The names Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups have been in the minds of Denver Nuggets fans, beat writers and casual observers all season long and with good reason. Carmelo has been Denver’s franchise player for eight years now, and he has made it known that he wants to take his talents elsewhere — allegedly to the New York Knicks, but Chicago, New Jersey and Denver are “allegedly” under consideration as well. If he does leave, whether via trade or free-agency, the Nuggets figure to be in rebuilding mode, which will also affect Billups. Chauncey is 34-years old, he’s won a championship, and although he’s not the same “Mr. Big Shot” as he was during his title run with the Detroit Pistons, he is still an effective player (15.9 points and 5.3 assists per game). He’s earned the right to be on a contending team, not one in transition — and without Carmelo, or someone of value in return, that’s exactly what the Nuggets would become.
So when Denver visited the Verizon Center to take on the Washington Wizards Tuesday night, I was curious to see how Carmelo and Billups would perform under the weight of all the alleged trades and transition. Carmelo had 23 points and seven rebounds, Billups had 15 points and six assists, and both players were integral to the Nuggets’ 120-109 victory. However, I came away from the game with the names of their two teammates in my mind instead: Ty Lawson and Al Harrington.
Lawson had 17 points and two assists, and did most of his damage in the second quarter when the Nuggets stretched their lead to 12 points (although it got as high as 17 at one point in the period). The point guard had seven points in the second, and he kept both John Wall and Mustafa Shakur completely off-balance with his ability to change speeds, get to the basket, and knock down the open shot.
Harrington was a non-factor for three quarters, but he came alive in the fourth quarter when he hit five of the six three-pointers he attempted. He finished with 21 points, and he did so despite being heckled the entire game by courtside Wizards fans who insisted on calling him Othella, instead of Al (Kyle Weidie detailed this exchange in a great post).
After the game I spoke with Lawson about the way he uses his speed with Harrington about the hecklers, among other things.
Rashad Mobley: When the Celtics were in town on Saturday, Doc Rivers talked about how difficult it is for young point guards to know when to use their speed to their advantage. That’s something you’ve seemingly had no trouble with since you’ve been in the league, and you used to your advantage tonight too, how have you been so effective with that?
Ty Lawson: I just take the time to read the defenses, and then decide what speed to use from there. You can’t just go full speed all the time, that’s how you get hurt and that’s how you get charging fouls. You have to know when someone is behind, are the shooters in place in front of you, and then decide what gear to use.
Mobley: How has Chauncey helped you with that?
Lawson: Well he plays slow as hell, so he’s helped me understand the benefit of doing that every now and then. That’s not really my game, but I have an appreciation for it, and I know it’s necessary, especially in the playoffs when the game slows. But I do see how he comes off screens, how he bumps the guard, and then gets off, so I’d definitely say he’s smart about his speed, but he likes it slow.
Mobley: Do you think staying at North Carolina three years helped you perfect how you use speed in your game?
Lawson: Actually the way Roy [Williams] wanted it at Carolina was just straight up speed. No slowing it down, no jogging, just straight speed all the time. That’s no knock on Roy, but I just learned more from Chauncey.
Mobley: What did you think of John Wall’s ability to switch speeds tonight?
Lawson: You know, honestly, he’s all one speed right now, and that speed is blinding. I mean, literally, I had to sprint a couple times to get back, and I still was behind him, and he had the ball and I didn’t. It’ll probably take him his whole rookie year and the summer to truly learn, because he’s not that far removed from high school. Next year, he’ll be killing folks.
Mobley: My editor was on the baseline taking pictures during the game, and he told me some fans were heckling you and calling you Othella. What did you think about that? And did it get you going?
Harrington: (Laughs) Man, I thought it was some of the corniest sh*t I’ve heard in a long time, but it didn’t get me going. I just started being more aggressive, and it felt like I really didn’t give myself a chance to have a good game in the first half. I think I only took two shots (he took three) so I just wanted to be more aggressive. And once I make one, sometimes I get confidence, and I can start putting a couple together.
Mobley: Did you notice the Wizards getting frustrated, especially when you hit those two in the fourth quarter to take the lead from 10 to 16?
Harrington: Definitely. They’ve been playing well at home as of late, and I’m sure they expected to win, and they know we’ve been struggling on the road, so they probably thought they had a good chance to steal it, but we were able to out-execute them throughout the game.
Mobley: Much like the Wizards, you all have been struggling on the road, and Chauncey mentioned good teams shouldn’t be doing that, what do you think it takes to be a good road team?
Harrington: It’s all about finding a way to win, and it’s the little things that get you over the hump. We’ve played well, but we haven’t been able to pull it off down the stretch. We’re a veteran team, we should know how to do that, but for whatever reason we’ve come up short. The Wizards got rid of all their veterans, so they are young, and it’ll take them awhile to figure it all out. But in terms of us, tonight was a good start.
Mobley: Speaking of the Wizards being young, I have to ask you what you thought of John Wall tonight?
Harrington: He’s good. We made it tough for him tonight with the combo of Chauncey and Lawson, but the talent is there, and he’s going to have a great career.
Mobley: Is he faster than Lawson?
Harrington: I didn’t see it tonight. Ty got him.
Another Al Harrington Corner Three.
Ty Lawson to the rack.