Take it from the man who just won the NBA's Sportsmanship Award, the Denver Nuggets' historic dismantling of the New Orleans Hornets left more than just the losers red-faced.
"In a strange sort of way, being up by that much is kind of embarrassing for the team that's up sometimes," Billups' said Tuesday, 12 hours after the Nuggets' 121-63 shellacking of the Hornets. "Only because, you play the game with integrity and you don't want to show anybody up. But at the same time you want to play hard and you want to compete.
"It was an embarrassing thing to go through, but I thought the guys were very professional and just kept playing. There wasn't no (trash) talk or rubbing it in. It was just playing hard."
Denver's 58-point win matched the most lopsided victory in NBA playoff history, the Minneapolis Lakers' 133-75 blowout of the St. Louis Hawks in 1956.
More importantly, it put the Nuggets ahead 3-1 in their best-of-seven series and on the verge of winning a playoff matchup for the first time since 1994. The last time they won a best-of-seven series was 1985.
Billups said the biggest thing the Nuggets have to do in Game 5 on Wednesday night in Denver is act like the roles were reversed.
"Even though we're not facing elimination, we got to kind of act like it," Billups suggested.
Billups, who led the Detroit Pistons to six straight Eastern Conference Finals and the NBA championship in 2004, called close-out games the hardest ones to win.
"It's a hard game because the team that you're facing knows that they have to do every single thing that they can to try to stay alive," Billups said. "And any time you're in a desperate situation, it's a dangerous situation."
Add to it the nature of their win in Game 4, which coach George Karl considers the most complete and efficient game in his coaching career, and the Nuggets know the Hornets will come out determined to show their pride.
"The pressure is on them to close us out," Hornets All-Star David West said. "We have to go up there with the mind-set that we have to do everything in our power to keep the game close."
Like they did in Game 3, which they won by two points.
Billups said Denver's biggest pitfall could be overconfidence.
"That's the biggest key right there. When you win a game by that kind of a margin, you kind of feel like you're on top of the world," Billups said. "I told them after the game last night, 'Enjoy it. You should enjoy it, you deserve to enjoy it. ... But come tomorrow, it's back to business."
Chris Andersen said the Nuggets have already put their big win in the rearview mirror.
"It's a new game. It's 0-0," he said.
"I don't think we're overconfident," Anthony Carter said. "We weren't overconfident on the bus ride from the area. It was quiet like we just lost. We weren't playing loud music, celebrating or none of that."
While the banged-up and browbeaten Hornets scrapped their practice plans Tuesday, the Nuggets had only a short film session, one they thoroughly enjoyed.
"There's a lot of things that we did good yesterday; there's a few things that we probably could improve on, but there aren't that many," Billups said.
The Nuggets stifled All-Star point guard Chris Paul, whose four points and six assists amounted to one of the worst games of his career, with waves of double teams that induced a half-dozen turnovers.
"We compared it to like a football (strategy)," Karl said. "We want Chris Paul to feel like he's being blitzed."
Karl said he won't change his strategy much for Game 5 but noted that in his first year as an assistant coach in the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs blew a 3-1 lead to the Washington Bullets in 1978.
"There's been a lot of scary moments up 3-1 in my career," Karl said. "It's a good place to be ... but you've still got to close the door."
"They're going to come back hungrier and probably a little more aggressive," Andersen said, "but if we keep doing what we're doing, passing the ball, attacking them, making Paul see two guys, we'll win the game."
Billups won the Joe Dumars Trophy as league's top sportsman the same year he returned to Denver, where he was born and raised.
The Nuggets sent Allen Iverson to the Pistons for Billups a week into the season and Billups transformed his new team from an afterthought to the second seed in the Western Conference, one that's on the cusp of ending five straight seasons of first-round exits.
"This year has been a dream, man, coming to Denver and helping to make this team into one of the elite teams, make the All-Star team, being successful in the playoffs thus far, getting this trophy," Billups said. "This year has just been unbelievable. I couldn't write a better script for myself. I just hope that it keeps getting better."
(Copyright Associated Press, All Rights Reserved)
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