DENVER – The Denver Nuggets are collecting converts across the country with their uncommon blend of freakish athleticism, superb strength and unparalleled speed, qualities that might very well deliver this band of former malcontents and misfits to their first NBA Finals.
The Nuggets earned their first trip to the Western Conference championship series in 24 years by dispatching the Dallas Mavericks in five games.
They blitzed the Mavs the same way they did the New Orleans Hornets in Round 1, with a dizzying array of Chauncey Billups’ leadership, Carmelo Anthony’s clutch play, Nene’s unmatched post presence, Kenyon Martin’s toughness and Dahntay Jones’ peskiness.
Combine all that with a blazing bench that features Chris “Birdman” Andersen’s energy, J.R. Smith’s athletic artfulness and Anthony Carter’s cunning along with a rejuvenated coach in George Karl and NBA insiders are starting to tout the Nuggets as championship contenders.
Charles Barkley, a longtime critic of Denver’s play, is among those singing the Nuggets’ praises now and the chorus is growing louder across the league.
“These guys are legit. They’ve got a legitimate championship-caliber team,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said after Denver’s series-clinching 124-110 win Wednesday night, the Nuggets’ seventh double-digit victory in the postseason.
“They have great balance. Their activity and athleticism and ability to generate second-chance opportunities is a huge factor. This building is a great building and a great homecourt advantage, especially when you factor in the altitude. So, they’ve got the pieces. They really do,” Carlisle said. “And they’ve got an experienced coach that’s been down that road and gotten to the finals. They’ve got a great shot.”
Since Billups’ arrival, the Nuggets are 61-27. They tied their franchise record with 54 regular-season wins and advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1994 and into the conference championship for the first time in 24 years.
For all those expecting a Kobe Bryant-LeBron James tussle for the title next month, hold up, said Dallas guard and ex-Arizona Wildcat Jason Terry.
“This is a team that’s going to be a tough out. I don’t think it’s going to be an easy walk to a Kobe-LeBron final,” Terry said. “They’ve been playing well since the All-Star break.”
Heat announce layoffs
MIAMI – The Miami Heat have laid off employees as the national economic downturn has hit the American Airlines Arena.
Heat team president Eric Woolworth said in a statement that the team had eliminated a small number of positions. Employees who were laid off Wednesday will receive a severance package and be eligible to be rehired.