Although the Denver Nuggets won the Northwest Division and earned the Western Conference’s third seed, coach George Karl knows they won’t go very far in the playoffs if their late-season struggles carry over to the postseason.
“My concern is, we’re playing with energy spurts,” Karl said after the Nuggets’ 86-83 loss to Houston on Monday, their third straight defeat and seventh in 11 games. “Our second halves have been dead for about 10 games. We’ve got to change that.”
Karl’s team looks to finish strong when it faces the Seattle SuperSonics in the season finale at KeyArena.
A win over the Sonics would be the Nuggets’ 45th, their second-highest total since they had 54 in 1987-88. Denver went 49-33 in 2004-05 and finished second in the division, three games back of Seattle, which will miss the playoffs for the fifth time in eight years.
Because they will finish with a worse record than the West’s sixth seed, the Nuggets won’t have the home-court advantage in the opening round as they face the Los Angeles Clippers.
Denver’s Carmelo Anthony scored 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting in the loss to the Rockets, but the Nuggets shot just 41.3 percent from the field, including 2-for-13 from 3-point range, and were 19-for-34 from the free-throw line.
Karl, whose team led by as many as 16 points in the second half, sat Anthony and Andre Miller in the fourth quarter to rest them for the postseason, a decision he admittedly regretted.
“I’d say probably 80 percent of it is on me and the rotation of the game,” Karl said after the Nuggets were outscored 27-17 in the final quarter by a Rockets team missing injured stars Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. “We didn’t have a great offensive team in there, but we thought we had enough points to win the game and we got caught.”
The two key reserves have combined to average 18.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.6 assists this season.
Seattle has lost five of its last six games and will finish with its worst record since going 31-51 in 1985-86.
Despite that fact, the Sonics exercised the option on coach Bob Hill’s contract for the 2006-07 season Monday, meaning the former San Antonio, Indiana and New York coach will have the opportunity to get Seattle back to the playoffs in 2006-07.
Hill, whose last full season as a coach was in 1995-96 with the Spurs, a year after he led them to the Western Conference finals, was promoted from his assistant’s position when Bob Weiss was fired in January following the Sonics’ 13-17 start.
Wilcox and Watson were acquired at the trade deadline shortly after Hill was hired. Wilcox, who averaged 4.5 points and 3.6 rebounds in 48 games with the Clippers this season, has averaged 14.2 points and 8.1 rebounds in 28 games with the Sonics.
Watson is averaging 11.4 points and 5.5 assists in 23 games with Seattle after posting averages of 7.5 points and 3.5 assists in 46 games with Denver.
“I just don’t think that in today’s NBA that we are as far away from being a playoff team as people think,” Hill said. “I am impressed with the attitude of this team and I’m truly excited about the club’s direction heading into next season.”
Denver has won four of the last five meetings in the series, but is 6-23 in Seattle since the beginning of the 1991-92 season. home.