Anthony wins the upper hand in first NBA clash with James

Nugget scores 14 to foe's 7 as Denver tops Cavs, 93-89

November 06, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND - The basketball nation breathlessly waited for Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James to make their entrance onto the big-time stage last night, in their heavily hyped first meeting in the NBA.

Although they might be individually ready for the spotlight, their rivalry, at least off the first meeting, is not yet ready for prime time.

As much as ESPN wanted them to go mano a mano, James, the first player chosen overall in the June draft, and Anthony, the third selection, spent little time on each other in the Cleveland Cavaliers-Denver Nuggets matchup last night.

And, save for a flurry of baskets from Anthony in the first quarter, and a rim-rattling dunk from James in the second, neither served particular notice that their pairing will remind fans - casual or intense - that their faceoffs will resemble those of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

As it was, Anthony, the Baltimore native who led Syracuse to the national championship last spring in his only collegiate season, scored 14 points in Denver's 93-89 win over the Cavaliers, but only two in the second half.

Meanwhile, James, who came straight to the NBA from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in nearby Akron, had just seven points, and did not score at all after halftime.

The two, whose teams faced each other twice in high school, found themselves on each other only twice all night, with nothing of consequence happening on either possession.

Indeed, James, the muscular 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward, seemed more content to rebound and pass, rather than score, while Anthony - 6-8 and 230 pounds, mostly watched as point guard Earl Boykins - a Cleveland native - came off the Denver bench to score 18 points.

Once again, James, whose teams lost twice in high school to Anthony's Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, fell to Anthony. This time, however, Anthony, who starred at Towson Catholic before going to Oak Hill and who had been outscored by James in the high school games, won the statistical war as well.

More than 300 media members received credentials for the game, the Cavaliers' home opener, and they didn't come to watch Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Marcus Camby slog it out in the paint.

They came to see Anthony and James match each other in the first meeting of what is being billed as the next great individual NBA rivalry, the latest since Johnson and Bird battled in the 1980's, about the time these two were born.

"Of course, you have to smile, because those are two of the greatest players ever to play the game of basketball, but we just go out and stay focused and play the game we've been playing all our lives," said James, of comparisons between himself and Anthony and Bird and Johnson.

Of course, the reason that Bird and Johnson became such fierce competitors and that their meetings took on such heft was because their teams were so good. Either Johnson's Lakers or Bird's Celtics played in every one of the Finals from 1980 through 1989.

Meanwhile, there was a reason that the Cavaliers and the Nuggets were in position to take James and Anthony, and the hype surrounding the first official meeting between the precocious kids couldn't mask one rather important fact: The two teams aren't that good.

The teams combined last year to win 34 games - 17 each - a total that was three less than the Washington Wizards or the New York Knicks won alone. And with the exception of Cleveland center Ilgauskas, neither James nor Anthony is playing with a player that has appeared in an All-Star Game.

In other words, no one player, no matter how good, could turn around either team's fortunes.

Before the game, new Cleveland coach Paul Silas said he yearned for the day when Anthony and James could meet just for the sake of the game, without a side dish of hype.

"I hope that day does arrive," said Silas. "Right now, we have to deal with this. Everybody wants a piece of these kids. They want a look-see and they want to see how they'll pan out. We just have to deal with it."

The two players themselves, as kids will do, seemed non-plused by all the attention.

"It [the hype] is a good thing," said Anthony before the game. "I'm glad they're hyping the game like they are. I mean, just to get the ratings up high and just to let everyone see what he's about and what I'm about."

The crowd and the national television audience may have wanted James, but what they got off the draw was Anthony, who hit three of his first four shots, all from point-blank range, as the Nuggets bounded out to a 27-16 lead after the first period, as Anthony scored seven in the period, while his Brazilian teammate, Nene, had nine.

Denver, which played poorly the night before in a 71-60 loss at Indiana, threatened to blow open the game early in the second, before the Cavaliers launched an 18-7 run to tie the score at 36, with 4:36 left in the half.

James supplied the tying points, stripping Anthony from behind on the defensive end, then going the length of the floor for a slam dunk. He was fouled and converted the free throw, sending the Gund crowd into a frenzy.

But the Nuggets led 46-44 at the half, as Anthony had 12 points in the first two quarters, on 5-for-12 shooting, while James had seven points, with six rebounds.

Rookie matchup

How Denver's Carmelo Anthony and Cleveland's LeBron James stacked up last night in the Nuggets' 93-89 win:

Anthony James

FGM-FGA 6-17 3-11

Points 14 7

Rebounds 6 11

Assists 2 7

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