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McClatchy Newspapers, Published December 18 2010

NBA: Timberwolves fall to Carmelo and Nuggets

DENVER – Carmelo Anthony on Saturday remained a Denver Nugget, which was just one of several problematic matters the Minnesota Timberwolves ultimately couldn’t overcome in a 115-113 loss at Pepsi Center.

On the same day that Orlando escalated the Eastern Conference arms race by swinging trades with both Washington and Phoenix, the Nuggets moved forth with Anthony as their resident superstar.

At least for now.

This time, Anthony did not score 33 points in a quarter, as he did when he tied an NBA record for most points in a quarter here against the Wolves two seasons ago.

This time, Anthony couldn’t maintain, let alone well surpass, a point-a-minute pace.

He left that for Wolves forward Kevin Love, who continued his remarkable statistical output by scoring a career-high 43 points (with 17 rebounds) in 43 minutes that dragged the Wolves within two points in the final 20 seconds but no further.

Anthony’s efficient 24 points in 34 minutes dominated the small-forward matchup against Michael Beasley and pushed the Nuggets to a tense victory two nights after they left this same floor losers to San Antonio enraged by a game-ending controversial call.

Denver coach George Karl was fined $25,000 by the NBA on Saturday for comments he made after Thursday’s game, when officials waved away what would have been Anthony’s winning driving bucket at the buzzer and whistled him for an offensive foul for crashing into Manu Ginobili instead.

Saturday, the bigger drama that remained at Pepsi Center was not the game’s outcome, not on a night when the Nuggets led by as many as 20 points in the second half before the Wolves got within that 115-113 on Martell Webster’s three-pointer in the final 30 seconds.

But with a four-second differential between the shot clock and game clock, the Wolves elected to play for the defensive stop at the end rather than foul. Anthony’s shot with a second left on the shot clock, but the Wolves couldn’t secure the rebound, and as a result the Nuggets secured the victory.

Rather, the question Denver fans ask themselves is whether – or how long – Anthony will remain a Nugget.

Orlando escalated the chase with Miami and Boston by adding Gilbert Arenas’ irresistible talent and massive contract, Jason Richardson and bringing back Hedo Turkoglu.

Now, the big question is whether New York or New Jersey will see the Magic’s new three and raise ‘em by making a deal for Anthony, who becomes an unrestricted free agent, just like LeBron James and Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh did, next summer if he doesn’t accept a three-year, $65 million contract extension from the Nuggets.

As of Saturday, he remained a Nugget and that troubled the Wolves and Beasley, who missed his first eight shots and finished the night by making seven of 18 shots for 17 points matched up part of the night against Anthony.

The Wolves played on without their top two centers on Saturday as they forged ahead on a five-game Western road swing that ends Monday in Los Angeles against the Clippers.

Darko Milicic and Nikola Pekovic sat out Saturday after each sprained an ankle Friday in Portland. Detroit, by the way, selected Milicic second in the same 2003 NBA draft when the Nuggets took Anthony third.

Nuggets guard Ty Lawson, who the Wolves drafted along with Jonny Flynn on draft night 2009 and was traded immediately to Denver, added 23 points.

Minnesota 27 23 25 38 – 113

Denver 35 27 26 27 – 115

MINNESOTA (113): Beasley 7-18 3-5 17, Love 14-23 10-12 43, Koufos 2-5 0-0 4, Ridnour 1-7 1-1 3, Johnson 4-7 0-0 8, Brewer 2-8 5-5 9, Webster 2-5 8-10 12, Flynn 5-7 2-2 12, Hayward 2-3 0-0 5, Ellington 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 39-84 29-35 113.

DENVER (115): Anthony 8-19 8-10 24, Williams 3-5 0-0 6, Nene 2-4 2-2 6, Lawson 8-16 6-7 23, Afflalo 5-11 4-5 17, Smith 5-11 6-7 18, Harrington 5-14 1-2 15, Ely 0-0 0-0 0, Forbes 1-2 0-0 2, Carter 2-4 0-0 4. Totals 39-86 27-33 115.

3-Point Goals–Minnesota 6-22 (Love 5-5, Hayward 1-2, Ellington 0-1, Beasley 0-1, Flynn 0-2, Webster 0-2, Brewer 0-3, Ridnour 0-3, Johnson 0-3), Denver 10-27 (Harrington 4-10, Afflalo 3-6, Smith 2-7, Lawson 1-2, Carter 0-1, Anthony 0-1). Fouled Out–Nene. Rebounds–Minnesota 61 (Love 17), Denver 43 (Anthony 7). Assists–Minnesota 24 (Ridnour 5), Denver 25 (Lawson 9). Total Fouls–Minnesota 23, Denver 26. A–15,409 (19,155).