NBA Playoffs: Carmelo Anthony's success puts him in a strangely familiar place


Anthony_game.jpgIn four games against the Utah Jazz in this year’s playoffs, Carmelo Anthony is averaging 34.5 points per game while shooting 52.6% from the field and grabbing seven rebounds a night. Yet his Denver Nuggets trail the Jazz 1-3 in the series after another loss last night, and Anthony’s 39-point, 11-rebound performance (though with nine turnovers, mind you) in a losing effort is an interesting indication of the path Carmelo’s career has taken. 

There was a point where Anthony himself was emblematic of all the Nuggets’ problems. They had talent — Andre Miller (and later Allen Iverson), Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin, Nene, and of course Anthony himself — but even in the rare instances when each member of Denver’s core was healthy at the same time, there were some serious question marks. Offensively, how could the team depend on a jumpshooter who had fallen in love with 20-footers? And on defense, why couldn’t a team of talented individual defenders establish themselves as an effective defensive unit?

Those types of questions seemed perpetual, and kept the Nuggets grounded. Anthony was a good player but hardly a great one, and his team was apparently ready to follow suit. In a lot of ways, Carmelo had no one to blame but himself. If he were only a more efficient scorer, a more focused defender, and a better leader, maybe the Denver Nuggets would have been a different team.

Then, in spite of worries that Anthony’s development may have stagnated, he’s done all of those things. He’s refined his offensive game and learned to exploit his incredible first step. He’s shown a willingness to defend the league’s elite scoring wings, and actually succeeded in doing so. He’s benefited from Chauncey Billups’ leadership, sure, but is also a huge part of why the Denver locker room is so confident — or laced with hubris, take your pick — at all times.

The only problem is that now, Anthony is so productive offensively that he’s not exactly the problem. His turnovers over the course of this series (he didn’t turn the ball over at all in Game 1, but has averaged six per game in the three subsequent losses) are absolutely painful, but they seem a bit more manageable given Carmelo’s touches and production. After all, Game 3 aside, the problem has not been the Nuggets lack of offense (Denver has averaged 111.95 points per 100 possessions for the series). Rather, it’s the team’s painfully ineffective defense (115.23 points per 100 possessions allowed) that could make Anthony’s volume scoring not long for this playoff world.

Anthony adapted, and he’s twice the individual player that he was earlier in his career. Okay, maybe more like 1.5 times the player he was. Yet the Nuggets again find themselves in more or less the same place; they’re talent-laden, but unable to work things out on the defensive end despite the number of talented individual defenders (Billups, Afflalo, Nene, Martin) on the team.

Should Denver drop Game 5 to Utah, it will be the fifth time in seven years that Carmelo and the Nuggets have lost the first round 1-4, with the only exceptions being last year’s run to the Conference Finals and their failure to win a single playoff game against the Lakers in 2008. Anthony has come so far in terms of his individual game, and on paper, the Nuggets have made serious strides in terms of their talent. Without any hope for a successful team defense, though, Denver is right back where they started in 2003.



Magic benching Victor Oladipo, starting Channing Frye

Stephen Curry, Victor Oladipo, Channing Frye
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Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic have started eight of the Magic’s 14 games, including the last three.

But after Orlando dropped two straight, Scott Skiles hinted at lineup changes.

The Magic coach will deliver against the Knicks tonight, swapping Channing Frye for Oladipo.

Skiles, via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

“It’s nothing punitive,” Skiles said after the Magic’s shootaround.

“It’s just we feel like we’ve got to try to find a little bit better balance. I’d like Victor to have some more opportunities like he’s had a little bit in the past where he can be on top of the floor and attack and get a little bit more vertical and not only get to the rim but just be a little bit more on the attack but not necessarily start the game that way.”

Here are the offensive/defensive/net ratings for the

  • Former starting lineup: 94.7/111.2/-16.5
  • New starting lineup: 117.2/90.3/+26.8

The new unit has played just 33 minutes in two games, so major sample-size caveats apply. But I like idea of seeing more of what has worked.

I suspect Skiles also wants to keep his players from becoming content. At 6-8 and coming off three straight seasons outside the playoffs, they should have no reason to feel satisfied, but the hard-driving Skiles will be proactive.

If Oladipo – whose defense Skiles values – can get sent to the bench, anyone can.

At some point, the Magic must determine whether Oladipo and Payton – both below-average 3-point shooters – can share a backcourt. But it’s also worth knowing whether Oladipo can excel as a super sub leading bench players.

This switch might help the Magic win now, but at worse, it’ll give them more information for evaluating their young roster. Seems smart all around.

Dwight Howard says he’s cleared to play back-to-backs

Dwight Howard
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The 5-9 Houston Rockets need some wins.

The Houston Rockets have a back-to-back coming up, Sunday against the Knicks then Monday against the Pistons (both on the road). Two teams with quality big men.

Combine those things and you end up with Dwight Howard being re-evaluated by team doctors and getting the training wheels taken off, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

This, plus a mini training camp the past few days, is part of new coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s effort to turn Houston’s season around.

Houston’s defense is 1.9 points per 100 possessions better this season when Howard is on the court and the Rockets are stronger on the glass. The problem is the offense is 7.8 points per 100 worse with Howard on the court. How much of that can be changed with some roster tweaks — like limiting the time James Harden and Ty Lawson share the court — and how much is due to Howard demanding touches and not doing enough with them we will find out quickly.

Byron Scott doesn’t see reason D’Angelo Russell should play more in fourth


The Lakers’ clear top priority for this season should be simple: develop their young stars.

Julius Randle is a beast with the ball in his hands, but a one-handed beast who needs to work on his right hand. D'Angelo Russell has shown flashes but is trying to adapt to the speed and style of the NBA game. Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. can be pieces on a good team, eventually. The Lakers need to build that foundation.

Which is why coach Byron Scott sitting Russell in the fourth quarter of games, even blowouts, is perplexing. As were his responses when asked about it after the Lakers’ lastest blowout loss, Tuesday night to the Golden state Warriors. So Scott, is there value in playing Russell in blowouts to get him more time on the court? Mark Medina of the LA Daily News had the answer.

“Nah. There’s really no reason to. At that particular time we’re down 30 [points],” Scott said. “I wanted to get Ryan [Kelly] some time and Marcelo [Huertas] as well and some other guys that haven’t played a lot.”

That would be 32-year-old Marcelo Huertas, who played the fourth quarter Tuesday while Russell sat.

This is not Gregg Popovich resting his stars to keep them fresh for the playoffs here. We are talking about a 19-year-old rookie point guard whose game is based on court vision, anticipation, and angles, a guy who has to learn how to apply those in a league where everybody is long and fast. He needs time on the court to adapt. Is he going to make mistakes? Yes. A lot of them. That’s what rookies do. If you coach them up, they learn from those mistakes and make fewer each time out. It’s a sometimes painful process, but it’s how rookies learn.

Except in Byron Scott’s world where they get benched. Because that will teach them. Meanwhile Kobe can do whatever he wants, because he was once great and that gives him carte blanche.

Nuggets’ Emmanuel Mudiay apologizes for verbal spat with coach

Emmanuel Mudiay, Michael Malone

Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone was willing to get into it with just about anyone Tuesday night. He had a few words with Blake Griffin.

And he had a few words with his rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay — and Mudiay gave it right back. Then got benched. Later the rookie realized he should be a little more deferential to the guy who controls his minutes, and apologized. Malone played it down. Everything is fine in Denver (well, except for the four straight losses). Here are the quotes, via Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post.

Said Mudiay: “It’s just both of us being competitors. It probably was my fault, I could have been doing a lot more. So I kind of put the blame on myself. I’ve got nothing against Coach, I respect him. He’s a great person, and I have all the respect in the world for him.

“Me and him are both competitive. We want to win. We hate losing. We’re on a four-game losing streak, something like that. It’s just us trying to win. At the same time, it’s over with. It’s on to the next game. It’s been like that my whole life. He’s just trying to challenge me, which I accept.”

“There is frustration on our end, having lost four games in a row now,” Malone said. “Just trying to find way to get a win. Winning is a great cure-all for anybody, like it was for (the Clippers) tonight, coming in having lost three in a row. So this is a very competitive game, guys are out there working hard trying to do their best, and sometimes emotions get involved. By no means is there an issue with Emmanuel or anybody else on this team. We are together, we are unified and we’re going to continue to fight to stay together to get this thing turned around.”


These kinds of little flare-ups are a common part of the NBA season — if the Nuggets were not frustrated after losing four straight, it would be a bigger concern. That Mudiay pushed back is some fire I want to see from a rookie.

Mudiay is learning, his turnovers are down of late (although they flared up against Golden State). His shooting is still an issue, and his decision making has a ways to go, but there is progress.  Which is all you can ask of a rookie. And it helps to have a coach who will push him. (And play him in the fourth quarter — Byron Scott, we’re looking at you.)