COACH: George Karl | 2007-08: 50-32
Denver Nuggets

Nuggets fans hope AI and Melo have more happy moments like these this season.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
Soooo, you're a Denver Nuggets fan. After this, this and one season after this, Carmelo Anthony fell to your team at No. 3 after the Pistons went after some guy named Darko Milicic. Instantly, 'Melo helped lead your Nuggets to the postseason after eight long years of not seeing the other end of April.

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

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Smith
J.R. Smith is only 23 years old, but he's already spent four seasons in the NBA and it feels as if he's been around a lifetime. Maybe that's because he's provided a lifetime of news on and off the court.

On the court, although he has been one of the league's better long-range shooters and has led the Nuggets in three-point percentage the past two seasons, Smith has raised Karl's blood pressure more than once. It became so bad during the 2007 First Round series against the Spurs, Karl shut down Smith.

"He's done," Karl said.

Things improved between Karl and Smith that the Nuggets gave the restricted free agent a three-year extension:

"'He demonstrated that he not only wants to be a good player but a good Denver Nugget," Nuggets vice president of basketball operations Mark Warkentien said. "There wasn't a free agent that was in the gym this summer with his own team more than J.R.'"
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The Nuggets need Smith to be the best possible player and citizen he can be in order for them to reach the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. Smith, when focused, has proven he can be the offensive equivalent of a Starbucks' black eye. (Two shots of espresso? Heck, add a third!) And his smooth stroke gives the Nuggets a legit three-point threat to spread the offense.

Now entering his fifth season, Smith has a chance to show his maturity and to justify his contract. He has the talent to do it, but does he have the will?

-- Rob Peterson

THE STAT
52.1 Iverson's and Anthony's combined scoring averages, the highest for two teammates in the NBA.
The job George Karl did last year with the all-head case team was remarkable.
Any time you have Kenyon Martin, Nene, JR Smith and Carmelo Anthony on a team you not only have to be able to coach but you have to be part Doctor Phil as well.
AI is probably the best citizen in this group and one of these years all the pounding his body has taken over the years is going to catch up with him.
Losing Camby and Najera could have a huge negative effect on how the team performs this year and the reason they will finish behind Portland.
If Carmelo ever matures he could be as good a small forward as this league has ever seen. But until that time his name will be bigger than what he actually brings to the court.
-- NBA Scout
The bad news is that Anthony’s scoring average dropped by more than three ppg (25.7) and his assists also dipped a bit (3.4 apg) in his first full season next to Allen Iverson. The good news is that he compensated by setting new career-highs in rebounds (7.4 rpg), 3-pointers (.8 3pg), field goal percentage (49.2%), and steals (1.3 spg).

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Record: 50-32, 5th in Western Conf.
Playoffs: Lose to New Orleans in First Round, 4-2
Scoring Leader: A. Iverson, 25.6 PPG
Rebounding Leader: Nene, 9.2 RPG
Assist Leader: A. Iverson, 5.2 APG

Simulated Season Details
PLAYER/2007-08 STATS PPG RPG APG
PG Anthony Carter 7.8 2.5 3.5
SG Allen Iverson 26.4 3.0 7.1
SF Carmelo Anthony 25.7 7.4 3.4
PF Kenyon Martin 12.4 6.5 1.3
C Nene 5.3 5.4 0.9

G Chucky Atkins 4.7 2.0 0.4
G J.R. Smith 12.3 2.1 2.7
F Linas Kleiza 11.1 4.2 1.2
F Renaldo Balkman 3.4 3.3 0.6
C-F Chris Andersen Free agent
G Dahntay Jones Free agent
F Renaldo Balkman Trade
G-F Sonny Weems Trade
F Eduardo Najera Free agent
G Yakhouba Diawara Free agent
C Marcus Camby Trade
G Bobby Jones Trade
G Taurean Green Trade
PPG Allen Iverson 26.4
RPG Marcus Camby 13.1
APG Allen Iverson 7.1
SPG Allen Iverson 1.95
BPG Marcus Camby 3.6
Points Scored 110.65 (2nd)
Points Allowed 106.95 (29th)
Field-Goal Percentage .470 (6th)
Opponents' FG% .457 (14th)
Rebounding Diff. -1.29 (21st)
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