Carmelo Anthony may want to take his basketball and leave Denver. But if Friday night's preseason game against the Blazers were any indication, he'd be a fool to do so.
For starters, it was great to see a thin-and-trim George Karl manning the Nuggets bench last night. Having seen Karl in the throws of radiation therapy just months ago, it's remarkable to watch him action again. Karl's presence alone could make for a special 2010-11 season...a special season, regrettably, that might require Carmelo Anthony to be here for all of it.
In addition to seeing Karl, before tip-off I had the pleasure of meeting the Nuggets new general manager Masai Ujiri. Ujiri is exactly as has been described if not more so: a genuinely kind, good-spirited, enthusiastic gentlemen. Ujiri knew who I was/we are here at Denver Stiffs and he just radiates enthusiasm. While many in the media - and here - have legitimately questioned his hiring from an experience standpoint, it's hard to overlook how remarkable Ujiri's story is. If you haven't done so in a while, I encourage readers to re-read ESPN's David Thorpe's thoughts on Ujiri and if any of you get a chance to meet Ujiri this season, please welcome him back to Denver.
Now to the game itself. As I suspected in my game preview, the Nuggets played a lot of small ball against an injury depleted Blazers squad that played late at Utah the night before and sat Brandon Roy and Marcus Camby for the entire game. Make that small small ball after Nuggets starting power forward Al Harrington went down with a re-aggravation of his left foot injury just a minute or so into the game. But despite ample doses of sloppy, to-be-expected preseason basketball the Nuggets looked fit, energetic, prepared and serious. They actually ran some set offensive plays and gave a good effort for a meaningless preseason game. In other words, I didn't feel (totally) cheated out of the regular season ticket price I had to pay to be there.
The view from the not-so-cheap seats...
...Carmelo Anthony received boisterous cheers (as much as you can when the stadium is just half full) when introduced and wasn't booed once the entire night. Nor should he be, by the way. While I'm not happy with the position Melo is putting the Nuggets in with his alleged trade demands, as long as he's wearing a Nuggets uniform we should cheer for him. Not beg him to stay like the Cavaliers fans sickeningly did for LeBron James all last season, but cheer whenever we get a chance and let Melo know that Denver should be his basketball home.
...George Karl received an equally boisterous crowd cheer when his name was announced soon after Melo's.
...Al Harrington got the start at power forward and he lasted all of 79 seconds before succumbing to that left foot injury. Harrington was just dribbling up the court when he went down hard and was writhing in pain. He was taken to the locker room and we never saw him on the bench again. Oh, joy.
...Portland point guard - and former Nugget - Andre Miller was out of breath by the second possession. No joke. The flabby, fro'd-out Miller also appeared as though he partook in his usual offseason workout routine. Namely, he doesn't have one.
...Shelden Williams came in for Harrington and seeing him up close for the first time, I didn't realize how long his arms are. Williams battled hard all night and by night's end I decided I'm going to be a Shelden fan this season. On a one-year, $800,000 deal Williams desperately needs to have a good season and the Nuggets desperately need him to do so. My previous jokes about Williams not even being the best player in his marriage (he's married to WNBA star Candace Parker) probably still hold true, but Williams is a Stiff in the true sense of the word: he doesn't have the natural skills or feel for the game as a LaMarcus Aldridge might, but he works his butt off. By night's end Williams had 21 points (on 7-of-10 shooting) and 14 rebounds. And there was a stretch in the fourth quarter where he made four-straight mid-range jump shots, including three from the baseline. Williams has clearly been working hard on his game and deserves fan support here in Denver.
...Aldridge had two full inches on Nene, and that's with Nene's new big-hair look.
...Melo looked a little gassed as the first quarter wore down, but he looks to be in good shape and had a beautiful spin move to the rack early in the game. What concerned me a bit is that Melo's demeanor never changed throughout the game. He looked serious but didn't smile much, if ever. Melo played efficiently, but you couldn't read much into his performance last night.
...Arron Affalo was very aggressive in going to the basket and this was great to see. At one point he got hammered by Dante Cunningham on a breakaway layup and still made the layup for a big three-point play. Afflalo is ready for the season ahead...and it's going to cost us big-time to keep him!
...J.R. Smith entered the game to raucous cheers from the crowd. But rather than let the game come to him and establish a rhythm, his first shot was a missed three-pointer. This season, I'd like to see J.R.'s first shot be a drive to the basket. I'm sure George Karl would, too.
...the much touted Gary Forbes had a tough night. First off, he's only about 6'5", not 6'7" as listed. Secondly, whether he was putting too much pressure on himself or was just flustered by the defense being played by Portland's scrubs, Forbes missed a number of chip shots and turned the ball over too much. He finished 1-of-6 shooting with four turnovers.
...for a long stretch of the second quarter, Karl implemented a three-guard lineup of Smith, Afflalo and Ty Lawson which I'm sure we'll see more of this season. Lawson looks to have an improved jumper and was able to sneak into some defensive slots for easy baskets, as well. Seeing Lawson makes me comfortable that Chauncey Billups could get more rest this season.
...Renaldo Balkman started the second half in place of the injured Harrington and played just fine.
...Pepsi Center now has employees who come to your seat with a trash bag asking for recycled goods like plastic bottles. This was great to see!
...Rocky was off his game, missing all of his attempts to make a behind-the-back halfcourt shot.
...throughout the game, Blazers assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff could be seen talking into head coach Nate McMillan's ear. I'll be sure to deduct five games from my predicted win total for the Blazers in my season preview.
Overall, it was great to be back at the Pepsi Center and see our Nuggets in action. I was quickly reminded that this team won 53 games last season and lest we forget the 54 they racked up the season before. If Melo ever wants to be a true winner, Denver is the place to do it.