Denver Coach After 'Melo's Exit: Best Team in Years

'Melo has barely been gone a week.

Friday, Mar 4, 2011  |  Updated 3:43 PM EDT
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Denver Coach After 'Melo's Exit: Best Team in Years

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NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 23: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks on the court against the Milwaukee Bucks at Madison Square Garden on February 23, 2011 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. The Knicks defeated the Buck 114-108. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Carmelo Anthony

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Barely a week after Carmelo Anthony left Denver for the Knicks, Nuggets coach George Karl excitedly declared he had his best team in his 5½ seasons in Denver.

The Nuggets are 5-1 since sending Anthony and Chauncey Billups to the Knicks in a three-team, 13-player trade that brought them Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov from New York and Kosta Koufus from Minnesota.

In Denver's one loss since Anthony's departure, the Nuggets couldn't hit the clutch shots down the stretch in a 107-106 overtime loss at Portland.

But they've also shut down Boston (75 points), Charlotte (80) and Atlanta (90).

"We're playing together and we're winning right now," said Denver's Ty Lawson. "That's fun for everybody. There's no sticky hands out there. We're passing the ball, getting everybody involved. It feels a lot better when everybody is happy. The bigs are happy. The wings are happy. Everybody is touching the ball, and that's the way basketball should be played."

Charlotte's Stephen Jackson said Anthony's exit has changed the personality of the Nuggets.

"They're playing more open," Jackson said. "I think they have four or five guys on the court that are aggressive instead of waiting for 'Melo to shoot all the balls. They're playing with two point guards, so they're making plays and everybody is getting shots. They're not depending on one guy to score."

While noting the Nuggets have a long way to go and a tough road ahead, Karl said they've come together quickly because the team is committed to competing through defense, which was always a deficiency in Denver since he took over the team in 2005.

Karl admittedly spent his first night after the trade lamenting the loss of his top two players and backups Anthony Carter, Renaldo Balkman and Shelden Williams. But by practice the next day, he was excited.

"I think we're going to be better than people think we're going to be," he said last week. "And I think we're going to be really good by the end of the year. Somehow, someway, we got to fight our way into the playoffs. It's going to take some time to figure out who plays where and who likes playing with each other. I'm going to make mistakes with that and they're going to make mistakes not being familiar with each other. We're going to have a growing-together period of time."

Still, he had bold predictions for a team that has moved up from seventh in the Western Conference standings to fifth and was within two games of Oklahoma City in the Northwest Division heading into the Thunder's game at Atlanta Friday night.

"I think it's the deepest team I've ever had here," Karl said. "I have 12 guys who can play basketball, maybe 14. That's usually too many, but that's a nice problem to have."

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