Winning Nuggets meet Nene at the pass

Apr 19 2010 - 5:59pm

DENVER -- Adrian Dantley has a simple formula for a long playoff ride for the Denver Nuggets.

"We have to get Nene the ball," Dantley said a few minutes before the Nuggets playoff tip against the Utah Jazz.

Nene was part of a group demolition of the Jazz. The Nuggets won 126-113, with Nene scoring 19 points.

In the fourth quarter, Nene showed his power. He caught the ball near the basket and whirled past Carlos Boozer, who, in desperation, grabbed Nene's arm.

Boozer weighs 260 pounds, but Nene shrugged him off with ease, dunked the ball and continued the Nuggets' second-half party.

Dantley's plan to emphasize Nene might seem radical. The Nuggets have an elite point guard, Chauncey Billups, and an elite shooting forward, Carmelo Anthony.

Dantley, the Nuggets' interim coach, knows Billups and Anthony need little help to score. Shooting the ball for Anthony comes as naturally as breathing. Anthony wasted the Jazz with 42 points.

Dantley knows it won't always be so easy for his star. He knows Nene will need to rise for the Nuggets to reach full power.

Nene needs help. He requires his teammates to get him the ball.

He strolls to a different basketball beat. He's engulfed by a culture that emphasizes scoring.

He wants to share.

This is admirable. It's also strange. Nene stands just under 7 feet and he's fast and quick.

Yet he lacks the stubborn desire required to push him to the next level.

Often, Nene will rip past his defender, storm toward the basket with no serious obstacle . . .

And pass the ball.

Dantley scored 23,177 points in his 15-season NBA career as an undersized inside player. He excelled because of his competitive spirit.

He begs his big man to try the overpowering approach.

"We talk about that all the time," Dantley said. "We try to tell him to go to the rim."

The first half of Saturday's game revealed Nene at his best. He had 13 points against Utah's depleted frontline.

Yet he remained true to his unselfish side. On one play, Nene beat defenders downcourt and found himself alone near the basket.

Guard J.R. Smith, off in his own world, ignored Nene, even though Mr. Massive is hard to miss.

Nene declined to sulk. When he finally got the ball, he immediately found Anthony for a basket.

Dantley is sometimes baffled by Nene, but the big man's generosity does help the coach's sales pitch to his team. He's wise enough to appeal to his players' considerable self-interest.

"I tell the guys, if you pass the ball to Nene, a lot of times you're going to get the ball back," Dantley said.

"So pass to him."

It's sound strategy, one that could lead to a long, sweet ride.

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