SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Carmelo Anthony had 14 points, nine rebounds and five assists in a triumphant return to the Carrier Dome on Friday night as the Denver Nuggets remained unbeaten in the preseason with a 94-91 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
Anthony, who led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA championship, played 24 minutes and did all of his scoring in the first half. He left the game midway through the third quarter after setting up a pair of baskets by Juwan Howard and never returned despite chants of 'We want Melo!’ from the crowd.
J.R. Smith had 19 points to lead Denver (4-0), Linas Kleiza had 11, and Anthony Carter finished with 10. Allen Iverson had four points, four assists and five turnovers.
Raja Bell had 15 points for Phoenix (2-3), Matt Barnes and Grant Hill had 13 apiece, and Robert Hite had 12, all during a fourth-quarter rally that fell just short, and Leandro Barbosa had 10 points. Shaquille O’Neal had four points and four rebounds in 12 minutes, while rookie Robin Lopez, the 15th overall pick in this year’s draft, finished with seven points and five rebounds.
The Suns were without Steve Nash, who sat with a sprained ankle, and Alando Tucker, who is battling sore hamstrings. Amaré Stoudemire has yet to play in the preseason for Phoenix due to an eye injury.
The Nuggets went on a 14-2 run in the third quarter to build the biggest lead of the game. Iverson and Ruben Patterson converted three-point plays and Smith scored six straight points for a 65-55 lead with 1:38 left.
The Suns slowly rallied, and Hite’s turnaround jumper in the lane gave them a 76-75 lead with 5:25 left in the fourth.
Dahntay Jones then scored five straight points and Kleiza hit a layup and a pair of free throws to give Denver a 90-87 lead with 1:23 left.
Hite’s baseline runner had the Suns back within a point, but Chris Andersen blocked Hite on a drive with 4.4 seconds left and made two free throws to help the Nuggets hold on.
Anthony scored the game’s first basket on a dunk off a feed from Iverson and had 14 points in the first half to the delight of the crowd of 22,115. The Nuggets trailed for most of the first two periods, falling behind 22-14 late in the first after a dunk by O’Neal off a feed from rookie Goran Dragic.
Anthony re-entered the game midway through the second and scored six points to key a 10-4 run that gave the Nuggets the lead. Anthony started the surge with a 12-foot jumper from the right side and finished it with a fast-break lay-in, spinning in midair as he laid the ball in for a 38-37 Denver lead with 1:38 left in the quarter.
Hill then scored six straight points to give the Suns a 43-41 halftime lead.