Since trading All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, the Denver Nuggets have won five of their last six games while still scoring 107 points per game, scoring more than 100 in five of their six games, playing better defense and moving the ball on offense much more fluently.
During this stretch, they've beaten the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks, two playoff teams in the East. You may be thinking that it's only a matter of time before they cool off, but don't count this team out just yet.
The Nuggets have only given up 100 points in three of their last six games, a feat that the team had only accomplished three out of their previous ten games with Anthony in the line-up. They beat Charlotte Bobcats by 40 in a 120-80 victory earlier this week and three games before that, they beat the Boston Celtics by 14 points in an 89-75 victory.
This team is playing a much more inspired brand of basketball, which is to be expected after the trade lifted all of the weight of daily scrutiny from all of the player's shoulders.
This is a factor that has almost every fan, expert and analyst alike shouting fluke, but I'm not so sure this is the case.
Everyone heralded Anthony as one of the league's best scorers, which is undeniable, but it isn't all there is to playing basketball. Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson, who is getting far more playing time now that Chauncey Billups is gone, was quoted as saying, "There's no one on the court with sticky hands," in regard to Carmelo's shoot first mentality.
Offensive continuity is a huge part of any playoff caliber team's arsenal and it appears that without Anthony in the line-up, the Nuggets now have some. This cannot be overstated, especially with all of the young talent on this team.
Bringing in Gallinari from the Knicks might not have filled the scoring void left by losing Anthony, but it gives the team depth at the forward position that they didn't have before.
Danilo Gallinari can play both forward positions and gives the Nuggets a flexibility in creating line-ups that wasn't there with Anthony. Also, with no go-to guy, there's no pressure to get anyone their touches.
All the emphasis is on winning games and that can work in head coach George Karl's favor in how he approaches different situations at various times in games.
All that sounds good, but there's one big myth to bust.
The biggest reason that people have for doubting the new look Nuggets is summed up best by the words of J.A. Adonde on ESPN's Around the Horn:
"The Nuggets have only made it out of the first round once with Anthony, so what do you think they'll do without him?"
This is the same thing that we were hearing about the Houston Rockets in 2009 when Tracy McGrady went down with a season ending injury. You remember Tracy McGrady, don't you? Not so long ago, he was also one of the NBA's best scorers and his Houston Rockets were dead in the water when he went down with knee injury.
Without T-Mac, there was no way that a Rockets team that couldn't get out of the first round with him in the line-up could get past the first round without him—until it happened. The Rockets finally got out of the first round while McGrady sat and watched a team that was "doomed without him" do what he never could.
Anthony is a great scorer, but so was McGrady. McGrady might have even been a better scorer than Anthony, but he turned out to be the one holding his team back. The Rockets didn't do anything after the first round, but they weren't as good as this Nuggets team is.
Oh, and just in case you all forgot, the next stop on the T-Mac U.S.A. tour was the New York Knicks.
Yet with all the talent around him in Denver, "Mello" only made it out of the first round once. It's not a stretch to think that these Nuggets can do that once more now that he's gone.
If they do, are they not just as good if not better without Anthony?
With Ty Lawson, Raymond Felton, Arron Afflalo and J.R. Smith at guard, Chris "Birdman" Anderson and Nene Hilario at center and forwards the likes of which include Kenyon Martin, Danilo Gallinari, Al Harrington and Wilson Chandler, there are no standout stars, but there is a great deal of depth and talent all over the floor.
George Karl is no slouch in his own right and as a head coach with a cloud lifted from over his head by losing a player who didn't really want to be there anyway, he has a lot to look forward to with this young cast of characters he has now.
I don't have the Nuggets penciled into a finals birth, but I'm not going to say that they can't compete at the level they were at two weeks ago or two years ago just because they lost a great scorer.
If they keep playing like they are now, we might be seeing more of them in June than we thought we would.
Don't count these guys out. The pieces are in place.
Now it's up to the players and coach Karl to show us if this is just another box of chicken Nuggets or if there's some gold Nuggets in them there hills.
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