Carmelo Looks Like a Scoring Champ
The stars on hand were Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony. OK, it must be said Iverson, a Memphis guard who sat out Sunday's game due to injury and was visiting his old Denver teammate, has four titles to none for Anthony.
But just wait. Anthony might be this season's scoring king.
True, the Nuggets forward has played just three games. But the race isn't close. He's averaging 37.7 points to 31.3 for runner-up Kobe Bryant of the Lakers.
"I'm just playing,'' Anthony said of the chances of joining 1982-83 titlist Alex English as a Denver player to have won a scoring crown. "At the end of the year, we'll see what happens. It's just November. It's early. This is the way I look at it. If I do what I've got to do and if my team wins, then all of them accolades will come.''
If Anthony can combine scoring and winning, a bigger accolade could come his way than the scoring crowd. That would be the MVP.
Anthony, though, is thinking about a piece of hardware even more important than that one. It's called the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
"I told you all before training camp started that I felt better than I ever felt coming into the season, coming into the training camp,'' Anthony said after scoring 42 points as the Nuggets beat the Iverson-less Grizzlies 133-123 to raise their record to 3-0. "My stamina feels great. I just feel good all around. My confidence is up. I've got one thing ahead of me, which is that gold ball.''
Denver fans need no reminding that, since entering the NBA in 1976, the Nuggets haven't even played in the NBA Finals. But they came close last season, falling in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals to the eventual champion Lakers.
That loss has stuck with Anthony. He worked out for nearly half the offseason in Los Angeles, and it sure didn't hamper his motivation hearing everybody talk about the Lakers' fourth title of the decade.
Anthony started the season with games of 30 points against Utah and 41 against Portland before Sunday's effort. With the first two being on national television, that got plenty of MVP talk started.
"In a word, wow,'' Nuggets vice president of basketball operations Mark Warkentien said Monday about Anthony's start, which earned him NBA honors for Western Conference Player of the Week.
With Anthony surging and the Nuggets out of the gates quickly, there's no hurry for any moves to be made. Warkentien told FanHouse it's "highly unlikely'' Denver will use its $7.4 million trade exception that expires Tuesday.
The Nuggets, though, have two other significant trade exceptions on the books. They have a $3.2 million one for the Chucky Atkins trade that expires Jan. 7, 2010 and a $3.7 million one for the Steven Hunter deal that is good until Aug. 7, 2010.
The way Anthony is playing, the Nuggets are doing just fine.
"Melo's awareness to how he's being covered is the best it's ever been,'' said Nuggets coach George Karl, whose team begins a six-game East Coast trip Tuesday at Indiana. "It's his ability to move around and be placed in different positions and his effective efficiency. His efficiency is pretty incredible right now. From post ups to jump shots to penetrations, good passing decisions. We need him. We have a little of bit of a hole with J.R. (Smith) not playing.''
Smith has four games left on a seven-game suspension by the NBA for pleading guilty to reckless driving in connection with a 2007 accident that killed a passenger in his car. With Smith having averaged 15.2 points last season, it's almost as if Anthony has picked up the addition load all by himself.
Anthony averaged 22.8 points last season. So he's had a 14.9 increase so far.
While Anthony obviously isn't going to put up 35-plus points for the season, don't be surprised if his average ends up somewhere around the 28.9 he had in 2006-07, which left him second in the NBA behind Bryant's 31.6. One reason is Anthony also figures to pick up some of the offensive slack lost when free agent Linas Kleiza bolted to Greece along with his 9.9 scoring average.
Another reason is Anthony has become close to unstoppable on offense. Having dropped from 240 to 228 pounds and his body fat going from 8.6 to 7 percent, he's in the best shape of his career.
"When push comes to shove, we've just got to give him the ball and get out of the way,'' Nuggets guard Anthony Carter said about Anthony, who is shooting 53.6 percent and Sunday became the first Denver player to score 40 points in consecutive games since Michael Adams in January 1991.
That especially was the case against the Trail Blazers. Anthony scored 19 points in the fourth quarter as the Nuggets overcame a seven-point deficit to claim their biggest win so far.
"This can be a special season,'' Anthony said.
It certainly has been a special start for Anthony.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be found on Twitter @christomasson.