Did the Game 1 loss take Denver’s confidence away or is going to give them resolve going forward? A two-point loss in a playoff game you could’ve/should’ve won can be absolutely debilitating for a team’s confidence, but it doesn’t sound like the Nuggets are hanging their head — at least Chauncey Billups isn’t:
“I’m disappointed, but I’m not mad,” Billups said at his locker stall, preaching calm and then staying calm when Smith and rookie Sonny Weems swiped his license.
“We’re fine, man. We’ll have other opportunities.”
Apparently, the Nuggets’ locker room is loose enough to entertain practical jokes directed at team leaders, which, to me, is more telling than Billups’ statements. Of course, talking a good game and playing like your confidence is still intact are two different things. While players like Billups and Martin have been on the big NBA stage before, the rest of Denver’s nucleus has not.
Yes, Carmelo Anthony has played in some huge games in his basketball career — Final Four at Syracuse; the Olympics — they haven’t been in the NBA Playoffs or against a player like Kobe Bryant. One thing is for certain, if Denver wants to stay in the series, they would be wise to avoid the mindset of one Woody Paige.
Granted, they haven’t played a game in New Orleans yet, but after their first two series wins against Chris Paul and the gang, the Denver Nuggets legitimately look like the second best team in the Western Conference. Furthermore, if they keep playing like this — especially on offense — they could very well challenge the mighty Lake Show in Los Angeles; perhaps even taking them to a Game 7.
But that’s a story for another time.
Last night, it was all Denver, led again by Chauncey “I Enjoy Schooling Chris Paul” Billups and his 31 points and zero turnovers, which equals the amount of turnovers Billups has committed in the series so far. Billups was not alone; however. Carmelo chipped in with 22 points and 9 assists, and from where I was watching, the Hornets do not have an answer for either Billups or Anthony.
David West was too busy trying to handle Kenyon Martin’s defense, James Posey didn’t have much success, and Peja Stojakovic has no business trying to defend a player of Carmelo Anthony’s ability. As for Chris Paul, well, he simply can’t guard Billups — hence the Rasual Butler assignment. Of course, that didn’t work too well either as Billups continues to play with his “Finals MVP” swagger. Maybe some of this will change when the Hornets play in their home arena, but I’m not sure how a group of rowdy fans is going to make you defend better.
Perhaps the home crowd will make the Hornets play with more effort on defense, but they just don’t match up that well with the Nuggets. No amount of crowd noise is going to change that.
36 points, 8 assists, 8-9 from behind the 3-point line: All in a day’s work for the Denver Nuggets point guard, who, during last night’s beatdown of Denver, took everybody’s favorite point guard — Chris Paul — to NBA Playoff school. Billups dominated in a way most basketball experts expect Paul to. Not that Paul didn’t give great effort. He did. However, the Nuggets were just too much for a team featuring Chris Paul, David West, and, well, not much else.
And when Billups is hitting like he was, it’ll be lights out for most teams unfortunate to play the Nuggets. As for the Hornets, Game 2 is Wednesday night. Even though it was only one game, the series already looks like a Denver win if Paul can’t single-handedly will the Hornets over the Nuggets.
Considering the lack of comparable talent, Denver might just sweep.
The Mouth that Roared is coming to the NBA tonight when Dick Vitale (and Dan Shulman) will bring their exuberance for college basketball to the professional ranks tonight when the duo calls the Miami/Denver game while their NBA counterparts — Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and Mike Tirico — will be calling the Duke/Davidson game. To celebrate such a monumental event (hyperbole, anyone?), ESPN made a little video of NBA players and coaches doing Vitale impressions, as seen below:
Not only did Anthony erupt, he also did it in an efficient manner — 12-15 from the field, 4-5 from behind arc and 5-6 from the free throw line. `Melo joins George Gervin as the only other person to score as many points in one quarter of NBA basketball.
Bonus: The Nuggets won.
Carmelo finished with 45 for the game, and the aforementioned Billups — MVP-worthy since the trade? — he scored 24 points and handed out 6 dimes. Other tidbits: During his scoring explosion, `Melo scored 24-straight points. For the quarter, the Nuggets finished with 40 total points, meaning the rest of the team scored 7 while Carmelo did the rest.
One last thing about Billups; the Nuggets are 14-4 since the Iverson swap. Again I ask, MVP-worthy?
Welcome to Motown, Allen. I’m not really sure where you fit with this team, but if the move was made strictly for salary cap issues, then it’s understandable. If not, who knows. If Joe Dumars and Michael Curry expect the shooting-guard-trapped-in-a-point-guard’s-body to run the team, maybe they haven’t been paying attention. Iverson will certainly shoot the ball, although I’m not sure if he’ll make Rip, Tayshaun, Rasheed and the others better players.
As for Denver, it’s just about a flip-flop: the move makes sense on the court, but it doesn’t when it comes to salary management. Having a true point guard like Chauncey Billups with scorers like Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith should make the offense run smoother, although, I’m not sure if Denver is going to stop any of their opponents from scoring.
Will he be playing tonight when Detroit and Orlando go at it for Game 5 (TNT, 7pm EST)? Judging from reports, it sounds like his hamstring has been responding to treatment and that he might be giving it a go tonight; a possibility that may help deep-six Jameer Nelson’s guarantee.
“It’s feeling a lot better,” Billups said after playing a modified one-on-one game with strength coach Arnie Kander and running corner to corner to shoot 3-pointers while Kander fed him passes. “Just wait and see, but it feels better. I’m encouraged, that’s for sure. I feel a lot better than yesterday. Pushing off to my left is kind of hard, plus I’m out there by myself so there’s nobody really kind of pushing me and playing defense. But it feels good. I’m very encouraged.”
While that does sound pretty encouraging for Pistons fans, the whole “Pushing off to my left is kind of hard, plus I’m out there by myself so there’s nobody really kind of pushing me and playing defense.” statement does leave a hint of uncertainty; something that probably won’t be cleared up until game time.
However, considering how efficiently they played without him in Game 4, wouldn’t it be prudent to let Billups get all the rest he needs in case the Pistons need his services in a potential Game 6 or 7?
As indicated, the Magic — who jumped on the Pistons right from the tip and actually led 20-3 at one point during the 1st quarter — were led by Superman Howard and his sidekick, Rashard Lewis. Lewis was absolutely deadly from the beyond arc last night, hitting 5-6 and finishing with 33 points, a career playoff high. While Lewis controlled the perimeter, Howard dominated the paint, finishing with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 6 blocked shots.
The only inside player the Pistons could throw at him last night that might have made a difference — Rasheed Wallace — was completely ineffective, finishing with 11 points on 4-15 shooting and only 4 rebounds. Meanwhile, Jason Maxiell scored a whooping zero points and only grabbed 2 rebounds. To say Superman controlled these particular match-ups is an understatement.
Meanwhile, the focus for the remainder of the series, at least for the Pistons, has to be health of Billups. If he is hobbled by his hamstring, expect the Magic to advance. If he recovers without any residual issues, Detroit is still in a position to appear in their sixth-straight Eastern Conference Finals. According to reports, the Pistons are slightly optimistic Billups will make it back for Game 4:
“We’re shooting for him to play on Saturday,” said Detroit coach Flip Saunders. “It’s sore right now [and] we won’t know for the next 24 hours where he’s really at, but all indications are we’re shooting for him to go on Saturday.”