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D.R.: Nuggets better than best?

Don Rogers

I realized this for the first time watching the Denver Nuggets beat the best team in the NBA Friday night.

The Dallas Mavericks ” owned by THE maverick of the NBA, Mark Cuban ” have a great chance of becoming just the second team in history to win 70 games.

The thoroughly mercurial Nuggets tripped them up in a weird game in which two teams that average over 100 points a game scored as if they played three quarters or less. The Nuggets pulled it out with a 75-71 win as forward Carmelo Anthony finally figured out how to get the ball in the basket again, just in time.



Dallas all star Josh Howard left in the first quarter with a sprained ankle. Even so, the Nuggets individually are every bit as good as the Mavericks, maybe better. Wow.

Let’s go through this, beginning with the regulars:

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Allen Iverson is better than Jason Terry. Old man Iverson is still quicker, faster, more athletic than the “Jet.”

Steve Blake can play with Devean George. They bring opposite things to the guard position. Blake is the scrappy, old-school, pass-first point guard. George is the bigger, slower, more defensive-minded swing player who can play guard or forward.

Carmelo Anthony is better than Josh Howard, though both are all-stars. Howard has the edge in defense. Anthony could be better than Howard defensively too if the superior athlete ever figures it out. Offensively, no comparison even though Howard can score.



Nene is not at the level of the league’s most valuable player in fact, if not the actual trophy yet, Dirk Nowitzki. But the youngster is not as far off as I had thought. He showed Friday night he’s big enough to bump with the Mavs’ freak of nature and quick enough to have a prayer of staying with Nowitzki outside without getting passed for layups. On the offensive side, Nene is stepping up as a real force inside.

Marcus Camby, as usual, makes the difference between the starting lineups. Erick Dampier isn’t close to Camby’s ability.

Off the bench, J.R. Smith might be the most gifted Nuggets athlete, which is saying something. He compares favorably to wily Jerry Stackhouse.

Linus Kleiza and Devon Harris are completely different players, like Blake and George. Harris is the more gifted. But Kleiza shows tons of promise for the future. Maybe the better comparisons are Blake to Harris, Harris is better; and Kleiza to George. George understands the game better; Kleiza has more heart and more potential.

Eduardo Najera has a little edge over former Nugget stopper Greg Buckner.

And next year, if Kenyon Martin can regain his all-star form, he puts the Nuggets at the top of the league for pure talent.

Too bad pure ability doesn’t win games in team sports. Phil Jackson, ironically enough, won championships with the Bulls and Lakers by getting his stars to play the team game with players who could barely make anyone else’s roster. He’s keeping today’s Lakers afloat with one true star and a bunch of guys who would have a hard time making the Nuggets’ lineup.

Look out, if the Nuggets ever figure out how to use their athletic gifts to concentrate on defense and share the ball just a bit more on offense.

It could happen as soon as the playoffs. It may have to wait until next year. It may never happen.

But wow, there’s some gold in Denver.


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