By Cub Buenning

“We rolled that momentum from the last game.”

These were the words of Denver Nuggets’ guard Allen Iverson just minutes after Monday night’s 122-100 win over the road-weary Cleveland Cavaliers. The “last game,” the Answer speaks of, however, was a come-from-behind win Saturday night in Indianapolis where the Nuggets erased a 25-point deficit. If you combine the last half of that game with this contest, the Nuggets have outscored their opponents in the last six quarters by 47 points. Not bad for a team that showed up on the eastern seaboard last week losing to the New York Knicks one night before getting absolutely embarrassed by the Boston Celtics.

Tonight’s game marked the 8th head-to-head match-up between the forever linked LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony (remember Melo missed one of last year’s games due to his inability to get along with Nate Robinson, Marty Collins, and the Knicks) Despite a statistical advantage belonging to LeBron, Melo’s team has now won 7 of the 9 games since the two came into the league. This difference can be widely attributed to the “hands’ dealt to both of the players.  Their NBA Finals appearance aside, this Cavs’ roster is just far inferior from top to bottom. Try and argue that Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, and Daniel Gibson are a stronger supporting cast than Allen Iverson (who is still the toughest defensive assignment in the league, eh Boobie?), Nene/Kenyon, and Marcus Camby?  I have to side with those “experts” that had Jake in knots the other day, when I say that the Cavs might not make the playoffs. Is the East that bad? Z moves like my 62-year-old father (who still has mad game, by the way.)

To his credit, LeBron battled hard tonight in front of a sellout crowd on his way to 27 points, but the game’s inability to be competitive rendered him to extra minutes on the bench.  To be honest, Ira Newble was Cleveland’s second best player Monday night in Denver. The Miami of Ohio product, who cut checks in the past from the IBL, CBA, and the pro league in Cyprus before sticking with Cleveland, finished with a solid 17 to go along with 8 boards. Little used Shannon Brown was the only other Cav in double figures, as he was able to get to 12 with extended garbage time minutes.

Denver was led by Iverson’s 37, who was unstoppable in every sense of the term. He drove Boobie to the cup at will and hit some big perimeter shots in key moments. AI got some help from long range, as the ultra-streaky JR Smith was on fire, hitting 7-9 from long range en route to an efficient 29 point, 4 rebound, and 4 assist night. I must also mention that Smith had not one turnover in his 24 minutes of action. Despite getting just 22, Melo was great whether he was hitting jumpers or “big guarding” LeBron down low. Anthony chipped in with 9 boards and 6 assists, while Camby got his prerequisite 8 and 12.

PREGAME:

The Nuggets locker room, which seems to be one of the more active ones in the league, was teeming with life. Linas Kleiza, Eduardo Najera, Stephen Hunter, Bobby Jones, Kenyon, and Melo all were in different stages of game preparation. Melo was the last to enter (as usual) and was in his usual clean giddy-up (this means LaLa is probably in attendance—which was later confirmed to be affirmative.) Melo looked down at the newly acquired Jones, who was lacing up his sneaks.

Melo, “You wearing those AND-1s?”
Jones responded with a request that he wanted some exposure like Monta Ellis, last seen in a two-page spread in the backend of our latest issue.

Kenyon popped in and out of the room singing some U.G.K. lyrics which was rocking out of his iPod.

I jumped over to the visiting locker room and found few heads, but found some time to chat up Daniel Gibson. The second-year guard was contrite after I introduced myself as that guy from SLAM who wrote the piece on Houston (see PUNKS out on newsstands, now!). Despite several attempts, I was never able to get some time with Gibson, who ended his career at Jones HS as Houston’s All-time leading high-school scorer. Real cool guy with a real cool family. Keep doing your thing, Daniel.

LeBron was in a physically compromising position as he was being stretched out on the locker room floor, so I decided against paying my respect to the visiting royalty.

I walked onto the floor level and was immediately ambushed by a sea of yellow, green, and red, as Denver’s Lithuanian contingency was in full-force, 85 strong. I chatted up a few of their “tie-dyed” denizens and learned that they had chosen this game as in addition to featuring Nugget forward Linas Kleiza, fellow countrymen and Kaunas-native Big Z  would be in the house. Although, neither gave the crowd in 346 and 348 much to cheer about, they were active and noticeable whenever Kleiza came into the game.

1st Quarter:
The Cavs come out super-cold and the Nuggets doing their usual best to push the pace.

Iverson is really taking Gibson whenever he likes.

Melo backs down LBJ and makes a strong move to finish beautifully with the left hand.

With the Nuggets up 13-5 and just 4:30 in, Larry Hughes has had enough! After spending the entire, but brief time on the court riding the officiating crew for what Anthony was doing on the defensive end, Hughes got back-to-back technical fouls and was promptly tossed.  Surprisingly, Hughes chatted up the media after the game about what had happened.  I guess he had more than enough time to cool down.

Melo starts hitting his mid-range and perimeter jumpers on his way to a solid 10/7/2 quarter, as the Nuggets hold just a 3-point edge despite controlling the tempo and holding a 50-24% FG advantage.

2nd Quarter:

Iverson starts this quarter again destroying his defender, this time in the form of Damon Jones

The Nuggets are working the ball around and playing much better team ball. Cleveland can get nothing going unless it involves #23.

A 16-6 Denver run is punctuated by a give-and-go, reverse alley-oop between JR and Iverson.

LeBron is going to the line a lot in this game (actually shoots 14 in the first half alone.)

JR hits back-to-back 3-pointers as the Nuggets finish strong, procuring a 15-point lead at half.

Cue Coolio. For real. This cat, who still rocks those crazy braids (this time through a baseball cap) is not the tallest dude I’ve been around.  I walk back into the arena as he exit, but stops to give love to Kenyon, who is right behind me leading his team back onto the floor.  I look back to see Kenyon cheesing/honestly gassed about the encounter with the diminutive MC (can I call him that?)  I will have to assume that he did not quite crack Russ’ top 50 list.

THIRD QUARTER:

The second half’s first two minutes see Iverson hit two threes and Anthony two jumpers to get the lead into the 20-point range.

AI continues to do damage making the difference 25 points with still over 7 left. The game is basically over at this point.

Kleiza checks in; much to the delight of the Lithuania throng. LK later tells me that their cheering and flag waving is nothing like back home. He basically said they are like that for entire games.

Jumbo Tron plays a Word Association game with Kenyon. When the subject becomes, the San Antonio Spurs, his words are bleeped out due to their obvious vulgar nature.  Pretty funny as even the Cavs’ bench giggles while attempting to feign interest in Coach Mike Brown’s timeout words.

The lead is 20 at the end of the quarter, but it might as well be 40 as the game seems over. The dearth of talent at LeBron’s disposal is glaring. The next highest scorer at this point after LeBron’s 27 is Newble’s 8.

FOURTH QUARTER:
I will spare you the excitement involving Steven Hunter, Shannon Brown, Von Wafer, and Dwayne Jones.

I don’t really remember much from these 12 minutes of action, other than a JR Smith 3-ball sprinkled in here and there.

POSTGAME:

All was well on the home side. Major tiredness with the visitors as the game concluded a six-game, nine-day roadie for the Cavs.

As a hoard of microphones surrounded Smith, one of the local newspaper guys informs Melo, who is dressing, that JR was stealing his thunder a little bit.
Melo jokingly, “He can have that sh*t.”
JR getting up out of his locker, “I’m not stealing your thunder.”
Melo again, “You can have that sh*t.”
JR replied as he made for the exit, “Hey, where you going now?”
“Gonna go home for some crab,” the Baltimore native excitingly answered.  “Some Maryland-style crab!”

As Smith exited, Cavs’ guard Eric Snow came through the door asking for the whereabouts of his longtime teammate.
“Where’s the Answer?!?!”
The two sat around AI’s locker and chatted like childhood friends.

On the Cavs side, Larry Hughes decompressed from his earlier ejection, as his teammates slept-walk to the bus. Time for all to head home.