Nuggets-Thunder Preview

In a logjam in the Western Conference standings, the Denver
Nuggets could benefit from having their coach and top rebounder and
defender available. On Wednesday in Oklahoma City, the Nuggets
might also need a replacement for their acting head coach.

Just one-half game off the Northwest Division lead, Denver looks
to keep pace in the standings as it takes on a Thunder team trying
to do the same.

With coach George Karl expected to be out through the first
round of the playoffs as he fights throat and neck cancer and
Kenyon Martin possibly sidelined for the rest of the season with
patellar tendinitis in his left knee, the Nuggets (50-27) might be
without acting head coach Adrian Dantley, who missed Tuesday’s
practice with a kidney stone.

Nuggets assistant John Welch helped run practice and could take
over for Dantley, who is 8-6 in Karl’s absence.

“It’s something that is just tough that we’re going through, but
those are the cards we’ve been dealt and we’ve just got to continue
to play them,” Chauncey Billups said. “We can’t hang our heads and
say, ‘Man, what are we going to do now?”

The Nuggets could have asked themselves that Saturday, but they
rallied from a 21-point first-half deficit and defeated the Los
Angeles Clippers 98-90 for their second straight win after losing
five of six.

“We won the game, but you don’t like to start off the game
playing like that,” Dantley said after the team’s largest comeback
since battling from 25 down in a 113-106 victory at Indiana on Nov.
10, 2007. “That’s not good basketball. We just can’t continue to do
that. Why spot a team that many points at the beginning of the
game? Happy we won, but you just can’t do that on a regular
basis.”

A slow start against an Oklahoma City team averaging 119.2
points on 50.4 percent shooting in the last five games might not be
the best idea.

Tied with San Antonio for sixth in the West standings and just
one game ahead of eighth-place Portland, the Thunder (48-29) return
to the Ford Center following Tuesday’s 140-139 overtime loss at
Utah.

Trying to counter Deron Williams’ go-ahead jumper with 1.1
seconds left and extend Oklahoma City’s four-game winning streak,
Kevin Durant argued with referees that he was fouled by C.J. Miles
on his 3-point attempt before the buzzer. Durant made a career-high
seven 3s and scored 45 before the miss.

“The referee didn’t call a foul. You have to go with him. He had
a better look than I had,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
“Sometimes you get those. Sometimes you don’t. We had a good
opportunity to win the game. We didn’t get a stop. That’s the
bottom line.”

Stopping Durant could be a problem for Denver. With consecutive
40-point games for the first time in his career, Durant has moved
into the league lead in scoring with 29.9 per game. He had 30
points in a 101-84 victory over visiting Denver on Jan. 29.

Carmelo Anthony, the league’s third-highest scorer at 28.4 per
game, missed that game with a sprained left ankle, but he averaged
30.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in two home wins versus the Thunder
this season.

Johan Petro scored a season-high 14 points Saturday and has been
solid filling in for Martin, but the Nuggets could get a major
boost in their front court if Chris Andersen returns after missing
Saturday’s victory with a sprained left ankle.