Welcome to Round Two, 'Melo
Carmelo Anthony didn't want to reach McGrady Land, the part of the basketball world where playoff appearances are a regular occurrence, right along with first-round exits. In his first five seasons in the NBA, the Baltimore native could not take the Denver Nuggets to the conference semifinals. While Chauncey Billups's leadership was the difference in leading the Nuggets into the second round for the first time in 15 years, Anthony is finally there, too, after scoring a career-playoff-high 34 points in the Nuggets' 107-86 dust-off of the New Orleans Hornets.
Anthony was unfairly blamed for failing to get the Nuggets out of the first round, but that's the criticism that comes with being a superstar. In his defense, the Nuggets missed the playoffs the previous eight seasons before his arrival -- and, when exactly was he supposed to win? As a No. 8 seed against the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2004? Against the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs in 2005 and 2007? Against the eventual Western Conference champion Los Angeles Lakers last season?
The Nuggets had the third seed in 2006, but they didn't have home-court advantage against the Los Angeles Clippers and the team suffered a complete meltdown, with Kenyon Martin getting suspended and Anthony fouling out in a critical Game 4. After losing to the Clippers, Anthony said, "I don't want to be like Kevin Garnett and take eight years to get out of the first round."
Granted, the Nuggets could've won a little more than four games in those five trips and they often underachieved in the regular season, which contributed to some of those bad matchups. But this season, with the playoffs arguably meaning more to him than any other star, Anthony had reach at least the second week of May.
Remember, he got an all-star snub last February after helping Team USA win a gold medal. He was placed on the trade block last summer -- before his agent asked for assurances that he wouldn't get moved -- after the Anthony-Allen Iverson Experiment resulted in just one playoff victory in nine postseason games. And, he appeared headed back on the block after getting suspended two months ago for refusing to leave a game when George Karl tried to substitute for him.
Anthony had to win for his reputation, and possibly to justify his stay in Denver. He's proven to be an explosive scorer, but winning produces greater respect. Anthony knows this, although he didn't always show it, and he took full advantage of his first opportunity to demolish an opponent when his team finally had homecourt advantage. The Nuggets won their four games against the Hornets by an average of 30.8 points.
This isn't complete vindication for Anthony, whose peers LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have both reached the NBA Finals, with Wade winning it all in 2006. But unlike those guys, Anthony can say that he has reached the postseason every season that he played. And, he no longer has to contend with Tracy McGrady for the title of Best Player To Never Win A Playoff Series.
Now, he just has to worry about the Dallas Mavericks.
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