Martin tries to be patient after returning earlier than scheduled

Nuggets forward striving to meet his own high expectations

As a former All-Star and No. 1 overall draft pick, Kenyon Martin holds himself to a higher standard than those around him.

He expects greatness every time he steps on the floor; anything less is a disappointment.

Then he takes a deep breath and reminds himself how far he has come just to get back on the court.

After having left knee surgery in June, the Nuggets power forward didn’t expect to make his 2010-11 debut until mid-January, but his hard work helped him return about three weeks earlier than originally scheduled.

“I’m excited just to be out there,” Martin said Sunday night. “I came a long way. Still haven’t had any problems (with the knee). God willing, it will stay that way. I just wish I could do more to help us win. At the same time, I’m just ecstatic to be out there.

“It’s a testament to the work they do at Steadman-Hawkins (in Vail) and the work me and (strength coach) Steve Hess put in every day. It shows I wasn’t sitting around every day. I was getting stuff done. At the same time, I was being cautious, but still working.”

While his teammates had a 26-game head start, Martin is essentially going through training camp on the fly. The adjustment period is reflected in his averages of six points and five rebounds in his first three games.

“He probably expects to hit the ground running, and it’s not realistic sometimes,” Nuggets point guard Chauncey Billups said. “It’s tough, but his presence is definitely felt when he’s out there.”

With back-to-back games over the weekend, the original plan was for Martin to sit out Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers. But with the blessing of his doctor and Denver’s training staff, Martin felt good enough to give coach George Karl 19 minutes on a night that the Nuggets lost Al Harrington to a dislocated right thumb in the first quarter.

Denver also played its third straight game without leading scorer and rebounder Carmelo Anthony, who is away from the team following the death of his sister.

“Kenyon’s played great,” Karl said. “He didn’t make any shots (against Philadelphia), but he still was one of our best defenders. We need him. It’s going to take some time. He’s in exhibition season.”

Martin has been limited to about 20 minutes in each of his first three games. He’s still working on his timing at the offensive end and must remind himself to be patient.

“I’m a little frustrated with myself, but just knowing it’s my third game, it will come,” he said. “Some (playing time) is better than none. I’m just happy to be able to get those minutes. I’ll take it right now.”

Martin’s return to the lineup coincided with Anthony’s absence while mourning the loss of his sister Michelle.

The Nuggets have lost all three games without Anthony and are 1-4 this season when he doesn’t play.

“We’ll figure it out. We have a lot of good basketball players,” Denver guard Arron Afflalo said. “Regardless of whether one man is out – as significant as he is – we still should be able to win games.”

Karl also preached perspective.

The Nuggets (16-13) have held double-digit leads in 22 of their 29 games, meaning they are doing plenty of good things to put themselves in position to win. They’ve also lost seven of those 22 games, meaning they need to shore up some areas such as taking care of the ball, getting back on defense and rebounding with consistency.

“My feeling right now is, it’s not time to get negative,” Karl said. “We have played three very close games. We could have won all three games. I am frustrated. I am concerned. Getting back and rebounding are just commitment; it has very little to do with technique. We do some good things, but we’re hurting ourselves with commitment in some of the areas we have to get more focused in.”

J.R. Smith and Chris Andersen were big on the boards Sunday night; Smith grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds, while Andersen had a season-high 11. Billups added 24 points, which is right in line with his average in Anthony’s absence over the past three games.

It just wasn’t enough to hold off a high-energy Philadelphia team that closed Sunday night’s game on a 25-7 scoring run. In the past four games, the Nuggets have been outscored 122-80 in the fourth quarter.

“We’ve lost a lot of games in the fourth quarter,” Billups said. “We’ll have the lead and end up just giving it away. There haven’t been a lot of teams that have beaten us this year. We’ve lost because of the things we do in fourth quarters. We’ve got to find a way to put our finger on what the problem is and solve it.”


Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for Nuggets.com, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press. Follow him on twitter @Lopez_Nuggets. Aaron's full bio...