1. Nuggets' Second Opinion Looks Solid
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.
2. Life After Kobe
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
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.
5. Extreme Behavior
Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets: Goes for 37 points in the win over Utah, pulling down eight boards while sinking 11 of 12 free throws. He's 86.6 percent from the line this season, 80.2 percent for his career.
Erick Dampier, Mavs: While it's OK to be a defensive-minded center, being an offensive vacuum doesn't help. Dampier spent 21 minutes not taking a shot or a free throw in a 110-88 loss to the Raps.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"He's way more athletic than I ever was. He's shooting way quicker, he's got a quick first step. He's a tough matchup because he's so quick now off the dribble and he's shooting the ball really well this year."
-- Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki on Andrea Bargnani's progress.
6. Dome Luck
Raptors guard Jarrett Jack gets a good luck rub from teammate Jose Calderon during a win against the Dallas Mavericks.
7. NBA Video Channel
8. Line Time For Howard
Dwight Howard scored a season-high 30 points on Tuesday against the Kings. Howard attempted 15 field goals, which tied a season high.
Howard is averaging only 9.2 field goal attempts per game this season, his lowest average since his rookie season (8.3 FGA PG). In his rookie season, he averaged 12.0 points per game.
No player in NBA history has averaged fewer than 10 field goal attempts per game and more than 10 free throw attempts per game for an entire season.
This season, Howard is averaging 9.2 field goal attempts per game and 10.1 free throw attempts per game.
9.Firsts For African-Americans
The NBA's color barrier was broken in the 1950-51 season, marking the first appearance of black players in the league. The following is information regarding that season and the players that broke the color barrier, in anticipation of Martin Luther King Day on Monday, Jan. 18, 2009.
The 1950-51 season was fifth season in the history of the NBA.
FIRST BLACK PLAYER DRAFTED: Chuck Cooper (out of Duquesne) by the Boston Celtics in the second round in 1950; also Earl Lloyd was drafted by the Washington Capitols in the ninth round and Harold Hunter was drafted by the Washington Capitols in the 10th round.
According to George Sullivan, a New York Times reporter, one owner said, "Walter, don't you know he's a colored boy?" To which Celtics owner Walter Brown responded, "I don't give a damn if he's striped, plaid, or polka dot! Boston takes Chuck Cooper of Duquesne!"
FIRST BLACK PLAYER TO SIGN A CONTRACT: Harold Hunter with the Washington Capitols on April 25, 1950; he was cut in training camp. Nat Clifton signed with the New York Knicks on May 24, 1950.
FIRST BLACK PLAYER TO PLAY IN A GAME: Earl Lloyd with the Washington Capitols (WSH opened their season on Oct. 31, 1950, one day before Chuck Cooper and four days before Nat Clifton); Cooper's debut with the Celtics was also the debut of Bob Cousy and coach Red Auerbach with the team.