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As the trade deadline nears, Carmelo Anthony is about to re-enter the spotlight of the NBA. After spending a couple weeks at the center of attention earlier in the year because of trade rumors that eventually died down, the Nuggets will likely be shopping Anthony around more than ever as the possibility that the franchise will end up with nothing in exchange for Melo at the end of the season grows larger.
But while there may be much less of a chance that Carmelo ends up staying in Denver for the remainder of the season, it’s time to start looking at the Nuggets as they are currently constructed to determine whether or not this will just be a lost cause for both Anthony and the Nuggets if they end up sticking together until the end of the year.
Denver is currently the sixth seed in the Western Conference with the same record as the Utah Jazz (30-22) but with a superior head-to-head record. This a team that beat the Heat by 28 earlier in the season (though they were without LeBron James, that’s still impressive) but also a club that got smashed by the Clippers and recently lost back-to-back games to the 76ers and Nets by the scores of 110-99 and 115-99.
Whether the Anthony drama has this team disinterested or in spite of their teammate, there is clearly something missing from this team that it had over the past two seasons when they were legitimate contenders to take down the Lakers in the West thanks to their uptempo offense and reliable home court advantage. But instead, ever since Carmelo was left to fend for himself against Utah in the post-season last year, Anthony has started to slip away from his supporting cast and the mojo around this squad is clearly no longer there – at least not consistently.
For my recap of last night’s Rockets-Nuggets game as well as every other game in the NBA last night, hit the break…
Last night, we saw the Nuggets play a sound overall game but multiple defensive gaffes cost them a chance to come away with the victory. At home, against the Rockets, a team that is three games out of the playoff picture with little to no defense to speak of, would be a guaranteed win for this club if they were playing with the same “nobody believes in us” swagger they seemed to have back in 2009 when the seriously challenged the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
This year, that’s not the case. The Nuggets got an absolute darling performance from their star. 50 points on an unbelievably efficient 16-of-24 shooting (2-of-3 from deep and 16-of-18 from the free throw line) for Carmelo Anthony, to go along with a sturdy 11 rebounds. Stellar and incredible jumpshots, tough finishes at the basket and a whole lot of watching from his teammate. I thought it was telling that, at the end of the game, when the Nuggets were down four with little chance of coming back, Anthony was wide open on the wing, waiting to get one final shot up to either lift the chances of an improbable comeback (not likely) or to notch a new career high in points (likely), and instead Al Harrington opted to pass the ball to J.R. Smith, who was contested.
Anthony finished with zero assists and while that’s an acceptable number if you’re only going to miss eight of your 24 shots while getting to the line and converting your free throws, it shows a disconnect between he and his teammates. Carmelo has never been a gifted, willing or all that good of a passer, but this game was a bit different than the normal “Carmelo is shooting a lot tonight so don’t expect any assists,” kind of night. This game didn’t scream selfishness, far from it, but it was clear that Carmelo either didn’t trust his teammates or that his fellow Nuggets didn’t think he was giving up the ball.
The Rockets responded with a complete opposite performance than the Nuggets. Rick Adelman’s club put together a clinic on using a superstar to rack up points while still getting the offense moving and flowing through other players on the floor. It helps that their star, Kevin Martin, is much more versatile than Anthony when it comes to getting his shots off – Martin can score off a screen, on the pick and role, as a spot-up shooter, in isolation and when attacking the rim while Melo is much more of an isolation player than anything – but still, George Karl can get the Nuggets to do the same thing, so long as the players are willing.
Martin had 37 points, four three’s and made nine of his 12 free throws. But more important than his contributions to the Rockets’ overall point total were his seven assists. Martin, like Melo, has never been a great passer throughout his career, but the willingness to move the ball exists within Martin and that’s what made his performance a bit more valuable for his ballclub. His teammates were engaged and his relationship with them has never been called into question. Martin scored when plays were called for him and when his objective within a set was to move the ball he did just that.
The Nuggets only had two players in double figures other than Anthony: Al Harrington, who scored 10 points on 12 shots (horrible efficiency), and Ty Lawson, whose speed caused havoc for the Rockets and earned him 10 trips to the line. For Houston: Luis Scola had 25, Chuck Hayes had 12, Kyle Lowry had 11 (on one-of-nine shooting, nonetheless) and Chase Budinger added 11 off the bench. The Rockets had the active, involved group, which paid off late and the Nuggets had the uninvolved group that had spent most of the night watching as Carmelo Anthony did his thing.
The most interesting side plot from this contest is that the Rockets are actually one of the teams rumored to be interested in acquiring Carmelo. While it was impressive to see him drop 50 on your team, Rockets fans have to realize how that affected his teammates and whether or not the steep price Daryl Morey would have to pay to get him would be worth it, especially if it was just a rental, as Morey has stated it would likely be if he were do a deal for Carmelo.
The Nuggets have time and they have a chance to turn their season around if they plan on keeping Carmelo Anthony. But you have to wonder, have all of the antics and rumors bothered his teammates enough to have them quit on him if he ends up staying? We’ll have to wait and see. Until then, enjoy a galore of Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks rumors over the next few weeks. They’ll be all over the place.
- If you missed the Chicago Bulls-Portland Trail Blazers match-up last night, you missed one of the better back and forth battles of the season. It wasn’t your traditional battle of superstars like the one Dwyane Wade and LeBron James had last season in which the two traded buckets until the halftime buzzer sounded (when Wade nearly hit a 50-foot heave), but it was just as entertaining. Derrick Rose just attacked the Blazers in every way. He got to the basket and had a thunderous jam in the fourth quarter, he hit mid-range two when Portland gave him space and he even nailed a stepback three with just over a minute left in the game that kept the Bulls in it. He finished with 36 points on the game on 14-of-27 shooting. Rose also had six helpers but his five turnovers came at inopportune moments.
- But it was LaMarcus Aldridge, perhaps the biggest all-star snub of them all, that would come out on top of this head-to-head match-up. Though he wasn’t doing all of the work for himself, the Bulls constantly left Aldridge wide open off the pick and pop with Andre Miller, and LA, like he has all season long, caught a sleeping defense off guard at least seven times on alley-oops from Miller. Aldridge responded to every Rose basket down the stretch and ended up making eight of his 15 jumpshots on the night. Overall, Aldridge had a career high 42 points on 15-of-23 shooting while making 12 of his 14 free throw attempts. Aldridge also had eight boards but what stood out the most was one sequence at the end of the game. After Aldridge had just hit a very tough jumper to put the Blazers up six with 48 seconds left in the game, he immediately got back on defense and stepped in to take a charge on Taj Gibson, who was rolling to the basket. Stars can make big shots, but the all-stars and those who are truly great do other things to help their team win and I think that play said a lot about Aldridge’s overall play this season.
- Behind 19 points and 16 rebounds from Gerald Wallace, the Charlotte Bobcats took down the Celtics in a great defensive battle. Kevin Garnett was rendered ineffective by Charlotte’s tough defense and so was Rajon Rondo, who took 13 shots to score 10 points while turning it over five times. Shaun Livingston had some big time plays in this game, using his size advantage to abuse Nate Robinson on the block when he got the ball. 18 points on seven-of-10 shooting for Livingston, who hasn’t been all that bad for the Bobcats this season. Gerald Henderson added 15 points off the bench for Charlotte, who held the Celtics to 40% shooting from the field.
- The Mavs nearly lost it, but a deep triple that barely rimmed out for Anthony Parker and a bit too much of Jason Terry kept the Cavaliers streak of futility alive. Just a three point win for Dallas, though, which is unacceptable for a team that will let you score at will if you run your sets correctly. J.J. Hickson had an impressive game, scoring 26 points on 12-of-18 shooting while grabbing 12 rebounds (five offensive), but he’ll likely disappear for the next two games as a result.
- The Kings came close to getting the Jazz last night, which really would have hurt the Jazz, who have struggled all season long. DeMarcus Cousins brought it, dropping 25 points and 14 rebounds before fouling out. If he can stay off the pine by keeping his foul rate low, this kid really is a special talent. Watch him play, when he’s motivated (the fact that I have to add this qualifier is the other problem with Cousins), and you’ll see some brilliant basketball from a rookie big man. Tyreke Evans did some work on Deron Williams throughout the night, scoring 21 points, but Williams responded with 21 points, nine assists and six rebounds.
- In the battle of snubbed all-star guards, Steve Nash, who was also celebrating a birthday, took the cake. His individual performance may not have been as good as Monta Ellis‘ but he had 14 points and 14 assists as well as a dagger three in the fourth quarter to put the game away for his Suns. Ellis had 21 points, 12 rebounds and five assists but needed 17 shots to get there. One of my favorite reserves around the league, Reggie Williams, added 19 off the bench for Golden State on eight-of-10 shooting.
- The Hornets, missing their starting center and small forward, fell to the Timberwolves in what was a blowout for most of the game. Anthony Tolliver burned the Hornets from deep, knocking down four three’s en route to a nice 12 point-seven rebound performance off the pine. Kevin Love, who is still so, so underrated, added a ridiculous 27 points (6-of-12 shooting from the field and 14-of-14 from the line) and 17 rebounds. If only that defense was a wee bit better. Chris Paul missed a few open looks that he normally knocks down, but the game’s best floor general still finished with 17 points, 14 assists, six rebounds and four steals. Nobody else showed up for the Hornets, though, as even David West struggled to score his 18 points (seven-of-16 shooting) while grabbing just six boards because of Love’s dominance. I couldn’t find video of it, but if you get a chance, look up Kevin Love’s beautiful outlet inbounds pass from this game. After Marco Belinelli hit a three, Love quickly grabbed the ball, stepped out of bounds and rocketed a pass to Wayne Ellington down the floor, who threw it down and got fouled by Belineeli from behind. It was a thing of beauty.
- For my thoughts on last night’s Grizzlies-Lakers match-up, check out my post at Straight Outta Vancouver.