Anthony helps Nuggets overcome loss of Billups

DENVER: Carmelo Anthony scored 38 points, his fifth straight 30-plus point performance, and the Denver Nuggets overcame the loss of star guard Chauncey Billups to a groin injury to beat the Houston Rockets 111-101 on Wednesday night.

Billups, who had 15 points and is averaging 17.5, left the game with nine minutes left in the third quarter. He did not return and the team said he strained his left groin. There was no immediate word on his status for Friday's game at New Orleans.

Reserve J.R. Smith added 21 points for the Nuggets, who have won five in a row at home since their only loss of the season at the Pepsi Center, 106-100 to Minnesota on Nov. 29.

Aaron Brooks scored 23 points for Houston, which lost the second game of a back-to-back set for the first time this season. The Rockets were 5-0 previously in the second game of back-to-backs, including completing their first sweep of a back-to-back earlier this month.

Trevor Ariza added 18 points and David Andersen 17 for Houston. Tracy McGrady played sparingly in his second game since returning microfracture surgery on his left knee, missing the only shot he took in seven minutes of play.

Down seven at the break, Houston tied it at 71 when Ariza converted a three-point play. But successive 3-pointers by Anthony and Smith helped Denver regain command, and the Nuggets took an 85-78 lead into the fourth quarter.

From there, Denver scored 10 of the first 14 points in the fourth quarter, including a pair of baskets by Anthony to open a 95-82 advantage with 6:52 remaining. Anthony, the NBA's leading scorer, made 19 of 20 free throws, including six straight in the waning moments to help hold off the Rockets.

After a tip-in by Ariza pulled the Rockets within 49-46, the Nuggets scored nine of the next 13 points, culminating with a reverse layup by Ty Lawson in the waning seconds of the second quarter to put Denver up 58-51 at halftime.

Houston started out strong, taking a 19-11 lead on Ariza's 22-foot jumper with 4:23 left in the first period. Denver got a three-point play from Anthony to start an 11-0 run, putting the Nuggets back in front.

NOTES: Houston coach Rick Adelman said before the game McGrady would be brought along gradually. "He's been out a whole year. We're not going to push his minutes right now," Adelman said. ... Anthony has scored 30 or more points in 17 games this season, four more than he had all of last season. ... Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall watched the game from a courtside seat. ... The Nuggets snapped a three-game losing streak to Houston and improved their home record to 12-1 this season.