When I divvied up my season tickets a month or so ago, this was one of the key games I had penciled in my column. I really wanted to see Allen Iverson - in theory rejuvenated after a disastrous run with the Pistons and having had his "humble pie" when teams didn't line up to sign him this summer - return to Denver for a spirited fight against his former teammates. But according to Yahoo! Sports, Iverson "will likely miss facing his former team." Our loss.
After a horrid home opening performance in which the Grizzlies mustered just 74 points against the rebuilt Pistons, the Grizzlies showed some life the other night by beating the much improved Raptors 115-107. With or without Iverson, this Grizzlies team has some real offensive firepower in Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo, Zach Randolph and even Denver Stiffs' targeted future acquisition for our Nuggets; center Marc Gasol. (I absolutely love the younger Gasol brother, by the way, and he's off to a great start. Had the Nuggets been able to steal Gasol over the summer somehow, we'd be neck-and-neck with the Lakers in the taking of the Western Conference.) The Grizzlies may not defend anyone, but they can score in bunches.
But this game just won't be the same without A.I. When A.I. came back to Denver last time, he led his Pistons to a 93-90 victory in a thrilling, hard fought contest. In that game, A.I. was out-dueled individually by the player he was traded for, Chauncey Billups, but A.I. was able to make some big shots down the stretch after shaking off an awful shooting night in the first half.
Speaking of Hunter, he's actually playing basketball this year. No, really, he is. In the Grizzlies two games thus far, Hunter has combined for two points (1-2 free throw shooting on both nights) and a blocked shot. Ok, so maybe he's not playing basketball this year.
On the Nuggets side of the ledger, it will be interesting to see if the Nuggets can maintain the intensity that we saw in Games 1 and 2 against division rivals Utah and Portland. If A.I. were playing, the Nuggets would undoubtedly have it. But sans A.I., the Grizzlies still shouldn't be treated as a walkover, especially after seeing them dismantle the Raptors on Friday night. Among the many things the Nuggets did great last season was win home games against sub-.500 teams. In fact, the Nuggets didn't lose a single game at Pepsi Center against a sub-.500 team. Assuming the Grizzlies ultimately become a sub-.500 team, it's games like these that you have to put away for the days ahead when you drop games against better opponents.
Maybe A.I. will make a last-minute, surprise appearance tonight, but I wouldn't count on it. It's looking ever more likely that we'll have to wait until April 12th to see A.I. on the Pepsi Center hardwood again. For now, if we want a reunion game we'll have to settle for Steven Hunter.
Photo courtesy of AP: Lance Murphey