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Starting 5ive: 2008-2009 Denver Nuggets

January 19, 2017
Once upon a time, Carmelo Anthony was on a promising quest to bring the Denver Nuggets to the promised land, only to get their convoy bombed by Kobe Bryant, and their souls stolen by Trevor Ariza.

When Melo and Allen Iverson joined forces in December 2006, both were averaging at least 30 points per game, making them the best scoring duo since John and Jeremy in Wedding Crashers. The one-two scoring punch obliterated any opponent in video game format. But life, as back-to-back early first-round exits proved, is no video game.

So in 2008, less than a week into the new season, real life kicked in and Iverson was shipped to Detroit in exchange for Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess, a peace of mind, and Cheikh Samb.

Results were immediately felt. With Billups orchestrating the offense, Anthony falling in love with the 3-pointer, and George Karl scribbling notes for his future bestseller, the Nuggets won a franchise-tying best 54 games–good for second place in the Western Conference.

In the playoffs, the Nuggets finally cracked the code and got out of the first round by defeating the New Orleans Hornets, then led by Anthony’s banana boat buddy Chris Paul. The Nuggets slipped past the Dallas Mavericks next to enter the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 14 years.

But then came the LA Lakers. After losing in the finals to East coast rivals Boston Celtics the year prior, the drama-free Lakers barged into the 2008-2009 season like a ball of fire, losing only 17 games and winning 65. The Nuggets didn’t stand a chance.

Wait–scratch that. The Nuggets did stand a chance, but Ariza anticipated that chance, snuck up from behind, and stole it. In the West finals that lasted six games, Ariza had a total of 11 steals–the biggest of which came in the dying seconds of Game 1, with LA protecting a two-point lead. Had Denver won that game, they could’ve easily gone up 2-0. Plus, Ariza’s victim Anthony Carter could’ve slept better.

Denver was on a mission that year, but Kobe discovered his angry-Mamba face. LA went on to win the title and now here we are: Melo, seven years older, is still the same lethal scorer that he is, still fighting the good fight, still without a ring. While his buddies LeBron James and Dwayne Wade are champs and Chris Paul is revered as a point god, Anthony has become, perhaps undeservingly–and despite bringing home three gold medals for his country–a punchline. Will he forever go down in history as Elite Scorer Who Didn’t Win A Title? Barring any league-shattering, plate tectonic movement that would bring him, LeBron, Wade, and CP together in one ridiculous squad that would rival the Shawn Michaels-Triple H-Kevin Nash-Scott Hall clique (side note: Melo is totally Scott Hall), that’s where he is headed. And he seems to be in the acceptance stage.

After winning gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Melo said: “I can look back on it when my career is over–if I don’t have an NBA championship ring–and say I had a great career.” He does have a great career; 2008-2009 was his greatest season.

THE ROSTER: Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, JR Smith, Kenyon Martin, Nene Hilario, Linas Kleiza, Dahntay Jones, Chris Andersen, Anthony Carter, Johan Petro, Renaldo Balkman, Jason Hart