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Billups' Big Shots Lead Nuggets To Win With 36, Keys To Winning Game Two

Rich Kurtzman@@RichKurtzman Senior Analyst IApril 21, 2009

Sunday night on national TV was finally a spotlight for the Denver Nuggets, playing at home for the first time in 21 years.

The Nuggets came out on fire, led by veteran Chauncey Billups, who joined the team in late 2008 as part of a trade with Detroit. Mr. Big Shot was full of them, draining shots up to 16 points in the first quarter and 36 by game's end, as well as eight assists in the Game One win over the New Orleans Hornets.

Billups was all over the court, shooting so well that no one, not even Chris Paul, could check him. In all, he shot eight of nine from three-point land, a new Nuggets playoff record and one make away from the NBA record. Also, his 36 points is a new Nuggets playoff record for points in a single game.

When all was said and done, Mr. Big Shot led the Nuggets to their second biggest playoff victory in franchise history, 113-84. It was a highlight night.  As Marv Albert put it, "This will go down on the resume as a career performance." Reggie Miller added, "They (the Nuggets) play hard on both ends for him."

As Billups dominated, Chris Paul led his team in scoring and assists with 21 and 11, but could not win the game single handedly.

David West, the Hornets' other All-Star, had a horrible shooting night (.250) and only scored 12. Kenyon Martin's quick defense seemed to get into West's head and threw him off his game. Peja Stojacovic helped as much as he could, draining three three-pointers to the tune of 13 points, but was only the third Hornet to score in double digits all night.

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The Nuggets second leading scorer was J.R. Smith, who didn't have a great game, shooting a few airballs, but still managed to contribute 19 points. Carmelo Anthony had 13 and Nene had 12 points, as 'Melo sat for the final 15 minutes of the game, and together they added  21 rebounds for Denver.

For Denver to keep building its lead in the series, the guys need to focus on some things they did right and some things to improve upon during Game Two Wednesday night.

Whether West was nervous, or the Nugget players and defensive intensity was in his head, he was not his usual self. West's poor performance was not expected by the Nuggets, but it has to be a constant for Denver to continue winning this series. K-Mart, Nene, and Birdman need to take turns guarding West, throwing many different looks and styles of play his way.

At some point, though, David West will have a good game or two and will help the Hornets put up a fight.

'Melo had another off night during a playoff game, which is a little worrisome if you are a Nuggets fan. Ending with 13 points, seven rebounds, and missing the entire fourth quarter with four fouls, he did not play well.

Something about the playoffs gets to Anthony, and Billups cannot score lights-out every game, so 'Melo will have to step up for Denver to finally advance. If he doesn't, the national media will only give more credit to his likeness to having the "Tracy McGrady curse" of not being able to get out of the first round.

Another aspect of Sunday night's game that was bizarre was that the referees actually called the game in the Nuggets favor. Home court seemed to play a factor already in the series, as Denver out-shot New Orleans 33-23 in the game.

However, the Nuggets need to realize that this large a disparity in foul calls will not be consistent and will likely go the Hornets way when the series goes to New Orleans. Thanks to Billups' calm conversing with the refs, Denver is better about complaining about foul calls this season, possibly a reason the refs called the game favorably for the Nuggets Sunday night.

Lastly, Denver's bench was huge, especially when compared with New Orleans. Overall, the Nuggets backups outscored the Hornets by 17, 41-24.

When CP3, West, and others need a blow, Denver must take advantage and let their leads grow.

Along with Smith's 19 points, Chris "Birdman" Andersen had an awesome four blocked shots, six rebounds, and added nine points himself. Linas Klieza was ninth man in Karl's rotation, and contributed 13 points himself, including five rebounds.

Smith and Andersen above all have to continue their strong play to give Denver their best chance of winning.

The win gives Denver and its fans a great feeling going into game two Wednesday night, certainly after learning that teams that win the first game win the series 79 percent of the time. The Nuggets should be proud of themselves, but cannot afford to get cocky or loose focus after winning just one game.

Denver now needs to win game two and go into New Orleans with a two-game lead. If they can do half the things I mentioned above, they should do so relatively easily.

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