66416_nuggets_camp_basketball_medium_mediumI’m fortunate enough to have tickets to both the Nuggets preseason game against Partizan Belgrade at Pepsi Center on Saturday night and the Broncos/Cowboys game at Invesco on Sunday. Guess which one I’m more excited about?

I love attending preseason basketball games for several reasons.  First, the stadium is always half, if not two-thirds, empty so you really get to hear what's going on the floor between the players, coaches and (at least for now) replacement referees.  Second, I like being as close as possible to the players early to see if all the summer rumors about who's in shape and who isn't are true or false.  And third, even this early you can start gauging your team's energy and enthusiasm entering a new season.  For example, last October you could just tell that the Nuggets had an extra gear in them, even before Chauncey Billups arrived.

So what will I be looking for on Saturday night?  (And yes, I'm skipping ahead to Saturday since I can't watch tonight's game at Utah.)

I want to see if Carmelo Anthony is indeed 15 pounds lighter, as has been reported.  And I'll also be looking for offseason improvements – if any – like adding a new move around the basket, working on the consistency of his free throw shooting or better defensive footwork.

Along the same lines as Melo's physique, I'll be keeping a close eye on Nenê.  Did he maintain his conditioning this summer?  Or did have another one of his "Brazilian summers" as we've seen in year's past as he recovered from that painful broken arm sustained in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals by laying on the beach?

Kenyon Martin is reportedly feeling better than he's ever felt and has his hops back from his New Jersey days.  Hopefully we'll get to see a thunderous dunk or two that backs this up.  K-Mart has been dishing out a lot of bold rhetoric lately, as well, and it will be fun to see if his body language matches up with his mouth.  I have to say, though, it's nice having a Bill Laimbeer-type player on our team for once (in spite of the bloated contract) who deflects negative attention away from his teammates.

I won't read too much into Chauncey Billups' preseason performances.  At 33 years old and with seven consecutive conference finals appearances on his resume, Chauncey has earned the right to ease into the preseason and save his energy for the regular season – kind of like how the Colts use Peyton Manning during the preseason in the NFL.

Everyone in attendance on Saturday night will paying close attention to George Karl's rotation and specifically, whether or not J.R. Smith starts.  Karl has already come out publicly saying that J.R. isn't guaranteed to be starting as the Nuggets try to replicate last season's success with one of the most explosive benches in the NBA.  The next question then is; did J.R. make any visible improvements in the offseason and how will he respond to staying on the bench?

And this leads us straight to Arron Afflalo, already assumed to be the Nuggets best offseason acquisition.  The Afflalo bandwagon is filling up fast and I'm a proud member of it.  But the downside of that is everything Afflalo does will be dissected and over-analyzed on Saturday night.  If Afflalo starts and plays well throughout the preseason, don't be the least surprised if J.R. becomes the 2010 Sixth Man of the Year Award winner.

Speaking of new acquisitions, I'll be looking to see if Ty Lawson can go through a game without getting his shot blocked routinely like we saw in Las Vegas Summer League.  Lawson's learning curve is already being praised and we're collectively hoping he'll be replacing Anthony Carter as the primary backup soon.  I can't wait to see this kid play on Saturday night.  

Another observation to make a note of is how Chris "Birdman" Andersen responds to his newfound job security and how Renaldo Balkman handles being a rotation fixture, assuming he'll be filling in for the departed Linas Kleiza in backing up Melo.  And I think we all know we'll get a good effort from A.C. even if a few turnovers come along with said effort.

And of course it's always fun to see new players.  This weekend we'll be watching where Malik Allen fits into the rotation, how Joey Graham and James White do in a Nuggets uniform and if training camp newcomers Keith Brumbaugh, Dontaye Draper and Kurt Looby have any shot whatsoever of making the opening day roster.

I can't wait!  A Nuggets preseason game and a Broncos victory over the Cowboys in the same weekend?  It might be too much to ask…


On a side note, if any of you are coming to Saturday's game, Nate and I will be getting there early and it would be great to meet up with some fellow Stiffs at the Blue Sky Lounge.  So drop us an email and let us know.

Photo courtesy of David Zalubowski, AP