DENVER (AP) - Building a hefty cushion, the Denver Nuggets didn't have to worry about another fourth-quarter breakdown.
Chauncey Billups scored 18 points and the short-handed Nuggets took a 20-point lead into the fourth quarter en route to a 95-77 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.
Denver snapped a season-high, three-game losing streak, including Sunday's loss to Philadelphia in which the Nuggets blew a fourth-quarter lead at home for the first time in 58 regular-season games.
Nuggets coach George Karl was confident enough in the Nuggets' advantage that he rested most of his starters during the fourth, giving them a break in advance of Wednesday night's game at Minnesota.
``It was great to be able to get a little rest in the fourth and let the bench come in and close it out,' Billups said. ``It was some much-needed rest for the starters. But guys continued to play hard and continued to do the things we had done the first three quarters and that's exactly what we needed them to do.'
J.R. Smith and Nene added 17 points apiece for the Nuggets, who were without forward Carmelo Anthony for a fourth consecutive game following the death of his sister. The Nuggets said in a statement that Anthony is expected to rejoin the team on Thursday.
Anthony left the team to be with his family after the death last week of Michelle Anthony, 38. Her funeral was held on Monday.
Karl said he leaned on his veteran corps against the Trail Blazers, singling out Billups, Nene, Kenyon Martin, who had 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting, and Chris Andersen, who had a season-high 12 rebounds.
``I thought they felt the urgency of the win, that we had to get a win,' Karl said, noting the Nuggets hadn't lost four in a row since February 2007. ``Defensively, we were sound and solid all night long. Without Melo, we couldn't have any letups like we've been having.'
LaMarcus Aldridge had 18 points and 13 rebounds for the Trail Blazers, who lost their fifth straight at the Pepsi Center while being held to a season low in scoring by a Denver opponent. The previous low also was by Portland in an 86-83 victory over the Nuggets at the Rose Garden on Nov. 18.
The Nuggets also were missing forward Al Harrington, who was expected to be sidelined for at least two games after dislocating his right thumb in Sunday's loss to Philadelphia.
Nicolas Batum had 14 points and Rudy Fernandez added 11 for Portland.
The Trail Blazers were without center Marcus Camby, who sprained his right ankle during the third quarter of Monday night's 96-91 win at Utah.
``We just never really got going,' said Aldridge, who also had a career-high seven blocks. ``It was just one of those nights where it was tough for us to get in a good a rhythm. It's a tough back-to-back. No excuses, but I think last night took a lot to win in Utah, which a lot of teams don't ever do. We just tried to use what we had left to try to get this win today and it wasn't enough.'
The Nuggets led 48-41 at halftime, scoring five points in the final 1.8 seconds of the second quarter on a 3-pointer by Smith and, following the inbounds, a steal and a layup by Arron Afflalo, who finished with 15 points.
``Crazy. That was a big little stretch for us,' Billups said. ``It gave us a little bit of a cushion to come out in the third quarter and try to open it up a little bit.'
The Nuggets opened the third quarter with a 19-8 run that carried Denver to a 67-49 lead with 5:28 left in the period. By the start of the fourth, the Nuggets stretched their lead to 78-58 on the way to their biggest win since a 22-point victory against Utah in the season opener.
NOTES: Afflalo is the only member of the Nuggets to have started all 30 games this season. ... Aldridge had his 13th double-double of the season. ... Rudy Fernandez had 11 points for the Trail Blazers, scoring in double figures for the fifth time in six games. ... The Nuggets have gone 304 consecutive regular season games without losing four in a row, the longest such streak in the NBA.
The Associated Press News Service
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