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Camaraderie building as Nuggets prepare for familiar faces

Denver riding another nine-game winning streak as New York Knicks come to town

Nuggets point guard Andre Miller (left) and Danilo Gallinari are among key contributors as Denver charges toward the postseason.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

Having won nine straight games and 19 of their past 23, the Denver Nuggets look like a team that has been playing together for several years, rather than several months.

Only five players from Denver’s current roster were with the team during the 2011 NBA playoffs, while point guard Ty Lawson is the lone player remaining from Opening Night 2009-10.

The getting-to-know-you process is coming along nicely.

The camaraderie is evident when a Nuggets player makes a big block, a big shot or a highlight dunk. When the camera pans to the bench, the reaction is typically seven or eight teammates celebrating on the sideline.

During practice last week, several players erupted in unison when seldom-used center Timofey Mozgov did an up-and-under low-post move during a big-man drill.

Just a few days before that, center JaVale McGee bought costumes for every one of his teammates and served as the producer, choreographer and star of the Nuggets’ version of the “Harlem Shake.”

Lawson put on a wolf mask during the filming. Olympic gold medalist Andre Iguodala wore a Batman costume, and veteran point guard Andre Miller dressed up as Kenny from South Park.

“Getting all those brains together in one session was pretty hard,” McGee said. “Once we did it, we all had fun. It came out great.”

Nuggets coach George Karl tried to suppress a smile as he watched a few minutes of the production. Now in ninth season in Denver, Karl is enjoying the ride as much as any of his 25-year NBA career.

Asked if this was the best the Nuggets have played since he arrived in 2005, Karl compared it to Denver’s 2008-09 team that won 14 of its final 17 games and advance to the Western Conference finals.

While the 2008-09 roster was loaded with veterans, this year’s group started the season as the third-youngest team in the NBA.

“I think this team is expanding its talents in the middle of the season, whereas that was a veteran team probably playing to its talent,” Karl said. “This is actually more fun because you’re seeing guys grow up and understand how to get better.”

The Nuggets’ progression is a great backdrop as they prepare to face the New York Knicks.

With five former Nuggets – Carmelo Anthony, Marcus Camby, Raymond Felton, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith – the Knicks are walking reminders of Denver’s recent past.

Anthony, Martin and Smith were key members of the 2008-09 team and collectively will make their first appearance in Denver since reuniting in New York.

The Knicks (38-23) got off to an 18-5 start and are fighting for the No. 2 seed in the East.

“I enjoyed (watching) them early in the year,” Karl said. “I thought they were playing a lot like we play with the small lineup. They had the 3-ball as their key. It’s going to be a fun game. A lot of guys want to play well in that game.”

The Feb. 22, 2011, trade that sent Anthony to New York is still paying dividends for Denver.

In return, they received current starters Danilo Gallinari and Kosta Koufos, along with starting-quality talent in reserves Wilson Chandler and Mozgov. Felton also came to Denver in the trade but was later sent to Portland in exchange for Miller.

Equally important – but often under-reported – the trade cleared the way for Lawson to prove himself capable as a starting point guard.

After a solid season in 2011-12, Lawson has played like an All-Star over the past two months. He is averaging 21.1 points and 7.4 assists while shooting .513 from the field and .427 from 3-point range in 27 games since Jan. 13.

His teammates also appear to be peaking as the Nuggets (43-22) prepare for the stretch run.

“We’re real confident,” Lawson said. “Everybody’s playing well, playing together. We’re on a good streak right now. Everybody’s confidence is through the roof.”


KNICKS AT NUGGETS


WHEN:
8:30 p.m. MT
WHERE: Pepsi Center, Denver
TV; RADIO: Altitude, ESPN; 104.3 FM, AM-950

PROBABLE STARTERS
DENVER

F Danilo Gallinari
F Kenneth Faried
C Kosta Koufos
G Andre Iguodala
G Ty Lawson

NEW YORK
F Carmelo Anthony
F James White
C Tyson Chandler
G Iman Shumpert
G Raymond Felton

INJURY REPORT
DENVER:
No injuries to report.
NEW YORK: Amar'e Stoudemire (knee) and Rasheed Wallace (broken hand) are out.