Posted: Friday January 6, 2006 4:10PM; Updated: Friday January 6, 2006 6:26PM
Despite an increasing amount of defensive pressure this season, Carmelo Anthony is scoring a career-high 24.7 points a game.
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Nene tore his ACL three minutes into opening night, Kenyon Martin has been in and out with tendinitis, Earl Boykins missed six games with a strained hamstring and Marcus Camby is out until the end of the month with a broken finger. Yet the Denver Nuggets (16-17) remained a game behind Northwest leader Minnesota thanks to the steady improvement of Carmelo Anthony, who is averaging career-highs of 24.6 points and 46.8 percent shooting despite more defensive attention than ever.
"A lot of nights we have two of our top five offensive threats out of the game," says Nuggets coach George Karl. "So you just kind of ride Carmelo."
The 6-foot-8 Anthony has taken a lot of heat over the last two years both on and off the court; somehow he even became a scapegoat for the U.S.'s poor showing at the 2004 Olympics, even though he rarely played. Now he looks like a solid All-Star-to-be who looks capable of rivaling his fellow '03 draftees LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. "This is the best [basketball] of my three years," Anthony says. "The way I've come back from adversity and been able to play my game and have fun on the court, it's just a good feeling."
He's improved his understanding of the game (enabling him to become a better passer out of double-teams) because of the extra time he spends studying videotape with assistant Tim Grgurich. Anthony is in the best shape of his career and he's attacking every chance he gets, settling for the jumper only when his lanes to the basket have been cut off. "It's balance," says Anthony. "All me and Grg talk about is balance: take the jump shot, go to the hole, get a foul shot. I try to work on my balance."
Anthony was hoping that the Nuggets would be able to trade for Ron Artest, but it appears that Denver is out of the running to acquire the Pacers star. Yet Anthony believes his team can win their division and still make a run at the Western Conference finals. Martin is beginning to look like his old self, Camby will be back on the court by February and the Nuggets will probably be able to improve their chances of a second-half run by trading backup point guard Earl Watson.
"We're right there," Anthony says. "We've got a good stretch at home this month, so we've just got to win a couple games get on a winning streak." Though he's still only 21, he looks more than capable of leading them back into contention.
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The league's top teams and defending NBA Finalists will meet Jan. 12 in San Antonio in a rematch of their Christmas Day meeting, which won by Detroit 85-70 in the absence of the Spurs' Manu Ginobili, who has since recovered from a strained right foot injury. The leaders of the two teams spoke with SI.com about their rivalry, the MVP race and other league matters.