By Rob Mahoney
Carmelo Anthony returned to Denver on Wednesday for the first time since the Nuggets traded him to New York in February 2011. The Pepsi Center fans marked the occasion with a chorus of boos for their former star, who struggled with his shooting and scored only nine points before leaving in the third quarter of a 117-94 loss because of more problems with his right knee. Tyson Chandler also departed early with a knee injury on an all-around bad night for the Knicks, who were blown out on the road for the second game in a row and fell one game behind Indiana for second place in the Eastern Conference.
Denver, meanwhile, won its 10th consecutive game and closed within one game of the Clippers for the fourth seed in the Western Conference. The Nuggets led by as many as 34 points in extending their home winning streak to 14.
• Fun though it was to see Denver executing its game plan at such an incredible level, the entire night turned sour when Chandler and Anthony exited. In Chandler's case, this is a new ailment -- a left knee bruise suffered on an unfortunate collision with Denver's Corey Brewer:
One needs no allegiance to the Knicks to feel badly for Chandler, who is as charismatic a person and player as you're likely to find in the NBA. But the good news for New York is that, according to Jonah Ballow of NYKnicks.com, coach Mike Woodson said Chandler was probable for Thursday's game in Portland. Whether that actually happens remains to be seen, though. Knicks injury reports have a way of curving around the truth, making it difficult to tell which injuries are truthfully diagnosed and which are the products of misinformation. Either way, reports like this one from Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal hardly inspire confidence in Chandler's long-term availability:
Kudos to Chandler for wanting to play if his body allows, but based on his initial reaction and the way in which he left the floor (bearing no weight on his left leg), I find it hard to believe that he'll be in uniform against the Blazers.
In Anthony's case, the Knicks' high-scoring power forward aggravated an injury that had already been causing him issues, to the point that he will reluctantly have the fluid drained from his knee. This option has been on the table all week, but Anthony wasn't keen on the idea because -- and I quote Anthony himself -- he "[isn't] a big fan of needles." After Wednesday's re-injury, Anthony's initial reservations pale in comparison to a medical reality, leaving him with little choice but to have his knee drained and endure the recovery period that follows. It won't be easy on the Knicks in the meantime, but playing through pain isn't an option for an injury with this kind of discomfort and risk.
• It's not at all uncommon for the Nuggets to sprint their way to an early advantage while playing at home, but on Wednesday the Knicks never managed any kind of counter-run to regain their balance. They simply stumbled up and down the court as the Nuggets created high-value shots at the rim and the three-point line, and ultimately withered away under the attrition of Denver's transition game. It's exhausting to keep pace with a team that pushes the break so relentlessly, but the Knicks -- injured and aged and defensively disorganized as they are -- are particularly ill-equipped to handle that kind of full-court flurry. It showed, and within minutes New York looked like a team in over its head.
But what the Nuggets did (and have done in recent weeks) shouldn't be disregarded as some parlor trick of pace. Uncompromising, high-possession basketball is simply Denver's style of choice, and it's an approach that perfectly fits its personnel while challenging opponents to remain disciplined in their respective schemes.
The Nuggets fully understand how to fill lanes and attack in the open court. They have a fun playmaking balance between the speedy Ty Lawson, the creative Andre Iguodala and the sharp Andre Miller, among others. It's through these conduits that we so often find the initial outlet of Denver's fast breaks, though it takes a top-to-bottom commitment for a team to run this effectively. Lawson may cue the action, but the Nuggets' offense only works because players like Wilson Chandler (24 points, 9-of-12 shooting) are finding gaps in the defense and big men like Kosta Koufos (six points, 10 rebounds) are cleaning the offensive glass. It all flows together quite beautifully, and in a game like this one provides a stark contrast with a Knicks team that has come to underwhelm by way of order and athleticism.
• New York's offense has been completely disjointed of late, but that in itself doesn't erase the fact that Denver did a fine defensive job as the basis of its fast-breaking assault. The key: baiting the Knicks into bad decisions by giving room to Raymond Felton (eight points, 3-of-7 shooting, four turnovers) and J.R. Smith (15 points, 5-for-12 shooting, eight assists), refusing unnecessary double teams on Anthony (nine points, 3-of-12 shooting, three turnovers) and staying glued to the cutters and shooters who filled out New York's lineups.
By cutting off easy access to ball movement and challenging the likes of Anthony, Felton, and Smith to create, the Nuggets were able to strip the Knicks' roster down to its individual parts. Again: Some of that is due to the fact that New York is hardly the scoring juggernaut it once appeared to be. But I do give credit for the heady style in which Denver defended, from the surprisingly effective switching to the way the Nuggets nudged Anthony and Co. into unwarranted isolations.