HOUSTON – After all the wins and losses, makes and misses, cheers and jeers, along comes a season like this one where the post-lockout schedule is cramming 66 games into just 124 days and it’s something unfamiliar … even to a lifer like George Karl.
Is it harder or just different?
“I think it’s both,” Karl said. “I think it’s different because there are actually so many teams that still have a chance. And none of the teams think it’s impossible. I mean, Utah could win five out of six. We can win four out of six. Then look at Dallas. I know we’re all hoping that we can make the playoffs. But everybody’s watching and it’s nerve-wracking, it’s stressful, it’s different and it’s hard. You can stay positive, but there are moments when you go to the negative side.”
Not now. Not when Karl has just seen his Nuggets play a splendidly clutch second half to complete a back-to-back, home-road sweep of the Rockets to solidify, at least for a night, their position in this hair-raising Western Conference playoff race. A week ago, the Nuggets were on the outside looking in, but now they’ve won four of their last five games and have climbed back safely up the ladder into sixth place.
Dallas, Houston, Phoenix and Utah are all in the race across the tightrope for the final three West playoff spots, but at the moment nobody is playing better than Denver.
“I don’t think we’re perfect, but I don’t see a lot of other teams being perfect either,” Karl said. “I watched San Antonio get beat on their home court by 25 by Los Angeles. I think it’s the nature of the season right now. It’s how much fatigue? How much rest? Who’s healthy? Who isn’t healthy? Who’s in a rhythm? Who’s in a flow? I think everybody’s trying to get to a higher level, a higher place.”
It’s been a trying season, one marked by injuries and periods of stunning defeat and disappointment. Yet with their surge it’s become the 20th consecutive NBA season that Karl’s team has finished with a record of .500 or better.
“It’s a blessing,” he said. “That’s a gift of fortunately having good players and good coaches and good people with some luck along the way. That’s so minimal right now. Every minute of every day is always looking at what-ifs, what-ifs? What do we gotta do? How many games do we have to win?
“Actually I think we have been inconsistent, but we’re moving in a good direction,” Karl said. “I think that’s all I can ask of a young team that’s been dealt some weird situations.”
Anybody want to bet against the Nuggets?