making their run and we needed some points to finish the game off."

Not that anyone was surprised.

"That's what stars do," Bower said. "They tend to put games away or separate games, finish them. He's shown he's a great finisher."

And now, that he can be a great rebounder.

"It was awesome, man," Chauncey Billups said. "He has the ability to do that. I'm not saying he's an 18-rebound-a-night-guy but with his quickness and his explosiveness, most of the time he has an advantage on his defender.

"With Kenyon out we know that we have a hole there and some guys are going to have to have some big nights on the glass for us."

Despite the late run, it was another in a long line of fine performances by the Nuggets while the team awaits the return of Martin, their defensive stalwart who's undergoing therapy for left knee tendinitis and rookie point guard Ty Lawson, who's been out all month with a sprained left shoulder.

Coach George Karl missed his sixth game - but his first at home - since beginning radiation and chemotherapy treatment for throat cancer a month ago.

The Nuggets, who have won eight of nine, have gone 5-1 under Dantley, who constantly reminds his players what Karl wants them to be doing.

And one of the things Karl wanted was for Anthony to crash the boards.

"I'm pretty sure he can't say anything about the rebounding tonight," Anthony said after his third straight double-double and his ninth of the season.

Anthony said he had no idea that his previous career high was 16 boards, set against New York in 2007.

"No, I was just focusing on trying to get 20," he said.

Well, then, he failed.

"I know," Anthony said, smiling.

Andersen added 13 rebounds as the Nuggets beat New Orleans for the second time in six nights and moved a half-game ahead of Dallas for sole possession of second place in the Western Conference, 3 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers.

Smith scored 13 of his 17 points in the second quarter to help the Nuggets take control with a 62-37 lead at the half. Nene added 20 points for the Nuggets, who improved to 14-1 at home when facing a team playing the second of back-to-back games.

Collison and Marcus Thornton each scored 15 points to lead the Hornets.

Anthony called this the best rebounding game of his life.

"I had like four in pre-K one time," he cracked.

NOTES: The Hornets were again without leading scorer Chris Paul, who underwent left knee surgery Feb. 4 and missed his 24th straight game. ... Peja Stojakovic missed the game with a groin injury. ... The Nuggets are 30-5 at home, tied with the Lakers for second-best in the NBA to Cleveland's 30-4 mark. ... Denver won the season series (3-1) for the first time since 2004-05.