A Nugget of Wisdom: How to Be Rookie of the Year

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services 

After an unfortunate incident two weeks ago in Detroit in which Carmelo Anthony refused to return to the court in the fourth quarter, an uncharacteristically unprofessional act by Carmelo, he realized that his chances of winning or sharing the Rookie of the Year award with LeBron James was all but shot. Though his numbers are comparable to LeBron's, he is just slightly below him in virtually every category. However, there is one way that Carmelo could skyrocket his chances of getting or sharing the award, or at least ensure a much better justification for feeling underappreciated. That one, secret way? Make the playoffs.

LeBron's Cavaliers are 2.5 games out of the Eastern playoff hunt, while Carmelo's Nuggets are a mere half game behind Utah. In fact, Denver is 2.5 games behind the seventh seed Houston Rockets, who, as our own Bill "The Rocket Guy" Ingram might say, are doing their best to let just about anyone into the playoffs. Denver faces Houston this Friday for a chance to make serious headway into the playoff hunt and carve itself a spot in the standings. In the meantime, they play the Suns tonight, and if the Nuggets can keep it together for those two victories, and can rally to defeat Portland, rivals for the eighth spot, then they have just two hard games to finish the season. Denver must play Sacramento and San Antonio as their last two games of the season.

Those won't be pushover games. Neither team is going to clear the bench in the first quarter to give development time. Though by that point the games might not mean much to either Sacramento or San Antonio in terms of either standings or momentum, they are all professionals, and they all take pride in their work. Neither one of them is going to want to be blamed for rolling over and letting the Nuggets into the playoffs. Don't doubt it: those games will be tough.

But it's doable. And it would give Carmelo Anthony an important advantage over LeBron James: wining. Already, Denver's record and its improvement over last year has surpasses that of the Cavaliers. At 40-37, Denver has an above .500 record while playing in the league's toughest division and the tougher conference. At 32-44, Cleveland is barely above .400 yet are still in the running to be in the Eastern playoffs.

A playoff berth by Carmelo and a ninth or worse place finish by LeBron would give purists a lot of reason to pick Carmelo for Rookie of the Year honors. Both teams had only 17 wins last season. Cleveland drafted first, and Denver drafted third. Both teams made offseason moves to improve their roster. But only Carmelo's team will likely finish the season winning more than it lost, and, possibly, only Carmelo's team will finish the season with a chance to win the championship.

If that doesn't quality someone to at least share Rookie of the Year honors, nothing does.

The Nuggets visit Phoenix to take on the Suns tomorrow as part of a two-game road trip. Their second game this Friday will be a rematch against Houston. Wednesday's game starts at 8:00pm MT and will be broadcast on Fox Sports Net and NBA League Pass.

A sampling of yesterday's chat transcriptwith Carmelo Anthony:
Alex Nicol (Port Hope): Hey Melo I was just wondering who is the hardest player to guard? Who is the hardest player to score buckets on?
Carmelo Anthony: The hardest to guard is Peja Stojakovic. Teams are the hardest ones to score on. Not just one player. Minnesota is the toughest as they send double-teams a lot.

Voshon Lenard
(bruised ribs) has missed four games but the Nuggets are hopeful he will be healed in time for Wednesday's game against Phoenix. He practiced Saturday, and has expressed optimism at playing tomorrow night. Head coach Jeff Bzdelik hasn't decided if Lenard or Jon Barry would start if Lenard were to return.Mark Pope(knee) andJeff Trepagnier(ankle) are on the injured list.Chris Andersen(knee) played limited minutes on Friday.


Adam Thompson ofThe Denver Postwrites: Without sacrificing anything more than paying the remainder of his $1.5 million salary, the Nuggets saw Michael Doleac fall into their laps. The waiver wire rarely offers anything other than spare parts, but when Denver general manager Kiki Vandeweghe claimed Doleac on Feb. 20, he knew he was getting a bona fide player."It's very unusual," Vandeweghe said. "We got very, very lucky on it. Hopefully we can capitalize on it."

Chris Tomasson ofThe Rocky Mountain Newswrites: Mike D'Antoni said he was "blindsided." He was "ticked off." But that was 4 ½ years ago. D'Antoni has gotten over his unceremonious dumping by the Denver Nuggets just before the 1999-2000 season, and now it appears he has a chance to last a while as an NBA coach.D'Antoni, 52, has led the Phoenix Suns to an 18-38 record since taking over for Frank Johnson, who was fired in December. D'Antoni is under contract for next season, and general manager Bryan Colangelo told the East Valley (Ariz.) Tribune last week that D'Antoni will return. Wednesday in Phoenix, D'Antoni will face the Nuggets for the third time as a coach. Once again, though, he says there will be no animosity. "They paid me," said D'Antoni, whose Suns lost to the Nuggets 105-92 on Jan. 13 and 97-92 on Jan. 21. "I had a contract. I had to sit out a year. But that's the NBA. That's the business. You accept the good with the bad. There's plenty of good, but sometimes the bad jumps out at you."