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DENVER - These days, the Denver Nuggets are more optimistic than the fortune-seeking gold miners who swarmed the city and turned it from frontier hitching post into bawdy boomtown in the 1860s.
Carmelo Anthony is back from a 15-game suspension and Allen Iverson has settled in after being acquired from Philadelphia. Together they form the most intimidating tandem to ply their trade in Colorado since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
"There's an excitement in the city," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "There's an excitement in the locker room. There's an excitement on our basketball team."
With 43 games left in its regular season - starting tonight against the Jazz - Denver no longer envisions catching Utah and winning a second consecutive Northwest Division championship.
The high-powered Nuggets want much more.
Hello, Dallas and Phoenix.
"If I didn't think we could win a championship," Iverson said, "there was no reason for this organization to trade for me. If I didn't think we could win a championship, I'd hang up my sneakers. . . . I'd retire."
Karl is a believer, too.
"I want us to be a great team," he said, "and I think we have that hope."
Whether Denver hits the mother lode will depend on Anthony, Iverson and how they mesh.
Will it happen?
Because of Anthony's suspension - he did not play for 36 days between Dec. 16 and Jan. 22 after throwing a punch at New York's Mardy Collins - the jury continues to deliberate.
One thing is certain, however. Anthony is glad to be back.
"Oh, man, it was the toughest thing I ever had to do, just sitting watching my team get up and down court without me," he said. "That's what I missed most - going out there competing."
Before his comeback game Monday, Anthony flew to New York for a face-to-face with NBA commissioner David Stern.
He described their meeting as "generic conversation. . . . It wasn't really nothing big. He just wanted to get everybody on the same page."
Asked if he learned anything from his punch-born suspension, Anthony nodded and said quietly, "Mostly how much I appreciate this game. I really love the game. I knew I loved the game, but sitting back and watching, I felt like a fan, a coach and a spectator all rolled into one. . . . I don't want to feel like that ever again."
While Anthony was serving his suspension, the Nuggets made a bold move by acquiring Iverson from the 76ers for former University of Utah star Andre Miller, veteran forward Joe Smith and a first-round draft pick.
The trade has rejuvenated Iverson, a former Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player who enjoyed spectacular success and endured considerable controversy during a decade in Philadelphia.
"This is my 11th season, but it's a fresh start for me," Iverson said. "I honestly feel like it's the first."
After his first game playing with Anthony - an easier-than-it-looks 115-98 win over Memphis - Iverson was almost giddy.
"I feel like I could play four more quarters," he said. "I never used to feel that way" after a game.
Asked if the new-look Nuggets have more talent than any of his teams in Philadelphia, Iverson said, "Not even close."
With Anthony as his new sidekick, Iverson knows the burden of carrying a franchise has disappeared.
At the age of 31 - after playing almost 30,000 regular-season minutes during his career - that's a good thing.
"I've been on teams where I scored 50 points and lost. . . . That's a tough thing," he said. "When you have good players around you, that makes the game easy. That makes it fun."
In Denver, Iverson said, "I don't have to do all the things I did in Philadelphia. . . . I feel, if I struggle, we can still win the ballgame."
Karl has the responsibility of making this experiment work by solving potential problems - finding enough shots for each of his two All-Star-caliber players, keeping the supporting cast content with their limited roles on offense and dealing with through-the-roof expectations.
"My thing is, don't force anything, be patient and stay together," Karl said. "My message right now is come together and get better."
Karl scoffs at the notion that Anthony and Iverson might have difficulty co-existing because each is used to scoring 30 points per game.
"It's good to have those kind of problems," he said. "It's a good situation to have - to have good players, to try and fit them together."
So far, so good.
The Nuggets, who went 7-8 without Anthony, are 2-0 since he returned from suspension and joined Iverson on the court.
After Denver ripped Memphis in his first game, Anthony said, "I was like a kid in a candy store. . . . I think once we get our chemistry together, it's going to be tough on a lot of people out there."
Said Iverson: "It was fun. . . . That's one I'll cherish for the rest of my life."
Karl was more technical, but just as encouraged.
"There was a lot of good stuff out there - energy, the spirit in the building," he said. "[There were] very few possessions of what I call sticky basketball. . . . We moved the ball."
Iverson agreed, saying the Nuggets' chemistry was "good. . . . But it can get better. And with everybody. Not just me and Carmelo. We all got to click."
If they do, these Nuggets could strike it rich.
Nuggets at Jazz
TONIGHT, 7 p.m., KJZZ
Together at last
How Caremlo Anthony and Allen Iverson have fared in their two games together - a 115-98 win over Memphis and a 117-112 overtime win at Seattle:
vs. Memphis Pts. Rebs. Asts. FGs FG%
Carmelo Anthony 28 5 6 10-25 .400
Allen Iverson 23 4 7 9-16 .562
at Seattle Pts. Rebs. Asts. FGs FG%
Carmelo Anthony 34 9 3 12-26 .462
Allen Iverson 21 3 10 7-19 .368
Two-game totals Pts. Rebs. Asts. FGs FG%
Carmelo Anthony 62 14 9 22-51 .431
Allen Iverson 44 7 17 16-35 .457