At some point, the Cavaliers will end an 18-game losing streak that began before Christmas. Nuggets fans are hopeful that doesn't happen on Friday night.
The arguably best game of the 2009-10 NBA season was when our Denver Nuggets visited the Cleveland Cavaliers on February 18th. A thrilling game from start to finish saw Carmelo Anthony put up one of his best games ever as a pro en route to 40 points, six rebounds, seven assists and two blocked shots in addition to the overtime game-winner James. Melo's opposing superstar that night, LeBron James, was equally if not more spectacular finishing with 43 points, 13 rebounds, 15 assists, two steals and four blocked shots in a losing effort. I immediately dubbed that game an "Instant Classic" and would happily watch it again anytime.
From the day they were drafted two picks apart from each other in 2003 (LeBron first overall and Melo third...thank you, Joe Dumars), LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony have been linked. And while LeBron has had the upper hand career-wise with two league MVPs, two All-Star Game MVPs and an NBA Finals appearance, Melo always had the better of the two in head-to-head matchups. Hence why Nuggets/Cavaliers had been one of those "don't make any other plans!" games ever since the two entered the NBA.
Now, LeBron and Melo are linked in a different manner. We don't need to relive LeBron's callous "The Decision" that saw the most popular athlete in Ohio history stab the entire state in the back while jettisoning himself to Miami. Nor do we need to be reminded that LeBron's act of betrayal set the stage for the ongoing Melodrama engulfing the Nuggets this season. But when the Nuggets play the Cavaliers now - just a year removed from two epic Nuggets/Cavaliers games (even though the first excluded Melo who was hurt) - it's hard not to get nostalgic about what might have been or what could be.
Thanks to LeBron's absence, the Cavaliers may be an irrelevant franchise for at least five years...and maybe more. And few, me included, had any idea that things would be this bad in Cleveland in a post-LeBron world. It's hard to imagine now, but the Cavs were a (semi) respectable 7-10 before LeBron returned to Cleveland with his new Heat teammates and completely destroyed and demoralized them in a 118-90 drubbing on national TV. The Cavs have won one game since then. One.
Granted, the Cavaliers have had to endure an assortment of injuries and the foolish hiring of Byron Scott as head coach in addition to the departure of LeBron, Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. But 8-37?! C'mon man!
As much as it pains me to say it, 8-37 proves how good LeBron really was/is and just how bad his supporting cast in Cleveland was/is. I whole-heartedly believe that the current cast surrounding Melo on the Nuggets - even if they were to get nothing back in trade - is far superior to what Cleveland had around LeBron. In fact, we just saw how good the Nuggets players-not-named-Melo are as they beat the Pistons in Detroit on the second of a back-to-back with no Nene, no Kenyon Martin, no Chris Andersen and no Carmelo Anthony for the first three quarters. Of course, it helps when George Karl is at the coaching helm versus a charlatan like Scott who now has a perfect record of his teams quitting on him at three-for-three.
I have great sympathy (and may soon have great empathy) for Cavaliers fans and the Cavaliers organization. Yes, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert may have been a jerk in his ranting letter excoriating LeBron's decision. But overlooked is the fact that Gilbert spent many millions more than a small market should spend in an attempt to keep LeBron in Ohio and, according to Forbes' "The Business of Basketball" report, the Cavs' franchise value is down 26% from last year while the Cavs have one of the highest debt-to-value in the NBA. Similarly, the Nuggets have been spendthrifts since Melo's arrival and currently boast the NBA's fifth highest payroll and fourth-worst (according to Forbes) operating income.
Point being, like the Cavaliers before us, the Nuggets have spent a bloody fortune to give their star player ample opportunity to take our franchise to the NBA Finals. But (thankfully) unlike Cleveland, should our star depart we won't be saddled with bad contracts and a horrible roster. The expensive roster we have now, however, should be good enough to extend the Nuggets' winning streak to four and the Cavaliers losing streak to 19.
Scouting the Cavaliers...
-J.J. Hickson: Unlike his Cavalier teammates, Hickson doesn't miss games, plays hard and does all the little things that are important to success on the basketball court, namely rebounding and defending. I'd love to have this guy starting at the four-spot alongside Nene in Denver.
-Joey Graham: Ok, Graham is a bit of a Stiff and has hardly played all year for the Cavs. But I'll forever remember Graham as the ONLY Nugget who showed up in Game 6 against the Utah Jazz in the playoffs last year.
-Byron Scott: Including the Nuggets 121-63 playoff drubbing over Scott's Hornets in 2009, the Cavs' head coach has presided over some of the greatest implosions in recent NBA history, including the one he's presiding over now in Cleveland. Despite having a reputation for having his players quit on him, the Cavs gave Scott the head coaching job and LeBron couldn't be bothered to meet with the man before signing with Miami.
-Mo Williams: The always-trash-talking Williams was having a horrendous season before getting hurt recently with a hip injury, averaging a Cavalier career low 13.6 ppg on an awful 38.7% shooting from the field.
-Antawn Jamison: The Cavs' acquiring Jamison last season to appease LeBron was akin to the Nuggets acquiring Al Harrington last summer to appease Melo. Like Harrington, Jamison is an aging score-first small forward whose game isn't what it once was. Unlike Harrington, Jamison is woefully overpaid and is due $15.1 million next season.
I don't see the current state of the Cavaliers as a harbinger of things to come for our Nuggets in a post-Melo world. The Cavs are, however, a cautionary tale of what can happen when you do everything possible to satisfy one player at the expense of the other 12 on the roster.
Opposition's Take: Fear the Sword