January 11 2010, 9:04 AM
The Denver Nuggets could be called one of the NBA's most confusing teams. On Friday, they flipped the odds to beat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, one of the best teams in the league, even without star rookie point guard Ty Lawson or, more importantly, without their best player, Carmelo Anthony. They needed a win the following night in Sacramento, a seemingly sure bet. And Denver started out well but, as Denver Stiffs writes, came out of the half a different team, eventually losing 102-100 on a last-second jumper by Sacramento's Tyreke Evans. It was the Nuggets' eighth game dropped to a sub-.500 team, putting them at a very non-elite 8-11 on the road. Melo's absence is a valid excuse, but the team has gone 3-2 without him, a stretch that includes the gutty win over Cleveland and a surprising win over the Utah Jazz. Melo tells The Denver Post he hopes to play tonight at the Pepsi Center against the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team the Nuggets should handle easily. But as we've seen time and again, Denver struggles in supposedly easy situations. Coach George Karl says Melo has been doing all the right things since his December 28 injury---which primarily means staying involved. "Sometimes guys when they're hurt, you can't even find them," Karl says, noting that Melo is helping out in practice and is vocal in the locker room and on the bench. Karl calls it a sign of maturity, and he's right. But we really need Melo's maturity and leadership on the floor, where he can put up 30 points with ease and get the Nuggets back to the upper echelon of the Western Conference.