By Jake Appleman and Russ Bengtson

Note: Russ took this picture of the dancers bending over with the zoom feature on his digital camera. You could try and say it’s somewhat perverse, but we’re merely digitally reporting what the Knicks offer as time out entertainment. Giggidy.

Pregame:

–It’s the first Appleson Knicks game of the season. The home opener was on Sunday versus the Timberwolves—but was it really?

Everyone’s surrounding George Karl in the hallway. His official pre-game press conference is over, but hey, the man likes to talk.

In the visitor’s locker room, Carmelo is (presumably) sorting some ticket stuff out with the help of a phone and a PDA, while Allen Iverson comes out of the trainer’s room to build with Stephen A. Smith. Other lesser Nuggets sit around the perimeter of the room doing Nuggetty things.

Over on the Knicks side, all quiet on the Eastern Front. There are maybe five media members in the locker room—and Stephon Marbury, who’s getting dressed. He doesn’t pay anyone any mind before running out to get up some shots, go to chapel, whatever.

A few moments after Steph leaves, Nate Robinson comes in and is immediately set upon. Of course people want to ask him about the brawl with the Nuggets from last season, and someone asks him ‘how he’s matured since then.’ Holy loaded question. I hear Nate start to talk about how he thinks he HASN’T changed (could have predicted that one) on my way out.

Back over on the Nuggets side, they’ve got their multimedia thing set up (a laptop hooked to a projector with a slide-show type screen) and there’s image up of Carmelo getting boxed out by David Lee. Melo has a pained expression on his face. Rex Chapman walks over, whacks the screen: “Scared. Where is he?” Melo’s safely in the back.

We’re sitting in the upper press section. Way up. This is of course because this game is a big deal and luminaries such as Stephen A. Smith and Men’s Health must attend. Hey “Men’s Health”…I think I demonstrated by gorging on two servings of soggy onion rings and the crappiest chicken tenders EVAR before the game that I don’t care for your kind. Adding to the overall men’s health, Sam gets beer spilled on him before we even sit down.

–Sam, on the flautist that played the national anthem: “That was either a really huge flute, or a really small girl.” I must also add that the flautist is very attractive. You can’t really beat an attractive flautist. This combination of rareness and talent is just overwhelming.

George Karl gets booed. A lot.

Carmelo is introduced first to a loud mix of boos and cheers. Then again, Nene gets booed, too. Camby gets mostly cheers, as does AI. Linas Kleiza, well, no one really cares.

Isiah gets cheered.

–After their intros but before they officially tip off, Kanye’s “Stronger” blares over the loudspeaker in conjunction with a montage of the Knicks lifting and working out during training camp. I don’t get this. OH MY GOD, they lift! Men’s Health! Does that make them winners all of a sudden? Tayshaun Prince doesn’t think so.

First Quarter:

Curry wins the tip. Q for three over Melo, good.

–Iverson to Camby, who misses. Steph gets it in transition, drops it off to Curry for the dunk.

–Iverson crosses Crawford badly and goes baseline for a layup. Oohs ring out from the crowd.

–Q comes back with another jumper.

–Melo, off. Iverson, off. Z-Bo, not off. 9-2, Knicks early.

–You gotta love AI and Melo’s matching bright yellow headbands. And you’ve gotta feel lukewarm about the matching orange headbands donned by Curry, Randolph and Q-Rich.

–I love Melo’s midrange game, which might even be underrated. 3 midrange J’s—two by Melo, one by Camby—sandwiching two bricked treys from Q-Rich get the Nuggets right back into it. 9-8, Knicks.

–The Knicks have new scoreboards everywhere. The one over the court is an improvement. The ones on the sides, not so much. They’re brighter and flashier, sure, but I already miss the old out-of-town scoreboards which at least STAYED OUT OF TOWN SCOREBOARDS. I’m not here to watch the work of some graphics design nerd, I’m here to watch a damn basketball game. Do the new screens make that experience better? Not particularly.

–Nate misses, Curry backtaps…to Iverson, who winds up converting a Dr. J-style circus layup. Nuggets lead. Until Curry gets an open dunk (from Steph). Z-bo defensive board, Knicks miss, Kleiza baseline dunk. 12-11, Denver.

–Iverson steal, and, taking it the other way, he jacks up his first ill-advised shot of the night—a running mid-range floater while heavily guarded—prompting this annoying fan behind us that looks like the slam poet Poetri to yell, “headcase!” Immediately thereafter, Marbury takes the ball the other way and throws it out of bounds. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that the fan has it backwards.

–Nene misses, gets his own, loses it out of bounds, last touched by New York. Kleiza cuts back door, Camby finds him with an alley-oop from the three-point line. Lovely. Crawford comes right back with a three over Kleiza, and Kleiza comes right back with a three over Crawford. Whose house? Linas’s house. 17-14, Knicks.

–Potential revelation: Maybe Zach Randolph doesn’t pass the ball because he sucks at it. Some of the turnovers he creates from errant passes are just unbelievably bad. Sam wonders out loud if he’s passing badly in order to prevent people from wanting him to pass in the future.

–Iverson hits RIGHT out of the time out. Curry misses,

—After bringing the ball up the court gracefully, Marcus Camby picks for Melo and rolls to the hoop, receiving the sweet feed and finishing nicely. Clinical.

Marbury is back with a J before things get totally out of hand, but Iverson comes back right away. So does Steph. 23-18, Knicks, and it’s a battle of defensive juggernauts. Or, the exact opposite.

–Zach down the lane, AND the foul (Camby).

–Annoying fan continues: “The whole Denver team is weak!” Then, David Lee checks in. “Let’s go white boy!” I’m hoping for his sake that he’s at least 5 beers deep.

–Steph can’t check AI right now. And he’s looking so poor on D; I’m not sure he could check Juicy. Almost on cue—Isiah get out of my head—Nate Robinson enters. On his first defensive possession Nate moves laterally with impressive speed, forcing AI into an awkward jump pass backwards to Melo, who bricks a jumper. The Nuggets react by screening Nate on AI’s next touch. The result is an And-1 for AI.

Melo’s fouled in the paint by Q. Eduardo Najera and J.R. Smith check in. JR’s booed lustily. No sir, they don’t like him one bit.

–One of two for Melo. Followed by a Knicks three-second violation.

–AI back out to Melo, can’t hit it, and Camby’s called for a loose-ball foul on Lee. MC takes a seat with 3:24 to go in the first.

–Lee front-rims himself, corrals the rebound, puts it back up and in with the foul (Najera). Adds the free throw. All tied at 24. In the process he steals an assist from Z-Bo. It’s okay, Z-Bo will get one. On Friday, perhaps.

–Iverson straight down the lane, through everyone, layup and the foul. Adds the free throw. He’s got 11 and is playing a heck of a game.

–Nate Robinson up top with Kleiza on him…and he carries. Turnover. Time out, Knicks. 2:41 to go. Lots of unforced turnovers out there.

–Balkman in for Q. You might think this little note, “Balkman in for Q” doesn’t really mean anything. The reality is that it means EVERYTHING.

The Knicks throw a D-Lee/Balkman double team—the most athletic double team since Dennis Rodman and Jean Claude Van Dam—at Melo and Kleiza burns them with a 3. Way to guard the perimeter, guys. Kleiza’s got 10. Knicks travel.

–Iverson to Anthony, who can’t convert the lefty layup. Balkman follows with the layup (they really should pay more attention to him). J.R. Smith responds with a corner three. Marbury answers. Najera layup from Iverson. Lee layup from Steph. Uptempo!

–Nuggets turnover, Steph turns a one-on-two break into a layup. Kleiza gets another dunk from Anthony.

–Allen Iverson looks like he’s 21 out there.

–The Knicks’ screen and roll defense is about as visible as Christian Slater.

–After a Najera dunk and a JR Smith 3, Isiah Thomas calls a timeout because his team is inferior. Russ: “I don’t know if you’re aware, but Denver is shooting 137% from 3.”

–It’s too bad Nene’s last name (Hilario) doesn’t mean “hilarious” in Portuguese. Then he could be “Hilarious Baby”. You know what, I don’t care—he’s not getting back on defense, and he’s out of shape; his new nickname is Hilarious Fat Baby. You will all now brace yourselves for an onslaught of Hilarious Fat Baby (HFB) references. You wish I was kidding.

End of the first. Nuggets up 37-32. The Knicks alleged defense has made Linas Kleiza look like an All-Star, and Allen Iverson has made himself look like an All-Star. Also, the Knicks can defend everything but the three-point line and the rim.

Second Quarter:

Yakhouba Diawara enters!

–Kleiza, charge. Earned by Balkman. Knicks shot-clock violation.

–Eddy Curry! Backdoor, from JC. 37-34, Nuggets. Jamal Crawford to Eddy Curry is the new and improved Frank Williams to Clarence Weatherspoon.

–AI over Nate, misses. Jamal Crawford, travel. Nene (Hilarious Fat Baby): jumper. A misfire from Lee on a backdoor play from Crawford turns into a Najera fastbreak dunk. Then a Crawford missed three turns into a J.R. Smith made three, wide-open, up top. 44-34 Denver with 9:03 to go in the second. Time out, Knicks. JC fouled on the drive by Nene (Hilarious Fat Baby). Q back in for Renaldo. One of two for Jamal.

–The pace is blistering and it bears repeating: defense is not being played right now.

–Eduardo Najera banks in a 3. It’s isn’t known as to whether or not he called it by yelling, “vidrio!” which is window/glass in Spanish.

–Crawford misses—partially blocked—and Najera takes it coast to coast with a few stops. Amtrak! Denver leads 50-35, and the boos start. Melo comes in for Iverson. Jamal drive, floater, yes, fouled. Diawara. Najera misses a wide-open corner three.

–Zach, no. Najera misses a layup. Steph has a layup swatted out of bounds by Melo. And, as if to say, “hey, that’s my job,” enter Marcus Camby. J.R. Smith fouls Steph. One of two. Nene (Hilarious Fat Baby) takes Z-Bo off the dribble fine, puts up a horrific shot. On the other end, Curry is fouled by Nene (Hilarious Fat Baby). Non-shooting. Crawford double-clutches a floater over Camby. And Melo splashes a deep two.

–THREE point goal, Stephon Marbury. Melo right back down the gut, contact with Z-Bo, bucket, and the foul.

–Jadakiss and Trina on the baseline. Spike ain’t here for some reason.

–Melo with the and 1. 55-44, Denver, 5:20. Nuggets rebound, Nene can’t get the dunk down, goes the other way, Q gets it. Then J.R. Smith plows over Marbury at midcourt. He’s pulled for AI. Curry in the paint over Nene (Hilarious Fat Baby). Anthony misses, Z-Bo rebounds over Curry, Anthony fouls Q. Denver is over the limit. Q misses both, but Z-Bo gets the rebound and winds up hitting a shot. Same difference, I suppose.

–Anthony. To the basket. Marbury. To the basket. It doesn’t fall, but he steals it back, to Jamal, to Eddy, who hits and is fouled by Nene. Hits the freebie. 57-53, Denver. They could use Kenyon Martin (who’s sitting tonight).

–AI. Indeed. I should also add here, just to clear up any confusion, that if Russ simply types the player’s name, it means that he–or in Mike Miller’s case, she–scored and that there’s nothing else to add; you didn’t really miss anything.

–Jamal for three over Carmelo, AI is fouled by Marbury, hits both, Curry with another backdoor dunk from Crawford. Sheesh. They’ve got that play down.

–Iverson misses, so does Crawford. As does Najera. And Steph. Who recovers, and fires a pass to Curry that E-City ain’t ready for.

–Iverson around Steph, to the hole, can’t get it. Curry, up and under from Steph. 60-all with 1:20 to go.

–The Knicks have stormed back to tie it at 60. They’re moving the ball really well. Crawford and Marbury are making the extra effort to make use of Randolph and Curry, and it’s paying off.

Q misses a three, Melo misses a two, Denver gets a bunch of chances and Najera finishes it off. Z-Bo turns it over with a kick out from the baseline over Q’s head. Q goes after it—but not fast enough. Iverson speeds past, gets to it first and blazes in for a layup. Nuggets lead 65-60 at the half. Both teams shot over 55 percent from the floor, the Nuggets are shooting 83 percent from three. Iverson has 17 points, five assists and three steals.

Halftime

Superman that ho. Gotta love pop culture these days.

Third Quarter:

–Nene short hook in the lane to get things started. Z-Bo turnover, Nuggets break, Iverson to Anthony to Kleiza, who’s fouled by Marbury and goes to the line for two. One of two. The Knicks follow with an emphatic three-point violation.

–Anthony backs down Q, finds a cutting Camby, who’s fouled by Z-Bo (his third). One of two. Najera in for Nene.

–Crawford misses, Camby rebounds, Camby layin (Anthony). Nuggets by 11, 71-60. Loose ball foul on Curry. Boos rain down (presumably on the refs). Enter Lee and Balkman for Curry and Q. Nuggets turnover ends in a Balkman layup. Knicks get it again, Crawford travels. Camby misses the jumper, rebound back to Iverson, who blows by Steph, gets fouled (four on Steph). Nate in for Steph. One of two for AI. Nuggets by 10. JC to Z-Bo. Li’l hook.

–Some other stuff happens, but we’re all captivated by AI. The silky smooth 18-foot stepback and backpedal will never go out of style. After 3 jumpers in a row over Nate Robinson, Robinson gives up, hops a train to West 4th street, gets out, and gets “property of Allen Iverson” tattooed to his neck. He returns in time to enjoy Renaldo Balkman.

–We’re halfway through the third and Eduardo Najera and Linas Kleiza have combined for 25 points. I should mention here that on Halloween Eduardo Najera set his career high in 3’s made (2) and attempted (3). He’s working on them, just you know. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER…the more you know.

–Lee blocked clean by Najera, Robinson gets it, Crawford hits a three from up top. Anthony blocked by Balkman who gets a Sprewell-style driving two-handed dunk on the other end. Nuggets up 81-76 with 5:44 in the quarter.

–Davis Lee with a weird off-the-ball foul has the Knicks over the limit with 5:27 to go. Camby hits one of two.

–Kleiza gives Crawford baseline. Instead of taking it and politely thanking him, Crawford, as is his custom, drives to middle, taking on all five Nuggets in the process, and misses. Fortunately, for him, Z-Bo cleans up the mess. 82-78, Nuggets. The next time down, Crawford pulls the string on a pull up from 15 . 82-80, Nuggets. The next time down, he does THE SAME EXACT THING. 82-all. The Jamal Crawford oven, pre-heated in the first quarter, is officially at 325.

–Melo trapped in the corner by Z-Bo and Balkman, has to use a time out.3:45 to go in the third.

–Iverson sneaks around all the way around for a layup, misses, but is fouled by Balkman. Misses the first, hits the second. There’s been a lot of that for Denver.

–Z-Bo front rim, Leebound, Crawford misses off-balance floater. Anthony can’t convert on the baseline.

–Z-Bo, no.

–Iverson to J.R. Smith redirect to Anthony, who’s fouled underneath by Balkman. Time out. Hits both. He has 18. Sam tells a JR Smith joke at this juncture that is funny but also too inappropriate to repeat.

–Nate, to Lee. Nope. J.R, Smith from 25 with predictable results. Nothing doing for the Knicks either. Najera to Melo underneath, who burns Balkman for the layup. 87-82, Denver.

–Nate turns it over, chases down J.R., fouls him, they both go off the baseline—and a fight doesn’t break out! J.R., two shots. Yessir. He’s got eight.

–Lee can’t get the roll. Kleiza has a three blocked by Balkman, gets it back, and has the ensuing floater goaltended by Lee. Knick miss, Curry push. Camby to the line. Misses the first, hits the second.

–A Q entry pass to Curry bounces off his chest and out of bounds. And that essentially brings a close to the third quarter. 92-82, Nuggets. Every time the Knicks get close, the Nuggets push it back to 10.

Fourth Quarter:

–Marbury checks in, hits deep three over Iverson. Iverson snuffed by Lee, gets it back, can’t convert, Balkman the other way. Kleiza finally misses an open three.

–Steph floater in traffic. 92-89 Nuggets with 10:37 to go. Nothing like a quick 7-0 run to open the fourth.

–Nene (Hilarious Fat Baby).

–Apparently Clarence Weatherspoon had the Knicks’ last 20-point, 20-rebound game. Good to know. They tell us this because Stack Zach is getting close.

–Kleiza from the corner. No good. Lee with the dunk. Quite good. Kleiza misses a jumphook in the lane. Dude? You’re playing well, but Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony are out there with you. Just so you know.

Denver’s transition defense is terrible. Balkman and Lee are consistently beating them down the floor.

–Marbury deep three over Iverson misses, Lee keeps the loose ball alive, and Balkman puts it in. Anthony answers. E-City, dunk. Melo, no. J.R. defends Steph well in the corner, forces the ball out of bounds. Back to the Knicks. Miss, Nuggets break, Nene monster jam from Melo. Cushion back to three. Curry fouled in the paint by Camby.

–Z-back in for Lee. Curry one of two. Iverson jumper good. 100-96, Denver, SEVEN MINUTES to go. Smith foul, Melo foul—still not over the limit. Kick ball on Smith, shot clock reset. Crawford drive baseline, snuffed by the bottom of the rim, Nuggets turn it right back over. Knicks have numbers, can’t do anything with ‘em. Reset inbounds. Crawford misses the three, Curry rebound, to Steph, back in to Z-Bo for the layup. Nice ball movement.

–The Knicks switch Crawford on Iverson, hoping his length will disrupt Iverson’s flow. It ends up working, though perhaps because AI becomes less aggressive after the switch.

–The annoying guy behind us, now probably about 7 beers deep, keeps screaming, “you can do it!” I’m tempted to turn around and tell him that he’s not Rob Schneider.

–Sam: Not only does JR Smith plays like a Knick, he fits the franchise perfectly. Me: JR Smith is thugnificent.

–The Nuggets are sluggish, lackadaisical, and just generally terrible on box-outs. Camby and Hilarious Fat Baby are the main culprits. Not only are they missing Kenyon Martin, they’re missing Reggie Evans. I know it sounds nuts…

–Iverson. Floater and falls down. Z-Bo in the paint. Anthony powers over Balkman down low—offensive foul. Hears it from the crowd. Curry inside. Misses, gets his own, got it. 102-all, 4:51 to go. Smith misses a three, Z-Bo comes down with it. He’s got 19 and 15.

–Nene tries to draw a charge, doesn’t. Balkman to the line, and the next one puts Denver over the limit. The Knicks have yet to commit a team foul in the quarter.

–Balkman hits one of two, Knicks up one. Nothing doing for AI. Z-Bo forces a shot over Nene, misses, but Curry gets it, puts it back, and the foul. He misses the freebie, but the Knicks get it back AGAIN, get fouled AGAIN, and this time Z-Bo heads to the line. One of two. Knicks by four.

–Defensive three-second violation on the Knicks. (That’s nine seconds so far!) Free point for Carmelo. He’s got 22. Carmelo misses a three, off Steph and out of bounds. Kleiza, driving layup. 106-105 Knicks with 3:11 to go, and Isiah wants to talk it over.

–Steph, layup. Iverson, three from up top. Tied at 108. Steph with another drive, fouled by Camby (5th). Hits both. 21 and 9.

–AI around Steph, to Camby, who’s rejected by Curry. Knicks recover, and Nene immediately fouls out. Is it too late to find Kenyon a uniform? Z-Bo to the line. One of two, Camby rebound. Knicks by three.

–Anthony sets up in the blocks, fouled by Balkman as the Curry double comes. Hits both. He’s got 24. Knicks by one at the two-minute warning.

–Steph gets his sh*t swatted into the seats by Camby. Yikes. On the same play AI goes down hard on the baseline, comes out shaken up for Yakhouba. That would be a downgrade, yes.

–Knicks almost turn it over on the inbounds, Crawford connects on a floater, and the Nuggets call time (presumably to get AI back in there).

–Yep, AI and his 32 points are back. Iverson to Melo, and the ball is knocked loose. Knicks recover, can’t score, Curry taps to Balkman, Crawford resets, in to Z-Bo, to Curry underneath with the bucket and the foul. Misses the free throw, but Z-Bo comes up with it. Under a minute, Knicks by five.

–Kleiza with 22.5 to go, Kleiza fouls Crawford with 21.6. Misses the first, hits the second. Denver calls time.

–Nuggets can’t do anything on the floor, but Z-Bo fouls Melo with 13.4 to go. Melo misses the first AND the second. Long rebound out of bounds to the Knicks. Camby commits his sixth foul sending Z-Bo to the line and himself to the showers. One of two. 22 and 17.

–The Nuggets turn it over, and that’s it. Final score, Knicks 117, Nuggets 112. Denver lost this one on the line—missing too many free throws and sending the Knicks to the line way too many times.

Oh wait, the refs called a last-moment foul on Diawara—and they’re CHECKING IF IT WAS BEFORE THE BUZZER. People. Everyone’s leaving and the game’s over. Who cares? Well, besides whoever’s about to get to shoot a pair of free throws in an empty arena. The refs are seriously reviewing this as if it was a tie game in the NBA Finals. Appreciate the effort, guys, but still. Meanwhile, the arena continues to empty.

–Oh good, they put .2 back on the clock. George Karl must love this. Two free shots for Jamal Crawford. So what does George Karl do? He inserts Von Wafer for those .2 seconds. I’m sorry, maybe I’m reading too much into this, but that seems like douche-iest thing a coach could possibly do. I’ve been a benchwarmer before. If a game has basically all but technically ended, the last thing the benchwarmer wants to do is be singled out in front of 20,000 people by checking into a game for .2 seconds. I’d love to hear Ray Allen’s take on this. Anyway, Von Wafer: I see you. And I feel for you, brother.

–Crawford hits both, so the ACTUAL final score is 119-112. Hey, what was the spread?

Postgame

–AI is sporting a fat lip from the shot to the mouth he took late in the fourth quarter. He’s obviously bothered by the loss, and leaves his locker.

–Jamal Crawford: “We feel like we can play with anybody”

–Carmelo Anthony: “Maybe we took some possessions off and they capitalized.”

Talking Point: 43 ways to lose a game: As much as the Knicks deserve to be praised for the win, the Nuggets did everything they could to lose.

1) They missed 12 free throws and shot 62% for the game (20-32) from the line.

2) They played horrible transition defense and let Renaldo Balkman run roughshod on them.

3) They didn’t box out.

4) They got lazy when they went up 15 and let the Knicks stick around, giving the crowd the opportunity to get behind the home team.

5) George Karl let Hilarious Fat Baby play too much without giving him rest. HFB’s fatigue was a factor, as indicated by his inability to run the floor, his poor rebounding and the cheap fouls he picked up. Is Steven Hunter really that bad? Wait don’t answer that. (Also worth noting: the big bodies—Snack Randolph, E-City and D-Lee—were tough matchups for Marcus Camby.)

6) Kenyon Martin didn’t play. This would have spread out HFB’s minutes and given the Nuggets some much needed physicality in the paint.

Talking Point: Eddy Curry the rebounder: Tonight, it seems, Eddy Curry learned to rebound the basketball. He ended up with 8, including some big ones down the stretch. That’s like 56 in “Curry Boards” (Rebounds grabbed X Rebounds that didn’t just fall into his lap; a typical night in Curry boards looks like this: 5 or 6 X 1 = 5 or 6. ) Maybe it was the poor box-outs of Hilarious Fat Baby and Camby, maybe it was the hustle from the invigorated Curry. Maybe it was a little of both. Whatever the case, when you add his 11-16 from the floor, Curry was everything a center should be.

Talking Point: Zach Randolph: effective. 22 and 17 for the new Knick. Aside from the 0 to 3 assist to turnover ratio, kudos to Z-Bo on a good game.

Talking Point: Renaldo Balkman: If you don’t realize he’s the x-factor by now, you better check yourself. Or something. Drafting this kid could end up being Isiah Thomas’s savviest draft day move.

What does this all mean exactly? Are the Knicks for real? It’s too early to tell. Are the Nuggets worthy of their top-8 status? Yeah, they still are, unless you’re one of those tricky power-rankers. They’ll be peaking in April, anyway.