First of all, Carmelo will indeed return tomorrow night against the Charlotte Bobcats.
The Honeymoon is over
Please do not take this post the wrong way. The Nuggets are in first place in their division and that is due to the presence of Chauncey Billups. He has brought the mindset that every game counts and I think that is the reason why the Nuggets have not lost a game to a sub .500 team since he started suiting up. Denver still has the problem of playing down to their competition, but not for all four quarters as was the case in the past.
It certainly appears to me, as an outsider, that he has had a very positive influence in the locker room and from a chemistry standpoint. Against the Jazz the other night Scott Hastings pointed out how J.R. Smith sought Chauncey out, who was on the bench at the time, to ask him a question during a break in the action. The players obviously have a deep respect for Chauncey, as well they should.
Chauncey has also brought some good things to the court. He generally plays very good position defense and is only out of his element when faced up against the quickest of point guards. (By the way, I thought it was interesting that he was matched up against Chris Paul very rarely last night.) He is not shy when it comes to directing the offense. He will direct traffic and work to get Nene or J.R. or Kenyon the ball in a position to score.
I have written this several times before, but when the opposition cranks up the defensive intensity as the game moves along Denver surrenders to the pressure. Instead of increasing their offensive effort and determination, they take what the defense gives them which is long jumpers.
When those times arrive, Denver needs a player on the floor to demand that they change their ways. The fans continuously clatter for George Karl to call timeout after timeout to remind the players to force the ball inside. Karl took a timeout early in the third last night and the result was they entered the ball into Nene in the post and he hit Kenyon who cut straight to the rim for an uncontested dunk. Problem solved right? Not exactly. The Nuggets went right back to their perimeter ways.
At that point Chauncey has to be the coach on the floor. His is the voice everyone will listen to in moments where the Nuggets must respond. The problem is that in big moments his alter ego, Mr. Big Shot, overpowers the unselfish pass first point guard persona that he has developed over the years of bouncing from team to team. My biggest problem with Allen Iverson was in big moments he relies only on himself. I think with AI part of that is from his background. Life has taught him that he is the only person capable of taking care of himself. I do not know what is behind Chauncey’s need to rely on himself more than his teammates.
As I said, we owe Chauncey a great deal for how he has changed this team. However, that does not mean I will settle for poor decision making and look the other way when the same problem continues to nag this team.
Judging by the comments after last night’s game I am not the only one to feel that way.
Melo not the only one missing time
Carmelo has been aiming for a return to the court on Friday. If he does return to play against the Charlotte Bobcats that means the Nuggets will have gone 6-4 in the games he missed. Playing .600 basketball without a talent like Melo is pretty good. On the other hand, it was not only Melo who missed those games. Check out this list:
Miami: No Daqueen Cook – Seems insignificant, but that game was close with 4:00 left. Another offensive threat could have made a big difference for the Heat.
Detroit: No Rip Hamilton or Rasheed Wallace – Denver lost anyway.
Dallas: No Josh Howard – Of course he sucks anyway, but not as much as Devean George.
Phoenix: No Shaquille O’Neal – I would have expected the Suns to win that game with O’Neal on the floor.
Orlando: No Mickael Pietrus – OK, that one is a so what.
Houston: No Tracy McGrady or Ron Artest – Another game the Nuggets lost anyway.
Sacramento: No Shareef Abdur-Rahim – Kidding, only kidding.
Utah: No Carlos Boozer or Andrei Kirilenko – Maybe those two would have helped keep the game closer.
Memphis: No Darko Milicic – He must have been sitting next to Shareef.
New Orleans: No David West or Tyson Chandler – Hornets roll anyway.
Looking over that list do you still feel that good about the Nuggets going 6-4? They only beat three western conference playoff caliber teams in those six wins and all three of those teams were missing former all-stars from their lineup. To make matters worse out of the Nuggets four losses, three of those teams were missing two significant pieces of their rotation.
Winning six of ten games was not a disaster, but it was not a great accomplishment either.
By the way, Denver gets Carmelo back, but Charlotte is playing without Gerald Wallace after his torso was pretty much crushed after a hard foul by Andrew Bynum the other night. The run of injured opponents comes to an end though on February third against the Spurs.
AK-47 under the knife
Andrei Kirilenko is going to have surgery tomorrow (Friday) morning to remove a bone fragment from his ankle.
The Jazz will be without Boozer for another week or so and Kirilenko will be gone a little longer than that. That will make for a tough February for the Jazz, although they do play eight of their 11 games at home, but if all goes well with Kirilenko’s procedure the Jazz will be healthy for the final month and a half of the season.
Eastern Conference All-Star reserves
As good as the east is, pickings are slim, especially at forward.
Center: Chris Bosh – Sorry Emeka.
Forward: Danny Granger – I love his game. He plays D too.
Forward: Rashard Lewis – A much better all around player than he gets credit for.
Guard: Devin Harris – Dallas fans better hope they get something good with Kidd’s expiring deal.
Guard: Joe Johnson – I have always liked his game from the first time I saw him in summer league for the Celtics.
Wildcard: Jameer Nelson – he is playing at a level even Dick Vitale could not have predicted when he was initially drafted by the Nuggets and shipped off to Orlando. He gets the nod over Rondo for being a more capable offensive player.
Wildcard: Vince Carter – I like having flashy players in a flashy game, plus he has not had a recurrence of the “jumper’s knee” injury that caused him to miss time in Toronto. I think we all expected it might come back after the Nets dumped Kidd and Jefferson.
Toney Blare was at the Nuggets/Hornets game last night and has a couple of interesting notes from the game that we could not have picked up on over the boob tube.