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Nuggets in unfamiliar waters with series advantage

By Chris Tomasson, for
Posted Apr 23 2009 9:09AM

DENVER -- The last time Denver had this kind of Playoffs advantage, John Denver was still hitting the charts.

It was 1985, and the Nuggets led Utah 2-0 in a Western Conference semifinal before going on to win the series 4-1.

Finally, the Nuggets know again what it's like to be in control of series. They walloped New Orleans 108-93 Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center to go up 2-0 in their West first-round series.

If you want to know who might be the most excited, find forward Carmelo Anthony. In his first five trips to the Playoffs, Anthony never had won even two games in any series.

The Nuggets had lost five straight times in the first round, with no series even going six games. Their postseason record in Anthony's career had been 4-20 entering this spring.

Talk about a Rocky Mountain low.

The snow might never melt even during the summer some places high up in mountains around here. But the Nuggets' ice age looks like it finally could be melting.

"It feels good to protect homecourt, get the two wins at home,'' Anthony said. "Over the past years, we've been on the road the first two games. Now, we got a chance, to take care of homecourt advantage, which we did [Wednesday]. So it's a different feeling than my previous five seasons.''

After scoring just 13 points in a 113-84 Game 1 walloping Sunday, Anthony picked up his offense with 22 points Wednesday while also handing out nine assists. But the guy who really got the Nuggets going was point guard Chauncey Billups, who finds nothing foreign about being up 2-0 in a series.

If the Hornets thought Billups would cool down after scoring 36 points and hitting 8-of-9 from 3-point range Sunday, at least they were a little bit right. On Wednesday, he had 31 points and shot 4-of-6 from beyond the arc.

"I'm in a nice little groove right now,'' said Billups, whose most impressive statistic is he now has had back-to-back games with no turnovers for the first time during the Playoffs in the same season.

One could say Billups' groove is about the size of the one the Colorado River formed in Arizona, creating the Grand Canyon.

Billups, who went to the past six East finals with Detroit and won the 2004 NBA Finals MVP, was acquired last November to give the Nuggets much-needed winning playoff experience. Not enough superlatives can be written as to how well the move has worked out.

"From his standpoint, it's got to be a different focus to get us to where we want to be,'' Anthony said of the guy known as "Mr. Big Shot'' once again stepping up his game in the postseason. "If he had the same focus level he had in the regular season, I don't think we'd be talking about the two wins that we had. It was a must that he stepped up the way he did, and his focus level went up another notch.''

Meanwhile, the only thing that has gone up a notch for the Hornets since the start of the postseason has been their frustration.

"We just had careless turnovers again and again,'' said New Orleans coach Byron Scott, whose team had 17 turnovers to just six for Denver, which tied the team's postseason low for a game. "I think it is the first time all season we had one steal. We are not being aggressive enough on the defensive end.''

On the offensive end, the Hornets still can't get consistent play from All-Stars Chris Paul and David West. Paul is shooting just 12-of-30 in the series and has nine turnovers.

West, after going 4-of-16 in Game 1, shot 9-for-20 Wednesday for a team-high 21 points. But it was misleading since West was shooting 4-of-15 until making his final five shots after the Nuggets had taken a 79-62 lead late in the third quarter.

The Hornets will try to regroup for Saturday's Game 3 in New Orleans. Meanwhile, they leave behind a city that is experiencing a basketball renaissance.

The Nuggets haven't won a playoff series since 1994, the NBA's longest ongoing drought. That also was the last time Denver won even two games in one series.

With a raucous crowd of 19,623 jamming the Pepsi Center, Nuggets fans are letting it be known their team is no longer fool's gold in the Playoffs.

"The crowds are phenomenal,'' Billups said. "The guys are understanding that this is what homecourt advantage is all about... You got 20,000 people out there, cheering and rooting and frustrating the other team. Our crowd has been awesome.''

Mile High City fans are starving for playoff success. In their 33-year NBA history, the Nuggets now just three times led a playoff series 2-0, the first coming in 1978 in a 4-3 win over Milwaukee.

The previous time came after a May 2, 1985 win at McNichols Arena, which long has been torn down.

Anthony then was 27 days shy of celebrating his first birthday.

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