DENVER (AP) – His return to Denver having gone so awry, Carmelo Anthony is returning to New York to get his ailing right knee drained.
“I just didn’t have it. I tried,” Anthony said after scoring just nine points before leaving early in the third quarter of the Knicks’ 117-94 blowout loss to the Nuggets on Wednesday night.
It was Anthony’s first game at the Pepsi Center since he demanded a trade to New York more than two years ago, leading to a blockbuster deal that reshaped both franchises.
With the crowd jeering him and his knee barking at him, Anthony had one of his worst games ever at the Pepsi Center, his home for the first eight seasons of his NBA career.
“It started tightening up, started stiffening up. Some movements that I couldn’t make, movement laterally, felt like I didn’t have no pop, no power,” Anthony said. “I tried it in the second half, coming out after halftime. I couldn’t move.”
So, the Knicks went on to Portland after the game without Anthony, who’s heading across the country in the opposite direction.
“I’m going to go get it drained, get the fluid out. Get to the bottom of it quick, so I can get back on the court,” Anthony said.
Anthony might have pushed himself more than he should have in order to play in Denver.
“I was always concerned,” he said. “I was being naive to myself, saying OK. Trying to psyche myself out, `I can do it. I can do it.’ But there comes a point where you’ve got to figure it out and get to the bottom of it and move on.”
Looking back, maybe the Knicks shouldn’t have let him play. He returned Monday night at Golden State after missing three games with knee pain.
“I kind of rolled with what he was thinking,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “He wanted to play and we played him. The third quarter, he had to pull out. Melo doesn’t pull out of very many games. Obviously, it’s bothering him. We’re going to send him back to be evaluated.”
Wilson Chandler scored 24 points and the Nuggets led by as many as 34 points on the way to winning their 10th straight game and 14th straight at home.
This one was such a laugher that their starters didn’t play the fourth quarter.
Neither did Anthony, who was 3-of-12 shooting when he left a couple of minutes into the second half.
The crowd that mostly jeered him chanted derisively, “Where is Melo?” throughout the fourth quarter.
Not on the court and not even on the bench.
By game’s end, the chant had morphed into, “Who needs Melo?”
The Nuggets raced out to a 64-42 halftime lead with Anthony in New York’s lineup and they stretched it to 97-69 after three quarters with him in the visiting locker room.
Iman Shumpert led New York with 20 points, but the Knicks were manhandled on the boards 53-33 and outscored 62-24 in the paint.
“I like my team, and I’m proud of it,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “Not a lot of those guys were here for the drama that went on here and to play with that much pride tonight I thought was first class.”
The Nuggets used a 21-1 run to drain the drama from this game midway through the second quarter when New York went almost 7 1/2 minutes between buckets, falling behind 54-31.
“They couldn’t score and we ran by them on almost every possession,” Karl said. “It was a great energy, the building had an electricity to it. I think our team was at playoff intensity mode. I also think we caught New York in a bad place. Sometimes that happens.”
The Knicks trailed 58-28 when they lost Tyson Chandler for the night with a bruised left knee after he slammed into Corey Brewer under the basket and had to be helped to the locker room.
Anthony received a mixed but decidedly strong reception during pregame introductions – when the public address announcer accidentally presented him as No. 15, his number during his eight seasons in Denver, and not his current No. 7.
Masai Ujiri, the Nuggets executive vice president who famously said on the night of the trade, “We got killed,” called the deal a win-win Wednesday and said there were no residual hard feelings.
“Honestly, we’ve moved on,” Ujiri told The Associated Press. “Melo was great, great kid, just saw him at halfcourt and spent some time (with him). I think it worked out for everybody. The Nuggets as an organization has moved on and Melo has moved on.”
Asked if they were better without him than they were with him, Ujiri demurred.
“I can’t answer that question. It’s a tough one.”
The numbers say they are – albeit barely.
Denver is 100-57 since the blockbuster trade.
In the 157 games before the deal, they were 99-58.
Anthony wasn’t the only former Nugget returning to the Pepsi Center. He brought J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin, Raymond Felton and Marcus Camby with him.
During the first timeout, there was a video tribute to them accompanied by John Sebastian’s iconic “Welcome Back” song.
That turned out to be the highlight of the night for the former Nuggets.
Anthony waxed nostalgic about his return after practice Tuesday night, but he hardly recognized the team he left – and not just because they were decked out in their new canary yellow uniforms. Lawson is the only Nuggets player who was teammates with Anthony 25 months ago, but 10 other Nuggets can trace their arrival to Anthony’s departure from Denver.
Although there was plenty of animosity when the deal went down Feb. 22, 2011, time has smoothed things over. The Nuggets landed a bevy of young players, trade exemptions and draft picks they’ve used to retool their roster, and the Knicks got a bona fide superstar to build a team around.
The resurgent Knicks (38-24) are still leading the Atlantic Division. The Nuggets (44-22) are in the hunt for home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Karl said he was glad this game had finally come and gone.
“Yeah, I think it’s time to let everything go and it was probably too long in getting it here,” he said.
Notes: Gallinari hit his 500th career 3-pointer. … The Nuggets have won 32 of their last 42 games. … Woodson said Chandler is probable for Thursday night’s game.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Sports Writer
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