Nuggets Way More Than Mellow As Anthony’s Return Game Nears

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If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse, according to many NBA team builders.

It’s an admirable mindset, encouraging risk and aggressive personnel moves. But in the case of the Denver Nuggets, it was entirely accurate.

From 2003-04 through 2010-11, Denver won an average of 48.5 games – never more than 54, never fewer than 43 – and qualified for the playoffs eight straight times. But it advanced beyond the first round only once, making it to the Western Conference finals in 2009. Year in, year out, the Nuggets relied on Carmelo Anthony‘s heroics to carry the greatest load – and to outweigh Anthony’s theatrics.

Then Anthony fussed his way out of the Mile High City completely in February 2011 and, lo and behold, the power still was on at the Pepsi Center the next day. Life continued. Denver didn’t nosedive. George Karl got a chance to flex his coaching and player-development skills without butting heads with a younger, equally stubborn star player and what the Nuggets might have lost in the quality of that one guy (Anthony), it believed it made up in the combined skills of quantity.

With Anthony due to face his former team Wednesday for the first time in Denver since the trade, the Denver Post’s Benjamin Hochman looked at the Nuggets’ decision to swap marquee power for the strength of ensemble. He spoke with GM Masai Ujiri about the transformation, more than two years later:

“I think it was a win-win for both teams,” Ujiri said. “Both teams have moved on, even though people talk about it. We’re happy with the growth of those players. It’s kind of what we hoped it would be.”

The Nuggets lost again in the first round against the Lakers last spring, but at least the formula had been changed – and the days of Anthony clamoring for help around HIM were over. The roster has been overhauled, starting but not ending with the ‘Melo trade, and Denver plays differently, is less reliant on one man’s hot hand, has quickened its pace and takes pride on defense in ways that never happened in the Anthony era.

Guard Ty Lawson is Anthony’s only Denver teammate who remains. And he told Hochman, with all due respect for the guy who’s gone, that the Nuggets are better positioned now with the likes of Danilo Gallinari, Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller, Wilson Chandler, JaVale McGee and others sharing responsibilities.

“We’ve gotten better on defense,” Lawson said. “I think we’re a little more dangerous. You don’t know where our scoring is coming from. With ‘Melo, everybody had their focus on him. With us, JaVale might step up. Gallo, Iguodala, we’ve got weapons all over the place.”

The Nuggets have been on a tear, winning nine of their past 10 and 16 of 20 to reach 42-22, building a virtual floor beneath them in the West’s No. 5 spot. Their 28-3 mark matches Miami for NBA’s best, Karl is assured of his 21st season as a head coach finishing .500 or better and, at a micro level, Denver has strung together two games hitting at least 50 percent of its field-goal attempts, 45 percent of its 3-pointers and 80 percent of its free-throw attempts.

The Nuggets still have a game against Phoenix Monday to navigate before Anthony’s homecoming. And after two years, it’s hard to say how much vitriol or emotion remains (in the stands, probably plenty). But based on recent comments from Karl, you can assume there will big-time significance just below the surface when the Knicks show up Wednesday. As noted by Hochman:

“Most of the people are going to say, ‘You can’t win without a star.’ I’m tired of it. I’m fed up with it. I’ve been angry about it,” Nuggets coach George Karl said last week on the, give or take, seven bazillionth time he’s talked about winning without a star. “It’s a team game. I know Miami won the championship and had a superstar, but they were the best basketball team. Our job is to try to become the best basketball team. I honestly think it can be done. I think it’s silly to not even have one person stand up and say it could be done.”

65 Comments

  1. Kamote says:

    The reason why Denver seem not to have any superstar is because of the way they played. They never concentrate their offense on one player on a given night. If someone gets hot, they feed him the ball until another player helps in the offense. This is a very team-oriented group, but has incredible players nonetheless.

    Imagine if Galo is w/ Orlando, or Lawson replaces Wall, or Faried be paired with CP3 instead of Blake. And Iggy once led the sixers team post-Iverson (not an East elite, but his numbers are like LBJ’s at that time). Though they don’t have a Kobe/LBJ/Durant player, they are still a group of good players that still has the potential for an All-Star appearance.

    But yeah, superstars do get most of the favorable calls. And playoffs would be difficult for them because the-powers-that-be will make sure the Superstars will align come the finals.

  2. Troop says:

    people cant wait to take shots at melo. its not his fault they didnt play defense. its the coach’s lack of preaching defense is y they didnt play and still dont play defense. they jus defend well enough to score and if the offense not on that night they gon lose. denver never gon when a championchip cuz they dont play enough defense. they wasted melos talent playin that way. the article say he fussed his way out of denver. he felt like it was time to move on. what should he do wait til the team uses him up then let them decide when u should go? and handled it the best of any star in the last 2 to 3 years. as much as people dont wanna say it he is in the same category with lebron durant and kobe. they the only ones in the league even playin on his level or above it. and without injuries he would probably be leading candidate for mvp. quit hating

  3. m says:

    as sixers fan iguodala was fav of mine since drafted ..glad he’s got a good things there . . i think the nuggets can make it all the way. denver nuggets vs miami refs ..or maybe ny

  4. dj rgm9 says:

    As a hardcore Lakerfan i have to admit that after the Lakers,the nuggets gets the most respected team in the West!Not only because of the lack of stars in the team but the chemistry and exellent directing,molding by coach Karl.Young team,great ballance of nationalities with potential it looks like a hungry team who want the finals cup the way they are playing!Props to the organization&Karl they made the Lakers bleeding realy hard first round last year,and this year i think they are ready to go deep in the play-offs, maybe even the finals!Heat bandwagoners-fans has to shut up because Lebron took’d the easy way to get rings to stay in the East pairing with his “friends”,the Eastern conference haves weaker opponents to compete than the stacked West conf.Lebron knew he has barely a chance in the West that’s why likes to be the king in the East in a cowardly way bragging they’re the champs for many years!What a fake ..s self-proclaimed King he is,forza Lakers!

  5. I’m impressed tht the wolves lost to the Nuggets & we had a 6 game loseing streak :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :(

  6. JBird says:

    Nuggets will be a tough team to beat because their depth I think they could beat Thunder in Conference finals playoffs gonna be good this year

  7. noypi89 says:

    I think that a denver vs. houston playoff matchup will be a lot of fun..we’ll get to see who will outrun the other..

  8. W/E says:

    NUGGETS OWN…they can go deep in the playoffs u never know we just have to wait and see.

  9. Mia says:

    All I can say is if u have ever watched this team play, I have to believe it can be done

  10. ROFL says:

    LOL at all of you people who actually believe the nuggets can beat OKC or the spurs in a series. seriously lol

  11. Nugget Fan says:

    They are always saying we need somebody to step in the clutch and make big plays.
    Ty Lawson proved he could be that guy when he hit the game winner against the Thunder.
    Andre Iguodala proved he could be that guy when he hit the game winner against the Lakers (on 76ers).
    Danilo Gallinari prover he could be that guy when he hit the game winner against the Hawks and Mavs.
    We have players that can make clutch shots and come up big.
    The Nuggets now are far better than the 2004 Pistons (who won the championship over the star studded lakers).
    With Lawson playing the way he is now (currently ranked 13th best in the nba according to fantasy basketball stats), Iggy as a first team all pro defender, and Gallinari as a pure scorer, they can make a run for the title.
    The biggest wild card (laugh as much as you want) is Mcgee.
    If Mcgee can step up and be the center that he has the potential to be, Nuggets will win it all.

  12. WIlburg Humphries says:

    Superstars become supernovas.

    The Nuggets are a constellation, though, of stars. Maybe not super, but stars nonetheless.

    We’ll see what Denver can do in the playoffs, and the judge them again.

  13. mafububu says:

    too many metaphors, comments! Nuggets are just being a simply realistic team that amazes you.

  14. theholyspectator says:

    again fellow nba fans, many of you use regular season W’s to determine playoff success…none of that stuff matters, once playoffs starts its a brand new season everyone starts at 0 wins and 0 loses…and not to mention veteran ball clubs who have high level post season experience kick it up a notch….but i do agree it would be an interesting finals to see nuggets and heat..but other teams have other things to say about that match up.. i believe nuggets and heat have the same home record…which is pretty freakin good on denvers part..

  15. Joe says:

    lmfao… People are putting the record denver has against opponents during the regular season. Wake up people and stop being delusional. Denver doesn’t have a chance against the spurs or the thunder. Maybe they’ll make it to the second round, but that’s as far as they’ll go. I see your point though, how denver has beaten the top teams in the REGULAR season. In the playoffs teams change completely.

  16. adam says:

    Maybe the problem is also that the nuggets do not flop like others. I guess we should send them to LA so that way they can get lessons in flopping from Blake Griffin or even Chris Paul!! The master flopper!!

  17. adam says:

    All speculations of who can win. I promise everyone that the nuggets wont win because they will not generate the revenue the bigger market teams will. So the REF’s will ensure that will not happen. Yes hypothetically a team could win but they would have to play lights out against the other team with a star and a bigger market. That just does not seem to happen. Ok yes the Detroit pistons did it but that was because they had a 4 or 5 solid players that were veterans. OUTLIER!!!
    MARK MY WORDS!!! Hopefully we get a team that Denver can outrun and score so much that the NBA can’t screw them!

  18. illone says:

    Most delusional set of thread comments ever!

  19. Me says:

    @leblocked- knicks had little hope before amare went down. Now? No way. Flawed roster. Shumpert not in form. Novak streaky. Rest of bench old old old. You just don’t want to see lebron?

  20. Spud says:

    Are there people who actually think that Kenneth Faried is not going to be an AllStar?
    Are there people who actually think that Ty Lawson isn’t (at present) one of the top point guards in the league? And that he won’t maintain it?
    Surely there is no one who doesn’t see the potential big man dominance of JaVale McGee.
    The list could continue on with Gallo, Iggy, Miller, Brewer, Chandler, Koufos and Mozgov all bringing something to the table when needs be.
    Equal best home record. That would be equal with the Heat, who you are all predicting to make the Finals.
    Possilby the fastest team on the break. Third or Fourth youngest team in the NBA.
    Denver has a 10 year window which is open now.

  21. manda says:

    Denver is very very good team and capable to reach the final but they dont have scoring center who can disrupt defense. if Javal and DeAndre can score from post moves which is Howard is trying to do, Denver and Clippers are the best team in the league.

  22. The greatest kobe bryant 24 says:

    Denver Got No Star??? How about A.I. ??? He was acquire because of stars being traded Bynum,Howard… They get much upgrade on Iguodala than Afflalo… But I love NUGGETS as a TEAM…. maybe A.I. steps down on his Star status for the sake of TEAM playing…

  23. Nandan Raghavan says:

    Gallo needs to step it up. He’s going through a mini-slump

  24. willie says:

    at 28-3, tied with Miami…. on what???

  25. NYK says:

    I really do think its going to be Denver/NYK, The nyk is cause im a huge fan but denver is the most balanced team. the reason they dont have an all star is because everyone is so good on that team nobody needs to do anything big. I men comeon, you know theyre dangerous when wilson chandler drop 35 in one game, and hes not even their sixth man.

  26. Kevin says:

    I believe the Nuggets could be a contender. All the knocks about no Kobe no lebron. Well only Kobe and Wade and Melo actually hit game winners as superstars in the NBA Lebron has one game wining shot since 2009 and that was last week. Lebrons could even be considered as not a game winning shot since it was a lay-up with 3 seconds remaining. The Nuggets can easily take it. Why, do you think Lebron went to the Heat because he cant close games with his shot making. He is a play maker and makes the right bball play regardless of the situation. The Nuggets not having a superstar actually could give Denver an advantage cause as a team game planig against them who do you game plan for the last 2 minutes of a game when the whole roster can get shots and looks for the right play?

  27. Nuno says:

    I agree with George Karl, i’m pretty sick of hearing people saying a team can’t win a title without a star (well, you could actually say with 2 stars), BUT that’s obviously not all that is required. What i think happens is that the importance of the players surrounding the stars gets slighted. But those teams with stars that do win are well coached and they have role players who have a great impact on the game. The star may get most of the accolades, but those surrounding him are equally as important. Just last year, obviously Lebron was the MVP with Wade and Bosh as the number 2 and 3, but Chalmers, Battier and Miller still had a great impact in critical moments of the Finals. So it’s not that a team can’t win without a star, it’s just that we tend to disregard the players surrounding him. Then when we see a team like Denver where the players seem to be all on a level playing field and anyone can be the focus of the offense and great ball movement and we go “Now THIS is a TEAM!”. But the teams that have stars also are TEAMS, with each piece knowing exactly what their role is and playing it to perfection.

  28. silvia2126 says:

    @ Andrea: Against a Injured, Old 2004 Laker Team. yup.

    Nuggets can’t even make it out of the 1st round since melo left. How can they make it to the finals. Its going to be OKC vs Miami again.

  29. MSBTG says:

    lol this guy is such a melo hater.
    Why don’t you post the whole Lawson quote

  30. Will says:

    “Guard Ty Lawson is Anthony’s only Denver teammate who remains.”

    Wrong, Andre Miller was in Denver from 2003-2006. Come on, Steve!

    • Go Nuggets says:

      Good point. Either A. Steve is a relative newbie NBA journalist or is too old and his memory is slippin

    • Mia says:

      All I can say is if u have ever watched this team play, I have to believe it can be done

  31. chandler says:

    i will be happy with whoever wins the finals aslong as its not the heat celtics lakers or spurs. but jazz are my pick.(live in utah!)

  32. adam says:

    Come on now. If we can not get the calls against flopping RICCI RUBIO then we will never make it past the NBA REFS and the COMMISSIONER!!! LETS GET REAL!!

  33. John Gehrke says:

    The Nuggets are looking and playing good recently and sure hope this continues this season. I worry about relying on outside shooting and no big guy that can continually drive to the hoop and/or draw a foul. They are my local favorite team and I am rooting for them all the way. The have no big egos or media hogs, and lots of talent spread around – if they are shooting well and pressuring opponents to fluster them and cause turnovers and so on, I don’t know. But I am no expert – Go Nuggets!

  34. Mor says:

    I have so much respect for the Denver, no stars, everyone does their part! TRUE TEAM EFFORT!
    its soo refreshing in the world of 100 Million team roasters and 5 allstars on one team…

    Coach G.K is freakin genius and one of the best in the NBA, BUT…. as much as I want to see it happen, i dont see it happening, The pistons did it back in the day, but even their players were allstars, Denver is just not on that level yet.. You need a Lebron or Kobe for those big shots in the end of the game!

  35. googergieger says:

    Denver is probably the second best team in the league behind The Spurs, however superstars do get calls and calls make superstars. I mean OKC and Durant have won at least ten games solely thanks to the refs helping him out. I mean the two losses to Denver should have been blowouts but the refs gave him and Westbrook double the free throws than the entire Nuggets team! Which is just unfathomable, considering how much the entire Denver team attacks the paint and how many jump shots those two take.

    The league is going to do everything to make sure OKC and Miami meet in the finals again, but at least we can see some hopefully fair series between other teams before that.

  36. NBALogics says:

    Like Lawson said you never know who is gonna kill you and it’s true the Nuggets have alotta Talent George just has to develop it as time goes on.

  37. Omar says:

    Anything can happen in the playoffs… its about rhythm, confidence, will to win….. nobody saw dallas winning in 2011 but they did…..

  38. Blind Lemon Pye says:

    @O haider, take note that Denver has beaten all of the teams ahead of them in the standings at least once this season.

  39. LeBlocked says:

    Am I the only one who thinks a Nuggets-Knicks Finals would be the best Finals series ever? Both teams have something to prove- Denver proving that they are much better off without Anthony and his iso, and the Knicks that the Nuggets made a mistake giving them the greatest offensive juggernaut in today’s league.That would be one for the ages. Lots of technicals too I’m guessing.

  40. O haider says:

    How would Denver be able to reach the Finals? They would never be able to beat the Spurs or Thunders.

    • scott says:

      Denver has beaten OKC 2 times already this year.

    • Evan says:

      the thunder can be beatin if we score when durrant misses we won period

    • DJ3 says:

      Thunders? Wat iz english?

    • John says:

      So you don’t think the Nuggets can win the West? Here’s their record so far against the other so-called contenders…
      Spurs 1-1, Thunder 2-1, Clippers 2-1, Memphis 2-1, Golden State 3-1, Houston 3-0, Lakers 3-1. And they’re just getting better.

    • Mike says:

      They’ve already beaten both of them this season, OKC twice.

      • Just saying says:

        The nuggets will be too much for the ageing spurs,and too balanced for the two headed monsters from okc…

  41. Andrea says:

    Detroit did it against the loaded Lakers back in 2004, so it can be done

  42. Tyrone says:

    Nuggets – Heat would probably be the most exciting finals matchup and I think the Nuggets can get there. The Thunder are a good team, but I don’t think they can beat the Nuggets when they are so reliant on KD and Westbrook to score points. Westbrook will pose some problems, seeing as how it will be Lawson guarding him, but at least the Nuggets have a great perimeter defender to guard Durant.

    • Pendawg1980 says:

      Iguodala guarded Westbrick, Lawson took Sefolosha and Gallo/Chandler guarded Durant in the most recent matchup. seemed to be a better defensive matchup for Nugs…

    • amitpal says:

      Lebron james and shane battier guarded kevin durant in the finals last year and he put up 30 point while shooting over 50%. Who do the nuggests have that can play better defense than lebron and battier.

      • Pendawg1980 says:

        Iguodala and Chandler…

        you’re welcome.

      • Neil Mendonca says:

        It’s not abt the players in Denver. It’s abt the team.
        U say Miami, u say LeBron. U say Lakers, u say Kobe (maybe Dwight). U say Knicks, u say ‘Melo. U say Clippers, say BG or CP3. Say Bulls, say DRose(although i must admit they’ve played really well wihout him). Say Boston, Rondo pops up. Say OKC, its KD or Westbrook
        But now come to Denver. As Mr. Smith points out in his article, Denver have so many players that other teams need to worry about. JaVale. Faried. Chandler. Lawson. Iggy. Gallinari. Who should opponents focus on? That’s Denver’s biggest strength

      • Fitz says:

        Chandler and Iggy. Haha and you do know the Nuggets are leading the regular season series against OKC right?

      • ROFL says:

        iggy is good, but durant is unguardable. end of story

      • Just saying says:

        But the thunder lost the series right?.what’s your point??

      • Nbawars says:

        Kenneth faried will guard lebron.
        Igoudala will guard wade.
        Bosh will most be likely guarded by the in-court center.

  43. LOL says:

    yea they have weapons alright but they done have the atomic bomb!! *lebron, kobe, durant etc*. ENOUGH SAID!!

    • DJ3 says:

      They have 5 POTENTIAL atomic bombs. It’s just a matter of who can step up when needed.

      • Gio says:

        Key word POTENTIAL. Lbj, kd, kobe, have show up every night, no nights off. Thats the difference between their teams and denver.

        Much respect to denver tho, like’em way better without melo. Lots of fun watching them

  44. Jefrey Landicho says:

    it would be great if Denver reach the western finals
    Denver vs Miami
    NO STAR VS SUPER STAR =)