The Other Side: Denver Nuggets
It was all bad about a week ago -- or so it seemed. The season was collapsing on the Denver Nuggets, who were in their worst slump since Chauncey Billups returned to his hometown team. After losing at home to Houston, 97-95, on March 9, the Nuggets had lost five of six -- and eight of 11 overall -- and their seemingly secure hold on the Northwest Division and the third seed in the Western Conference vanished. They even lost one of the newspapers that cover the team. R.I.P. Rocky Mountain News. (Keep your heads up, former Rocky Mountain News NBA writers Chris Tomasson and Aaron Lopez).
Suddenly, the worries about catching the San Antonio Spurs for the second spot were replaced by holding off Utah and Portland -- and just making the playoffs. It didn't help that Carmelo Anthony and George Karl bumped heads over Anthony's refusal to leave a game against Indiana, which led to a suspension. Karl also had to shuffle the starting lineup, going with J.R. Smith for a while and then back to Dahntay Jones at shooting guard. And, they also dealt with injuries to Kenyon Martin (lower back strain) and Nene (bruised right knee).
But now, the Nuggets (44-25) are doing a little bit better, using a favorable schedule to reel off victories against Oklahoma City, the Los Angeles Clippers, New Jersey and Memphis. They are now alone in first place, holding a one-game lead over the Trail Blazers and a 1 ½ game lead over the Jazz. It could be better -- on Feb. 10, the Nuggets had a three-game lead on Portland and a six-game lead over Utah -- but at least they are winning again.
The Nuggets have a chance to match their season high with five wins in a row against the lowly Washington Wizards, a team the Nuggets smashed 124-103 on Feb. 6. Here's what else you should know about the Nuggets as they prepare to host the Wizards tonight at Pepsi Center:
1. Carmelo Anthony Is Taking His Own Path
When the Nuggets were rolling, Carmelo Anthony seemed to thrive in his role as primary scorer. When the Nuggets started struggling, Anthony lost his focus a bit. His suspension earlier this month for refusing to accept a substitution from Karl put him directly in the firing line of critics -- including ESPN's Stephen A. Smith -- who believe that Anthony keeps taking steps backward while 2003 NBA draftmates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade keep leaping to the front of the league hierarchy. Some think it's time to stop comparing 'Melo to those guys. Since his return, Anthony has scored more than 30 points three times and is averaging 27.3 points his past eight games. He had 35 points, including the go-ahead three-point play with 33 seconds left, in the Nuggets' 111-109 win over Memphis.
2. J.R. Smith Has Some Legal Trouble
J.R. Smith is having his best month of the season, averaging 16.5 points and scoring more than 20 points twice. But Smith is also still dealing with a legal problem that has followed him for the past 20 months. Smith could still plead guilty to traffic charges stemming from a 2007 car accident that killed his close friend, Andre Bell. A grand jury decided not to indict Smith back in January, but he is expected to appear in court again on May 19. Smith attended a court hearing on Tueday and faces up to 90 days in jail. He could plead guilty to the traffic charges and said he is unsure if he will have to eventually do jail time.
3. The Nuggets Won't Have It Easy Down the Stretch
After the Wizards, the Nuggets will have a critical three-game road trip against Phoenix, New Orleans and Dallas. The Nuggets have lost their past six games away from Denver, which Karl credits for being "a little too loose in our professionalism, our approach, our cockiness." The Nuggets will have to get their road problems corrected with two of their final three games on the road in Los Angeles and Portland. The season finale could also decide the Northwest Division winner. Although Billups and Anthony have led the Nuggets thus far, their playoff chances truly hinge on the health of Kenyon Martin, no matter how well Renaldo Balkman has been playing.
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Posted by: Samson151 | March 20, 2009 1:26 PM
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