Hanging out at the Blue Sky lounge post-game at Pepsi Center tonight, I was watching ESPN's "NBA Fastbreak" which flashed the following type on the screen: "Utah Jazz: The hottest team in the NBA?" Until five or so hours ago, you could have said that about the Nuggets.
The Nuggets streak of playing solid basketball (excluding the debacle in Oklahoma City last Friday) came to a screeching halt tonight and it's clear that the Nuggets can't sustain that high level of play without Carmelo Anthony getting back on the floor.
What I'm about to say is going to piss off half the readers of this site, but in my opinion, there's something fishy about Anthony's injured ankle. Melo missed his sixth consecutive game tonight, but for the third consecutive game Nuggets head coach George Karl predicted that Melo would play, only to be proven wrong. Why would the head coach predict that a player will play three times in a row if he didn't believe that the player could play?
I don't want to start rumors of Melo faking it. I'm not in that locker room. I'm not talking to Nuggets trainer Jim Gillen every day. It's not my body. But I am questioning Melo's toughness because a) he didn't have a severely sprained ankle, and b) it doesn't take two weeks to recover from a non-severe sprained ankle. The much older and more weathered Chauncey Billups also has a sprained ankle, and he doesn't seem to have a problem playing each night (although he was a step slow tonight).
The general consensus among the denizens of Pepsi Center that I talked to tonight was that Melo looks fine and should be playing. Again, we're just fans. What do we know, right? But if you study Melo's body language, the way he walks to and from the locker room, observe how he interacts with his teammates doing battle out there and read between the lines with Karl's latest statements on the issue, the fans have every right to question this situation.
I have a sneaky suspicion Melo will be on the Staples Center floor on Friday against the Lakers. And it's about time, too, because this blowout home loss to the Suns - the Nuggets worst home defeat in ages - proved that the Nuggets can't keep winning games sans Melo, as they've done admirably this season. Billups and Kenyon Martin, having shouldered the load for the Nuggets for weeks now, both looked worn down and played their worst games in recent memory. And when the Nuggets players collectively decided not to play defense against Phoenix, they didn't have the offensive firepower provided by Melo to play shootout basketball with the Suns. They were in a lose-lose situation from the opening tip.
So Melo, if you're reading this, we need you out there. We're ready when you are.
The view from the not-so-cheap-seats...
...first off, many thanks to Denver Stiffs reader Paul M. for inviting me to the game tonight! I owe you one!
...the game opened with a Mariachi band rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner." Paul turned to me and said; "What is this? A Spurs game?" And then the PA announcer introduced the Nuggets players in Spanish.
...the Nuggets had great passing and ball movement early, and then abandoned it by the second quarter for too much one-on-three play. It was ugly.
...Rocky made yet another behind-the-back, half court shot. Now that Rocky's accuracy is off the charts, perhaps the Nuggets should add this shot to their playbook?
...J.R. Smith had good patience throughout the game, and seems to have settled back into a good space mentally.
...I sat on the side of the stadium where J.R. does his shtick when introduced, and he has a great camaraderie with the fans. We've all seen this on TV or from other vantage points inside Pepsi Center, but you don't really appreciate it until you sit nearby.
...K-Mart had blue pads on his knees in the first half and then switched to white pads on his calves in the second half. Just curious what this is about.
...the funniest moment in an otherwise very unfunny night was watching Nuggets assistant coach John Welch bark orders at J.R. during a Nuggets free throw. J.R. was standing near half court and well within earshot, and no matter how many times Welch barked at him, J.R. never flinched, never looked in Welch's direction and never acknowledged that he heard a word Welch said. Welch probably should have saved his breath.
...the Suns seven-seconds-or-less offense worked tonight, as they chucked long-range jump shots soon after passing half court and made a high percentage of them, catching the Nuggets defense completely off guard.
...curiously, Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire were re-inserted around the five-minute of the fourth quarter, even though Phoenix had the game well in hand.
Non-Stiff of the Night
-Jason Richardson: Nash and Stoudemire had good nights, too, but it seemed like Richardson had a slew of baskets in the third quarter that broke the game open for Phoenix. Even with a Nuggets defender in his face, Richardson's shots were going down from everywhere.
Stiff of the Night
-The Nuggets Energy: I'm not going to call out individual players here. The Nuggets went through the motions tonight, never took control of the energy of the game and essentially cheated the fans out of the hard-earned money we spend on tickets. We don't expect the Nuggets to win every night at Pepsi Center, but we do expect an earnest effort...especially on two days rest between home games. It's too bad they don't offer refunds.
Photo courtesy of AP Photos: David Zalubowski