They may soon face more tests without their star point guard.
• The Nuggets won their third straight overall, fifth straight at home and 22nd of 23 regular-season home games dating to last season.
• Carmelo Anthony had 38 points, his 17th 30-plus game of the season.
• The Rockets saw their three-game win streak snapped.
-- ESPN Stats & Information
Anthony scored 38 points, his fifth straight 30-plus point performance, and the Nuggets were able to win despite missing Billups for most of the second half.
The team said Billups, who had 15 points before leaving with 9 minutes left in the third quarter, would undergo a precautionary MRI and officially was listed as day to day.
Nuggets Coach George Karl said he anticipated being without Billups for at least a couple of games. The Nuggets play at New Orleans on Friday and if Billups can't go, either rookie Ty Lawson or veteran Anthony Carter would likely start in his place.
Both Lawson (six points, six assists) and Carter (five points) delivered key baskets and helped facilitate the Nuggets' offense after Billups' exit. So did reserve J.R. Smith, who added 21 points for the Nuggets, winners of five straight at home since their only loss of the season at the Pepsi Center, 106-100 to Minnesota on Nov. 29.
"Everybody tonight did their part," Anthony said. "A.C. [Carter] came in and played well and he seems to always do that when he is called."
Added Kenyon Martin: "A.C.'s a professional. He stays ready. That's what it's about. J.R.'s capable of handing the ball, 'Melo handles the ball a lot."
And so does Lawson, whose speed brings an added dimension to the offense.
"Hopefully, Chauncey comes back soon but I've got to be ready," Lawson said.
Aaron Brooks scored 23 points for Houston, which lost the second game of a back-to-back set for the first time this season. The Rockets were 5-0 previously in the second game of back-to-backs, including completing their first sweep of a two-game set earlier this month.
"When we made a run, they made a run right back at us," said Trevor Ariza, who had 18 points for the Rockets. "Anytime they needed a stop or they needed to get it going, they did and we didn't."
There was no letup on their part even after Billups left, Ariza added.
"J.R. definitely got it going, Melo got it going again," Ariza said. "He did what he's been doing every night, doing a lot of scoring and making plays for his team, and we couldn't do anything about it today."
Houston's Tracy McGrady played sparingly in his second game since returning from microfracture surgery on his left knee, missing the only shot he took in 7 minutes of play.
"Being hurt last season, having the microfracture surgery, the progress I had to make to get to this point, it's been a long road," said McGrady, who tested himself by guarding Anthony in the second quarter. "The biggest question is, 'Can I come out and get up and down the court without having any pain in my knee?' I felt fine, wasn't favoring it. My knee is holding up pretty fine."
Down seven at halftime, Houston tied it at 71 when Ariza converted a three-point play. But consecutive 3-pointers by Anthony and Smith helped Denver regain command, and the Nuggets took an 85-78 lead into the fourth quarter.
From there, Denver scored 10 of the first 14 points in the fourth quarter, including two baskets by Anthony to open a 95-82 lead with 6:52 remaining. Anthony, the NBA's leading scorer, made 19 of 20 free throws, including six straight in the closing moments to help hold off the Rockets.
After a tip-in by Ariza pulled the Rockets within 49-46, the Nuggets scored nine of the next 13 points, culminating with a reverse layup by Lawson to put Denver up 58-51 at halftime.
Houston started out strong, taking a 19-11 lead on Ariza's 22-foot jumper with 4:23 left in the first period. Denver got a three-point play from Anthony to start an 11-0 run, putting the Nuggets back in front.
Houston coach Rick Adelman said before the game McGrady would be brought along gradually. "He's been out a whole year. We're not going to push his minutes right now," Adelman said. ... Anthony has scored 30 or more points in 17 games this season, four more than he had last season. ... Denver Broncos WR Brandon Marshall watched the game from a courtside seat. ... The Nuggets snapped a three-game losing streak to Houston and improved their home record to 12-1.