by Cub Buenning

Just seconds after getting settled into the familiar press room for my first Denver Nuggets’ game of the year, excited about the new look of the team and the return of our city’s old friend, I ventured back out into the arena’s back hallways and immediately hear a chorus of, “Hey Chauncey!” I, of course, decide to approach the Denver native to say hello and quickly welcome him back to our collective hometown.

Billups replies to my inquiry about being back in Denver with, “Great, it’s really great,” before disappearing behind the locker room door.

Thank you, SLAM Magazine.

Those of you that are familiar with my work know that Warriors Assistant Coach Steve Silas and I graduated, balled and even once roomed together while in college; subsequently, I tend to cover most games when the team he is coaching for comes to town (whether that be Cleveland, Charlotte, or currently, Golden State).

It’s always great to not only catch up with an old friend but our talks always allow for a real “insiders” look into the working innards of an NBA team. I’ll throw you the most boring bone possible and drop that Monta is probably about a month away and has started jogging and shooting. His absence from this specific lineup spots a bright light onto the obvious importance (and, therefore, value) of this young player. The fourth-year guard just may be that elixir to cure what ails this team, but there are still major holes.

Before the trade that brought Jamal Crawford west from N.Y.C., the Warriors experimented with Stephen Jackson at the point, an idea that seemed doomed from the start as, at his very basketball core, SJax isn’t the most “pass-first” guy in the League. Unable to distribute out of much other than a pick-n-roll, Jackson has since moved to his natural position, which still leaves a concern whether Monta’s return just puts another “non-point” dominating the ball. Although the idea of him and Crawford running things for a fast-paced team that seems to be already “playing out the string” is a bit intriguing strictly from a fan’s point of view.

After my long chat with Coach Silas on the baseline seats, we walk back toward the locker room with his colleague and one of my childhood idols, Sidney Moncrief. He seems to remember me (I embarrassingly gushed over him last spring when Golden State was in town) and when Silas informs him of our “playing days,” Moncrief lets out a classic.

“Was he (Silas) a good teammate?”

He quickly follows that with something about a “good” teammate to him was one that passed him the ball. Moncrief is probably one of the least known about GREAT, DOMINATE ON BOTH ENDS OF THE COURT players from the ____era of Magic and Bird.

Only in...Denver?!Thank you, again, SLAM Magazine.

After my caucus on the Warriors’ current state of affairs, I determine that this game should be called a “Vegas Special.” Here is why. Golden State played the late night game last night, got into Denver at about 2 in the morning, all while Denver has been resting, playing just one game (and a home game at that) since last Saturday. Add in the fact that Ronny Turiaf and Brandon Wright are sidelined with the flu, leaving a Warrior team with only 10 guys in uniform tonight (half of which were undrafted, mind you). Basically, on paper this is a game to bet the mortgage on. Of course, if it was that easy, we’d all be rich and the “wise guys” in Vegas would have different jobs.

With all of this in mind, the game was a quickly played, up-and-down contest from the opening tip. As is often the case in the game of basketball, “runs” were all the rage. In the first quarter alone, Denver enjoyed runs of 13-0 (to start the game) and one of 15-3 to offset the Warriors’ own 15-5 jaunt midway through the initial stanza.

The game played out as if on paper; Golden State playing with too little against too much, as the home side enjoyed a comfortable 14-point advantage going into the locker rooms. The Nuggets were in duplication mode as they were able to start the second half with another wee 7-0 run to grab their first 20-point-plus lead at 72-51. Without a player of any real size, (I’ll attest right here that Andris Biedrins is not 6-11) the Nuggets penetrated and scored seemingly at will, creeping upon the 100-point plateau while still in the third quarter.

With under four minutes in the third, Carmelo sandwiched two 3-pointers around a sweet rejection of a driving Jackson, putting the Nuggets up 96-69. Content with just a nice lead, Nice workdaythe Nuggets cruised into the final 12 minutes, owners of a 25-point lead at 99-74.

The fourth quarter was an elementary school cakewalk and a formality at best, as the Nuggets coasted to a 123-105 win. In what is starting to become commonplace, Carmelo Anthony finished with a professional 27/9/6 line on a restricted 30-minute “workday.” Chauncey played about the same amount en route to a similarly business-like 16 and 11. The visitors got a solid night scoring by Jamal Crawford, but he is still obviously still trying to find his way with this roster, which still is without free-agent signee Corey Maggette. One highlight for Coach Don Nelson was the play of undrafted 6-9 rookie free-agent Rob Kurz. The four-year Notre Dame guy put up 20 points, hit all three of the 3’s he took, and grabbed seven rebounds for the height-challenged Warriors.

Postgame, when Nellie was asked about which side of the court disappointed him more, the legendary coach (who coached some of those Milwaukee teams I grew up with) calmly replied, “Take your pick.”

The victory puts the Nuggets at 16-7; owners of a two-game lead in the super competitive Northwest Division and the second-best record in the West. No one, including myself, should be ready to anoint the Nuggets as all that stand in the way of the Lakers in the West; Utah and San Antonio must still be given the proverbial benefit of the doubt. However, with time, more seasoning, and a possible move to add frontcourt depth, the “new-look” Nuggets just might be ready to finally get that first-round monkey off their back.