The Nuggets find themselves at the outset of a six-game, season long, road trip. Things get under way tonight in Indiana where Denver will face an 0-2 Pacers team featuring high scoring star Danny Granger and a couple familiar faces in Dahntay Jones and Earl Watson. Oh, and Denver will have arguably the best player in the NBA going as well ... Carmelo Anthony.
"My game is speaking for myself. They see me out there hustling, diving on the floor for loose balls, playing defense, and they're going to do the same thing." -Carmelo Anthony, Denver Post
The true words of a leader. This is the play and the little talk that I've been waiting to see and hear from Melo for a long time. Just three games into a long season doesn't give us the ample sample size we fans need, but Melo couldn't have started the first three games better.
I don't know what kind of leader Melo will turn out to be, I've never thought of him as being a very vocal guy (but what do I know with my limited access?) ... but I knew that if Melo would lead by example then his teammates would follow. Just as he stated ... style of play is contagious. When you play basketball with guys who shoot the ball every time they touch it ... it forces you to do the same thing so you can get your shots. When you play with guys who are lazy on defense you tend to let up a little bit as well. But when you play with guys who are intense and going 100% ... it forces you to step up your level of play to match your teammates. We are all in for a wild ride and we're going to find out just how far Melo plans on taking us as the season unfolds.
The Nuggets will get a much needed energy boost on this six-game road trip as J.R. Smith will return to action and join the team Tuesday, November 10th in Chicago to face the . The current road trip will make stops in Indiana (tonight), New Jersey, Miami, Atlanta, Chicago and Milwaukee before returning home to face the in a nationally televised game on ESPN.
Smith's presence and scoring have been deeply missed by the Nuggets, even though Melo has made every attempt to mask the Nuggets offensive troubles with his brilliant play, and it'll be great to see what Denver can do at full strength. First though, the Nuggets face a Pacers team that can score in bunches, features a lot of movement on the offensive end, and has a legitimate 7'2'' Roy Hibbert patrolling the paint (I'm sure Ty Lawson remembers him).
These two teams are familiar with each other from their preseason games overseas, so there should be little in the way of surprises come tipoff.
Just two games into their season the Pacers identity has been: get the ball to Granger and let him go to work as he's averaging 19 shots per game and leading the team in scoring with 26.5 point per game (ppg). The Pacers second leading scorer, Troy Murphy (13 ppg), is a tough cover for the Nuggets. Last year Murphy averaged 18.5 ppg against Denver and shot 46% from three-point land in two games ... well above his 14.3 ppg average on the season. Murphy can stretch the floor and takes plenty of three-pointers ... sort of like whatshould have been. Speaking of former Nuggets, Dahntay Jones will face his old teammates and has a new role with the Pacers.
Jones has been coming off the bench for Indiana as former Kansas standout Brandon Rush has earned the starting role at shooting guard. In just two games Jones is averaging 11.5 points on 6-18 shooting (11-11 from the foul line), but he has yet to launch his first three-pointer as a Pacer. In his debut against theJones played 26 minutes, scored 17 points and pulled down 5 rebounds.
Another couple of interesting players for the Pacers are form of Earl Watson (former Nugget) and Luther Head (who some fans of this site wanted the Nuggets to sign). But the guy I wanted to see, Jeff Foster, will miss the game with a high ankle sprain suffered in the first quarter against the on October 30th. Along with Foster, Mike Dunleavy (knee) and Tyler Hansbrough (right shin) will also miss the game, for those of you keeping track at home that's roughly $17.5 million in inactive payroll ... OUCH. So, Ty Lawson will not get to face his former North Carolina teammate as Hansbrough isn't expected to make his NBA debut until at least the end of the week against the .
Speaking of Lawson, the quick guard will get a nice matchup as he should see some minutes opposite of 6'0'' 165 pound T.J. Ford. Guarding Ford should be a touch more favorable than facing the likes of 6'6'' wiry framed Rudy Fernandez. Ford has been a bit limited with a hamstring issue, but has played in both games this season averaging just 22 minutes per game.
On paper, Denver wins this game going away. The Pacers haven't played a game since last Friday (Oct. 30) and that could prove to make them rusty or it may provide for adequate rest for a team battling injury bugs already this season. But being at home and being the underdog is motivation enough. This is one of those games that Denver may have snuck up on teams in the past, but the Pacers will be gunning for the Nuggets as they are one of the five teams left in the NBA with an unblemished record.
The Nuggets should exploit the young Hibbert in the middle and try to get him into early foul trouble, which he's prone to. Outside of Hibbert and Murphy the Pacers don't have a lot of height or depth since Hansbrough and Foster are both hurt ... though 6'10'' Solomon Jones will play some meaningful minutes off the bench.
Melo will be tasked with covering Granger and it should be a heck of a matchup. Last year Granger poured 36 points on Denver in the lone game he faced the Nuggets. Melo's improved focus on the defensive end will be put to the test by Granger; this should be a statement game for Melo on the defensive side.
It'll be important for the Nuggets to start the road trip out with a win as this game marks the second set of back-to-backs for the Nuggets. Denver travels to New Jersey after the game for a matchup with thethe following night ... the first game is always key as it's always harder to win the second game of a back-to-back.
And as the saying got familiar last season ... In Billups We Trust ... it's Melo who is earning that slogan this season with his inspired play.
Opposition's take: Indy Cornrows
Image courtesy of AP Photos, Patrick Semansky