Whose shot? J.R.'sBy Greg Anthony
Five questions in the wake of Denver's 103-88 win Sunday over the Los Angeles Clippers. It was the Nuggets' fifth straight win.
How is J.R. Smith scoring all these points all of a sudden?
I think people sometimes have unrealistic expectations for young talents. This is because of LeBron James -- you expect guys with great potential to have an immediate impact.
It takes some guys longer to figure out the NBA; also, there's the question of the right fit.
I think the lack of success he's had before this season can be chalked up to these factors. Anytime as a player, when you go into a situation where you're needed, like Denver, it helps. Playing alongside Carmelo Anthony and a true pass-first point guard like Andre Miller seems to be a good situation for him.
I've been impressed with him up close. He's got a nice little run going. It will be interesting to see how he faces some tough times. That's going to tell us more about him -- how he deals with adversity. Carmelo is now the leader -- and I think he's giving the young man some confidence. Carmelo needs a big-time player to take the pressure off him, as it showed in last year's playoffs against the Clippers, when they could just focus on him.
C'mon. Can the Nuggets really depend on J.R. Smith?
That's what they're going to find out. What he's averaged recently (22.6 ppg over last five) might be too much to expect -- not too many guys averaging 25 in this league. But if gets up to 18 per game, if you're George Karl and the Nuggets, that's a complete victory. If you get 18 a night from a guy you acquired for a couple of second-round picks, that could end up being the biggest move made out there.
Doesn't seem like the Nuggets miss K-Mart at all, do they?
Don't forget they're also without Nene. Marcus Camby and Reggie Evans have a great impact defensively and with rebounding. So now they don't have K-Mart's offensive explosiveness, but that's where J.R. has helped make them better.
And Carmelo's now the game's best pure scorer -- his ability to play out of double teams, get teammates involved -- that has been fun to watch. The sky's the limit. Karl told me that Anthony is the best pure scorer he's ever coached. And that scoring is coming within the framework of helping his team.
Why can't the Clips win a road game?
Tim Thomas, Sam Cassell and Chris Kaman were pretty much out of training camp. That's a lot for a young team to handle. Elton Brand didn't have any off-time in the offseason.
When you put that all together, it's tough to have consistency. You only have three teams in the conference with a losing record. That's making it difficult. Winning is new to them. Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy told me that one of his challenges is to convince them how good they are. They don't have a history of being a winning franchise.
What about their backcourt rotation?
The key is Shaun Livingston. With Cassell's age, and Cuttino Mobley not the prototype shooting guard, Livingston is important. When you talk about Livingston and Corey Maggette off the bench -- now, that could be more of a key. For a team struggling, they're going to need those guys to step up.
Plus if Sam is leading the team in scoring, then the team is not playing good basketball.
ESPN analyst Greg Anthony was on the broadcast from Denver of Sunday's Clippers-Nuggets game