Hustle and Flow

Last week, Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony was named the Western Conference Player of the Month, joining Alex English and Fat Lever as one of only three Nuggets to be honored with the award. On Sunday night, Anthony reminded San Antonio that April is still his month, scoring 30 points in a raucous Nuggets victory over the Spurs in Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series. Denver shooting guard Allen Iverson led the Nuggets with 31 points, but after the game it was Anthony who beamed with confidence.

“Defense,” said Anthony breaking down his team’s key to victory. “Just defense. We knew they were going to make a couple of runs. They weren't going to let us continue playing the way we were playing in the first half. We kept our composure and we did what we said we wanted to do, which was stop them.” Anthony added that 2005 (when the Nuggets also stole an opening game in SA, only to subsequently fade) and 2007 “are two different years, and I think right now we know what we got and we know what we want and it's going to take a lot of work to get there. Everyone is focused a little more. Everyone is sacrificing a little more to come together as a team to win.”

In 2005, Anthony was a sophomore in the NBA carrying the Nuggets into their second straight playoff appearance, only to lose to the Spurs in five games. As a fan of Big East basketball, I’ve always pulled for Carmelo Anthony, a Syracuse alum who led his college squad to the NCAA title and never came across as pre-fabricated as Lebron James, courtesy of his widely publicized missteps. Anthony’s 2004 appearance on the now infamous Stop Snitching DVD, where he joked about throwing his Olympic bronze medal in a lake and kicked it with a self-confessed Baltimore drug dealer, was immortalized on a tee-shirt. Later that year, Anthony was cited for marijuana possession while boarding the team plane, and a friend of his later admitted to leaving the pot in Melo’s backpack.

“You watch music videos all day and see that,” said Anthony back then, responding to Stop Snitching in front of Denver television reporters. “You could say the same thing if I was in a music video. I'm not really concerned about it. I don't hang with drug dealers. I surround myself with good people.”

The Nuggets’ 2006-07 season can essentially be broken down into two parts. There’s the time before Anthony punched New York Knicks guard Mardy Collins and was subsequently suspended for 15 games, which spurred the Nuggets’ decision to make a deal for hip-hop icon Allen Iverson. Prior to his return to the Nuggets Anthony sent a letter to the Denver Post reflecting on his time away from the game.

“I've spent this time off working on my game and reflecting on who I am. And who I want to be,” Anthony wrote. “I want all of you to know that I plan to be better, stronger and smarter on the court than I've ever been before. I've never been more dedicated to becoming the best player and teammate that I can be.”

“I've also spent time thinking about the huge responsibilities I have as the captain of the Denver Nuggets, the captain of Team USA, a face of the NBA, and a role model to young people,” Anthony continued. “I'm aware that a great deal is expected of me, and not just as a player. I'm expected to make the right decisions, lead by example and to be a professional.”

Early this season, a Denver Post writer succinctly described Anthony this way: “He remains a work in progress, still prone to making decisions a man 10 years his elder learns to avoid.” With the fiercely competitive Iverson at his side, however, comes greater wisdom, a puncher’s chance at the NBA title, and the possibility of gold in the upcoming Olympics.

Despite the Nuggets’ new-found luster, and the very real threat presented by the Anthony-Iverson tandem, I’ll still take the Spurs in six.

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