The Nuggets believe that they can outplay the best teams in the league – no one’s arguing since they’re only five games behind the conference leading Lakers. Ever since Chauncey Billups was traded for Allen Iverson, the Denver Nuggets went from second round fodder to championship contender. Billups brought an attitude of professionalism to a team riddled with talented but misguided players. Iverson was not the leader – or any sort of leader for that matter – that Carmelo Anthony needed. Anthony needed someone with grizzled playoff experience and the initiative to lead by example.
Anthony proved that he belongs as one of the elite players in the NBA. He dueled with LeBron James this past Thursday and finished the game making seven of his last eight shots. He also played incredible defense on the reigning MVP down the stretch. Anthony is only finally realizing his enormous potential as his game continues to mature. They overcame a spectacular 43-point, 15-assist and 13-rebound performance by James. Anthony scored 40 points of his own in a battle of superstars – the best thing about the memorable duel between the two 2003 draft picks? The actually guarded each other.
The Nuggets also whipped the defending champs Los Angeles Lakers in two games earlier this season. Anthony destroyed Ron Artest’s defense in their first meeting and Billups dissected the Lakers in the second. The Nuggets beat the Lakers by a total of 39 points. Kobe Bryant played in both games and was unable to find any sort of rhythm.
Denver is loaded in every position. They have a clutch point guard in Chauncey Billups, defensive minded two-guard in Arron Afflalo, superstar Carmelo Anthony, athletic Kenyon Martin and the underrated Nene. Not to mention volatile but a very talented sixth man in J.R. Smith.
Despite the impressive wins over the Lakers and Cavaliers, the Nuggets are susceptible to relaxing on bottom-feeding teams. They recently lost to the new-look Washington Wizards. Anthony was tight-guarded by newly acquired Al Thornton.
Last year, Denver made it all the way to the Western conference finals only to lose to the eventual champions Los Angeles Lakers. Sasha Vujacic and Trevor Ariza easily frustrated Anthony – he still lacks the necessary composure in big game situations. If Anthony develops a killer instinct and isn’t easily rattled the NBA better watch out. He already owns a versatile post game and an excellent mid-range game. Plus, his combination of size and speed make it difficult for opponents to hold him down. The greatest enemy Anthony has is himself – the Nuggets will only go as far as he takes them.