A.I. No Longer Has To Carry The Team By Himself

Friday, April 20th 2007, 7:49 pm
By: News On 6

DENVER (AP) _ He's no longer The Man in Philly. Now, he's the Wingman in Denver.

As such, Allen Iverson doesn't have to carry his team on his shoulders in the playoffs, as he did all those years in Philadelphia.

He doesn't expect to dial down his intensity when the Nuggets open the playoffs at San Antonio on Sunday just because sharing the superstardom has suited A.I. so well since his trade from the Sixers.

``It's a better mind-set,'' Iverson said of having another elite scorer alongside him in Carmelo Anthony. ``It feels that much more easier. Not saying that things are going to be easy for me because I'm going to play just as hard as I played when I didn't have 'Melo, even harder. But I think he just helps a lot.''

Anthony averaged 28.9 points in the regular season and Iverson averaged 26.3.

``He takes a lot of attention off of me _ not saying that I'm not going to have that attention because I know they're going to double me, they're going to shadow me all over the floor, they're going to make sure every time I touch the ball I see a crowd of people,'' Iverson said. ``But I just think it will make it easier on me.

``When he gets double-teamed, I'm going to have guys running out at me off the pass and I get a chance to penetrate and make plays for my teammates and make plays for myself.''

Iverson's career playoff scoring average of 30.6 is second in history to Michael Jordan's 33.4 average.

'Melo was the star of the American team at the world championships last summer but he has yet to make a name for himself in the NBA playoffs, where his scoring average is 18.6.

After Minnesota's Trenton Hassell helped limit Anthony to 15 points a game in 2004, San Antonio's Bruce Bowen shut down the baby-faced 'Melo in '05, helping hold him to 19.2 points on 42 percent shooting in the Spurs' 4-1 series win.

Last year, Anthony averaged 21 points against the Los Angeles Clippers but again the Nuggets were bounced in five games.

``I think it's important for him to get that monkey off his back, to win a playoff series and just have confidence in himself and his team,'' Iverson said.

Anthony has since learned how to handle Hassell and is confident he can counter Bowen this time, too.

``I'm much more mature than I was then,'' Anthony said. ``I know what I have to do for us to win, which is not scoring 30, 35 points a game, especially not in the playoffs. I was young, playing against a veteran guy like Bruce Bowen.''

There wasn't much of a preview to the big matchup during the regular season as Anthony sat out two of the three games between the teams. The Spurs held him to 15 points on 6-of-15 shooting in a 95-80 loss on Feb. 20, a performance Anthony shrugs off because it came right after the All-Star game and featured Iverson's return after a two-week absence with a sprained ankle.

``I think they took advantage of us being tired, enjoying Las Vegas too much,'' Anthony said.

Nuggets center Marcus Camby is counting on Anthony deciphering the Spurs' defensive specialist, thanks to the addition of Iverson.

``A.I. makes a big difference. He's a guy who's been to the Finals, has a lot of playoff experience, been in the league 11 years, so he gives us another element out there on the court,'' Camby said. ``Usually teams will double- and sometimes triple-team 'Melo. But now you're going to have to pick your poison.

``If you're going to double 'Melo, you're going to free up A.I. And he's probably the best 1-on-1 player in this league.''

Coach George Karl said the Nuggets have never had better chemistry in his 2 1/2 seasons in Denver and he credits Iverson.

``Before we were more like professional misfits at times with our like for one another,'' Karl said. ``Is that chemistry? Yeah, that's chemistry. Is that a little bit of character and experience and passion that A.I. brings? I think yeah, that's a little bit of it, too.''

Two years ago, the Nuggets were coming off a 32-8 run under Karl and upset San Antonio in Game 1 before dropping four straight. Iverson gives Karl confidence that things will be different this time around.

``Two years ago it was a honeymoon and an exuberance. There was an enthusiasm that didn't have a foundation or substance,'' Karl said. ``I think this team, with A.I.'s presence, and 'Melo being older and Nene giving us a bigger presence, I just think there's more soul and more substance to who we are.

``Two years ago we were in dream land. We were in fantasy land. Now, I don't think we're in fantasy land. We fought through a tough year and feel good about ourselves.''