Five questions in the wake of Denver's 103-88 win Sunday over the Los Angeles Clippers. It was the Nuggets' fifth straight win.
Whose shot? J.R.'s
How is J.R. Smith scoring all these points all of a sudden?
I think people sometimes have unrealistic expectations for young talents. This is because of LeBron James -- you expect guys with great potential to have an immediate impact.
It takes some guys longer to figure out the NBA; also, there's the question of the right fit.
I think the lack of success he's had before this season can be chalked up to these factors. Anytime as a player, when you go into a situation where you're needed, like Denver, it helps. Playing alongside Carmelo Anthony and a true pass-first point guard like Andre Miller seems to be a good situation for him.
I've been impressed with him up close. He's got a nice little run going. It will be interesting to see how he faces some tough times. That's going to tell us more about him -- how he deals with adversity. Carmelo is now the leader -- and I think he's giving the young man some confidence. Carmelo needs a big-time player to take the pressure off him, as it showed in last year's playoffs against the Clippers, when they could just focus on him.
C'mon. Can the Nuggets really depend on J.R. Smith?
That's what they're going to find out. What he's averaged recently (22.6 ppg over last five) might be too much to expect -- not too many guys averaging 25 in this league. But if gets up to 18 per game, if you're George Karl and the Nuggets, that's a complete victory. If you get 18 a night from a guy you acquired for a couple of second-round picks, that could end up being the biggest move made out there.
Doesn't seem like the Nuggets miss K-Mart at all, do they?
Don't forget they're also without Nene. Marcus Camby and Reggie Evans have a great impact defensively and with rebounding. So now they don't have K-Mart's offensive explosiveness, but that's where J.R. has helped make them better.
And Carmelo's now the game's best pure scorer -- his ability to play out of double teams, get teammates involved -- that has been fun to watch. The sky's the limit. Karl told me that Anthony is the best pure scorer he's ever coached. And that scoring is coming within the framework of helping his team.
Why can't the Clips win a road game?
When you put that all together, it's tough to have consistency. You only have three teams in the conference with a losing record. That's making it difficult. Winning is new to them. Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy told me that one of his challenges is to convince them how good they are. They don't have a history of being a winning franchise.
What about their backcourt rotation?
The key is Shaun Livingston. With Cassell's age, and Cuttino Mobley not the prototype shooting guard, Livingston is important. When you talk about Livingston and Corey Maggette off the bench -- now, that could be more of a key. For a team struggling, they're going to need those guys to step up.
Plus if Sam is leading the team in scoring, then the team is not playing good basketball.
ESPN analyst Greg Anthony was on the broadcast from Denver of Sunday's Clippers-Nuggets game
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J.R. Smith, now 21 and in his third NBA season, celebrates two of his 23 points in the win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
AT LAST: Timberwolves rookie guard Randy Foye's incredible fourth-quarter heroics Saturday night reminded NBA coaches of a longstanding but timeless fact: no matter how talented a player is, he can't produce for you from the bench. Perhaps now we'll see Foye as a regular rotation player getting serious run every game. -- David Thorpe
ZACH'S KNACK: As good as Zach Randolph is posting up, he may be even better attacking his defender from the perimeter. His sense of where the angles are is innate, and special. Now he just needs some consistent guard play, like all bigs do. -- Thorpe
HAWK WATCH: It is easy to project that the Hawks will be riding a roller coaster for the forseeable future when you consider that rookie Shelden Williams is the OLDEST starter on their frontline. If they can only develop their young talent. And their first big off the bench, rookie Solomon Jones, can play too. He may end up being the best defensive player of the bunch. -- Thorpe
Mr. Thorpe, there are players who don't look passionate, such as Chris Kaman. That's just how they are. Nobody gets on [Colts WR] Marvin Harrison, but we all know he's going all-out. Just because Kaman isn't as talented as Harrison doesn't mean he's not working hard. A predictable response would be "Well, that's acceptable from Harrison because of his production, but not from Kaman. Kaman can work harder." That implies that Harrison could work harder and hence be even better, and since the Colts haven't won a Super Bowl yet, you'd have to make the case that he's part of the problem. Which he obviously is not.
Is there any way that David Stern can admit maybe 12 teams from the West and four teams from the East into the playoffs? At least we can look forward to some desperate playoff races and killer Western playoff action again this year.
Glad to see the light bulb finally go off in Baron Davis' head that he is not a good 3-point shooter. Anyone else notice that he's cut his 3-point FG attempts down to four this season, and his field-goal percentage has skyrocketed? He's so quick, and so strong that no one should be able to stop him going to the hole, and this year he's showing that.
Carmelo Anthony nets 33 points, five assists
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Kobe Bryant's best attribute was his passing (10 assists) in topping Vince Carter and the Nets, 99-93.
Quotes of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
We all have a lot to be thankful for, so in the spirit of the holiday, I want to point out what each team in the NBA has to shout about.
San Antonio -- That flash, flair and excitement have absolutely no bearing on winning, because as usual, these boys are on the dull side.
New Orleans -- That this year's squad looks equipped to avoid a late-season collapse.
Houston -- Obviously, that Yao and T-Mac are wearing shorts and sneakers instead of ties and slacks.
Dallas -- That the Finals-induced funk that struck with four minutes left in Game 3 has finally worn off.
The Mavericks on Saturday beat the Hornets for the 18th consecutive time. That's the longest current winning streak for one NBA team against another. The last NBA team to win 18 straight games against a particular opponent was San Antonio against the Jazz (an 18-game streak from April 2000 to November 2004). The NBA record is 26 consecutive wins by Seattle against Minnesota from 1991 to 1997.
The Nets-Lakers game was the first of eight straight for the Lakers at Staples Center including a game against the Clippers in which they're the designated road team.
The Lakers have won eight games at home -- most in the NBA.
Jason Kidd had seven points and eight rebounds to go with his 16 assists. He has two triple-doubles this season and 77 in his career. He'll tie Wilt Chamberlain for third on the NBA's all-time list with his next one.
Toronto's Morris Peterson, whose 371-game streak ended Wednesday, has missed three straight contests with a partial tear in his left elbow.
-- Associated Press