‘Melo returns: Nuggets roll to win
DENVER ” Together at last, Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson began their quest Monday night to prove two superstars can coexist.
So far, so very, very good.
Anthony scored 28 points in his return from a 15-game suspension for fighting and Iverson added 23 in the Denver Nuggets’ 115-98 rout of the Memphis Grizzlies.
After receiving a resounding ovation during introductions, Anthony took the microphone and thanked fans, teammates and Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke for supporting him during his 36-day layoff.
“It’s like a new beginning for us,” Anthony said. “And we’re going to give y’all something to cheer for.”
The Nuggets delivered, jumping out to a 20-point first-quarter lead, never trailing and turning it on in the fourth quarter with a series of alley-oop jams from Iverson to Anthony that capped the duo’s debut.
More than five weeks after clocking the New York Knicks’ Mardy Collins in a melee at Madison Square Garden that led to 10 ejections and seven suspensions, Anthony returned to a Denver lineup he hardly recognized.
On the day after NBA commissioner David Stern banned Anthony for 15 games, the Nuggets acquired Iverson, a seven-time All-Star, from the Philadelphia 76ers.
That begged the question: Was there enough room in this town for two superstars who are used to having the ball in their hands when victory is in their grasp?
Anthony came in with a league-leading 31.6-point average with Iverson third at 29.5.
A delighted Iverson could hardly contain his excitement over Melo’s return during the afternoon shootaround: “It’s like Christmas morning,” he said. “Opening up that present that you asked for.”
Iverson swears he’s had his fill of carrying the load during his 11 NBA seasons and is eager to serve as wingman to the 22-year-old Anthony ” and he showed it the first chance he got.
With 7:30 left in the first quarter, Iverson had a breakaway for an easy basket but flipped the ball instead to Anthony running alongside him for a finger-roll that rocked the Pepsi Center.
Iverson floated an alley-oop lob that Anthony shoved one-handed through the hoop to make it 103-82 with 6:39 left, and they did it again two minutes later.
Anthony got his biggest ovation when he took a seat with 4:11 left after totaling 28 points, five rebounds and six assists in 32 minutes.
The crowd began heading for the exits.
Marcus Camby had 17 points and 17 boards and J.R. Smith scored 19 points for the energized Nuggets, who raced to a 38-18 lead after one quarter and led 59-47 at the half.
Memphis, which got 23 points from Pau Gasol, twice got within five in the third quarter but Denver closed with a 20-7 run sparked by Smith’s eight points to take an 88-70 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Nuggets, who went 7-8 during Anthony’s absence, parted with Andre Miller to get Iverson, then dealt Earl Boykins to Milwaukee for Steve Blake, a pass-first point guard, perfect for the new dynamite duo.
Anthony said in an open letter of apology to fans and the team on Sunday that he’ll return a better player and a better person. He also returned to a lineup that looked little like the one he last saw on Dec. 16, when he struck Collins for collaring Smith on the way to the basket.
Anthony was enjoying his best season both on and off the court when he threw his costly punch. He had polished his public and corporate image, steered clear of the controversies that dogged him early in his career, and had donated $4.5 million for a Baltimore youth center and a basketball facility at Syracuse, which he led to the national championship in 2003.
Anthony said he wasn’t sure which part of his game had suffered the most during his hiatus because he’d never missed a month of basketball before. He did realize one thing: “How much I appreciate the game of basketball.”
And he promised not to take the game or his place in it for granted anymore.
“I wish I could take that punch back,” Anthony said.
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