(Photo by Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)
Aside from the Pacers, the team I’ve been following most closely this year has been the Spurs. Essentially, I was appalled by the mainstream, early-season write-off of the NBA’s version of death and taxes (which, I just realized after typing that is a fantastic nickname for Tim Duncan). After they started the season 2-5 or whatever, I was curious to see how Timmy was gonna make em all eat crow. More importantly, a “has to carry the load” Tim Duncan is just simply mesmerizing to watch and given his age, this was one of the last times we were going to get to see it in all its glory. I wanted to be a part of that.
Then my voyeuristic love affair with Roger Mason, Jr. began (no homo). Plus, Finley was showing that he still had something left, George Hill was playing ahead of his time and Matt Bonner was doing his less-awkward (yet less-entertaining) Brian Scalabrine impression.
Honestly, watching Duncan single-handedly keep the Spurs afloat for two months before the inevitable Manu- and Frenchie-led triumphant return was sort like watching the first hour of the third Major League or Mighty Ducks movies where you just wonder what sort of zany plot twist and series of unforeseen-to-the-presumably-naive-onlooker events would shape out to turn these guys into instant contenders (minus the campy racism and quacking, respectively).
But now that whole subplot is over and the Spurs are back to being the Spurs. Sure, they’re still flying slightly below the Cavs/Cs/Lakers radar and maybe even getting less ink than the hot-girl-who-just-moved-to-town Magic, but everyone knows they’re the second best team in the West, what with the tragic death of Tyson Chandler and all.
I couldn’t be happier with my decision to watch a ton of Spurs games. It’s been a great experience. And while I haven’t really lost interest and still really like watching the back-to-fully-equipped San Antonio roster, I’m moving on. Partly, this is because I know what they are already from years past and feel confident that RMJ, Hill, Finley and Bonner are all decent enough.
But the biggest reason I’m jumping ship is because of how much I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Nuggets beat Phoenix in OT last week.
I absolutely adore how they played that game and there are so many good stories in Denver right now that I’m uncharacteristically compelled by all of them: Chauncey changing the team’s identity, Nene living up to the billing of four years ago, KMart going back to the future, Birdman unbelievably being a very good NBA player, JR Smith reminding me of a made-up guy from a 90s basketball movie, Anthony Carter getting peer-pressured into all those tattoos, Linas Kleiza being the best player you’ve never heard of. Then on top of all that is the unparalleled “hyped to champion to overrated to underrated to overrated to underrated” career trajectory of the 24-year-old Carmelo Anthony, without whom the team is still thriving.
So henceforth, I will be watching a lot of Nugget basketball.
(That’s all any of this means. I don’t really give a shit about their record nor will I write about them over-extensively.)
But since no destination is the destination of the undestinated, I need some sort of compass on my mid-season expedition so as to navigate wisely. Thus, I reached out to a few prominent cats in the Nugget blogging community and asked them a few questions.
So with no more ado, here are their responses to the most four critical questions I could think of about the current incarnation of the Mile High’s own Denver Nuggets. (And cause I’m lazy like that, they both got the same four.)
Since I’m a chronically unfulfilled Pacers fan, I am forced to sort of adopt a second team to watch each year. It’s not that I root for them, just watch them a lot. So far this year, I’d been riding the Spurs, but after the Phoenix game, I’m gonna roll with your Nuggets. What are the three most important things I should know going in?
Nugg Doctor: (1) The Nuggets rarely ever play a full four quarters, but will make things exciting. Be ready for big leads to be lost. Big deficits to be erased. And most of all, games that shouldn’t be close to be close because the Nuggets always play to the level of their competition.
(2) Kenyon Martin will shot three-pointers. I know, it was a bit of a surprise to me too, but he’s making over 50% of his attempts this year. He will also give the crowd stares after big dunks and do the “Big Brass Balls” celebration when warranted. God, I love that!
(3) J.R. Smith will be your favorite player in the league on some nights and you will absolutely hate him on others. The Prodigy is a basketball schizophrenic. Just try not to let him turn you into one!
Denver Stiff: First off, no two Nuggets games are ever the same and yet they remarkably win about 65% of them – the rotations never make sense, the plays are rarely if ever repeated, the effort varies from quarter to quarter, etc. There is nothing consistent about the Nuggets, which actually makes them really fun to watch.
Secondly, you never know when J.R. Smith is going to go off. And if he does, you’re watching one of the most exciting and smoothest players in the NBA. His natural basketball gifts are astounding. Of course, he tends to pull a John Starks circa 1994 NBA Finals a lot, too.
Third, the Nuggets are a “Major League” story in the making. The owner — dissatisfied with years of playoff futility — demanded that they cut payroll at all costs. [Ed note: Whoa. We both made Major League allusions unbeknownst to one another. This guy’s awesome.] Moreover, the only reason George Karl was kept as coach was because it would be more expensive to fire him and hire someone else. So the Nuggets were counted out by their own owner and all the national NBA pundits. And yet, 42 games into the season, they’re better than they’ve been since Melo’s arrival. This is a team that plays with a chip on their shoulder — a true underdog — and should be rooted for.
Bigger difference: (A) Kenyon/Nene being healthy, or (B) Chauncey? Show your work.
Denver Stiffs: Yikes! That’s a really tough question. [Ed note: Nailed em] Even before Chauncey’s arrival, K-Mart and Nene had renewed health, enthusiasm and effort going into this season. The Nuggets are unquestionably better with Chauncey than they were with AI, but you have to believe that the Nuggets would have been more successful than they were with AI had K-Mart and Nene been this healthy.
Nugg Doctor: Well, Denver had Nene and Kenyon while they still had Iverson and the results were a 1-3 record so I am going to go with Chauncey. The Nuggets are 26-11 with him back in the Mile High City and have only lost one game when entering the fourth quarter with the lead (ironically, to Iverson and the Pistons). Furthermore, Billups has restructured the culture of this franchise that’s a stoy numbers can’t tell, but the W/L record indicates.
Two-Parter: Which player has the most tattoos? Which player has the best tattoos?
Nugg Doctor: Bird and Bird. Chris Andersen has the most dramatic and most enigmatic ink on the team — and perhaps the entire league. The green “haze” around the crown-wearing skull on his arm is my favorite, but the wings underneath his armpits are pretty boss, too. I also like the snowflake on his elbow. A nice gesture from the Birdman expressing his love for Denver and our snowy winters.
Denver Stiffs: J.R. Smith has the most — he’s completely covered. The best? I don’t know. They’re all so bad. Birdman’s are so unsightly that I’ll just say he has the best.
Do you think Birdman would come to my birthday party if I sent him an evite? Follow up: Do you have his e-mail?
Nugg Doctor: Who knows! I’ve never met him, but I’d bet this Bird is one that doesn’t fly south for the winter if you catch my drift. [Ed note: I don’t. Likes the “snow”?] He’s probably the kind of guy you see in the most bizare places so your birthday party wouldn’t be that much of a stretch. He might be a little late though…He’s got to save orphans from a fire before making an appearance at the toughest biker bar in the city before he crashes your party. Is there anything you need him to bring? Hair gel, a tattoo artist, maybe a handle of Everclear? Just step out side and give a Bird-call if you think of anything.
Denver Stiffs: I have friends in Denver who have partied with him before and say he’s the nicest, most generous, earnest guy you could meet. But no, I don’t have his e-mail. Sorry and Go Nuggets!
As previously stated, this was just a helluva game.
Manu came with it in the first half, dropping 19 points on the strength of some hot shooting — something that was contagious throughout the first two quarters as the normally slow-paced Western Conference elites ran up the jumbotron to the tune of a 66-61 Spurs lead at the break.
The offensive onslaught continued in the 3rd quarter but predictably slowed in the 4th, which is really what made this game so phenomenal. Kobe was absolutely transcendent in the final six minutes. He was running the pick-and-roll like John Stockton even with his Karl Malone stand-in being Josh Powell. More so, Mamba was generally just finding open guys no matter where or who they were and making the right pass within the flow of the offense, whether it was a simple swing pass on the perimeter or a dump-down to Pau.
By the end, Kobe had either scored or gotten the assist on 18 of the Lakers final 20 points. Or for those into brevity, unreal.
Just as Mamba started doing his thing, the Spurs became uncharacteristically sloppy and opened the door for LA. Tony Parker made one of the most staggeringly bad turnovers I’ve seen in some time with a panicked jump-pass to an area of the court without a Spur within 15 feet. Groundhog Day fumbled away two balls in the post. Matt Bonner was for some reason penetrating and whistled for a charge. And the whole team collectively shat the poise with a 24-second violation. It was essentially the mathematical inverse of what Kobe was doing on the other end.
Given that Mamba had started his brilliance around the six-minute mark with an “are you serious?” fall-away three from the baseline and had done everything and anything he wanted offensively thereafter, it seemed that a Laker comeback victory was all but inevitable.
The Lakers even took a three-point lead after a Kobe jumper. But then Tim Duncan remembered he was Tim Duncan and put the Spurs back up by one by scoring on back-to-back possessions — the second of which where he lost the ball, regathered and threw an incredible jump hook over his head in a play that only one guy on this planet could make.
Of course, Kobe didn’t really give a fuck.
He simply walked down to the other end and stuck a three right in Roger Mason Jr.’s eyeball. As beautiful as that was, his follow up was even sweeter — he did the giant testicle dance all the way down the sideline, something Jeff Van Gundy called the “Sam Cassell jog back.”
(Watch below unless you hate America.)
Of course — or so it’s starting to seem — Roger Mason, Jr. didn’t really give a fuck.
He had actually been defending Kobe pretty well throughout the fourth quarter on the other end but had just gotten caught up in the whole force-of-nature thing. And even though RMJ hadn’t scored a bucket in nearly 20 minutes, he grabbed the sideline inbounds pass, stepped back into a gambling Derek Fisher and drew the signature Reggie Miller foul as he elevated for the jumper.
And, oh yeah, he also drilled the 20-footer to tie the game. Then the Notorious RMJ coolly walked to the line and gave the Spurs a one-point lead with 10 seconds to play.
(Watch below unless you hate basketball.)
The Lakers had an opportunity to win but a dubious Trevor Ariza travel negated that, although it probably didn’t matter anyway since the shot was off the mark and the Spurs looked to be in control of the board.
All in all, it was a great game throughout and the most Playoffesque final six minutes I think I’ve seen this season. So despite the ongoing brilliance of Chris Paul (who dropped a damn-near quadruple double last night), Spurs/Lakers is obviously going to be every pundits favorite Western Conference Finals prediction beginning today.
Possibly more importantly, however, we have two other interesting developments with the one-and-only Kobe Bryant. Not only is he planning to start charging $50 for “premium access” to his KB24.com website (something I don’t think is quite as ridiculous as FanHouse does, but whatever) but he is also now selling ankle insurance in what is easily the best commercial he’s ever been in. (via NESW Sports)
(Watch below unless you hate seeing Mamba on a horse and, thus, hate America.)