Nuggets insist they’re back on the same page
AP Sports Writer
DENVER – No more infighting and insults. The Denver Nuggets insist they’re back to being buddies and are ready to salvage their season.
Carmelo Anthony said he was misunderstood when he said he couldn’t beat the Utah Jazz all by himself. He said everyone needs to step it up in Game 5 Wednesday night, him included.
“A lot of people took what I said when I said I needed help the wrong way. But I talked to my teammates. They know what I meant,” Anthony said after Tuesday’s practice. “We talk basketball every day, so they know I’m not pointing nobody out individually.
“I’m not saying I’m playing the best I can play. I’m in there with them. We’re all losing together.”
After causing a firestorm by tweeting that the Nuggets were selfish, J.R. Smith returned to more benign messages Tuesday like: “cant stop thinking bout this game coming up!”
And acting coach Adrian Dantley, who called out Anthony for his nine turnovers despite a 39-point performance in Denver’s Game 4 loss, said it’s just an oddity, that’s all, that a player could put up such big numbers on both ends of the spectrum.
Anthony said he didn’t begrudge his coach for his critical comments.
“If that’s how he felt, maybe I’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the basketball, not getting so many charges and just being aware of what’s going on out there,” Anthony said. “I can’t dispute what the head coach is saying. He’s on the sideline. If he sees that problem, then I’ve got to fix it.”
The Nuggets insist there’s no lingering negativity.
“The locker room is fine,” Anthony said. “We had a great practice today. Everybody seemed to be on the same page as of right now. And tomorrow, we’re going to go out there and battle.”
The Nuggets must win three straight to avoid a first-round knockout by a team they were heavily favored to beat, especially after center Mehmet Okur ruptured his left Achilles’ tendon in Game 1, leaving the Jazz with just three regular starters.
The Nuggets had figured their first-round matchup with Utah worked in their favor. Not only did they have the homecourt advantage, but their athleticism and physicality would trump the Jazz’s disciplined, structured style.
Instead, with a heavy dose of whistles slowing them down, Deron Williams dominating the flow and Utah’s array of backup big men manhandling Nene and Kenyon Martin, the Nuggets have lost three straight.
And now they’ll try to recover behind a novice head coach.
Dantley insists he’s simply a substitute teacher since coach George Karl took a leave from the team in mid-March when his treatment for throat cancer intensified. He said he’s delivering the same lesson plans.
The system may be the same, but the style is different.
Fans are flustered that Dantley doesn’t get up in his players’ faces like Karl does.
Or holler at the officials like Karl can.
“I don’t know what people talk about when they say I don’t get in anyone’s face or I’m quiet,” Dantley said. “I’m just here to keep the guys together and do what George (did). I haven’t changed any philosophy at all, still doing what George (did). Just come out and try to win a basketball game. It’s not about me, how I am. It’s about us staying together and winning basketball games.”
Chauncey Billups said Karl’s absence has adversely affected the Nuggets.
“George won over 900 games, man,” Billups said.
Dantley has won a dozen.
“You miss his voice, you miss his leadership, you miss the plays that he draws up in timeouts. You miss the halftime speech. You miss everything,” Billups said. “But that’s not an excuse at all because I don’t do that, I don’t make excuses. I think A.D. has done a wonderful job. But that’s what you miss when you’re head coach is out.”
The Nuggets certainly aren’t the same team they were under Karl, when they were 42-21 and threatening to overtake the Los Angeles Lakers as the top dog in the West.
Some of that has to do with injuries to Martin, Chris Andersen and Ty Lawson down the stretch.
Still, they often lack floor leadership and cohesion, and they inexplicably ditch strategies that are working early on, such as pick-and-rolls with Anthony handling the ball and Nene down low.
Dantley isn’t quick to call timeouts to correct things when they start to unravel as they did in Games 3 and 4 in Salt Lake City, either.
Billups said the Nuggets haven’t been able to run like they’d like to because so many fouls are getting called, which favors Utah’s deliberate, half-court style.
The Nuggets have been helpless to curb Williams, who is the first player since Magic Johnson 20 years ago to register at least 20 points and 10 assists in each of the first four games of a playoff series.
Asked what he made of the Nuggets’ frustrations, Williams said: “Let’s worry about us. Whatever they say is what they say. We’re just worried about winning this next game and closing the series out.”
Added Carlos Boozer: “We’re not going to fall into the trap of thinking that we’ve won the series. We haven’t. We have a lead in the series. We haven’t won anything.”
AP Sports Writer Doug Alden in Salt Lake City contributed to this story.