In any sport, the best trades are the ones that make each team better. In this NBA season, the blockbuster trade on Feb. 21 that sent perennial all-star Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knicks is Exhibit A. Anthony has combined with fellow all-star Amar’e Stoudemire to make the Knicks a playoff team for the first time since 2004. The Nuggets are also playoff-bound. Denver has won 15 of 20 games since the trade and is allowing 10 fewer points a game.
Both the Nuggets (47-30) and Knicks (39-38) will be dangerous when the playoffs begin April 16. The Nuggets are a much better defensive team without Anthony. Just ask the Los Angeles Lakers, who lost at home to Denver this past Sunday. The Nuggets have more depth with ex-Knicks Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari and seven-foot center Timofey Mosgov in their rotation. But Mosgov’s left knee and ankle injuries in Tuesday’s night loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder could prove costly. Come playoff time, the Nuggets also must prove they have players who can make big shots with the game on the line.
The Knicks, who have won four in a row, have no worries when it comes to making shots under pressure. Anthony is fearless and one of the most difficult players to guard in the league. He and Stoudemire are tied for fourth in NBA scoring, averaging 25.5 points a game. Point guard Chauncey Billups, also part of the trade, is not nicknamed “Mr. Big Shot” for nothing. The Knicks will be a handful for any playoff opponent because of the inside-outside threat presented by Anthony and Stoudemire—the second-most potent scoring tandem in the league behind the Miami Heat’s LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
If the Heat finish third in the Eastern Conference and the Knicks finish sixth, both teams would meet in a marquee first-round playoff series. The Knicks should like their chances for an upset. While most people were watching the Oscars on Feb. 27, the Knicks beat the Heat in Miami. In the Western Conference, the Nuggets are likely to finish fifth and meet the Thunder in the first round. The Nuggets, winners of six of their last seven games, would be underdogs with plenty of bite. They have played their best basketball since the "Melodrama" over which city Anthony would call home ended two months ago.
Cecil Harris is the author of three books, including Charging the Net: A History of Blacks in Tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters.
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