Carmelo Anthony returned to play last night for the first time since January 23, but the Denver Nuggets didn’t really need him. They thoroughly dismantled the Dallas Mavericks 127-91 at the Pepsi Center, playing one of their best defensive games of the year. The Mavs, one of the league’s best all-around teams, barely hit 38 percent of their shots from the field, compared to the Nuggets’ nearly 61 percent (via The Associated Press).

The game even got a little boring, with the Nuggets owning the match-up from the outset. The Denver Post points out that the score was 103-70 at the end of the third quarter, showing just how futile any attempt by Dallas to catch up would have been.

Denver Stiffs suggests the Nuggets show up huge against only the best teams, but also fall big against the terrible ones. This season the Nuggets have readily handled the league’s so-called “elite” teams: the Los Angeles Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Portland Trailblazers, the Utah Jazz, the Orlando Magic, and now the Dallas Mavericks.

ESPN’s most recent NBA power rankings, released Monday, have the Nuggets in the fourth spot overall, behind the Cavaliers, the Lakers, and the Jazz, but that last one is dubious. The Jazz are three games back in the division race, and the Nuggets played a large chunk of the last month without at least one of their stars.

The doubt is shared by a recent NBA writer’s round-table conducted by Sports Illustrated. Three of the four reporters think Denver is clearly the number two team in the Western Conference and the only team that can make a serious run at the Lakers in a repeat of last year’s finals. The fourth reporter puts the Nuggets after the Kobe Bryant-led Lakers, saying the Nuggets have no chance against L.A. in a seven-game series.