Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Vertically Striped NBA Preview, with emphasis on my Denver Nuggets, of course.

Birdman and the rest of the Nuggets get back into the swing of things tonight versus the those Jazz musicians of Utah.

The Nuggets pop the top on the 2009-10 season this evening versus the hated Jazz at Pepsi Center tonight. I’ve been asked on several occasions how I think the Nuggets will do, and the honest answer to that is that I have no idea. Last season began the run of Denver teams doing better than expected, the Nuggets were picked by many experts to miss the playoffs altogether, they began the season with Allen Iverson on the roster, and not much hope of being able to accomplish much. Then, just a few games into the season, the Iverson for Billups trade was consummated, and the Nuggets took off. They finished the season at 54-28 with the second seed in the West, and they blew through the Hornets and the Mavericks in the playoffs before going down swinging in a highly competitive six game series with the eventual champion Lakers.

This year anything is in play. They could finish out of the playoffs for the first time in Carmelo’s career, although that seems unlikely. They could get a high seed in the Western Conference and get on a roll in the playoffs yet again. I find it unlikely that this team will be able to match last year’s glorious run for many reasons.

The Western Conference is stronger this year. The Spurs added Richard Jefferson and lucked out that DeJuan Blair fell to them at the 37th pick overall (I’m still angry that the Nuggets passed over Blair with their second round pick. That was the most intense moment of the NBA draft for me as I kept hoping he’d fall to the Nugs, and my excitement that he made it that far turned into me being crestfallen when they passed him over.) The Spurs have the look of a veteran team ready to make a title run.

If I never see this stupid facial expression again that would be just fine.

The Blazers have another year under their belts. Although I have my doubts about Andre Miller in their system. The Lakers are still the class of the conference although I think they could be weaker with Ariza out of the picture, and I’m not sold on Artest as being good for them. They still have Kobe, and that can be huge, even if he is the most plastic superstar ever. Oh, and here is to hoping that he retires the baring his fangs like a retarded werewolf with an under bite look. That may be the dumbest facial expression ever seen on a basketball court, and what kills me is that I know he practiced it in the mirror before breaking it out in the Western Conference Finals last year. The west could also see challenges from the Hornets, Jazz, Rockets, and even the Clippers could be frisky.

Tim Duncan and the Spurs should be a force once again.

The West will be a dogfight this year. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Nuggets could rise up and even make it to the Finals, although it seems highly unlikely that anyone other than San Antonio or the Lake Show come out of the West. My money is on the Spurs, or it would be if I bet on the NBA.

Since I broke down the West, I’ll spend a moment on the East as well. It’s either going to be Cleveland or Orlando. As long as LeBron is in Cleveland, Cleveland has a chance, and while adding Shaquille O’Neil would have been a major thing in 2003, it’s 2009, and I don’t know that he has a whole lot of tread left on the tires. I think Shaq may be more of a liability than a benefit to the Cavs roster. Plus, the Cavaliers have the same problem as the Minnesota Vikings, they have a talented roster led by a doofus of a coach. Mike Brown can’t coach his way out of a paper bag, and if LeBron is able to get to the Finals it will be in spite of his head coach, not because of him.

Dwight Howard is a beast. In fact, I nominate the nickname "The Beast" for him, as a dude this enormous needs a nickname.

As for Orlando, the defending Eastern Champs look a lot different with their main man at crunch time gone. Hedo Turkoglu fled the country to join the Raptors, but in his place they have added Vince Carter. I was dubious of this move, but I think that Vince may actually do a pretty good job with the talent surrounding him in Florida. Having Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson, and the freak of nature that is Dwight Howard surrounding you gives you a shot, to be sure.

Can KG and the Celtics rise again? "Anything is Possible!" (But I doubt it.)

A lot of people are riding the Celtics, but I am not sure I buy them with their age plus apparently Doc Rivers wants to have some malcontents on his team, after the Starbury experiment last spring, the Celts now employ the services of the historically volatile Rasheed Wallace. For those who don’t know the NBA that well, ‘Sheed is best known for two things: 1. A weird bald spot on his head 2. His tendency to explode at refs and accumulate technical fouls at a prodigious rate. In addition to that explosive element, no one truly knows the condition of Kevin Garnett’s knees, which make me hesitant to believe in Boston.

Derek Rose makes the Bulls interesting to watch.

Other than the big three of the East (Celtics, Magic and Cavs), here are the other teams that I think could be interesting in the East. The Wizards who are suddenly healthy for the first time in what feels like five years could be a solid squad, if Gilbert Arenas is able to play as more of a team player, which is not the most likely of scenarios. The Chicago Bulls are intriguing, although they are the Houston Texans of the NBA in that each year they entice before ultimately falling short, but having a piece to work with like the dynamic Derrick Rose makes them interesting. The Hawks are another team which I enjoy watching, and who should be decent, but I can’t see them contending. I’m also interested to see how the Raptors do with Hedo Turkoglu added to an intriguing mix of players, this may be Chris Bosh’s last season in Canada and while I’m not expecting a miracle from this team that struggled mightily last year, I find them to be an interesting team. I think Hedo is due to have a massive falloff, but if he can stay at the level he was at last year for Orlando, the Raps could be a solid team.

Global icon LeBron James will remain ringless if Craig's predictions come true.

So, what is my prediction for the NBA Finals? Well, keep in mind my skills of prediction leave a bit to be desired. I predicted the Broncos would be 4-12 and the Saints would be 6-10, but I'm going to say San Antonio Spurs over the Cleveland Cavaliers in 6.

Now, As for my Nuggets…

One story which has barely been told, but which I do not like is that Chauncey has changed his number. When he came to the Nuggets last year, he donned number 7 and talked about his love for John Elway growing up as a Denver boy and how he felt honored to wear that number. Billups had become known for wearing number one, but J.R. Smith had that number so he adapted and it was used around here in puff pieces as a sign of the unity and brotherhood which Chauncey brought to the team. That was so last year, though. Apparently, Chauncey is back to wearing number 1, and J.R. is going to be donning number 5. This makes zero difference in terms of basketball, but I liked the idea of Chauncey honoring my favorite football player ever, plus if ever there was a player who should ABSOLUTELY be wearing number 1, it’s J.R. Smith. Now these two guys are both wearing numbers that don’t suit them on the Nuggets. Add that to Kenyon Martin changing his number from 6 to 4 last year, and this team is completely messed up numerically. Stupid, I know, but I think about this crap. If Melo ever ditches 15 to play as number 9 or something, I’ll blow a gasket.

As for the basketball side of things this year…here are my thoughts on the Nugs.

At the tail end of last spring's playoffs Chauncey Billups pretty much disappeared. I don’t know if this is because his then 32 year old legs have too many miles on them and he broke down, or if it was him mentally checking out, but it was disturbing. What do I think the problem was? My best guess is he just started slumping at an inopportune time. One thing you need to know about me is that I lack the ability to think rationally about Chauncey Billups. He is the athlete that I look to as being the professional version of me. When he retires, I will know that I am officially too old to play pro sports. (I’ve always lacked the talent, but once Chauncey is gone, I’ll lack the youth as well.) Chauncey Billups was born only six days before I was, we both grew up in the same area of Denver, we played High School basketball at the exact same time. (Granted, he was much better than me.) In high school, my whole team followed his exploits over at George Washington High School with interest. We knew he was a stud. Despite the fact that GW was several divisions higher than my tiny school, we dreamed of playing against him. (Although, the results would have been that we would have been massacred, as he was in 5A hoops, and we were a crappy 2A team) I was devastated the first time he got traded off of the Nuggets, because he easily one of my favorites ever and he’s a local kid. I was overjoyed when the Nuggets brought him back last season, and I refuse to think ill of him. So no matter what happened at the tail end of last year, I’m going to chalk it up to a minor slump at a bad time and move on. Chauncey is the man. Without him, the Nuggets would have been so much worse than they were. He raised the level of the whole team, and anyone who denies that must not have seen the difference in the on-court confidence before and after Chauncey was there. It was night and day. Chauncey is the brain and leader of this team.

Carmelo Anthony, Super Duper Star

The second half of the power duo of the Nuggets is, of course, Carmelo Anthony. Melo is the man. His overall stats actually dropped last year, but I believe that is because he was becoming a better basketball player. Melo has the ability to completely take over a game. Look no further than the game he had last December in which he scored 33 points in the third quarter against Minnesota to tie an NBA record. My brother called me from that game as it was happening and started relaying everything that was going down to me in awe. He can do things besides just score, and when he starts getting his teammates involved, the Nuggets can become an unstoppable force. He is clearly the most important player on the team, and he is the heart and superstar of the Nuggets.

This man was born to wear #1, sadly, he has been downgraded to #5

Let’s keep going with the body part analogies… J.R. Smith is the lungs of this team. When he gets hot, it’s hard to picture a better shooter. He’ll take shots that for anyone else in the world would be bad shot, but they go in with a crazy regularity when he’s on. He can make a shot from just about anywhere in just about any type of body position. He’s a freak. He is the lungs of the team, because he breathes air and life into them when they are lifeless. He is a truly a freak of nature, and he may have more raw talent in his body than anyone else on the team. The knock on JR is that his head is not always screwed on tight, and he can at times get a little too emotional and get a little too unhinged.

Hi, I'm K-Mart, You know what I'm sayin', and I'm here to play ball, you know what I'm sayin'.

Kenyon Martin is the middle finger on the team. He is my least favorite player in the NBA, but I begrudgingly accept that his contributions and toughness help give the Nuggets an identity. They are a rough group of characters, and lead the league in outrageous tattoos, with K-Mart as the poster child for bad tats and bad attitude. K-Mart is an air head, it’s impossible to listen to him be interviewed without hearing him say, “You know what I’m sayin'.” about fifty times. He has an explosive temper which can result in technicals galore, and he will take stupid shots and occasionally think that he possesses point guard skills. I would be perfectly happy with him if he never shot the ball further than two feet from the hoop and just provided defense, rebounding, and toughness. To see him dribble in the lane is always an adventure, and to see him take a jumper is to learn how not to shoot a basketball. His flat shot is beyond ugly, even when it goes in the hoop. I’ve gone on record a multitude of times stating my displeasure with Kenyon, but when he is playing defense with a chip on his shoulder he can be great and I’ve never seen any player throw down dunks with more power and energy. His dunking in the lane is truly explosive and a sight to behold.


Chris Andersen a.k.a. Birdman is the funny bone of the Nuggets. He is a fan favorite, and it’s easy to see why. He brings tremendous energy to the floor. His wild and colorful tats give him the general appearance of a peacock, his hairstyles have names like “Birdzilla” and inspire residents of Denver to do unsightly things with their own hair, he can jump out of the gym, and he has a knack for getting huge blocks at big times. I think it's safe to say he likes attention. He’s a total goof, and if he plays for your team it’s impossible not to smile when he enters the game. It’s an adventure when he goes to the free-throw line (and not in a good way) and he can at times be overpowered and have the ball stripped by stronger players who occasionally toss him around like a ragdoll, but he has improved a ton over the past two years, and I find it impossible to not enjoy his persona on the floor.

The Brazillian force that is, Nene.

Nene is the muscle of the team. It’s hard to believe he is beginning his eighth year in the league, but it’s true. He has fought through multiple injuries and even a bout with cancer to come back stronger each time. He has shown so many signs of promise, but after seven full seasons, I think he is what he is going to be. When he is healthy, he can be a major force in the middle. He isn’t a great rebounder despite his size, but he has good offensive skills and moves and is a surprisingly good passer. He plays solid defense, and he’s just a likable guy from Brazil that I want to do well. I love Nene. His is the only Nuggets jersey I have ever owned, and I am among the group that keeps hoping that he makes a leap to become the player I know he could be. He may be one of the more underrated players on the roster, but he is a very solid center.

Those are the major parts from the Nuggets. I’ll quickly assign body parts to the rest of the guys…Anthony Carter is the spleen. He does some things that sorta help, but you could easily live without him. Renaldo Balkman is the gall bladder. He may actually be an important piece, but George Karl has no idea what he does. I actually really like Balkman as good things seem to happen whenever he gets into the game, but George Karl hardly ever used him. Johan Petro is the tonsils, he doesn’t do much at all. You only notice him when he gets in the game and then he tends to cause more trouble than good. It would probably be better if he were just removed.

Welcome to Denver, Ty. I'm glad to see you're used to a baby blue uniform already.

As for the new additions…Arron Afflalo, I liked him at UCLA, but I haven’t seen enough on the team to see how he fits in with the Nugs. Ty Lawson is very small and very talented. It remains to be seen if Lawson, who is listed at 5’11 but looks much smaller, can adapt to the much larger and faster NBA, but he was amazing at North Carolina, and I’m excited to see him in Denver.

A moment of silence for Linas Kleiza…since he is no longer with us. His random outbursts of scoring on National television will be missed. He was odd in that he could go three weeks without making a contribution, then suddenly be a huge contributor for a month. He could get very hot and very cold. I always kind of liked him, as he was one of the few Nuggets to go tat free, but now that he is gone, we will try our best to move on without him. Thanks for the memories, Linas!

So, How do I see this team finishing? I'm going to predict the Nuggets earn the 5th seed in the West, and lose in the second round to the eventual champion Spurs.
A good season to be sure, but not as great as last year. Hopefully, I'm wrong like I have been for my other teams, and George Karl leads them to a championship.

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