Published March 14, 2013
DENVER – Carmelo Anthony's return to the Pepsi Center was a flop Wednesday night when Wilson Chandler scored 24 points and the Denver Nuggets blew out the ailing New York Knicks 117-94.
The Nuggets led by as many as 34 points on the way to winning their 10th straight game and 14th straight at home.
This one was such a laugher that their starters didn't play the fourth quarter.
Neither did Anthony, who left a couple of minutes into the second half when his balky right knee, which he acknowledged Tuesday isn't getting better, acted up. He scored just nine points on 3-of-12 shooting.
The crowd that mostly jeered him chanted derisively, "Where is Melo?" throughout the fourth quarter.
Not on the court and not even on the bench.
By game's end, the chant had morphed into, "Who needs Melo?"
The Nuggets raced out to a 64-42 halftime lead with Anthony in New York's lineup and they stretched it to 97-69 after three quarters with him in the visiting locker room.
Iman Shumpert led New York with 20 points.
This was Anthony's first game at the Pepsi Center since he demanded a trade to New York more than two years ago, leading to a blockbuster deal that reshaped both franchises.
The Nuggets used a 21-1 run to drain the drama from this game midway through the second quarter when New York went almost 7½ minutes between buckets, falling behind 54-31.
The Knicks trailed 58-28 when they lost Tyson Chandler for the night with a bruised left knee after he slammed into Corey Brewer under the basket and had to be helped to the locker room. Anthony played just 2 minutes, 15 seconds of the third quarter before he, too, retreated to the locker room.
Anthony was jeered every time he touched the ball and his every mistake or miss was cheered. Fans took delight when he threw up an airball in the final minute of the first half, grabbed the board himself and was going back up for the score when Danilo Gallinari knocked the ball out of his hands and off his right leg out of bounds. Denver ball.
Anthony received a mixed but decidedly strong reception during pregame introductions — when the public address announcer accidentally presented him as No. 15, his number during his eight seasons in Denver, and not his current No. 7.
Masai Ujiri, the Nuggets executive vice president who famously said on the night of the trade, "We got killed," called the deal a win-win Wednesday and said there were no residual hard feelings.
"Honestly, we've moved on," Ujiri told The Associated Press. "Melo was great, great kid, just saw him at halfcourt and spent some time (with him). I think it worked out for everybody. The Nuggets as an organization has moved on and Melo has moved on."
Asked if they were better without him than they were with him, Ujiri demurred.
"I can't answer that question. It's a tough one."
The numbers say they are — albeit barely.
Denver is 100-57 since the blockbuster trade.
In the 157 games before the deal, they were 99-58.
Informed good-naturedly before tipoff that he'd better win if he wanted to say the team was better off now, Nuggets coach George Karl smiled and replied, "Wow, that's a lot of work. That's a lot of pressure."
Anthony wasn't the only former Nugget returning to the Pepsi Center. He brought J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin, Raymond Felton and Marcus Camby with him.
During the first timeout, there was a video tribute to them accompanied by John Sebastian's iconic "Welcome Back" song.
That turned out to be the highlight of the night for the former Nuggets.
Anthony waxed nostalgic about his return after practice Tuesday night, but he hardly recognized the team he left — and not just because they were decked out in their new canary yellow uniforms.
Lawson is the only Nuggets player who was teammates with Anthony 25 months ago, but 10 other Nuggets can trace their arrival to Anthony's departure from Denver.
Although there was plenty of animosity when the deal went down Feb. 22, 2011, time has smoothed things over. The Nuggets landed a bevy of young players, trade exemptions and draft picks they've used to retool their roster, and the Knicks got a bona fide superstar to build a team around.
The resurgent Knicks (38-24) are leading the Atlantic Division. The Nuggets (44-22) are in the hunt for home-court advantage in the playoffs, and they're out to prove Karl's mantra that an NBA franchise doesn't need a superstar to be great — although he acknowledges Gallinari or Lawson are quickly reaching star status.
Gallinari came over in the Melo deal along with fellow starter Kosta Koufos, key reserve Wilson Chandler and emergency center Timofey Mozgov. The Nuggets also got Felton, whom they flipped for point guard Andre Miller and two draft picks, one of which landed them Jordan Hamilton.
They used trade exemptions from the deal to acquire Brewer from Dallas and JaVale McGee from Washington. A first-round draft pick acquired in the blockbuster trade was used to get starter Andre Iguodala from Philadelphia last summer, and Denver used a second-round pick from the deal to draft Quincy Miller.
Notes: Gallinari hit his 500th career 3-pointer. ... The Nuggets have won 32 of their last 42 games. ... Karl said he was disappointed it took so long for any NBA team to take a chance on Martin, who's on his second 10-day contract with the Knicks. "He has a lot of professionalism to him. He knows the right stuff, the right way. Sometimes he fights that way. I thought the league was mean to him," Karl said.
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