The NBA hasn't seen a high-scoring small forward / triple-double-in-waiting point guard duo like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook since Alex English and Fat Lever ran up and down the McNichols Arena floor. Most unfortunately, this version of English and Lever play for the Nuggets' division rival, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
I can't take full credit for the Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook vs. Alex English/Fat Lever comparison as my Benedict Arnold Lakers Fan of a younger brother first pointed it out to me during the thrilling Lakers vs. Thunder playoff series last spring. But the comparison made intuitive sense to me, and I dissected it to find eerie similarities between the two duos with, of course, both Durant and Westbrook being much more athletic than English and Lever ever were.
And when Durant and Westbrook are at their athletic best - dashing to the rim, racing out on the open floor and getting to the free throw line - the Thunder are damn hard to beat. Hence why this still very young team is on pace to win 54 games while the Nuggets flounder under the weight of Carmelo Anthony's indecisiveness.
Some may not think the Nuggets three straight 30-plus win games from last week equates to floundering, but with the exception of the Nuggets big victory over the Suns their three-game, three-blowout streak was a bit phony. After all, the Nuggets torched a Miami Heat team playing the second of a back-to-back without LeBron James, and then beat the worst-team-in-the-world Cleveland Cavaliers after they, too, were on the second of a back-to-back outing. To me, Sunday's embarrassment against the San Antonio Spurs said everything about where Melo and this Nuggets team is at mentally right now: distracted.
While appearing on Mile High Sports Radio's Elephants in the Room show during the Nuggets' "Big Night at Big Game" event, I was asked by co-host Karl Hungus if Wednesday's game against the Thunder and Friday's game against the Lakers were big tests for the Nuggets. Regrettably, I had to answer "not at all" since the Nuggets team competing in these games will look nothing like the Nuggets team we'll see a month from now. We all know that a Carmelo Anthony-led Nuggets team can beat the Thunder (they did three out of four times last season) and the Lakers (they did so handily last November), so victories in the next two games - which we all desperately want to see - mean very little other than getting the Nuggets more breathing room for a playoff run in a post-Melo world.
If anything, Wednesday's game against the Thunder is another test to see how this team plays despite the ongoing, never-ending, perpetually annoying, counterproductive Melodrama that's ruining our season the longer it goes on. Melo is clearly playing "distracted" as head coach George Karl mentioned to FanHouse's Chris Tomasson on Tuesday, and has shot north of 50% from the field just twice in the nine games since returning to the team after his sister's untimely death. Making matters worse, Melo is making me look incompetent for drafting him just ahead of Amar'e Stoudemire in my fantasy draft.
With all that in mind, I'm not sure how to approach this contest with the Thunder from the fan's perspective. What should be a big division rivalry game will only add to my depression that the second Golden Era of Nuggets basketball is winding down to an abrupt end. It's even more depressing to see the reincarnation of Alex English and Fat Lever - the catalysts for that first Golden Era - wearing the uniforms of the opposition.
SCOUTING THE THUNDER
-Kevin Durant: Coming off an MVP-caliber performance at the FIBA World Championships in Turkey last summer, Durant is having an MVP-caliber season for Oklahoma City. If I could point to one area of weakness in Durant's game, however, it would be that he's playing too much like Melo: settling for outside jump shots, not getting to the free throw line enough and not grabbing enough rebounds. As long as Durant insists on settling for long jump shots, the Thunder are very beat-able.
-Russell Westbrook: In just his third season, this triple-double machine better get an All-Star nod. Like Durant, Westbrook showcased his superb game during the FIBA Worlds and has built upon that performance to have a sensational season for the Thunder. The Nuggets will have fits trying to guard Westbrook's slash-and-dash moves all night.
-Serge Ibaka: If you don't know who Ibaka is or anything about him, I encourage you to read up on him. Forget the great rebounding and blocked shots, Ibaka's life story should make him a permanent Non-Stiff.
-Cole Aldrich: After appearing in just seven games, Aldrich - the very definition of a Big Stiff - has been sent down to the NBDL's Tulsa 66ers.
-Nenad Krstic: While playing for his native Serbia in a summer tournament game against Greece, Krstic got involved in an on-court brawl and threw a chair at an opponent. 'Nuff said.
-D.J. White: Remember when I had White pegged for the Nuggets to draft in 2008, further proving out my "late in the draft power forward steal" theory? Let's just say it's a good thing I'm not in the Nuggets war room.
The Nuggets and Thunder should be one of the more compelling rivalries in the NBA. But like all the other Nuggets-related storylines this season, thanks to Carmelo Anthony we can only opine about what might have been.
OPPOSITION'S TAKE: Welcome to Loud City