MINNEAPOLIS — The most telling moment of Denver’s easy victory Sunday night came at the end of the third quarter when Chauncey Billups recorded his first dunk of the season and was mobbed by his giddy Nuggets teammates at halfcourt.
Everything seems to be going right these days for the Nuggets, who are playing focused and putting themselves in position to do some damage in the playoffs.
Carmelo Anthony scored 23 points and Denver cruised to its seventh win in a row, beating the Timberwolves 110-87 on Sunday night. Thanks to San Antonio’s loss to Cleveland earlier in the day, Denver quietly extended its lead to two games over the Spurs for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
“We just wanted to come out here tonight and pretty much take care of business, not sleep on a team like the Wolves,” Anthony said.
With Minnesota missing four of its top six scorers, the Nuggets could have easily taken a victory for granted. Instead, they zapped Minnesota’s energy early with intense defense and zipped the ball around well on offense, finding cutting teammates and shooting 53 percent from the floor.
“We played both ends of the court at a high level,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “We had different players offensively get hot.”
The game was essentially over by halftime, and it was a laugher by the fourth quarter with Anthony Carter lobbing alley-oop attempts to Sonny Weems. Anthony, who has scored at least 20 points in nine of his last 10 games, sat out the fourth.
“We tightened up, buckled down and the defense was great,” Billups said. “A lot of players played well. It was good.”
Sebastian Telfair had 18 points to lead the depleted Wolves. Already without regulars Randy Foye (hip) and Craig Smith (calf), Minnesota also had to make do without star rookie Kevin Love and his strong inside presence thanks to a nasty flu bug.
Minnesota looked nothing like the team that stunned Utah on Friday night.
“It’s no excuse,” Telfair said. “We just went into Utah and beat Utah. … There’s no giving up here, but guys probably could have played a lot harder tonight, especially at home.”
The Wolves shot 41 percent, but went to the line only 11 times while Denver hit 20 of 31 free throws and 10 3-pointers.
Billups added 17 points and seven assists for the Nuggets, who led by as many as 32 and have beaten the Timberwolves nine straight times.
His dunk came on a fast break after a turnover.
“My kids were talking stuff to me because they didn’t think I could dunk no more,” the former Wolves guard said. “I hope my little girl’s watching this game right now because if not, she may not see it again.”
The patchwork Wolves were scrappy early, but simply overmatched. Minnesota built an early eight-point lead but the Nuggets pulled off a seemingly effortless 25-5 run spanning the first and second quarters, and the Wolves never recovered.
Minnesota pulled within six twice in the first half, but the Nuggets responded each time and built a 20-point halftime lead.
“They just put it on us pretty good all night long,” Wolves coach Kevin McHale said. “We didn’t have too much we could do about it.”