As noted before the season started, when Carmelo Anthony shoots over 50% and gets to the free throw line at least nine times, the Nuggets are tough to beat. But when he shoots 58% from the field and gets to the line 12 times, the Nuggets are unstoppable.
The naysayers will (perhaps rightly) point to the Nuggets atrocious defensive effort tonight, giving up 123 points at home to the normally dormant Memphis Grizzlies. But even though the Nuggets only won by 10 and there were moments in the fourth quarter when the lead got within 10, I never got a sense that the Nuggets were in trouble. The Nuggets 133-123 victory tonight was an up-tempo, many possessions game that the Nuggets seemed to be in control of from the third quarter onward.
And again, when Melo performs as he did tonight, combined with his teammates dishing the ball out to the tune of 36 assists, I don't care what jerseys the opposing team is wearing because the Nuggets are winning that game every time (for the uninitiated, that's a shit load of assists...the Nuggets averaged an NBA sixth best 22.2 apg last season).
While I can appreciate a grueling defensive matchup in the NBA, I've always been an offense-first kind of fan (can you blame me? I grew up in the Doug Moe Era) and I just love watching games like this. High-scoring, lots of passing, lots of running, lots of shots made (the Grizzlies shot 57.8% from the field...and lost!). I'll take a game like this over a Celtics/Cavaliers 92-85 game any day of the week.
Here are some observations from the not-so-cheap seats...
...at this point it should be indisputable that if the Nuggets had Marc Gasol anchoring the center position they'd be the best team in the Western Conference. Gasol, limited by foul trouble, torched the Nuggets for 20 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
...Gasol's fine play and the marginal contribution from Grizzlies rookie Hasheem Thabeet shows us that the Nuggets will continue to struggle against genuine "bigs" as the season goes on. I don't foresee Nuggets vice president of basketball operations Mark Warkentien pulling out "Big Bertha" (i.e. the Nuggets $9 million trade exception) before Tuesday's deadline, but if he does it better be for a guy who's over seven feet tall and not named Steven Hunter.
...when Hunter got inserted into the lineup, you could tell the knowledge level of the fans based on who sarcastically cheered him, who enthusiastically cheered him and who sat on their hands (I'll let you guess which fans are which).
...it took an entire half, but it was nice to see Zach Randolph finally remember that he's Zach Randolph; one of the biggest ball hogs in the NBA. I loved the sequence late in the third quarter when he chucked an awful turnaround jump shot despite being double teamed in the corner in front of the Nuggets bench and despite there being 10 seconds on the shot clock. Then, he miraculously got the ball back and chucked it up again. I know the Grizzlies are desperate to sell tickets, but I suspect having Z-Bo and Allen Iverson around can only be bad for their young stars O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay and Gasol.
...Ty Lawson is everything that Earl Boykins should have been but never could be. Like Boykins, he's a small, speedy pest that be disruptive to the opposition. But unlike Boykins, he's not desperately trying to be a shooting guard and being disruptive to his own team.
...Joey Graham seems to have supplanted Renaldo Balkman as George Karl's "hustle guy" off the bench. I'm not sure what Renaldo did to get himself so deep into Karl's dog house, or if this is just a matter of the Nuggets having too much talent on the roster. Denver Stiffs needs to investigate.
...Chris Andersen should never be allowed to shoot a jump shot unless there's absolutely no time left on the shot clock. I applied this same rule to Kenyon Martin two seasons ago but it never took.
...Chauncey Billups had a fabulous night. 12 assists against just two turnovers. I swear he gets smarter with every game, and he already starts each game being the smartest player on the floor.
...what more can be said about Carmelo Anthony? In his first three games, he's averaging 37.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 13.7 free throw attempts per game, is shooting well over 50% from the floor and is dishing out just over four assists a game. Wow. I just hope Nuggets fans (including me) keep this early season performance in perspective as this is not normal and can't possibly continue at this torrid pace. Can it?
...having watched Dwyane Wade and LeBron James play recently, kudos to the Nuggets coaching staff and Melo's teammates for making Melo's offensive play on the court come easy to him. It's getting painful watching how hard Wade and LeBron have to work to get points and a lot of that comes down to coaching.
...3-0 before we hit the road. Congrats to the Nuggets on a great start thus far and taking the sting out (a bit) from a tough Broncos loss earlier in the day...
Photo courtesy of AP: David Zalubowski