|Nuggets, Knicks set for first meeting since last year's brawl at Madison Square Garden|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 05 November 2007 12:58|
``I was on the bench with my eyes closed,'' the Knicks center joked Monday. ``I didn't see nothing.''
Here's some of what he missed: Players fighting among the fans. Carmelo Anthony, then the league's leading scorer, dropping the Knicks' Mardy Collins with a punch that cost him a 15-game suspension.
That all happened last Dec. 16 in the closing minutes of the Denver Nuggets' most recent trip to New York. The teams meet Tuesday for the first time since, and both say they've moved on and prefer not to look back - particularly the Knicks, who have had plenty of other embarrassment to endure since.
``I'm pretty sure they did (move on),'' Anthony said Sunday in Denver. ``They've got enough stuff going on up there to be worrying about what happened 11 months ago.''
The Nuggets still had four starters on the floor with 1:15 left in their 123-100 victory, which angered the Knicks. Coach Isiah Thomas said he told Anthony there was no reason for he or Marcus Camby to still be in the game, and Thomas warned Anthony not to go to the basket - though he said it was advice on sportsmanship, not a threat.
Collins then prevented J.R. Smith from a breakaway basket by taking him down by the neck. Smith rose and immediately started jawing with Collins, and New York's Nate Robinson jumped in to pull Smith away. Anthony shoved Robinson away, and Robinson and Smith then tumbled into the front row of seats while fighting.
Just as things appeared to be calming down, Anthony threw a hard punch that floored Collins, and New York's Jared Jeffries sprinted from the baseline toward halfcourt in an effort to get at Anthony, but was tackled by a Denver player.
Ten players were ejected, seven were suspended, and relations between Thomas and Denver coach George Karl - already strained after the Knicks fired Karl's friend, Larry Brown - worsened after they criticized each other through the media.
Thomas maintained that Karl put Denver's players in a bad position by leaving them in the game. When he heard of those comments, Karl responded with an expletive-laced tirade against Thomas, who says he isn't concerned with how they might interact.
``I haven't thought about it,'' Thomas said. ``My concern is more with Carmelo, Camby, (Kenyon) Martin and (Allen) Iverson.''
The fight may have helped both teams in the long run.
Though the suspensions left the Knicks with nine or fewer players, they responded with a season-high three-game winning streak - winning over the same fans who were cheering Anthony and Smith and booing them during the game.
``Everything that we went through last year, from the start of the season not being able to win at home, then the suspensions, you learn from tough times,'' Thomas said. ``And I think our true character showed in those tough times that we were able to hang together and still scratch out some wins.''
With Anthony and Smith suspended and Denver in need of scoring, the Nuggets stepped up their efforts to get Iverson from Philadelphia, which they did shortly after the suspensions were announced.
``Before the fight happened, it was all speculation that A.I. was going to get traded here,'' Smith said. ``As soon as the fight happened, we knew we had to win games and that was pretty much the only way we were really going to win games, if we got A.I. as fast as we could.''
Some of the brawlers may be out Tuesday. Jeffries is sidelined with a knee injury, and Robinson was limited at practice Monday with a strained right hamstring, though he said he will play. Smith is eligible to play after serving a three-game team suspension, though Karl hasn't said he'll definitely use him.
The league will take no extra security measures, and neither team would likely deem them necessary.
``Anything that motivates passion and pride I think is good for the game, just so long as you stay professional, and I have no question that my team will be very professional about what's going on,'' Karl said.
``I love playing in the Garden with or without incentive. I think it's the best place in the world to play. I think it's my favorite place to win games. Every time since I've been in Denver, I think we've won every time. We're going out for one thing, have a win and be responsible to bouncing back from playing like we did last night.''
Following their tumultuous offseason, the Knicks received good crowd support Sunday while winning their home opener, and they desperately want to keep the focus on basketball.
``Everybody knows we already apologized for what happened to the kids, to the fans, to the NBA,'' Robinson said. ``Everybody knows what happened. Of course everybody is going to elaborate on it and try to make it bigger than what it is.''
AP Sports Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver contributed to this report.