George Karl is back, and the Denver Nuggets are hoping to make a strong comeback of their own.
After rallying for a victory in Karl’s coaching debut, the disappointing Nuggets will try to continue turning their season around when they visit the struggling Indiana Pacers.
Hired Thursday to replace interim coach Michael Cooper, Karl returned to the NBA with a vengeance Friday night, directing the Nuggets to a much-needed 106-100 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, the team that fired him in 2003.
Carmelo Anthony scored 25 points for Denver, which overcame a 14-point deficit to snap a three-game losing streak.
The Nuggets ended a long postseason drought last season, but fired coach Jeff Bzdelik on Dec. 28 after a poor start to the new campaign. Denver is hoping Karl, who is coaching his fifth NBA team, can help its return to the form that led to a 43-39 record a season ago and a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 1995.
Karl didn’t hide his enthusiasm after Friday night’s win.
“I’m going to drink beer,” he said. “Beer tastes like champagne after wins like tonight.”
Acknowledging that he was rusty, Karl gave most of the credit to his players for the victory and said he coached against his former team as if it was a playoff game.
“You always want to win against your former team,” Denver’s Marcus Camby said. “He didn’t say publicly he wanted to beat the Bucks, but you could just tell he wanted this one real bad.”
Karl only used eight players in the game, and lost power forward Kenyon Martin to a strained right groin in the fourth quarter. Martin will be a game-time decision Saturday.
The Pacers have lost three in a row and five of seven to dip below .500 for just the second time this season. Indiana has dropped two straight since forward Stephen Jackson returned from his 30-game suspension for his part in the infamous Nov. 19 brawl in Detroit that also led to the suspensions of Ron Artest for the season, and Jermaine O’Neal for 15 games.
“I’ve got to stay positive with this group,” coach Rick Carlisle said after the Pacers dropped an 88-76 decision to the Pistons on Thursday in the second meeting between the teams since their melee more than two months ago.
“There are a lot of games to play and this team will get better.”
After the loss, veteran shooting guard Reggie Miller denied a broadcast report that he had told Pacers officials and teammates that he would retire after this season.
“If and when, I’ll have the first conversation with Charles (Barkley) and Cheryl Miller,” he said, referring to his sister. “Right now, I’m considering getting us off a three-game losing streak. I’ll be there all year. That’s the only thing I’m focused on.”