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In Chauncey We Trust...

Nuggets/Hornets Recap...

(Photos courtesy of Denver Stiffs reader "Mordecai")

Commissioner Stern may not like doing a stop and chat, but the NBA's #1 fan, Jimmy Goldstein, does. For those of us at Pepsi Center tonight, you couldn't miss Goldstein's presence at the end of the floor by the Nuggets bench. Before tipoff, I said hi to Goldstein and he cordially spoke with me for a few minutes.

And how cool was the customized Cartman from South Park animation on the scoreboard before the game? Kudos to Denver natives Matt Stone and Trey Parker for producing that for us.

I'd like to say Goldstein and Cartman were the Nuggets good luck charms, but the Nuggets didn't need any luck tonight. For the second game in a row, they were more prepared, more disciplined, more intense, more focused, more physical and flat out more talented than the Hornets.

Even for new Nuggets fans, a 2-0 lead might feel a bit weird. But for an old school Nuggets fan, seeing your team up 2-0 in the playoffs is totally surreal and it just hasn't sunk in yet. Even the Nuggets "glory" teams of 1984-85, 1985-86 and 1987-88 split their first two home games at McNichols Arena in their opening playoff series. In fact, the last time a Nuggets team took care of business at home and found themselves up 2-0 in a playoff series were those 1984-85 Nuggets, but that was in the second round against the Utah Jazz. In other words, it has been 24 long years since the Nuggets were up 2-0 in a playoff series!

A lot of fans and pundits will want to talk about Carmelo Anthony shaking off a bad Game 1 and delivering a solid performance. But for the second game in a row it was all about Chauncey Billups. Billups had two huge three-point plays in the first half, en route to a very quiet 18 first half points. And he added to that total with some lethal shooting in the second half, finishing with 31 points, all of which seemed to come at the exact right moment. Watching Billups, it feels like he has complete control of the game - on both ends of the floor - and as a fan, you never panic watching him when he's in command.

Right before the game started, I told my friend who I was sitting with that all we needed was an average game from Anthony and about 85% of the defensive intensity that we saw in Game 1 to pull off a 2-0 lead. And that's basically what happened. It was nice to see Melo post 22 points on the board to go along with a very impressive nine assists, but virtually all of Melo's shots came from jumpers and he got to the free throw line exactly zero times (hey, I have to find something to criticize). I know I keep harping on Melo driving the ball to the basket, but this will need to change if the Nuggets hope to leave New Orleans with their first seven game series sweep in their NBA franchise history.

I want to give Nuggets coach George Karl a well deserved shout out, too. It's not easy to replicate a blowout in the playoffs and that's exactly what Karl's Nuggets have done. Typically the losing team from Game 1 makes major adjustments and brings a completely different energy into Game 2 (as we saw with Miami at Atlanta earlier tonight). And yet Karl has been able to keep the Nuggets focused on one game at a time, rather than foolishly look beyond this series. Karl is also visibly working the refs and managing the game more closely than he did throughout the regular season.

Now if Karl could just get Melo to that free throw line about 10 times in Games 3 and 4, and there won't be a Game 5 on Wednesday night.

One more thought before signing off for the night: are we really up 2-0? Really?!

Nuggets/Hornets Preview...

Typically, when one team blows another team out by 29 points in the playoffs, as the Nuggets did against the Hornets on Sunday night, it can be difficult for the winning team to make adjustments going into the next game - i.e. when you win by 29, what exactly is there in need of adjusting?

But fortunately for the Nuggets and their fans (and as weird as this sounds), the Nuggets did one thing poorly in Game 1 and need to make the necessary adjustments to resolve it. And that's getting their star player, Carmelo Anthony, into the flow of the game on offense. In other words, the Nuggets core competency for the past six years - running the offense through Melo, one of the NBA's top four scorers - was a complete non-factor in Game 1.

Of all of Chauncey Billups' humble and honest quotes after going off for 36 points in Game 1 and essentially carrying the Nuggets offensively in the first half, the most apt was when he pointed out how rare shooting eight-for-nine from the three-point line is. And he added that it's unlikely to happen again. This is why we might need 36 from #15 tonight, and not from #7.

Even though Melo has been a consistently great regular season player since donning a Nuggets' uniform, he has struggled in the postseason. Melo supporters will point to the constant double teams thrown at him in years past and how he never had anyone to pass to. There's absolutely some validity to that argument. But it's not like the Nuggets were a collection of slouches in past seasons, either. I mean, we did have the NBA's fifth all-time leader in scoring average (Allen Iverson, momentarily forgetting that Stiffy Award for Least Valuable Player) for two of Melo's five playoff disappointments, right?

Part of Melo's offensive struggles and inability to get into the offensive flow of the game result from his bizarre propensity to get himself into foul trouble in the postseason (Melo averaged just three fouls per game in the regular season). He picked up four quick ones on Sunday night, forcing Nuggets coach George Karl to sit Melo for most of the second half (luckily we never needed him back in the game). Last season against the Lakers, Melo racked up four and five fouls, respectively, in the first two games and fouled out in Game 4, forcing him to watch the Nuggets get swept from the bench. And against the Clippers in 2006, Melo fouled out of the critical Game 4 and almost fouled out in Game 2, as well.

So in order for the Nuggets to take a 2-0 series lead into the Big Easy tomorrow, they first need to match that incredible defensive intensity and toughness that we saw in Game 1 (and if this becomes the Nuggets new core competency as discussed in the Game 1 recap, watch out!) and secondly, they need to get a solid offensive night out of Carmelo Anthony and keep him on the floor.

On a side note, who's going to the game tonight? I'll be down there early again...