By Chris Sheridan
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Another 2.5 points dropped off Carmelo Anthony’s scoring average Wednesday night, but if you think he cared much about it, you don’t understand the new Carmelo Anthony.
Anthony made his first shot, missed his next 12, made six of his next eight and then finished his night with two airballs in the early part of the fourth quarter after the Nuggets had broken open what was a tight game at halftime and rolled over the hapless and winless New Jersey Nets 122-94.
Anthony shot just 8-for-24 and tallied 22 points as his average dropped from a league-leading 34.5 to 32.0, and by the time he left the locker room afterward there was not yet a final tally on Kobe Bryant’s points in the Lakers’ game at Houston -- and thus no way to know whether Anthony would remain the NBA’s scoring leader for another day.
“C’mon, Chris. I don’t care about that. It’s a long, long season,” Anthony said upon learning that Dwyane Wade had scored 40 and Bryant -- who began the night averaging 31.3, which was 3.2 less than Anthony -- tallied 19 in the first half against Houston.
What’s important to him -- and to his coach, George Karl -- is how ‘Melo has become a leader in a different way this season.
“He has sustained leadership of this team through training camp,” Karl said. “Everyone gives Chauncey (Billups) a lot of credit, but I think ‘Melo was actually the leader of our training camp. Chauncey was kind of the 30-year-old guy who rested a little bit, was sitting on the side in the two-a-days when we were working three hours a day, which was, to me, as impressive as what he does on the court. His leadership has grown up, his responsibilities to not only to lead the team in a statistical way, but in an attitude way, has been very impressive.”
Prior to the game, Nets coach Lawrence Frank was waxing poetic about how fulfilling it is, as a basketball fan, to see the growth in non-scoring areas being displayed by Anthony and the other members of his draft class who have become the faces of the NBA’s younger generation.
“A lot of guys come in as scorers and mainly look to score, and then they see their peers and what their peers are accomplishing in terms of titles, Olympic medals, etc. and they see that the importance is not being single-faceted, but multi-faceted. It’s fun to see as a basketball fan because the great ones always want more, and always find ways to get better.”
Those comments were relayed to Anthony, who couldn’t have agreed more.
“He hit it right on the nail. I came in at 18, 19 years old, and the young guys want to score in the NBA, establish something early, but as you get older you become smarter, more aware of the game.
“You see your peers -- myself and LeBron seen Dwayne Wade win a championship early -- and we both wanted to do something, too. LeBron took his team to the Eastern Conference Finals, to the Finals, and unfortunately it took me 4-5 years to get out of the first round and make it to the Western Conference Finals.”
“We motivate each other, I can say that. As friends, we all motivate each other.”
That motivation has translated into a 5-0 record for a team led by a true leader -- whether or not he would end the night as the NBA’s scoring leader.