Ely takes successful turn in Denver's big-man rotation

Nuggets using a frontcourt-by-committee in wake of injuries

Baseball teams periodically operate a bullpen-by-committee.

The Nuggets are trying to perfect the frontcourt-by-committee.

Juggling his lineup to compensate for injuries to big men Nene, Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin, Denver coach George Karl found another successful wild-card player Friday night against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Two nights after emergency starter Gary Forbes gave the Nuggets quality minutes, veteran Melvin Ely stepped into the starting lineup and provided five points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots in a 111-104 victory at the Pepsi Center.

Carmelo Anthony added 30 points on 14-of-20 shooting, and Al Harrington had 18 points and eight rebounds to help the Nuggets (3-2) get a win in advance of Saturday’s rematch against the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas escaped Denver with a 102-101 win on Wednesday.

“We need this game (in Dallas),” Harrington said. “We need to come with a playoff mentality. We’ll see what we can do.”

Karl started the 6-foot-7 rookie Forbes at power forward against the Mavs earlier in the week, but he turned to the 6-10 Ely against the Clippers’ tandem of Blake Griffin and Chris Kaman.

Ely was up for the challenge as he continued a remarkable comeback story following a year out of the NBA. A free-agent training-camp invitee less than six weeks ago, he made his first start since April 13, 2009, when he was with the New Orleans Hornets.

“It’s been a while. To have a year off and come here and to be used on the court, it’s a blessing,” he said. “With the NBA, it’s out of sight, out of mind. For Denver to give me an opportunity, I want to do well – not only for the opportunity, but to make sure they don’t feel like they wasted a (roster) spot.”

Ely’s transition to Denver was made easier by his relationships with Harrington, Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith. The four work out together in Las Vegas during the summer. Nuggets assistant coach John Welch was also an assistant during Ely’s college days at Fresno State.

“Coming here was easy,” Ely said. “It’s fun and it’s kind of like I’m dreaming. I walk around in a haze because last year at this time, I was sitting watching the TV, mad at myself and working out two, three times a day. It paid off.”

Billups believes Ely’s year out of basketball helped him gain a perspective that was lacking at times in his first seven NBA seasons.

“I’m very happy for Melvin. He’s worked so hard,” Billups said. “He was one of those guys that I always said, ‘Man, he could be so good,’ but just never focused in enough to get it done – until now. He’s getting older. Opportunities are dwindling. He’s stepped up.”

Ely is one of four free-agent additions paying early dividends for Denver. Harrington is putting up big numbers off the bench, Forbes has been a pleasant surprise, and Shelden Williams has shown consistency while starting all five games.

Williams scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds in 30 minutes against the Clippers, who were led by Griffin’s 26 points and 10 rebounds. Both are from the Oklahoma City area, though Williams is six years older.

“It’s cool to play against him,” Griffin said. “I watched him when he was in high school and I was a little kid. Everybody’s always supportive of hometown guys, home-state guys. It’s good to see him out here doing so well.”

While Williams certainly will start again Saturday against Dallas, it will be interesting to see who Karl brings in from the bullpen.

Forbes had 12 points and showed poise in his first career NBA start, but Ely might have the edge because of his experience in tough road games.

PASSING FANCY: Even more impressive than Anthony’s 30 points Friday were his six assists. That number would have been higher if not for a couple missed shots in the paint by his teammates.

“I thought Melo’s passing was first-class,” Karl said. “He found a lot of easy baskets for us.”

DUNK CONTEST: Harrington caused his teammates to jump off the bench early in the second quarter when he drove the lane, ditched his defender with a spin dribble and finished with a two-hand dunk in traffic.

Fellow New Jersey native Smith did his best to match Harrington less than three minutes later when he drove the right baseline and threw down a one-hand dunk on the opposite side of the rim.

“Al’s move was really good, but J.R.’s dunk was probably the best,” Nuggets shooting guard Arron Afflalo said.

Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for Nuggets.com, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press, making him one of the longest-tenured sports writers in Denver. Aaron's full bio...

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