It was all smiles at Pepsi Center tonight as our Nuggets trounced the crown-less Kings.
The Denver Nuggets rang in the New Year with a handsome 104-86 victory over the lowly Sacramento Kings. This game showed us two things: how depressing it could be when Carmelo Anthony gets traded and just how bad the Kings are.
The two thoughts sort of blend together.
On the one hand, in spite of an awful game from a clearly rusty Melo, the Nuggets' deep supporting cast has the goods to win games without their star player having a star-worthy performance. On the other hand, sans Melo the Nuggets could look to rebuild and end up looking like today's Kings down the road: loaded with cap space and draft picks, but nowhere to go. As my friend (and fellow Stiff) Dan pointed out to me at halftime tonight, the Kings haven't made bad draft choices since rebuilding their team. It's just that their draft choices collectively aren't all that good. That's what happens when you miss out on the likes of Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin.
If there was one observation to be taken away from tonight's game, it was that the Nuggets players had fun out there (including Melo by game's end). Yes, they turned the ball over way too damn much. And yes, they allowed the Kings to almost make it an interesting affair mid-way through the third quarter. But overall, the Nuggets played as a team, played hard to a man and, perhaps just as importantly as it's never discussed, had a great time doing it. It made for an otherwise uninteresting blowout to be enjoyable to watch until the very end.
J.R. Smith was smiling all night (you would, too, if you were making the shots he was taking) and seemed to be the catalyst for the good times being had by all on the court. A visibly healthy Chris Andersen, Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chauncey Billups helped push the fun-factor, too.
Entering a brand new year, it was nice to be reminded that professional basketball - despite the big contracts, the looming lockout, the disgruntled stars and so forth - is still just a game.
The View From the Not-So-Cheap-Seats...
...the Kings spent their entire pre-game warmup screwing around with trick shots. You could tell right away that this isn't a professional outfit right now worthy of any respect.
...when his named was called, Carmelo Anthony received a nice cheer from a surprisingly full Pepsi Center, but not nearly as loud a cheer as I was expecting.
...it was unclear what George Karl's game plan was regarding Melo. Melo really forced it in the first half - evident by his disastrous 1-11 shooting and four first-half turnovers - and it would have been nice to see more set plays run for Melo to get easy shots. As Melo kept forcing the issue, the fans finally had enough and booed him towards the end of the first half.
...Kings rookie DeMarcus Cousins is one big dude. He may be legitimately 6'11" and his upper arms are enormous. If Cousins gets there mentally, he's going to be a beast in the NBA.
...I had my first in-person view of Kenyon Martin in uniform this season, and he looks absolutely terrific out there. The Nuggets organization deserves to be applauded for being patient with K-Mart's health, as they were with Nene's years earlier.
...the Birdman clearly didn't listen to my suggest New Year's resolution about not falling for every head fake. Birdman played a good game, but he got scored on routinely.
...no big man looked better on both ends of the floor tonight than Nene. What a game!
...Tyreke Evans airballed a free throw attempt. I don't think I've ever seen that happen in person at an NBA game.
...the girlfriend has a new favorite NBA player: the Kings diminutive Pooh Jeter. Listed at 5'11", Jeter (no relation to the Yankees' Derek) might be 5'8" tops. Jeter even made Ty Lawson look enormous. But give Jeter credit for cracking the NBA at age 27.
...speaking of cracking the NBA at a late age, how great is Gary Forbes? And seeing Forbes and J.R. Smith play together kind of debunks Karl's quote from several weeks ago that he doesn't have enough minutes for both of them. Forbes and J.R. present a number of matchup problems for their opponents and give the Nuggets an athletic dynamic that's great to watch.
...Omri Casspi has the worst shooting stroke I've seen in a long time.
...we witnessed the best basketball sequence of Shelden Williams' career tonight. Within a few possessions, Williams had a big rebound, an athletic layup and a big block. You have to love Williams' continued effort even though he's been demoted to the bench since K-Mart's return.
...Chauncey Billups is feeling better out there - he had his sixth great game in a row.
...there was an interesting sequence early in the second half. Melo got decked and fell to the floor. Cousins offered to help him up and Melo refused, prompting Cousins to mouth off at Melo. At game's end, Melo the veteran (sounds weird saying that, huh?) embraced Cousins and gave him a friendly talking to. You could tell that Cousins appreciated it, as he was smiling when he ran off the court to the locker room.
...it's shocking that Evans had such a good year last year, because his basketball fundamentals are awful. But Evans never stops moving and never stops attacking, both big pluses.
...despite a very frustrating night, Melo was smiling from ear-to-ear by game's end. He was clearly happy to be back on a basketball court.
NON-STIFF(S) OF THE NIGHT
-J.R. Smith, Chauncey Billups and Nene: These three couldn't miss tonight, combining for over half the Nuggets points. They also excelled on the defensive end of the floor and more than made up for Melo's sub-par performance.
STIFF(S) OF THE NIGHT
-Beno Urih and Omri Casspi: Two of the Kings foreign imports combined for 3-16 shooting and made no positive contribution to the game whatsoever.
With each passing game, Nuggets fans should be getting madder and madder at Carmelo Anthony for not wanting to be a Nugget long term (as has been reported ad nauseum). I know I'm biased, but I'm falling in love with what this Nuggets team could do in the postseason...if Melo would just stay.