From his latest ESPN Daily Dime:
DENVER -- Tough to learn anything from a Lakers-Nuggets game without Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Kenyon Martin. At least we learned the Nuggets learned what to do when one of their players gets hurt.
On Thursday night, when Joey Graham sprained an ankle in the second quarter and stayed in the backcourt while the Lakers advanced the ball, the Nuggets at least had the presence of mind to foul and stop the clock. That's more respect than they accorded to their leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony, on Wednesday night in Oklahoma City when he was knocked cold in a collision with the Thunder's Kevin Durant.
While Carmelo was on the deck, the Nuggets kept playing at the other end of the court, and then Denver guard J.R. Smith grabbed a rebound and steamed toward the basket, stepping right past the sprawled Anthony in the process. Anthony has no recollection of what happened from the time he hit the floor until he was walking off the court. He's only heard about it from teasing teammates and doesn't want to see a replay.
Those who watched the whole thing unfold still can't believe it.
"I couldn't believe J.R. would try to go for the layup," said Chauncey Billups, who was on the bench at the time. "I was like, 'Dude, are you serious? Call timeout, man, you see the dude ain't move. What in the world are you thinking about?'"
Martin veered toward the positive, pointing out how Anthony was able to return and help the Nuggets to an important victory over the Thunder.
"It says a lot about Melo to be laying out like that and come back in and hit two clutch free throws," Martin said.
He was asked, doesn't the play say a lot about J.R. Smith?
"Yeah, whatever," Martin said.
A strange epilogue to a weird episode that seemed indicative of a team that isn't exactly coming together for the home stretch. There was the April Fools' prank gone bad, when Martin got heated over a popcorn-filled Range Rover. The Nuggets wobbled after coach George Karl left them for his cancer treatments; they lost six of their first 12 games without him.
Some of their edge (and their tattoo count) should be restored soon, since Martin claims he is close enough to recovering from his left patella tendinitis to come back in one of their final three regular-season games. Without him on Thursday night, the Lakers felt licensed to grab 17 offensive rebounds, giving them a shot at victory despite 37 percent shooting.
Specifically, that shot was a Derek Fisher 3-pointer, which Anthony blocked. (True to the way things are going for the Nuggets, Anthony landed on Fisher's foot and suffered a mild ankle sprain. Anthony said he'll be fine; the Nuggets list him as probably for their game against San Antonio on Saturday.)
The Lakers managed to make it close even without Bryant, whom Jackson gave the night off to rest his swollen knee and creaky legs, and Bynum, who seems resigned to following Phil Jackson's desire to delay his return from a strained left Achilles tendon until the playoffs. It probably says more about the Nuggets than the Lakers. By telling Bryant and Bynum to chill out, Jackson is sending the signal to his team that he's not that pressed about the remaining regular-season games, even if the Lakers lose out to Orlando for the league's second-best record. Jackson, apparently, is valuing rest and recuperation over end-of-year momentum.
The Nuggets (52-27) dug their fingers into the No. 2 seed in the West with their 98-96 victory. They were the team that needed this, and yet they barely prevailed. So the Nuggets enter the playoffs looking as unpredictable as J.R. Smith, who made 5-of-11 3-point attempts Thursday after making only 3-of-22 in the previous three games.
This isn't the prescribed path to victories. The Nuggets trailed Oklahoma City by 13 in the fourth quarter before coming back to win; then, on the second night of a back-to-back, they overcame a seven-point deficit to the Lakers in the fourth quarter. But for Billups, the method isn't as important as the growing totals in the victory column, which are rising thanks to this four-game winning streak.
"We were coming off a stretch where we were playing horrible, and I'm a firm believer that you have to work your way out of that," Billups said. "It's not just one game you're going to knock everybody's socks off. It's a process. And I think the process is going on. We're playing a whole lot better, a whole lot harder than we were a week ago."
And, for one night at least, just a little bit smarter.
I'm honestly surprised that Adande could remove the Lakers collective...well, you know, from his mouth long enough to write this article. Nugs have won 3 out of 4 against LA and one in LA without Melo and have generally outplayed them each game.
Fuel for the fire. Keep up the bullshit disrespect ESPN, that's what helps us win.