DENVER -- They haven't proved anything yet, but that's mainly because it was never an option. You can't conclusively prove compatibility on the very first night.
This pair looks like a match
You certainly don't hush skeptics or convert doubters against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony were thus forced to settle Monday evening for connecting on two memorably tasty alley-oops in the fourth quarter, shredding the overmatched visitors for a combined 51 points and making Pau Gasol itch with envy.
The first night, then, will be recorded as a good night for the A.I. and Melo Show.
Iverson has been saying for days that the mere sight of his new sidekick peeling off his warm-ups would be like Christmas in January. Yet as a spectacle, honestly, this wasn't much of a moment. Scrape away all the hoopla and the actual game looked at times like a summer-league affair played during snow season, with lots of easy sledding right to the hoop for both teams.
The new Denver Nuggets were nonetheless grateful to have a cake assignment for starters, with Anthony weighed down by 36 days of suspension rust and knowing how many hard days loom in a project as ambitious as their coach.
How high is George Karl aiming? Furious George believes he can mold the Iverson-Anthony tag team and the pieces around them into a team that plays "a Phoenix Suns offense with some defensive accountability."
The mere suggestion that the Nuggets can eventually approach the Suns' offensive efficiency is probably too much to ask for, without even dragging Denver's porous defense into it, but Karl did concede that his expectations for Act 1 were much more pedestrian. His standout message on the pregame greaseboard simply preached sharing -- "TRUST THE PASS" -- and was realized with the Nuggets recording 32 assists on 43 baskets in a 115-98 rout.
Denver rolled to a 38-18 lead after a quarter, wound up squandering most of that cushion, and still managed to win so handily that Karl had the privilege of removing Iverson and Anthony in tandem with 4:11 to play, enabling both to soak in a rousing ovation from a Pepsi Center sellout and leaving Gasol to pine for his own superstar sidekick like those two have now.
"It would have been nice," Gasol said with a smile when asked if he wished Memphis had pushed harder to be a player in December's Iverson sweepstakes. "When you put two great players together, it makes a big difference. Then you have two weapons you can rely on, two big weapons. Then you really have fun."
Fun was a lock with the shambolic Grizz in town at 20-plus games under .500; Memphis is openly shopping Gasol in trades now that the proposed sale of the franchise has collapsed. The lack of resistance from Memphis' defense was such that Anthony scored a game-high 28 points despite missing all eight of his jump shots. All of his offense came at the rim or the free-throw line.
Yet Gasol insisted afterward that Iverson and Anthony had "chemistry from the first moment," and there were indeed flashes. At the very least, Iverson and Anthony share a deep desperation to make this work, after A.I. left Philadelphia without a championship and with Melo facing his most challenging round of image rehab yet after a 15-game suspension for punching Mardy Collins. In their debut as a "couple," as Gasol called them, Iverson had no problem ceding his lifelong spot as the home team's last player announced in pregame introductions.
Within 57 seconds, both had already taken a shot. Iverson wound up chipping in 23 points in support of Anthony and added seven assists to Steve Blake's team-high 12. Then, at the end, Iverson could be seen skipping giddily around the floor after a Memphis timeout, cupping his left ear in a plea for more noise following the first of his two lobs for Melo dunks.
"Honestly, I know it's going to happen," Iverson said of the widespread doubts that he and Anthony can coexist over the long term, given A.I.'s career-long inability to click with another big scorer.
"Good news is no news. Positive news is no news. Negativity sells in this world, so that's going to be the main topic, that [the partnership] can't work. It's a good feeling to know [now] that it can."
Iverson and Anthony are the only ones saying so after one game.
Oh, yeah. And Gasol.
"Totally, totally," Gasol said. "When you get two great players like that, you're just taking pressure off each other's shoulders. That's the great thing about it. The team doesn't rely on only one player having to play his best every night to have a chance to win."
The other challenge, besides getting the two-man game just right, is that A.I. and Melo have to be consistently dynamic as a duo to offset this team's side issues. The Nuggets are too often asking the game-changing Marcus Camby (17 points, 17 rebounds, three blocks) to play defense for five guys, which has to change sooner rather than later if Denver hopes to do any playoff damage. The Nuggets also remain bereft of dependable 3-point shooting unless you count J.R. Smith and we don't. Smith began the season as a wonderfully hot surprise but is now coming off the bench thanks to Iverson's arrival and because Blake has passed his way into the starting lineup. As a sixth man, Smith shot the ball almost every time he touched it in 24 minutes, going (gulp) 1-for-11 on 3s after a big opening quarter.
Truth be told, I'd be betting on Iverson and Melo to make it as a couple no matter what we saw against the Grizz. I've liked the boldness of the pairing from the start. But I likewise knew before my plane even landed that developing (and further tweaking) the mix around them is crucial if the Nuggets hope to do anything in the mighty West.
"Once we get the chemistry down pat and get to clicking, it's going to be tough for people out there to stop us," Melo counters.
Let's give him the last word for now after all that time in confinement.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson of the Denver Nuggets talk before the game against the visiting Grizzlies. "It's like a new beginning for us," Anthony told the crowd. "And we're going to give y'all something to cheer for."
Three NBA teams (Warriors, Grizzlies and Bulls) visited their personal "house of horrors" Monday. All three lost.
The Lakers posted their sixth straight win over Golden State and 11th in the last 12 games between the teams. The Lakers won despite a season-high 24 turnovers.
-- ESPN Research
Based on this game, the question of how Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony will play together appears dead. Anthony, though a little rusty at the moment, fits perfectly with this offense and new backcourt. For instance, on Monday, Blake was terrific at moving the ball around and locking in on Anthony when needed.
Melo Returns With 28 Points, Victory
AP Photo/Mark Duncan
Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauska glares at the Magic's Dwight Howard after Howard poked Ilgauskas in the eye during the third quarter of the Magic's 90-79 win.
Quote of the Day
Quote of the Day, Part 2
-- Andrew Ayres
First of all, let me put things in perspective: this year's Knicks are, at best, a first-round-and-out playoff team.
And that's in the horrible Eastern Conference!
So unlike some people, I'm not going gaga over the fact that the team has played .500 ball since Nov. 29.
That said, it's time to give Isiah Thomas some credit.
Some folks owe the greatest "little man" in NBA history an apology (he was better than Iverson, Nash, Cousy and Stockton, folks!).
Some need to down their plate of humble pie and admit that Isiah has done a good coaching job this season. Far better than Larry Brown did with these same Knicks last year.
Those of us who didn't believe the hype a few years ago are not surprised by this.
Despite reports and widespread sentiment to the contrary, Isiah was a good coach in Indiana. He got bashed for never getting the Pacers, who at the time were one of the youngest (if not the youngest) teams in the league, out of the first round.
Just one wrong word is enough to set off the Detroit Pistons' Rasheed Wallace. Find out what it was from Chris Sheridan, the man he came after with an orange soda bottle.
Aaron (PHX): John, for some reason the national media has decided to consider Dallas a "great" defensive team, but consider the Suns a "poor" defensive team. You have a cult following of tens of millions, and they're all here in this chat room right now. Put this myth to rest for all of them please!!!
John Hollinger: Gladly. Both clubs are primarily offensive teams, ranking 1st and 3rd in offensive efficiency after being the top two a year ago. But they're also neck and neck on D -- Dallas is 6th, Phoenix 7th, and the difference wasn't much greater a year ago. The reason people think the Suns don't play D is because they aren't using pace-adjusted numbers, and since the run-and-gun Suns produce much higher scores than the mostly half-court Mavs (some people erroneously think of the Mavs as a running team but they're 28th in Pace Factor), it appears to those who aren't paying attention closely that the Mavs' D is much better.
Chris (LA): I think the Bulls have to get Gasol. They've been waiting for months to hear about a great big man being on the trade market. If they don't get him, it would be a shame.
John Hollinger: I tend to agree, but I think this will drag out until the trade deadline. Memphis knows Chicago has the best trade prospects and the most urgency, and they'll hold the Bulls' feet to the fire on this. After all, they can keep Pau till the summer if they really feel like it, but Bulls will feel more urgency to do something quickly.
Mike (Jersey): It's becoming apparent that you refuse to admit that the Nets actually might be a good team this year. All I want you to say is that you was wrong, and that the Nets could possibly come out of the East this year.
John Hollinger: I picked them to go 41-41. They're 20-20. How could I have been misguided?