The answer for Denver?
Aspen, CO ColoradoA.I. is finally in Mile High.The thought seems foreign, even after Allen Iverson’s stellar debut in Nuggets blue and white Friday. But his entrance into the Denver lineup with 3 minutes, 25 seconds remaining in the first quarter against Sacramento was enough to thaw a city and region crippled by a snowstorm.The near capacity Pepsi Center crowd was on its feet when Iverson first jogged out of the tunnel. And when he first took the floor, I thought John Elway had been spotted on the jumbotron. Maybe fans were excited to see someone other than Denver’s modest starting five of Earl Boykins, Yakhouba Diawara, Linas Kleiza, Nene and Eduardo Najera on the court. More likely, however, hours and days of speculation and anticipation had finally reached their apex. Iverson braved airport delays and city traffic before reaching the arena one hour prior to tip-off. He finally arrived at 1:26 in the first quarter when he used a pick, dribbled into the lane and drained a fadeaway jumper. With 23 seconds remaining, he found space in the Kings defense and threw up a circus shot that banked off the back of the rim and found the net.Too good to be true? Maybe. Iverson, a seven-time All Star and four-time scoring champ, and a weak supporting cast struggled in the second quarter and took a seven-point deficit into the half. Iverson, perhaps feeling the effects of his 16-day hiatus, was 1-for-4 from the line in the quarter. He did, however, assist on a highlight reel play when he passed to DerMarr Johnson for an ally-oop dunk. It was the lone bright spot of the quarter for the Nuggets, who were as cold from the floor as the engines of the cars abandoned on the Colorado plains. They were 32 percent from the floor and shot 14 percent from 3-point range. Denver was off and running in the third, however. At one point Iverson hit back-to-back 3’s, then sank a 12-footer to give the Nuggets a 71-69 lead. He looked like the quickest kid on the blacktop, weaving through the defense to score 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the quarter.Unexpectedly, Iverson disappeared in the final quarter and the Nuggets faded, losing 101-96. In 39 minutes, A.I. still made quite the first impression. He scored 22 points and recorded 10 assists. Even more impressive, he didn’t need to take his usual 20-30 shots to record those solid offensive numbers. He shot 60 percent from the floor – 20 points higher than his career mark. So, what did we learn Friday? The Nuggets are capable of garnering interest despite fielding the NBA equivalent of a Triple A squad. And, regardless of how well Iverson plays, they won’t win many games when they miss 14 free throws.While many of the team’s prominent players are idling on the bench for the foreseeable future, the Nuggets should struggle in a deep Western Conference. J.R. Smith still has eight games remaining after being suspended for his role in last week’s Madison Square Garden brawl. Carmelo Anthony has 13. Marcus Camby fractured a finger on his right hand and is listed as game-to-game, according to The Associated Press. Can Denver tread water until they’re at full strength in mid-January? Can they stay close to conference stalwarts like San Antonio and Phoenix the next month?Will ‘The Answer’ really be the answer?The initial returns sure look positive. Nuggets fans have already put their faith in the 6-foot guard, and are praying one of those first round picks sent to Philadelphia doesn’t turn out to be a big mistake – Alex English was taken with the 23rd overall pick (the sixth pick of the second round) back in 1976. We all know how that turned out. The fans are buzzing, and season ticket sales are experiencing a second wind. It won’t be long until No. 3 jerseys pack the Pepsi Center and city streets. Even the Sixers are ready to move forward. They snapped a 12-game skid Wednesday. It won’t be long before Iverson draws the ire of bathroom stall poets, much like another Philadelphia sports pariah. (I was once using the bathroom at Philadelphia International Airport and discovered an interesting tidbit of information: Terrell Owens drinks dingleberry tea. The statement wasn’t attributed, so I can only assume it’s conjecture.)Iverson just may give me a reason to watch NBA basketball – or head to Denver to watch from the cheap seats as he breaks a defender’s ankles. That’s saying something. I haven’t been to a professional basketball game since 7-foot-7 Gheorge Muresan was patrolling the middle for the Washington Bullets. Critics will debate the Iverson experiment until they run out of breath or pen ink. I’m still curious whether two dominant scorers (Melo and A.I.) can coexist with only one ball. At least one thing’s certain: The Nuggets with Iverson will provide entertainment.Let’s just hope reporters don’t ask him about practice.Jon Maletz, aka “The Hammer,” can be reached at email@example.com
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