He’s polished up his game and is averaging 37.6 points in the Denver Nuggets’ 3-0 start after leading the NBA with a 23.6 average in the preseason.
For this ascendancy in his game, credit Anthony’s accomplishment last spring, when he directed the Nuggets to playoff series wins over New Orleans and Dallas after five straight first-round exits.
His game has only gotten better since leading Denver to the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to the champion Los Angeles Lakers in six games.
While everyone around him is talking about a scoring title or an MVP trophy being in the cards for him this season, Anthony is focused like a laser on only one goal.
“I told you all before training camp started I felt better than I ever felt coming into a season,” Anthony said after posting consecutive 40-plus-point games for the first time in his six seasons in the NBA. “My stamina feels great. And I just feel good all around, my confidence is up. You know, I’ve got one thing ahead of me, which is that gold ball.”
And thanks to that taste of playoff fulfillment, ‘Melo is more masterful than ever.
Instead of setting up on the block and posting up like he used to, Anthony is getting to the rim from the perimeter when he’s not swishing jumpers, and that’s made him much harder to defend.
“I think ‘Melo’s awareness to how he’s being covered is the best it’s ever been,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “I think it’s his ability to move around and be placed in different positions and his efficiency is pretty incredible right now, from jump shots to post-ups to penetrations to good passing decisions.”
Stymied by Anthony’s answer to their every run, the Grizzlies, who got double-figure scoring from all five starters, couldn’t capitalize on their collective hot hand to pull off a rare win in the Mile High City, where they’ve lost 15 of 16 since the franchise moved to Memphis.
Denver led 67-66 at halftime, then created some cushion in the third quarter behind Anthony’s sweet jumpers and dominant drives. But the Grizzlies didn’t go down quietly, keeping up with the Nuggets until the very end.
“I thought we were in good shape at halftime,” Mayo said. “But in the third quarter it seemed like they scored for 10 or 12 straight minutes.”
And it seemed like all the buckets were ‘Melo’s.
The Grizzlies shot 58 percent from the floor after a sizzling 77-percent first quarter, when they made 16 of their first 19 baskets, many of them dunks or high-percentage shots at the rim.
“The game was difficult for me to feel good about,” Karl said. “Because we felt confident we could outscore them, we refused to make the commitment (on defense). Fortunately, they were right, fortunately we could score more points than them. It’s a dangerous way to play.”
With Anthony playing this well, they got away with it.
“We’ve just got to get him the ball and get out of his way,” suggested point guard Anthony Carter(notes). “He’s making his pass, he’s making his shots. He’s not forcing too many shots. He’s just playing all-around. He’s got assists and rebounds. Whenever push comes to shove, we’ve just got to get the ball to him and get out the way.”
“He’s just so focused. He’s riding a high wave right now and we’re kind of getting on his back,” Billups said. “He’s playing great basketball. He’s scoring a lot of points, but he’s playing great basketball. He’s making the right decisions when they double or they come across the lane. His energy level’s up, he’s vocal out there, he’s just focused.”
NOTES: Allen Iverson(notes) (hamstring) is expected to make his season debut for the Grizzles on Monday night at Sacramento. … Mayo’s previous career high was 33 points, which he accomplished twice as a rookie last season.