MINNEAPOLIS – Carmelo Anthony was cruising against the Minnesota Timberwolves' porous defense, putting together one of the most efficient nights of his career with 9 for 12 shooting in the first three quarters.
Then his bothersome right elbow flared up in the fourth quarter, rendering him practically incapable of shooting for the rest of the game, so J.R. Smith finished what Melo started.
Anthony scored 25 points in three quarters and Smith scored 10 of his 14 points in the final seven minutes to help the Denver Nuggets to a 113-100 victory over the Timberwolves on Saturday night.
"I was just trying to set some screens and space the floor," Anthony said. "I knew I couldn't really get any shots up."
The way the Nuggets were sharing the ball, it didn't matter.
Chauncey Billups added 21 points and 13 assists for his first double-double of the season and Arron Afflalo scored 22 points for the Nuggets, who shot 54.4 percent and had 30 assists on 43 baskets.
Newly chosen All-Star Kevin Love had 18 points and 19 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who have lost 14 of their last 16 games. Michael Beasley had 23 points and five assists, but was 7 for 20 from the floor and missed four free throws.
"They were just hitting every shot from the get go, they just got in a good rhythm," Love said. "They just have so many threats on that team that if they get it going and two or three guys get it going, that's just too much to handle because they've got so much offensive firepower."
Anthony only attempted one shot in the fourth quarter, with Karl moving him to the power forward to take the attention away from Smith, Afflalo and Billups on the perimeter. Anthony said he would be a fine after a day of rest on Sunday.
Smith, the high-flying former slam dunk champion, was 4 for 5 in the fourth, hitting a couple of tough fallaway jumpers and putting the game away with a three-point play with just under two minutes to play.
"We passed the ball," coach George Karl said. "I've always felt our team, when we pass, we play well. We have so many good scorers. If we play together, I don't care what kind of defense you throw at us, you have a difficult time finding answers for how we can score points."
Back in December, the Nuggets won at Target Center without the injured Anthony, Nene and Kenyon Martin, so they figured to have a much easier time with those three back in the lineup. They were cruising midway through the third quarter with a 14-point lead.
Afflalo hit his first four 3-pointers and Anthony was getting easy layups and open jumpers. But Minnesota outscored Denver 15-6 in the final five minutes of the third period to trim the deficit to three points heading into the fourth.
Sebastian Telfair scored five points in the burst to make the score 87-84.
Anthony Tolliver's two free throws made the score 91-89, but they had no answer for Smith down the stretch.
Denver outscored the Wolves 20-9 from that point to cruise to the win.
"We did a really good job of opening the floor up, running pick-and-rolls, penetrating and kicking," Billups said. "Guys got great looks tonight. It's fun to play that way."
Nene added 12 points and six rebounds for Denver.
Jonny Flynn had 11 points and four assists and the mistake-prone Wolves committed a season low eight turnovers. But that was offset by 39 percent shooting that made it impossible to keep up with the Nuggets' high-scoring offense, which entered the night averaging a league-high 107.5 points per game.
"We're just not quite connected like that (on defense). There should be a nice flow to the movement to our defense and we get this kind of stuff," Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said, making a frenetic, chopping motion with his arms. "That opens up gaps for good teams to be able to find those opportunities inside."
Notes: Smith was fined $25,000 for a flagrant foul against Utah's Raja Bell on Friday night. ... Nuggets PG Ty Lawson did not play because of a sprained left knee. ... Timberwolves F Martell Webster did not play because of back spasms and PG Luke Ridnour missed his third straight game while tending to a family matter.