The Denver Nuggets didn’t need Carmelo Anthony’s usual double-digit performance to beat the Houston Rockets 104-94 Sunday night.
Chauncey Billups scored 28 points, including 11 in a 19-7 third-quarter run the Nuggets used to break away from the Rockets, who played their third straight game without injured star Tracy McGrady (sore left foot).
The Nuggets lost their leader when Anthony took a seat in the second quarter after aggravating a sore right elbow that’s been bothering him for two weeks.
Anthony scored just two points, halting his NBA-best streak of consecutive games in double figures at 221. That honor now goes to LeBron James, who has scored in double figures 134 straight times.
Anthony, who played 14 minutes and was 1-of-4 from the floor, hadn’t been held below 10 points since Nov. 28, 2005, when he played just 1 1/2 minutes against New Jersey before leaving with a sprained ankle after scoring two points.
His franchise-record streak made him the most consistent offensive player in the NBA since 2005. He’s been struggling with his shot this season but is still averaging 21.1 points while posting career highs in both rebounds (8.7) and assists (3.9).
Yao Ming led Houston’s balanced production with 18 points.
Nene had 17 points and 10 boards for the Nuggets, who took a 48-44 halftime lead thanks to two 3-pointers from J.R. Smith in the closing minutes of the first half. Smith, who has been in and out of coach George Karl’s dog house for lapses in play and professionalism, finished with 19 points.
Billups sank a trio of 3-pointers in the key spurt that put Denver in control 72-58.
The Rockets chipped away, pulling to 89-84 with 7 1/2 minutes left on consecutive baskets by Carl Landry, capping a 9-2 run.
Chris Andersen halted Houston’s momentum with a pair of free throws and Nene’s basket off Billups’ 10th assist made it 97-86 with five minutes left.
The Rockets missed just four of their 26 free throws, but two of them came in crunch time, including a technical free throw by Yao, who was 8-for-9 from the stripe.
Houston was down 99-92 when Kenyon Martin, who had just sunk a sweet hook shot over Yao, rejected the big man with a thunderous block that ended the Rockets’ hopes for a comeback.