DENVER – If this was Carmelo Anthony's farewell, he sure didn't go out on a high note.
Anthony scored just eight points in the Denver Nuggets' 96-87 loss to the New Orleans Hornets on Sunday night, putting a sour finish on a day filled with speculation that the superstar's departure from Denver was close after 7½ seasons.
A person with knowledge of the discussions told The Associated Press on Sunday night that the Nuggets are closing in on a deal that would send Anthony to New Jersey in a three-team trade.
Anthony declined to comment on the latest trade speculation before the game, but his performance was one of the worst of his career.
In foul trouble early, Anthony's first basket came with 6:51 left in the third quarter, when his finger-roll layup pulled Denver to 65-49, drawing scattered cheers from the crowd disgusted by the Nuggets' low energy.
When he returned to the game a minute into the fourth quarter, he was greeted with more jeers than cheers and was even booed when the Nuggets were closing in after trailing by 19 in the third quarter.
Chris Paul, who scored 20, and David West (19) helped New Orleans stave off the Nuggets and send Denver to its third straight loss.
Anthony took just five shots until the fourth quarter and finished 3 for 11 from the floor in 34 minutes.
Nuggets coach George Karl has on several occasions praised Anthony's professionalism for his hard work and spirited play this season, but Anthony looked disinterested for much of this night.
Talks on a three-team trade with the Nets and Detroit Pistons are "advancing," according to the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to publicly discuss the talks. The trade would reunite Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton in New Jersey along with Anthony, the person said. Although there has been progress, the person said there are potential roadblocks.
The deal would fall apart if Anthony refused to sign a three-year, $65 million contract extension with the Nets. Billups also has said he would be reluctant to leave Denver, although he could go to New Jersey, finish out the season, then have the Nets void his contract and return to his hometown Nuggets in 2011-12.
The Nets would send rookie power forward Derrick Favors, point guard Devin Harris and others to Denver in the deal that would get them Anthony, Billups, Hamilton, Shelden Williams and Terrico White, who is injured.
Talk of the Brooklyn-born Anthony ending up in the Big Apple has been swirling around the superstar since last summer, when he declined to sign his extension, put his Denver mansion on the market and married his longtime girlfriend, TV personality LaLa Vazquez, in an elaborate New York City wedding.
There were no hints at tip-off that a deal was imminent.
Both Anthony and Billups were in the starting lineup and not on the bench as might be expected. But the Nuggets didn't have a lot of leeway, either; already, they were without Kenyon Martin, Chris "Birdman" Andersen and Ty Lawson.
Billups went 2 for 12 from the floor and missed all six of his 3-pointers, but he was 9 for 9 from the line and finished with 13 points and three assists.
The Nuggets pulled to 86-83 on J.R. Smith's steal and slam, but the Hornets responded with an 8-2 spurt capped by Paul's 3-pointer over Anthony, who left the court after the game with his head down.
Anthony didn't score in the first quarter and had just two points at halftime after taking a seat for the final four minutes with three fouls.
Before tip-off, Karl said the Nuggets were doing their best to block out the latest trade reports and rumors swirling around: "I'm going to stay positive and energized," Karl said.
Karl added that he had heard nothing from general manager Masai Ujiri about an impending deal that would send Anthony packing after leading Denver to the playoffs in each of his first seven seasons. He said he spoke with Ujiri at shootaround Sunday morning and the talk centered around practice, not players.
Notes: Martin and Andersen were given the night off and they work their way back from summertime knee surgeries that sidelined them for the first two months of the season. ... Lawson was a scratch because he's experiencing pain when pushing off on his left leg. He strained his left knee Wednesday night against the Clippers before logging 12½ minutes at Sacramento Thursday night.
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan contributed from Newark, N.J.