Nuggets benefit from Anthony’s morph to playmaker
AP Sports Writer
DENVER, Colorado ” A big reason Carmelo Anthony finally is a winner in the playoffs is he realizes he doesn’t have to carry the Denver Nuggets by himself.
Appearing in the Western Conference semifinals for the first time after five straight first-round exits, Anthony’s unselfish play has sparked the Nuggets to a 2-0 lead over the Mavericks heading into Game 3 Saturday in Dallas.
A perfect example of the new and improved ‘Melo came in the first quarter of Game 2 Tuesday night in Denver when Anthony, instead of trying to split a double team and slice his way to the rim like he used to, took a couple of steps to draw in the defenders then lobbed a pass to Nene under the basket for a wide-open dunk.
He continued doing that for three quarters, hitting J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Anthony Carter for easy baskets before taking the shots himself in the fourth quarter, when his 15-point outburst carried Denver to a 117-95 win.
“He doesn’t mind playing Robin sometimes,” point guard Chauncey Billups said. “That’s the key. When your best player is willing to take a back seat for the betterment of the team, that’s when you start to make progress as a team.”
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Indeed, the Nuggets are two wins shy of their first appearance in a conference championship series in 24 years. One more win and they’ll break the franchise record of 60, including postseason victories, set in 1984-85.
“I take the role-playing position when Chauncey’s got it going or J.R.’s got it or anybody’s got it going,” Anthony said Thursday. “I don’t want to try to go out there and force anything when they got it going. When it’s my time, then I’ll make sure I deliver.”
And deliver he has, scoring 29 of his 48 points in this series in the fourth quarter, sparking two straight runaway wins over the bedazzled Mavericks.
More than anything, Anthony said getting his teammates involved early takes pressure off him.
“Yeah, I don’t have to go out there and just do it all by myself and do it all in one or two plays,” Anthony said. “There’s times when I can just focus on other things and let Nene keep it going and let Chauncey keep it going.”
But he’s not doing it for selfish reasons ” to slacken the double teams he faces late in games.
“I’m going to see double-teams regardless,” Anthony said, chuckling. “My thing is just to move the ball quick when the double teams come rather than just try to play against the double teams, get Kenyon going early, get Nene going early.”
And he’s not worried at all that come crunch time he’ll be rusty.
“Fourth quarter, regardless of if I got it going or not, I feel like that’s the money-getting time,” Anthony said. “That’s crunch time. Even if I ain’t doing nothing the majority of the game, I feel like the fourth quarter’s mine.”
Anthony, who is averaging 24 points and five assists in the playoffs, declared after Game 2: “I’m not really concerned about my scoring.”
The attitude and all those assists are putting coach George Karl at ease.
“I think ‘Melo’s just getting a better feel that his playmaking is as important as his scoring,” Karl said. “And I think if we get 10 assists between J.R. and ‘Melo ” and most of those assists are easy baskets ” it puts a heavy burden upon the other team.”
Over the last six weeks, Anthony’s assists average has just about doubled, from three to more than five.
“I think ‘Melo’s also learning about when you play 38, 40 minutes, you’re going to get your shots,” Karl said. “I can’t dictate how they’re going to come, but over 40 minutes, ‘Melo, we’re going to find you enough that we’re going to get you some shots. Think more about being a playmaker and let the shots happen.”