It's been a long wait for Carmelo Anthony.
After six long years of frustration and unfullfillment, Anthony has the Nuggets in a strong position to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs for the first time in his career.
Surely, nothing can stop Denver from moving on to the second round. They demolished the New Orleans Hornets by a mind blowing 58 points in Game Four. They lead the series 3-1 and Game Five is at the Pepsi Center.
In Game Four, it was the Nuggets defense that suffocated the Hornets. New Orleans shooting percentage (31.5 percent) was almost matched by their franchise-worst amount of turnovers (27).
If that wasn't bad enough, tonight, New Orleans also has to contend with the oxygen-thin confines of Denver in order avoid elimination. It's a place where they were outscored by a total of 44 points in the first two games of the series.
While Anthony has been overshadowed in this series by the stellar play of Chauncey Billups, you can bet that 'Melo will happily play the role of No. 2 guy if it means more playoff basketball for Denver.
It's that characteristic which has stood out the most for Anthony this season. He's happy to defer to teammates. Gone is the selfish play of previous years when it seemed that he wanted to score first and win second.
It's been clearly reflected in his play. His scoring average this season was the third lowest of his career (22.8ppg) while the Nuggets tied their own franchise record for most wins in a season with 54.
It's no coincidence that Anthony's play improved from almost the moment Billups arrived and Allen Iverson was jettisoned to the Detroit Pistons. Anthony finally understands that he can be unselfish and the Nuggets can still win.
However, it could quite easily have been Anthony instead of Iverson who the Nuggets traded away. After last season's four-game playoff sweep by the L.A. Lakers, it appeared as though Anthony and the Nuggets had stalled together.
Rather than improving, they were just treading water. Denver were always good enough to make the playoffs, but were only ever first-round fodder once they got there.
Anthony's offensive game had never been a problem, he could score big and would shoot at will. However, questions about his leadership and suitability as a player to build a franchise around began to grow louder and crop up more often.
Something had to give.
Wisely, Denver stuck with Anthony. The Nuggets realized that Anthony had never really had a point guard of Billups calibre to play with before. Billups was a proven winner (2004 NBA Champion, Playoff MVP) but more importantly, he came from the team that epitomized team work and sharing the ball.
Billups has been the leader that Anthony desperately needed and the complete opposite of the selfish style of Iverson.
Billups has allowed Anthony to remain the focus on offense but, more importantly, he has taught him that he doesn't need to touch the ball on every possession to be effective.
For Anthony, it's been a case of less meaning much, much more.
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