What they had left was plenty.
J.R. Smith's 26 points helped short-handed Denver beat the Memphis Grizzlies 120-107 on Tuesday, hours after the Nuggets finalized a blockbuster deal that sent Anthony and Billups to the New York Knicks.
The Nuggets had only nine players on the bench following the three-team trade, and two of them fouled out. Another, Melvin Ely, didn't even play.
"Our guys, when their backs are confronted with a difficult situation, they usually play at a high level," coach George Karl said. "We always react to tough situations in a very positive way."
But New York had to pay a steep price, sending Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov and a 2014 first-round draft pick to the Nuggets, who get additional picks and cash. Denver also acquired center Kosta Koufos from the Timberwolves.
The former Knicks arrived at the Pepsi Center in the second quarter and received a rousing ovation from the sparse crowd after watching their new teammates pick apart the Grizzlies.
"They played great tonight, played hard," Chandler said as he settled into his new swivel chair inside the Nuggets locker room. "They have a lot of good players here. I'm happy to be here and hopefully we can get started on a good note."
The Nuggets certainly did Tuesday, coming out with an early intensity and jumping out to a 24-point lead in the first half.
They never glanced back.
"It's good we got off to this kind of start," Arron Afflalo said. "Change is not easy to accept. It's going to take time."
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No Anthony meant more shots to go around for everyone, especially Smith, who's never been bashful to pull up and take a jumper. He finished 9 of 22 as he stepped into Anthony's starting spot.
"We didn't play with a lot of desire, a lot of purpose," Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. "I didn't care how the Nuggets came out, I was worried about how we came out, and we came out [bad]. We turned the ball over multiple times, we took quick shots, we didn't guard, they just drove us off the dribble all night.
"The Nuggets are a good team, by the way, and they've been a good team. We're trying to get there."
In a pregame news conference, team president Josh Kroenke went out of his way to express remorse that the trade had to include Billups, a hometown favorite.
"He is Denver basketball," Kroenke said.
But speedy Ty Lawson efficiently ran the team in place of Billups, scoring 21 points and dishing out seven assists.
"It felt like there was a lot more flow on the court," Lawson said. "It felt good out there."
Karl relished the thought of coaching a depleted squad, pondering different moves and scoring options all day.
"I've been told by a lot of owners that I coach better when I have a shorter bench," he said. "I think everybody knows I enjoy these type of games where you have to mix and match some situations and circumstances and find some success."
With the Nuggets comfortably up, a chorus of "Who needs 'Melo?" began to ring through the crowd.
There will be other nights when they miss his mid-range jumper and his 25 points a game, though.
"We lost a superstar and superstars are hard to find in this league," general manager Masai Ujiri said. "Chauncey and 'Melo were the ultimate -- they brought smiles and excitement and greatness to this basketball organization.
"Do I feel there's a future here? Absolutely. I feel very confident that things will work out and people will love watching these young kids play basketball here."
The Nuggets have 24 more games to reassemble the pieces in an effort to make the playoffs for an eighth straight season. The team entered the night in seventh place in the Western Conference, just ahead of Memphis and Utah.
With the rumors picking up intensity over the last few weeks, the Nuggets appeared to be a distracted bunch, dropping four of six before the All-Star break.
Now, the drama is gone and the pressure has been turned down.
"I'm just happy it's over with. Period. We won't have to answer these questions no more," said Al Harrington, who fouled out after scoring seven points. "I hope this is the last time I'm going to have to answer any trade questions for a long time."
|J.R. Smith scores 26 points while leading the Nuggets to victory over the Grizzlies. (Getty Images)|
|Denver (33-25) «||32||29||41||18||120|
|MEM:T. Allen 26 Pts
MEM:Z. Randolph 8 Reb
MEM:J. Williams 9 Ast
|DEN:J. Smith 26 Pts
DEN:J. Smith 8 Reb
DEN:T. Lawson 7 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|T. Allen, SG||31||8-15||10-14||8||2||4||26|
|M. Conley, PG||30||4-6||0-0||1||3||1||10|
|S. Young, SF||30||5-11||0-3||7||2||3||10|
|Z. Randolph, PF||28||6-10||0-2||8||0||4||12|
|M. Gasol, C||25||3-6||4-5||2||3||6||10|
|O. Mayo, SG||30||8-14||3-5||3||1||1||21|
|D. Arthur, PF||22||4-8||2-2||2||0||6||10|
|J. Williams, PG||17||0-1||0-0||1||9||2||0|
|H. Thabeet, C||9||1-1||0-0||3||0||3||2|
|X. Henry, SG||8||2-4||0-0||0||0||0||4|
|D. Carroll, SF||7||1-2||0-0||1||1||1||2|
|G. Vasquez, PG||4||0-0||0-0||0||1||0||0|
|R. Gay, SF||Did Not Play|
|H. Haddadi, C||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|J. Smith, SG||42||9-22||2-2||8||5||3||26|
|A. Afflalo, SG||41||7-12||4-6||5||5||1||21|
|T. Lawson, PG||39||8-15||4-5||5||7||3||21|
|K. Martin, PF||25||2-5||1-2||2||5||4||5|
|A. Harrington, PF||23||3-4||0-0||3||3||6||7|
|G. Forbes, SF||22||4-12||1-2||2||0||2||10|
|C. Andersen, PF||20||3-3||9-12||5||0||0||15|
|C. Billups, PG||Did Not Play|
|A. Carter, PG||Did Not Play|
|M. Ely, C||Did Not Play|
|C. Anthony, SF||Did Not Play|
|R. Balkman, SF||Did Not Play|
|S. Williams, PF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|