SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- As soon as he was introduced to an ovation that shook the teflon roof of the Carrier Dome, the night belonged to Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets.
Anthony, who as a freshman led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA championship, wowed his adoring fans with 14 first-half points and the Nuggets remained unbeaten in the preseason with a 94-91 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
"To actually be back here brought back a lot of memories," said Anthony, who also had nine rebounds and five assists. "It was good to get back here in front of the fans that I played in front of. They was rooting for me every game when I was here."
Heck, they adore Melo so much that on this night they even cheered his Denver teammate Allen Iverson, who starred in college for Georgetown, Syracuse's archrival in the Big East.
Anthony played 24 minutes and left the game midway through the third quarter after setting up a pair of baskets by Juwan Howard. He never returned despite chants of 'We want Melo!' from the crowd.
"I asked him if he wanted to go back in and he said no," Denver coach George Karl said. "If he wanted to, I would have let him."
"I had a long summer," said Anthony, a member of the gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic basketball team in Beijing. "I wish I could have went back in there."
J.R. Smith had 19 points to lead Denver (4-0), Linas Kleiza had 11, and Anthony Carter finished with 10. 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 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, giving 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 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.
Earlier in the day, Anthony spoke to current Orange junior Paul Harris, who will be a key to a team that has failed to make the NCAA tournament the past two years.
"I just asked him if he was ready," Anthony said. "I think he has the challenge of putting Syracuse where they're supposed to be at and make the world respect them. I'm hoping and praying. We need that here. This town is looking for that great team again."
Though Melo still flashes the same smile that lit up the Carrier Dome on so many cold winter nights in his one season at Syracuse, he's clearly not the same guy.
"It's my sixth season in the NBA," he said. "I have a gold medal. I have a son now. A lot has changed for me both on the court and off.
"But I do miss college," said Anthony, who donated $3 million to the university to help fund a basketball practice facility that's slated to open in a year. "I wish I could've spent more time here."