Melo lights up Nuggets in triumphant return

You didn’t think Carmelo Anthony was going to miss this one. Not with his former team in town. After missing the past two games with a lacerated finger, Melo returned in style by lighting up the Nuggets for 34 in a come from behind 112-106 win. With the exception of a technical foul, he was fantastic making big shots and locking in defensively. The display impressed ex-coach George Karl, who paid homage to Anthony by hinting that he’ll win a championship soon. One can only hope so.

The great thing about this year’s Knicks is they’re bounce back ability. When they had back-to-back stinkers against Dallas and Houston, they went on a tear- soaring to the top of the East. The effort at Chicago was subpar. Lousy possessions and enough turnovers for a bakery while not getting the job done down the stretch. Defensively, they weren’t much better against Denver. However, when push came to shove the Knicks persevered.

Trailing by eight in the fourth quarter, New York went on a 12-0 run turning it around. Steve Novak drained a pair of treys from each corner and Jason Kidd set up Tyson Chandler for a slam. Kidd was spectacular finishing with 17 points, seven assists and four rebounds. He is simply amazing. Even pushing 40, his basketball IQ is off the charts. What he lacks in speed he makes up for in brains, anticipating where the ball and teammates are going to be. It’s like watching Wayne Gretzky when he was at the end of his career for the Rangers. Oddly enough, Kidd donned a Ranger helmet before the game. Considering that they’re not playing, it was pretty comical. My favorite moment was when Kidd waited in the perfect spot to steal the ball and feed Chandler for a dunk. It’s subtle plays like that that make him so valuable.

You have to give credit to Glen Grunwald for this team with even James Dolan getting kudos. They decided not to re-sign Jeremy Lin, letting him walk to Houston for overpayment while swinging a deal for Ray Felton, who fits this team better offensively and defensively. Plus he’s a true pick-n-roll player who should make things easier once A’Mare Stoudemire returns. Underrated additions such as Ronnie Brewer are noticed by true Knick fans. While he doesn’t score a lot, he continues to do the little things that made him a nice piece for Chicago. And don’t forget Rasheed Wallace, who’s still got it despite that spot in his head since his Tar Heel days. What the heck is that?

Five Knicks hit double digits include JR “Starks” Smith who nailed a triple from deep to help put away his former club. There were an awful lot of players who once played for the other side. You had Melo, Smith, Felton and Camby while Denver had leading scorer Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov and Anthony Randolph. Gallinari played well for the Nuggets scoring 21 inside and out. One play featured an off balance driving lay-in that went for a three-point play. Terrific move by Gallo drawing the hack on Kidd and finishing. He still is inconsistent but paces the Nuggets with nearly 16-per-game. Ty Lawson also stood out for the guests posting a team best 23 along with six dimes. His speed is killer. It’s like watching the Road Runner dust Wiley E. Coyote.

The Knicks (15-5) are back in action Tuesday against the reeling Nets, who have dropped four in a row including a deflating home loss to the Bucks. They’re not the same without center Brooke Lopez. No matter what, the Knicks owe them one.

 

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Melo carries Knicks to big win

The Knicks were reeling, losers of six in a row to mostly inferior competition. With the team suddenly five under .500 since acquiring superstar Carmelo Anthony from the Nuggets who have since surged, questions surrounded whether it was still a good deal. Could Melo and Amar’e Stoudemire coexist in the Big Apple? Is former Finals MVP Chauncey Billups really a dinosaur Denver dumped on Donnie Walsh? The lack of an interior presence had allowed weak teams like the Pistons, Bucks and Bobcats to score at will.

With nothing going right and the radio airwaves beginning to roast Mike D’Antoni for the lack of focus his team showed, the Knicks’ newest star stepped up with a virtuoso performance last night, carrying the orange and blue to a much needed 113-106 overtime win over Dwight Howard and the Magic at MSG. The former Syracuse star who led the Orange to the ’03 NCAA championship exploded for 33 of his game high 39 after intermission, including a 19-point third quarter. Scoring in a variety of ways including on a deadly pull-up in isolation while getting to the line at will, Melo backed up his talk about his new team needing the game.

I said that. That’s how I felt, that’s how we felt as a team, that it was a must win for us,” the former Nugget said after also chipping in with 10 rebounds, posting a double double. “We, as a team, backed it up tonight.

The best sign was that Anthony stayed aggressive, taking the ball to the rim instead of just settling on the perimeter. Too frequently during the Knicks’ six-game losing streak, he forced the issue while teammates stood around and watched. Monday saw a more confident Melo who not only took his team on his back but played with intensity defensively. Something that was encouraging on a night they celebrated Knicks legend Walt “Clyde” Frazier’s birthday a day early with a sweet Snickers treat basket presented to the Hall Of Fame color analyst by the Knicks City Dancers during a timeout.

What made it doubly sweet was that Clyde got to call a win with every Knick playing with extra determination. The kind that’ll be needed for the team to have any chance in the first round of the playoffs. It improved the team to 36-38, staying two games in back of the hot 76ers, who upset the top seeded Bulls yesterday. The Knicks remain in good shape, four games up on eighth Indiana and five clear of Charlotte with the tiebreaker.

One win can go a long way to improving a team’s psyche. While the offense relied mostly on Anthony in isolation sets with the big star coming through, Stoudemire still finished with 20 and nine boards while Billups finally got his shot to go late in regulation- going an inefficient three-of-nine from downtown with 17 points, six boards and six assists. Most notably, Stoudemire played good D even though he didn’t draw the assignment on Howard, who despite pacing the Magic with 29 and 18, struggled with turnovers and lost his cool late after an iffy call, getting hit with his 17th technical.  

There’s nothing you can do about it now. I just went for the rebound,” Howard said of his sixth foul on Billups during a board battle.

I think that should have been a delay of game,” he pointed out after tossing the ball down the court in frustration. “Every time you roll the ball down the court, they usually call a delay of game, but it’s cool, you know. I’ll try to get it rescinded. If not, I’ll just have to continue to play.

Despite pulling it out, it didn’t come easy for D’Antoni who watched in disbelief as former pupil Jason Richardson drained a three that forced OT when defensive sub Jared Jeffries erred by not even putting a hand up.  Undoubtedly, he was questioned for not fouling afterwards. At least his team responded after Anthony just missed winning it on a tip try of his own shot as regulation ended.

“Carmelo helped, he was on fire out there.” Stoudemire said. “They had no answer for him, and then we played great defensively, we got after it, chasing down loose balls, really, really showing the effort to want to win and it showed tonight.”

In the extra session, the Knicks didn’t back down, getting a key trey from Billups who pointed to the heavens as if to say, “Finally.” Following an Orlando miss, Chauncey found Melo for an easy transition jam that put New York on top 108-104. They would put it away at the line after Howard watched from the Orlando bench.

Toney Douglas had a good night, scoring 16 off the bench, including some timely hoops down the stretch. Shelden Williams also saw some important minutes against Howard, contributing defensively with two steals and three rebounds. Though he didn’t score, his impact helped the Knicks get crucial stops. Bill Walker also dusted off his jersey for a pair of three’s and two steals in 14-plus.

Orlando was without starting point guard Jameer Nelson, who was missed in crunch time. They also played without sharpshooter J.J. Redick.  Stan Van Gundy’s fourth seeded club still put four starters in double figures including J-Rich with 24 (4 treys), Hedo Turkoglu (18) and overlooked power forward Brandon Bass (14). Aside from a late three from the corner, former All-Star Gilbert Arenas looked washed up, going 2-for-11 from the floor while misfiring on six-of-seven three’s. Pretty sad.

Ex-Knick Chris Duhon was greeted with Bronx cheers in his 12 minutes.

The Knicks host the Nets tomorrow and then their Kryptonite, Cleveland on Sunday. These are winnable games that could get them back to .500 and in position to at least go 41-41.

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A blockbuster already???

It didn’t take long for the NBA to kick into high gear. A surprising blockbuster deal involving the Pistons and Nuggets saw Detroit send former Finals MVP Chauncey Billups and veteran big Antonio McDyess to the Rocky Mountains for Allen Iverson Monday.

My friend Brian reacted when it was just a rumor by saying, “Why?”

Why indeed? I don’t get why the Pistons did this. AI is a great scorer but come on. He’s not as team oriented as Billups who was Mr. Clutch for Detroit. I just don’t understand this move.

Okay. Iverson’s great but can he coexist with Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace along with emerging pair Rodney Stuckey and Jason Maxiell.

I just was floored by such a drastic move. Are the Pistons going for a change in team philosophy to try to stay afloat with the Celtics? Sure looks that way.

Meantime, Billups returns close to home where he starred for the University of Colorado to try helping the Nuggets to another postseason and beyond. They’ve become first round fodder which didn’t change when they swung the deal for Iverson last season. Billups is a proven winner and should help Carmelo Anthony mature. And McDyess revived his career in Detroit as a support player who could knock down the uncontested mid-range jumper and crash the glass.

Advantage Denver because they needed a change to stick around in a crowded West. I just like this move for them and feel it can pay dividends.

Both teams should be playoff bound next Spring. Still, I never saw it coming. Did anyone?

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More HB

-Last night, the Clippers acquired center Marcus Camby from the Nuggets for a 2010 second round pick. Apparently, Denver decided to go in a different direction dealing away the 34 year-old shot blocking big man who led the NBA with 3.61 blocks-per-game last season. The former UMass star played six seasons with the Nuggets after coming over from the Knicks as part of the Antonio McDyess debacle. He also averaged 9.1 PPG and 13.1 boards logging a career high 34.9 minutes.

For the Clippers who lost their best player Elton Brand to the 76ers, it’s understandable why they made the move as it allows them to get a solid replacement and team the defensive oriented Camby with Chris Kaman and new point guard Baron Davis. They’re coming off a dismal 23-59 season- the worst in eight years. So, it was a no-brainer to upgrade the roster in hopes of doubling their win total and possibly making the playoffs in a very crowded West. Still, you wonder if a team with Davis, Camby and Kaman can seriously compete in the Spring.

Did they just do this as a quick fix or because they actually believe they can go far? I believe it’s choice A. Let’s face it. The Clippers have never been about winning. They’re always going to play second fiddle to the Lakers playing in the same area and arena. So, just being able to compete is good enough. If I were a Clips fan, I don’t think I’d be too excited. Sure. They improved. But how much? Perhaps they win a round. They’re not better than the Lakers, Spurs, Jazz or Hornets. And figure the Blazers to be much improved if Greg Oden comes back healthy. It will still be an uphill climb just to make the postseason.

As for the Nuggets, they get the option to swap second round picks in 2010 just so they can get a $10 million trade exception. Funny but didn’t the Knicks turn down a similar deal from the same team for waste of cap space Zach Randolph? So much for the problems at Team Dumb and Dumber Clown Mgt 101 going away with Lord Isiah out of the picture.

At the moment, the Nuggets still have electrifying scoring duo Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony. The question is is Rex Chapman looking to rip apart the team and start over? If so, then expect more moves to follow for a team that’s done nothing but disappoint in the first round. At least they’re admitting it’s not good enough. The Clippers apparently are satisfied if they reach that point. It could always be worse. They could be the Knicks.

-Nice pickup by the Hornets inking sharp shooter James Posey to a $25 million, four-year deal. He was an excellent role player off the championship Celtics and should fit in nicely giving Chris Paul another perimeter option. Something which was badly needed. The 31 year-old veteran forward has necessary championship experience winning two rings with Miami (2005-06) and of course Boston (2007-08). This is a smart move.

-If Hideki Matsui does need surgery on his knee, then the Yanks should be expected to step up their search for a slugging outfielder. Would they be interested in Matt Holliday or will the cost be too steep? Seattle’s Raul Ibanez has always been an overlooked player who wouldn’t cost as much. Another possible option which would be an upgrade for first and utility is Cleveland veteran Casey Blake. Blake can play first, third and outfield and is a decent bat. Let’s see how smart Brian Cashman is.

-With Moises Alou’s season pretty much done, figure the Mets also to be in the market for a slugging outfielder. Though it’s hard to justify doing much right now given how well they’re playing. Still, ex-Met Xavier Nady should be on their radar as will Ibanez and Holliday.

-Watching Dan Uggla try to field at second base was like watching a beginner. Heck. Little leaguers could’ve made those plays.

-Perhaps I’m a minority here but does anyone still care about Roger Clemens?

-Just once I’d like to see Alex Rodriguez (seen here) look like he’s enjoying himself. Have you ever seen a more uncomfortable superstar in any sport? It wouldn’t hurt to loosen up instead of looking a certain way as if everything he does has to be choreographed.

-Did anyone really buy that Brett Favre would call it quits after such a good season last year? The 38 year-old Mr. Packer goofed when he announced his retirement. Imagine a competitor like Favre saying goodbye after leading his team to a 13 wins and the NFC Title Game. And given how they lost with him tossing a costly Int which setup the Jay Feely’s winning kick at Lambeau, you had to figure he’d want another crack at it. Favre has no one to blame but himself.

-Could the NFL (No Fun League) make up their minds already about Ahmad Bradshaw?!?!?!?!?!

-A couple of weeks later and it finally set in just how special that Wimbledon final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer was. That will be hard to top for a very long time even if they do meet in other slams.

-Not many care here but international soccer star Ronaldhino transferring from Barcelona to AC Milan is a pretty huge deal in Europe. The 28 year-old Brazilian scoring forward went for 21 million euros or the equivalent of $33.5 million. Can you imagine a star athlete being sold for that much here? Only one comes to mind and that was The Babe from Boston to the Yankees and we all know how that went. Just tells you how different the world of soccer is. If you think there’s pressure on players and coaches here, try following the game of soccer where so much is riding on almost every game with intense media scrutiny. It really does dwarf anything which comes under a microscope here including the A-Rod day-to-day saga.

-Speaking of which, does any other Yankee fan feel like they’ll never win championship No.27 as long as No.13 wears Pinstripes? He’s too much of a distraction. They would’ve been better off letting him walk.

-Red Wings-Blackhawks from Wrigley in the next Winter Classic on New Year’s Day 2009 will be one you won’t want to miss. Especially if it’s anything like the first one between the Pens and Sabres. This is one of the best ideas the NHL has ever had and should continue becoming a tradition which is exactly what the league could use.

-It’s July 16 and Wilson Betemit of a .268 OBP still holds a major league roster spot on the Yankees.

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Johnson’s 20 in fourth quarter helps Hawks draw even with Celtics

Joe Johnson couldn’t be stopped. The top seeded Celtics had no answer for the explosive leading Hawks’ scorer who scored 20 of his game high 35 in a fourth quarter comeback to lead the big underdog to a second straight home win 97-92 in Game Four-leveling the best-of-seven first round series at two games apiece.

In a back and forth riveting playoff game at Phillips Arena which saw the eighth seeded Hawks comeback from a 16-3 hole to take an eight-point lead before a strong third quarter by Boston put them down 10, the home team rallied outscoring the Celts 32-17 in the last 12 minutes to win their second straight. Most expected them to go quietly and get swept after not being competitive in the first two games but Atlanta had other ideas taking Game Three 102-93 and using that strong fourth quarter to square the series and put all tons of pressure on Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen  along with the rest of former Hawk point guard Doc Rivers’ team.

It was Johnson and super athletic deluxe Josh Smith (28 pts, 12 of 13 FT, Hawks franchise playoff record seven blocks, six rebounds) who took all the Hawks’ shots combining to score all 32 points dominating the paint against a normally strong Boston defensive club. In particular, they weren’t able to shutdown Johnson, who toasted Allen on effective pick n’ roll isolation all quarter scoring on an array of floaters. Maybe the biggest shot in a game where his team trailed 75-65 after being outscored 27-14 in the third was a classic schoolyard crossover where defender Leon Powe was so badly faked out that he fell down allowing Johnson to step back and drain a trey from the left arc, putting Mike Woodson’s team up four with 4:41 left as a raucous crowd erupted invoking memories of Atlanta-Boston series past which featured NBA Hall of Famers Dominique Wilkins and Larry Bird.

At one point, Johnson scored nine straight including a couple of ridiculous finishes where he sliced and diced the Boston D. Along with some money free throw making from Smith, they wouldn’t allow Atlanta to lose insuring that there would be another home game in the series.

Two late James Posey three’s weren’t enough as Johnson and Smith finished off the Celts at the line. In fact, the dynamic duo finished with 18 of Atlanta’s 29 free throw makes. Overall, the Hawks shot lights out going 29 for 33 as compared to the Celtics’ 10 of 18. That was the biggest difference.

They also got invaluable contributions from rookie Al Horford on the defensive glass as he finished with a game high 13 boards. Josh Childress came off the bench to grab nine rebounds including a big offensive board late to get a new shotclock. He also had a highlight reel tomahawk jam netting four points and two assists in nearly 32 minutes.

The game also featured some nastiness with Garnett and Atlanta backup center Zaza Pachulia going nose to nose before cooler heads prevailed. Pachulia took exception to a KG elbow going right after the Boston superstar nearly butting him. Both got T’s as did Sam Cassell and Johnson in which each respective coach came out making certain nobody from the bench got involved.

Good thing too because league commish David Stern was in the house looking on. There could be fines but it doesn’t look like there will be any suspensions which would be the best case scenario with a best two-of-three deciding this series.

“We all know he’s a great player,” Pachulia later indicated of Garnett who finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and six steals in a losing cause. “He’s done a lot of good things for the league. He’s a future Hall of Famer. But it doesn’t matter when we’re on the court.”

“I don’t take anything from anybody,” Pachulia added. “The message was, ‘We’re right here. Even if we lose, it’s not going to be easy.”’

Message delivered.

Two Advance: In the other two first round games played Monday night, both Orlando and the Lakers advanced to the Conference Semis.

The Magic got another 20/20 performance from man child Dwight Howard (21 pts, 21 rebs) as they eliminated the Raptors posting a 102-92 Game Five home win.

Howard paced a balanced attack which saw all five starters hit for double digits including a double/double from Rashard Lewis (18 and 13), 19 from Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu’s 12 along with a game high nine assists.

Turkoglu was presented with the NBA’s Most Improved Player before the game beating out Memphis’ Rudy Gay and Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge. Reserve guard Keith Bogans also came off the bench nailing three triples for 11 points, six boards and two assists in 35 minutes.

Toronto was paced by star power forward Chris Bosh’ 16 and nine rebounds. Supersubs Jason Kapono, Carlos Delfino and Jose Calderon each netted double figures combining for five treys and 39 points. Raptor point guard T.J. Ford added 14 but only five assists while turning it over four times.

Orlando now will await the 76ers-Pistons winner. That series is tied 2-2.

Meanwhile out West, the top seeded Lakers advanced with a hard fought 107-101 Game Four road win over the Nuggets, sweeping their talented opponent out of the playoffs. It’s the fifth consecutive year Denver’s bowed out in the first round. According to TNT, the Nuggets became the first 50-win team in playoff history to be swept in Round One.

Kobe Bryant came alive in the final quarter scoring 14 of his 31 in the last five and a half following a 17+ minute drought. Making an assortment of Kobe-esque shots as only the Laker superstar can do, he carried his team down the stretch in shooting down a more pesky Denver team finishing them off to advance to Round Two where they’ll play either Utah or Houston. The Jazz lead that series 3-1.

Bryant is a lot like Michael Jordan in that when his team needs it most, he’ll step up and make the very difficult big shots which provide sparks. This was a fun game to watch with the Nuggets refusing to go away thanks to some ridiculous hot shooting from sixth man J.R. Smith. The 22 year-old out of Freehold, New Jersey hit a couple of deep three’s including a 28-footer. That along with a three-point play put Denver back ahead by one 96-95 with over three minutes to play.

But a tough Kobe trademark 15-foot floater along with some great passing to setup an uncontested Luke Walton trey from the right corner put Los Angeles on top 100-96 with 2:37 left.

The Nuggets never seriously threatened again. It was the first time in franchise history they were swept out of the postseason.

“My wish would be that we had four games like tonight and we all could have been happier,” Nuggets coach George Karl lamented of his team which doesn’t always play disciplined on both ends.

“I’ve said all along, when they play the right way, they’re fun guys to coach.”

The dilemma for Denver moving forward is how do they change that chaotic style into a winner. They can score with Carmelo Anthony (21 pts, 11 rebs) and Allen Iverson (22 pts, 10-of-22 FG, only 2 assists) plus Smith, who becomes a free agent this summer. However, where’s the D? Marcus Camby plays hard as does Kenyon Martin, who has never quite fit in since bolting the Nets.

Unless Denver alters their style meaning not as much reliance on the offensive end at one-on-one emphasizing better team oriented play in the halfcourt set, they’ll continue to win games but not when it counts most.

It’s high time for an adjustment.

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