- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2008

DENVER Life got even more difficult for the Washington Wizards on Friday night.

In addition to falling 111-100 to the Denver Nuggets for their sixth straight defeat, the Wizards lost yet another starter to injury.

The Wizards were already playing without leading scorer Gilbert Arenas (knee surgery), and Caron Butler (strained hip flexor). Then point guard Antonio Daniels had to leave last night’s game — just six minutes into the first quarter — when bone spurs in his right ankle became too painful for him to play.

The Wizards staff originally said at halftime that Daniels’ injury was knee tendonitis. But the guard clarified his injury as he limped out of the locker room in a suit minutes after the game.

Daniels, who made his 33rd start in place of Arenas, has battled knee and ankle problems since December. He said he learned Tuesday that the pain in his ankle was bone spurs. He also said it’s believed that the spurs came from him trying to compensate for his knee injury.

“I can’t accelerate. I can’t jump,” said Daniels, who didn’t score in the game. “It’s a grinding.”

But it’s hard to say how much closer the game would’ve been if Daniels were not hurt. The Nuggets (30-19) were seemingly unstoppable on the offensive end, shooting 56.4 percent from the floor and boasting three double digit scorers.

Carmelo Anthony led the way with a career-high 49 points, going 19-for-25 from the field and 8-for-8 from the line. Allen Iverson added 18 points and 11 assists. And Kenyon Martin added 16 points.

The Wizards — who fell below the .500 mark for the first time since Dec. 7 — had five double-digit scorers, but still came up short. Antawn Jamison led the Wizards with 21 points while rookie Nick Young added 19 off the bench. Deshawn Stevenson scored 15 points and Andray Blatche had 14 points and 10 rebounds. Backups Darius Songaila finished with 15 points.

Anthony, whose previous high this season was 37 points, ignited the Nuggets early, scoring 11 of their first 13. His last bucket of that run — a 16-foot jumper with 7:06 left in the first quarter — forced the Wizards, who trailed by eight, to call a timeout.

But the break did little to cool Anthony, who scored five more points and capped a 9-7 push with a 3-pointer that gave Denver a 24-12 lead with 2:04 left in the quarter. By the time the first quarter ended, Anthony had 20 points on 8-for-9 shooting, and the Nuggets led 30-16. Anthony’s 20 points were the most the Wizards have given up to a single player in one quarter this season.

“They jumped on us early,” Wizards guard Roger Mason Jr. said. “Obviously, they’ve got a high-powered offense and they got a lot of easy buckets in the transition and we were never able to get back.”

Denver continued its assault in the second quarter, extending the lead to 46-21 with 6:35 left in the half. But Washington went on a 17-3 run to cut the lead to 49-38, and only trimmed the deficit by one more point by halftime, the score 56-47.

By halftime, Anthony had 29 points — which was the most the Wizards have allowed one player to score in a half.

Washington pulled within four points early in the third quarter. But Denver erupted again and put together what resembled a SportsCenter highlight reel, featuring a mix of fastbreak layups and alley-oop dunks. Denver led 88-72 after three quarters.

Anthony had left the game in the third quarter with 40 points under his belt. But when Nuggets coach George Karl realized his star player was only six points away from setting a career high, he sent him back into the game with 5:41 left and his team up 95-84.

Anthony scored on a jumper 35 seconds later, and then with 1:53 left to play, sank a layup to pick up his 44th point of the game. Then with 1:24 remaining, he hit a 3-pointer to surpass his previous high. He later sank two foul shots to complete his spree.

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan wasn’t particularly pleased to have been a part of Anthony’s night.

“The end part of that game was a little bit on the classless side,” Jordan said. “You know, we all have our ways. You get your butt kicked, the other team can do what they want to do, but I thought it was very classless how they closed the game out. But again, I have my opinion; I can say what I wanna say. That’s what I thought it was.”

When asked about Jordan’s take, Karl disagreed.

“I didn’t play my bench much all night. I just wanted to play the game out,” he said. “Melo, the players felt, they wanted to give Melo an opportunity to get a career high. I think it’s a positive. I don’t think we embarrassed or tried to insult anybody. We played the game with our starters in the game, they decided to double team at the end and I thought our guys did the right thing. Just let it go.”

Anthony also was taken aback by Jordan’s opinion.

“I had 40 points and we was up only nine points with six minutes to go in the game,” he said. “We were still trying to win the basketball game. We weren’t trying to embarrass nobody out there. … I don’t think it was classless. He can go ahead and say it, but I don’t think it was classless.”

The Wizards’ road gets no easier from here. Sunday they will play the Phoenix Suns, who lead the league in scoring with 109.7 points a game.

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