By Andy Roth
New York, NY (Sports Network) -
The Heat are ice cold and the Nuggets are just fine with all the Melo-Drama behind them. I've got those stories and more in my latest take on the NBA.
The Mile High city has quickly learned that there is life after Carmelo Anthony. Since the Melo-drama finally ended with the Nuggets shipping their star player to the Big Apple, Denver has gone 5-2, and is doing something that the Anthony-led Nuggets didn't do on a consistent basis; and that's play defense.
Prior to the big trade, the Nuggets were giving up 105.1 ppg. In the seven games since the deal, Denver has allowed just 94.2. Head coach George Karl likes what he sees so far in the post-Melo era. "We're pretty focused at both ends of the court," Karl said, "which has always been the headache of the Nuggets teams I've been coaching here. The defensive end of the court never was our forte. I think you're seeing a team that could not only be not only a good offensive team, it might become a special defensive team."
Karl believes all the components are there for the Nuggets to excel on the defensive end. "We have size. We have speed. We're not giving up transition points. Our transition defense is the best it's ever been since I've been here."
And even though the Nuggets lost one of the game's top offensive players in Anthony and their second leading scorer in Chauncey Billups, they've had no problem putting up points. Ty Lawson, who replaced Billups as the starting point guard, sees a big difference in the offense since the deal. "We're playing together and we're winning right now," said Lawson. "That's fun for everybody. There's no sticky hands out there. We're passing the ball, getting everybody involved. It feels a lot better when everybody is happy. The bigs are happy. The wings are happy. Everybody is touching the ball, and that's the way basketball should be played."
I believe the "sticky hands" Lawson was referring to belonged to the departed Anthony. And it seems like the teammates that Carmelo left behind feel like more of a team now than a one-man show.
NEW YORK KNICKS
While the Nuggets have to continued to play winning basketball following the big trade-deadline deal, the Knicks have resembled the same up-and-down team they were prior to acquiring Anthony and Billups.
New York has alternated wins and losses in the seven games since the trade, putting up a 4-3 record. But two areas of the game that have been a constant throughout the season and still have to be a cause for concern are the inability to defend and rebound.
The defense was absolutely awful while losing two games in a one-week span to the lowly Cavaliers. Cleveland scored 115 and 119 points respectively in the wins, and snapped a 26-game road losing streak in Friday's victory at Madison Square Garden. To highlight how bad New York's "D" was, the Cavs are currently averaging just 96 ppg.
No matter how good Anthony and Stoudemire will be on the offensive end, it won't equate to playoff success if they don't take care of business on the other end of the floor.
The Sixers don't have so-called superstars like Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, and aren't getting anywhere near the national attention the Knicks are, yet they trail New York by just a half-game in the battle for the sixth playoff spot in the East. After looking like a team bound for the lottery with a 3-13 start to the season, Philadelphia has gone 29-17.
The all-around play of Andre Iguodala has been a big factor behind Philly's resurgence, and it was no more evident than this weekend when he put up a pair of triple-doubles in the Sixers' two wins. Iguodala stole some of the spotlight from Minnesota's Kevin Love on Friday by putting up 22 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists, and followed that performance with 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists in Sunday's overtime win against the Nuggets.
Iguodala isn't putting up the gaudy offensive numbers that you get from a Carmelo Anthony, but he excels in other areas of the game that Anthony doesn't that helps his team win games and possibly has a bigger impact than Melo does.
The Heat's "Big Three" happen to be the only three who are averaging double- digit points for Miami. LeBron James (26.2 ppg), Dwyane Wade (25.4 ppg), and Chris Bosh (18.3 ppg) account for 68 percent of the team's offense. None of the other championship contenders rely on their top three scorers like Miami does. The Spurs are the least reliant on their top three, which produces 46 percent of their offense, followed by the Celtics at 52 percent, the Mavericks at 54 percent, the Lakers at 57 percent, and the Bulls at 62 percent.
As productive as James, Wade, and Bosh have been, it highlights how weak the supporting cast in Miami is and how good the star trio will have to be reach their goal of winning a championship this season.
The Heat have dropped four in a row, and the recent defeats have been a microcosm of their season. In losing to the Magic, Spurs, and Bulls, Miami once again showed its inability to beat the upper echelon teams.
The Heat are 1-9 versus the teams with the top five records in the league (0-3 vs Boston, 0-3 vs Chicago, 0-2 vs Dallas, 0-1 vs San Antonio, 1-0 vs Lakers), and have to be very concerned they've yet to beat their top two contenders in the East in the Celtics and Bulls.
In the most recent loss to Chicago on Sunday, the Big Three, once again, had to try to carry the entire team on its back, scoring 69 of Miami's 86 points. The bench scored only 6 points and the Heat got 2 points and 8 rebounds from its two-headed center combination of Erick Dampier and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
It's looking more and more like there are too many big holes in this roster to make a legitimate championship run.
Andy Roth covered the Knicks for NBC Radio and AP Radio for eleven years and
was an NBA Columnist for Celtics Pride Magazine for two years. He's covered
many of the major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA
Finals, U.S. Open Tennis and Golf.