The Denver Nuggets are getting a slight breather following a stretch against some of the league’s top teams. George Karl is certainly deserving of a respite of his own.
Playing their first game without Karl since he was again diagnosed with cancer, the Nuggets look to sweep their four-game season series with the lowly Golden State Warriors on Thursday night.
Denver (37-19) has alternated wins and losses in a tough eight-game span which was highlighted by road wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland. The only sub-.500 team the Nuggets played during that span was Washington, losing 107-97 on Friday.
Denver hasn’t played since a 114-105 home win over Boston on Sunday, and now faces one of the league’s doormats. The Nuggets have scored at least 123 points in winning each of their last five games against the Warriors (16-40).
But the Nuggets will be without Karl, who is staying in Denver because of his ongoing treatment for neck and throat cancer. This is the first time Denver will play without Karl since he announced his diagnosis Feb. 16.
Karl, who had been cancer-free since prostate surgery nearly five years ago, will miss some games down the stretch, but he is optimistic about making a full recovery in time for the postseason. Assistant Adrian Dantley will serve as head coach when Karl is not with the team.
“When you don’t have the head coach, a lot of the onus comes down on the players,” said point guard Chauncey Billups(notes), one of the Nuggets’ three captains. “For me, it’s holding everyone accountable, making sure guys don’t stray. … As captains and as players, we’re going to show (Dantley) the same respect we show George.”
Billups had a strong performance versus the Celtics with 26 points as Denver improved to 4-0 against the Eastern Conference’s three division leaders— Cleveland, Boston and Orlando.
Denver, though, has made the most of its opportunities against Golden State, which has the second-worst record in the West. The Warriors, 2-2 on a six-game homestand, will be without second-leading scorer Corey Maggette(notes) (20.3 points per game) for the third straight contest due to a hamstring injury.
Golden State had one of its worst shooting performances of the season Tuesday, making 37.9 percent of its attempts in a 110-102 loss to Philadelphia. Two days earlier, the Warriors shot 53.6 percent in a 108-104 victory over Atlanta.
With Maggette out, leading scorer Monta Ellis(notes) is being counted on even more. Ellis, who averages just under 26 points per game, has totaled 48 points in his last two games after missing three with a sprained knee.
Ellis averaged 35.5 points and 8.0 assists in two games against the Nuggets last month.