DENVER -- One back, one to go.
Smith was at the center of the fight between the Nuggets and New
York Knicks that spilled into the stands at Madison Square Garden
on Dec. 16, which led to 10 ejections and seven suspensions.
Carmelo Anthony, the NBA's leading scorer, got the harshest
punishment, a 15-game suspension. He won't be back until Jan. 22,
when Denver plays Memphis at the Pepsi Center.
The brawl began when Mardy Collins prevented Smith from an easy
basket by grabbing him around the neck and taking him to the floor
in the final minute of a blowout win by the Nuggets. Just as things
appeared to be calming down, Anthony threw a hard punch that
Smith got a loud ovation when he checked in with 5:35 remanning in the first quarter and an even louder one when he took a pass from Iverson from the top of the circle for an alley-oop dunk in the final minute of the first quarter.
Smith's rust showed in errant 3-pointers, an early traveling violation and an ill-advised behind-the-back pass that went straight to Robert Horry -- just the kind of play coach George Karl had admonished him not to attempt in his first game back.
Smith also didn't get many calls despite getting hammered in the lane a few times. He ended up hitting 5 of 13 shots for 12 points as the Nuggets lost to the Spurs 92-83.
During the last 10 games, Smith and Anthony had to leave the
Pepsi Center two hours before tip-off. They'd head to Anthony's
house to watch their teammates on television.
Afterward, the two would drive back to the arena for intense
90-minute games of 1-on-1.
"I just saw it as a chance to get better on defense because I
get to guard Melo every day," Smith said. "So, playing against
him I think is going to help me when I play other teams."
Smith and Anthony were the league's top scoring tandem when they
were banned from basketball.
The day after their suspensions, the Nuggets acquired
Allen Iverson from the Philadelphia 76ers. Although there's been lots of
talk about how Melo and A.I. will do together, there's sure to be
some reassigning of roles as Smith and then Anthony work their way
back into game shape.
Still, Smith said that after he and Melo shake off the rust, the
duo will be better than before.
"I think we bonded a lot during that period," Smith said.
"So, now when we get back on the court, I think it will be magic
because now I know what he likes to do a lot more and he knows what
I like to do."
Karl took Smith aside at the shootaround
Wednesday and admonished him not to try to pick up where he left
off last month, when he scored in double figures in eight of the
nine games he played.
"I know he's very excited. I just hope we can use his energy
positively and fit him back in and get him indoctrinated into the
team," Karl said.
Karl said the Nuggets didn't have a chance to scrimmage as much
as he'd like to keep Smith and Melo in rhythm over the last three
"I think it's going to be a process until next week where
players regain their familiarity by playing in games," Karl said.
"It's not going to happen in practice."