Updated: January 18, 2010, 2:58 AM ET

1. Nuggets' Second Opinion Looks Solid

By Jeremy Wagner
ESPN TrueHoop Network

Defeating the Utah Jazz is always reason to celebrate for Denver Nuggets fans. The Nuggets accomplished that feat for the third time in three tries this season with a 119-112 victory Sunday that saw Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups dominate the second half.

I think the Nuggets have more to celebrate than just another win over the rival Jazz. For the first time in over a month the Nuggets are healthy, but as good as that news is, there is something better. I firmly believe Denver is the second-best team in the West, behind the Lakers. I am sure fans in Dallas, Portland, San Antonio and Phoenix will disagree and frankly I do not blame them. Those are all very good teams, but hear me out.

As mentioned above, the Nuggets are fully healthy again. During the 14 games they have played since Dec. 14 without a combination of Billups, Anthony, Ty Lawson and Chris "Birdman" Andersen the Nuggets muddled their way to a 7-7 record. Every team deals with injuries and there is no guarantee any team will stay healthy, but the fact Denver went through a difficult month-long stretch missing at least one member of its eight-man rotation and it is still sitting in a second-place tie with Dallas is significant.

Apart from suffering through a tough patch injury wise, the Nuggets have not yet hit their stride on defense. Even in seasons when Denver was viewed as a sieve defensively, it was a top ten team in defensive efficiency. This season the Nuggets are currently allowing 103.9 points per 100 possessions, tied for 15th in the league. There are areas where their defense is likely to improve, such as their pick-and-roll defense which has been lackadaisical to say the least, and they have greatly improved their rotations over the previous week. Look for a defensive resurgence from Denver over the next few weeks that will lift Denver to the level it achieved last season.

Finally, there is Carmelo Anthony. Sure he does not play as hard on defense as I would like and he could pull down a couple more rebounds a night, but few teams have a player with Carmelo's talents. Of course Dallas can offer up Dirk Nowitzki and Phoenix has the incomparable Steve Nash. Carmelo demands more defensive attention than anyone this side of Kobe because of his ability to score in a multitude of ways.

Melo is also made more dangerous because of the quality of offensive players around him. Billups, J.R. Smith and Lawson can all take advantage of the room opposing defenses give them because of the attention Carmelo receives with both the three-point shot or their ability to drive. Nene and Kenyon Martin both receive plenty of layups thanks to their slashing ability.

The Nuggets also have the confidence of a team that reached the doorstep of the finals and pushed the Lakers as hard as anyone which will help Denver down the road. Teams like San Antonio, Dallas and Phoenix are coming off playoff disappointments that will surely weigh on their minds this spring.

Do not get me wrong, the gap between the Mavs, Suns, Blazers and Nuggets is a thin one and all of them have more assets to play with leading up to the trading deadline than Denver. Every other competitor can say it has advantages over Denver, but as a whole no team is as dangerous or talented as the Nuggets. Look for Denver to prove that over the next five months.

Jeremy Wagner writes about the Nuggets on roundballminingcompany.com.

Dimes past: Jan. 1-2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 8-9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15-16

2. Life After Kobe

Bryant
Bryant

Jake (Portland, OR): In the not-so-distant-future, do you see Lakers owner Jerry Buss blowing up the Lakers once Kobe Bryant finally retires? We're talking about this at work today. Will they end up like Chicago, struggling to find another superstar to lead the team? Think it's fair to compare losing Bryant in L.A. to Chicago losing Jordan?

J.A. Adande: I believe Buss is willing to go all in right now to squeeze out a few more championships in the Kobe era and then will ease up after shelling out so much luxury tax $. There's a difference between Chicago and LA, though, in that the Lakers will have to stay competitive in order to keep selling tickets.

The Bulls had suites sales locked into long-term contracts after Jordan retired, and ticket sales remained strong because United Center had become a destination (the house that Jordan built). L.A. doesn't work that way. The Lakers couldn't withstand a 7-year playoff drought the way the Bulls did. A good test case will be the crowds at the Coliseum if Lane Kiffin can't maintain that Pete Carroll momentum at USC.

To read more, check out J.A. Adande's chat wrap.

3. Daily Dime Live Recap

ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Sunday night's game -- all in Daily Dime Live.

4. After Presents Opened, Durant Leads Way

Elias Sports Bureau
Durant
Durant

Kevin Durant provided 36 points and 10 rebounds while connecting on 14 of 18 field-goal attempts Saturday as the Thunder defeated the Heat, 98-80, in the NBA's battle of atmospheric conditions. Durant became the first NBA player this season to have a game of at least 35 points and 10 rebounds in which he made at least 75 percent of his field-goal attempts. He also equaled the total of such games -- one -- that Michael Jordan had in his NBA career.

Durant has now averaged 32.5 points per game in 12 games since Christmas -- the highest scoring average for any NBA player over that 23-day period.

More from Elias Sports Bureau

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