HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Rockets misfired early, and seemed on the verge of getting routed by Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets.
When Courtney Lee and the rest of the Rockets’ reserves sparked the rally, the Nuggets had no answer.
Lee scored 22 points and Aaron Brooks added 18 off the bench and Houston shook off the sluggish start to shoot well from 3-point range in a 121-102 win over Denver on Monday night.
“We just came in, we just wanted to bring energy to the game,” said Lee, who went 5-for-7 on 3-pointers. “We started off a little slow, our shots weren’t falling, so we just wanted to get out there, get stops and attack.
“When we started doing that, we started having fun,” Lee said. “When you’re having fun, shots start falling and things start going your way.”
Shane Battier scored 17 points and Luis Scola added 10 points and eight rebounds for the Rockets, who finished 14-for-32 from 3-point range (44 percent) and beat the Nuggets for the second time in a week. Houston won 108-103 in Denver last Monday, despite Anthony’s 50 points.
Anthony scored 16 points on 4-for-14 shooting in this one and didn’t play in the fourth quarter. He said he bruised his right shoulder colliding with Luis Scola.
“I think they said I’ve got a deep bruise, a shoulder contusion or something like that,” Anthony said. “It’s good that we’ve got a day off.”
Anthony was held under 20 points for the first time in nine games and the Nuggets failed to hit 100 for the first time in eight.
“It was a crazy game,” Anthony said. “We were up 12 or more than that in that first half, and you blink and then the Rockets were up 12. So it was one of those crazy games.”
Houston has been mentioned as one of the teams interested in acquiring Anthony before the Feb. 24 trade deadline. Anthony deflected questions about possibly joining the Rockets.
“This team has always been a ‘play hard’ team,” Anthony said. “As far as coming here or anything like that, I don’t control that. Y’all got to talk to my management about that.”
The Rockets matched their season high in assists (31) on Monday night, led by Kyle Lowry’s seven. They missed 13 of 20 shots in the first quarter and trailed by as many as 15 early in the second. Led by the bench, Houston started shooting better and finished the half with a 27-9 spurt to lead 58-54 at the break.
“We couldn’t buy a shot, and they just weren’t missing in the first quarter,” Battier said. “We came out in the second quarter, and the bench did a fantastic job of pushing the tempo.”
The Nuggets mustered only 14 points and had more turnovers (6) than field goals (4) in the third quarter to trail 88-68 heading to the fourth.
The Rockets preserved the big lead by going 10-for-20 from beyond the arc in the second half. Houston reached its highest point total since a 129-125 win in Minnesota on Jan. 24.
“We just found a rhythm,” Battier said. “It’s been a long time since we had a game like this, so it feels good.”
Arron Afflalo led Denver with 17 points and Chauncey Billups added 15.
Denver opened the game with a 12-3 spurt after Houston missed 8 of its first 9 shots. Anthony was scoreless until sinking two free throws with 2:25 left in the quarter to put Denver up 27-15.
Anthony picked up a loose ball and dunked in the first minute of the second quarter to put Denver up 34-19, then came out for a rest with 9:50 left before halftime.
Houston closed the gap to seven before Anthony returned with 5:06 remaining before the break. Lee and Brooks hit 3s over the next three minutes, and the Rockets cut Denver’s lead to 49-48.
“I really have to give the group off the bench a lot of credit,” Houston coach Rick Adelman said. “They came in and just changed the whole energy of the game.”
Chuck Hayes scored inside and Kevin Martin hit his first 3 in the first minute of the third quarter to stretch the lead to nine. Battier sank a 3-pointer with 8:06 left in the quarter to put Houston up 72-60.
Anthony missed a 3-point try and was 3-for-12 from the field midway through the third quarter. Battier and Martin hit consecutive 3s later to extend the lead to 81-64. Lee picked up consecutive steals leading to fast-break baskets that sent the lead over 20.
Denver has lost five of its last six road games, and four of its last five overall.
Notes: The Nuggets have allowed 100 points or more in each of their last 18 road games. … Denver’s 14 third-quarter points matched a season low for a Houston opponent. … The Rockets outrebounded the Nuggets 46-39. … Denver has dropped double-digit leads in 11 games this season.