Entering the game tied with Utah and clinging to a half-game lead over Portland in the Northwest Division, the Nuggets were in desperate need of a road win. It has been a bad couple of weeks overall for Denver, which has dropped seven of 10 games to fall behind the Jazz, who won at Toronto earlier in the day.
A sixth straight road loss had Anthony lingering in the locker room long after this teammates departed. Denver has not won a road game since beating Philadelphia on Feb. 18 and tumbled hard in the Western Conference's overall standings, going from third to seventh.
"I don't even know if I can put this in words how we are feeling," Anthony said. "I'm not sure if I'm mad, sad or angry."
It was a rare evening of solid basketball by the home team. The rested Kings, who had four days off, have lost repeatedly and own the third-worst home record in the NBA at 10-21.
But on this particular evening, the Kings looked like the playoff-bound team, not the Nuggets. Sacramento ran off eight straight points to start the game, led by 12 at the half and never trailed in avenging two earlier losses to the Nuggets by a combined 52 points.
"You really have to impose your will on the Nuggets before they get out and run on you," said Spencer Hawes, who had a career-high 20 points and added eight rebounds. "If you let them do that it's over pretty quick. So taking control of the tempo was pivotal for us."
"That's the danger of the 3-ball, weaker teams can beat you by making 3s," Denver coach George Karl said. "Every time we came back, we would have a turnover or they would make a 3."
The Nuggets pulled to 106-100 on Anthony's twisting layup in traffic with 1:54 remaining. Two free throws by Martin, a jumper by Garcia and a basket in the lane by Bobby Jackson built the Sacramento lead to nine points and clinched the victory.
"They are dangerous, but they should be a team we beat if we come out and take care of business," Billups said. "If we do that, it's over early. I don't think we really understand the importance of these games. We go through lapses on the road and don't focus in."
The Nuggets are searching for momentum going into a favorable stretch in the schedule that starts with four straight home games in the next eight days. Four of their next six games come against some of the NBA's worst teams: Oklahoma City, the Clippers, Memphis and Washington.
After the Nuggets scored seven straight points early in the third quarter, reducing the margin to seven, the Kings responded with a 13-3 run highlighted by Martin's two 3-pointers that built the lead to 17 midway through the period.
Martin scored nine points and Hawes had seven in the third quarter, when the Kings kept the lead in double digits, leading 85-75 heading into the fourth period.
Nocioni had 16 points in 14 minutes and Hawes contributed 13 points, helping the Kings go into the half with a 61-49 advantage. Shooting mostly from the perimeter, Anthony scored 17 points for the sluggish Nuggets.
"Nocioni had a great game and Spencer was hitting the shots that he normally would take, those were the things that really helped us" Kings coach Kenny Natt said. "When we hit shots like that it helps us defensively."
Nocioni started his first game as a King and made Natt's decision look good, scoring nine points in the game's opening five minutes.
Hawes hit his first three 3-point shots and scored 11 points, while Nocioni had nine as the Kings uncharacteristically led 35-25 after one quarter. Billups had nine points for Denver, which fell behind 11-2 and never led despite a 27-19 rebounding edge in the first half.
- The Kings continue without starting point guard Beno Udrih, who has a sprained right foot.
- The Kings tied a season low for a half with just two turnovers in the opening two quarters.
- A lower back strain prevented Denver's Kenyon Martin from playing his third straight game.