The Other Side: Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets started their subtle makeover last summer with a salary dump deal, shipping Marcus Camby to the Los Angeles for a pair of shoe laces, a pack of bubble gum and some NBA-licensed socks for their footsies. Then, after starting the season 1-3, the Nuggets ended the Allen Iverson Experiment, a failed pairing with Carmelo Anthony that produced some exciting offensive performances -- and consecutive first-round playoff flops. But with Nene filling in for Camby and Chauncey Billups bringing a championship swagger from Detroit, the Nuggets (33-16) are leading the Northwest Division by 2 ½ games and have a chance to reach the second round for the first time since 1994.
The Nuggets are off to their best start since 1976-77, when the team advanced to the Western Conference semifinals. A win against Washington would give them their best 50-game start in franchise history. But some are still being cautious with their enthusiasm. They have won three in a row and six of their past seven games. They will play the second of a eight consecutive road games tonight and are coming off a 114-113 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday. The eight-game trip is the longest since the Nuggets joined the NBA.
This is Denver's first trip to Washington since they defeated the Wizards, 118-92, on Nov. 9, 2007 -- a loss that led to boos at Verizon Center and got the Wizards off to an 0-5 start to last season. And it is the first time the teams have played each other since Anthony infuriated Eddie Jordan when he torched a short-handed Wizards team for a career-high 49 points in Denver last February.
Here's what else you need to know about the Nuggets before they play the Wizards tonight at Verizon Center:
1. Chauncey Billups Is Having A Great Homecoming
Chauncey Billups initially was hurt when the Detroit Pistons traded him after leading them to the Eastern Conference Finals all five seasons he was there. But the trade to his hometown of Denver has worked out better than he could've imagined. He gets to hang around family and friends and win games. The Nuggets are 31-13 in games Bullups has played since joining the team after the Nov. 4 trade. Billups is averaging 18.5 points and 6.3 assists as a Nugget and was named to the all-star team last week. He has led the Nuggets in scoring 15 times, posted eight double-doubles and has a chance to start if New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul is unable to return from a groin injury. He sat out Wednesday with a sprained ankle and is listed as questionable tonight. If he is unable to go, Anthony Carter will start.
2. Carmelo Anthony Isn't An All-Star -- But He's Still Clutch
Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony was considered NBA royalty after making the all-star team the past two seasons and leading Team USA to an Olympic gold medal last summer. But with Billups considered the engine behind the Nuggets dramatic improvement, and Anthony missing 15 games with an elbow injury and a broken right hand, the coaches snubbed him this year. Anthony is still hoping that David Stern can name him to the team as an injury replacement if Chris Paul is unable to participate. He has been back three games, and has been on a scoring binge the past two games, scoring 35 points against San Antonio and 32 against Oklahoma City.
With Billups resting, Anthony led the Nuggets to a dramatic last-second victory in Oklahoma City, as he upstaged Kevin Durant at Ford Center for the second time this season. He hit a layup with 5.3 seconds on Wednesday and drilled a three-pointer with 0.1 seconds left to give Denver a 122-120 win on Jan. 2. Anthony is now the most clutch player in the NBA, shooting an impressive 54.6 percent (12 for 22) on shots to either take the lead or tie the game in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime.
3. Nene Rarely Misses, Nearing Wedded Bliss
Nene leads the NBA in field goal percentage (61.8) and recently had a string of 20 consecutive made field goals. The Brazilian big man has slimmed down almost 16 pounds since training camp, and is having the best season of his career (15.2 points, 8.2 rebounds) with Camby's departure opening up more minutes for him. The 6-foot-11 Nene didn't make the all-star team, but he had other plans. Nene will marry Lauren Prothe in a private location on Valentine's Day. Nene and Prothe have both overcome adversity in the past year, with Nene battling testicular cancer and Prothe having brain surgery to remove a benign tumor. The two are enjoying life now .
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