The Nuggets never win in Phoenix: That appeared to be an immutable fact during the George Karl era.
But with last night's Nuggets victory in the land of the sun, there appears to be a new rule: With Carmelo Anthony traded, all bets are off -- including the idea that Nenê will never achieve his potential in a powder-blue uni.
As my May 2010 post "Nuggets: Time to give up on Nenê" makes clear, I've never been sold on Mr. Hilario. It's not just the soft defense -- his tendency to become a virtual doormat for any aggressive big man he faces. He also defers too much on offense, refusing to assert himself as often as he should.
Although perhaps this last sentence should be recast in the past tense. Since Melo's departure, Nenê has shown a new hunger for the ball, especially when on offense. He's actually looking for his shot, in part because his teammates are looking for him. Without Anthony as the main scoring option, others on the squad have needed to step up, and the more equitable distribution of opportunities seems to have fired up everyone -- Nenê in particular. And while he still gets out of position on defense more than he should given his years in the league, his more prominent role seems to have inspired him to toughen up on that end of the floor, too.
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The results could be seen last night: Nenê led all scorers with 22 points, followed by Ty Lawson's twenty (plus eleven dishes), Wilson Chandler's sixteen, and twelve apiece from Chris "Birdman" Andersen and J.R. Smith. Just as impressive, eleven Nuggets scored -- and they did so early and often.
No wonder George Karl was so enthusiastic on PTI earlier this week. Karl continues to laud Melo's offensive prowess, but he's clearly having fun coaching a team that plays like one. Even in Phoenix.
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