Tipoff: 8:00PM EST
Chauncey Billups – 14.7 ppg, 5.5 apg
Nene – 14.p ppg, 6.9 rpg
Carmelo Anthony – OUT
Kenyon Martin – DTD
Chauncey Billups – DTD
Nedad Krstic – DTD
Two elements will be hanging over the heads of players tonight:
- The absence of Carmelo Anthony
- The honor of a Christmas evening game on network TV
With regards to point one, there is obviously a strategic as well as a human element to it. Strategically, ‘Melo is one of the most offensively talented players in the league. He brings multiple dimensions to the Nuggets, which include improved passing and defense during his time in the league. He is very similar to Durant in that, when he pulls up and shoots an 18 footer, you believe in every sense of your being that this simple motion is something they were born to do. The Nuggets are still offensively proficient, with or without him. Billups will continue to run the offense, they will look to run, and if the Thunder are not careful, they still possess the ability, like the Suns and Knicks, to run away with things. They have both won and lost games by 20+ points this season. Unfortunately, part of their bi-polar performance also has to do with ‘Melo, in the sense that he has been noncommittal in his willingness to either stay with the team or request a trade. When ‘Melo has been engaged, the team still has the same offensive explosiveness. Not having that tonight will obviously have an impact.
The human element to ‘Melo’s absence is something all together different though. If you aren’t aware, his sister unexpectedly passed away in Baltimore from what is described as a pre-existing condition. She leaves behind four children. This is the kind of thing that you never wish on someone else to have to experience, especially during the Christmas season when family time is so important.
I have not personally endured such personal loss. All I can do is relate in some sense to how I have known, even impersonally, ‘Melo over the years. I actually started following Anthony when he was an 18 year old freshman at Syracuse University. I was a long suffering ‘Cuse fan, dating all the way back to what is known to all in Syracuse as “the Smart Shot.” I watched the team for the next 15 years, always seeming to have the talent but not quite enough drive and focus. And the one time they did have the drive and focus, they didn’t quite have the talent. Enduring the heartache of unfulfilled expectations left me rather jaded, which is why it was all the more thrilling to watch the 2003 team run to the title on the shoulders of ‘Melo and the other youngsters like Hakeem Warrick and Gerry McNamara. I will likely never meet ‘Melo, but his victory during that season meant something to me in a trivial “I’m whole again” sort of way. Sometimes the silliest things are the most important to us; this win was important to me.
So it was with great interest that I’ve followed ‘Melo through his professional career. He has always been a mixture of breathtaking talent and the nagging inability to separate his present from his past on the rough streets of Baltimore. Melo is notoriously a huge fan of “The Wire,” so I would think that a kid who lived it watching a show about it would be able to detect whether the show was authentic. If it was, then all I can say is, my heart goes out to any kid or family that tries to matriculate through that city. ‘Melo is an imperfect person trying to become a better person. He is known for being one of the most charitable NBA players in the league. His missteps and personal dramas make me root for him even more. I have a vested interest in him. So knowing that his heart still lies in Baltimore, in part because his family still resides there, makes this latest tragedy all the more sorrowful. Every event has a human component; ‘Melo’s is always closer to the surface than most.
With regards to point two, the Christmas game is a long-standing tradition for the NBA, a time to showcase the best of the best. I’m sure that the NBA had figured it would be pitting two of its brightest starts on the evening stage with ‘Melo and Durant. That matchup will not take place. What I do hope will take place is a better game than they might have wanted to play before ‘Melo’s tragedy. Not because missing ‘Melo should want them to play better (it should) but because the Game is a great thing, and it is wonderful to play. Games will be won and lost, but the Thunder can begin a tradition against a team dealing with personal tragedy in a way that many teams don’t – with an element of compassion. Compassion doesn’t mean letting the other team win; it means playing your best out of respect for the other and of the missing.
I still hope the Thunder win tonight, but if they do not that’s ok too. There are greater things in life than winning games; what is important to remember is that one of them is in the simple desire to try and win. When everyone tries, everyone wins.