DENVER — Carmelo Anthony was benched for the fourth quarter.
He watched all 12 minutes sitting down, and Nuggets head coach George Karl never even looked his way.
With 2 minutes, 43 seconds left in the third quarter Wednesday, just like
Sunday, Earl Boykins checked in for the second-year star. And just like Sunday, Anthony didn’t come back in.
However, unlike Sunday, the game wasn’t in doubt. Unlike Sunday, the Denver Nuggets were leading by double digits.
Unlike Sunday, the benching was a luxury, not a punishment.
In fact, Karl was showing the Charlotte Bobcats some mercy. Anthony played just 21 minutes, but he did plenty of damage in that time, scoring 25 points on 10 of 16 shooting in Denver’s 120-101 win. Anthony, with his fiancé, La La Vasquez sitting courtside, put Sunday’s benching behind him and played not to prove something, but to win a game.
“When you try to prove something to somebody, it never works,” he said. “You just go out there, play basketball and continue doing what I was doing.”
What he did Wednesday was play like he deserved the franchise tag he was given almost two years ago. Anthony had 11 points in the first quarter and 15 by halftime, and he hit six of his seven shots. He cooled off in the third quarter, going just 4-for-9 from the field, but when he left the game Denver was ahead 90-72.
“I tried to get it going early rather than late,” he said. “Against a team like this we wanted to attack them early, be aggressive with them early and see how they react.”
With Kenyon Martin out with a sore left knee, Karl said Anthony is the team’s best post-up player, and he wanted him to get his shots in rhythm and on his own reads.
“I think he’s getting better at that,” Karl said. “He’s been doing a good job of getting in that position. I think he’s going to see more double-teams and we’re going to have to get better at defeating the double team.”
The Nuggets did almost everything right except convince Karl to cancel today’s practice, something they could have done with a better defensive effort in the third quarter.
“Hold ’em to 40 points in the second half,” Karl said of the deal. “(The Bobcats) got 31 in the third quarter, so that was blown up quick. We will show up (today) and practice. I don’t know how hard we’ll go, but we’ll show up.”
The Nuggets (33-30) will have plenty to be happy about today. Not only did they take a one-game lead on the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff race, seven guys scored in double figures Wednesday despite no one taking more than 16 shots. They also had 40 assists, the best in the NBA this season, with point guard Andre Miller leading the way with 14.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a 40-assist game,” said Boykins, who had 11. “Guys made shots.”
Denver hit 54 percent of its shots, but none was bigger than the layup by Mark Pope with 4:11 left in the game. The Nuggets’ human victory cigar hadn’t scored all year, and when he got his only two points of the season in the face of Charlotte rookie Emeka Okafor, the fans cheered.
“I could see in Mr. Okafor’s eyes that he was a little nervous,” said Pope, seizing his media moment with self-deprecating humor. “He obviously watched my game film, and so when I cut him real low down there, I think he was a little nervous about getting Popeserized.”
Karl joined in on the fun by making sure his 12th man didn’t get a big head.
“He could have scored more,” he said.
So could have Anthony, but unlike Sunday, he didn’t mind letting someone else take care of the fourth quarter.