DALLAS, March 27,2009(AP) -- Carmelo Anthony was having his way with the Dallas Mavericks all night, scoring as easily on long jumpers as he was on drives to the basket.
So how come, Dirk Nowitzki wondered, the Mavs didn't smother him with the game on the line?
Anthony squirted through traffic for a go-ahead layup with 12.2 seconds left, then added a free throw in the final seconds to cap a 43-point performance that lifted the Denver Nuggets to a 103-101 victory over the Jason Kidd-less Mavericks on Friday night.
"We messed up,'' Nowitzki said. "They set a little screen and he came off it. That can't happen.''
Said Anthony: "I was surprised I was able to get that open.''
A lower-back injury kept Kidd out of the lineup for the first time after playing 100 straight games since being acquired last year. With Josh Howard also out because of a sprained ankle, it's understandable that the Mavericks made only 35 percent of their shots and lost at home for the first time since the All-Star break, ending a nine-game win streak.
Considering the Mavs are holding the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff race, and the Nuggets are among the teams ahead of them, this was the kind of game they needed to pull out - especially with their next game in Cleveland, a place where the visiting team has won only once all season.
Dallas certainly went down fighting.
The Mavericks were down by 10 at the start of the fourth quarter, but J.J. Barea put them ahead on a 3-pointer with 1:27 left, then did it again with another 3 with 23.1 seconds left.
Denver coach George Karl called a timeout and set up a play to be run by either Anthony or Chauncey Billups, with Kenyon Martin supposed to get open under the basket. Anthony wound up with the ball, saw the defense get confused and took full advantage.
"You've got to give a lot of credit to George for drawing that play up,'' Anthony said. "There was a lot of motion. It's hard to guard that play, with a lot of movement, a lot of pick-and-rolls. ... I wasn't going to take the jump shot. I was taking it to the hole.''
Dallas had a few more chances to pull it out, but Nowitzki and Antoine Wright missed jumpers on the ensuing possession.
Anthony grabbed Wright's miss and went to the line with 1.2 seconds to play. He made the first, then missed the second. Nowitzki grabbed it and stepped out to fling the ball when he fell over the foot of Denver's Dahntay Jones. Fans booed and the Mavs were slow to leave the court. Tensions already were up because Wright had gotten into the Nuggets' bench area after his miss, something that didn't go over well with them.
"It was his emotions, not us,'' Denver's J.R. Smith said. "It was just a bad spot for him.''
Added Karl: "All I saw was a Dallas Maverick getting involved with my bench, and that's our territory. I don't know what he said or how he said it, it's still no right to come into our territory.''
Denver won for the seventh time in eight games. The Nuggets also swept the season series for the first time.
Anthony scored 12 in the first quarter, eight in the second, 13 in the third and 10 in the fourth. It didn't matter who covered him, he rarely missed, going 18-for-29 while also grabbing 11 rebounds.
"I can always score. I can do that in my sleep,'' he said. "Tonight, I had to step up. We probably needed that 43.''
Smith had 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting, mostly long jumpers that barely moved the net. Martin added 10 points.
Billups had only five points. He had nine assists, but also four turnovers and injured a shoulder early in the fourth quarter.
Nowitzki scored 26 points, making only one of nine shots in the second half.
"I had some good looks in the fourth quarter, but I couldn't get anything to go down,'' he said. "I couldn't close it out the way I wanted.'
Barea scored 22, making five of seven 3-pointers. Jason Terry started in place of Kidd, but remained more scorer than distributor with 20 points. He had 11 in the first quarter, when he and Nowitzki scored 22 of Dallas' first 23 points.
Without Kidd, the Mavericks had one of their worst shooting nights. But they had only six turnovers and Antoine Wright, who often covers small forwards, did a solid job on Billups.
"We played our hearts out tonight,'' Hollins said. "You're always going to miss a guy like Jason Kidd, but every player took it upon themself to pick it up tonight.''
When the teams last met, Mavs owner Mark Cuban was upset about a foul that wasn't called on Smith and wound up getting fined $25,000 for how he handled it. Cuban offered to donate the money to whatever charity Smith chose, then suggested he'd give it to the fund for a gruesomely injured hockey player. Perhaps that helped inspire Smith's accuracy.