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dirt_dobber
01-17-2007, 08:11 AM
Ever the optimist
Nuggets' Anthony confident in his upcoming return
http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/nba/article/0,2777,DRMN_23922_5285029,00.html

By Aaron J. Lopez, Rocky Mountain News
January 17, 2007
Carmelo Anthony says he's in the best shape of his life.

Thirty-one days without being hacked, elbowed and hip-checked will have that effect on a confident 22-year-old who understandably feels a sense of invincibility.

The Nuggets certainly will benefit from his swagger - and, more importantly, his scoring - when he returns from a 15-game suspension next week, but coach George Karl cautions that it probably won't be a seamless transition.

Anthony has not played since Dec. 16, the date of Denver's infamous tussle with the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Seven players subsequently were suspended, with Anthony drawing the stiffest penalty for throwing a punch at Knicks rookie Mardy Collins.

When he returns Monday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, 36 days will have passed since Anthony suited up for an NBA game.

"Don't think the switch is going to turn on immediately when Melo gets back," Karl said after an evening practice Tuesday.

"I think Melo's going to have a transitional period of time of getting back to having the edge and playing the game with the guys. He's got to be patient with that, but we can't be too patient, because we don't have a lot of time."

In 13 games without their leading scorer, the Nuggets are 5-8 and have lost two of three since guard J.R. Smith returned from his 10-game suspension. Showing signs of rust, Smith is 14-of-43 from the floor since his return.

"I think J.R. saw that even though he thought he was in shape, he probably wasn't in game shape and he wasn't in the feel of the game," Karl said. "No matter what you practice, the game is probably faster and more physical than what you practice."

Familiarity also will be a factor.

In the wake of Anthony's suspension, the Nuggets acquired seven-time All-Star guard Allen Iverson and less-heralded point guard Steve Blake.

Blake and Anthony were paired together for much of practice Tuesday, and Iverson and Anthony likely will share their scrimmage minutes over the next two days.

"It feels great," Anthony said. "I'm starting to see the light now. We've got all this week to get some work in. It feels good getting back out there and trying to get back into the flow of things."

Though Anthony still must sit out back-to-back games Friday against Cleveland and Saturday against Houston, a sense of normalcy is returning to Denver's locker room and practice court.

For that, Karl is grateful.

"The suspension has lingered heavier and longer than I thought it would," Karl said. "Thirty-eight days seems to be an extremely long time, and I think it's going to affect Melo. Being out of the game that long and not playing at the edge a pro game's played at . . . it's going to be interesting.

"We need him and he knows we need him. I think the record shows we're struggling a little bit without him. I think we've gotten some good things out of the experiment, but it's time to get back to who we really are."

The dark days of Denver's suspended animation could prove costly when the playoff push arrives in April. The Nuggets remain only 4 1/2 games behind Utah in the Northwest Division, but they are eighth in the cutthroat Western Conference.

Denver has made the playoffs in each of Anthony's first three NBA seasons, only to get bounced in the first round. A similar scenario could loom if the Nuggets have to face Phoenix, Dallas or San Antonio as a No. 7 or 8 seed.

"It's going to be tough," Denver center Marcus Camby said. "We just have to find a way to build some momentum and try to (move) up. We don't want to be the eighth seed once again. We want to find a way to get home court, but if not, just have some momentum going towards the playoffs."

Getting Anthony back at least will represent a step in that direction.

ETC.: Forward Eduardo Najera was limited in practice Tuesday as he copes with a bruised shoulder, but the news was better for Nene, who had to be reined in by Karl to protect his tender right knee. "He went pretty hard. I actually pushed him out of practice," Karl said. "I thought he did good work, and I told him to take a break." . . . Count Camby among those who think Iverson and Anthony will thrive together. "I think Melo's going to come right in and they're going to mesh like peanut butter and jelly," he said.

DubOverdose
01-17-2007, 08:34 AM
Counting down til the Nuggest implosion will begin once Melo returns...