The Denver Nuggets are fighting for one of the top spots in the Western Conference, but this week, their attention turned to a different kind of battle.
Two days after coach George Karl announced he is suffering from throat and neck cancer, the Nuggets visit the Cleveland Cavaliers, who could have new acquisition Antawn Jamison(notes) in the lineup for the first time as they try to win their franchise-record 14th straight Thursday night.
Denver (35-18) comes out of the All-Star break trying to fend off Utah in the Northwest Division as it looks to win a second consecutive division title. However, the Nuggets recently learned they may have to do so without their coach for periods of time.
Karl announced Tuesday that he will undergo a rigorous six-week treatment of radiation and chemotherapy to treat the cancer. He said he will miss at least a couple of Denver’s upcoming games and that assistant Adrian Dantley would lead the team in his absence.
“My desire is to do whatever I can to stay with my team throughout the treatment that I have to go through,” Karl said. “Basically, my belief is this is a championship team and I want to do anything and everything I can to help them continue in their quest that we all want.”
This is the second time Karl has been diagnosed with cancer. He underwent treatment for prostate cancer in 2005.
“It was shocking just to hear it,” forward Kenyon Martin(notes) told the Nuggets’ official Web site. “He told us he’s battled it before so he knows what it takes to get right. He’s going to do all he can to get his body right and his health together and we’re going to do all we can to make sure the basketball end is taken care of.”
Karl will be on the bench Thursday as the Nuggets get a tough test coming out of the break.
Cleveland (43-11) has tied a franchise record with 13 consecutive wins and has the best record in the NBA. The Cavaliers could have a better shot at extending the run if Jamison can make his debut with the team. Cleveland acquired the two-time All-Star forward from Washington in a three-team trade Wednesday night, and it’s unclear if the 33-year-old will be available to face the Nuggets.
James, who scored 25 points in the All-Star game, will be looking to pick up where he left off before the break. He averaged 33.5 points and 11.0 assists in the final six games.
“I think our team is built to win a championship,” James said. “With the group of guys we have here, if we continue to get better, we’re headed in the right direction.”
While the Cavaliers, who are 11-0 at home against teams from the West, are hoping the break didn’t hurt their momentum, the Nuggets used the time off to get healthy.
Denver ended the first half of the season by splitting its final six games, losing 111-92 to San Antonio last Thursday, although it still has gone 12-4 since mid-January.
Anthony was sidelined for Cleveland’s visit to Denver last month because of a knee injury. Despite his absence and James scoring 35 points, the Nuggets won 99-97. They have also won four of their last six trips to Quicken Loans Arena.
Denver will face two of the top three teams in the East this week, hosting Boston on Sunday.