By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- Carmelo Anthony spent seven-plus seasons as the driving force behind the Denver Nuggets.
They don't seem to be missing him much, while Anthony's frustration in New York is becoming apparent.
Anthony will face the Nuggets on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden for the first time - and only time in this lockout-shortened season - since being dealt to his hometown Knicks.
Anthony lived up to the hype of being the third overall pick by Denver (11-5) in the 2003 draft, instantly turning the franchise into a playoff team following a 17-65 season. The forward led the Nuggets into the postseason in each of his seven full seasons, including a run to the Western Conference finals in 2008-09 when they fell to the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.
His impressive run ended last February when the Nuggets dealt the four-time All-Star to New York (6-9) in a stunning three-team, 13-player trade.
Denver reached the playoffs without Anthony - losing to Oklahoma City - and is 29-12 in the regular season since the trade.
That success can be credited to the deal, as one of the players the Nuggets landed was Danilo Gallinari. The forward is averaging 16.2 points on the season, ranking second on the team behind Ty Lawson's 16.4.
"I think the one thing that (happened to) guys when 'Melo left, Ty and Arron (Afflalo) got more excited about their opportunity," coach George Karl told the team's official website. "That's what happens in trades. Trades open up windows of opportunities."
Gallinari and Lawson had 21 points each while Al Harrington - another former Knick - had a season-high 29 in Friday's 108-104 win at Washington.
The Nuggets have won three in a row, one shy of their season high from earlier this month.
Gallinari is looking forward to a return to New York, where he spent two-plus seasons after being drafted sixth overall in 2008.
"This is going to be a nice game," Gallinari said. "Last year, the first thing that I looked at when I got traded was when are we going to play in New York. Yeah, it's going to be an exciting game."
While the Nuggets are thriving, Anthony is growing frustrated with the Knicks' struggles.
Anthony is among the league leaders with 25.7 points per game, but New York has been a major disappointment so far this season.
The Knicks lost their fifth straight Friday, falling 100-86 at home to Milwaukee - which came in 0-8 on the road - despite Anthony scoring 35 points.
Anthony, however, was ejected with 1:33 left after picking up his second technical foul following a confrontation with the Bucks' Brandon Jennings, who apparently made a hand gesture after a 3-pointer.
"I don't like to be punked out there so I think that's where the frustration just set in and it started trickling down," Anthony said. "Maybe it was my fault that the frustration set in and I apologized to my teammates for that, but I don't like being in them situations like that. I don't know how to handle those punking situations too well."
New York's struggles may be attributed to the trade with Denver, as it dealt most of its depth while also acquiring guard Chauncey Billups, whom it waived prior to this season to free up salary cap space for Tyson Chandler.
That's left the Knicks with little offensive firepower beyond Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, the latter of whom is averaging 18.1 points and 7.8 rebounds after posting 25.3 and 8.3, respectively, last season.
Stoudemire was booed after missing one easy putback in the second half Friday before finishing with 15 points and 11 boards.
The Knicks are averaging 93.0 points, including 88.4 while hitting 38.7 percent from the floor over the last five games. Those averages are a far cry from their Eastern Conference-leading 106.5 points per game in 2010-11.
"We're just not sharp and it looks like our legs are deader than the other guys," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "It looks like they're running circles around us a lot of times."
The Knicks and Nuggets split two meetings last season, with each team winning at home.
Updated January 21, 2012