Remember when the Denver Nuggets were good?
Remember when they made the Western Conference finals in 2009 and tossed a serious scare into the eventual champion Lakers before falling 4-2?
The next year, after looking as if they might again challenge the Lakers, coach George Karl was lost for the season’s final 1 ½ months due to a form of throat cancer. Assistant Adrian Dantley took over and the Nuggets fell apart in the playoffs and were upset by Utah.
Then this season the Carmelo Anthony drama hit. The star forward finally got his wish and was dealt February 22 to New York. So there went the Nuggets as they had been known, right?
Wait a minute here. The Nuggets (39-27) still are good. Perhaps even better than before.
Since the trade, Denver is 7-2. Throw in a February 16 win at Milwaukee in what turned out to be Melo’s final bow, and the only NBA teams hotter over the past 10 games are the Lakers and Chicago at 9-1.
“A lot of people said we were going to be the Cavaliers of the West and stuff like that,’’ Denver forward Al Harrington said of some projections about life without Anthony being similar to what Cleveland has gone through since LeBron James bolted to Miami. “We got a lot of guys with a lot of pride and we got some good players (in the trade). So we’re just going out with a chip on our shoulder for sure. The New York guys (acquired in the trade) are definitely pissed off that they were moved and stuff like that. We’re just going to make the best of the situation.’’
In the three-team deal, which also included Minnesota and in which the Nuggets also sent point guard Chauncey Billups and three benchwarmers to the Knicks, they got forwards Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, guard Raymond Felton, center Timofey Mozgov and a future first-round pick from New York and center Kosta Koufos from the Timberwolves.
It was a bevy of assets that few initially expected the Nuggets would collect from New York. After all, Anthony could have opted out of his contract to join the Knicks as a free agent this summer, although he might have ended up losing tens of millions of dollars under a new collective bargaining agreement.
The Knicks (34-31), who signed Anthony to a three-year, $64.47 million contract extension that takes him through 2014-15, haven’t improved much since the trade. They’ve gone 6-5 to remain No. 6 in the East.
“We’re a better team (than New York), I feel like. That’s it,’’ said Felton, not elaborating.
Harrington, who played last season for the Knicks, agreed.
“If we had to play them in one game, I think we would win,’’ Harrington said.
If the Nuggets and Knicks ever meet in the playoffs, that would be very good news in Denver since it would mean a first-ever Nuggets appearance in the NBA Finals. For now, though, Denver is worrying a lot more about teams in the West.
The Nuggets’ surge has pushed them to the West’s No. 5 seed, where they would be quite pleased to end up. That likely would mean avoiding heavyweights San Antonio, Dallas and the Lakers in the first round and a likely matchup with Oklahoma City, which is still young and has lost seven straight games in Denver by an average margin of defeat of 19.3 points.
“I think we’ve got a good enough team to surprise some people,’’ Felton said of the postseason.