Gallinari, Nuggets excited about showdown with Knicks
Denver and New York square off at the Garden for first time since big trade
When NBA commissioner David Stern called Danilo Gallinari’s name at the 2008 draft, New York Knicks fans booed the selection.
Welcome to the Big Apple, kid.
Over the course of the next three years, Gallinari turned the jeers into cheers at Madison Square Garden, blossoming into a fan favorite as a dependable scorer and three-point shooter.
Knicks fans will serenade Gallinari – for better or for worse – again Saturday night when the Italian-born forward returns to New York for the first time since he was traded to the Denver Nuggets on Feb. 22, 2011.
As much as Knicks fans are looking forward to the reunion, they have nothing on Gallinari.
“This is going to be a nice game,” he said. “Last year, the first thing that I looked at when I got traded was when are we going to play in New York. Yeah, it’s going to be an exciting game.”
Gallinari was among 13 players involved in the three-team trade that sent Carmelo Anthony, Renaldo Balkman, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter and Shelden Williams to the Knicks. The Nuggets also received Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Timofey Mozgov from New York, along with Kosta Koufos via Minnesota.
Using a 3-D blueprint of depth, defense and distribution, the Nuggets improved to 11-5 after Friday night’s victory at Washington and 29-12 overall since the big trade. Led by Ty Lawson (16.4 ppg) and Gallinari (16.2), five Nuggets average in double-figures, and Denver ranks first in the NBA in assists and second in scoring, field-goal percentage and steals.
“I think the one thing that (happened to) guys when Melo left, Ty and Arron (Afflalo) got more excited about their opportunity,” Karl said. “That’s what happens in trades. Trades open up windows of opportunities.”
Karl harbors no ill will toward Anthony, who helped turn a 17-65 squad into a perennial playoff team upon his arrival in Denver in 2003. He and Billups – since waived by New York and signed by the Los Angeles Clippers – spearheaded the Nuggets’ run to the 2008-09 Western Conference finals.
“You always like playing against guys who were a part of your team and a part of your organization. Melo was a big part of that,” Karl said. “I think the players will have more excitement than I will. In the same sense, I think all that comes when you go to the Garden anyway. The Garden is one of my favorite places to coach, and it’s probably in the top-five places for players.”
It certainly will be special to Gallinari, a fashion-conscious European who grew up in Milan. After some initial disappointment about having to leave New York, he quickly has grown fond of his new surroundings.
“I’m here in Denver and I’m very happy,” Gallinari said. “Every time I have a chance to play basketball, it’s great. I’m blessed.”