The Denver Nuggets' 106-90 victory last night over the Portland Trail Blazers is being portrayed by most of the local media as a dominating performance, and that makes sense. After all, Carmelo Anthony put up 38 points after serving a one-game suspension for being a baby (a.k.a., refusing to come out of a game when coach George Karl tried to substitute for him), and the team as a whole looked much more together than it did in recent losses to Detroit and (especially) the Indiana Pacers. But those who watched the contest on TNT heard a much more critical -- and realistic -- assessment of the team at halftime courtesy of commentators Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley. Smith pointed out that when great squads build up early leads, as the Nuggets did, they keep the pressure on, never letting their opponents believe that a comeback is possible. Instead, he went on, the Nuggets consistently allow other teams to creep closer, due largely to the combination of defensive lapses, a tendency to fall in love with jumpers whether they're falling or not, and a lack of discipline exemplified by low-percentage shots taken before the 24-second clock has ticked more than a few times, which gives rivals extra possessions and, therefore, life. Barkley echoed these points while noting that the really outstanding teams in the Western Conference, including the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs, avoid such mistakes -- which is why the Nuggets are not yet at their level.
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During these remarks, all I could do is nod. The Nuggets are playing better and smarter since Chauncey Billups arrived, no question. But do they deserve to be numbered among the NBA elite? Not yet -- and a sixteen-point win at home doesn't change that fact.