Nuggets' Anthony is soaring in rookie season

ON THE NBA

January 11, 2004|By MILTON KENT

DENVER - If he were still at Syracuse, at the 35-game juncture of the season, Carmelo Anthony would likely be making another deep run into the NCAA tournament, with a decent chance to defend the championship.

But Anthony is not at Syracuse, and, as a forward with the Denver Nuggets, he isn't even halfway through his first NBA season, with the playoffs a possibility but no certainty.

However, the torture chamber that is the long NBA season has yet to put Anthony on its rack. The game is still fun, especially with the Nuggets playing so well.

"Can't let it [the season] hit me. I like to play ball too much," said Anthony before Denver's 113-91 win over the visiting Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. "I just like to be out there on the court, regardless of how many we play. Some games, you're going to get tired, and some games, you'll have your best nights and your legs are feeling good. It's a lot of season left."

The former Towson Catholic star, chosen third overall in June's draft, has performed as advertised, winning Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors in both November and December. And he's off to a good start in January, too, what with his 20-point performance against the Lakers.

Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik said in an understatement that his prized rookie is "doing great" but could be a little better, especially if he worked harder at the defensive end.

"The one thing I'm trying to get him to understand is that the great ones, like Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, [and] you can go down the list - these guys play hard on both ends," Bzdelik said. "These guys play hard in all aspects of the game. They are never resting. They have this desire in their eyes and in their heart to dominate the game in all phases."

Bzdelik, who patched up a recent slight rift with Anthony, wants the 19-year-old to rebound better and use his ability to grab a board at the defensive end and run the fast break.

"One of the best ways for us to start our break is for him to get a rebound and take it right down the heart of the defense, because he can make plays," Bzdelik said. "At times, he's not on the boards ... and we want to get that to be more consistent because that can be a big factor for us."

Anthony already has earned Bryant's respect. The two were matched up in the third quarter Wednesday and locked horns in one sequence under the basket, earning double technicals.

Bryant, who scored 27, paid tribute to Anthony's grit and unwillingness to show deference to the older player.

"Our games are totally different," said Bryant. "He uses his body a lot more than I do. He posts up a lot. He can handle the ball pretty good. He has a lot of talent. He's a good player."

Said Bryant's teammate, Horace Grant: "The Carmelo and Kobe matchup is going to be a good one. You have two great athletes, and they are both competitive and like to get out there and get after it. It is something people have to look forward to."

Quiz

Name the last rookie to average 20 points for a full season. Hint: He no longer plays for the team for which he accomplished this feat.

Suns play cap game

Speaking of Bryant, the Phoenix Suns may have pulled off Monday's big deal, sending Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway to the New York Knicks for a package of players, draft choices and cash, toward a goal of signing the Lakers' star when he becomes a free agent this fall.

By dealing Marbury and Hardaway, then cutting point guard Charlie Ward, one of the Knicks in the deal, the Suns threw this season under the bus but put themselves in position to be at least $8 million under the salary cap this fall.

That figure alone won't get them a sniff at Bryant, but throw in a couple more moves, add in the expected boost to the salary cap at season's end and the attractiveness of the Phoenix market, and Bryant could be persuaded. Of course, the outcome of Bryant's sexual assault trial may make all this moot, but a Suns roster with Bryant added to Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudamire would be worth watching.

There was an unanticipated humorous moment Wednesday, when Bryant was asked if he could play with Anthony as a teammate. Nonchalantly, Bryant said, "I'm sure we could." Then, halfway into the next question, Bryant, having thought a minute, said, "Now, don't take that and run with it."

Like the Suns, the Nuggets will be significantly under the cap and with a talented young nucleus to boot, but it would be nearly impossible to imagine Bryant playing regularly in the state where he awaits trial.

Warriors not confident

For a moment there, the Golden State Warriors appeared to be on the verge of pulling out of their morass and making a move in the West, but a seven-game losing streak sent them back to the cellar of the Pacific Division.

Incoming forward Clifford Robinson, who joined the Warriors in an offseason deal with the Detroit Pistons, has identified the young team's biggest problem.

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