When Allen Iverson was traded to the Denver Nuggets, it made perfect sense that Earl Boykins would be the odd man out of the team's rotation. After all, Iverson is small, loves to shoot and is used to playing 40 minutes a night. You can't have two guys like that playing together, can you?
If there's anyone who likes to shoot more than A.I., it's Boykins, so in theory there wouldn't be enough shots to go around – particularly with Carmelo Anthony in the mix, too. And not only is Boykins much smaller than the rail-thin Iverson but he also is frequently mistaken for a ball boy.
Defensively, it would be impossible to pair Boykins and A.I. together. Throw in the fact that Boykins was suffering through a horrible shooting season, and it looked like he was destined to play behind Iverson – which is a little like being Brett Favre's backup. Boykins, who comes off the Nuggets' bench, was ready for the clipboard and the baseball cap and a seat next to George Karl.
But the Madison Square Garden fight that cost J.R. Smith and Anthony a combined 25 games in suspensions forced Boykins into action. Karl had few other offensive weapons to put on the floor, so he put Boykins next to Iverson and let them go. The results have been pretty impressive.
While Denver has struggled to win games – they're 3-6 since A.I. arrived – Boykins has exploded. Before Iverson's arrival, Boykins was barely shooting above 30 percent. In fact, he had put together only three games all season in which he had made more than half his shots. He was in a horrendous slump.
But in the nine games Boykins has played next to Iverson, it's been a different story.
Boykins has scored 20 or more points in eight of those nine games, and his shooting percentage has been in the mid-40s. Boykins and Iverson complement each other well by sharing the point guard duties and pushing the tempo to frighteningly fast speeds. Whichever player gets the ball takes it and the other runs the wing. Defensively, Karl has played plenty of zone defense to cover up the size deficiency, and in general, playing fast negates matchup problems.
Of course, the real test for Boykins will come when the Nuggets have a full complement of players. Smith returns Wednesday night and will see time at the two, and Carmelo will get 40 minutes a night when he resumes his season on Jan. 22. Can Boykins find a spot on the floor in the midst of that kind of depth? We'll see. In the meantime, the little fella is putting up some numbers.
Speaking of bouncing back, the New Jersey Nets are on a little bit of a roll after sleepwalking through most of the season's first two months. New Jersey has won four of its last five games, during which time it has allowed its opponents an average of 88 points a night. The Nets have dominated the Atlantic Division in recent years with a combination of great defense and good perimeter play by Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter, but for the early part of this season, New Jersey's defense was lacking. And with Jefferson struggling with an ankle injury, the Nets weren't getting their usual production from him. However, Jefferson is getting healthy, and it shows in his explosion off the floor. He looks like he's getting his game back, and he's averaged 20 points over his last five games. Perhaps the Nets are now ready to take control of the league's worst division.
The Los Angeles Lakers have been one of the NBA's most surprising teams this season, but until they show more consistency, it's tough to consider them true championship contenders. L.A. has looked great at times, beating Phoenix, Dallas, Utah and San Antonio, but Tuesday's loss in Memphis was just another in a long line of head-scratching defeats. L.A. has now lost games to Seattle, Portland, Charlotte, the Hornets and the Shaq-less Heat. The best teams in the league win the games they're supposed to win, and the Lakers aren't doing it.