The Nuggets have had only one NBA scoring champion and it has been more than a quarter of a century since Alex English won the title in 1982-83. Carmelo Anthony looks like he wants to join English on that short list. Anthony’s 32.0 average ranks second in the NBA behind the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, who is scoring 33.2 points a game.
“In a word, wow,” Nuggets vice president of basketball operations Mark Warkentien said of Anthony’s start.
Anthony, though, realizes it is extremely early in the season and is shrugging off talks of a scoring title.
“I’m just playing,” he said. “At the end of the year, we’ll see what happens. It’s just November. It’s early. This is the way I look at it. If I do what I’ve got do and if team wins then all of the accolades will come.”
Anthony reported to training camp noticeably lighter than he was at the end of last season when the Nuggets lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. He believes better conditioning has made a difference.
“My stamina feels great,” Anthony said. “I just feel good all around. My confidence is up. I’ve got one thing ahead of me, which is that gold ball.”
The gold ball, of course, would be an NBA championship, something the Nuggets have never won. They have also never reached the Finals. However, the Nuggets are playing like championship contenders in the early going as they are 5-0 and one of just two undefeated teams in the NBA along with the Celtics.
Anthony has been needed to pick up the scoring slack with guard J.R. Smith serving a seven-game suspension from the NBA to begin the season. Nuggets coach George Karl believes Anthony has learned to rely on the experience of having six seasons as a professional under his belt.
“Melo’s awareness to how he’s being covered is the best it’s ever been,” Karl said. “It’s his ability to move around be placed in different positions and his effective efficiency. His efficiency is pretty incredible right now, from post-ups to jump shots to penetrations to good passing decisions.”
The Celtics' Defense Never Rests
The Celtics, meanwhile, are 6-0 on the strength on a stingy defense. They are allowing just 79.8 points a game and opponents are shooting 38.5 from the field, including 25.6 from three-point range.
The Celtics finished second in the NBA in Defensive Rating with a 103.5 mark last season are first so far this season at 90.5 Coach Doc Rivers not only believes his defense is better this season but even improved over 2007-08 when the Celtics won the NBA title.
“We’re together longer, same starting five,” Rivers said. “That allows us to be better. We have more length with Marquis (Daniels) and Rasheed (Wallace), so I think that makes us a little better.”
The Celtics’ offense has also been potent in the early going, scoring 99.8 points a game and shooting 50.1 percent on field-goal attempts. However, Rivers makes it clear that defense comes first, even invoking the memory of one of the all-team great NFL defenses to stress the importance.
“We want to have a defense that people remember,” Rivers said. “The ’85 Bears come to mind. When you hear that name, what do you think of? The greatest defense ever or one of the best defensive teams ever.”
Unhappiness in Cleveland
The Cavaliers are not the happiest team in the NBA right now and it goes beyond a 3-3 start in a season in which they have title aspirations. Reserve forwards Jamario Moon and J.J. Hickson, are not playing as much as expected and there has been some grumbling.
Moon is averaging 9.5 minutes a game and never got off the bench in Thursday night’s loss to the Bulls. Hickson is playing 6.7 minutes a game as coach Mike Brown needs to find time for centers Shaquille O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, power forward Anderson Varejao and reserve small forward Anthony Parker.
“I knew minutes would be limited going into the year,” Brown said.
Hickson, the Cavaliers’ first-round draft pick last year, seemed ready to emerge this season after he averaged 9.8 points in the preseason and had the option on the third year of his contract picked up by the Cavaliers. Instead, he is not being given the chance to make much of an impact.
“It’s going to be tough to get him minutes,” Brown said. “He’s done some good things and he’s made some mistakes. He’s been fine.”
Indiana Battles Injuries Up Front
Pacers coach Jim O’Brien is going with a small lineup but it isn’t by choice. Forwards Troy Murphy (back), Jeff Foster (ankle) and Tyler Hansbrough (shin) are all injured, leaving the Pacers will little depth in the frontcourt.
O’Brien has been forced to move his star player, Danny Granger, from small forward to power forward. Granger can handle the adjustment as he is too quick for most power forwards to defend and strong enough to hold his own defensively. In fact, Granger is more than happy to keep the position warm until Murphy returns, probably not until Nov. 11 at the earliest.
“I like it because it’s tougher on other teams than it is on us,” Granger said. “We also become more athletic and we can play our up-and-down style easier.”
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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