NEW ORLEANS – Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets looked like the only ones having fun in this party town.
Anthony scored all of his 26 points in the first three quarters, and Denver thoroughly dismantled the New Orleans Hornets 121-63 on Monday night to take a commanding 3-1 lead in their first-round playoff series.
The New Orleans Arena was mostly empty by the end of the third quarter, when Denver led 89-50 on its way to matching the most lopsided victory in NBA playoff history. The Minneapolis Lakers beat the St. Louis Hawks 133-75 in 1956.
"I wouldn't have thought that we would win by 58 points," Anthony said. "I never thought anyone could win by 58 points in the playoffs."
Looking twice as quick as New Orleans on both ends of the court, the Nuggets stifled Hornets All-Star Chris Paul, whose four points and six assists amounted to one of the worst games of his career.
The Nuggets can close out the series at home in Game 5 on Wednesday night. They will if they play as well as they did in Game 4, when they led by 20 early and by more than that most of the second half.
"Their defense was fantastic tonight," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "It's the worst we've played since I've been here. That's the worst basketball game I've ever seen us play and it just came at the wrong time."
It was the first time Paul, who did not play in the fourth quarter, had ever scored fewer than 14 points in a playoff game.
"Every time we tried something, they countered," Paul said. "We didn't play well and they executed their game plan to perfection."
Denver held New Orleans to only 31.5 percent shooting and forced the Hornets into a franchise playoff-high 27 turnovers, which led to 41 Nuggets points.
The Hornets also recorded playoff lows in points, field goals made (17), field goals attempted (54), assists (10) and second-half points (24). Denver's 121 points also set a Hornets opponent playoff high.
"I don't think I've ever had a team play defense like that," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "Defensively, when you play this well, offense just happens."
David West was the Hornets' high scorer with 14 points, while James Posey had 12.
Denver shot 57 percent (33-of-58) through the first three quarters, when Chauncey Billups scored all of his 17 points. Nene added 13 points and Dahntay Jones 12.
All the starters on both teams were done when the anticlimactic final period began. Denver reserve center Chris Andersen, let go by New Orleans after last season, had 11 points and eight rebounds. Linas Kleiza had 14 points and J.R. Smith 12.
Denver dominated early for the second straight game and this time didn't let up. After West scored the game's opening points, Kenyon Martin dunked on the other end, igniting a 27-6 run. Billups had nine points during that span, including a 3-pointer and tough mid-range pullup.
The Hornets opened 4-of-15 shooting (26.7 percent) before Posey's 3 made it 27-11. Denver shot 70 percent in the first quarter, taking a 36-15 lead on Jones' 3-pointer.
The torrid shooting continued into the second quarter, with Anthony scoring on acrobatic drives and quick pullup jumpers. Andersen added a dunk and even a 15-foot fade, putting the Nuggets up 46-22.
New Orleans' frustration began to bubble over. Rasual Butler was called for a technical for pushing Anthony Carter after Carter fouled him on a fast break. The infuriated home crowd began to disparage the officials in unison while Anthony's technical free throw made it 49-24.
The Hornets went without a field goal for a span of 7:48 in the second quarter, scoring only on free throws as Denver kept its lead around 20 points. Late in the period, Kleiza's 3 made it 61-37.
Butler's baseline jumper made it 61-39 at halftime, but the Nuggets came out of the locker room with no discernible letup in aggression. Nene's inside basket as he was fouled sparked an 11-0 run that included back-to-back 3s by Anthony and Billups. Martin's jumper made it 71-41 with 9:16 left in the period.
Notes:@ The Hornets' previous worst playoff loss was by 32 points (96-64) to Atlanta in 1998, when the team was still in Charlotte. ... Denver's previous largest playoff victory margin was 30 (141-111) over San Antonio in 1985. ... Double technicals were called twice in the first half, first on Paul and Martin and later on Posey and Anthony.