Pump Up Music: Smashing Pumpkins -- "Cherub Rock"
The Big Picture: So begins the dreaded West Coast road trip for the Bobcats. Luckily, they'll miss Carmelo Anthony in tonight's game against the Denver Nuggets due to a sprained ankle. They may miss the Nugs' gunner off the bench, J.R. Smith, too, but that's because the team wants to suspend him for a game. If they choose not to discipline him now, after word leaked that they would, it might look like they caved in order to keep his talent available in Melo's absence. Either way, with Anthony out, here's to more Joey Graham and Arron Afflalo than you ever thought you'd see in one night.
For the Cats, this is the first game in a road back to back, and I strongly suspect Gerald Wallace and Raymond Felton are still feeling the effects of ankle injuries and are simply playing through them. Fortunately, with the opponent's best player out, this could be an opportunity to reduce their minutes with the dual goal of keeping them healthy and keeping them rested for the next night's game in Phoenix. However, given Larry Brown's penchant for using substitution patterns appropriate for Game 7 of the Finals in every game, I don't have much hope we'll actually see that, unless one team jumps out to a big lead in the second half.
Key to Victory: We don't really have an interior scoring presence, and the Nuggets' strength is its interior defense, led by Nene and supplemented by Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin. What I would love to see is Chauncey Billups deciding that he's going to carry Carmelo's scoring load, and then laying a stinker, but if Felton has a bad wheel and has trouble with him, that would leave either D.J. Augustin, who's too small to deal with Chauncey in the post, or Ronald Murray, who shouldn't be trusted with point guard duties. Someone's going to have to prove he can guard Billups.
Detail That May Interest .08% of You: Nuggets' reserve Renaldo Balkman wasn't even a full time starter his final year at South Carolina, but he still entered the draft early and was rewarded when Isiah Thomas shocked the NBA world by drafting him in the first round.