The Nuggets, however, couldn't rely on 'Melo alone. After three consecutive First Round exits, each of which they lost in five games, Allen Iverson arrived. Yet, even with 'Melo, AI and 2006-07 Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Camby in the fold, your Nuggets still couldn't win more than one First Round game.
But something strange happened late last season. George Karl, who coached some of the best defensive teams in NBA history in Seattle during the 1990s, oversaw a team that couldn't remember how to play D, even with Camby waiting near the rack to reject shots. The Nuggets were 18-4 in games where they gave up 100 points or fewer, but in the last 41 games of the season, the Nuggets gave up 100-plus points a whopping 32 times. Instead of stopping teams, the Nuggets decided to outscore them, and did so to the tune 111.7 points per 100 possessions compared to yielding just 108.1 points per 100 possessions.
Then why did it seem as if the Nuggets turned into matadors all of a sudden? (Even the cartoonists took their shots ... and made them, of course.) Karl noted his team was never much of a defensive team. Defense, as the adage goes, wins championships. It should have come as no surprise then to see the Lakers sweep the Nuggets out of the First Round and into next season.
Next came the offseason. What would the Nuggets do to shore up their porous D? Re-sign the pesky Eduardo Najera? Maybe trade for Ron Artest?
Nope and nope. Artest said he wasn't long for Denver and Najera signed with New Jersey. The Nuggets then went all in on offense and kept some money in their pockets by trading Camby to the Los Angeles Clippers for nothing? As you can imagine, Nuggets fans were not pleased.
Add to this Iverson's contract situation (he has one year left; he could be traded by the February deadline) and that point guard Chucky Atkins will miss training camp because of surgery on his right knee, and you have may have the beginning of a long season.
Karl, however, inspired by Barack Obama, thinks there is hope for the Nuggets this season:
"'We have probably our most difficult challenge since I've been here," Karl said during an interview with the Rocky Mountain News on Sept. 12, "but that's fun, too. If the chemistry goes the right way and the ball bounces the right way, we can be better than we've ever been.'"
Karl and Anthony think the Nuggets need to incorporate a more aggressive defensive style. Anthony, for one, believes he can turn it up on D:
"'My teammates seen what I did this summer on the defensive end,' Anthony said earlier this month. "With Marcus Camby gone . . . it's going to almost force us to come together and play defense as a whole and not just have to rely on one person.'"The Nuggets better come together on defense or else a First Round exit may seem like the good ol' days.
-- Rob Peterson