Kevin Martin scored 37 points and the Rockets took advantage of Nene's absence and Chauncey Billups' early exit to beat the Denver Nuggets 108-103 on Monday night despite Anthony's 50-point effort that tied his career high.
"The shot felt good, just attacking the rim, trying to get baskets," Anthony said. "The jump shot was falling and it opened up drives to the rack. But 50 don't mean nothing tonight. I'd give it back."
Anthony scored nine points in the final minute of a furious but futile comeback attempt. His banked 3-pointer made it 105-101 with 20 seconds remaining, but Kyle Lowry made two free throws at the other end.
Anthony got the inbounds pass and drove to the basket for the layup that matched his career high set Nov. 27, 2009, against the Knicks. Anthony didn't touch the ball on the final inbounds with 5.3 seconds left.
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Last time he scored 50 points, Anthony celebrated a 128-125 win over the Knicks.
This time, he hardly cracked a smile.
"When you score 50 points and lose you start thinking why? Why the 50?" Anthony said. "If we'd have won it would have been totally different."
Anthony is the second NBA player to reach 50 points in a game this season. Miami's LeBron James scored 51 at Orlando last week.
Anthony has had an inconsistent season with trade talk hovering over him ever since he declined to sign a three-year, $65 million extension in June. Two megadeals with the New Jersey Nets have fallen apart, but many expect he'll still be moved by the Feb. 24 trade deadline so the Nuggets don't risk losing him to free agency next summer for nothing.
Asked if he could appreciate how tough it would be for a franchise to trade a guy who just dropped 50 points on a team, Anthony demurred.
"I don't really want to talk about that, man," he retorted. "I'm not talking about no Nuggets management right now."
Rarely has Anthony been as good as he was Monday night.
"He made every shot," Rockets coach Rick Adelman marveled. "He was putting his head down and going. We don't have a lot of resistance to the basket. Shane [Battier] got in foul trouble, then we had to put Chuck [Hayes] on him. So, there was no one behind. Just put his head down and went to the basket."
Anthony, who made 16 of 24 shots from the field and 16 of 18 free throws, said he was surprised the Rockets didn't double-team him.
"That was the first time I've seen that in a long, long time," Anthony said. "Especially with a big guy on me with Chuck Hayes. ... Like, I said, some shots felt good tonight. But it wasn't enough."
"He's always a handful and he got it going tonight," Battier said. "There's not so much you can do when he puts his head down and goes to the hoop. We played pretty good defense on him going to the hoop. There was some contact there and he got to the free throw line 17 times. That's a big number.
"Our game plan was to make him hit the jumpers. He made a few. We started to do a better job on the rest of the guys: 'Let 'Melo score his point, let's concentrate on everybody else."'
And that task was easier with Denver missing two starters.
The Nuggets started the game without Nene (flu), and Billups left after straining his left knee in the first quarter. He was replaced by Ty Lawson, who underwent an MRI on Monday on his strained left knee and scored 19 points in 34 minutes - nowhere close to what he was expecting to play before Billups was injured.
Billups said he didn't know how he was hurt except that it was a no-contact injury. He said he had no idea how serious the injury was and that he would go for an MRI on Tuesday.
Martin, who had just eight points in his previous trip to Denver, scored 18 in the decisive third quarter, half of them during a 13-0 run the Rockets used to grab control at 71-56. He started and ended the run with baskets to go with a fastbreak layup and a 3-pointer.
Martin, who had a season-high seven assists, said he wasn't trying to keep up with Anthony but just found a rhythm after he cleared his head about his previous poor performances at the Pepsi Center.
"We played a great game as a team," he said. "Outside of Carmelo, didn't nobody really do anything."
Luis Scola chipped in 25 points for the Rockets, who handed Denver its seventh loss in 28 home games.
Asked before tip-off if Lawson had any minute limitations, coach George Karl cracked: "He's on a minute restriction because of Chauncey."
Not after Billups hobbled off to the training room, leaving Lawson to play many more minutes than he had wanted to.
Denver nearly lost Kenyon Martin to an ejection, but the officiating crew reversed the call -- that he had committed a "hostile act" -- after a video review and instead issued a double technical on Martin and Scola. The two had gotten tangled up near Houston's basket and when the ball was going back the other way, Martin shoved Scola to the court.
- The Rockets were missing guard Aaron Brooks, who was serving a one-game suspension for leaving the court in the fourth quarter of the team's win over Memphis on Saturday.
- Anthony had 11 rebounds.