DENVER -- Nuggets coach George Karl fought through intensifying cancer treatments to return to the bench after a weeklong absence, and his players rewarded him with what Karl had told them would be the best possible medicine: a win.
Carmelo Anthony scored 29 points to go with 12 rebounds, J.R. Smith scored 13 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter, and the Nuggets pulled away for a 97-87 victory Tuesday night over the Washington Wizards.
"He said before the game that wins are the best treatment for him," said the Nuggets' Joey Graham, who chipped in eight points. "Hopefully, we can keep this thing rolling and win a championship for him and he'll be completely healed. That's the plan."
Andray Blatche led the Wizards with 23 points but left the game after twisting his ankle with about 5:40 remaining.
"We'll have to wait to see how he is," Wizards coach Flip Saunders said. "We don't have enough guys as it is right now."
Karl is battling neck and throat cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments regularly for a six-week period. Last Monday, he had a surgical procedure to insert a feeding tube into his stomach.
Initially, Karl planned to rejoin the team Friday for its game in New Orleans, but needed additional time to adjust to the insertion of the tube, missing the team's recently concluded four-game road trip during which the Nuggets went 3-1 under acting head coach Adrian Dantley.
Karl did not hold his pregame or postgame news conferences Tuesday because of lingering pain in his throat. He used his voice sparingly in the game, players said, talking in undertones when he did have something to say and allowing his assistants to take on more of the in-game coaching. He nevertheless projected an upbeat persona to his players.
"Seeing him coming back in a happy manner, despite all the things he's going through, and to see him not down, we know deep down inside, it's a tough task for him," Anthony said. "For him to come in and see us, and we can uplift his spirits, makes us feel good.
Added Anthony, "He told us before the game he wasn't going to do too much. He was going to let [Dantley] continue to do what he's doing and he was going to chime in here and there. It's just good to have him on the sidelines with us. Our focus level went up."
The on-court focus helped the Nuggets gain a split of the two-game season series with the Wizards with their sixth straight home victory.
Denver was without Chris Andersen, who sprained his left ankle the night before in a loss at Houston. The Nuggets were already without Kenyon Martin, who missed his seventh consecutive game while undergoing therapy for left knee tendinitis. Ty Lawson was in uniform but did not play for the ninth straight game since bruising his left shoulder.
Gee hit a 3-pointer from just inside the halfcourt line to pull the Wizards to 65-63 at the end of the third quarter and the game remained closely contested into the fourth.
Thornton had consecutive baskets to pull the Wizards to 79-74 with 6:01 remaining, but Smith scored nine points in a row for the Nuggets to help Denver take its biggest lead to that point, 88-78 with 3:15 left. Smith drained a 3-pointer and swished a jumper from the top of the key after nearly losing the ball on his dribble just before the shot clock as part of Denver's 9-2 surge.
Anthony also converted a three-point play in the late going, helping to fend off the Wizards.
"I thought we played pretty well for having five games in six nights, five different cities," Saunders said. "We gave ourselves a chance. We just didn't have enough juice down the stretch."
Trailing from the outset, the Nuggets didn't get their first lead until Arron Afflalo's 3-pointer with 7:18 left in the third period put them in front 55-52.
Blatche scored 16 points in the first half, sparking the Wizards to a 45-39 lead.
The Wizards' Josh Howard underwent surgery earlier Tuesday to repair the torn left ACL he suffered Feb. 22 against Chicago. He's expected to fully recover in 6-to-8 months. ... Blatche has scored at least 20 points in six of the Wizards' nine games in March. ... Chauncey Billups went 0-for-6 from 3-point range, ending a career-best streak of 36 games in which he had made at least one 3-pointer.