George Karl’s return to the bench can’t come soon enough for the Denver Nuggets.
The Nuggets, who already have lost their first two games and power forward Nene for the rest of the season, will try to regroup when Karl returns from a suspension to face the Portland Trail Blazers.
Karl was serving a two-game ban handed down by the league for making improper contact with a prospect when he attended workouts at Marquette University in May. Assistant coach Scott Brooks filled in during his absence, and the Nuggets opened the season with losses to the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers.
Nene, a 2002 first-round pick, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, sprained medial collateral ligament and torn meniscus in the first quarter against the Spurs on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Kobe Bryant scored 33 points and hit the game-winning jumper with 0.6 seconds left in overtime to hand the Nuggets a 99-97 loss.
Marcus Camby led Denver with 19 points and 14 rebounds before fouling out in overtime.
“It was frustrating. It was a game we should have won,” Camby said. “You have to give those guys credit.”
The Trail Blazers and new coach Nate McMillan also lost their opener, falling 90-86 to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. Darius Miles had 32 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and five steals, but Portland couldn’t finish off a fourth-quarter comeback.
“The little things we talked about, we condition for, we trained for, is what lost the ballgame,” said McMillan, who led Seattle to the Western Conference semifinals last season.
Miles knows the young Blazers still have work to do to improve on their 27-55 mark of a year ago, their worst record since 1973-74.
“Overall, I think my performance was real good, but it means nothing with an ‘L’ behind it,” he said.
Nuggets point guard Andre Miller, who scored 11 points and added 11 assists against the Lakers, was arrested Wednesday on a warrant for failing to appear in court on a traffic citation. Miller later was released and is expected to be in the starting lineup on Friday.
The Nuggets have won 10 of the last 13 regular-season meetings against the Blazers, including four in a row in Denver.
STANDINGS (through Nov. 3): Trail Blazers - 3rd place (tied), 1 GB, Northwest Division. Nuggets - 5th place, 1 1/2 GB, Northwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Trail Blazers - Miles, 32.0 ppg and 5.0 apg; Randolph, 13.0 rpg. Nuggets - Anthony, 19.5 ppg; Camby, 12.5 rpg; Miller, 8.5 apg.
2004-05 SEASON SERIES: Nuggets, 3-1.
LAST MEETING: April 19; Nuggets, 119-115. At Denver, Miles scored a career-high 47 points for the Blazers, but Anthony and Earl Boykins combined for 60 points to lead the Nuggets.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Trail Blazers - 0-1 on the road; Nuggets - 0-1 at home.