Denver’s Carmelo Anthony shows more poise |

Denver’s Carmelo Anthony shows more poise

Benjamin Hochman
The Denver Post

DALLAS ” The greatest day of his NBA life was turning into night, and while Carmelo Anthony dined Saturday at Dallas’ Nobu Restaurant with close friends, his BlackBerry buzzed with a message from another. It was an e-mail from LeBron James.

“He told me it was a great shot, keep it going, and you still have unfinished business to take care of,” the Nuggets’ Anthony said.

Hours earlier, Anthony hit the game-winning 3-pointer with a tick left on the clock, propelling Denver to a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals. It was a symbolic shot, cementing Anthony as a clutch postseason performer ” not just some dude who can score 40-plus against the Timberwolves. And his fans from Denver to Cleveland have taken notice.

“We were going back and forth,” Anthony said of his late-night e-mailing with James, the Cleveland star who scored 47 that same day on the way to taking a 3-0 lead over Atlanta.

“It’s fun for us,” said Anthony, whose team will try to sweep the Mavericks tonight at Dallas. “We’re in the same situation right now, except he’s in the East, I’m in the West.”

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Most everyone knows the story of James and Anthony, who turns 25 on May 29: Back in 2003, James was drafted No. 1 overall, and Anthony went third. James advanced to the NBA Finals in his fourth season and won the MVP in his sixth, while Anthony advanced to the playoffs annually but never to the second round until this time. But while this postseason is still a work in progress for Melo, he has already ascended.

Said Nuggets coach George Karl: “It seems like every game or every couple games he’s getting more confident, leading our team. I’m happy for him. He’s always had the talent to be special. But what he has gone through is not unusual.

“A lot of young players have failures in playoff basketball. It is not an arena where young players usually stand out and play well. It’s the veteran guy, the leader, the experienced player, it’s the mentally tough and maybe defensive-minded player. And Melo’s a scorer.

“When the playoffs got tough, he forced the issue a little bit too much. Now I think he trusts his team as much as he trusts any team. And he likes the responsibility. He’s always been a guy who’s liked the pressure to make the play.”

The play was arguably the biggest in Nuggets history. But while that one is the highlight of this postseason, there have been numerous other moments when a mature Melo has stepped up his poised play.

There was Anthony’s timely dunk with 28.5 seconds left in Game 3, just three seconds after Jason Terry’s dagger-3 gave Dallas a four-point lead. There was Anthony’s big block of Josh Howard’s shot in the airtight fourth quarter. And there have been the numerous times this postseason when Anthony didn’t press the issue when double-teamed, when he played sturdier defense than previous seasons and when he even provided some vociferous locker-room leadership, alongside the ultimate postseason leader, Chauncey Billups.

“If you look at this growth this season, man, all around in his life, he’s really grown up a lot,” said Billups, the Nuggets point guard who was the 2004 NBA Finals MVP with the Detroit Pistons. “It’s good to see people making strides to be successful and reap the benefits of trying to do the right thing. I’m happy for Melo.”

A year ago, there were rumblings inside the Pepsi Center and across Colorado that Anthony might not be the predestined savior once believed. His offense was deemed selfish, and his defense seemed, at times, nonexistent.

Well, not only has Anthony done an ideal job at “playing Robin” to Billups and others, as Billups said last week, but Anthony’s matador-like defense is “improving,” Karl said. “That would be the best way to phrase it. I think he has those lapses and sometimes transition-wise, I wish he’d pick up a little better, but other than that, I think he’s improving every series.”

And as for that incalculable momentum that Anthony has helped harness, Karl said: “We were snowballing our momentum very well at the end of the season. People see that on the court, but usually when that happens, it’s the things off the court ” your camaraderie, your locker room, your professionalism, your preparation are probably at the best level they’ve been at for a long time.”

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