George Karl didn’t sound like the coach of a Denver team on a streak not seen in 43 years. He sounded like a coach ready to shake things up in the final weeks before the playoffs.
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Moments after his Nuggets beat the Sacramento Kings 101-95 on Saturday night for their 15th straight win, Karl was lamenting his players’ second straight lackluster performance.
”What I’ve been telling the team, telling them for three days, the next (11) games I don’t want to hear about rest, I don’t want to hear we’re tired, I want our attitude to be the best basketball we’ve played all year,” he said. ”And if you don’t want to do that then I’ll play somebody else. I don’t want to hear about my body hurts, I’m sore. Everybody plays the same amount of games, and resting’s not going to get us ready for the opportunities.
”If we had a bunch of 30-year-olds I might have a different opinion but we have a bunch of 25-year-olds.”
Karl was talking after the Nuggets tied the franchise record for consecutive wins, which was set by the Denver Rockets in the 1969-70 ABA season. While he was happy to get the win and stay ahead of Memphis and the Los Angeles Clippers for third place in the Western Conference, the way Denver has played the past two games is an issue.
It was also an issue for the players, who heard Karl’s thoughts in the locker room.
”He was not happy with us, he was pretty mad with us,” said Danilo Gallinari, who led Denver with 19 points. ”The last two or three games we’ve been up and down. We’ve had some good stretches and bad stretches, probably because we’re relaxed after all these wins we’ve had.”
Kenneth Faried had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Nuggets, who have won 17 straight at home.
And they did it while Ty Lawson (right heel) and Wilson Chandler (shoulder), two of their top players, were out with injuries.
Lawson and Chandler have been catalysts in Denver’s winning streak. Lawson has scored 20-plus points in 20 of his last 31 games and hit the game-winner against Oklahoma City on March 1.
Chandler, fully recovered from offseason hip surgery that cost him most of the first half of the season, has been big off the bench. He has scored 35 points twice and 24 in another game. His play Monday in Chicago helped the Nuggets win in overtime and extend their streak to 12 games.
Chandler and Lawson were injured in the Nuggets’ 114-104 win at Oklahoma City on Tuesday night. Chandler separated his left shoulder and Lawson bruised his right heel.
Without the pair Friday the Nuggets needed six points in the final 10 seconds to cap a frantic comeback for a one-point win over Philadelphia.
”We have a different personality without Wilson and Ty,” Karl said. ”We haven’t found a comfort zone or a flow without them, especially offensively.”
Though they had all five starters in double figures against Sacramento on Saturday, it took until the final minutes to hold off the Kings, who got 24 points and 15 rebounds from DeMarcus Cousins.
They used a 7-0 run early in the fourth to take an 81-76 lead, but Sacramento hung around, getting within a bucket twice. Kosta Koufos scored on a layup and Faried’s fast-break dunk gave Denver a 95-88 lead with 3:44 left.
Two layups by Cousins made it 95-92, but he missed a short shot in the lane that would have made it a one-point game. Andre Miller’s three-point play with 51 seconds made it 98-92.
John Salmons, who finished with 18 points, hit a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left to cut it to four, but Miller sank two more foul shots.
”Miller was Miller in Miller time,” Sacramento coach Keith Smart said. ”He made plays down the stretch.”
The Kings took the Heat to double overtime in Miami on Feb. 26 before losing. It was Miami’s 11th win in a streak that has grown to 25.
”We have been in this situation. We were in a game against Miami and like that game we couldn’t finish,” Salmons said. ”They heard us banging.”
Saturday, Sacramento seemed poised to end Denver’s run after falling behind by 15 late in the second quarter. But 11 straight points from the Kings made it a four-point game early in the third.
Sacramento took its first lead on Salmons’ 3-pointer with 2:15 left in the third, and Cousins’ thunderous dunk and driving layup pushed the advantage to 71-66.
”We had a chance. The difference is they are in a streak, they have won games like this and they continue to win,” Cousins said. ”That gives them an edge against a team like us.”
The Nuggets scored the last four points of the period to cut it to one heading into the final stanza. But the Nuggets know they have to play better to make it 16 in a row.
”I think the streak could be a problem now,” Faried said. ”Guys are getting a big head and too much complacency.”
NOTES:Chandler is shooting to return Wednesday in San Antonio. The Nuggets play Monday at New Orleans. … The Kings were held to less than 100 points for just the third time in the last 20 games. … Cousins has 31 double-doubles this season.