With Anthony and his ball-hogging ways out of George Karl’s lineup, the Denver Nuggets are finally playing some great team basketball – something they couldn’t seem to do when Anthony was in the lineup.
Instead of having just one or two stars on the court, Denver now has a team and Nuggets fans are excited about it. As of Tuesday, Denver is 15-4 since trading Anthony and (sniff, sniff) Chauncey Billups and has the third best record in the NBA since the all-star break.
Right after the trade finally took place, I think a lot of Nuggets fans, myself included, were a bit depressed that we had traded our two best players for basically a future of young talent. The season looked to be lost. It wasn’t long after the trade, though, that Karl brought a new team onto the court and beat the Celtics. They dropped a couple of heartbreakers, but stayed positive and continued to win.
When it became apparent that the Nuggets were going to make the playoffs, the looming question was, could the team stay that good in the playoffs?
So when the Nuggets took on the Lakers Sunday, the game seemed to be a good test for how they might do in the playoffs. Not only did they have to take on the Lakers in Los Angeles (Denver has only won three of the past 27 games versus the Lakers in Los Angeles), they had to take on a Lakers team on an eight-game winning streak and that has gone 17-1 since the all-star break.
Simply put, Denver’s young and physical team brought it to the Lakers. Instead of Denver trying to keep up with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, it was the Lakers trying to keep up with Ty Lawson, Raymond Felton, Nene, Wilson Chandler, and the rough-and-tough defense of Kenyon Martin.
Despite some great three-pointers toward the end of the game from Felton, Martin had the play of the game when, with 11 seconds left, he was able to crash under the basket and grab an offensive rebound and tip it in after Nene missed a free throw. Had the Lakers rebound, they could have tied the game with a three-pointer. Instead, Martin drove home a Denver victory 95-90.
It was a win to build even more confidence on. It was also the win that clinched Denver a playoff spot and, as of Tuesday, put them three games behind Oklahoma City – the very team Denver may be playing in the first round of the playoffs if the standings hold through the final games of the season.
If Denver does have to play the Thunder, we should have a pretty good idea of how the team will match up against them. Before the end of the season, Denver will have played Oklahoma City on Tuesday evening and then again on Friday. If the Nuggets can keep the winning streak alive, they could take Oklahoma City’s fourth-place standing away from them and win home-court advantage for the first round. That may be wishful thinking with just five games left, but why not?
As I have said in this column before, expectation is the precursor to disappointment. When Denver had the so-called superstar Anthony on the court, everyone had such high expectations. What did we get? Sheer disappointment. We expected to be in the NBA Finals. Denver consistently fell short of doing so.
While Denver’s new team has played well and should continue to play well, I don’t think anyone really knows what’s in store for the team. Rather than be completely disappointed if they go down in the first round, I think Denver fans will be pleasantly surprised if they make a run past the first round. We don’t know what to expect out of this team, so a disappointment shouldn’t hurt too much. Denver’s run in the playoffs will be refreshing without Anthony, win or lose.
Speaking of a precursor to disappointment. Since getting Anthony, the Knicks (as of Tuesday) have gone 10-12 but did clinch a playoff spot on Monday when they beat Cleveland to snap a six-game losing streak. All I can say is I hope Knicks fans don’t expect Anthony to lead their team to the Finals. I can already see the disappointment looming on New York’s horizon.