Chances better with Chauncey
Chauncey Billups was a basketball legend at Denver's George Washington High School back in 1994. That year, his beloved Nuggets made it to the second round of the NBA playoffs by shocking top-seeded Seattle in the first round.
Now, 15 years later, the hometown kid is trying to get his second-seeded Nuggets to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since then. It won't be easy, as Denver takes on the underachieving New Orleans Hornets and All-Star guard Chris Paul.
"That would be awesome, to be able to get out of this first round and advance," said Billups. "Being able to continue to advance would be one of the special things that happened in my career."
The Nuggets have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs five straight seasons. But that was without Billups, a great leader and clutch shooter who went to the Eastern Conference finals the past six seasons with Detroit and won a championship in 2004.
The leadership of the 2004 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player is key to the Nuggets' hopes. Carmelo Anthony has said he is leaning on Billups for playoff guidance and confidence.
"I guess experience is the best teacher," said Billups. "Having someone that has been through it, that can talk you through it and will be out there in the grind with you should make a difference."
The Hornets were projected by some to contend with the Lakers for the Western Conference's best record. But plagued by injuries and poor performance, New Orleans landed only the West's seventh seed, despite having All-Stars in Paul and David West and adding ex-Celtics forward James Posey during the offseason.
Another thing that is different for the Nuggets from the previous five seasons is having home court. Denver was 33-8 at home this season, and the Pepsi Center is one of the loudest venues in the NBA, especially this time of the year.
"I'm looking forward to it," said Billups. "We worked really hard to get home court. We felt like that was the key for having a really good chance to advance. Of course, we are playing against a team that is difficult. But we are playing on our home floor and we want to take advantage of that.
"There are some expectations from us. We raised the bar with the season that we've had. We expect to be successful. I think our fans expect us to be successful. So there is a lot of responsibility that comes with that."
While the Nuggets are hot, Billups's old Pistons are the lowest playoff seed in the Eastern Conference and have the tough task of playing against LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the first round. Detroit traded Billups to Denver early this season for fellow All-Star Allen Iverson, who is now out for the season with a back injury. Billups takes no satisfaction in Detroit's struggles.
"They've obviously had a tough year," said Billups. "I'm still close with a lot of those guys. I talk to them all the time. But what can you do, man? It is what it is."