January 15, 2013
DENVER — George Karl has a conundrum to consider.
His picks for the NBA All-Star Game — and whom from his own Denver Nuggets should be on the list. There is no clear answer, a no-brainer of an All-Star selection.
"I think Ty and A.I. and Gallo have all had their moments," the Nuggets coach said before settling on Andre Iguodala, over Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari.
If there is an All-Star on the Nuggets, Iguodala makes for a fine choice. His contributions range from points to rebounds to vowels.
But the obvious pick needs to be someone else. It needs to be Lawson.
Denver whizzed past Portland 115-111 in overtime at Pepsi Center on Tuesday. Consider this telling number: Denver owns a 24-game home winning streak when scoring at least 100 points.
The Nuggets are at their best at their fastest. They are only fast when Lawson's at his best.
For the Nuggets to mature from first-round afterthought to legitimate Western Conference contender, the zippy point guard must play like he did Tuesday — at an all-star level.
With 24 points and 12 assists, Lawson was dazzling and dizzying. Those kinds of numbers would place the 25-year-old squarely in all-star cross hairs.
When Lawson performs like an all-star, the Nuggets are a different team, a swarm of swift athletes who can wreck the best in the West.
When he is just another guard, going through the motions, the Nuggets are blah, blah, blah — a pretender that talks a good game with little evidence to back up the bravado.
“I thought he did last year,” Karl said of Lawson playing like an all-star. “I thought at the end of last year he was one of the top-three, top-four point guards in the Western Conference.”
It was then — at the end of last year — when Denver performed like a playoff team that belonged, not one simply there by default.
In a seven-game series against the Lakers, Javale McGee gained notice for his difference-making impact. But it was Lawson who created problem after problem for L.A.
“I think people are guarding me different this year. I think they’re sitting on my right hand,” Lawson said. “And I think they’re paying more attention to me. This year I’m trying to figure out the difference between the level I’m at and getting to that next level."
Tuesday night at Pepsi Center still was thick with Broncos disappointment.
It also showed the difference in the Nuggets with all-star Ty — and the Nuggets with Timid Ty.
Matched against Damian Lillard, a rookie worthy of all-star selection, Lawson helped the Nuggets race to a 16-8 lead. He made a pair of 3-pointers and entered halftime with 10 points and six assists.
"I've got to get my rhythm early," he said.
On Denver's final possession of regulation, the ball went to Iguodala. He missed. It should have gone to Lawson, the way he was rolling. He scored the first bucket of OT, instead.
“I’ve got to be more aggressive. They’re paying more attention to me,” Lawson said. “I wasn’t used to that for the first 20 games of the season. Really, probably since high school.”
One lucky Nuggets fan won a No. 3 jersey autographed by Lawson.
When the Nuggets got his autograph on a four-year, $48 million contract, they signed over their backcourt future to Lawson.
It is no coincidence Denver has won six straight games with Lawson playing his best ball since the Lakers series. In four of those games he averaged 18 points and eight assists — the kind of numbers that would deserve All-Star consideration.
With his blurry speed, Lawson always found a quick transition from level to level. His dominance on the AAU circuit was a basketball sight to behold. His work with national champion North Carolina scribbled his name in the NCAA record books.
As an NBA rookie, Lawson became a first-round steal.
The most difficult transition will be the one he’s faced with now: graduating from excellent point guard to all-star point guard.
If that happens, the Nuggets will graduate from fun to feared.