Carmelo Anthony will likely be unavailable for Saturday night's Northwest Division matchup in Salt Lake City, but that might not matter considering how Chauncey Billups is playing in the league-leading scorer's absence.
With or without Anthony, Billups and the Denver Nuggets will try for their first season series sweep of the Utah Jazz, who are looking to extend their season-high winning streak to eight.
Anthony, averaging an NBA-best 29.7 points, is expected to miss his eighth straight game with a left ankle sprain. But Denver (34-16) has won five of seven without him, in large part to Billups' stellar play.
The veteran point guard had career highs with nine 3s and 39 points in Friday's 126-113 road win against the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers.
"I got a few easy looks from the 3-point line in the first quarter - it got me going," said Billups, averaging 24.2 points and shooting 48.4 percent from 3-point range in his last 15 games. "In this league, if anybody gets going it's going to be hard to stop."
Billups was named an All-Star reserve Wednesday, but only after Hornets point guard Chris Paul went down with a knee injury.
"There's some great guards out there. But we have the second-best record (in the West) and (Billups), in the last six weeks, has played better than the guys on the All-Star team," Nuggets coach George Karl told the team's official Web site. "I think it's somewhat of a no-brainer."
Even without Billups (groin strain) and Anthony (right knee contusion), Denver snapped a four-game slide in Salt Lake City with a 105-95 victory Jan. 2. Rookie Ty Lawson started for Billups in that contest and had season highs with 23 points and nine assists. Lawson is averaging 17.0 and 5.3 in three wins versus the Jazz.
Denver is scoring 112.7 points per game and shooting 49.4 percent against Utah (30-18) this season, but baskets could be at a premium Saturday when the Nuggets try to win their fifth straight in this matchup and extend their division lead over the Jazz to four games.
Utah is holding teams to 97.4 points and 42.5 percent from the field during its seven-game winning streak. The Jazz haven't won eight in a row since a 12-game run from Feb. 11-March 10.
Offensively, Utah continues to share the ball better than any team in the league with 26.1 assists per game. The Jazz had 32 assists on 42 field goals and won their ninth straight at home Wednesday, 118-105 over Portland.
"We passed the ball real well," said coach Jerry Sloan, whose team is averaging 110.6 points and shooting 54.1 percent during its seven-game overall run. "For the most part we passed it to guys that were open and we got some easy baskets."
All-Star point guard Deron Williams, who is fourth in the league with 9.7 assists per game, has double-doubles in 13 of his last 14 games against Denver. He is averaging 21.3 points and 11.8 assists during that stretch.
Carlos Boozer, scoring 16.0 points per game with 11.3 boards versus the Nuggets this season, could return Saturday after missing the last three contests with a strained right calf.
Utah hasn't had a longer home winning streak since a 15-game run from Jan. 30-March 30 of last season.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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