DENVER -- Boos from the home crowd. Passive play. Only two first-half shots.
If this was Carmelo Anthony's farewell, he sure didn't go out on a high note.
Anthony scored only eight points in the Denver Nuggets' lethargic 96-87 loss to the New Orleans Hornets on Sunday night, putting a sour finish on a day filled with speculation that the superstar's departure from Denver was close after 7½ seasons.
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A person with knowledge of the discussions told the Associated Press on Sunday night that the Nuggets are closing in on a deal that would send Anthony to New Jersey in a three-team trade.
Anthony said he didn't think this was his last game in a Nuggets uniform, however.
"Uh-uh, not at all," he said, repeating the phrase "not at all" four times.
Asked if that was an indication he wouldn't sign his three-year, $65 million contract extension so the trade with the Nets could be consummated, Anthony demurred, saying: "I haven't heard anything. Only, that it's just been speculation as of right now."
Anthony noted that team governor Josh Kroenke and general manager Masai Ujiri "are not even here, so I don't see that happening."
In what time frame was he referring to?
"I'm just saying I don't see it happening right now," Anthony said.
This week sometime?
Anthony insisted one of the worst performances of his career had nothing to do with the trade talk.
"I've been playing all year long with speculation, so just to say that tonight the speculation bothered me, that's not even on my mind in a basketball game," he said.
In foul trouble early, Anthony took only two first-half shots and his first basket came with 6:51 left in the third quarter, when his finger-roll layup pulled Denver to 65-49, drawing scattered cheers from the crowd disgusted by the Nuggets' low energy.
"There was a little bit of funk in tonight's game. I'll take responsibility for tonight's loss," Anthony said, noting that he wasn't as aggressive as usual and passed up too many shots while making too many passes.
"I don't like to look at the stat sheet, but for me to take 11 shots, that's out of the norm for me," Anthony said.
When he re-entered the game in the fourth quarter, Anthony was serenaded with more jeers than cheers and was even booed when the Nuggets were closing in after trailing by 19 in the third quarter.
"I hear it. Does it affect me? No," Anthony said. "It hurt a little bit knowing that it's here coming from my home fans. But other than that, I try to go out there and play hard every night, do what I've got to do. If they like it, they like it. If they want to boo, then they want to boo."
Chris Paul, who scored 20, and David West (19) helped New Orleans stave off the Nuggets and send Denver to its third consecutive loss.
Anthony took only five shots until the fourth quarter and finished 3 for 11 from the floor in 34 minutes.
Nuggets coach George Karl has on several occasions praised Anthony's professionalism for his hard work and spirited play this season, but Anthony looked disinterested for much of this night.
Karl, however, didn't disparage Anthony's effort like the fans did.
"He passed the ball great, he moved the ball really well. Early in the game it was exciting to see our team move the ball as well as it did, but we didn't get a lot of reward to it. We missed a lot of easy shots," Karl said.
Asked why Anthony took just one shot in each of the first two quarters, Karl said: "He had foul trouble. He was in a passing mode. I've always felt he could get 10 assists any time he wants to. He was doing what the game was telling him to do."
Anthony finished with four assists.
Talk of the Brooklyn-born Anthony ending up in the Big Apple has been swirling around the superstar since last summer, when he declined to sign his extension, put his Denver mansion on the market and married his longtime girlfriend, TV personality LaLa Vazquez, in an elaborate New York City wedding.
Talks on a three-team trade with the Nets and Detroit Pistons are "advancing," according to the person who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to publicly discuss the talks. The trade would reunite Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton in New Jersey along with Anthony, the person said. Although there has been progress, the person said there are potential roadblocks.
The deal would fall apart if Anthony refused to sign the three-year extension. Billups also has said he would be reluctant to leave Denver, although he could go to New Jersey, finish out the season, then have the Nets void his contract and return to his hometown Nuggets in 2011-12.
The Nets would send rookie power forward Derrick Favors, point guard Devin Harris and others to Denver in the deal that would get them Anthony, Billups, Hamilton, Shelden Williams and Terrico White, who is injured.
There were no hints at tip-off that a deal was imminent.
Both Anthony and Billups were in the starting lineup and not on the bench as might be expected. But the Nuggets didn't have a lot of leeway, either; already, they were without Kenyon Martin, Chris "Birdman" Andersen and Ty Lawson.
Billups went 2 for 12 from the floor and finished with 13 points and three assists.
"Our offense was not very good," Billups said. "When me and Melo struggle from the same night in the field, our chances go down drastically. We had no Ty, no Bird. Tough night."
Billups said he didn't know if a trade was imminent, either: "I don't know nothing new, so I can't tell you nothing new."
The Nuggets pulled to 86-83 on J.R. Smith's steal and slam, but the Hornets responded with an 8-2 spurt capped by Paul's 3-pointer over Anthony, who left the court after the game with his head down.
"I thought that was a tough game to play in because of the situation, all the speculation with that team," Hornets coach Monty Williams said.
Paul said he was surprised to see Anthony struggle so mightily.
"Yeah, I was, but I think it shows we played really good defense," Paul said. "Melo's one of those guys that gets doubled every night. I know him so well I know what he's capable of. We try to double him and force other guys to make plays."
- Al Harrington led Denver with 20 points.
- New Orleans was 20 for 21 from the line.