Saturday , Dec , 06 , 2003 C.Y. Ellis

Rocky Mountain High

Sure the Nuggets were expected to be better after their 17-win season (kind of hard not to be) but this team is showing so much improvement it’s hard to believe these are the Denver Nuggets.

Sitting at 12-6 (as of Dec. 4) and 8-1 at home, where we all know good teams defend their home floor, the Nuggets have turned this once hopeless looking franchise into a team that nobody wants to face. Ask the defending NBA champion Spurs, the high powered Kings and Mavs and they’ll all tell you how hard it is to go into the Pepsi Center and come out a winner. Led by rookie sensation Carmelo Anthony, who has not only brought back fan interest but also has found favor with the team’s veterans, the Nuggets are a exciting up-and-down run ya outta the gym type of team, and at a mile high it’s hard for others teams to always keep up. But don’t think it’s a one-way road this year the Nuggets are also doing down at sea level. Playing in a back-to-back format after dismantling Lebron’s Cavs for a second time, the Nuggets went into Golden State and watched as Voshon Lenard scored 26 in the first quarter on his way to a 38 point outburst to lead Denver to win number five in a row.

Jeff Bzedelik brought a new attitude and atmosphere to this team despite their awful record, but now with that attitude imprinted on this team, the Nuggets went out and got him players to fill the team’s needs. First getting Marcus Camby back and healthy has been huge his rebounding and shot blocking make it that much easier for the Nugget s to do what they love to do which is get out and run. Picking up Andre Miller has resurrected him after a horrid season in LA with the Clippers and the now one named Nene added about 10-15 pounds of muscle in the off-season and is down rebounding and scoring with the best of the Western forwards. Veteran guards Lenard, and Jon Barry, along with the “little big man” Earl Boykins make this not only a talented team but a deep team which is needed when playing at those heights. Maybe the biggest surprise in undrafted free agent Chris Andersen in his second season in Denver he’s top five in blocked shots and tops coming off the bench in that regard. He’s the ultimate hustle player getting to every loose ball and challenging every shot attempt put up near him. Perfect example was a play against Cleveland after rejecting Lebron Jame’s lay-up attempt Andersen ran 94 feet to the other end to tip up a offensive rebound while it didn’t fall just to see a guy go after like that has to get his teammates fired up to play with him.

As every top team has so has the Nugget’s a star, go to in the clutch, need a bucket late in the game, backs against the wall kind of player. Carmelo Anthony the #3 pick in the past draft has helped pick this team up on and off the court, his quiet team first demeanor has led this team to it’s surprising (except maybe to the Nuggets) 12-6 start. Anthony can score, rebound, defend, and is brilliant in the open floor with or without the basketball. With all the talk and comparisons with Lebron James, I think it’s time for that to stop until Lebron is on a team that can get some wins, Carmelo is proving as he did at Syracuse while he may not be the flashiest or greatest player he’s knows how to win, whether by carrying the load himself or deferring to his teammates. Knowing something like that is not a usual rookie trait but as “Melo” and the Nuggets have proven this is not your usual Nuggets team.

Other NBA Notes

— Cleveland’s road losing streak is up to 33 games now and Orlando has dropped 17 in a row and 0-10 at home. Ouch.

— Clipper rookie Chris Kaman is quietly putting up solid numbers posting a double double each of his past two games (against SAN and CLE) coming off the bench.

— Bonzi Wells gets traded to Memphis, He’s a good player who acts dumb sometimes, but what I don’t understand is don’t Mike Miller, James Posey, Shane Battier, and Dahntey Jones all play his position?

— Zach Randolph keeps the Blazers on the police blotter front pages, busted for drunk driving with possible drug charges as well.

— San Antonio is in shambles below .500 and struggling keeping Tim Duncan on the floor (injured then suspended).

— 9-10 Philadelphia is in first place in the Atlantic? Indiana while having a nice record, 15-4, has gotten pasted by the West’s best Lakers twice. Returning Eastern champs New Jersey is 7-11 and looking slow and scoring deficient. Again it looks like the Western conference finals will be the true NBA Finals.