Denver Nuggets: Better Than the Rest, Best in the West.
Now, I know the Lakeshow express will jump on the nearest railway station and ride the Gasol Express 16 all the way to Van City to come and confront me for what I am about to write. Oh well.
The Denver Nuggets.
When you heard that name back in October, what was the first thing that popped into your head?
For me, it was a team that would not make the playoffs. They traded off Marcus Camby, their anchor on defense. The team was still so brash and arrogant and the team had no direction. Carmelo was probably the only one who knew what to do.
His new look came from his experience in the Olympics, and his self questioning on how he is a man. He said that he now has a kid and needs to be a role model for him. He is seeing things the Carmelo of last year would have not—A fire that had fuel, but it also had Iverson.
Not to take anything away from the great AI, but his attitude was brushing off on the Nuggets negatively. He brought that same negative attitude to the Pistons and turned them into a below .500 team.
Lets face it—the Nuggets barely made the playoffs last year, winning 50 games with Camby. The eighth seed team this year (the Utah Jazz) had won 48 games with both of their star players missing 59 games combined.
The Nuggets would have not been able to win that many games when I look at it now. At most, 45.
Then came the franchise changing trade, November 3rd, 2008. I was sitting in my planning class at school waiting for the slow Internet connection to connect to NBA.com.
What do I find on the front page? Iverson traded to the Detroit Pistons. I panicked at the sight of that and did not read who he was traded for.
At first, I did not like the trade, but I began to like it, and it sure has proved to be worth it.
"It's a team now," Kenyon Martin said after the Nuggets wrapped up their first trip to the Western Conference finals in 24 years. "We had talented players before. It's a team now."
K-Mart is right. The Nuggets have all the talent in the world—Nene as the 7th overall pick, Kenyon Martin as the 1st overall pick, Carmelo Anthony as the 3rd overall pick, Jr Smith at 18th overall pick, and Chauncey Billups as 3rd overall pick.
Billups has transformed the hot head Kenyon Martin into a calm, adversarial player who is once dominating again. Martin, who is the 5th option when Smith is on the floor, is a solid 15 PPG if he gets the touches.
He is a good defender for his size and can get up even with micro fracture surgeries on both of his knees.
Carmelo has shown signs of maturity and is playing the best basketball of his career. Although his numbers are down, he has become a team player. Who can we credit?
Billups has proved to be the MVP of the Nuggets, heck, arguably the league. Mr. Big Shot averaged 17.9 PPG this season, his second best.
All those players, (excluding Billups) and they couldn't make it past the first round? You're kidding me!
"These guys are a legitimate championship-caliber team," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said at the end of a long day that began as a pallbearer for Chuck Daly in Florida. "They have a real shot."
The Nuggets have been playing the best basketball in the West, second to the Cavaliers in the East.They handled business and made things look easy. You could argue that they had a easier bracket than everybody else. We can argue that the Lakers should breeze by the Rockets. That's not happening, now, is it?
"All the guys who have been here and who haven't been able to get out of the first round and carried that weight on their shoulders all season, every season and get to the playoffs and not get it done," Billups said. "It's for all those guys. It's for the city, for the fans."
The Nuggets have shot over 50 percent seven times in the playoffs and has outscored their opponents by 160 in the past 10 games.
"Advancing to the Western Conference Finals is real," Karl said. "I have a feeling we are not going to be messed up by the next round. We are going to make it until they beat us. We are good enough to make some noise."
With the Lakers struggling against the depleted Rockets, I question the ability of L.A. and everybody else that they have what it takes. Phil Jackson's bad substitution calls, and Kobe taking 30 plus shots to try to take the series does not work out for me.
For most of the series they have been inconsistent, giving up fourth quarter leads. The Jazz outscored the Lakers 144-120 in the fourth quarter. They gave up a total of 48 points when they were leading going into the fourth quarter throughout the series.
The Rockets have 144 fourth quarter points to the Lakers' 156, an improvement from the Jazz series. What's wrong with this series is that if the Lakers don't get off to a good start, they lose the game.
Throughout the Jazz series they lost one out of two games in which they trailed after the first. Against the Rockets they lost three out of the three games in which they trailed after the first.
The Rockets have 154 first quarter points through out the six games they have played. The Lakers are right behind with 153.
The Nuggets have won six out of the 10 games when up in the first quarter. When trailing in the first, they have a strong fourth quarter to win the game.
They are 2-1 when they trailing in the first and have a solid 3rd quarter to win two out of those three games.
The Nuggets have not been on and off all postseason long. Phil Jackson cannot light a fire under the Lakers and it seems that Kobe cannot get his teammates fired up as well.
The Lakers have been on and off while the Nuggets have stayed on all postseason long. They played with the right mindset and intensity and lost their two games by a combined four points.
"It's not over yet," Martin said. "We've got eight more wins we're trying to get. It gets harder. Each game, each round, each series gets harder."
The Nuggets are not waiting on the Lakers or the Rockets, a series which airs tomorrow at 3:30 EST/12:30 PST.
"I'm just worried about us, to be honest," Martin said. "I'm just worried about us getting better each and every single day. At this time of the year, everybody is playing well. You can't say you're better than this team or that team."
"The only thing you can control is if you're getting better." he added.
"We're looking forward to the challenge, whether it's the Lakers or Houston," said Anthony, the first Denver player to have four 30-point games during a single postseason since Alex English in '86.
Who would be the better match up?
That's a whole different article.
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