Monday Morning Point Guard
The term “statement game” is sometimes overused in the realm of sports media. It can come off as cliché, and some teams might overstate the importance of a certain contest by deeming it a “statement game.”
Well, the Nuggets had a legitimate, bona-fide, genuinely important “statement game” Saturday night, when they shined under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks. For the first time since the mega trade last year, Melo faced off against his former team.
With plenty of storylines swirling, the Nuggets were victorious, winning a double overtime thriller 119-114. It was an over-hyped game that lived up to the hype. Melo hit a tough shot at the buzzer to send the game into the first overtime. Three former Knicks -Galinari, Mozgov and Harrington - combined for 77 points. It was a quality win with a lot of emotion involved.
Statements were made. Here are some of them:
Since the Nuggets traded franchise player Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks, receiving a lion’s share in return, they have been the better basketball team. No matter how you slice it, it is tough to argue this point. Since the Melodrama went down and the trade became official, Denver is 30-12 in the regular season. New York is 20-24. This season alone, Denver is 12-5, 2nd in the West, looking like a playoff team. New York is 6-10, 9th in the East, looking like a borderline playoff team. The Nugs have won four in a row, and six of their last seven. The Knicks have lost six in a row, and eight of their last 12. The proof is in the pudding, and the Nuggets are winning more games.
The players the Nuggets received in the trade are paying immediate dividends. These were players the Nuggets received in the Melo trade: Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, and Kosta Koufos. Chandler is in China. Felton was traded for Andre Miller, who is playing excellent basketball right now for Denver, averaging 10.1 points per game, 6.6 assists per game, and 3.6 rebounds per game. Galinari (23 years old) is the Nuggets starting small forward, and leads the team in scoring at 17.4 points per game. He also outplayed Melo Saturday night, to the tune of 37 points (career high) and 11 rebounds. Mozgov (25 years old) is the Nuggets starting center and he also shined against his former team, chipping in 16 points, seven rebounds, and three blocked shots. Koufos (22 years old) is a serviceable back-up big man, and has played admirably when his number has been called. The Nuggets got bigger, deeper, and younger in the trade. All good foundations for a good team moving forward.
Denver has the ability to win tough games on the road. On their current five game road trip, the Nuggets are 4-0, with gritty victories in all four games. They handled the Bucks without much trouble 105-95. They came from behind and gave the 76ers their first home loss of the season 108-104 in overtime. They held off a struggling, but talented Washington Wizard squad 108-104. Then, on their fourth game in five days, and on their second back-to-back in the road trip, the Nuggets mustered enough energy and pride to find a way to beat the Knicks in an emotionally packed double overtime barn-burner. Denver finishes the road trip against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night, a game the Nuggets are expected to win. Winning on the road is tough to do in the NBA, and the Nuggets are 4th in the entire league in road win percentage, behind only the Thunder, Bulls, and Magic.
The Nuggets might be the deepest team in the league. Against the Knicks on Saturday night, six different players scored in double figures. On the season, six different Nuggets (Galinari, Lawson, Harrington, Nene, Afflalo, Miller) are all averaging double figures. Harrington is an early 6th man of the year candidate, averaging 15.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Andre Miller has been a starting point guard his entire career, and is coming off the bench this year for the Nuggets. (He did start against New York for an injured Afflalo.) The Nuggets second unit (Miller, Harrington, Andersen, Fernandez, and Brewer), can hang with most starting line-ups across the league. Kosta Koufous will start a game and play 20 productive minutes, and then sit out for the next entire game because the Nuggets have so many talented bigs. Speaking of talented bigs, the Nuggets first round draft pick, Kenneth Faried, can’t even find the court. He has ridiculous hops, an NBA ready body, and has looked great in the limited playing time he has received. There is a log-jam of big men ahead of him on the depth chart and Karl has always limited minutes for his rookies. Just imagine how scary the Nugs could be if Karl would unleash the manimal.
The Nuggets are better without superstar Carmelo Anthony. I never thought I would say that, but its true. I will admit it. I have a man crush on Carmelo Anthony. I was a freshmen at Syracuse when he led the Orangemen to a national title. And I have been a Nuggets fan my whole life. So when the Nugs swooped Melo (Thank You Joe Dumars and the Detoit Pistons!), it was best case scenario from a basketball rooting interest. And when he was traded, I didn’t think we would be a better team without him. I was wrong. Melo was great, but he did have his vices, and we look like a better team without him. He is a highly gifted scorer, but a questionable defender. He is impossible to stop, but is also a ball stopper. Without Melo, the Nuggets pass better and defend better. The offense is more fluid and they share the ball more. The extra pass continues to be made. They lead the league in assists, dishing 24.5 dimes per game. The Nuggets defense is more active. They are second in the league in steals, collecting 10.2 swipes per game. Steals lead to transition buckets, which leads to high score totals. The Nuggets are second in the league in scoring, dropping 105.5 per game. Only two teams currently average more than 100 points a game, The Nugs and the Heat (107.0 points per game.). The Heat, a team worth noting, that the Nugs outscored when they play each other I love watching Carmelo play and I will miss him. But the Melo trade was a classic case of addition by subtraction. We lost one of the best Nuggets of all time, but we gained so much in return, we are a better team without him.
Let’s hope the Nuggets continue to make bold statements as their impressive season progresses.
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