Nene ends All-Star campaign with big game vs Portland
Nuggets center posts double-double in 109-90 victory
By the time the Nuggets took the court against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night, many NBA coaches had already filled out their ballots for the NBA All-Star reserves.
That didn’t stop Denver center Nene from making an 11th-hour pitch for a spot on the Western Conference roster.
Nene outplayed fellow All-Star candidate LaMarcus Aldridge, scoring 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to help the Nuggets get an important 109-90 win over Northwest Division rival Portland.
Nene, averaging a career-high 15.1 points and leading the NBA with a .641 field-goal percentage, will learn Thursday whether enough Western Conference coaches listed him among the seven reserves.
“I just want to help the Nuggets,” Nene said. “I know there’s a lot of politics, so I just want to help my team. In God’s time, I will be there. I don’t need to worry about that.”
The Nuggets (29-20) shared Nene’s team-first mentality while playing the Pepsi Center for the first time since returning from a five-game road trip.
Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups each scored 20 points, and J.R. Smith added 16 off the bench to help Denver move a half-game ahead of Utah and three games ahead of Portland in a tight Northwest Division race. Oklahoma City leads the division by 2½ games.
“I like it when we play a team game and there’s a teamness to the success,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “You don’t win championships individually. You win championships by guys understanding who they are, but they make each other better and play together in a rhythm. We’ve had games like that, but tonight was probably as solid and consistent as we’ve had all year long.”
Denver hopes to maintain that rhythm by staying healthy.
Wednesday marked just the third time all season that Karl had a full complement of players at his disposal.
Kenyon Martin, who has missed 32 games while recovering from knee surgery, enjoyed one of his best games of the season with 11 points, eight rebounds and solid defense against Aldridge, who scored a career-high 40 points against San Antonio on Tuesday.
Aldridge finished with 18 points, but missed all three of his shots as the Nuggets turned a seven-point game into a runaway in the fourth quarter.
“It’s all about not letting guys doing what they’re most comfortable doing,” Martin said. “For him, it’s shooting wide-open jump shots and easy buckets. I just tried to stay between him and the basket as much as possible and make all his shots contested.”
While Aldridge was ineffective in the fourth quarter, Nene had seven points, two rebounds and an assist during a 15-4 run that put the game out of reach.
“Nene, he’s had a very good year – an All-Star type year,” Karl said. “It will be interesting to see if he has a chance of making the team or has a chance of being nominated by the league. He’s had solid games to very good games all year long.”
Houston center Yao Ming was selected by fans to start for the West, but he is out for the season with a foot injury. After coaches select the seven reserves – two guards, two forwards, one center and two wild-cards – NBA commissioner David Stern will name Yao’s replacement in the weeks leading up to the Feb. 20 All-Star game in Los Angeles.
“There’s a lot of big guys that didn’t make the first unit,” Karl said. “It’s crazy. My last two (wild-card) positions, I think I had six guys I could’ve chose from. I’ve said for years there should be a 15-man roster, not a 12-man roster. I don’t think the coaches would mind and I don’t think the players would mind.”
Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson was the victim of a numbers game earlier this week when he was left off the sophomore roster for the Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam to be played Feb. 18 at the Staples Center.
Lawson is averaging 10.7 points and 3.9 assists in just 24 minutes per game as Billups’ backup.
“That’s messed up,” Anthony said. “Everybody in the NBA who plays against Ty (or) does scouting reports will tell you that Ty has the capability of changing a basketball game when he gets in the game. For him to not make that game is just messed up.”
For his part, Lawson took the news in stride.
“I thought I played well enough to make it,” he said. “But congrats to the people who did. They played well. Hopefully I can make the real game next year.”
ETC: After missing two games, Nuggets forward Al Harrington played through the pain of plantar fasciitis in his left foot; he scored seven points and grabbed nine rebounds. “It’s unfortunate because it’s really stopping a lot of what I want to do out there,” he said. “I just want to give the team whatever I can and then go from there.” … Martin and forward Chris Andersen (back/knee) haven’t been cleared for back-to-back games yet, so Andersen will sit out Friday against Utah and Martin will miss Saturday’s game at Minnesota … Denver improved to 20-2 at home against Portland since the 2000-01 season.