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Are the Nuggets unraveling as they teeter on brink?

ARNIE STAPLETON
ap sports writer
Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony (15) puts a shot up while being double teamed by Utah Jazz teammates Wesley Mathews (23) Carlos Boozer (5) during the second half of Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference first-round playoff series in Salt Lake City, Sunday, April 25, 2010. The Jazz beat the Nuggets 117-106 to take a 3-1 lead in the series. (AP Photo/Steve C. Wilson)
AP | FR33188 AP

DENVER – The flustered Denver Nuggets are tweeting and teetering.

After losing at Utah to fall behind 3-1 to the short-handed Jazz in a playoff series they were heavily favored to win, All-Star Carmelo Anthony expressed frustration that he wasn’t getting more help and J.R. Smith suggested some players were hogging the ball.

Tweeted Smith: “You play selfish you lose selfish that’s all I’m saying about the game,” which the Nuggets lost 117-106 after committing 18 turnovers to go with just 13 assists.

Chauncey Billups said Monday that he doesn’t see the team unraveling as it sits on the brink of elimination. He suggested the Nuggets aren’t a high-volume assist team like the Jazz are because they play a different style.

The Nuggets, however, are clearly a troubled group that two months ago was being touted as the team most capable of unseating the Los Angeles Lakers as the top dog in the West.

Then came coach George Karl’s throat cancer diagnosis and the Nuggets haven’t been the same since.

They’ve gone 12-11 under acting coach Adrian Dantley after posting a 42-21 mark under Karl, who underwent three dozen radiation treatments that have left him weak and weary.

Dantley said he doesn’t think he’s losing his team or that there’s fissures that aren’t fixable. He said losses bring out negative comments but “if we win Wednesday, we’ll feel a lot better.”

They’ll have to win that game to maintain hopes of becoming just the ninth team to overcome a 3-1 deficit and the first one to do it since 2006.

Anthony avoided reporters Monday by slipping out a side door, but after scoring 39 points Sunday night and watching none of his teammates chip in more than 14, he said he was exasperated to lose three straight to a team that’s missing starters Andrei Kirilenko (strained calf) and Mehmet Okur (ruptured Achilles’ tendon).

“I’m trying to do everything I can in my power to beat the Jazz, but at the end of the day I need some help,” Anthony said. “I’m not sitting here pointing fingers at anybody, but as a unit we’ve got to do it together. I can’t do it by myself.”

The Nuggets were first-round fodder in Anthony’s first five NBA seasons before reaching the Western Conference championship a year ago.

‘Melo thought first-round flops were a thing of the past.

Smith tweeted his frustrations after shooting 3-for-11 from the floor for 10 points to go with his pair of assists, but nobody seemed to know who he was griping about.

“Well, I don’t know who was selfish,” Dantley said. “A lot of times it looks like that when you take shots and you miss when it’s the same type of shots you took the first game that we made. But when you lose you feel bad, you say some funny things, say negative things. But the main thing I told the guys (was) just stay together, just win Wednesday.”

Some in the organization thought it was ironic that Smith, known for firing up 3-pointers in blowouts or putting up long shots before his teammates can get upcourt to run a play, would level charges of selfishness.

Anthony also voiced his frustration during the game when he got on Chris Andersen for a bad shot.

Despite all the angst, Billups said the Nuggets aren’t falling apart.

“I’m not really seeing it, man. It’s frustrating to lose. People can really say what they want, but at any rate, when we win, we win together,” Billups said.

And he said getting just 25 assists to Utah’s 51 in the two games at Salt Lake City doesn’t mean the Nuggets are selfish,either.

“I think that the style that we play is not a high-assist volume team. Utah, the style that they play, they’re going to move it around every time down. They’re going to have 25, 30 assists, most nights. That’s the system they have in place,” Billups said.

Dantley said the Nuggets just need to pick their heads up for Tuesday’s practice and win Game 5 at home no matter how many assists they get.

“If we win, we’ll feel a lot better Wednesday,” Dantley said. “I think we’re going to win Wednesday. It’s funny that I would never believe that Utah would beat us three games in a row. That’s just what I felt.”

How about four straight?

Utah point guard Deron Williams said the Jazz aren’t getting ahead of themselves.

“We’re confident but we’re not just thinking the series is over already,” he said. “We have to close this thing out and hopefully we can do it in Denver. If not we’ll come back here and play. We’re real confident that we can beat this team.”

AP Sports Writer Doug Alden in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.


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