With many key contributors gone from last season's team, Denver Nuggets coach George Karl has been spreading around playing time. That tactic certainly seems to be working.
The deep and balanced Nuggets have quietly been among the league's top teams in the early going, and they visit the New Orleans Hornets on Friday night seeking a fourth straight victory.
Since trading Carmelo Anthony to New York late last season, Denver (5-2) has gone 23-9, not including a first-round playoff loss to Oklahoma City. The Nuggets also lost Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith and Wilson Chandler after all of them decided to play in China during the lockout.
Not one player on Denver's current roster has been an All-Star, though Karl feels he has plenty of talent on board. None of his players are among the NBA's top 50 in minutes per game.
"We're going to go after teams with our intensity and, hopefully, the flow of flooding good players on to the court," Karl said. "I'm still kind of learning this team, too. It's fun to see them evolve and see where we go."
Denver's reserves average league highs of 11.9 assists and 20.0 rebounds while ranking among the leaders with 45.1 points per game.
Five Nuggets scored in double figures Wednesday, led by reserve Al Harrington's 15, in a 110-83 rout of Sacramento. Denver overcame 27 turnovers by shooting an NBA season-high 60.5 percent and handing out 31 assists.
Kosta Koufos posted his first career double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds as he started a second straight game for Nene (bruised heel), who should return Friday or at San Antonio on Saturday.
"It's unique," Koufos said. "In every position, we're deep. One person gets tired and another person comes in and plays just as well, and having that is a luxury for us."
Harrington is averaging 15.6 points and 6.3 boards while fellow reserve Andre Miller adds 11.0 points and 6.6 assists per game.
Defense also has keyed the Nuggets' three-game win streak, during which they've held opponents to averages of 86.3 points and 37.9 percent shooting.
Now they face a New Orleans team that's struggling offensively. The Hornets are averaging a Western Conference-low 87.2 points and shooting a league-worst 19.5 percent from 3-point range.
New Orleans (2-4) can't counter with the same kind of depth and has lost four straight. Seven-footers Chris Kaman and Jason Smith are playing big minutes off the bench, but the only reserve guard seeing significant action is Greivis Vasquez - he's averaging just 4.3 points.
Coach Monty Williams isn't completely to blame for the short rotation, still waiting to have all of his best players available for a game. Jarrett Jack was suspended for the opener, top scorer Eric Gordon missed the next four games (knee) and starting forward Trevor Ariza (groin) sat out a 101-93 home loss to Philadelphia on Wednesday.
While it's unclear if Ariza will be back Friday, Gordon is coming off a solid return with 22 points but will miss the next two to three weeks due to swelling in his knee.
Carl Landry had 21 points and Jack added 19 with 11 assists, but the Hornets blew a fourth-quarter lead for the second straight game.
"They are frustrated," Williams said. "They thought tonight they had a chance to win and it did not go our way. I just trust on what they do and put pressure on them."
New Orleans won two of three meetings with the Nuggets last season but lost at home in the only one that followed Anthony being dealt. The teams meet again Monday in Denver.
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