DENVER — Wesley Person expected to be winning this much, but not with the Denver Nuggets.
When the guard signed with the Miami Heat before the season, he had visions of hitting wide-open 3-pointers while opponents packed the lane to stop Shaquille O’Neal. That didn’t
work out, but it seems to be working just fine with the Nuggets, who, with Sunday’s 114-103 win over Milwaukee, have won 11 of their last 12 games. They’re the one of the hottest teams in the league — up there, ironically, with Miami, which has won its last 12 games and is ripping through opponents with ease.
Person could have been sitting on the bench for the Heat, which is why he couldn’t be happier where he is, contributing to a surging playoff contender.
“It’s fun,” he said. “You can’t get too happy with yourself. You’ve got to continue to keep playing hard and doing what we’ve been doing. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Denver is 21/2 games ahead of Minnesota for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. With three home games left before playing six of the next seven on the road, the Nuggets are hoping to put some distance between them and the rest of the field.
“We play every other night and we’ve got a homestand that, when you look at the schedule, you’re probably excited about,” Denver head coach George Karl said.
The Nuggets are also excited about the way their offense is playing. In their last three games the Nuggets have scored 349 points and have started to become the kind of offense Karl envisioned when he took over Jan. 28.
“We don’t really call plays,” said forward Carmelo Anthony, who is averaging 20.6 points a game since the break. “(Karl) just wants a lot of movement out there. No one holds the ball. When we’re doing that, we’re really effective out there.”
Anthony has become more efficient since Karl took over. In the last 12 games he is averaging only 14.4 shots but has failed to score at least 15 points in only two of those games. One of them came in Denver’s 106-101 loss to Phoenix on March 13, when Karl benched him for the final 17 minutes, 45 seconds. He finished with only nine points in that game, but he followed that up with games of 25, 21 and 15 points. The 21 points, which he scored in a 115-96 rout of Charlotte last Wednesday, came on just nine shots.
It’s the kind of production Karl wants from his star.
“Carmelo, it’s trying to get him to understand greatness comes in making other people better and your team wins as much as it does scoring and having stats,” Karl said. “And he has a coach that he knows doesn’t like volume shooting. He prefers volume winning over volume shooting. He’s doing a great job understanding what I want.”
While Anthony has been playing like Karl wants, it has been the guards that have been instrumental in the Nuggets’ recent scoring surge. Andre Miller and Earl Boykins have spearheaded a team that has 123 assists in the last four games. In two of those games both guards have hit double digits in assists.
“Andre is keeping the pace a lot better, he’s being more aggressive in the gaps, and I thought he had complete control of the game from the point guard position most of the night,” Karl said of Miller after the guard had 22 points and eight assists against Milwaukee. “And Earl comes in and does a great job in the fourth quarter when they looked like they were trying to make a little bit of a run. Our point guard play in the last three or four games, I don’t know how much you can ask for out of that.”
Denver hopes to make it 12 out of 13 when it takes on Washington at the Pepsi Center tonight (7 p.m., Altitude). Don’t expect the players to worry about what their pursuers are doing.
“Continue to take care of our business,” forward Kenyon Martin said. “That’s what we have to do.”