Knicks forward Anthony reacts to the Bulls missing a free throw attempt in the second quarter of their NBA basketball game in New York

Are you ready for another return? Carmelo Anthony returns to Denver Wednesday.

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This isn’t going to have the venom of Dwight Howard returning to Orlando Tuesday night. Certainly not the same as LeBron James first return to Cleveland. Time softens these things.

But Wednesday Carmelo Anthony returns to Denver for the first time since he forced his way out a couple seasons ago. And he’s probably still going to hear some boos — even though Denver didn’t take a step back without him and will have a good chance at their 10th win in a row on Wednesday.

Yes, it has taken this long for Anthony to return to the Rocky Mountains. The trade happened at the 2011 trade deadline, and the Knicks did not travel out to Denver the rest of that season. Last season was shortened by the lockout and with the shortened schedule the Knicks didn’t make a stop in Denver. They do this season, but it took a while to get around to it.

This is a very different Denver team than the one that Carmelo wanted away from — but it really hasn’t taken a step back since its star left in terms of wins and production. They made the playoffs the last two years, and while they lost in the first round both times Anthony only got the Nuggets out of the first round once. Ty Lawson is the one holdover from the Anthony era and put it this way to the New York Times.

“Are we better since the trade?” he said, relaxing at courtside, having finished a recent practice. “I’m not going to say that. I’ll just say we’re different. Our record is comparable, pretty much the same, still in that fifth-fourth area of the conference.”

At the urging of owner James Dolan to get the deal done, the Knicks gutted their roster of young talent to make this three-team trade a reality. The big name coming to Denver was Danilo Gallinari, the sharp shooting big man, but there was also now starting center Kosta Koufos, backup Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov. The Nuggets got Raymond Felton but traded him for point guard Andre Miller and two draft picks. The Nuggets also got trade exemptions that let them pick up JaVale McGee. Finally there was a first round pick in the deal that was shipped out as part of the Andre Iguodala trade with Philadelphia last summer.

Since the trade the Nuggets have won 63.5 percent of their games compared to 56.8 percent for the Knicks. Neither team has yet to get out of the first round of the playoffs, but the Nuggets have won four playoff games to the Knicks one.

The Knicks are improved. This season they are 38-23 and battling the Pacers for the two seed in the East. They see this as a season they could break through the first round barrier, reach the Eastern Conference finals and challenge a Heat team they beat a couple times earlier in he season. Anthony is having arguably his best season as a pro, averaging 27.9 points and 6.2 rebounds a game, with a PER of 22.9. He’s shown more willingness on the defensive end (at least to start the season) and has grown as a player.

Denver has reason to be optimistic going forward — their average age is 25.3, fourth lowest in the NBA (The Knicks are the oldest at 32.4). The Nuggets are 43-22, good enough right now for fifth in a Western Conference that has more depth at the top than the East. Denver has won nine in a row and are doing it with an up-tempo style and aggressively attacking the paint. The Nuggets score a league-best 57.7 points per game in the paint, the Knicks a league-low 33.5.

Anthony is not going to see the same venom as Howard did Tuesday because the Nuggets have moved on and built a team that is both entertaining and going to be a tough out come the playoffs. A team with a future. The Knicks got what they wanted — a New York born superstar who is the leader of a team with big playoff aspirations — but the Nuggets are pretty happy with the team they built. Nuggets coach George Karl talking to the Times:

“I know it’s nice to have Kevin Durant, it’s nice to have Tim Duncan, a LeBron James,” he said, referring to dominant players who can take over a game. “But just because a guy gets paid millions and millions doesn’t mean he’s a guy that is responsible enough to tell an owner, ‘Hey, you give me the money, you’re going to win and you’re going to win in the playoffs.’ How many guys are on that list?”

Notice who Karl didn’t mention?

LeBron James on surpassing Michael Jordan: “It’s a personal goal”

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Since he was a teenager, LeBron James has been compared to Michael Jordan. That comparison has usually been used as a way to cut him down or explain why he’s not in the same class, but that’s changed since he won his third championship, and first in Cleveland, in June. Now, LeBron has started to be a lot more open about his desire to eventually surpass Jordan. He said so in an interview with the AP’s Tom Withers after practice on Tuesday:

Now that LeBron James has won a championship for the ages, he’s set a loftier goal:

Catching Michael Jordan.

Long flattered to be mentioned in the same company with Jordan and other NBA legends, James has been hesitant to publicly acknowledge that he wants to be remembered as the greatest in league history.

It’s time now.

“It’s a personal goal,” James told The Associated Press on Monday. “I just never brought it up. It’s my own personal goal to be able to be greater than great. I think that should be everybody’s personal goal.”

Now that James has indisputably cemented his legacy as one of the handful of greatest players ever to play the game, he has a lot less to lose by openly talking about these things. Five years ago, he would have gotten killed for bringing it up. Now? It just seems plausible more than anything else.

Kevin Durant says Nike didn’t influence his free-agency decision

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors poses for NBA team photographer Noah Graham during the Golden State Warriors Media Day at the Warriors Practice Facility on September 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Many different factors went into Kevin Durant‘s decision this summer to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors — basketball fit, location, his friendships with Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, and more. But one thing he wants to make sure you know didn’t influence him is Nike. Durant told reporters this week that the shoe company, which he endorses, didn’t steer him one way or another in free agency, and they didn’t even know his plans beforehand.

It’s a little hard to believe that Nike had zero advance knowledge of Durant’s plans — if not a hard answer, at least a strong indication of which way he was leaning. Durant was one of the most popular players in the league in Oklahoma City, so Nike would have been fine either way. But his presence in Golden State, a much bigger market and the dominant story in the NBA this season, will only help them. It doesn’t hurt, either, that they now have one of their biggest athletes in the same market as Stephen Curry, who had been taking advantage of all the attention on the Warriors to raise Under Armour’s profile. Now, Nike can get some of that spotlight back in the Bay Area.

Barnes, Bogut highlight latest round of changes for Mavs

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 08:  Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors reacts in Game 3 of the 2016 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on June 8, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut are in, Chandler Parsons and Zaza Pachulia are out and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle has a retooled roster for the sixth consecutive time since winning a championship.

“Well, we love it,” Carlisle said at media day this week as someone chuckled. “What’s more exciting than getting seven new guys? New blood. It’s fresh every year.

“Really, that wasn’t meant to be a joke,” he added. “If you view it as a negative, there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to be a negative. I don’t look at it that way.”

The Mavericks have made the playoffs all but one season since the constant turnover started after owner Mark Cuban chose salary cap flexibility over keeping a few key players when a new labor agreement was reached six months after his team won the title in 2011.

But Dallas still hasn’t won a postseason series since beating Miami in six games in those NBA Finals.

Repeated efforts to land big names in free agency failed, which this year led to the additions of Barnes and Bogut from 2015 champion Golden State after the Warriors lured Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City and had to unload both starters to make cap room for the four-time NBA scoring champion.

Barnes headlines the group of newcomers because he’ll be a top option on offense after signing a four-year, $94 million max contract. Over his four seasons with the Warriors, he was always a role player behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

“It’s going to be bigger expectations and I’m going to have a larger role on this team,” Barnes said. “I feel like we have a lot of pieces this year, either coming back off injury, guys who are motivated, have a lot to prove. So hopefully we can all come together and do something special.”

There’s actually some stability in the starting five because point guard Deron Williams is back for a second season with his hometown team.

Nowitzki, going into his 19th season at age 38, says Williams was the best player on the team at times last season, and the Mavericks missed him in their five-game loss to Oklahoma City. He was limited by a sports hernia injury that required offseason surgery.

Parsons signed a max deal with Memphis, and Pachulia went to the Warriors after the trade that landed Dallas the 7-footer Bogut, who should be a much stronger shot-blocking presence than his predecessor.

The changes fit the formula of at least two new starters each season going back to the title year.

“There are similarities to other years,” Carlisle said. “The ability to add Bogut and Barnes was huge for us. We caught some good luck on that.”

The other notable newcomer is Curry’s younger brother, Seth Curry, who is on his fifth team in his fourth season but finally had a more prominent role last season in Sacramento. Former Baylor standout Quincy Acy is in Dallas after bouncing around his first four years.

The Mavericks are deep at guard with holders J.J. Barea and Devin Harris behind Williams and Wes Matthews, in his second season as the shooting guard and now more than a year removed from tearing an Achilles tendon his final season in Portland.

Also returning are athletic young forwards Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell along with 7-2 Tunisian center Salah Mejri, a surprising shot-blocking presence last season as a 30-year-old rookie.

“They’re definitely athletes and we should be able to have a great defensive lineup once I’m out,” said Nowitzki, poking fun at his defensive skills. “I think we have a (backup) lineup out there that could be really, really good, and obviously youth and athleticism is a big part.”

Barnes wanted to be a part of it even though the Mavericks appear further from championship contention than other Western Conference teams.

“I think when you look at what this franchise has done year in, year out, stable on their ship,” Barnes said. “And be able to learn from a guy named Dirk who’s done it year in, year out. He’s pretty much built this place through his work ethic.”

And now Nowitzki is getting used to another new collection of teammates.

Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

Jazz’s Dante Exum says his knee is completely healed from 2015 ACL tear

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 17:  Dante Exum #11 of the Utah Jazz drives to the lane during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on December 17, 2014 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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After a promising rookie season, Dante Exum missed all of 2015-16 rehabbing a torn left ACL he suffered during an exhibition game with the Australian national team in summer 2015. As the Jazz kick off training camp, Exum says he’s fully recovered after his year off and he’s ready to go.

Via Jody Gennessy of the Deseret News:

“I was just excited to get back out there,” Exum said after the first of two practices Tuesday. “I was feeling good. … I was just ready to come out there, talk when I can and run between every drill.”

Both his attitude and his body were at 100 percent as he returned from a yearlong rehab that followed his September 2015 surgery on his left knee that had been injured in a friendly international game with the Australian team.

With the Jazz’s trade for George Hill over the summer, Exum won’t have to be the starting point guard, which will take some pressure off of him to get back to full strength right away. A torn ACL is something that usually takes time to return from, and having guard depth to ease his workload will help with the transition. If the Jazz get good production out of Exum, it will be a bonus for what looks to be one of the most exciting young teams in the Western Conference.