DENVER -- The Denver Nuggets won with defense, of all things.
Carmelo Anthony capped Denver's best defensive effort of the season by stealing Dirk Nowitzki's skip pass in the closing seconds, then sinking two free throws with nine seconds left to seal the Nuggets' 75-71 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night.
"I was looking at Dirk, I thought he was going to shoot the ball," Anthony said. "I knew he wasn't going to throw it to Dampier. Stackhouse was wide open in the corner."
That play capped a tremendous defensive effort that was entirely necessary for Denver because the Nuggets were uncharacteristically bad on offense.
"I'm pretty sure George will be talking about that any time we don't play the way we played on the defensive end tonight," Anthony said of his coach, George Karl, who harps on defense any chance he gets.
Indeed, Karl said this game provides him with proof that what he preaches works.
"We have a tape that we can show them that they can be a great defensive team," he said. "We play defense and we're going to find answers offensively. I've said that since the day we made the (Allen Iverson) trade. I think we're a dangerous basketball team. And hopefully this will build confidence and a chemistry."
But Dallas? The best team in basketball? Seventy-one points?
"It's hard to keep a team like that from scoring," Iverson said. "They are the best team in the league right now. It took a lot of work."
It didn't hurt that Dallas' second-leading scorer, Josh Howard, sprained his right ankle going for a loose ball at midcourt with 4:40 left in the first quarter and didn't return, finishing with just two points.
Howard wasn't limping afterward and indicated he wouldn't miss any more time: "The ankle is fine. I'm fine."
Nowitzki, who missed the Mavs' last game with food poisoning, finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds, but his crucial turnover at the end meant Dallas lost its chance of joining the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls as the only teams in NBA history to win 70 games. The best the Mavs can do is 69 wins.
Nowitzki was 9-for-23 from the floor and Jason Terry was 6-for-20 for 13 points as the Mavs shot 36 percent.
The Nuggets were even worse, shooting 35.5 percent.
Iverson was 9-for-23 for 22 points, and Anthony was 7-for-21 for 23 points, including an alley-oop dunk from Marcus Camby with just over a minute left that broke a 71-71 tie.
"We missed a lot of shots," Anthony said. "You can't do nothing about that. They are a team that's going to send two or three people at me, two or three people at AI. Hey, we showed we can miss shots and still win a game."
The Nuggets, who trailed 37-30 at halftime, won for just the second time in the 25 games in which they've failed to score 100.
The Nuggets shot just 30 percent (6-for-20) in the first quarter and were even worse in the second quarter, when they shot 24 percent (5-for-21).
Denver took its first lead at 50-49 with 3:44 left in the third quarter when Iverson fed an uncovered Linas Kleiza on the left wing for a 3-pointer.
Iverson, playing with a swollen left elbow, fell hard on his right hip while scoring in the third quarter. He stayed in and said he wasn't sure if he'll be able to face the Clippers on Saturday night.
"Right now I'm riding my adrenaline," he said.
Just like the rest of the Nuggets.
- Nowitzki sat out the Mavericks' other trip to Denver this season with a sinus infection.
- Anthony declined to comment on a television report that a friend of his got into an altercation at a convenience store with a fan who was upset he couldn't get an autograph. "Naw, man. Man, we beat Dallas tonight, I'm not worried about that. We beat Dallas, man. That's all I'm worried about. We got the Clippers tomorrow. Thanks," Anthony said as he stood up and walked out of his postgame news conference.