Expectations High For '07 Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets made a big splash last season when they acquired Allen Iverson in a December trade.

The Seattle SuperSonics made one of their own six months later by drafting Kevin Durant.

Seattle expects to have Durant, the No. 2 overall pick, available Wednesday night when it opens 2007-08 by visiting a Denver team that hopes Iverson and Carmelo Anthony playing together for a full season can breed success.

Durant, who earned national player of the year honors as a freshman at Texas, enters the season hobbled after spraining his ankle on Oct. 23. On Tuesday, though, he moved without limitations in practice and first-year Sonics coach P.J. Carlesimo said that unless Durant's ankle swells significantly on the flight to Denver, he will make his highly anticipated first start.

"It's good to get things going, but you don't feel good about a matchup with Denver," said Carlesimo, who was hired by new general manager Sam Presti in July. "They were one of the top teams in the league last year and they have two of the better players in the league."

Meanwhile, Jeff Green, the fifth overall pick in June's draft out of Georgetown who was acquired in a deal that sent Ray Allen to Boston, is less likely to play in the opener. He's also suffering from a sprained ankle and appeared to be favoring it in practice Monday.

Durant and Green are the new cornerstones of a team that also lost Rashard Lewis over the summer. Chris Wilcox, who averaged 13.5 points, is the highest-scoring player remaining from last year's team, which went 31-51 for the franchise's worst finish since 1998-99.

"It's possible we're not going to look good the next couple of weeks and still be good later on," Carlesimo said of his young team. "We're nowhere near where we need to be."

Denver, meanwhile, is hoping to be good from the very start.

Despite their fourth consecutive first-round playoff exit last season, the Nuggets aren't shy about predicting success for 2007-08 with Iverson and fellow All-Star Anthony entering their first full season together.

"It's looking real good out there for us," said Anthony, the league's second-leading scorer with 28.9 points per game in 2006-07. "We've got everything we need."

Anthony's confidence, no doubt, is at least partially inspired by the presence of Iverson, the league MVP in 2001 and a four-time scoring champion. Frustrated with losing, Iverson asked for a trade out of Philadelphia last December and was dealt to Denver, where he teamed with Anthony to create the highest-scoring pair of teammates in the NBA.

Combining the two superstars didn't go exactly according to plan, though. Each player continued to put up great individual statistics, but the team fell short of its lofty expectations. Denver was 14-9 (.609) before Iverson made his Nuggets debut Dec. 22 and 31-28 (.525) from that date through the end of the season.

However, the Nuggets did win 16 of their last 22 regular-season games - including 10 of their final 11 - to finish at 45-37 before falling to San Antonio in the playoffs.

That was the fourth straight season Denver has lost a first-round series in five games, but two of those defeats were against San Antonio, which went on to win the NBA finals both times.

Despite the disappointing postseason performance, the Nuggets are encouraged by their strong regular-season finish. With the growing pains behind them, the expectation in Nuggets camp is that Iverson and Anthony are ready to take the team to the next level.

"A championship, that's our goal," Anthony said. "We're not far away from the Spurs. We're going to fight this year. We're going to leave it all out there on the court."

Nuggets coach George Karl isn't predicting the same kind of success that Anthony is, but he's not being modest either.

"I've heard guys talk about (winning) 60 games," said Karl, entering his third full season with the Nuggets, who have never won more than 54 games - a mark they set in 1987-88. "And 60 games is probably a couple steps further than I think we can do. We should try to be the best team in Denver Nuggets' NBA history, and that's not out of the question. I think we can win 52-to-55 games."

In addition to the headlining tandem, the Nuggets will count on reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Camby, who led the league with 3.3 blocks per game last season.

They'll also benefit from the return of Kenyon Martin, who missed all but two games last season because of a knee injury that required microfracture surgery. He's had the surgery on both of his knees in the last three years, but is ready to play in the opener.

"I'm geeked," said Martin, who's playing time could be limited as he continues to work into playing shape. "It's been a long road, and it's taught me how to be patient."

The Sonics dropped three of four games against the Northwest Division rival Nuggets last season, but handed them their last regular-season loss at the Pepsi Center on March 28.