DENVER — Carmelo Anthony labeled Saturday night’s game a “must-win’’ as he looked for his first victory in the Mile High City since the 2011 trade that brought him to the Knicks.
Apparently, only Anthony regarded the game with such importance as his blunt assessment fell on deaf ears.
Despite Anthony’s spry offensive showing, in which he looked like he was in his mid-20s again, the Nuggets built a 17-point lead in the second quarter and rolled over the tired-looking, defensively deficient Knicks, 127-114, at Pepsi Arena.
Anthony called out his mates for not battling. “It was kind of a lack of effort we put out tonight,’’ Anthony said. “127. [points] tonight — we played one step behind. They ran what they wanted to run. We didn’t put forth the effort out there.”
After winning the first two games of their western road trip, the Knicks (14-13) dropped the final three, finishing up at 2-3. The Nuggets are just 11-16.
Asked to evaluate the road trip, Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said, “Eh, so-so.”
Anthony scored 29 points on 10-of-14 shooting, but was a minus-21 as the Knicks dropped to 0-5 in Denver since the blockbuster trade. Entering the contest, Anthony had shot just 38 percent in his battles in Denver. At least the shoulder suddenly looked 100 percent after his rest game.
“I felt better today,’’ Anthony said. “I thought a couple of days helped just rehabbing and getting the strength back in it’’
The Knicks moved to 1-4 when playing without starting point guard Derrick Rose, who sat again with back spasms, and that counts Tuesday’s game at Phoenix in which he competed just the first 10 minutes.
But the pressure Rose puts on the opponent’s defense seems to have a bad overall effect. Starting for Rose, Brandon Jennings had a lackadaisical outing on both ends as Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay struck for 22 points, with five assists and seven rebounds.
“Guards — not just the guards, but everybody just drove right by us,’’ Hornacek said. “You got to do a better job staying in front of your man.’’
Anthony looked more athletic than usual, like he had chugged from the Fountain of Youth. He was back in his old stomping grounds after sitting out the game at Golden State to rest and save his bruised shoulder for the Rocky Mountains.
But Denver’s high-flier from northern New Jersey, Kenneth Faried, was the most athletic guy on the court as he dunked his way to 25 points (10 of 11 from the field).
Hornacek felt the Knicks also could have taken advantage of matchups offensively, pointing to Anthony often posting up against smaller players, but not getting the rock.
“Lack of being aware on the basketball court,’’ Anthony said. “There were tons of matchups we could’ve exploited. But we scored 112. To give up 127 — that’s a lot of points to give up. It’seffort wasn’t there. We just didn’t have it as a team.”
In the first half, wearing a compression black shirt, Anthony scored 18 points — making 8 of 10 from the field. He scored on an alley-oop dunk, made a couple of athletic driving shots and soared high in the air for a pull-up jumper.
On one fateful play, Gary Harris knocked the ball out of Anthony’s hands, but the ball popped back to him. He flipped it in from 10 feet with 1.6 seconds left in the half.
Nobody joined him for his ride. Porzingis started the night 1-of-7. He finished with 22 points, but shot just 7-of-19. And he was one of the culprits on defense — not even blocking a shot.
The Knicks’ pick-and-roll defense failed, their help defense was nonexistent and they gave up too many offensive rebounds (11).
“Sure looked like that, but that can’t be an excuse,’’ Hornacek said. “You are traveling, it wears on you. The physical tiredness, if you can mentally get prepared, you can overcome it.’’
With Joakim Noah struggling, Knicks backup center Willy Hernangomez, facing his brother Juancho for the first time, had a big outing — a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. But Juancho was nailed to the bench until the closing two minutes and scored just one point from the line.
Noah, too, didn’t play much — 11 minutes. On their third possession, Noah set a bad tone, shooting an airball on a lefty hook that missed by several feet. He played the first six minutes before being yanked the rest of the half. “Willy had energy — didn’t look tired,’’ Hornacek said.
Hornacek’s voice was lost by the end of this jaunt and his team looked so too.