A disinterested, disorganized, dispassionate and dispirited Nuggets team was dissed by the Hornets on a snowy Sunday night in Denver.
You can start thanking Carmelo Anthony for ruining an otherwise great season of Denver Nuggets basketball. As the likelihood of a Melo trade to New Jersey grows and grows, he is playing worse and worse and is taking his teammates - many of whom may soon be traded themselves just to appease Melo - along for the ride.
After playing their third straight awful game in a 96-87 home loss to the Hornets, our Nuggets look like a group anxiously awaiting to get to the other side of this season-long Melo-drama. In the meantime, they're barely going through the motions and the losses are piling up as a result. This is proof positive of why the "ride-out-the-season" theory never made sense to me in the first place. The longer Melo stays in Denver, the larger the distraction of a potential trade becomes, adding more and more L's to the loss column. And given that this collection of players couldn't rally around a cancer-stricken coach for a playoff run, there's absolutely no chance that they can channel the energy surrounding this fiasco and turn it into something positive.
The Nugget optimists will point to the absence of Ty Lawson, Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin as the reason the Nuggets lost to the Hornets on Sunday night. But in reality, they lost because these guys stopped giving a damn as soon as Melo returned to the team from a five-game absence due to the tragic death of his sister. Knowing he's heading east soon, Melo has become an empty leader. Gone are those big rebounds we saw to begin the season. Gone are those extra assists he was dishing out 15 or so games ago. Gone are those easy baskets right at the rack. And, of course, his turnovers and personal fouls are up.
Making matters worse, knowing he's likely involved in the deal just to make Melo happy, Denver native and leader du jour Chauncey Billups seems to have checked himself out, too. In fact, it was only the Nuggets players who seem to have job security right now - Al Harrington, Nene, Arron Afflalo, J.R. Smith and Gary Forbes - who showed up to play on Sunday night. It's most unfortunate that the Nuggets may have to part with their best leader since Fat Lever played point guard at McNichols Arena just to get Melo out of town for $.60 on the dollar.
And at long last, the fans have had enough of the circus that #15 has created. I've attended every other Nuggets home game this season, and despite a few boos here and there, the Pepsi Center crowd has been overwhelmingly gracious with Carmelo Anthony.
Melo was booed throughout the second half and throughout the fourth quarter. And it was obvious that he noticed it. As he missed more and more errantly forced shots, the boos rang louder and louder and Melo could only showcase a cocky smile. He knows his time is almost done in Denver and so do we.
I've always said and believed that Melo has a right to desire to play wherever he wants. It's a free country and he's on the verge of free agency at season's end. And until recently, Melo gave a professional effort nightly despite the many distractions surrounding him. But I will not accept a Carmelo Anthony who's playing like a high school kid entering the second semester of his senior year already knowing where he's going to college. We - as ticket-paying fans - aren't loading him up with millions of dollars to take nights off because he thinks greener pastures exist elsewhere.
I honestly thought the Nuggets had a shot to make the playoffs without Melo anchoring the three-spot, but that was contingent on them racking up extra wins while he's here. Now, I'm not so sure.
The View From the Not-So-Cheap-Seats...
...when was the last time Melo went scoreless in the first quarter?
...Pepsi Center had a surprisingly healthy crowd despite the miserable weather conditions outside, including icy roads.
...Anthony Carter - rumored to be among the soon-to-be departed - filled in admirably for the missing Ty Lawson and as has been a hallmark of his career, played his butt off.
...Hornets power forward David West still has a great touch from mid-rage. We could've used Kenyon Martin on him tonight.
...Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri and team president Josh Kroenke - as has been the case lately - were nowhere to be found inside the arena. Hmmm...I wonder what they're working on?
...J.R. Smith displayed his arsenal of athleticism. Uncle Marty - aka "The Nuggets Curmudgeon" - called him a "hot dog."
...Lawson and Birdman couldn't be bothered to join their teammates at the end of the bench. K-Mart was there, however, and you could tell he hated what he was seeing.
...Hornets reserve shooting guard Willie Green looked terrific for a stretch of the first half.
...Al Harrington had his best game in weeks.
...it took a while, but by midway through the second half the fans unleashed a chorus of boos on Melo. It was about time. Melo took a season-low 11 shots and never looked "into it" at any point in the game.
Non-Stiff of the Game
-David West: West set the tone early for New Orleans and they never had to look back, finishing with 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Stiff(s) of the Game
-Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups: Melo and Chauncey combined to "shoot" 5-23 from the field and 0-7 from three-point range. At least Billups got to the free thrown for nine attempts. Melo, meanwhile, had more turnovers (four) than made field goals (three)...his worst game of the season to date.
While bemoaning the state of our Nuggets on my way out of the game, several random fans turned to me and said "get Melo outta' here already." That seems to be a growing consensus among Nuggets fans.