The underachieving Nuggets have dropped 5 of their last 7, and along with losing J.R. Smith to knee surgery last week, questions remain about their backpedalling, anti-snitch superstar, writes the Denver Post’s Mark Kizla.

Carmelo Anthony is too old and too rich to be bent over the knee of a basketball coach and spanked, although some tough love seems to be precisely what Melo deserves.

But the stressed-out, sulking star of the slumping Nuggets is not so big that coach George Karl is afraid to bench Anthony.

“I think that’s the next move,” Karl said Monday, revealing that Anthony will be removed from games and shown a seat on the bench if the all-star forward fails to play smart, team basketball.

“I’ve told Melo in the last two weeks, ‘I don’t think you’re listening. I don’t think you’re listening as well as you need to listen.’ For me, the next step is to change the democracy back to a dictatorship.”

“One of my assistants calls this ‘The Year of The Punch,’ and I don’t consider that a good thing,” Karl said.

Obsessed with scoring to the point of distraction and prone to moping when his jumpers clank, Anthony insists he is ready to become a father at age 22, but has not figured out how to be the leader Denver needs in the locker room.

“I didn’t expect to be seventh or eighth (in the Western Conference standings). But it is what it is,” Anthony said after a late-morning practice Monday. “We just have to come together as a team. Me, A.I., Marcus Camby, everybody has got to come together … and get it going. We only have a month-and-a-half left.”

Then, either bored or peeved by the subject of a team that has embarrassingly underachieved, Anthony promptly spun on the heels of his signature sneakers and walked away without so much as goodbye.

Anthony stuck his nose in sweaty chests when he wanted to show he belonged on Team USA, yet cannot be bothered with something as mundane as boxing out for a rebound against the Utah Jazz.

Indeed, there’s no greater sign of a lack of maturity than failing to properly acknowledge a reporter from the Denver Post.

As Duke’s Gerald Henderson and Mike Krzyzewski continue to be criticized for the former’s maiming of Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough in the closing seconds of the Tar Heels’ 86-72 win on Sunday, Sportsline’s Gregg Doyel declares Coach K, “brilliant.  Diabolical and infuriating, but brilliant.”

Coach K has waged a public-relations war so inept, so disarmingly dumb, that it has to be intentional. He’s mind-freaking us like he mind-freaked potential 2006 lottery pick Josh McRoberts into staying for his sophomore season. He wants everyone to be so busy hating him — Coach K — that we forget about Gerald Henderson.

Speaking only for myself … it’s working.

A reporter on an ACC conference call Monday — OK, me — noted Coach K’s tough personal stance on dirty play and asked how many games he had suspended Christian Laettner for stomping Kentucky’s Aminu Timberlake at the 1992 NCAA Tournament.

“First of all,” Coach K said to me, “would you call that a stomp?”

Absolutely, I said. I’d seen the replay many times.

“Well then,” he said. “My judgment and yours would differ.”

So there you have it. Laettner didn’t stomp Timberlake, and Henderson didn’t mean to hurt Hansbrough.