With George Karl joining them on the bench, the Denver Nuggets gave an inspired effort against the Eastern Conference’s top team.
The Nuggets coach is expected to lead the team again Friday night in a bid for a sixth straight win over one of the East’s worst clubs, the host Washington Wizards.
In his Karl’s first game since disclosing he has neck and throat cancer, the Nuggets snapped Cleveland’s 13-game win streak with Thursday night’s 118-116 overtime victory. Carmelo Anthony(notes) outdueled Cavaliers’ star LeBron James(notes) and capped a 40-point night by nailing the go-ahead basket with 1.9 seconds left.
During the win, Karl was battling nausea and headaches stemming from undergoing chemotherapy Tuesday,
“This boosted his spirit up a lot,” Anthony said. “In the back of our mind, we know his situation. We’re playing for him.”
The Nuggets coach, who recently signed a contract extension, will have to sit out some games and practices during a rigorous six-week treatment regimen. He’s expected to miss Denver’s game at Golden State on Feb. 25 and in Minnesota on March 10, but he’s hoping to complete his recovery in time for the playoffs.
Karl said being on the sidelines will help in his second battle with cancer.
“It’s going to be my sanctuary to do what I like to do and forget maybe the things that are always going to pop into your mind,” said Karl, who overcame prostate cancer in 2005.
With the win, the Nuggets (36-18) pushed their Northwest Division lead over Utah to 1 1/2 games but could use their first back-to-back victories since Jan. 31-Feb. 1. They’ve alternated losses and wins in the past six contests.
With a fifth playoff berth in six seasons slipping out of reach, the Wizards (18-33) have begun building for next season.
Four days later, the Wizards shipped star forward Antawn Jamison(notes) to Cleveland. Among the players they got in return in the three-team deal were Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) and Al Thornton(notes).
The moves cleared enough salary cap space for the Wizards, who may not have suspended guard Gilbert Arenas(notes) back before the start of next season, to go after a marquee free agent. Among those prized players who could be available are James, Dwyane Wade(notes), Chris Bosh(notes) and Joe Johnson(notes).
“Unfortunately, our on-court results have not met our expectations,” general manager Ernie Grunfeld told the team’s Web site. “We felt it was necessary to make changes to improve our future and financial flexibility.”
It’s unknown how much of the Wizards’ revamped lineup will be available to coach Flip Saunders as Washington tries to also end a three-game home streak to the Nuggets.
Anthony has scored at least 20 points in all but one of his 11 career games against Washington and is averaging 32.2 points on 59.6 percent shooting in his last five matchups.